Because we have read Scripture and listened to sermons about Paul’s various imprisonments many of us have some idea about how St. Paul felt about being a “prisoner for Christ” and his opinion that by being in prison, he was quite effective in spreading the Gospel.
However, until I became involved in prison ministry, I was completely unaware of how the prison system, through various ministries, spreads the Gospel. And I can tell you of many testimonies of prisoners who make the claim that they would be dead and in Hell if they had not gone to prison and met Christ. What is more, many of these prison converts take Christ to their families. The Word is spread, in part, through the prison system!
Verse 21, “ For to me, to live is Christ,and to die is gain“, is one of the famous verses of Philippians. And who among us has not, in frustration or agony, asked the Lord to “take me home, now.” However, on second thought, we realize it best to wait for Him. We do have responsibilities in the here and now that serve Him.
The InterVarsity Press Commentary goes into all of this detail by detail. There are eight essays. And they seem to say a little with a lot of words. But you might find something interesting if you scan them.
“The Gospel Advances Despite Ill-Will” has an interesting explanation of just who the people were who were preaching Christ to make Paul’s life more difficult.
For me, the essay on verses 22-23 completely misses Paul’s point. I do not believe he is worried about whether he, personally, will live or be executed. Instead, I think he is offering a reassurance to the Philippians. There is an implication in verse #7 that the Philippians are suffering, just as Paul is. These comments about life and death are, as I see it, words of reassurance. No matter what the authorities do, they cannot hurt us. “To live is Christ, to die is gain” is the battle cry. It reminds me of another verse, “What can man do to me?” Psalm 56:11. This is my opinion. What’s yours?