One of the most famous lines in all of Shakespearian literature comes from the opening phrase of Hamlet's soliloquy near the beginning of Act III. Hamlet has faced tragedy all around him. And he tries to make sense of it all. He contemplates ending his own life.
With skull in hand, Hamlet's soliloquy begins with these famous words, "To be or not to be: that is the question." Hamlet goes on to weigh the moral legitimacy of suicide in light of the incredible pains of this life. Coming from an entirely humanistic perspective, he reasons that the pains of life are great enough that suicide is justified and even desirable. However, in the end, Hamlet reasons that the uncertainties of the afterlife are greater than the pains of this life. Thus, the reason why so few commit suicide.
And really, Hamlet's perspective of life and death is the only thing that you get if you look at things from a humanistic perspective. All you have is doubt and a false hope of something better.
Well, this morning, as we come to our time in the Scriptures, we are going to see Paul's soliloquy. We are going to hear Paul's thoughts about life and death. We are going to hear him speak about his own mortality. We are going to hear him weigh the benefits of living and dying. We are going to gain his perspective on these things.
And, as Paul's thoughts come from a godly perspective, I trust that you will see how different Paul's soliloquy is than Hamlet's. Hamlet's soliloquy was spoken in depression and melancholy. Hamlet's perspective was not filled with hope. It was filled with uncertainty. Paul, on the other hand, was filled with hope and joy. He was filled with certainty. The core of his soliloquy is verse 21, "to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21).
Now, unlike Hamlet, Paul isn't talking about suicide. But, he is talking about death. He's talking about dying at the hands of the state. He's talking about having his head lopped off by the Romans. But still he isn't afraid of death in any way. Paul knows that what awaits him as a believer in Christ is untold glory with Jesus. But, the glories of what awaits him doesn't mean that he wants out. As we shall see, it only drives him to serve others.
Our text is Philippians 1:19-21. Now, before we read these verses, I want to remind us of where we have been already in this letter. The book of Philippians is a "Thank You Note" that Paul sent to the church in Philippi in response to a financial gift that he sent to him to help him during his days of imprisonment. And when Paul began writing (in verse 3), he was filled with thankfulness. "I thank my God in all my remembrance of you" (verse 3).
And Paul goes on to tell those in Philippi why he is so thankful. He remembers how they were partners with him in the gospel, even from the first day, until now. And these things stir his heart for thankfulness.
In verse 7, Paul says how his feelings toward the Philippians are only right, because of his great love for those in Philippi. He knew these people. He cared for these people. And that's why they were on his heart. That's why Paul was so thankful and prayerful and joyful as he remembered them.
In verses 9-11, we see Paul's prayer that he prayed for them.
And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
And after his prayer in verse 12, Paul goes on to explain how his circumstances, as bad as they looked, were actually used by God for some unexpectedly great things. Verse 12 says, "Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel."
In his confinement, he has been able to proclaim the gospel to the Roman guards assigned to watch him. They have spread the message throughout the entire praetorian guard, even to the household of Caesar (4:22). Those outside his confinement, who have heard of his imprisonment, have been emboldened to preach Christ Jesus. Some are doing so with poor motives, but this didn't bother Paul too much. He concludes in verse 18, "What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice" (verse 18).
In other words, whenever Jesus Christ is lifted high, Paul rejoices. Whenever people are called to repent of their sins and believe in Jesus as their Savior and Lord, Paul rejoices. Whenever the gospel is proclaimed, Paul rejoices.
Though there may be some bad motives with preachers; and though there be some warning signs in their ministries; and though Paul would certainly warn against some of these dangers, Paul still rejoices whenever Christ is proclaimed. And that's where we concluded last week.
... In this I rejoice.
And this is where our hearts need to be. We need to "rejoice in the gospel," which is the theme of Philippians. Our text this morning actually begins there at the end of verse 18. Paul writes, ...
... Yes, and I will rejoice.
At this point, Paul turns his focus to the future. He doesn't know exactly what the future holds. But, he knows that he will rejoice in the future.
Now, verses 19-26 are a reflection about Paul's future. Remember, he's in prison. He's awaiting trial. It may turn out well. It may turn out bad. He may be released. He may lose his head. But, regardless of what happens, Paul knows one thing: "Yes, and I will rejoice."
Is this your perspective on life? Regardless of what comes your way, are you ready and willing to rejoice? Are you ready to follow Paul's example? Philippians 3:17 tells us, "Brethren, join in following my example." Are you ready to follow Paul's counsel? Philippians 4:4 instructs, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!" God commands us to rejoice in Him. When things are good as well as when things look bad, rejoice in Him.
