The Rooted Podcast

How can the gospel advance despite bad circumstances and our limitations? What did Paul mean when he wrote, ‘to live is Christ and to die is gain’ and how can we adopt this attitude?
In this episode we discuss Philippians 1.12–26, focusing on the theme of spreading the gospel no matter what trials we face, and how we can grasp every opportunity to live for Christ. 
We talk about God using our struggles for the advancement of his kingdom and discuss the importance of preaching Christ sincerely, not out of envy or selfish ambition. We reflect on the challenges of living a Christ-centred life and the opportunities for service that come with that. 

  • (00:00) - Welcome to series 2
  • (01:30) - Advancing the gospel despite setbacks – Philippians 1.12–14
  • (05:55) - Reframing our hindrances and limitations: Joni Eareckson Tada
  • (08:15) - Can something that looks like a failure still inspire us?
  • (12:55) - Christ being preached: Philippians 1.5–18
  • (13:42) - Celebrities, politicians and public Christianity
  • (17:57) - Church motives: preaching out of envy and rivalry
  • (22:17) - To live is Christ and to die is gain: Philippians 1.19–26
  • (27:37) - The challenge to follow Paul's example

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Creators & Guests

Esther King
Esther is part of Bible Society's Communications team.
Mark Woods
Mark is a Baptist minister and sometime journalist, who now heads up Bible Society's comms team.
Noël Amos
Noël is the editor of Rooted, Bible Society's devotional journal.

What is The Rooted Podcast?

Join the team behind Rooted, Bible Society's devotional journal, for in-depth conversations about Scripture and how we can apply it to our everyday lives.

You're listening to the Rooted Podcast from Bible Society, a Christian organization that invites people to discover the life -giving power of the Bible. In each series, we dig deeper into a theme or book of the Bible and explore its message for us today. This is series two, Philippians. Welcome back to the Rooted Podcast. This is the second series all about the book of Philippians, which lines up with the new Rooted journal that's just gone out to subscribers.

I'm here again with Mark and Esther and today we're going to talk about chapter one, about advancing the gospel no matter what kind of trials we face, the importance of Christ being preached, and then we've got Paul's famous line in verse 21, to live is Christ and to die is gain. So we're going to talk through what Paul has to say about these sorts of things.

As we work our way through this series in the book of Philippians, if you have any questions about anything that we say or anything about what Paul says in his letter, please do feel free to send them in to biblesociety .org .uk forward slash rooted questions. We're going to try and answer as many of those as we can in the last episode of this series, which will be the Q &A episode.

And as always, if you've been enjoying The Rooted Podcast, thank you so much for being here and listening. We're so happy to be doing this and getting to have these good conversations about Scripture. So if you'd like to, please do leave us a review or a rating and share the podcast with other people that you think would be really interested in learning more about the Bible. And without anything else, let's get started. We'll start in verse 12 and read through to verse 14. Now I want you to know, brethren,

that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear. I think the thing that stuck out to me most when I first read this was the fact that Paul's imprisonment, he thinks, has given the

body of Christ or the church more courage to preach the Word of God. Because you might think that when someone kind of gets caught, so to say, or imprisoned for preaching Christ, that might actually put more fear in you. But here, Paul was saying that it's given the believers more courage and more boldness. Absolutely. I mean, reading this passage, the translation we've just heard says the progress of the gospel.

And in the NIV, it says the advance of the gospel. And I think if any of us were to kind of plan an evangelistic event because we wanted to advance the gospel, we would spend a lot of time trying to create the optimal conditions to share the gospel. How can we make this the most winsome, the best experience for everybody? And we do put a lot of time and energy into worrying about that. But here, in this passage, these are very suboptimal conditions.

and yet the gospel advances. Yeah, he sort of flips it on its head completely, doesn't he? I've done my usual thing and gone back to a commentary about this. And in Greek, there is a bit of a play on words here, because you might expect him to say that what's happened to me has really served to hinder the gospel, which is proscopae in Greek. But he actually says, what's happened to me has really served to prokope.

the gospel, which is advance the gospel. So it's one little letter changed and the word that you're not expecting is the one which he uses, not the word that you actually expect. And I think he's also speaking to the concerns that I imagine the Christians in Philippi have for him as he's imprisoned and persecuted. Not that this is new to them though, because if you flip back to Acts chapter 16, where Paul came to Philippi with the gospel, he and Silas were actually stripped and beaten with rods and imprisoned.

