Our focus will be on Paul’s letter to the Philippians — not to do an exposition of the whole book, but to choose several texts and themes that have been especially formative and precious to me over the years and that I hope will be helpful to you.
Every Tongue Will Confess, Every Knee Will Bow
The world is moving toward a day when every tongue in Europe will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord of the Universe — either willingly because people have seen his glory and submitted gladly to his authority and his salvation or unwillingly because he has seemed to them like foolishness, and they have resented his claim to authority in their lives. That day is coming. And we know it is because of Philippians 2:9–11:
Therefore God has highly exalted him [Christ] and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Every knee, every tongue, willingly or unwillingly — Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Germany, Sweden — and every other European and Asian and African and American nation.
By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.” (Isaiah 45:23)
God has spoken, and he will do it. God said to Jeremiah, “I am watching over my word to perform it” (Jeremiah 1:12). When God watches over his word of promise, he doesn’t just wait to see if man will do it. He works to see to it that that man will do it. So the day is coming for Europe and every other continent.
The LORD of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up — and it shall be brought low . . . and the LORD alone will be exalted in that day. (Isaiah 2:12, 17)
And this final, glorious exaltation of God over every other pretended loftiness will not finally or decisively be owing to us, but to God himself.
For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. . . . For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another. (Isaiah 48:9, 11)
I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.” (Isaiah 46:9–10)
The End for Which God Created the World
When every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus is Lord of lords and King of kings, it will not be owing finally or decisively to us, but God. This is God’s doing because this is God’s purpose in creating and redeeming the world. From beginning to end, his ultimate aim has been the exaltation of his name and the communication of his glory.
Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory. (Isaiah 43:6–7)
The heavens declare the glory of God. (Psalm 19:1)
That’s why he made them. That is his aim. That is his design. He made them to magnify his glory. Every star in its unimaginable magnitude was designed to point to the majesty of God. Every human created in the image of God was designed to do what images do — they image! They image forth what they are images of — God.
And so it is with the great and glorious work of redemption in Christ — it is all designed to magnify the glory of God — especially, the apex of his glory, the glory of his grace. So the night before Jesus died he cried out,
“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” (John 12:27–28)
Indeed he had. Indeed he did. Indeed he will. From everlasting to everlasting, this is what God does: God plans and performs the glorification of his great grace.
He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace. (Ephesians 1:5–6)
God’s Grand Purpose
So when we come to the book of Philippians, we see as clearly as anywhere that this glory — this praise of God — is the great and final aim of it all. To be sure this book is radiant with
- the sovereignty of God even over suffering,
- and the exquisite preciousness of Christ that makes every other value seem like rubbish,
- and the mighty gospel of justification by faith alone,
- and the gift of faith as the channel of all power,
- and the indomitable joy of treasuring Christ above all else,
- and the fearlessness of witness,
- and the humility and lowliness of loving, sacrificial service,
- and the beautiful unity of striving side by side in the greatest cause.
The Exalted Christ
But all of it — all of it — is leading to this: “Every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” But notice, this is not a mere outcome. Not a mere result. This is God’s plan, God’s purpose, God’s design to glorify God (Philippians 2:11). Look at the flow of thought from verses 9–11:
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, [God did that! This is God’s action. Now comes the purpose statement for the action!] so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Boil it down: God highly exalted Christ for the glory of God. We see this same design again in the prayer of Philippians 1:9–11. To whom is prayer addressed? God. So Paul is asking God to do this. What is he asking God to do?
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
Paul is asking God to fill the saints with the fruit of righteousness “to the glory and praise of God.” God, answer my prayer for your glory. Act, O God, for your glory.
God’s Global Glory
So the day is coming when every knee in Europe will bow before Jesus, and every tongue will confess his lordship over history and over the world. And it doesn’t matter what your eschatological viewpoint is here — premillennial, postmillennial, amillennial. No matter when you think Jesus is going to return and break into history, he will break in, and when he does, every knee will go to the ground. And every tongue — willingly or unwillingly — will say, “Jesus Christ is Lord.” And the reverberations of that global acclamation will sound “to the glory of God the Father.” And my point is: God planned it that way. God’s ultimate purpose for the universe is the communication of the glory of God.
For many of us, this has proved to be a massive rock of assurance under the promises of God — he will not fail in his saving purposes, because at stake is not ultimately my worth, but his name — “his power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12) My hope and my confidence is built not finally on God’s commitment to me, but God’s commitment to God. This has been the great stabilizing force of my life.
The Problem: The Stumbling Block of His Glory
But for many this is a great stumbling block.
