Whatever Happens, Exalt Christ

A Study of Philippians 1:19-21


Have you read any good self-help books recently? Some of these books can be helpful. One of the fathers of self-help literature in the United States is a man named Orison Swett Marden. He was an orphan who lost everything and was as low as could be, but in an attic somewhere he found an encouraging book that changed his life. Out of that experience, he himself began writing encouraging self-help books. He wrote over fifty of them, and was one of the most popular authors of the early twentieth century.

In 1916, Marden wrote a book entitled Everybody Ahead, or Getting the Most Out of Life, and one of his chapters was “Choose a Life Motto.” 

He said, “The influence of an uplifting, energizing motto kept constantly in mind is invaluable. Multitudes of men and women owe their success in life to the daily inspiration of such a motto….  Who can estimate the value of a high ideal, crystalized in one up-lifting sentence, constantly held in mind?… A life slogan which embodies your aim, stirs your ambition, and tends to arouse your latent potencies, will be worth infinitely more to you than an inherited fortune.”

Marden gave many examples of men and women whose lives had been shaped by their own life slogan. 

Beethoven reportedly lived by the maxim: “Genius is two percent talent and ninety-eight percent application.”

John Ruskin had a one-word life motto: “Today!”

As I read those, I thought back to my college yearbook. The school asked all us graduating seniors to select a “life verse” to put under our picture and name. Many of the students had a life verse instead of a life motto. I had so many verses I liked that I asked if I could skip the life verse and just submit a life motto instead. They agreed, and so if you ever pick up a 1974 yearbook from my alma mater, you’ll find my picture and name, beneath which are the words: “The Will of God. Nothing More. Nothing Less.” I really have sought to live by that motto.

I wonder how many people today have a life verse or a life motto. Well, I have one to suggest for you. It’s the best I’ve ever heard. It fits any occasion and meets any moment. One dozen words. All of them are one syllable. Twelve words, twelve syllables, that encompass anything and everything to which we could ever aspire.

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

That is a verse of Scripture, so it’s both a life verse and a life motto; and it belonged to the apostle Paul. It summarized Paul’s philosophy and all of his thoughts and actions. It summarized all of his aspirations and ambitions. 

Background: If you’ve been following our studies you know the background of this passage already. The closest verses we have to the setting are the two final verses of the book of Acts, so let’s turn there. 

For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance (Acts 28:30-31). 

Paul was under what we would call today house arrest. He was awaiting his legal hearings before the court of Emperor Nero concerning charges made nearly five years before in Jerusalem. He was not in prison, but according to his writings we know he was constantly chained to soldiers. Nevertheless, he had the freedom to entertain, to preach, and to teach in his rented house. 

His trial was upcoming, and that’s what he was describing to the Philippians:

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.

Today in our study through Philippians, we’re coming to verses 19-21, so let’s read the entire passage in context, from verse 19 to verse 26.

Scripture: Philippians 1:19-21

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 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 I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.

1. I Expect and Hope

The words expect and hope are basically synonyms, and they reflect a certainty. As one commentator said, “(The word) hope (in the Bible) is full of content, in the sense that it reflects the highest degree of certainty about the future.” 

In other words, when the Bible talks about hope, it refers to expectation. It is not a preference involving something that may or may not happen, but a total expectation and anticipation of something that will certainly happen. Paul was certain God would give him sufficient courage regardless of the twists and turns in his legal turmoil.

Think of it! Paul was about to be placed in a new situation, a threatening situation, one he had never experienced before. He was about to stand in a Roman courtroom in the city of Rome during the days of the young, volatile emperor Nero and be called to account for his Christian faith. He was telling the Philippians, “I do not expect to fall apart or have a spiritual breakdown or deny the faith. I expect God will give me sufficient courage so that whatever happens, I will exalt Christ—whether I am set free or whether I am executed.”

2. That I Will Have Sufficient Courage

I love the phrase “sufficient courage.” It doesn’t mean Paul didn’t have some anxious questions. But he was certain God would give him sufficient courage at the moment.

I recall many times in my life when I would have collapsed if God had not given me sufficient courage. One of my first recollections was when an elementary schoolmate named Gerald said he was going to come to my house and beat me up. I had never experienced bullying before, and I was scared to death. But I went out and met him and I lunged into him, grabbed him around the waist, hauled him to the ground, and we wrestled around for a little while. Not much came of it. Looking back, I think I knew that if we got into a fistfight I’d be in trouble. I had no idea how to use my fists. But if I could wrestle him to the ground, I’d have the advantage because I was what they called in those days “husky.” That was the last time I had any trouble with him.