So, you know, despite that, the gospel took hold in Philippi, but he's speaking into their concerns for him now, and he's reassuring them nothing is stopping the advance of the gospel. Yeah. This reminded me actually of the movie Silence. I don't know if you guys have seen that movie, but basically it's about these two priests who are told that their mentor, another priest, has traveled to Japan to preach the gospel, but that he's apostatized.

And so they, as the two of them, two priests, go to Japan to find him. And it's a brilliant movie. It's so good. But it reminded me of this one scene in which one of the priests has been captured by the Japanese authorities with a bunch of other Christians that he was with. And they've imprisoned him in one cell and all the other Christians in another cell so they can see each other. And they bring all the Christians out and they have a plaque that's on the ground in front of them. And it has Jesus's face on it.

And they basically tell all of the Christians to apostatize by stepping on the face of Jesus on the plaque. And it's such a powerful scene because one by one as the Christians walk up to the plaque, they look over at the priest before they look at the plaque. And then one by one, they step back and refuse to apostatize. And I think that can be read a couple of different ways. But I think one thing that it reminds me of is the power of when we hear of these missionaries who in different,

places all over the world are imprisoned or doing all of these kind of crazy things for Christ that we in the West, when we hear about them, there actually is this sense of courage of like, if they can do it and if they can give their lives for this, then so can I. I can take a bold stance on this as well. Yeah, I've seen the film, I've read the book as well. It's just a fantastic story. It's an amazing story. And one of the things it made me think about is,

the sort of chains that we wear not just in terms of being persecuted, but in terms of the limitations which we face, either in trying to serve God or just in our daily lives, and the things that we see as hindrances, which might actually turn out to be strengths in the way that God can take these things and use them. One of the

inspiring stories, which I heard when I was growing up was the story of Johnny Erickson Tarder. And some of you might have heard those stories, but she was just a young girl living her life, loving her life, very physically active, you know, rider, swimmer, that sort of thing. And she had an accident and it was a diving accident and she broke her back and became a tetraplegic. So she was paralysed from the shoulders down.

completely changed her life. And it was that accident which gave her, I don't want to say platform, but out of that accident she developed a ministry and a voice for disabled people and she became a writer and a speaker and she was just a tremendous witness to Christ. And her achievements because of that accident were just

absolutely astounding and it's a truly inspirational story. I'm not going to say that an accident, a disability, anything like that is always going to lead to an outcome like that. But I think just to recognise that God can take things which we see as hindrances and turn them into something wonderful, I think we ought to recognise that too.

Yeah, I mean, absolutely. I want to pick up on that mention though of limitations, but maybe come at it from a different angle. Because you've talked about overcoming personal, what might be seen as limitations to share the gospel and still be an amazing witness for God. But it also makes me think actually about the kind of self -limiting worries that we might have that can get in the way of us sharing the gospel or make us less bold. Just for example,

In church, when we think about evangelism, is our default position to be afraid of it failing or being embarrassing in some way? And then if that is our default position, how does that shape our attempts to share the gospel? And if the worst happens when we try, does it make us afraid of trying again or stop us from trying something different? I mean, I can actually share something that happened when I was growing up.

The church I went to was part of a network of churches that really wanted to put on this huge, impactful, evangelistic event. And we stepped out in faith. We even booked an entire football stadium for the day. There was a stage and we'd booked all kinds of different acts and performers. We had children's entertainers. There were food trucks. So much organization went into this. Thousands of invitations went out.

The day rolled around and it absolutely poured with rain and pretty much nobody came. And well, you might think that that is the worst nightmare, isn't it? How could that be characterized in as anything other than a failure? But you could also say, was it? I think, I mean, there are so many questions around it. I'm sure a lot of reflection happened after the event.

you know, why did it go the way it did? But we could be so concerned about our set of specific measures of success, but actually what opportunities for learning came out of that? What conversations were had even if people didn't show up? And not the putting on outreach events like that and hoping people will come to us and then maybe to church is a bad thing, but maybe it detached us from being so obsessed with creating the perfect conditions for sharing the gospel.

which turned out not to be so perfect in the end anyway. You talked about that courage that the Philippine Christians experienced, that they were actually proclaiming the gospel even more boldly while Paul was in prison, inspired by him. And I wonder, you know, if we can be helpfully inspired even by something that looks like a total failure. Yeah, it's difficult, isn't it? Because...