The only way that we can ever rejoice always is if we rejoice in the Lord. The circumstances of life are simply too difficult to always rejoice. But, if we rejoice in the Lord, that's a different story. We can always find reason to rejoice in Him. In fact, this is the key for how Paul could pledge that he would rejoice always. His joy was rooted in God. His joy was rooted in God's plan for his life.
Let's read the text through verse 26, ...
... Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again.
In verses 19 and 20, we see Paul, ...
Paul was hopeful that he would be delivered from prison. In verse 19, he says, "I know that this will turn out for my deliverance." I think that Paul has his pulse on what's going to happen to him in Rome. He knows that he is being held on trumped up charges. He knows that according to Roman law, he did nothing wrong.
In fact, do you remember the story told in Acts 26, when Paul gave his defense before King Agrippa? Agrippa's judgment was this: "This man is not doing anything worthy of death or imprisonment .... This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar" (Acts 26:31-32). And yet, because Paul appealed to Caesar, he was sent to Rome where he was awaiting trial.
I'm sure that Paul had a feel for what would happen to him on his day in court. The secular King in Caesarea said that he had done nothing wrong. Surely, he thought, such would be the case with those in Rome. That's why he confidently states, "I know that this will turn out for my deliverance."
And yet, when it comes to court cases, you just never know exactly what the outcome is going to be. That can be true of the top court and all lower courts. We know a lot about the Supreme Court justices in our land. We know what they believe and we know how they have ruled in the past. And yet, there are times when we are surprised by how they rule.
When it comes to lower courts, the same thing happens as well. You present your case before the judge, and it's up to his judgment exactly how he will rule on any particular day.
And when Paul was thinking about his own trial, he had a measure of confidence that he would be released. In the text, I see three reasons why he's confident.
The first reason why Paul is confident refers back to the previous paragraph. "I know that this will turn out for my deliverance."
You have to ask yourself, "What is Paul referring to, when he says, 'this'?" It's the entire dynamic of Christ being preached. You read verses 14-17, and the sense you get is that Christ is being proclaimed far and wide. You have "most of the brethren" being emboldened to preach. You have others, who are even preaching from impure motives out there preaching. You know that people are coming to faith in Christ, even in Caesar's household (4:22).
I think that Paul sees the swing of pagan Rome hearing more and more about this sect called Christianity. And though the Romans may not all embrace the faith, at least they were hearing more and more about it. And they were seeing the sorts of things that it creates. It creates better citizens. It creates harder workers. It creates moral people. It creates joyful people. And as the reputation of the followers of Christ increase throughout Rome, Paul's chances of release increase as well.
But, there are two more reasons why Paul is confident in his deliverance. They come in verse 19, ...
for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance (2) through your prayers and (3) the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,
Paul believes that the prayers of the Philippians would be effective. Paul believes that he will be released through the prayers of the Philippians.
2. The Prayers
You know, often we can have such a high view of God that we think that prayer is simply the conforming of our will to God's will. Because, ultimately, God will do whatever He has purposed in His heart to do. We see this in the Psalms:
For I know that the LORD is great
And that our Lord is above all gods.
Whatever the LORD pleases, He does,
In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps.
And there is a measure of truth to this. We need to pray as Jesus taught us to pray, "Your will be done" (Matthew 6:10). We need to pray as Jesus, Himself prayed, "Yet not as I will, but as You will" (Matthew 26:39).
But look here in verse 19. Paul puts forth the other side of prayer, ...
for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers ...
Let us be reminded afresh that God really listens to our prayers. Let us be reminded of this, "the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much" (James 5:16). Do you have burdens in your life? Then, pray in faith and trust that God will hear your prayers. Trust that God will intervene in the difficulties because of your prayers.
It is interesting to note here in verse 19 that a literal translation of this says, ...
for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through the prayer of all of you. ...
In other words, Paul isn't talking here about the Philippians all praying in their homes individually for his release. He's talking about the prayer that is made to God by all the people. This can either be the prayer of public worship, when the whole assembly is together and one man is praying aloud and all the congregation is praying with him in their hearts. Or it can be the prayer meeting, when all are gathered, earnestly praying together.
