Lesson 5: Part 2 of 2 (series: Lessons on Philippians)
by John Lowe
20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.
In verse 18b, Paul stated his conviction that whatever the future holds for him, he will not be deprived of his joy, because Christ will be exalted in him and all that has happened to him, he says, will result in his deliverance. This living “hope” of the apostle leads to the reaffirmation of his supreme goal in life—to “exalt” magnify or glorify Christ. He believes in his future deliverance (v. 19), which leads him to say, “I eagerly expect and hope” my earnest expectation and my hope that my experience of deliverance and effective witness will leave me with nothing of which to “be ashamed.” “Whether by life or death,” he wants his witness to be so bold that Christ will be “exalted in my body” magnified in his body. From this Paul has made it clear that he did not want to be ashamed of his witness while in this life, and he did not want to be ashamed when he came into the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. The apostle John mentions the fact that when Christ comes to take His church with Him, it is possible for believers to be ashamed at His appearing ( 1 John 2:28). We need to bear that in mind. All Christians ought to be concerned about that.
His only desire (for he is single-minded) was to magnify Christ in his body. But does Christ need to be magnified? After all, how can a mere human being ever magnify the Son of God? Well, the stars are much bigger than the telescope, and yet the telescope magnifies them and brings them closer. The believer’s body is to be a telescope that brings Jesus Christ close to people. To the average person, Christ is a misty figure in history that lived centuries ago. But as the unsaved watch the believer going through a crisis, they can see Jesus magnified and brought so much closer. To the Christian with the single mind, Christ is with us here and now. Paul was not afraid of life or death! Either way, he wanted to magnify Christ in His body. No wonder he had joy!
Paul expresses his “hopes” fervently but delicately. The idea is not that the glory of Christ will be increased, but rather that it will be manifested and made apparent to others. This was his passion as hour by hour he witnessed Jesus Christ to the guard at his side, and this was to be his testimony even to his tormentors, the Judaizers. His utter commitment to this goal is indicated by his willingness to achieve it whether “by life, or by death.”
Paul was not concerned as to how he will become the magnifying glass which would enable others of dim spiritual insight to see the glories of Christ. Sufficient for him was the thought that he could be the medium through which they would come to faith in Christ. Such has always been the true goal of the spiritually great. John the Baptist had said, “He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30).
Paul believes that God will use the Philippians’ prayers for him while he is in captivity to help him persevere with “sufficient courage” and ultimately stand before God as one of His redeemed people.
In the contest that awaits him before that final vindication, he says, he will not “be ashamed,” but Christ will “be exalted” in his body. Here Paul uses the language of the Greek rendering of the Psalms. They affirm that “no one who’s hope is in the lord will ever be put to shame, but they will be put to shame who are treacherous without excuse” (Psalm 25:3). The Psalms often speak of exalting the Lord (Psalm is 34:3; 35:27; 39:16 ;). Paul’s intention then is not to deny that he or anyone else will be ashamed of his conduct in the test awaiting him, but that God will not allow him to be put to shame before the forces of evil ranged against him. He will ultimately triumph over evil because his hope is in the Lord. Paul does not want to be a hero. He wants to meet his fate, whether life or death, with such dignity and spirit that all may see what Christ means to him.
His victory, however, is not dependent on acquittal at the trial. Instead, he will not be ashamed, and Christ will be exalted in him “whether by life or by death.” If his appearance before a Roman tribunal results in condemnation and death at the hands of an executioner, Paul contends that he will not have been put to shame by his enemies ( Psalm 25:2) and that the Lord will be exalted. His physical circumstances are out of his hands, and it may look perhaps to some as if they are out of God’s as well, but the apostle knows that despite appearances God is still sovereign over the affairs of his life and that God will see him safely through to ultimate eternal vindication. Paul is confident that whether released or executed he will know the fullness of the salvation which already for him has begun and which is to be consummated at the final judgment in “the day of Christ.”
So, then, if Paul courageously and effectively accomplishes his goal to magnify Christ, Christ will be glorified in Him. It does not matter how things go with him. If he dies, his will be the martyr’s crown and he will honor Christ by the way in which he yields up his life; but if he lives, his will still be the privilege to preach and to witness for Christ. As one commentator has put it, Paul is saying, “My body will be the theatre in which Christ’s glory is displayed.” Here is the terrible responsibility of the Christian. Once we have chosen Christ, by our life and conduct we bring either glory or shame to Him. A leader is judged by his followers; and Christ is judged by us.
Note: this was not Paul’s final imprisonment in Rome. Awaiting trial, he knew he could either be released or executed. As it turned out, he was released from his imprisonment but arrested again two or three years later.