Amplified: If, however, it is to be life in the flesh and I am to live on here, that means fruitful service for me; so I can say nothing as to my personal preference [I cannot choose], (Amplified Bible - Lockman)
NLT: Yet if I live, that means fruitful service for Christ. I really don't know which is better. (NLT - Tyndale House)
Wuest: But if for me [continued] life in this physical existence be my lot, this very thing [namely, continued life on earth] is that in which the fruit of my ministry will be involved and is the condition of that fruit being produced. Then what I shall prefer for myself I do not know. (Eerdmans)
Young's Literal: And if to live in the flesh is to me a fruit of work, then what shall I choose? I know not;
But - See discussion of importance of observing and querying terms of contrast. What is Paul contrasting?
Flesh (sarx) here refers not to one’s fallen humanness (Ro 7:18, 7:5) but to physical life ("we walk in the flesh" - not the fallen flesh nature, but the physical body which is neutral - 2Cor 10:3-note; Gal 2:20-note; 1Pe 4:2-note). Paul is referring here to remaining in this world.
The following discussion is adapted from W E Vine's discussion of the various meaning of sarx in the New Testament. The specific meaning of any Greek word is always determined by the context and that principle is especially critical in correctly interpreting the meaning of sarx.
Flesh according to W E Vine "has a wider range of meaning in the NT than in the OT." The following summary of NT is based primarily on W E Vine's analysis but has additional notes obtained from a variety of sources too numerous to mention...
Fruitful (2590) (karpos) is used in its literal sense to refer to fruit, produce or offspring, which describes that which is produced by the inherent energy of a living organism. Karpos is what something naturally produces. Karpos refers to that which originates or comes from something producing an effect or result (benefit, advantage, profit, utility). Figuratively, karpos is used of the consequence of physical, mental, or spiritual action. In the NT the figurative (metaphorical) uses predominate and this is particularly true in the Gospels, where human actions and words are viewed as fruit growing out of a person's essential being or character.
Scripture describes 3 general kinds of spiritual fruit...
1) Spiritual attitude fruit - As described in Galatians 5:22-23. Every believer manifests all the aspects of this fruit to some degree, although often one or several traits will be predominant. This spiritual attitude fruit precedes spiritual action fruit described below. If the spiritual attitudes are present, the fruit of good deeds will invariably follow.
2) Spiritual action fruit - Col 1:10 (note) In Colossians Paul describes believers filled with or controlled by the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding and thereby walking worthy of the Lord, pleasing him and bearing fruit in every good work. Note that "spiritual action" fruit is preceded by the "spiritual attitude" fruit Paul describes in Galatians 5:22-23.
3) New converts - 1Co 16:15 ; Ro 16:15 - note (where convert is literally "first fruit")
Larry Richards summarizes the Biblical concept of spiritual fruit writing that "Fruitfulness is a consistent concept in the OT and the NT. The fruit God seeks in human beings is expressed in righteous and loving acts that bring peace and harmony to the individual and to society. But that fruit is foreign to sinful human nature. Energized by sinful passions, fallen humanity acts in ways that harm and bring dissension. God's solution is found in a personal relationship with Jesus and in the supernatural working of God's Spirit within the believer. As we live in intimate, obedient relationship with Jesus, God's Spirit energizes us as we produce the peaceable fruit of a righteousness that can come only from the Lord. (Richards, L O: Expository Dictionary of Bible Words: Regency)
Spiritual fruit is a clear marker of spiritual life, a sure proof that one has experienced genuine conversion. A profession of faith in Christ cannot produce holy fruit. Only a genuine possession of the life of Christ can produce supernatural fruit. Let's look at a few texts that corroborate this basic and vitally important spiritual principle.
Warren Wiersbe wisely warns us that "It is possible for the old nature to counterfeit some of the fruit of the Spirit, but the flesh can never produce the fruit of the Spirit. One difference is this: when the Spirit produces fruit, God gets the glory and the Christian is not conscious of his spirituality; but when the flesh is at work, the person is inwardly proud of himself and is pleased when others compliment him. The work of the Spirit is to make us more like Christ for His glory, not for the praise of men. (Bible Exposition Commentary. 1989. Victor)
In Matthew 3:8 John the Baptist is addressing the "religious" professors, the Pharisees and Sadducees who were seeking "baptism". John in the context of discussing how to escape the "wrath to come" declared to these hypocritical religious leaders "Therefore bring forth (aorist imperative = command with a sense of urgency = do this now!) fruit in keeping with (or "worthy of" - see axios) repentance (see in depth study of metanoia)" John rebuked the religious "generation of vipers" calling for repentance and insisting that any inner change produce fruit (e.g., love, joy, peace, patience, etc) as evidence of the reality of that change. John demanded proof from these men of the new life before he administered baptism to them. The point is that spiritual fruit is not the change of heart itself, but the acts which result from a new spiritually circumcised heart (see notes on spiritual circumcision - Col 2:11-note). It was a bold deed for John thus to challenge as unworthy the very ones who posed as lights and leaders of the Jewish people.