These words compel me, as your pastor, to encourage you in our corporate prayers together. When Phil, Darryn, or others are up front leading in prayer, be praying with them in your heart. When the church gathers for our prayer meeting, come and pray with us. But, more importantly, believe that your prayers will actually make a difference in this life.
Paul believed that our prayer would be effective. Do you? Do I?
I had a great reminder of this during the week. As you all know, I'm heading out on a missions trip in a few weeks. In order to go, I need to have a visa. Because of my position as a pastor, I have been a bit worried as to whether or not this visa would be issued. In the application process I was instructed over and over again not to purchase tickets until I have the visa in hand. However, with time running low, we, as elders, decided to continue on and purchase the tickets. In some ways it was a step of faith to purchasethe tickets.
Before I purchased the tickets, my visa status said something to the effect of "under review by consolate." In other words, all of my documents had been submitted and my visa was being considered by the governmental authorities. I knelt down and prayed to the Lord. Then, I purchased my tickets. The next time that I checked my visa status (a few hours later), it said something to the effect of "dispatched to courier." In other words, my visa was en route to me! I trust that the Lord heard my prayers and answered them..
3. The Holy Spirit
Thirdly, we see why our prayers are effective. They are effective because of the power of the Holy Spirit, ...
for I know that (1) this will turn out for my deliverance (2) through your prayers and (3) the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,
This is how the prayers of the Philippians for Paul would be answered. The Spirit of Jesus Christ would come and answer the prayer. He would move the hearts of the judges to let Paul go free. As Proverbs 21:1 says, "the king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes."
What God does with kings, He can also do with judges. Surely, Paul found comfort when standing before the judge, that God's hand was upon the heart of the judge. God would be sovereign over the decision.
And as Paul writes here in verses 19-20, Paul is hopeful of his deliverance. You can see his hope right there in verse 20, ...
according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.
In other words, Paul was hopeful that he would not be shamed before God. He was also hopeful that he would not be shamed as a criminal. He was hoping that his deeds would be vindicated in the end. Vindicated as not worthy of a criminal, as not worthy of death, but vindicated fully and entirely. Once vindicated, Paul could continue on preaching Christ with all openness, with all boldness, completely unhindered. It was his preaching that landed him in prison. And his hope is that he can continue right on preaching after prison.
Paul may well have thought back to the apostles, Peter and John, who were bold in their preaching in the early days of the church. Their boldness landed them in prison. It gave them a date with the Sanhedrin, who warned them to preach no longer in the name of Christ. And they answered, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:19-20). That's what they did. They went right out and preached as eye-witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. They went right out and preached what Jesus called all men to do: repent and believe in Him.
And it landed them in prison again. And again they gave the testimony, "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). And again they were ordered not to speak any more in the name of Jesus (Acts 5:40). And they were flogged and released (Acts 5:40). "...and every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ' (Acts 5:42). And Jesus Christ was magnified in their ministry. These disciples went from the presence of the council "rejoicing that they were considered worthy to suffer shame for His name" (Acts 5:41).
Paul's hope is the same for release, but he is looking for freedom completely without shame. His hope is for deliverance, such that he might be able to preach Christ. Such that Christ Jesus would be magnified through his ministry.
And then, Paul comes right back to his imprisonment, ...
... whether by life or by death.
Paul knew full well that his death may be near. But, whether he lived or died, he wanted to exalt the Lord. And then comes that famous statement.
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
This leads us into my second point. Not only is Paul Hoping for Deliverance (verses 19-20), but he's also, ...
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
In some ways, this parallels Hamlet's statement. Shakespeare's Hamlet would say, "To be or not to be, that is the question." Paul says this: "To live is Christ and to die is gain."
In both statements, the subject is life and death. In both statements, life and death are expressed as infinitives. "To be" ... "Not to be"; "To live" ... "To die." These infinitives both give brevity to their statements. They both help to bring profundity to their statements.
But, here is where they diverge. Shakespeare's Hamlet puts it forth as a question, which is never really answered. Paul puts it forth as a statement, which puts forth great hope for the believer in Christ. Shakespeare's Hamlet would say that both options are bad. "To be" is filled with pain and tragedy in this life. "Not to be" is filled with uncertainty.
But, Paul says the exact opposite. Paul says, "To live is Christ," -- a life of joy and abundance in the gospel. Paul says, "To die is gain," -- it only gets better after you die. This is the key why Paul was able to say at the end of verse 18, "Yes, and I will rejoice." When you know that your future is filled with two good options, there is no reason not to rejoice. It's as if I were to ask the kids, "Do you want ice cream? Or do you want candy?" Both are good options! 