I mean, that's obviously true. And you never know what could it did. And that's great. And part of me says, yeah, actually we should just be prepared to acknowledge that some things fail and learn the lessons and move on. Because I've been involved in similar things, to be honest. But yeah, God, can you see from those things? I mean, I think of it, for instance, as I'm part of a very small church. We get...

sort of, if we get a dozen people there on Sunday morning, we think, yeah, well that's, that's pretty cool. And we've been as low as eight sometimes. And church life in a small church like that can be quite hard, but I know that that is a, it's, it's a wonderful place to be in all sorts of ways. And people do come in, people do visit. Sometimes they stay because they feel something there, which is of God. So,

Yep, the smallest in terms of numbers and resources and everything is a hindrance on the face of it. But that's not to say that it can't be turned into something that advances the gospel. Yeah, I think the big message to me just from this conversation is that we shouldn't be afraid. Kind of like Paul says in Romans, I'm not ashamed of the gospel. Well, I want to be bold in whatever circumstances I find myself in.

and not sort of count myself out, you know, not worry so much about the success, but just be passionate to share the gospel. Yeah, that's really good. We can continue on the next section, verses 5 through 18. Esther, could you read? Absolutely. It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I'm put here for the defense of the gospel.

The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I'm in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motifs or true, Christ is preached. And because of this, I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice. The first thing that came to me when I read this was actually something that I, a conversation I heard recently about.

Christians or I guess celebrities, kind of famous people talking about Christ or talking about the Bible or giving honor or glory to Christ. Like you see soccer players when they score a goal, they honor Christ or just different people that we see in the media. Also, Fios, which is the think tank connected to Bible Society, they recently published an article.

I've been talking about Richard Dawkins coming out saying he's a cultural Christian, kind of that he's warm to the things of Christianity, but doesn't believe a word of the faith. And I guess there's a question around this where Paul is saying that no matter what, as long as Christ is preached, it's the important thing is that Christ is preached. It made me think about that. In today's society, do we still feel the same way about these sorts of things when we see these people in the media? Quote, is that...

preaching Christ and do we think that that's good? Yeah, it's interesting, isn't it? I think there's a difference between people who express their faith in public and it really is a, you know, it's the outward expression of something which really is there. It's a heartfelt thing. It's just an instinct for, you know, the footballer who scores a goal just to raise their hands to heaven and say, thank you, God. It's part of the, you know, just expressing.

thanks to God for a bit of joy in life really. But there are times when you think, well, is this person using the faith for their particular ends? You know, are they perhaps not really sincere, but they know their audience and they're saying the things or they're doing the things that might make them popular. And it's impossible for us to see into somebody's heart, but sometimes you just get that feeling. Yeah. It feels sometimes like form without substance really. Yeah.

I also read an article recently, also from Theos, that George Lapshinov wrote, and it was about the Republican primaries in the states. So he wrote it a while ago, but he was basically saying that if you looked at every single candidate in some way, they were warmed to Christianity, whether or not they actually followed the faith, they were very quick to say that they were pro -life or that they were somehow warmed to it. But in that sort of a sense, it's really just,

taking God's name in vain, isn't it? Applying His name to something that He has absolutely nothing to do with. So yeah, I guess I would say for me, that's not really Christ being preached, is it? It's something entirely different. And I think so often as well. I sort of hold my breath when I hear somebody start to talk about their faith, you know. So,

Not necessarily that kind of like, you know, a politician trying to win votes by saying something they think everybody wants to hear, but just anyone with a platform speaking about Christ, kind of holding my breath thinking, are they actually going to say, are they going to get this right? Or am I going to agree with how they present the gospel here? However, I still think that even in the worst circumstances,

Even when, you know, maybe someone has blazed pretty hot, they've said lots of things that, you know, sound good and we thought, they're a Christian, now this is brilliant. And then later they've turned away from God. There's still always an opportunity, isn't there? Because it's become part of a national or international even conversation. There's an opportunity for us as Christians to say something and easy in that we just really quite rarely get.