Natural fruit needs to be cultivated and so does spiritual fruit! It needs to be watered and fed by the Word of good in the soil of a good heart (Lk 8:15) and in the invigorating, transforming atmosphere of the Holy Spirit. And so Paul is very practical explaining that "If we live by the Spirit let us also walk by the Spirit." (Galatians 5:25)
Labor - Don't miss what Paul just said. Not fruitful fun but fruitful labor. Laboring in spiritual fields is similar to laboring in the cotton fields in that it is not easy but is hard, even exhausting work. And yet when it is carried out in the power of the Spirit, it bears fruit that will endure for time and eternity (Jn 15:16). Epaphroditus almost died in the "work of Christ" (Php 2:30-note)
MacArthur - The apostle Paul considered that being alive in the physical world is synonymous with fruitful labor for Christ. His use of “labor” refers to his spiritual work for the Lord, which yields spiritual fruit. Spiritual fruit may be seen in people, deeds, and words—whatever is of eternal value (Ed: cp Heb 13:15-note) . That kind of fruit comes from good hard work, which is the natural activity of the godly on earth. (Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace)
Guzik - Paul was confident that God intended him to be fruitful. There was no doubt in Paul’s mind that this was God’s plan for him. If Paul lived, it would be a fruitful life. In sad contrast, many Christians have not yet come to the place where it is a certainty that they will bear fruit for the kingdom of God with their life.
Choose (prefer) (138) (haireomai [word study] from haireo = to take a particular position for oneself) means to make a choice of one or more possible alternatives and so to choose, select or prefer. In the middle voice haireomai means to take for oneself (the pronoun "oneself" indicating the reflexive aspect of the middle voice) and so to choose, elect or prefer. It means to make a choice of one or more possible alternatives. Liddell Scott has this entry - "to choose, to take in preference, prefer one thing to another. "
Haireomai can mean to choose, for the purpose of showing special favor as in Thessalonians "But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen (haireo) you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. (2Th 2:13).
Haireo is the root word of the Greek word hairesis, which means "heresy" (an opinion, doctrine, or practice contrary to the truth or to generally accepted beliefs or standards) which can mean a false teaching or a division or group based upon different doctrinal opinions and/or loyalties and hence by implication in certain contexts an unjustified party or group.
Paul knew that the only reason to remain in this world was to bring souls to Christ and build up believers to do the same. Paul couldn't say what he would choose. He knew it was an issue that was in the Lord's hands and, given the choice, couldn't choose either heaven or earth for himself.
What did Paul mean that he did not "know which (life or death) to choose?" Here are a number of opinions...
Gordon Fee - Verse 22 is a clear follow-up to verse 21. Picking up on the first clause (to live is Christ), Paul assesses what its outcome will mean for him in the body (literally “flesh”), namely, fruitful labor. But rather than follow that up with a similar sentence (“if it means death”), he jumps ahead to reflect on what he might do if he in fact had a real choice in the matter. “I simply cannot say,” he says; indeed, I am torn between the two, since it means Christ in either case.
Wuest paraphrase " But if for me [continued] life in this physical existence be my lot, this very thing [namely, continued life on earth] is that in which the fruit of my ministry will be involved and is the condition of that fruit being produced. Then what I shall PREFER for myself I do not know.
NET Bible - Now if I am to go on living in the body, this will mean productive work for me, yet I don't know which I PREFER: (Comment: Greek "what I shall prefer." The Greek verb haireo could also mean "choose," but in this context such a translation is problematic for it suggests that Paul could perhaps choose suicide.
Jamieson, Fausett, Brown - . WHAT I SHALL CHOOSE I know not (I cannot determine with myself, IF THE CHOICE WERE GIVEN TO ME, both alternatives being great goods alike).”
Adam Clarke - Yet what I shall choose I wot not - Had I the two conditions left to my own choice, whether to die now and go to glory, or whether to live longer in persecutions and affliction, (glorifying Christ by spreading the Gospel), I could not tell which to prefer.
Johann Bengel on "choose" - He supposes the condition, viz. if the power of choosing were given to him.
KJV Study Bible -- sees "choose" more with the nuance of "prefer" - Read the verse thus: “But should I continue living in the flesh, this will result in fruit [gain, profit] from my labor; yet which [of the two] I will prefer, I know not.”
Bible Knowledge Commentary (Lightner) - The apostle’s seeming frustration of mind is apparent in these verses. He knew if he could go on living there would certainly be fruit from his labor (v. 22). God would bless his work and continue to use him as He had in the past. Yet if Paul had a choice between going on living or dying for Christ, he was at a loss as to how to decide. He simply did not know which to choose. Of course the choice was really not up to him anyway.
Thomas Constable - The prospect of a few more years of life and service was not unattractive to the great apostle either. He saw living as an opportunity to continue serving the person of Christ and building up the body of Christ. He could continue to labor, and his work would produce fruit for eternity. Satanic opposition had always marked Paul’s labors, but he was willing to continue to face that. He was glad the choice of living or dying was not his to make since both options had positive features for him.1
John MacArthur - Paul’s point seems to be that he had not yet decided which to choose because the Lord had not yet made it known to him which to choose. Because he was not sure of the Lord’s will in the matter, he was not sure of his own.
Lutheran Study Bible - choose. Paul cannot choose, and the choice is not his to make. The Lord who made you and gives you life has numbered your days (Ps 139:16). He also prepares the good content of those days (Eph 2:10).
Matthew Poole - Yet what I shall choose I wot not; he seems, loving the Philippians as himself, to be at a loss what to determine, if God should permit him his choice, whether by laboring in his ministry for rite good of their souls he should bring more fruit to Christ, or by suffering, that which would arise from the blood of a martyr, who himself should receive a crown, 2Ti 4:8.
Andrews Study Bible - 1:22 what I shall choose. What should I pray for; see v. 25. Paul was released after about two years of house arrest in Rome. He was eventually martyred in Rome around A.D. 67.
