Celebrate Jesus

Philippians 1:20-27

20 For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. 21 For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. 22 But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. 23 I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. 24 But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. 25 Knowing this, I am convinced that I will remain alive so I can continue to help all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith. 26 And when I come to you again, you will have even more reason to take pride in Christ Jesus because of what he is doing through me.


Philippians is sometimes referred to as the Epistle of Joy, the word joy and rejoice is used 12 times in this rather brief letter. I am not shocked that it is usually the first book I finish when I read through the bible. Ironically, Paul wrote this letter while he was under house arrest in Rome. As Dr. Eugene Peterson points out in his introduction to Philippians, none of Paul’s circumstances could contribute to his abounding joy. [1] He was in chains; bound wrist to wrist to a Roman Guard. [2] His person and work were under attack by critics who celebrated his incarceration. [3] Paul was not a young man and his travels and the persecution he had endured had taken a toll on him physically. Paul was tired and welcomed some relief.

When I study Paul declaration of faith in this passage, I think about the little girls who ask her daddy…”Daddy is Jesus bigger than you?” [Dad] “Sure honey, Jesus is much bigger than your dad.” [Girl] “Daddy, does Jesus live in you? [Dad] “Sure darling, Jesus lives in me.” [Girl] “Daddy, if Jesus lives in you and he is bigger than you, then He will stick out somewhere, want He?

I get my title for this message in verse 26…The Voice…”When I return to you, we will celebrate Jesus the Anointed ever more.” The word translated ‘Celebrate’ is perisseuō and it means to overflow, to abound, to exceed the limits. It is a word stronger than rejoice, it is a CELEBRATION, an outbreak of wondrous praise and joy. It is joy overflowing.

We have organized our thought around for headings…

I. FIRST, THERE IS PAUL’S PRAYER [His earnest expectation]

To express himself here, Paul uses a word that he may very well have coined, it is three Greek words in one which means “an anxious [excited] look ahead”. So we are sure that Paul was looking at the future and although he is confident in his faith, he is a bit anxious about what is going to happen. His first appeal went well but his main hearing is yet to come and it could be before Nero who was insane and sadistic. He was also a pervert. I don’t see how Paul could have been anything other than anxious, do you?

I think most of us in these circumstances would be focused on survival but this is not Paul’s main concern: Paul’s hope, his prayer is threefold: [1] He does not want to be ashamed of Christ or the gospel. To this point Paul has never been ashamed and he doesn’t anticipate that he will be but he doesn’t want to make the same mistake as Peter, so he make it an issue of prayer. Paul said, I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed but remember, the Greek word translated expect involves an anxious waiting. None of us want to be ashamed of Christ but practically all of us have acted ashamed on more than one occasion.  [2] Secondly, Paul said, “I want to continue to be bold as I have been in the past.” Paul’s boldness makes me feel timid. I’m probably more of a John Mark type than a Paul but I do admire him for his boldness and I long deeply to be bold as well. [3] Paul’s third prayer desire was that his life would honor Christ. So Paul does not want to be ashamed of Jesus; he wants to proclaim Jesus boldly and he wants to honor Christ with his life. My purpose is life is to honor Christ by being obedient to His word. No human can block this life goal. If my life goal was to Pastor DBC, lots of people could block that goal but I am the only person who can keep me from living a life of obedience that honors Christ.


Paul say in verse 21, “For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. The NASB reads, For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” The Greek word for gain is kerdos and it is used only three times in N.T. Twice in Philippians 1:21, 3:7 and Titus 1:11 where it is preceded by an adjective and means sordid gain, or dirty money. The word simply means gain or advantage. I have always translated it promotion. “For to me to live is Christ and to die is a promotion.” For the Christian, dying is far better than living. One thing we can count on, heaven will not be anti-climatic. It will be far better, infinitely better. But the real issue here is not Paul’s promotion but his passion, he said, “For me,” personally, “to live is Christ”. In other words, Christ was Paul’s life. Paul did not say, for me to live is sports…for me to live is my children. You’ve heard people say, “He lives for sports” hadn’t you. That man lives for Alabama football. He lives for hunting. Christ was Paul’s greatest passion so for him to live was Christ. What do you put where Paul put Christ? For you to live is ____________. What goes in the blank? What is your greatest passion? What do you think about most? Where do you invest your money? For some folks, for me to live is my garden, yard, house on the lake. Some people live for their job. Paul lived for Christ. His passion was Christ. If Christ goes in the first blank [For me to live is _________] then gain, something better, promotion goes in the second. But if something other than Christ goes in the first blank, something other than gain will go in the second. For me to live is money and to die is to lose it all. For me to live is popularity and to die is to be forgotten.


The AV translated 23-24 like this…For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you. The NASB reads…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. The New Living simplifies it…I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me.

So Paul is feeling some inter conflict. He is having a struggle because he has contrary desires. A part of him longs for heaven and rest but another part wants to live and labor. I think most Christians suffer from this conflict. Sometimes we get tired, our burdens get heavy and we long to be at rest and peace. We long to say goodbye to this sin cursed world that neither appreciates us or our Savior. Paul knows what is best for him but he doesn’t know what is best for the Philippians.

When Paul said “I long to go and be with Christ,” [v.23] the word is epithymia and it denotes the strongest possible desire. It is even used in connection with lust. Paul longed to be with Christ like a lover longs to be with the one they love. Nero is a bad dude and beheading is not the dream of most but Paul longing was so strong that death had an appeal to him. He knew that the moment the ax severed his head from his body, that he would be with Jesus. So he wanted to be with Christ but he knew the Philippians needed him more.


After thinking this thing through, Paul was persuaded that he would be staying on. This meant, he would be delivered from the present danger. Was Paul deceived in his thinking or did he get released? Those who have done a through study of Paul’s Epistles believe that it was likely that he did get released the first time. What is unclear is how he got there the second time. It seems evident that the apostle Paul was imprisoned twice at Rome and that 1 Timothy and Titus were written during the period between the two imprisonments and 2 Timothy during the second imprisonment. Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon were written during Paul’s first imprisonment. Paul is convinced that he is going to be delivered and many folks believe that this happened because the statue of limitations or so to speak ran out before formal charges were brought. So Paul would have been in Rome under house arrest for two years.

It all makes sense: Paul makes it clear in II Timothy that no man stood with him in his defense. This suggest a second imprisonment because we know that he was never alone in the first. Nero’s persecutions began in 64, Paul was probably released one year prior. There is strong historical evidence that he visited the Southern part of Spain and returned to Asia Minor, Syria and even Palestine. We believe he was martyred in 66 by Nero. He probably returned to Rome and was arrested for being a Christian. His presence there would be cause enough for the arrest since Nero had started the persecution. It is believe that Peter got there some time after Paul’s death because it is inconceivable that Paul would not mention him in II Timothy if he had been there.

So here in Philippians, Paul is confident that he will remain alive and be reunited with the Philippians and we they come together, there will be a huge celebration. A celebration so big that joy would not be adequate to describe it. It was greater than joy, it was the overflowing of joy. It was joy to the tenth power. Perhaps joy divine.