Yeah, even if someone said something publicly that we think is wrong as Christians, we still have the opportunity to say that we think it's wrong. We still have the opportunity to set it right, basically. Well, not even to do that, but to say, hey, let's open the Bible together. Let's look at that passage. Let's look at what it says. So it's not so much about, I don't know, shooting someone down and saying, well, they've got that wrong. Maybe they're not a real Christian or anything like that. But it's...

It's just an opportunity to go to the Word and open it up together. For me, the interesting thing is that the people that Paul seems to be talking about are people within the church. So he's not really talking about people who are outside the church. He's talking about people who are in this church at Philippi. Some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, others out of goodwill. And so we might think of these people as sort of competitive.

preachers or competitive evangelists and some people have great motivations for spreading the gospel, other people have terrible motivations or at least mixed motivations. But, you know, Paul seems to be saying, well, you know, don't worry about that. The main thing is the result, which is incredibly gracious when you come to think of it. I mean, some of these people were obviously not people he really approved of, but they were still preaching the gospel.

which is an amazing thing to think, really, isn't it? But I think it's worth saying too that this isn't necessarily the last word on the subject. That's not all he'd want to say about the subject, is it? Talking about preaching the gospel out of envy and rivalry, that's not a good thing, is it? And the consequences of that can be quite serious, quite severe.

I mean, I think, for instance, there's a book, it was published a couple of decades ago now actually called The Myth of the Empty Church. And it was quite a famous book in its time, you know, quite groundbreaking. And its author Robin Gill had actually done some analysis of the number of seats in churches in particular areas matched with the population of those particular areas.

And he had worked out that in lots of cases, there were far more churches in the area than could ever have been filled. And it was competitive church building, basically. And it was people sort of going after the same market, the same audience. And the result was that they built loads and loads of churches, which would never be full, which were a tremendous financial burden on the people who had to support them.

And the effect was actually to harm the witness of the gospel. It didn't really do anything. And that is such an interesting point when you think what a big theme unity turns out to be in this letter as we go along. Another story which springs to mind actually and just reminds me of how important the human factor is.

We'd have a local Baptist ministers fraternal as they were called in those days. And one of the chaps who used to go was a young man. He was very sort of charismatic and successful in everything and his church was growing. The rest of us were sort of bumbling along, you know, but his church, you know, loads of people coming and everything. And he really knew it, you know, and he would come to these ministers fraternals and he would talk about how many baptisms they'd had in the last couple of months. And,

you know, how many children in the Sunday school and how well everything was going. And I remember him saying that their five year plan was to grow to 500 members and that sort of thing. You know, there was a sort of sleek satisfaction about him really, I think. It was just an element of competitiveness there. He wanted to grow his church. He wanted to tell everybody that his church was growing. And it was, it was not a good feeling.

actually. I have to say it did not end well and he was caught in a moral failing and the whole thing collapsed rather. It's not a good story really, but it arose I think from that desire for preeminence, you know, to be the best. Yeah. If you've got several churches meeting together, you'd think the goal is your meeting because you're all trying to work towards the same thing.

We want every church to be full. We want people wherever they are, whether they come to our church or go to a different one, to know Christ. So let's keep going, looking at verses 19 through 26. Mark, could you read? Sure. So Paul says, Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and through the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now, as always, Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know. I am torn between the two. I desire to be... I desire to...

Depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again, your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me. The really well -known verse in this passage for me to live.

is Christ and to die is gain.

Do you guys feel that way? When you read that, do you go, yes, me too, to live as Christ and to die as gain? Well, I sort of do, but I hope it won't be just yet, you know? Yeah, I just think it's a bit, I feel convicted by it when I read it because I read Paul saying, basically, I have the desire to depart and be with Christ. He says, for that is much better than this. And I think that as Christians, we would think yes.

Jesus is better, definitely, by far of all things. But I do think there's a part of us that if you are a Christian in Christ and you have a good community and you're in family and you have all these great things that God has given you on the earth, there's a big part of me that thinks, no, I'd love to stay. I quite love my life. I quite enjoy my life. And I actually think it's convicting to think how easy would it be for me to just say, yes, I would just go and be with Christ instead.