John Wesley - And what I should choose I know not -That is, if it were left to my choice.
|Greek: sunechomai (1SPPI) de ek ton duo, ten epithumian echon (PAPMSN) eis to analusai (AAN) kai sun Christo einai, (PAN) pollo [gar] mallon kreisson;
Amplified: But I am hard pressed between the two. My yearning desire is to depart (to be free of this world, to set forth) and be with Christ, for that is far, far better; (Amplified Bible - Lockman)
NLT: I'm torn between two desires: Sometimes I want to live, and sometimes I long to go and be with Christ. That would be far better for me, (NLT - Tyndale House)
Wuest: Rather, I am being held motionless by an equal pull from the two (namely, life and death), so that I cannot incline either way, having the passionate desire towards striking my tent and being with Christ, which is by far better (Eerdmans)
Lightfoot: I am hemmed in, as it were, a wall on this side and a wall on that. If I consulted my own longing, I should desire to dissolve this earthly tabernacle, and to go home to Christ; for this is very far better.
BUT I AM HARD-PRESSED FROM BOTH directions: sunechomai (1SPPI) de ek ton duo: (2Sa 24:14; 1Th 2:1; 2:13 Lk 12:50; 2Co 6:12) "I am hemmed in, as it were, a wall on this side and a wall on that" (Lightfoot)
But - See discussion of importance of observing and querying terms of contrast.
Hard pressed (4912) (sunecho/synecho from sun = with + echo = hold) literally means hold together and is a picturesque word which serves to heighten the magnitude of Paul's dilemma. Sunecho means to be hemmed in on both sides and was used of a traveler in a narrow passage or gorge, with a wall of rock on either hand, unable to turn aside and able only to go straight on. The picture is that of a man pressed on both sides. The idea is not urging or driving, but shutting up to one line and purpose, as in a narrow, walled road.
Wuest - “I am hemmed in on both sides by the two,” or “I am held together by the two so that I cannot incline either way.” The definite article appears in the Greek text before “two,” the word “two” referring back to the life and death previously mentioned. There is an equal pressure being exerted from both sides, from the desire for continued life and from the desire for death. Paul was perplexed, held in, kept back from decision. There was a strong pressure bearing upon him from both sides, keeping him erect and motionless.
Marvin Vincent - The figure is that of one who is in a narrow road between two walls. I am held together, so that I cannot move to the one or the other side. The pressure comes from (eκ) both sides, from ‘the two’ considerations just mentioned, departing and abiding in the flesh. (Critical and exegetical commentary on the Epistles to the Philippians and to Philemon)
In sum hard pressed means Paul had to consider a difficult decision between two possibilities—that of going home to heaven or that of remaining on earth as an apostle of Christ Jesus. However as noted above in the discussion regarding Paul's choice, ultimately his life was in the hands of His Sovereign Lord.
I like the way John MacArthur explains hard pressed - Every Christian ought to feel the strain of desiring to be with Christ, yet also longing to build His church. If the Lord said to me, “You have five minutes to choose between being in heaven or on earth,” I would have a difficult time making that decision. And I would want to be sure I was choosing for the right reasons. I’d have to ask myself, can I glorify Christ more in heaven or on earth? Paul found it an impossible choice. Nevertheless, most people would choose to stay on earth. When asked why they would, most would give some selfish reason, such as, “We’re getting a new house,” or “I don’t want to leave my kids.” For Paul, nothing really mattered except glorifying Christ. When faced with the most basic of life’s issues—whether it would be better to live or die—his response was, “I would be thrilled to glorify Christ in heaven or on earth. Given the choice, I can’t choose.” Because glorifying Christ was Paul’s motivation, where he glorified Christ was not the issue. That ought to be true for you as well. (Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace)
From both - More literally "the two."
Moule on the two - The two alternatives just spoken of, life and death.—The imagery is of a man hemmed in right and left, so as to be stationary. Quite literally the words are, “I am confined from the two (sides)”; the position is one of dilemma, viewed from whichever side. Wonderful is the phenomenon of this dilemma, peculiar to the living Christian as such. “The Apostle asks which is most worth his while, to live or to die. The same question is often presented to ourselves, and perhaps our reply has been that of the Apostle. But may we not have made it with a far different purport?… Life and death have seemed to us like two evils, and we knew not which was the less. To the Apostle they seem like two immense blessings, and he knows not which is the better.” To the question, “Is life worth living?” this is the Christian answer. (Cambridge Bible Commentary)
Francis Patton (1843–1932) a former president of Princeton University observed that whereas the high watermark of the Old Testament was Psalm 23:4, that of the New Testament was Philippians 1:23. David was willing to go, but wanting to stay, but Paul was willing to stay, but wanting to go.
Having (echo) is in the present tense indicating this was Paul's continual mindset. He longed to see His Lord! This is a good mindset for a saint to cultivate.
The desire (1939) (epithumia [word study]) means passionate desire and most of the NT contexts are negative (and so it is often translated "lusts") but in this context clearly the "lust" is positive. There is an equal pressure being exerted from both sides, from the strong desire for continued life and from the strong desire for death and release into the presence of Christ. Paul was perplexed, held in, kept back from decision. There was an intense desire and strong pressure bearing upon him from both sides, keeping him erect and motionless.