But since then, I’ve had many moments when I’ve wrestled with anxious fear. But looking back, God has always given me sufficient courage. In the same way, He will give all who trust in Him sufficient courage when the time comes for us to go to Heaven. That’s exactly what Paul was talking about.

3. That Christ Will Be Exalted Whatever Happened

The apostle Paul had two options before Him—living or dying. The same is true for us. Tomorrow we’ll either be living or dying. We don’t know which. Our lives are very fragile and uncertain. I just read about a young adult riding a bicycle in Staten Island when a fishing boat rolled off of a trailer, slid over the highway, and struck her. Never in a million years did she ever imagine she would be killed by a fishing boat on a highway. Life is very uncertain.

But whether he lived or died—whatever happened!—Paul was determined that Christ be exalted in his life. He said:

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.

When I was in college there was a little song by Ray Hildebrand, a pop singer who became one of the earliest writers of contemporary Christian music. He had a song that had a chorus that has stayed in my mind since I first heard it in college:

If I live, well, praise the Lord.

If I die, well, praise the Lord.

If I live or die, my only cry will be:

“Jesus in me, praise the Lord!”

When you come to this point in you’re thinking, you are absolutely free to live with courage and confidence because you are saying, “It doesn’t matter what happens as long as Christ is exalted.”

You are repudiating the power of the circumstances to affect the core of your life.

You are disallowing the situations you face to determine the attitude you embrace.

You are saying, “Whatever happens, it doesn’t matter all that much as long as Christ is exalted in it all.”

  • I’ve studied for this examination, for this test, and I’ve done my best. If I pass it, well, praise the Lord. If I fail, well praise the Lord. May He be exalted.
  • I have worked hard for this promotion and I think I deserve it. If I get it, well, praise the Lord. And If I don’t, well, praise the Lord anyway. May He be exalted.
  • I want my dear mother to recover from her heart attack. If she does, praise the Lord. But if she doesn’t—may Jesus Christ be praised.
  • I’m facing the imperial judge because of my faith in Christ. If I’m released, praise the Lord. If I’m taken out and executed in the Circus Maximus, well, praise the Lord. If I live or die, my only cry will be, “Jesus in me! Praise the Lord.”

The attitude of exalting Christ whatever happens has the power to weaken or destroy the grip of circumstance-based anxiety in our lives.

That is the background of this life motto we’re coming to:

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.

As the original listeners heard this read in the original Greek, they would have heard the power of Paul’s use of alliteration. In the Greek this is very terse and alliterative: τὸ ζῆν Χριστὸς καὶ τὸ ἀποθανεῖν κέρδος.

The word Christ is Christos. The word gain is kerdos. Paul was saying, “To live—Christos! To die: kerdos! 


Some years ago, there was a student at San Marino High School in California, and her name was Karen Ruth Johnson. She was about to graduate, and one of her final assignments was to write a paper about her philosophy in life. She wrote the paper on Thursday night, gave it to her teacher on Friday, and on Saturday she was killed in a head-on automobile accident. The tragedy set the tone for the class’s graduation. Karen’s diploma was awarded posthumously. Here is a portion of her final paper:

My Philosophy of Life by Karen Ruth Johnson 

My philosophy of life is based on the Holy Bible and the God who wrote it. I know that He has a plan for my life and through daily prayer and reading of His Word I will be able to see it. As far as my life work or life partner I am leaving it in His hands….

I feel that this philosophy is very practical and can be applied to everyday life. Every decision can be taken to the Lord in prayer and the peace that comes from knowing Jesus Christ as my personal Savior is something many cannot understand. Many search for a purpose and reason for life. I know that I am on this earth to have fellowship with God and to win others to the saving knowledge of His Son, Jesus Christ. I know that after death I will go to be with Him forever.

Jesus Christ teaches love and respect for everyone….In God’s sight no one person is worth any more than another.

Knowing and loving Jesus Christ personally makes me want to please Him and accomplish things for His glory. Paul says in the New Testament, “Whatsoever ye do, do it all to the glory of God,” and “For Me, to live is Christ, to die is gain….”

This is my philosophy, and yet it is not mine. But I am God’s, and whatever I have is His. I have faith that He is the only answer and I do love Him so.

Well, I hope you feel the same. May we all adopt this motto: As for me, to live is Christ and to die is gain!