according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. (Philippians 1:19)
It’s a common trend in modern psychology that our view of ourselves can actually determine the success or failure of our lives. This isn’t entirely untrue, even though the world has twisted the biblical connotations to suit the fleshly need for validation and self-gratification. We become what we think and say, and feeling is tied in very closely to thought and words. Our emotions manifest as thoughts and our thoughts manifest as emotions, and both are expressed in words which reinforce these either positively or negatively. It’s a sound principle, but we lose sight of the fact that it’s a spiritual principle before it was ‘hijacked’ by modern psychology, positive thinking, and new age teachings. What we see in our personal mirror is not necessarily true, but it can determine who we become and whether we live for God or not.
To live for God, totally and completely, is the only way to avoid reak shame.
Paul puts things into proper perspective. He states very clearly that true shame before God is greater than shame before man, but he does focus on the very real truth that what we see, speak, think, and feel will determine our spiritual condition. We may see ourselves as standing, whereas we may in fact be falling. We may see ourselves as falling while we are in fact standing. Either way, we’re living a lie, but it’s often one we easily miss or deliberately avoid. To live for God requires, first and foremost, complete honesty. We must see ourselves as we really are, not as the distorted image of our human perception.
Pride is at the root of this common misconception. It governs both our arrogance and excessive humility. If we see ourselves as so strong we will never fall, that’s pride. If we see ourselves as utterly and forever abject, that’s also a form of pride – what we’re effectively saying is that our worthlessness is too big for God to do anything about. The one is excessive arrogance, the other is excessive humility. Neither one enables us to live for God as He intended. In both cases, pride gets in the way. In simple terms, self comes before God, the antithesis of the sentiment Paul expresses in today’s verse.
Paul’s words remind us that there is only one thing that is important, and that is that Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. This is the essence of what it means to live for God. The only thing that matters is Him. My feelings, thoughts, or words of either over-inflated importance or under-rated importance are irrelevant. The only thing is that matters is that our life magnifies Him. While self is in the way, this simply isn’t possible. We need to shift our focus away from the flawed mirror in which we see ourselves to the glory, majesty, power, grandeur, and holiness of God.
But Paul takes it one step further. He brings into the picture the matter of shame – the antithesis of pride. In the flesh, pride governs our lives and is a major motivating force. Most of the things we think, do, feel, or say are prompted in one way or another by pride. We want to be the best at what we do – pride in our own accomplishments. We want to be seen and recognised as a strong and faithful Christian – pride in our own accomplishments. We want to know that we’re worth something, have value, and can go the distance – pride in our own accomplishments. Shame, on the other hand, is a failure in all of these different things. It’s letting ourselves and others down, at least in worldly terms. Paul reminds us that the only real shame is when we don’t truly live for God.
If we could only keep this as the ‘universal standard,’ we would not have the issues so many of us face in the world. Shame would no longer exist as a worldly stick with which to beat ourselves. We would no longer be subjected to the often harsh judgements applied to us, often even by ourselves. When we live for God, a new reality takes precedence over our fears, inadequacies, guilt, and failures. We would no longer need psychologists, and we would be able to see through the eyes of God.
Having said all this, it’s important to remember that when we do see through His eyes, He will inevitably highlight our sins, frailties, and weaknessness. But the joy in this is that it is never done to shame us but to change us. Whatever issues we may have, God is aware of each and every single one, usually long before we are. But He loved us, called us, and chose us despite all of these. If God shows us things He doesn’t like, it’s so that He can give us the grace and power to allow Him to change them. To live for God means that we live in His grace, mercy, and love, and we need never be ashamed.
Paul recognised the wealth purchased for us by the cross. He knew that the path to real freedom and satisfaction was to live for God, totally and completely. He teaches us that nothing can equal the power of God in our lives, and that all that matters is that He be glorified. We need to take hold of the truth that we are in Christ, and He is in us. When we magnify Him, we are ourselves magnified because we share His glory. Of what value is the earthly glory of my own achievements when I can share that of the King of Glory. Nothing in this world can compare with the glory that is Christ Jesus. I may ‘lose my life,’ but the rewards are greater than any one of us could ever even hope to aspire to.
This is not the reason we magnify God. We do so because He is worthy, and because we belong to Him threefold – by right of the creator, by right of the conqueror, and by right of the redeemer. Our purpose on this earth is not to be good Christians or to lead others to the Lord – these are the outworking of our single purpose which is to bring glory to God. We can only magnify Him when we de-magnify self. This is what it means, in practical terms, to live for God. When we set everything else aside and seek only His will, plan, and purpose in our lives, shame no longer exists.
To live for God is not an intense spiritual experience. It’s not a convoluted, esoteric and spiritual experience either. It’s the simple process of putting Him first in everything – the large and the little matters of our daily lives. It’s desiring with all our hearts that He is magnified in all we say or do. And it’s recognising that, in Jesus, the only thing we need ever be ashamed of is not living for God. Christ took all our shame – and all means all – to the cross, once and for all. Shame is a distraction of self, the world, and the devil to keep us from serving God in the abundance He has promised and purchased.
When we feel shame for any reason, that is the time to lift our eyes to heaven and see the Saviour. When we tear our eyes away from the distorted mirror of personal experience and perspective, we see through God’s eyes. We will see one who is ‘wonderfully and fearfully made’ for His glory. That is the the beginning and the end of all our need for validation, achievement, or success. What the world says does not matter. What God says is all-important. When we live for God, we live our purpose and we live in His grace and the wonderful promises fulfilled on the cross. Shame is no more. We are in Christ, and Christ is in us.
Lord, help us to look past our inhibitions and inadequacies. Help us to take hold of our purpose, which is to magnify You in all things, and to be willing to lay it all down in pursuit of Your glory.