In “three way gain” Jefferson Vann explains what Paul was referring to when he said that his death would be “gain.”
Philippians 1:19-26 (JDV)
Philippians 1:19 You see, I know this will lead to my rescue through your prayers and help from the Breath of Jesus Christ.
Philippians 1:20 My eager expectation and hope is that I will not be dishonored by anything, but that now as always, with all courage, Christ will be highly honoured by my body, whether by life or by death.
Philippians 1:21 For me, to live is Christ and to die is a gain.
Philippians 1:22 Now if I live on in the flesh, this means fruitful achievement for me; and I don’t know which one I should choose.
Philippians 1:23 I am torn between the two. I long to depart and be with Christ – which is far better –
Philippians 1:24 but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.
Philippians 1:25 Since I am persuaded of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith,
Philippians 1:26 so that, because of my presence among you again, your pride in Christ Jesus may increase.
three way gain
Paul had been talking about his imprisonment, and explaining how it was working out to his gain because even the Roman soldiers guarding him were hearing the gospel. Now, he considers what might happen. The choices are two — but not the two that you might expect. Many read this passage as if Paul had adopted the pagan notion of survival at death. He did not. He believed that death is real, and that a resurrection would be necessary to live again.
No, the two real options that Paul was considering are mentioned in verse 20: “that … Christ will be highly honoured by my body, whether by life or by death.” So, either Paul’s imprisonment would end with his execution, which would be gain for him because he would honour Christ as a martyr, or Paul would be released, in which case Christ would be honoured by his rescue. He mentions a third option in verse 23, but “to depart and be with Christ” is not a reference to his death. Paul had told the Thessalonians that when Christ returns is when all believers together would be with him (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
I know that a lot of Christians have been taught that everyone survives death, so that death is not really death. I just challenge them to consider that such a belief is actually read into the text here. Paul knew that he really could die, but he also knew that if he did, his death would not be permanent, because he would be raised to life again when Christ comes. But he would consider such a death “gain” for him, because it would be a witness to his faith in Christ. It would be a gain for Christ, because it would honour Christ with his body. It would also be gain for the gospel, because as Tertullian put it “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” (Apologeticus, Chapter 50).
Lord, we want to honour you with our bodies, whether by life or by death.