Did Paul Have the Option to Live or Die?

by Pastor Ricky Kurth

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“How did Paul have the option to live or die in Philippians 1:22?”

Paul wasn’t thinking of taking his life, for that would have violated the commandment “thou shalt not kill.” God purposely left that commandment open-ended to include suicide. That is, He didn’t say, “Thou shalt not kill others,” because He wanted us to know that taking your own life is one of the forms of killing He meant to prohibit.

But Paul was a master logician and tactician, and could easily have gotten himself executed in prison by saying the wrong thing to the king. He couldn’t keep himself alive forever, of course. Tradition says that he was eventually put to death. But he could definitely have brought himself under the executioner’s axe more immediately by pushing the king’s buttons.

In your follow-up question, you ask if this wouldn’t be akin to what’s known as “suicide by cop,” but the two do not equate. In suicide by cop, a man decides to end his life by committing a crime in order to draw fire from the police. Paul was tempted to present the truth to the king in a way that would elicit a death sentence.

We might compare how God wanted Moses to be a prophet, so He responded to his every objection with patience and longsuffering. But God didn’t want Pharaoh to let Israel go, so He instructed Moses to answer his objections in ways that were an affront to his pride, something that angered him and resulted in his death. We know there is nothing sinful about this approach, for it was God Himself who implemented it. And Paul wasn’t contemplating anything sinful when he considered mimicking how the Lord handled Pharaoh.

Like you, I used to wonder why it wouldn’t be okay for a terminally ill person to choose suicide. But an unsaved person would be denying himself the opportunity to live long enough to get saved, and a saved person would be denying himself the opportunity to share the gospel with someone he might meet the very next day. In this case and in all
others, God is more concerned with eternal matters than He is with temporal matters, no matter how difficult the temporal matter is.

And Paul reflected this same eternal outlook in making the choice that he made to remain alive (Phil. 1:24,25). He chose to live for the spiritual benefit of others rather than end his life to alleviate the physical suffering and mental weariness that decades of hardship had wrought on his “weak” frame (2 Cor. 10:10).

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