Philippians - Lesson 3

By Curt Niccum

Lesson Three: Philippians 1:19-26


  1. The student can describe how Paul relies on the pattern set by Christ in all of his decisions and relationships.
  2. The student will explain the meaning of the phrase "to live is Christ.”


  1. Bibles for every student
  2. If devotional period is desired, you may need songbooks and to designate people for singing, praying, and scripture reading.


In 1:19-26 Paul moves from how he deals with his present circumstances to how he makes future decisions. As always, Paul looks to that which benefits others. 

Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class

Devotional Period (5-10 minutes)

  1. Read Philippians 1:19-26
  2. Sing up to two songs. (The following are suggested tunes.)
    1. I'll Live for Him
    2. Living for Jesus
    3. O to be Like Thee
  3. Prayer (some appropriate subjects for prayer are listed below)
    1. For the promise of heaven and comfort for those grieving recent losses
    2. For the ability to recognize others' immediate needs and to place them above our own wants and wishes
    3. For the courage to live for Christ

Introduction (10 minutes)

  1. Call the roll or have someone check it. (It is very important to know who is present so someone can check on those who are absent.) Introduce and welcome visitors, take prayer requests, and make any necessary announcements.
  2. Review the previous class.
    1. Q: In what bad circumstances does Paul find himself when he writes this letter? A: He is in prison in Rome (1:13) and some are preaching the gospel in order to create additional hardships for Paul (1:15 & 17).
    2. Q: What is Paul's overall response to this? A: He rejoices! (1:18). Q: Why does he rejoice? A: Because 1) Christ is being preached, 2) Christ is being preached more boldly, and 3) even the elite Imperial Guard has heard the preaching of Christ.
    3. Q: On what, then, is Paul's focus? A: On that which advances the cause of Christ. Specifically, he focuses 1) on the message of Christ rather than on himself and 2) on the benefits the Christian message brings other people rather than on himself.

Learning Experiences (20 minutes)

  1. Today's passage fits well with last week's text. (Remind the class about the uses of inclusio and alliteration that unite the two sections. Paul marks this section as a unit by beginning and ending it with the same word, "progress.” Paul also ends each of the two halves with alliteration, the repetition of the sound made by the letter "p.” This sound occurs five times in verse 18 and six times in verse 25.) Thus, Paul incorporates structures that alert the reader to the close relationship of what he now writes with the previous section. There is a shift, though, marked in the end of verse 18. Paul rejoices (present tense) despite his circumstances (1:12-18), and he will continue to rejoice (future tense) as he makes decisions about what comes next (1:18-26). So, Paul's approach remains constant even as he moves from the present toward the future. He obviously wishes the Philippians, and therefore us as well, to imitate his mindset (which we will soon learn is that of Christ himself).
  2. Verses 19-21 present Paul's future dilemma. His situation is literally one of life and death. Paul remains consistent, though, regardless of what the outcome will be. Q: What is Paul's goal, whether in life or in death? A: That Christ is magnified in what he does (1:20).
    1. Verse 19 presents some minor problems for interpretation. Paul states, "I know that this will result in my salvation.” [The teacher can choose what, if anything, from points A and B, should be included in the class. The material is offered here for the sake of adequately preparing the teacher for questions that students might raise.]
      1. "Salvation” could refer to physical deliverance from prison (so the NIV). This would make sense in light of Paul's ultimate decision to "remain in the flesh.” On the other hand, this seems to take away the intended effect of verse 23. In what sense can Paul be "torn between the two” if he already has made his decision to remain in the flesh?
      2. "Salvation” more likely refers to eternal salvation and, in particular, to its connection with Christian life on earth. (Paul would probably not make a distinction between "heavenly” and "earthly” life, but Christians commonly view eternal salvation as something future and somewhat distanced from today's actions. For Paul, however, kingdom people do kingdom things. Thus one works out one's salvation in the here and now, 2:12.) A reference to "eternal” salvation here would make sense in light of his discussions about salvation in chapters 2 and 3 (see also 3:12). For Paul, salvation is a process which begins at baptism and continues through this life and the next. In addition, this would make sense in view of Paul's final choice to live, as salvation is ultimately the imitation of Christ (whether here on earth or with Christ in heaven). As noted below, Paul's finds motivation for living in the cross of Christ.
    2. Verse 20, therefore, can also be interpreted variously.
      1. In conjunction with section A.i. above, Paul could be saying that his earnest hope is release from prison. In this sense, he might view death in the current circumstances (i.e., prison) as bringing shame to the Gospel. This would be in stark contrast, though, to the picture of Paul we find in Acts and Ephesians (and Philippians 1:13-14) where he considers his chains of spiritual value and central to his bold proclamation.
      2. Paul more likely refers instead to his hope and desire for eternal salvation (see again 3:12). Because the last part of verse 18 through verse 20 constitute one sentence in the Greek, this appears the much more plausible. Thus, Paul views his "salvation” or "deliverance” and Christ's magnification as achievable in either choice - his life or his death. (Note that Paul fears that cowardice too could be displayed in either.)
      3. So, instead of Paul hoping for release from prison, he concerns himself with the larger issue of salvation expressed as glorifying Christ in his body always.
    3. Verse 21 clearly shows that either choice, life or death, could result in Paul's further joy. Q: To live is…? A: Christ. Q: To die is…? A: Gain. Clearly neither of these choices is bad. Something must sway Paul in one direction or the other. Q: In terms of how Paul has framed verses 12-26, what do you think will determine his answer? A: Progress! Q: Whose progress is Paul interested in? A: Everybody else's more than his own! (See how he will apply this further in 2:4.)
  3. Starting in verse 22 Paul begins working through the issues. He takes the readers through the rationalizing process to offer a pattern for sound Christian decision making.
    1. Consistent with Paul's attitude already expressed in 1:11-18, Paul does not list any "cons,” he only compares items that fall in the "pro” column. Paul constantly looks toward the good (so his final advice in 4:8). [The only "con” would be the remote chance that Paul would actually act in a way contrary to his Christian nature and thus bring shame.]
      1. Q: What are the "pros” if Paul chooses death? A: He will be with Christ (1:22). This will be an immense gain (1:20 & 23).
      2. Q: What are the "pros” if Paul chooses life? A: Productive work (1:22). Meeting a need of the Philippian church and making possible their advancement and joy.
      3. Q: Who would be the primary beneficiary of his death? A: Paul himself.
      4. Q: Who would be the primary beneficiary of his life? A: The Philippian church. Others!
    2. Thus Paul's decision ends up being a "no brainer.” Paul chooses life, precisely because that choice will be better for others. Q: But do you notice what Paul is willing to give up? A: "Being with Christ”! (The class should have been asked to look for this answer in the previous meeting. If this is the case, additional discussion can be expected. The lower case Roman numeral sections below are for that discussion if needed.)
      1. This class period is not the appropriate time to get into a discussion about what happens after death. Scripture provides two different scenarios, one appears to be heaven right after death and the other heaven after "Judgment Day.” Most Christians have attempted to join these two to varying degrees of success.
      2. It should be remembered that both biblical scenarios try to tell us what we cannot understand. What happens after death, by default, exceeds human experience. Faith requires us to understand that both are in some sense true. The ultimate meaning, that God's people will live eternally in His presence, remains unshaken.
      3. Still, whatever the immediately post mortem experience available to those who die in Christ, it is a testament to Paul's heart that he is willing to postpone being with Christ in order to help others. (For additional insight see Romans 9:3. Paul's sincerity is clear. The difference in Romans, though, is that his death would offer no help to the non-believing Jews. In Philippians, his life would prove beneficial.)
    3. Returning to verse 21, we find Paul stating a principle that can easily be missed. Paul states, "To live is Christ.” Q: What does this phrase mean? A: "Christ” is, above all else for Paul, Jesus on the cross. "Christ” sacrificed all for others. For Paul to "live” provides more opportunities for sacrifice - for giving up his rights and privileges for the benefit of those around him, just as Jesus did on the cross. Paul's life, paradoxically, is the death of Christ. (There are likely to be several different attempts at this answer. None of them are likely to be wrong, but Paul is making a specific point here that needs to be understood by the class. If an answer does not seem to make a strong enough connection, respond by asking, "How does that relate specifically to ‘Christ' in Paul's statement?” If the class continues to miss more than hit, have them read Philippians 2:5-8 and see if they can then understand what Paul means by "to live is Christ.”)
  4. In summary, Paul rejoices in his present circumstances because they help God's Word and people's souls advance (1:12-18), and he will rejoice in his future circumstances because they will help God's Word and people's souls advance (1:19-26). Paul is the eternal optimist because to live is Christ and to die is gain!