Moule on having the desire - That is, the whole element of personal preference lies that way, not merely one desire among many.—We may paraphrase, “my longing being towards departure etc.” (Cambridge Bible Commentary)
The Puritan Thomas Watson wrote, "Spiritual things satisfy; the more of heaven is in us, the less earth will content us.... Fly aloft in your affections (Col 3:1, Col 3:2, 1Pe 1:13), thirst after the graces and comforts of the Spirit; the eagle that flies above in the air, fears not the stinging of the serpent (cp Isa 40:31); the serpent creeps on his belly, and stings only such creatures as go upon the earth."
APPLICATION: Consider what your heart and mind are set on. If you're set on the right things, you'll be content with the circumstances in which God has placed you.
In secular Greek analuo described the loosing of the anchor or mooring of a ship so it could depart port and set sail. Analuo was also used of striking one’s tent as one would do in the military when "breaking camp". The latter figure may have been the main idea Paul wanted to convey here since he was a tent maker by trade and spoke of the human body as a tent. Compare his description in Second Corinthians - " For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." (2Cor 5:1-note)
Paul used the related (cognate) noun analusis in his last letter writing "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure (analusis) has come." (2Ti 4:6-note)
In the NT, analuo is used twice, first to return from wedding (Lk 12:36) and here in Philippians where Paul says that "setting sail" to a better and a more blessed world is very much better.
William Barclay on analuo - (i) It is the word for striking camp, loosening the tent ropes, pulling up the tent pins and moving on (read 2Cor 5:1-8-note). Death is a moving on. It is said that in the terrible days of the war, when the Royal Air Force stood between Britain and destruction and the lives of its pilots were being sacrificially spent, they never spoke of a pilot as having been killed but always as having been “posted to another station.” Each day is a day’s march nearer home, until in the end camp in this world is for ever struck and exchanged for permanent residence in the world of glory. (ii) It is the word for loosening the mooring ropes, pulling up the anchors and setting sail. Death is a setting sail, a departure on that voyage which leads to the everlasting haven and to God. (iii) It is the word for solving problems. Death brings life’s solutions. There is some place where all earth’s questions will be answered and where those who have waited will in the end understand. (Daily Study Bible)
Wiersbe adds that "depart" (analuo) had 2 additional secular usages that Paul may have had in mind: "departure was also a political term; it described the setting free of a prisoner. God’s people are in bondage because of the limitations of the body and the temptations of the flesh, but death will free them. Or they will be freed at the return of Christ (Ro 8:18-23) if that should come first. Finally, departure was a word used by the farmers; it meant “to unyoke the oxen.” Paul had taken Christ’s yoke, which is an easy yoke to bear (Mt 11:28-30), but how many burdens he carried in his ministry! (2Co 11:22-12:10.) To depart to be with Christ would mean laying aside the burdens, his earthly work completed. (Wiersbe, W. W. The Bible Exposition Commentary. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books)
Complete Biblical Library Greek-English Dictionary - The classical definition of analuo includes the senses of “to unloose” or “to set free.” It refers to the “unwinding” of a cocoon or to the melting of snow with the subsequent emergence of the ground. It can denote the “loosing” (and hence “departing”) of a boat from its moorings and the “unloosing” of a garment for such a wide variety of reasons as bearing a child or having sexual relations. Aristotle employed analuo in reference to “reducing” a syllogism by means of logic (Analytica Prioria)
Liddell-Scott - analuo = to unloose, undo, of Penelopé's web - “During the night she undid it” (Homer, “Odyssey,” ii., 105), Od. 2. to unloose, set free, release, II. to restore to a dead man the use of his eyes and voice, Pind. 2. to analyse, Arist. 3. to put an end to a thing, Xen.:-to abolish, cancel, Dem.:-Med. to cancel faults, Xen., Dem. III. intr. to loose a ship from its moorings, weigh anchor, depart, Polyb.:-metaph., of death, NT 2. to return, Ib.
The only other uses of analuo are in the Apocrypha - 1 Esd 3:3; Jdt 13:1; Tob 2:9; 2 Macc 8:25; 9:1; 12:7; 15:28; 3 Macc 2:24; 5:21, 40, 44; 7:13, 20; Wis 2:1; 5:12; 16:14; Sir 3:15. Moule - Analuo "does not occur in the LXX., but is not infrequent in the Apocrypha, and there usually means to go away, or, as another side of the same act, to return (cp. Tob 2:8; Jdt 13:1)."
Moule - Suicer (Thesaurus, under analuo), says that Melanchthon on his death-bed called the attention of his learned friend Camerarius to this word, dwelling with delight on the passage, correcting the “dissolution” of the Vulgate, and rendering rather, “to prepare for departure,” “to migrate,” or “to return home.”—Luther renders here abzuscheiden, “to depart.” (Cambridge Bible Commentary)
Adam Clarke - It appears to be a metaphor taken from the commander of a vessel, in a foreign port, who feels a strong desire, to set sail, and get to his own country and family; but this desire is counterbalanced by a conviction that the general interests of the voyage may be best answered by his longer stay in the port where his vessel now rides; for he is not in dock, he is not aground, but rides at anchor in the port, and may any hour weigh and be gone.
You have to love Spurgeon's picturesque comment - "The sail is spread; the soul is launched upon the deep. How long will be its voyage? How many wearying winds must beat upon the sail ere it shall be reefed in the port of peace? How often shall that soul be tossed upon the waves before it comes to the sea that knows no storm. Oh tell it, tell it everywhere; yon ship that has just departed is already at its haven. It did but spread its sail and it was there." Hallelujah! Amen!
