Philippians 1:18b-26 – No Shame!

Paul expects that his imprisonment will not end in shame (v. 18b-20).  Paul’s desire is to be free of this legal threat, to be delivered from the charges and return to the ministry to which he has been called.

Paul’s expectation is that everything that has happened will turn out to be his salvation. The word here is used literally for getting out of a boat (John 21:9, ἀποβαίνω). The word comes to be used as a metaphor for getting an expected result: “things turn out as planned.” “Deliverance” is usually translated salvation, the word does not always mean “salvation from my sins,” sometimes it means “saved from a bad situation.”  “Eager expectation” (ἀποκαραδοκία) is a rare word only found in Christian writings, although the verb appears in Herodotus for “awaiting the outcome of a war” (vii.163, 168).  Paul used the word in Rom 8:19: all creation has an “eager expectation for revealing of the sons of God.” The impression the reader has is of Paul looking forward to his release so that he can return to his long-delayed mission.

To Die Is GainBeing under house arrest is something most people in the Roman world would consider “shameful.” Shame in the Roman world was serious, people would do all that they could to avoid something that brought them shame awhile at the same time trying to increase their honor in society. This pursuit of honor often took precedence over wealth or love. Just to be under house arrest for any reason was shameful. To be in prison for preaching the story of a man who was crucified (the ultimate shame) would be enough shame to doom most people.

Yet Paul He has “full courage” that “Christ will be honored in my body,” implying that things might not go as well as he hopes. Even if he should die as a result his trial, death is still a gain! (v. 21-24) This is one of the most cherished passages in Philippians because it expresses the hope that when we die, we will be with Christ, which is “far better.” Paul’s life is defined as “Christ.” Whatever he does in this life is for Christ and Christ alone. Roman life was defined by their pursuit of honor. Whatever a Roman might do in order to gain honor for themselves, yet Paul willingly gives up in order to reach others for Christ.

“To die is gain” runs counter to how a Roman person would think. If Paul dies, then he proves his shame! Many famous Romans chose to commit suicide rather than accept greater shame, “death before dishonor.” Socrates is an example of this, although much closer to the time of Paul Cato the Younger killed himself in 46 B.C. because his army was defeated by Julius, so too Brutus, who killed himself in 42 B.C. after it was obvious Octavian would prevail (Brutus participated in the assassination of Julius, Octavian’s adopted father). Both Seneca and Nero killed themselves a few years after Philippians was written (A.D. 65 and 68).

This anticipates what Paul will say about Jesus in the next chapter. Jesus is the ultimate example of “to die is gain.” Paul is not talking about a “noble suicide.” Just as Jesus gave his life on behalf of others, Paul is also willing to lay down his life so that the Gospel will continue to advance.

Paul is “hard pressed” between these two good things. If he lives, he can continue the ministry to which God has already called him, especially to continue working with the Philippian church in order to build it up spiritually. Paul is not expressing some sort of morose acceptance of his impending death, nor is he giving up on this life because of his hardships. If he is not executed, he will continue his mission; if he is executed God has already raised up other leaders who will continue to preach the Gospel.

Because he expects the gospel to continue to advance, he prays for the Philippian church to continue to grow spiritually (v. 25-26). In spite of his imprisonment and competition of rival preachers, all that matters to Paul is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


One thought on “Philippians 1:18b-26 – No Shame!

  1. For us, it is hard to understand the role that “honor” played in the lives of the Roman citizens. I know that in some Asian cultures, students connect this honor to getting straight A’s or just doing extremely well in academics, sports, playing instruments, as well as other extracurricular activities. Some cultures look at honor as displayed in the way people greet each other: those who are more honorable are bowed down to. Respect goes hand-in-hand with honor in this case. Some people will show respect by not making eye contact with those they perceive to be more honorable. In my culture, using an elder’s name (first or last) is considered disrespectful because their age has granted them honor in the eyes of society. Instead, we say for example “the mother of (insert the name of the eldest child)”. Those who do not follow these rules are considered to be “malcriado” which literally translates to “brought up poorly”, a form of shaming others. The family name holds a lot of value especially to older generations. When people are dating, elders will often ask “who is your father?” as a way to assess whether they come from a good family or a dishonorable one. In the United States, I have not perceived this sense of honor as I have in my native culture. As Dr. Long states, the idea of honor was so great that suicide was often preferable to bringing dishonor to oneself and the family name (Long 2019).
    Although I do not know much about Paul’s family, we know that Paul has a sister, and his sister has a son (Acts 23:16). We also know that Paul must have had a father and a mother (due to Biology). So, we can also conclude that he must have other relatives and other family members who are all brought up with the same concept of honor. Thus, we can see that Paul was not only bringing shame to himself. He would have brought shame to his whole family; this could have caused him to be disowned by his family in order to protect the family name, or there may have been other more severe consequences. Due to this, we can see that Paul is truly filled and transformed by God; Christ is truly enough for Paul. He lives out the example of Jesus even in his idea of shame.
    God has been working tremendously with the youth of our generation. New City Kids here in Grand Rapids is an organization that believes in the youth and helps them grow in their abilities as leaders. Their idea of the upside-down Kingdom is the idea that things are very different than what we expect them to be. Jesus came to a world where being crucified was the worst form of punishment reserved only for the worst of criminals. And yet, Jesus, a blameless human/God chose that form of death as a way to show that He has died for even the worst of criminals (Gal 3:13-14; Luke 23:39-43). Jesus took the shame of the cross and transformed it into the hope of resurrection for us believers. Paul believes this, and thus confesses that death is gain and there is no shame in his suffering in the name of Jesus (Philip 1:20-21). At the same time, Paul does want all of his suffering to be in vain. Jesus suffered for the cause of our eternal salvation. Paul hopes the Philippians will keep striving forward with the leaders God appoints after he is gone. Paul knows that departing with Christ would actually get rid of all his suffering and somewhat prefers this, but if God does not will it, he would stay and continue his call because he knows the end is better (Longenecker & Todd, 2014, 204). He asks the Philippians to be joyful in the midst of trouble and to be grateful to God for the gospel. Paul says all this while enduring extreme forms of suffering. This is the definition of being filled by Christ so that nothing else matters but Christ.

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