Joy In The Face of Uncertainty – Philippians 1:20

An inventor once said (and sometimes I think we should have listened to this fellow),

Theoretically, television may be feasible, but I consider it an impossibility — a development which we should waste little time dreaming about. (Lee de Forest, 1926, inventor)

The chairman of the board for IBM in 1943 said,

I think there is a world market for about five computers. (Thomas J. Watson, 1943, Chairman of the Board of IBM)

A recording company expert said in 1962,

“We don’t think the Beatles will do anything in their market. Guitar groups are on their way out.”

Obviously these people were completely wrong about the future.

And let’s face it—we don’t know any better than they did what’s going to happen tomorrow or next week or next month or next year. We don’t know what difficulties or joys are in store for our future.

It may be there are times when we are fearful of what the future holds. We see the decline of morality in our country and shudder to think what lies ahead. Or perhaps our health is declining or our marriage is not what we wished it was or our financial outlook isn’t the best.

None of us know what the future has in store and for some that could cause us to worry or fear. But when you listen to God’s Word you find real assurance, for it tells us not to worry about tomorrow.

Matthew 6:34 (NLT) 

    "So don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today's trouble is enough for today.

Today’s troubles are enough for today. Today’s concerns are enough to keep you busy—so don’t worry yourself with tomorrows concerns. Sounds good doesn’t it? Don’t worry about tomorrow.

But, if we are honest with ourselves, most of us would have to admit that there are times when we do worry about tomorrow. There are times when we do concern ourselves with the future.

What we need to understand is that worry robs us of our joy. While we spend time worrying about what may happen tomorrow we lose our joy for today.

Corrie Ten Boom who knew her share of struggle and difficulties had a wonderful perspective on the future. She said,

Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.

Jim and Elisabeth Elliot were missionaries to the Auca Indians. Jim and a few of his fellow missionaries lost their lives at the hands of those they were trying to win for Christ. What’s remarkable is that these men all had side arms or rifles to protect themselves yet none of them fired a shot in their defense as they were speared and killed by some of the Aucas. Elisabeth and a few other missionaries returned to minister to the Aucas and soon won many of them to Christ. I think Jim Elliot and his fellow servants of Christ had a proper perspective on the future. Jim’s perspective on the future is evident in this statement he made,

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.

Jim was talking about giving your life for the cause of Christ. He knew he couldn’t loose the gift of eternal life found in Christ. And he knew it would be worth giving his life if it meant the Gospel of Jesus Christ was advanced. As we’ve discovered in our study in Philippians this was Paul’s attitude also.

Paul’s Joyful Confidence

We’re going to see today in our study in Philippians 1:20 how Paul was able to face an uncertain future with joyful confidence.

Philippians 1:20  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.

As we’ve learned in our previous studies in Philippians, Paul was in prison and possibly facing execution because of his stand for Christ. He didn’t know what was in store for his future. He knew it was possible he would be released but it was also possible that he would lose his life.

In spite of his uncertain future Paul had an earnest expectation and hope. He had a bright outlook for the future. He doesn’t say, “I’m really discouraged and worried about the future.” No, he says, according to my earnest expectation and hope. These aren’t the words of a man who is worried about his future. These aren’t the words of a man who is discouraged.

So how was Paul able to face an uncertain future with joyful confidence?

The phrase earnest expectation “describes straining one’s neck to catch a glimpse of something that is ahead.” 1 This idea of straining to see what’s ahead coupled with the word hope gives us a clear picture of Paul’s confidence. He wasn’t simply engaging in wishful thinking like we often do when we use the word hope. Like, “I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow.” “I hope the boss promotes me.” “I hope my stocks increase in value this year.” “I hope the Buckeyes beat the Wolverines.”

We use the word hope to describe what we wish will happen. But the words Paul uses here, earnest expectation and hope, convey confidence.

In spite of an uncertain future, Paul was confident.

And there were two things in which Paul had confidence. First of all he had confidence that he wouldn’t be ashamed. And second, he was confident that Christ would be magnified.

His Confidence That He Wouldn’t Be Ashamed

As John Gill puts it, Paul was not ashamed,

…of his reproaches and sufferings for the sake of Christ and his Gospel,… nor of the Gospel which he preached, so as to retract and deny it, drop the whole, or conceal any part of it, lay down his profession of it, or cease to preach it. (Gill, John. "Commentary on Philippians 1:20". "John Gill's Exposition of the Bible". 1999.)

In contrast to being ashamed Paul expected to remain bold just as he had been in the past. He expected to be bold and courageous whether he was released and continued to preach the gospel or whether he died. And Paul’s confidence wasn’t in what he could accomplish. He isn’t bragging here about what a great guy he is. He’s testifying to the work of the Holy Spirit in his life.

