Magnifying Christ When Life is Hard

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August 17, 2008

By Derick Parfan

Philippians 1:18b-26

Yes, and I will rejoice, (19) for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, (20) as 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 honored in my body, whether by life or by death. (21) For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (22) If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. (23) I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. (24) But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. (25) Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, (26) so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. (ESV)

The Olympics is underway in China.  During the opening ceremony, China proved to the world its economic competitiveness by spending more than 40 billion dollars for the entire Olympics.  Thousands of athletes are competing for the Olympic gold.  China is competing against US in garnering the most number of gold medals.  American Michael Phelps is targeting 8 gold medals in 8 swimming events to become the best Olympian ever.  The US basketball team is trying to regain the honor of being champions after winning only a bronze medal the last time around.  Mongolians are ecstatic in winning their first ever gold medal in history.  The Philippines is still searching for that elusive gold.  The Olympics, more than ever, is focused on gaining honor, on being known.

How many of us Christians are still focused on gaining some honor for ourselves?  We want to be known, be respected, and admired.  But is that what life is all about?  No, it is about giving honor for the one who was dishonored and shamed on the cross that we might live for his glory.  I know that you know I am referring to Jesus Christ.  But do we really know what it means to give honor to his name, and are we really living with that kind of passion?  The answers to these questions are important if we want to have lasting joy when life’s hardship come.

That is what our series “When Life is Hard” is all about.  Last week we saw in Philippians 1:12-18a  some good reasons (that is, God’s purposes) why Christians can rejoice even when life is hard, or especially when life is hard.  First, because God uses hardship to expose unbelievers to the faith.  Second, God uses hardship to encourage other believers in their faith.  Third, God uses hardship to exalt Christ even in spite of other people’s unfaithfulness.  These are the reasons why Paul can rejoice even during the experience of hardship.  He does not need to rejoice only after the trial is over.  He proved that he can rejoice now.  He is inviting us to rejoice now.

But there is one other thing he wants to say.  He is saying in the next verses that there is a focus, a goal, a passion that will sustain his joy and that future rejoicing is also possible even when it means losing his life eventually.  He said in the last half of verse 18, “Yes, and I will rejoice.”  For what reason?  “For I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance.”  He knows that he will be released soon (how he knew we are not sure) in answer to the prayers of the Philippian believers and by the help that will be provided by God.  That his conviction is that he will be released soon (although he knows that death is always waiting for him because of his ministry) is evident in verse 25, “I know that I will remain and continue with you all…”

He will continue to rejoice because he will be released eventually.  But that is not all.  We must not think that we can rejoice only if we know that our sufferings will soon end.  No, it will not end soon, unless we die of course.  When he is released from prison, he is rejoicing not because he will be free from sufferings.  His life will still be hard because of his passion for Christ.  Whether he will be acquitted or executed is not the real issue.  The most important thing is that whatever happens, Christ will be honored.  If he was executed, Christ will be honored.  If he was released, Christ will also be honored.  To live for the honor of Christ is his passion.  To magnify Christ is his passion.  And this is what he wants the believers in Philippi to have as their passion also.  Verse 20, “…as 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 honored in my body, whether by life or by death.”

Like Paul, our single and all-consuming passion in all of life must be to magnify Christ, even when life is hard. To better understand this, I will try to answer four questions:

What does it mean to magnify Christ?

Paul’s “eager expectation and hope” is not really his release from prison but “that…Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.”  The Greek word used for “honor” can also be translated “exalt” (as in NIV and NASB).  It can also be “glorify.”  I like how King James Version translated it, “Christ shall be magnified.”  This word, “magnify,” gives us a picture on what it means to honor or exalt or glorify Christ.  What then does it mean to magnify Christ?

