Article of the Month

September 2015


Paul writes some verses in Philippians which are often poorly translated and even more often totally misinterpreted. They are found in Philippians 1:20-25. Because Benjamin Wilson’s EMPHATIC DIAGLOTT translation comes closest to being the most accurate of available translations, we will quote it here:


20. Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by Life or by Death.

21. Therefore, for me to live is [to live] for Christ, and to die, gain.

22. But if to live in the flesh, this is to me a fruit of labor; and what I should choose I do not exactly know.

23. I am, indeed, hard pressed by the two things; — (I have an earnest desire for the returning and being with Christ, since it is very much to be preferred); —

24. but to remain in the flesh is more requisite on your account.

25. And fully believing this, I know I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and Joy in the faith.


Inherent in most translations and explanations is that they do not allow most students to see that Paul is speaking of NOT TWO, but THREE situations. They are not all three available to him; but he IS MENTIONING three options.


The “TWO things” which he mentions in verses 20, 21, and 23 are LIFE and DEATH. NOTE CAREFULLY: He states that he doesn’t know which of these he would choose! (Verse 22) THAT is part of the secret to understanding these verses. Paul really DOESN’T KNOW, if he had the choice, which of these TWO available options he would choose. Thus, when he brings up a THIRD option (verse 23), it is QUITE DIFFERENT. Of the third option he clearly states that “it is very much to be preferred.” In other words, if, indeed, he COULD have the third option, he would not hesitate to take it. But of the two options which WERE AVAILABLE TO HIM AT THE TIME, what he would choose he did “not exactly know.” (Verse 22)


So, what is the THIRD option? The third option is THE RETURNING. Paul, of course, doesn’t mean HIS returning. He’s never been anywhere else except on earth. So, we must not misinterpret “returning” to mean that HE was going to return somewhere. He is speaking of the second advent of Jesus — THE RETURNING OF CHRIST. Paul well knew that THAT event was in the remote future from his lifetime. Thus it was not an option for him. If it were, THAT IS WHAT HE WOULD CHOOSE WITHOUT HESITATION!


The options of (1) continuing to live in the service of Christ and the brethren or, (2) to die and rest in sleep from all the burdens of his difficult life were both POSSIBLE for him. Obviously, HE was not going to choose. He would leave that to God. But Paul knew that both options had advantages. Hence he says “what I should choose I do not exactly know.” It is a fair assessment of the possibilities. Fortunately. he didn’t have to choose. He was, however, eminently certain of the then-non-available option: He would choose death when the time came that death would mean his glorification and his being with his Lord. That would not happen until the “returning” of Christ (verse 23).


He DOES reckon, however, that for the sake of the brethren, Paul’s continuance in life WAS A DEFINITE ADVANTAGE FOR THEM. That is his conclusion in verse 24. In verse 25 he says that, because he fully believes his continuing ministry is for the Church’s benefit, that the Lord will have him continue to live for their spiritual progress and growing joys in the faith.


The entire context becomes quite beautiful when we realize these factors. All mystery disappears. We will paraphrase Paul’s message with as much clarity as is possible for us:


20.  Whether I continue to live, or whether the Lord relieves my burdens by my death, in either case, Christ will be magnified by whatever happens to my flesh.

21.  Thus it is abundantly clear that if I keep on living, I will be living for the service and interests of Christ. If I should die, it will be a personal gain for me because that will indicate that the Lord has been pleased by my service and has allowed my labors to cease.

22.  But if, indeed, I continue to live, it will indicate that my labor is bearing fruitage. So, you can see why I would be hard pressed to make the choice between life and death if I actually had that choice! I really don’t know which I would be inclined to choose!

23.  The two options constitute a dilemma for the thought process! BUT I DO HAVE AN OPTION I WOULD SURELY PICK if it were available at the moment! What I truly want is the second advent, the return of our Lord, when, in resurrection glory, I could be with him! — THAT is the option which any of us would prefer; but we all must await THAT time.

24.  Right now, however, it seems to me clear that my continuing in life is for YOUR benefit.

25.  Because of that, I am sure the Lord will yet let me remain in the flesh for your spiritual benefit, growth, and joy.





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