Be (einai) is in the present tense = to continually be with Christ! Throughout eternity!
With is not the Greek word meta (primary meaning = mid, in midst, among, implying accompaniment but not union) but syn/sun (see word study) which speaks of an intimacy and union. We are in union with Christ now through the New Covenant, but we still live in mortal bodies and grapple with the fallen flesh, both of which diminish our full enjoyment of our union. Paul longed for the day when that union would be experienced to the fullest potential, and that should be every saint's great longing!
The destination for which Paul yearns to depart is into the presence of his Lord. Absent from the body, present with the Lord. No "long lines" or flight delays for this departure! Immediate transport into the presence of Jesus (cp 2Cor 5:8). There is no soul-sleep (see discussion). There is no intermediary period (no purgatory - see discussion) before entering eternity with Christ.
Moule on be with Christ - (This is) The other side of the fact of departure, and that which makes its blessedness....Christianity meets us where most of all we need its aid, and it meets us with the very aid we need. It does not tell us of the splendours of the invisible world; but it does far better when, in three words, it informs us that (analuo) to loosen from the shore of mortality is (sun Christo einai) to be with Christ.” It is divinely true that the Christian, here below, is “with Christ,” and Christ with him. But such is the developed manifestation of that Presence after death, and such its conditions, that it is there as if it had not been before.—Cp. Acts 7:59; words which St Paul had heard. (Cambridge Bible Commentary)
Guzik - Other men have also wanted to die. • Some men have wished to die, gripped by the gloom and darkness that leads to suicide. • Some have been so tired of this world and the cruelty of others that they thought death was better. • Some have wanted to die in the crisis of some kind of suffering. Paul’s desire to depart had nothing in common with these attitudes among men. Paul probably had many motivations to depart. • Going to heaven meant he would finally be done with sin and temptation. • Going to heaven meant that he would see those brothers and sisters who had gone to heaven before him. • Most of all, going to heaven meant being with Christ in a closer and better way than ever before.
Ray Stedman - The Christian view of death is given in just four words in this passage: "with Christ, far better." That sums it up. (Commentary)
For (gar) is a strategic term of explanation, which begs the question "What is the writer explaining?" "For" (gar) is not present in all Greek texts but Vincent states "The best texts insert gar."
That - What is "that?" In context it is clearly absence from this temporal life and entrance into the eternal life with Christ.
Very much better (Literally = much more better) - This phrase is a double (some even say triple) strengthened comparative and as such expresses the highest superlative. More than "better" or "much better," to be with Christ so far surpasses anything in this life that it is "very much better." It's as though Paul could find no superlative adequate to express the comparison between being on earth and being with Christ in heaven and sharing complete, conscious, intimate, unhindered fellowship.
Vincent - Notice the heaping up of comparatives according to Paul’s habit. (Comp. Rom. 8:37; 2 Cor. 7:13, 4:17; Eph. 3:20.) (Ibid)
Moule on very much better - a bold accumulation, to convey intense meaning. R.V., for it is very far better. Observe that it is thus “better” in comparison not with the shadows of this life, but with its most happy light. The man who views the prospect thus has just said that to him “to live is Christ.” Death is “gain” for him, therefore, not as mere escape or release, but as a glorious augmentation; it is “Christ” still, only very far more of Christ. (Cambridge Bible Commentary)
Labor for Christ is sweet, but rest with Christ will be sweeter. Paul was ready to go but he was also willing to wait. Life has its attractions (most are passing), but death has its advantages (all are eternal).
Better (2909)(kreitton/kreisson) is a comparative of kratus (strong) and the comparative degree of agathos which means “good”. This reminds one of our English comparative "good, better, best." That which is of high status, is more prominent or higher in rank (Of a person -Heb 7:7; of things Heb 7:19). Kreitton relates to that which has "a relative advantage in value" (BDAG) (Heb 6:9).
Francis Patton (1843–1932, a former president of Princeton University, observed that whereas the high watermark of the Old Testament was Psalm 23:4, that of the New Testament was Philippians 1:23. David was willing to go, but wanting to stay, but Paul was willing to stay, but wanting to go.
The great English Evangelist preacher George Whitfield said “I am often weary in the work, but never weary of it.”