John Piper illustrates it very well:

Magnify has two distinct meanings.  In relation to God, one is worship and one is wickedness. You can magnify like a telescope or like a microscope.  When you magnify like a microscope, you make something tiny look bigger than it is.  A dust mite can look like a monster.  Pretending to magnify God like that is wickedness.  But when you magnify like a telescope, you make something unimaginably great look like what it really is.  With the Hubble Space Telescope, pinprick galaxies in the sky are revealed for the billion-star giants that they are.  Magnifying God like that is worship. (Don’t Waste Your Life, p. 32)

To magnify Christ is to make him look great as he really is – like a telescope and not a microscope.  We do not add something to his greatness; we make it known by the way we live.  The New Century Version’s paraphrase captures it well, “I expect and hope…to show the greatness of Christ in my life.”

May magnifying Christ be our own goal in life.  That is how God designed it when we are created.  That is God’s purpose when he redeemed us from our sins – that we might forever behold the glory of his Son Jesus Christ.  We are saved not just to do ministries, enjoy life and its blessings, and get to heaven.  We are created and saved for something much more than that – to make our life a showcase for the greatness and beauty and infinite worth and majesty and magnificence and trustworthiness of Christ.  He died not so that you can say to yourself, “I am beautiful, good, and admirable.”  He died in order that we can say, “Christ is beatiful and good and admirable and the treasure of my life.  “God has highly exalted (Jesus) and bestowed on him the name that is above every name” (2:9); it is evil to try to put that name down.

Should we make magnifying Christ a priority in our life?

We all know that since the day we are converted our purpose in life is to magnify Christ.  Is it correct to say that it must be a priority in our life?  It might sound good.  But is it?  When we say priority, we mean Christ is first and others like self, family, ministry, and others are in second or third place.  It is like this: “I must do my quiet time first before any other things; I must attend church first before going to work; I must worship first before I work or study or rest.”  I don’t think that is biblical and that is not what Paul meant.

When Paul said that he wants to magnify Christ in his life, he does not say he wants to magnify Christ first.  He said that his passion is “that…now as always Christ will be honored (or magnified) in my body…”  He aims to give glory to Christ not just now but always.  Since his conversion on the road to Damascus, this was his passion – not one of his passions, but his single passion.  Everything else revolves around this.  Because he is so focused that he can say, “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).

I think it is better to erase from our minds the phrase: “Put God or Christ first.”  He is not number one, he is the only one.  When you prefer Coke and there is nothing on the store but Pepsi, you don’t buy Pepsi.  You wait until there is Coke.  The good thing is, we don’t have to wait to get Christ.  We are already his and he is already ours.  He is calling us to be our only treasure, our only passion, our only dream, our only hope and aspiration, our only joy.  Everything else are means to that end. “All things were created through Jesus and for Jesus” (Col. 1:16).  We are created not for our wife, family, work, money, success, significance, honor, food, leisure, TV, or anything else!  We are created for Jesus!  Only for Jesus!

We must put Christ not on our number one list; we must place him at the center.  This idea must sound revolutionary to many like the Copernican Revolution in the 16th century.  From the 2nd century people believed Ptolemy’s theory that the earth is the center of the universe and that all others revolve around it.  And then came Copernicus who said in the 16th century, and proven by Galileo’s telescope in the 17th century, that the sun is the center and the earth revolves around it.  Earth is not the center, the sun is.  Humans are not at the center, the Son of God is.  Our life must revolve around Christ and the passion to magnify his name.  And I mean, all of life!

How do we magnify Christ in all of life?

The reason Paul dedicated his life solely for living to magnify Christ even in the midst of his difficult circumstances is because of what he said in verse 21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

We can magnify Christ in all of life like Paul if we can say that “to live is Christ.”  This is a call to us to let everything we do show how much we treasure Christ above everything and above every gifts.  He does not say, “to live includes Christ.”  Christ is not just an addition to the way we do life.  Christ is the sum of life.  He is our all in all.

Let Christ be seen in every gift or blessing or pleasure as the ultimate source of everything we enjoy.  Not all of us are suffering, some of us are really enjoying life.  Good job, beautiful wife, money.  Do you recognize them as from God and because of what Christ has done on the cross?  Or you think you deserve it?  Don’t lose focus because of the many material things you enjoy or the good name or reputation you have.  It is not about you.  It is about Christ.  Even if you had gained so many things, you can magnify Christ not just by thanking or praising him for the gifts, even how precious that is.  You can magnify him by saying with Paul, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…” (3:7-8).