As we saw in last week’s study of verse 19, Paul understood that it was the supply of the Holy Spirit that was at work in his life.

Commentator William Hendriksen points out that the Holy Spirit,

…will never permit Paul to seek an easy way out of his imprisonment; for example, by denying his Lord. On the contrary, he will equip the apostle with unfailing courage; literally, complete outspokenness, a courage which reveals itself in a frank and unhesitant proclamation of the good tidings of salvation to all who are willing to listen, and which has as its source confidence in God and in his promises, the confidence of one who knows that at all times he can approach his God without fear. (New Testament Commentary, Exposition of Philippians, Baker Book House, William Hendriksen, p75)

Not only was Paul confident that he would not be ashamed but he was confident that Christ would be magnified.

His Confidence That Christ Would Be Magnified

Paul says in the seconed half of verse 20,

Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.

Whether Paul lived or died, all that mattered to him was that Christ would be magnified. I like Warren Wiersbe’s notes on this. He says,

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 who lived centuries ago. But as the unsaved watch the believer go 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.

The telescope brings distant things closer, and the microscope makes tiny things look big. To the unbeliever, Jesus is not very big. Other people and other things are far more important. But as the unbeliever watches the Christian go through a crisis experience, he ought to be able to see how big Jesus Christ really is. The believer’s body is a “lens” that makes a “little Christ” look very big, and a “distant Christ” come very close. (Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"–Jkt. (Php 1:20). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.)

Paul was confident that Christ would be magnified through his life or through his death. He was confident that Christ would be exalted whether he lived or died. And bringing honor to Christ through his life or death was all that really mattered to Paul. Paul was not living to promote himself but to bring glory to Jesus Christ. Paul’s passion was that Jesus Christ would be magnified. That was his focus.

Other less important issues didn’t sidetrack him. He was consumed with exalting Jesus Christ. He wasn’t promoting himself or looking out for his own interests. His desire was that his life or death would magnify Jesus Christ in the eyes of others. He was living his life to make Christ known to others. It didn’t matter whether he was released to continue to preach the gospel or whether he became a martyr for the cause of Christ. All that mattered was that Jesus Christ was exalted.

And today we need this same focus in the church. We need to make sure our teaching isn’t man-centered but God centered. We need to make sure that our worship isn’t man-centered but God centered. The “me first” mentality that permeates our culture is often too readily available in the church. And we must not allow it to permeate God’s church here. But how do we keep the “me first” mentality at bay?

If we want to resist the “me first” mentality we must make it our aim that our desire is as Paul’s—that Christ will be magnified. We are here to magnify Christ. We are here to glorify God. We’re not here to promote ourselves but to know Christ and make Him known to others. Everything we do as individual believers and as a church should be done to magnify Christ—to make him known. And we won’t have to be too concerned with battling our own natural selfishness if we make it our first priority to magnify Christ in everything we do.

Where we seem to have trouble though is when we face difficulties, or uncertain times or even have a difficult day we tend to focus on ourselves. Our focus is no longer on magnifying Christ with our lives, it’s no longer the advancement of the Gospel but it becomes one of self-preservation. And when we spend too much time concerned with our own difficulties and spend too much effort in making ourselves comfortable we loose our joy. We’ve taking our eyes off Christ. Our confidence is no longer in Him and His promises, but it’s in ourselves and what we can do for ourselves.

But when Paul faced an uncertain future, he was able to face it with a joyful confidence. He was confident that he wouldn’t be ashamed and that Christ would be magnified because he lived a life of trust in the true Life Giver, Jesus Christ. He trusted in the one who knew the number of hairs on our heads. He knew and trusted in the one who even cares about the smallest sparrow that falls.

None of us knows what the future may bring. We don’t know what difficulties and trials we may face but we can face an uncertain future with the same kind of joyful confidence that was obvious in Paul’s life when we trust in the King of Kings. And we can live unashamed with confidence that Christ will be magnified through the power of the Holy Spirit in us.

I spoke of Jim Elliot earlier, he was one of the missionaries slain by the Auca Indians in the 1950’s. Listen to this bit of wisdom from Jim Elliot. He said,

God is still on His throne and man is still on his footstool.  There's only a knee's distance in between.

Yes, God is still on His throne and we are still on his footstool. So will we trust in the one who knew our future before we existed and make it our passion in life to magnify the name of Christ in all our days?


Kevin A. Pierpont
Higgins Lake Baptist Church
7/25/04

1 Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. The Bible Knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.