Motyer summarizes this passage - This is a very full and remarkable statement about the death of a Christian. He teaches us first about the nature of a Christian death: it is ‘to depart’. This may be a camping metaphor. Paul, the old ‘tent-maker’, resorts to the language of his trade. In this case, death for the Christian is the end of what was at best a transitory thing, a camp-life, in which he traveled without permanent resting-place. This is to be exchanged for the ‘house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens’. (2Cor 5:1-8) Camp-life is exchanged at death for home-life with Christ. But the other possibility is that this ‘departing’ is a ‘weighing of the anchor’, a ‘setting sail’. Bishop Moule speaks of ‘that delightful moment when the friendly flood heaves beneath the freed keel, and the prow is set straight and finally towards the shore of home, and the Pilot stands on board, at length “seen face to face.” And, lo, as He takes the helm, “immediately the ship is at the land whither they go” (John 6:21)’. When a Christian dies all the uncertainties and dangers lie behind: the uncertainties and dangers whether of camp-life or of temporary stay in a foreign port. All the certainties and safeties lie ahead in the presence of Christ. And this, in the second place, is the blessedness of Christian death. The Christian goes to be with Christ. Scripture leaves so much about life after death undescribed, but on this central fact there is no hesitation: the Christian dead are ‘with Christ’. Paul takes the matter a stage further. He declares that death to the Christian is (literally) ‘by far the best’. Suppose we had been with Paul in Rome just then, and had seen him as he was, a man of immense vigor of mind and body, with gigantic gifts, a man irreplaceable in the church. How keenly we should have felt the loss were he to be executed! What an untimely death!—and all the other things we hear said when a notable Christian dies unexpectedly. But what is the reality for the person concerned, for Paul? He is not the loser; he is not ‘poor Paul’. For him it is better by far than anything else that could have happened or could be imagined. Indeed, even while the church mourned his loss, he would possess unimaginable riches. For him, as for us at our death too, it is far better. This is not, of course, to say that mourning is out of place for the Christian when loved ones go to be with the Lord. The fact that they are experiencing the supremely best lightens but does not take away the fact that our experience is of loss, loneliness, and great joys now irretrievably gone—however much we know that they will be transcended by the ‘joyful reunion in the heavenly places’. It is a very beautiful thing that in this same letter in which Paul sounds the note of confident expectation in the face of death he also expresses the desolation which bereavement brings: ‘sorrow upon sorrow’. And how true that is! In bereavement every tearful memory waits to be replaced by another, every sharp pang of loss is succeeded by a greater. Tears are proper for believers—indeed they should be all the more copious, for Christians are more sensitively aware of every emotion, whether of joy or sorrow, than those who have known nothing of the softening and enlivening grace of God. In this too we follow the example of him whose tears were not restrained at the graveside. (The Bible Speaks Today)
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STAY OR GO? (Dave Brannon) - Falmouth, Kentucky, residents faced a nightmare of a decision in early 1997. The nearby Licking River was rising at the rate of a foot an hour, and local officials were urging people to evacuate. Most people left, but others, either fearing looters or downplaying the severity of the flood, refused to go.
We can understand why the people had such a tough time leaving. Each of us has possessions or places we want to protect and not let go of.
In Philippians 1, Paul spoke of being torn between two locations: “I am hard pressed between the two” (Phil 1:23). He longed to join his Savior in heaven, but he also knew that God had given him a purpose to fulfill on earth. He was torn between his desire to be with Christ and his calling to minister to people.
If you have placed your trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, you can understand Paul’s dilemma. You look forward to being with Jesus, yet you realize God has a reason for you to stay on this troubled planet.
To stay or to go? The time for you to leave this world is God’s decision, so make the most of your life while you’re here. Give each day to Jesus Christ. Keep living for Him and rescuing others.
Not what I wish to be, nor where I wish to go,
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Illustration of Php 1:23 in the Life of Adoniram Judson -The book "To the Golden Shore" tells the story of Adoniram Judson, one of the first American missionaries sent overseas (Courtney Anderson [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1956]). He was a brave ambassador of Jesus Christ who served his Lord in what was then known as Burma. After fourteen years of enduring wretched imprisonments and life-threatening diseases, all he had to show for his pains were the graves of his wife and all his children. He was all alone, yet was faithful to remain there. He wrote that if he had not felt certain that every trial was ordered by God's infinite love and mercy, he could not have survived his accumulated sufferings. Judson understood his trials were a part of the sovereign plan of God. Although he must have longed to be with Christ and enjoy the fellowship of his beloved family, he also longed to meet the needs of the pagan Burmese people. Therefore he prayed God would allow him to live until he had translated the entire Bible into Burmese and had presided over a native church of at least 100 Christians. Judson had the spirit of the apostle Paul, who longed to be with Christ but also desired to be useful to the church.
Click for more on the incredible sacrificial life of Adoniram Judson and be challenged by his life even as you are by Paul's words in Philippians.
John MacArthur adds this note on Judson - Adoniram Judson was the first overseas missionary sent out from America. In the early nineteenth century, he and his first wife went to India and, a short while later, to Burma, where he labored for nearly four decades. After fourteen years, he had a handful of converts and had managed to write a Burmese grammar. During that time he suffered a horrible imprisonment for a year and a half and lost his wife and children to disease. Like Paul, he longed to be with the Lord, but, also like the apostle, he considered his work for Christ to be infinitely more important than his personal longings. He therefore prayed that God would allow him to live long enough to translate the entire Bible into Burmese and to establish a church there of at least one hundred believers. The Lord granted that request and also allowed him to compile Burmese-English and English-Burmese dictionaries, which became invaluable to the Christian workers, both foreign and Burmese, who followed him. He wrote, “If I had not felt certain that every trial was ordered by infinite love and mercy, I could not have survived my accumulated sufferings.” (Ibid)
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LONGING FOR HOME (Bill Crowder) - When our son Stephen was a youngster, he went away for a week at a Christian summer camp. Later that week, we got a letter from him that was addressed to “Mom and Dad Crowder” and simply said, “Please come and take me home today.” What his child’s mind couldn’t comprehend, of course, was that it would be days before we got his letter and more time before we could come for him. All his young heart knew was that he longed for home and for Mom and Dad—and that can be tough for a child.
Sometimes we can be like Stephen as we think about this world. It’s easy to think longingly about being with Jesus and begin to wish we could go to our “eternal home” (Eccl. 12:5) where we will “be with Christ” (Phil. 1:23). As God’s children (John 1:12), we know that this world will never truly be home to us. Like the apostle Paul, we especially feel that way when the struggles of life are hard. While in Rome awaiting trial, Paul wrote, “I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Phil. 1:23). He loved serving Christ, but a part of him longed to be with the Savior.