And I think that is the deep desire of all of our hearts. But I think it's convicting when Paul says it. Kind of what feels very with ease here. And maybe that's not, but it does feel that way. I think we have to just face it like that Paul was an exceptional person as well. And also that Paul was human and that, you know, he had a thorn in the flesh. Life was not always easy for him.

you know, maybe he found it easier to write that sometimes than he would have done at other times. And probably for most of us, I can read a story of Christian martyrdom and I could think, wow, what a privilege to die like that, if only I could be given that privilege. And then at other times, my faith is much weaker, much smaller. I'm trying to think if I've ever really seriously doubted my faith, doubted the existence of God, say, and...

I'm not sure that I have really, but that's not to say that it's always at the same intensity. Sometimes the flame of martyrdom does not burn particularly brightly for me. But I think the other thing is how his reasons for wanting to stay alive and his reason for wanting to stay alive is that he can be useful to them. And that's the reason why he doesn't want just to be, you know, to depart as he puts it right away.

And maybe that offers us a kind of focus as well. So it's not the dying bit, which is the focus of this. It's the usefulness bit. And maybe that's something for us to be able to grab hold of a little bit more easily than the idea of martyrdom. I mean, you know, in our particular country, in our particular time, we're not likely to be martyred, but you know, we can be useful, surely. Yeah.

And the way you talk about usefulness, Paul just wanting to pour himself out and be useful, he actually writes something similar in a letter to Timothy. I think it's in 2 Timothy chapter 2. Yeah, it's verses 8 through 11. He says, remember Jesus Christ raised from the dead, descended from David.

This is my gospel for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God's word is not chained. Therefore, I endure everything for the sake of the elect that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. Here's a trustworthy saying. If we died with him, we will also live with him. If we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us. If we are faithless.

He remains faithful for he cannot discern himself. So yeah, it's all for the sake of the elect. He's not thinking of himself and how he's feeling in that moment and what he's got left or anything. He's thinking about others. He's either thinking about Christ or he's thinking about people who need to know Christ. He's either loving God with his whole heart or he's loving people with his whole heart. The two greatest commandments. I do think though, to your first question, that...

This is a real challenge to us, isn't it? Do we think like this? Are we sort of conscious and intentional about the way that we're spending our lives for Christ? If we took on that attitude of to live is Christ, to die is gain, what would that change about our behavior and what we do with our time and how we relate to others? It's a challenge we can all reflect on.

Maybe in a way it's also sort of freeing. So if you stop worrying about all this other stuff that isn't important and focus, what would you do that you're not currently doing? It is incredibly challenging. And just in our conversation today, I've just been challenged by it, I think. You need to go away about it and think about that. You need to pray about that. Yeah, I think the thing that strikes me is the selflessness that's needed in this.

and that we see so clearly through Paul in this. When he's thinking about either Christ or Christ's people, it's totally an attitude of service, isn't he? He just wants to serve Christ and he wants to serve the church. I think that's quite convicting, compelling in my own life. And when we do have that mindset, I feel that we can easily forget about ourselves more and the things we're so caught up in from the day to day and our own worries and our own struggles.

And instead we focus on the things that are more important, that matter more. That line, for me to live is Christ and to die is gain, just speaks to me of the kind of self -forgetfulness that Paul is meaning. In this country, we're very unlikely to be martyred. You know, we're very unlikely to be given the opportunity to die for our faith. But we all have the opportunity to live for our faith.

And I think for us, it's just a question of how you do that in the same spirit that Paul was living for his faith. It's such an inspiring phrase. It's such an inspiring thing to think. That's it. We're going to end here this week. I'm on a discussion on Philippians, but we'll be back next week for another conversation. If you're enjoying the podcast, please share it with people, your family and your friends.

And if you'd like to send in a question about Philippians, we'll have another Q &A episode at the end of this series. So you can send your questions in to biblesociety .org .uk forward slash rooted questions. And also give us a rating if you love the podcast, we'd so appreciate it. And that's it. We'll see you next week.

Thanks for listening to this episode of The Rooted Podcast. To find out more about Bible Society's mission to invite people to discover the Bible for themselves in England, Wales and around the world, visit biblesociety .org .uk.