Paul knew that if he lived, he experienced Christ! Paul knew that if he died, it only got better. When death was imminent, he wrote in 2 Timothy, "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing." (2 Timothy 4:6-8) Paul looked forward to death, because he knew of the reward that awaited him.
So, what happens when a believer dies? We go immediately into the presence of Jesus. Absence from the body is presence with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). Paul says here in our text in verse 23, "having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better." To the thief on the cross, Jesus said, "Today you will be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43).
Not only that, but those who die trusting in Jesus, will go into the presence of "the spirits of the righteous made perfect" (Hebrews 12:23). And we wait with Jesus for the final day when we will be given our resurrection bodies and rewarded for our service to Christ. In other words, it will be gain!
Sadly, too many of us live another way. Instead of believing with Paul that, "To live is Christ and to die is gain," we flip them. We think to live is gain and to die is Christ.
Now, the last part of that is very real. When believers in Christ die, we get Jesus. When believers in Christ die, we get Jesus in all His glory. That is certain, I'm not denying that.
But, we can often think of this life as so wonderful that we don't really want to let go, because it is "gain." Perhaps our perspective is skewed, because we live in America. We live in the land of abundance. Never, in the history of the world, has there ever been a people so blessed financially as we have been blessed in America. And life is pretty good for us Americans. The whole world wants to immigrate here to America.
Does our nation have problems? Yes! Will we face problems in the future? Yes! But, compared with the poverty of the world, our problems are small. And so, it's easy to think of this life only. And it's easy to live as if this life is the gain that we really want.
But, church family, such is not the case. We are living in Disneyland right now. Perhaps a good dose of persecution would wake us up. Perhaps a good dose of trouble would wake us up. Perhaps facing some financial loss because of a moral stand that you take would wake you up. Perhaps an illness or some tragedy in your family would wake you up. Oh, may God give us such blessings.
When I think of these things, I think of David Brainerd, the humble missionary to the American Indians in the 1700's. His life we know only because Jonathan Edwards published his diary. How many godly saints have lived similar lives only to die in obscurity? But, we do know of David Brainerd. David Brainerd knew of troubles in his life. David Brainerd knew hardships. And as a result, David Brainerd knew of longing for the gain of death.
He was a weak and sickly man with a passion for Jesus and making him known. He suffered from many weaknesses and troubles. He suffered from tuberculosis, frequently coughing up blood. I remember him telling the story of how conflicted he was in his sufferings. He lived out in the wilderness with the American Indians, serving them and preaching the gospel to them. During the winter months, the only heat in his little cabin was an open fire that filled his cabin with smoke. But, the smoke stirred his tuberculosis and brought him into great coughing fits. He could get relief from this by going outside and breathing in the fresh air. But during the winter months, it was bitter cold outside, and was far from pleasant. And when outside, he longed for the heat of inside. Such pains in this live brought him to long for life after the grave.
We could read much from his diary to edify us in these ways. But, I'll share only one that illustrates my point. He models living for Christ, knowing that dying is gain. This text takes us from the trials and difficulties of life to longing for the relief that comes in death.
Thursday, Nov. 22.
Came on my way from Rockciticus to Delaware river. Was very much disordered with a cold and pain in my head. About six at night I lost my way in the wilderness, and wandered over rocks and mountains, down hideous steeps, through swamps, and most dreadful and dangerous places; and the night being dark, so that few stars could be seen, I was greatly exposed. I was much pinched with cold, and distressed with an extreme pain in my head, attended with sickness at my stomach; so that every step I took was distressing to me. I had little hope for several hours together, but that I must lie out in the woods all night, in this distressed case. But about nine o'clock I found a house, through the abundant goodness of God, and was kindly entertained.
Thus I have frequently been exposed, and sometimes lain out the whole night; but God has hitherto preserved me; and blessed be his name. Such fatigues and hardships as these serve to wean me more from the earth; and, I trust, will make heaven the sweeter. Formerly, when I was thus exposed to cold, rain, &c. I was ready to please myself with the thoughts of enjoying a comfortable house, a warm fire, and other outward comforts; but now these have less place in my heart, (through the grace of God,) and my eye is more to God for comfort. In this world I expect tribulation; and it does not now, as formerly, appear strange to me. I do not in such seasons of difficulty flatter myself that it will be better hereafter; but rather think, how much worse it might be; how much greater trials others of God's children have endured; and how much greater are yet perhaps reserved for me.