It’s comforting to know that we can think ahead to being with Jesus—in a home that is far better.
To see His face, this is my goal;
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DEATH MEANS - For the believer, death means entering into the glorious presence of Christ. The 18th-century Bible commentator Matthew Henry expressed this confidence in words he hoped would be read after his death by anyone who might unduly mourn his passing. He wrote: “Would you like to know where I am? I am at home in my Father’s house, in the mansions prepared for me here. I am where I want to be—no longer on the stormy sea, but in God’s safe, quiet harbor. My sowing time is done and I am reaping; my joy is as the joy of harvest. Would you like to know what I am doing? I see God, not as through a glass darkly, but face to face. I am engaged in the sweet enjoyment of my precious Redeemer. I am singing hallelujahs to Him who sits upon the throne, and I am constantly praising Him. Would you know what blessed company I keep? It is better than the best on earth. Here are the holy angels and the spirits of just men made perfect. I am with many of my old acquaintances with whom I worked and prayed, and who have come here before me. Lastly, would you know how long this will continue? It is a dawn that never fades! After millions and millions of ages, it will be as fresh as it is now. Therefore, weep not for me!” (Our Daily Bread, Copyright RBC Ministries)
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CHANGE OF ADDRESS (Dave Branon) - Every 26 years or so, we move to a different house.
Actually, Sue and I moved into our first home when our first child was a baby. We had no idea we would live there for 26 years. When we finally did change our residence, it was an emotional time. On the day we moved, after everything was out of the house, we did one final walk-through to relive the memories. The toughest moment came when we entered Melissa’s bedroom. We had said goodbye to her 2 years earlier after a car accident took her earthly life. Now we were bidding adieu to the sunflower-decorated room she loved so much.
As I think of that emotional time when we moved, I am reminded of what a great change of address Melissa enjoyed on the day she was ushered into God’s presence. Our move to a different house pales in comparison to the glories our daughter now enjoys in heaven. What a grand comfort to know that our departed loved ones who have trusted in Jesus are now living in God’s majestic kingdom! (2 Cor. 5:1).
Are you ready for that ultimate change of address? No matter where you live on this earth, make sure your final home will be heaven.
Someday my Redeemer shall call me to come
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GETTING BETTER (Bill Crowder) - A popular song from the 1960s was titled “Getting Better.” In it, the singer considers his young life and happily declares that he sees things “getting better all the time.” It is a song of optimism but, unfortunately, without any real basis for that hope.
By contrast, the Bible warns us that we live in a world that in many ways is actually getting worse (2Ti 3:13). Daily we’re faced with increasing evidence to support that contention. So how do we respond to the realities of life in such a badly marred world? With empty optimism? With hopeless discouragement? The apostle Paul shows us how.
While imprisoned in Rome, Paul wrote to the church at Philippi to offer them genuine hope in a broken world. He encouraged his readers by telling them that though life in this world is often hard and painful, for the Christian things will get better. He wrote, “I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Phil. 1:23). It is a reminder to us that we can face the difficulties of living for Christ now because one day we will be with Him in an eternal home of splendor and fullness.
Life can be hard, but one day when we see Christ it will truly get better!
To see His face, this is my goal,
To be with Jesus forever
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EAGER FOR HEAVEN (Anne Cetas) - My neighbor Jasmine, age 9, was sitting on the front porch with me one summer evening. Out of the blue she started talking about her bad choices and how she needed God’s forgiveness. We talked and prayed together and she asked Jesus to be her Savior.
Questions about heaven started pouring out of her: “Are the streets really gold? Will my mom be there? What if she isn’t? Will I have a bed, or will I sleep on a cloud? What will I eat?” I assured her that heaven would be a perfect home, and that she would be with Jesus, who would give her everything she needed. She replied with excitement, “Well, then let’s go right now!”
The apostle Paul had a heavenly perspective too (Philippians 1:23). His testimony was, “To me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (v.21). He knew that this life was about knowing, trusting, and serving God. But he also knew that life in heaven would be “far better” because he would “be with Christ” (v.23). He wanted to stay here so that he could minister to the Philippians and others, but he was ready to go to heaven at any time to see Jesus. Jasmine is ready to go now. Are we as eager for heaven as she is?
No matter what we learn of God
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HARD TO IMAGINE (Joe Stowell) - Whenever my wife, Martie, and I get ready to go on vacation, we like to read about our destination, study the maps, and anticipate the joy of finally arriving at the place we’ve dreamed about for so long.
For those of us who know Jesus Christ, we have an incredible destination ahead of us—heaven. But I find it interesting that a lot of us don’t seem to be very excited about getting there. Why is that? Maybe it’s because we don’t understand heaven. We talk about streets of gold and gates of pearl, but what is it really like? What is there to look forward to?
I think the most profound description of heaven is found in Paul’s words to the Philippians. He said that to “depart and be with Christ” is “far better” (Phil. 1:23). It’s what I told my 8-year-old grandson when he asked what heaven is like. I started by asking him, “What is the most exciting thing in your life?” He told me about his computer game and other fun things he likes to do, and then I told him that heaven is far better. He thought for a minute, and then said, “Papa, that’s hard to imagine.”
What is it that you look forward to in life? What really excites you? Whatever it is, although it’s hard to imagine, heaven will be far better!