Even the mundane activities of life like eating, drinking, walking, taking a shower, texting, watching tv, surfing the internet, taking a jeepney ride, or talking to a friend should be done to showcase the glory of Christ.  “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).  These must be treated as gifts from Christ also.  The question we must ask in everything we do is not, “Is it wrong?”  but “Will it magnify Christ?”  We will struggle with this.  In other times, this will not be very easy.  But we need to make a decision.  Will I click the mouse to go to this internet site when I know that it will not make the name of Christ look great and his pleasure so satisfying?  We can use the internet for Christ’s glory.  One day a friend sent a message to me reminding me that what I was doing in my studies is worship also.  That gives me back in focus.  And what she did is honoring to Christ also.

Because we are so used to seeing things like gifts or the ordinary activities of life, we fail to realize that there is a sun that gives light for us to be able to see or experience them.  What will happen if the sun fail to give its light?  It will get dark?  No!  We will all die.  Let us see all the blessings we have as coming from the Son of God.  Don’t look at the gifts.  Look at the source.  Magnify Christ this way.

What if there is pressure instead of pleasure?  Sufferings instead of blessings?  How do we magnify Christ then?

How do we magnify Christ even when life is hard?

Life became hard either by addition or by subtraction – the addition of pressures or problems in life to deal with or the subtraction of something or someone we value in life.

When there are pressures because of temptations to compromise our faith, we must resolve to hold on to our allegiance to honoring Christ whatever the cost.  For example, there is a constant temptation to fall into sexual immorality – like pornography, adultery, premarital sex, masturbation, homosexuality.  This can make holy Christian living very difficult.  What do we do?  We keep in mind that “the body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord…your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you…you are not your own, for you were bought with a price.  So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:13, 19-20).  We must show that we are so satisfied with Christ that we will say no to sexual pleasures outside of the marriage bed.  This is to magnify Christ.

There can also added pressures for single people to get married because of our culture Even we Christians are putting pressures on some of the singles especially when they are getting into their 30s.  Remember that life is not about getting married.  Jesus was not married.  Paul was single yet he was one of the most joyful person we know because he is so satisfied with Christ that the pleasure of having a wife is nothing in comparison to having Christ.  He counseled single people to remain as they are to “secure their undivided devotion to the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:35).  Do not marry for the sake of getting married.  Marry for the sake of magnifying Christ.  After all, marriage is not about having a husband or having a wife; it is about Christ and his church (Eph. 5:32).

When life is hard because of the things you have lost, consider them as nothing compared to the satisfaction of having Christ.  “I have suffered the lost of all things that I may gain Christ” (3:8).  It is not about losing something, it is about gaining Christ.  He illustrated it well when he said that “to die is gain.”  To die is to lose something we so highly value – our life.  But Paul thinks that dying is far better and desirable, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (1:23).  To finally be with Christ is Paul’s desire.  Death is not the end, it is just the beginning.  It shows us how much he treasures Christ even beyond life that he is willing to die in order that he may, at last, experience the fullness of the glory of Christ.  We must desire the same.

We will face several losses in our life.  And this is hard.  We may lose jobs, some money, or a cell phone, or a loved one, or a house, or investment, or friends.  Our attitude toward those losses will indicate if we are really passionate about magnifying Christ even to the point of giving our life for him.  What is it that you prize so highly that you cannot count it loss for the sake of knowing Christ, of having him, of magnifying him?  Don’t let it distract you from living with a single passion of magnifying Christ in all of life even when life is hard.

Brothers and sisters, this is my prayer for all of us:  In all we do and experience may our single, all-consuming passion be to magnify Christ, even when life gets hard.  Stay focused.  Don’t lose sight of the goal.  Don’t lose sight of Christ even when you lose everything in life.

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