“It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.” (Philippians 1:20)
I know that it’s my role as a pastor to “encourage.”The word literally means “to put courage in” or “to give heart.” Sometimes we’re tempted to think that it means less than that: to cheer people up, put a good face on things or jolly things along.
But that’s not the case. And the world is too tough and too serious a place for escapism or triviality. When Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, he wrote with an enormous sense of joy and confidence but with the serious acknowledgement that “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.” And that’s the principle that comes to the fore in the text up there, that whatever happens, Christ will be magnified.
I remember from years back, a sermon from the great John Piper, that I heard and then filed away, that speaks to me of how a pastor can truly encourage his church:
“As a pastor, I do not think it is my job to entertain you during such days or help you have superficially cheerful feelings. My job is to put the kind of ballast in the belly of your boat so that when these kinds of waves crash against your life, you will not capsize, but make it to the harbour of heaven full of faith and joy.”
It’s good, isn’t it? It speaks of something weighty and solid that provides a counterbalance to the storm raging around us.
Otherwise, in Piper’s metaphor, we will capsize. And , according to Philippians 1:20, we’ll be “ashamed.”
But, says Paul, it’s “my eager expectation and hope that I will NOT be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.”
So you have two opposite trajectories, a negative and a positive pole, an Either-Or. And Paul was very explicit about where he wanted to be himself. Either you are ashamed or Christ is magnified.
Either your life is reduced to the mere coddling care of the self or it is expanded into the life of Christ.
And Paul was not talking theory, or making some metaphysical point. He was talking about the reality of his own situation. The eager expectation and hope which Paul had was not, primarily, that he might be released; but it was that, in all circumstances, he might be able to honour the gospel, living or dying. To that he looked as a much more important matter than to save his life. Life with him was the secondary consideration; the main thing was, to stand up everywhere as the advocate of the gospel, to maintain its truth, and to exhibit its spirit.
So here’s the thing:you magnify your self (and lose anyway) or you magnify Christ and gain everything. For in the act of magnifying you discover reality itself: and it’s a truth not just about the Creator but about the creature too.
I suspect that this is what Thomas Traherne meant in this passage from Centuries of Meditations:
“Objects are so far from diminishing, that they magnify the faculties of the soul beholding them. A sand in your conception conformeth your soul, and reduceth it to the size and similitude of a sand, A tree apprehended is a tree in your mind; the whole hemisphere and the heavens magnify your soul to the wideness of the heavens; all the spaces above the heavens enlarge it wider to their own dimensions. And what is without limit maketh your conception illimited and endless.”