Application (10 minutes)

  1. Q: If Paul's motto is "to live is Christ,” what might the motto of the world be today? How would the world fill in the phrase "to live is __”? A: Most will complete the phrase with "self” or words related to selfishness or material goods. Make sure to emphasize this and contrast it with Paul's selfless attitude.
  2. Q: In the last two periods of study, have we seen any evidence in Philippians 1:12-26 that the world sometimes has a detrimental influence on the church? A: Absolutely! The "world” has imprisoned Paul for preaching the gospel. Others preach the gospel out of envy and for selfish ambition (1:15 & 17), reflecting worldly views. Q: Is that a danger, then, for the church today? A: Yes.
  3. If it is a danger for the church today, then this calls for some reflection. It is very easy to identify such traits in others, but we are the church. Do we exhibit those same traits? Ask the class members to think seriously about their relationships in and out of the church. Ask rhetorically, what have they given up or are they willing to give up in order to maintain relationships properly?
  4. Read 1 John 3:16-18. Have the class discuss how this passage corresponds to Paul's message to the Philippians. Q: In what ways are they similar? A: 1) Centered on Christ. 2) Expressed in words and action. 3) Self-sacrifice. Q: How are they different? A: Paul's contributions are in a sense less tangible. (This does not mean less important or substantial. There are some who are able to give money, but not their hearts to others. The Philippians come very close to that. There are some who can sympathize, but would not give any of their material possessions to others. Some Americans come very close to that.) This comparison is for the sake of seeing how the cross of Christ affects the entire person. Paul focuses on relationships in Philippians, but the cross demands the giving up oneself including in a sense all one owns. Perhaps you have no problem with Paul's teaching in Philippians, but you do with John's. Perhaps you have no problem with John's teaching, but you do with Paul's. Their teaching, though, is the same. The cross must change the entire person.

Assignment (2-5 minutes)

  1. Each class member should read 1:27-30.
  2. Challenge each class member to put the cross of Christ into practice this next week and to pay attention to the type of response such words and deeds elicit.

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