This post contains commentary on verses 20-27 and is prefaced by Fr. Callan’s brief summary of Phil 1:12-26 in order to help provide context.
THE APOSTLE’S IMPRISONMENT HAS BEEN USEFUL FOR THE SPREAD OF THE GOSPEL IN ROME
A Summary of Philippians 1:12-26~It seems the Philippians had made known to Paul their anxiety regarding the welfare of the Gospel, as a result of his imprisonment; they feared the Gospel was suffering while he was enchained. But the Apostle informs them here that the contrary is the case, inasmuch as the success of his preaching in prison has excited the jealousy of other preachers and thus stimulated them to greater efforts. This is a cause of great rejoicing on his part. As for his own prospects of release, he is confident that all will turn out for the best. Personally he is torn between the alternatives of dying and being with Christ, on the one hand, and living for the sake of the Philippians, on the other hand. He seems to be confident of the latter; he will again be with them to assist them and give them joy in Christ Jesus.
20. According to my expectation and hope ; that in nothing I shall be confounded, but with all confidence, as always, so now also shall Christ be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.
Through the prayers of the faithful and the grace of Christ the Apostle is ardently hoping (such is the meaning of the Greek) for eternal salvation, but on his own part he is going to see that in nothing shall he be found wanting, that he will continue in the future as in the past to preach the Gospel “with all confidence” (i.e., freely and fearlessly), so that the glory of Christ shall continue to be manifested “in my body, etc.” (i.e., by spending his body and his energies for Christ, if he lives, or by the sacrifice of his life in the cause of Christ if he is put to death). Why he will not “be confounded” (i.e., disappointed), whether he lives or dies, he explains in the following verses.
21. For to me, to live is Christ: and to die is gain.
St. Paul had already told the Galatians: “I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me” (Gal 2:20). He was totally identified with Christ; Christ was the soul and centre of his life, the prime mover in all his actions, the goal and term of all his aspirations; to the Apostle “to live” was to labor for Christ and in union with Christ, and thus augment his merits for heaven, while “to die” was to be with Christ in glory and to enjoy his eternal reward.
22. But if to live in the flesh, this is to me the fruit of labor, and which I shall choose I know not.
23. But I am straitened between two: having a desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ, a thing by far the better:
24. But to abide still in the flesh, is more needful for you.
The Apostle is confronted by the alternatives of dying and being with Christ in glory, on the one hand, and of remaining in this earthly life for a time and thus serving the interests of the Gospel and the Church, on the other hand ; and he knows not which to choose, as there is great profit in either choice. So he is torn
between conflicting emotions, desiring the former, knowing that it would be far better “to be dissolved” (or better, “to depart”), and thus be forever with Christ in paradise, but feeling that the Philippians need him, and that consequently he ought to remain on earth a while longer.
(vs 22) This is to me the fruit of labor. The Greek is concise and therefore somewhat difficult, but the meaning is clear: To continue in this life would mean to the Apostle an occasion of fruitful labor (καρπος εργου) for the cause of Christ on earth.
(vs 23) Far the better, literally, “much more better,” a phrase indicative of St. Paul’s strong preference to die and be with Christ. From verse 23 it is evident that the souls of the saints are admitted to the presence of God immediately after death.
The necessarium of the Vulgate (verse 24) is a comparative in Greek, more necessary.
25. And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide, and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith:
26. That your rejoicing may abound in Christ Jesus in me by my coming to you again.
And having this confidence (vs 25). The Greek means that the Apostle is firmly persuaded, that he enjoys a feeling of personal certainty. But with regard to what? That he is going to live and see the Philippians again? If this is the meaning, it would seem to be out of harmony with the uncertainty expressed just above in verses 20-23, and also with what he says below in Phil 2:17. The best explanation seems to be that of St. Chrysostom and others, who say that St. Paul is speaking above about the uncertainty of life or death in his case, whereas here he is stressing the utility and profit of the event, whichever it turns out to be: if he dies, he will be with Christ in glory; if he lives, he will be a help and a source of joy to the Philippians ; in any case the result will certainly be good, of this he is firmly persuaded. In this explanation verse 25 is to be understood, in the light of the whole context, as conditional. “This confidence” refers to what follows: if he continues to live, he knows that he will be of great spiritual profit to the Philippians, and will thus give joy to their faith.
27. Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ; that, whether I come and see you, or, being absent, may hear of you, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind laboring together for the faith of the gospel.
Just above the Apostle has spoken of his own condition and prospects. Now he turns to the Philippians and tells them there is only one thing that will trouble him, and that is if he should hear something bad about them and their conduct. Wherefore he says: “Let your conduct be worthy, etc.,”—literally, “let your citizenship be worthy, etc.,” i.e., conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ, as citizens of heaven (Phil 3:20).
In one spirit, i.e., in unity of mind, heart, and way of acting, as a result of the grace of the one Holy Spirit dwelling within you. Some take “spirit” here to mean the Holy Ghost directly, and refer to 1 Cor 12:13, Eph 2:18, where the identical phrase here used is doubtless to be understood of the Holy Spirit. The effect will be the same in either opinion, as St. Paul is speaking of religious conduct.
Laboring, better, “striving” or “contending.” The metaphor is drawn from the prize-seeking contests in the amphitheatre.