Blessed be God, that he makes the thoughts of my journey's end and of my dissolution a great comfort to me, under my sharpest trials; and scarce ever lets these thoughts be attended with terror or melancholy; but they are attended frequently with great joy.
Friday, Nov. 23.
Visited a sick man; discoursed and prayed with him. Then visited another house, where was one dead and laid out; looked on the corpse, and longed that my time might come to depart, that I might be with Chris. 
Trouble and longing for the gain of death go hand-in-hand together. Perhaps we don't share with the heart of the apostle Paul, because our life is gain. But, when our life is Christ, then we will see our death as gain.
Many times we have a skewed view of heaven. We think of a tranquil place with our friends. But, we have tranquility here! We have friends here. What makes heaven so great? Jesus does.
John Piper said it well, ...
The critical question for our generation -- and for every generation -- is this:
If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ were not there? 
Are you "Ready to Die" (verse 21) as the apostle Paul was? If your life this day is not about Jesus Christ, then you have no reason to believe that your death is gain.
When we die, we get the fullness of Christ. When we die, we get the glories of God! Is that your desire? Is that your heart?
As I prepared my message for this week, I did as I always do. I listened to a bunch of pastors preach on my text. My mp3 player is a wonderful little device. I have scoured the internet for pastors who have preached through the book of Philippians. I downloaded their messages and placed them on my device. I have on it some 20 pastors who preached all the way through Philippians. I have some 650 messages from their preaching series. I have 21 days of audio of men preaching through Philippians. Do I listen to all of them? No, not a chance. But, I do listen to all that I can. When driving someplace or when working on a simple project, you will often find me with an ear bud in my ear listening to pastors preaching on Philippians.
A common theme of messages that I listened to this week was the giving of testimonies of those who had died in faith, faithful to the end. Pastors spoke of those on their deathbeds expressing their longings for Jesus. Pastors spoke about those suffering long battles with cancer, trusting in Christ with joy until the end. I found it very effective to drive home Paul's point, "to live is Christ and to die is gain."
It is so effective because people were putting shoe leather to their faith; because people were finding these things to be true. And rather than facing death with terror or with depression, as Hamlet did in Shakespeare's play, they were joyful in their deaths.
My favorite story that I heard was what Kent Hughes told. He told of a man in his congregation who had been sick for some time. And when it came to the point of death, his family was called to his bedside. He was unable to talk because his illness. But, he was able to muster enough strength to write a message to his family.
And so, with his family all around him, with painstaking slowness, he wrote out those 12 words, "For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain." And he wrote one last word before he died, "Hallelujah!" It took him 5 minutes to write it. But, it expressed his heart well.
It expresses the heart of all believers who die well in the Lord. My hope and prayer is for all of you, that you would die this way -- exalting Christ in your body (verse 20). Now certainly, the details of your death will be different. But, may those who witness your life and your death be able to rejoice because you lived for Christ and your death only brings gain.
Eleven years ago, I was with Rich Garden and his family, after his wife, Theresa had been rushed to St. Anthony's hospital in an ambulance. The emergency room doctor came in and spoke to us about Theresa. He began with these words, "As you probably guessed, things didn't go well...." He then went on to describe how Theresa was transported to the hospital by ambulance. He described how CPR was performed, how an I.V. was started, and how some medicines were given to help. He told us that when she arrived at the hospital, it had been 25 minutes with little or no heartbeat. He said compassionately, "As I am sure you know, the outcome of 25 minutes with little or no heartbeat is not encouraging. The chance of survival is not very good. In fact, it is zero percent. When she arrived at the hospital, I pronounced her D.O.A. I am sorry for the bad news." He then asked if there were any questions.
Alec, her son, replied, "But Doctor, things did go well. She went to heaven to be forever with the Lord. For she died faithful in Christ."
Will you give a similar opportunity for your children to speak this way of your death? The only way that you will is if you find today that "to live is Christ." May Jesus be your life.
This sermon was delivered to Rock Valley Bible Church on
October 27, 2013 by Steve Brandon.
For more information see www.rvbc.cc.
 On a humorous note, there was a three and a half year-olf in the congregation listening to my message. Obviously, such a child will hardly be able to catch everything in the sermon. Anyway, I happened to greet him afterwards. His question to me was, "Where's the ice cream?" It was a very special moment. I told him to stay still as I went downstairs in our church building to the kitchen. I pulled out a freeze pop, which I gave to him. It was the best I could do.