A Series on Paul | To Die or To Live

Scripture: Philippians 1:12-30

In the Bible, the book of Philippians is well-known as the Epistle of Joy. In it we have the famous verse that has been quoted again and again throughout generations: “Rejoice in the Lord always; I will say it again, rejoice!” (Phil 4:4). In this letter we see Paul rejoicing that Christ has been preached despite difficulties (1:18). We also read encouragements and positive outlooks toward the future: “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead” (3:13), “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there” (3:20), “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (4:13), “My God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (4:19)….

But perhaps because of the positive overtones (or perhaps because we read too much tones into the letter), we somehow missed the signals that Paul was under a stressful situation. He was in a prison. Life as a prisoner was, not surprisingly, bad. It was harsh enough that he thought he might die (but he wanted to die exalting Christ) (1:20).

There were rivalry and jealousy among coworkers; some specifically against him (1:15-17). There was disunity among coworkers in the Church of Philippi (2:1-3; 4:2-3). His helper Epaphroditus was ill (2:25-26). False teachers were trying to influence the Philippians (3:1-2). Enemies of the cross of Christ were among believers (3:18). (These were some difficulties that we can find from the book of Philippians. We know there were more from his other writings and possible even more that we simply don’t know.)

It is in this letter we hear Paul saying, “I am torn between the two. I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far [than to remain in the body]” (Phi 1:23-24).

I am not trying to paint a gloomy picture about the book of Philippians, and I certainly do not think that Paul was contemplating suicide. I still think the letter is full of joy and hope. What I am saying, however, is that the situation must have been so bad that at least the thought of death had crossed Paul’s mind. That does not mean he was seeking it. From the background information we know, more likely he was thinking about giving up the process of appealing to Caesar as he now felt that it would be useless.

Realizing the level of disappointment and/or distress that Paul was experiencing would be helpful for us to appreciate Paul’s encouragement and his urging to rejoice.

If the thought of death has crossed your mind in the past, you are not alone. Even the spiritual giant had thought about it. And nowadays we also know that the thought of death or suicide has gone through everyone’s mind at least once.

But let us open our heart to God and listen to Paul’s teaching despite distress and difficulties:

  • Live For Christ (1:20-21). Have a desire to exalt Christ in life and in death. When we live, we live for Christ. When we die, it will be a gain.
  • Live a life benefiting others (1:24-25). Paul realized that his life would be useful for the Church of Philippi and other Churches, thus he would continue to live with strength and joy.
  • Pray and ask others to pray for us (1:19).
  • Press on toward the goal (3:14). Here we have the familiar passage, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead” (Phi 3:13). For Paul, it was to continue the mission of preaching the gospels to people who have not heard about it. Each of us also has a call from God in our life. Although we might run into difficulties from time to time, we should also learn to forget what is behind, and press on toward the goal!

It has been nice sharing with all of you through this blog. Today I made a special prayer for all readers from this site. If you are under any difficulty, stress, or struggle, may our good Lord be close to you. May He give you wisdom on how to handle your difficulty. May He strengthen and empower you. May you live a beautiful life glorifying His name and being a blessing to others!


davidDavid Soemarko received his M.A.T.S. degree (Master of Arts in Theological Studies) from Moody Theological Seminary – Michigan. He had served as a teaching elder for nearly 15 years. He has also taught the Bible in different levels (from Sunday school classes to theological classes) for about 30 years. David is also a computer/electrical engineer (with a M.S. degree from University of Michigan). He enjoys a wide range of hobbies including computer applications, drawing, painting, printmaking, photography, music, piano, gardening, and science of cooking and baking.

David blogs at on bible and bible applications.

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