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In Philippians 1:19‭-‬26 NLT, we read

For I know that as you pray for me and the Spirit of Jesus Christ helps me, this will lead to my deliverance. For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. Knowing this, I am convinced that I will remain alive so I can continue to help all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith. And when I come to you again, you will have even more reason to take pride in Christ Jesus because of what he is doing through me.

Two authors (Droge in “Mori Lucrum”, and Jaquette in “A Not-So-Noble Death") argue, based on the following verses, that Paul is considering suicide.

Is that so?

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    Good to see you back. Never thought of the verse that way. Good question.
    – Bagpipes
    Commented Jun 6, 2022 at 18:42
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    Paul is facing the possibility of execution as a legal sentence for his preaching and refusing to worship the emperor. Some may call refusing to recant suicide.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Jun 7, 2022 at 9:05
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    1Kings 19-4 (Elijah), is also worth considering regarding your question. While he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”
    – Bagpipes
    Commented Jun 7, 2022 at 14:20

2 Answers 2

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I cannot see suicidal thoughts in Paul's writing in Phil 1:21.

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

The reason is simple - suicide is always caused by a loss of hope (the cause of the loss of hope varies but the cause is always loss of hope).

Paul here expresses no loss of hope but a great hope in the future.

22 But if I go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. So what shall I choose? I do not know. 23 I am torn between the two. I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better indeed. 24 But it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.

HOWEVER ...

This is not to say that Paul did not suffer suicidal thoughts. The best example is found in 2 Cor 1

8 We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the hardships we encountered in the province of Asia.a We were under a burden far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. 9 Indeed, we felt we were under the sentence of death ...

Many have taken great comfort from this - a person of the stature of the Apostle Paul suffered depression to the point of feeling suicidal - his solution (in his case) was to regain hope in Christ as the last half of V9 shows -

... in order that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God, who raises the dead.

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    Another very compassionate & Christian discussion of mental health, +1 Commented Jun 7, 2022 at 6:44
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This is very unlikely.

1. Paul lived in a culture that taught against suicide.

Although many of the rabbinic texts were written (in their current form) after Paul's lifetime, they preserve teachings from earlier generations and give us an excellent window into Jewish beliefs in the late 2nd temple era.

From Bava Kamma 91b:

With regard to one who injures himself, although it is not permitted for him to do so....

it is not permitted for a person to injure himself

From Trachtate Semachot 2:

We do not occupy ourselves in any respect with the funeral rites of one who committed suicide wilfully. R. Ishmael said: We exclaim over him, ‘Alas for a lost [life!] Alas for a [lost] life!’ R. ‘Aḳiba said to him, ‘Leave him unmourned; speak neither well nor ill of him’. We do not rend garments for him, bare the shoulder, or deliver a memorial address over him.

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2. Paul was fighting for his life under Roman imprisonment

Paul was in prison when he wrote Philippians (see Philippians 1:12-14) and he sees his defense of himself as a defense of the Christian message, e.g.

I am set for the defence of the gospel. (Philippians 1:17)

Paul was repeatedly on trial for his life, yet defended himself vigorously (e.g. Acts 26). There are 16 trials recorded in the book of Acts, most of them involving Paul. If he wished to die, he had multiple opportunities to die a martyr's death, and since he was a Roman citizen (see Acts 22:26-29), he could be executed by a quick beheading rather than a protracted crucifixion.

Although the release of death occupied Paul's thoughts at times, he clearly sought to preserve his life to preach the Gospel as long as he was appointed to do so.

In Philippians, Paul is uncertain what will happen to him. Contrast that with 2 Timothy, where he is aware that the end is fast-approaching:

6 For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.

7 I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:

8 Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:6-8)

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Conclusion

Paul did not actively seek death, but he did not fear it either. He sought to serve as a minister for Christ until he had finished the course that had been given to him.

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