To be in His presence! A glorious thought
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PULLED IN TWO DIRECTIONS - As Christians, we are pulled in two directions. We all want to go to heaven, but this life also holds great appeal. We are like the youngster in Sunday school who listened intently while the teacher told about the beauties of heaven. She concluded by saying, "Raise your hand if you want to go to heaven." Every hand shot up immediately--except one. "Why don't you want to go to heaven, Johnny?" "Well," he replied, "Mom just baked an apple pie for dinner."
Now, we don't need to feel guilty for having a strong desire to enjoy life. Marriage, a family, a fulfilling job, travel, recreation--these all have a legitimate appeal. But if the delights of our earthly home are so attractive that we lose sight of God's purpose for putting us here, something's wrong.
The apostle Paul had mixed feelings too. Although he believed he would be released from prison, he knew that he could possibly fall victim to Nero's sword. This created a conflict. He longed to be with Christ, for that would be "far better" (Phil. 1:23). He also wanted to live--not merely to enjoy life but because he was needed by his fellow believers (Php 1:24).
Paul was pulled in two directions, and in both cases it was for the highest reason. What about us? --D J De Haan (Ibid)
Tempt not my soul away--Jesus is mine;
Amplified: But to remain in my body is more needful and essential for your sake. (Amplified Bible - Lockman)
NLT: but it is better for you that I live. (NLT - Tyndale House)
Wuest: but still to remain with my flesh is more needful for your sake. (Eerdmans)
Young's Literal: and to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account,
THE GREAT APOSTLE'S
John MacArthur - Part of spiritual greatness is to know Christ intimately and to long to be with Him. But spiritual greatness also includes being totally committed to the advancement of the kingdom and serving Christ on earth. Every believer lives in such tension. (Ibid)
Yet (de) - always pause to ponder terms of contrast.
John Eadie - The apostle says, departure is better, stay more necessary; the one better for himself, and the other more necessary for the churches. (Philippians 1 - Eadie's Commentary on Philippians)
In his last words to the elders at Ephesus Paul declared "But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, in order that I may finish my course, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God." (Acts 20:24-note)
Paul modeled what he taught - "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be (present imperative) steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not [in] vain in the Lord." (1Cor 15:58-note)
Jamieson - In order to be of service to you, I am willing to forego my entrance a little sooner into blessedness; heaven will not fail to be mine at last.
Remain (1961) (epimeno is a strengthened form of meno which means to abide, remain. From epi = upon + meno = abide) means literally to remain upon and so to stay at or with, to continue, to tarry still. The addition of the prefix preposition epi (upon) gives the force of adherence or persistence and hence a more protracted stay. Thus the idea of the phrase "to remain on in the flesh" is to hold on or cling to this life in the body. Personal desire gives way to spiritual need. Always with one eye toward heaven, Paul made the most of each day and so should all believers.
Vine explains - If personal advantage is the consideration it is much better to be with Christ, but if the consideration is that of obligation toward the saints in Philippi, then it is more needful to continue with them still serving the Lord.
Moule - Desire, and the sense of betterness, lie on the side of death; obligation, in view of the claims of others, lies on the side of life. (Philippians 1 Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)
Matthew Henry - The apostle's difficulty was not between living in this world and living in heaven; between these two there is no comparison; but between serving Christ in this world and enjoying him in another. Not between two evil things, but between two good things; living to Christ and being with him. See the power of faith and of Divine grace; it can make us willing to die. In this world we are compassed with sin; but when with Christ, we shall escape sin and temptation, sorrow and death, for ever. But those who have most reason to desire to depart, should be willing to remain in the world as long as God has any work for them to do.
Kennedy - It is characteristic of the Apostle that the first thing which strikes him is the need of others. (Philippians 1 - The Expositor's Greek Testament)
John Trapp - No man is born, much less born again, for himself, but for the benefit of many.
Matthew Poole speaks to why it was necessary for Paul to remain - knowing the subtlety of false apostles, who would enter in as grievous wolves, Acts 20:29-note, it was necessary to strengthen them and other churches in the faith of Christ. (Philippians 1 Matthew Poole's Commentary)
More necessary (316)(anagkaios from anagke = necessity, compulsion) describes that which compels or makes something needful or necessary (as meeting a need). That which is indispensable, pressing, what one cannot do without. In Acts 10:24 it describes those who are intimate (friends, relatives). Necessary, intimate, close. “Being necessary and indispensable to the occurrence of some event” (Louw-Nida)
Vine on anagkaios - “necessary,” is used, in a secondary sense, of persons connected by bonds of nature or friendship, with the meaning “intimate,” in Acts 10:24, “(his) near (friends)”; it is found in this sense in the papyri.
Necessary (Webster) - logically unavoidable; of an inevitable nature; absolutely needed; Indispensable; requisite; essential; that cannot be otherwise without preventing the purpose intended. Air is necessary to support animal life; food is necessary to nourish the body; holiness is a necessary qualification for happiness; health is necessary to the enjoyment of pleasure; subjection to law is necessary to the safety of persons and property.
Anagkaios - 8x in 8v - NAS Usage = close(1), more necessary(1), necessary(5), pressing(1). There are no uses in the Septuagint.
Paul's willingness to remain on to aid his brethren is the mark of a spiritual man who manifests an unselfish great hearted spirit and yields his own comfort, needs and desires to meet the legitimate needs of others. Paul’s “heaven on earth” was helping others! So even while he sincerely longed to be with Christ, he eagerly yearned to remain and help these believers grow in Christ.