A. The Assurance of Deliverance (1:19)
1. The Prayers of Believers (1:19a)
The Apostle is certain of deliverance from his present condition. Hear the confidence in his, “For I KNOW (instinctively) that this shall turn to my salvation (deliverance).” He is not speaking of his eternal salvation, but of his deliverance from his present limited ministry. He also knows this deliverance will come about through the prayers of his friends.
We cannot forget James was put into prison and beheaded. When Herod saw this pleased the Jews, he imprisoned Peter and planned for the same fate to befall him after the Passover. “But prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him,” (Acts 12:5). And Peter was DELIVERED!
We find ourselves wondering, from a strictly human viewpoint, if James might not have lived longer and had a fuller ministry had the church prayed for him! While realizing such things are in the hands of a sovereign God, we cannot overemphasize the role of prayer in accomplishing God’s purpose in our lives.
2. The Presence of the Spirit (1:19b)
Prayer represents the believer’s part; the Holy Spirit’s supply is God’s answer. Paul was depending upon the prayers of the saints. He knew, in answer to their prayers, the Holy Spirit would “make a way of escape” from this dismal cell.
B. The Avenues of Deliverance (1:20-23)
1. By Life
Paul was confident he was going to be released from the prison. He was not sure how this would be accomplished, but he mentioned two possibilities: life and death (verses 20 and 21). We are reminded of the same faith expressed by the three “Hebrew children” in Daniel 3:17. They boldly told the king their God was able to deliver them from the burning fiery furnace, and “he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.” They knew, whether by life or by death, they would be delivered from the power of this monarch. Paul also knew “whether by life or by death” he would be delivered.
His concern was not as to which it would be. Rather, he desired Christ should be magnified in his body, whether by life or by death. He knew it was important for the believers and churches of that day for him to remain alive. Yet he would not make a choice as to whether he should live or die, only that Christ might be honored.
2. By Death
To Paul, “to live is Christ,” for Christ lived in him, and the life he lived in the flesh, he lived by the faith of the Son of God (Galatians 2:20). He enjoyed living because of the indwelling Spirit of Christ, and because of opportunities to witness for Him, and to make all men see what is the dispensation of the Mystery (Ephesians 3:9). He did not fear death. In fact, he said “to die is gain.” This is true because Paul knew that to die was to “depart and to be with Christ.” He assures us this is “far better.”
It is difficult to see how the people who teach “soul sleeping” (regardless of whether they use that terminology or not) get around this Scripture. The doctrine of soul sleep maintains that when an individual dies, believer or unbeliever, he becomes unconscious or asleep and knows nothing until the resurrection. Some even maintain there will be no resurrection for the unbeliever. He is annihilated at death and that is the end. Others teach the unbeliever will be resurrected only to be then destroyed or annihilated. They teach that believers remain unconscious or asleep until they are resurrected and only then receive eternal life. If this were true, does it not seem strange for Paul to say, “For to me to live is Christ, but to become unconscious is far better?” The very idea is ridiculous and repulsive.
To get around this, some have claimed Paul is dealing with three possibilities; life, death, and the “appearing” of Christ. They tell us Paul was not desiring to be with Christ by means of death, but “to appear with Him in glory” at His appearing (Colossians 3:4). Paul said, “I am in a strait betwixt TWO” (1:23), and they are LIFE or DEATH (1:20).
The word “depart,” which Paul uses to describe the death of a believer, is a fascinating word. It is analuo and literally means to “unloose or undo.” It was used in classical Greek literature to describe the farmer as he would loosen and remove the yoke from the oxen at the close of a hard day’s work. It was also used to describe a ship as its moorings were loosed, freeing it to sail from one port to another. It was used of the philosopher who unravelled a difficult problem. It was used of the soldier who broke up the encampment, striking his tent after his assignment was completed to move to another area. Paul used the noun form of the same word when he spoke of his own death in 2 Timothy 4:6, “the time of my DEPARTURE is at hand.” To Paul, death meant going into the presence of the Lord where his yoke would be lifted, where he would see the solution to all of his problems, where he would leave behind his earthly tent (2 Corinthians 5:1-8) and arrive home to be with the Lord.
C. The Aims of Deliverance (1:24-26)
Nevertheless, Paul was just as willing to continue to live and be used of the Lord in this life. He expressed three objectives that his continuing to live would accomplish:
1. Personal Presence with the Saints
The Holy Spirit used Paul the Prisoner to give us some of his richest epistles. Yet Paul desired to see the saints and to be with them in person. When he spoke of his coming to them in verse 26, he used the word which meant “personal presence.”
2. Progress and Joy of the Faith
Paul knew how important it was for him to remain alive as far as his fellow believers were concerned. He had confidence he would abide and continue “for your furtherance and joy of faith.” This is a reference to the progress these believers would make under the ministry of Paul. Dr. Kenneth Wuest comments, “While Paul had no active choice in the matter, yet he believed that the servant of the Lord is immortal until his work is done.”
3. Praise to the Lord Jesus Christ
The progress of these believers would result in a greater rejoicing, and the rejoicing would be “in Jesus Christ.” The word “rejoicing” literally means “boasting.” Christ Jesus would receive praise because He is the source of the blessings, Paul was merely the channel or instrument for the blessings. This desire for praise or boasting in Christ is in keeping with the Apostle’s expression, “that CHRIST MIGHT BE MAGNIFIED.”
Dr. Lehman Strauss challenges believers with these words, “May God grant that all of us may have more joy in our labors, thereby increasing the rejoicing of others. Make up your mind today to lay aside your personal preference, and for the glory of Christ and the sake of others, magnify Christ in your body.”