Oprah Winfrey, one of the wealthiest entertainers in America, walked away from orthodox Christianity when she was about 27 years old because of the biblical teaching that God is jealous for his glory in our lives — he demands that he and no one else get our highest allegiance and affection. It didn’t sound loving to her.
Brad Pitt, a famous movie star, turned away from his boyhood faith, he says, because God says, “You have to say that I’m the best. . . . It seemed to be about ego.”
C.S. Lewis, before he became a Christian, complained that God’s demand to be praised sounded like “a vain woman who wants compliments.”
Erik Reece, a university professor in America and author of An American Gospel, rejected the Jesus of the Gospels because only an egomaniac would demand that we love him more than we love our parents and children.
And Michael Prowse, a columnist for the London Financial Times, turned away from God because only “tyrants, puffed up with pride, crave adulation.”
So people see this as a problem — that God created the world for his own praise. They think such self-exaltation would be immoral and loveless. If God planned and performs his own ultimate self-exaltation, then he is a megalomaniac, or, as Erick Reece says, an egomaniac. Perhaps that’s how you feel.
The reason I am starting here in our series of messages from Philippians is not because Philippians created the problem in 1:11 and 2:11, but because, more than any other place in the Bible, in my experience, Philippians gives the solution to the problem. It is one of the most important discoveries I have ever made in my life. And when you see it, it changes everything.
Ego or Love?
So the question we are asking is: In view of Philippians 1:11 and 2:11 where God’s purpose is for God to be praised, why is this not evil? And if it is not evil, what is it? I am going to argue that it is love — the greatest love. The solution is found in Philippians 1:20–21.
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 [magnified — to cause to be seen as great] in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Paul says that his great passion in life — I hope it’s your great passion in life — is that Christ be seen and savored as great — supremely great. That is why God created us and saved us — to make Christ look like what he really is — supremely great — all to the glory of God the Father.
Magnifying Christ in Life
Now the relationship between verse 20 and 21 is the key to seeing how Paul thinks that happens. It’s going to happen, Paul says — Christ is going to be magnified in my body by life or death — “because to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (v. 21). Notice that “life” in verse 20 corresponds to “live” in verse 21 and “death” in verse 20 corresponds to “die” in verse 21.
My eager expectation is that Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live [corresponding to life] is Christ, and to die [corresponding to death] is gain.
So Paul is explaining in both cases — life and death — how Christ is going to look great in Paul’s living and dying, how Christ will be magnified by his life and his death. He will be magnified — he will look great — in my life because “for me to live is Christ.” He explains in verses 25 and 26. He says he knows that he will be staying (middle of verse 25) — “I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus because of my coming to you again.” To live will magnify Christ because his life among them will lead to their joy of faith, which, in turn, leads to a glorying or boasting in Christ Jesus.
So Paul’s life will serve to magnify Christ by helping the Philippians enjoy and boast in Jesus Christ. So it appears, then, that the way Christ is magnified is that Christians rejoice in him and boast in him. Or to use the words of Philippians 3:8, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” So Christ is more precious, more valuable, and more satisfying than all that life on this earth can give. Christ is magnified when he is experienced in life with joy as our supreme treasure. We value him more than anything.
Magnifying Christ in Death
But this becomes even more evident if we focus not on Paul’s life but on his death. So back to verses 20–21. Now let’s just read the death parts:
My eager expectation is that Christ will be magnified in my body . . . by death. For [because] to me to die is gain.
Notice the word “for” connecting verses 20 and 21. Paul is giving the basis or the explanation for how it is that his death will magnify Christ. It will do so “for [because] to me to die is gain.” That was the key that unlocked the solution to my problem.
Christ will be magnified in my body by death “because to me to die is gain” (v. 21). Why would death be gain? The answer is in verse 23b: “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” That is gain!” Death is gain because it means a greater closeness to Christ — more of Christ. Death is “to depart and be with Christ.”
This is why Paul says in verse 21 that to die is gain. So you add up all the losses that death will cost you — your family, your job, your dream retirement, the friends you leave behind, your favorite bodily pleasures. You add up all these losses, and then you replace them in death with Christ alone , and you joyfully say, “gain”! When you do that, Christ is magnified in your dying. Losing everything and getting Christ is called gain. And when you call it gain and mean it — because you feel it! — Christ is magnified, glorified, shown to be supremely valuable.
The Solution: God Loves Through Self-Exaltation
So here is the truth I see in these verses: Christ is magnified in your dying, when in your dying you are satisfied in Christ. Or to sum up both halves of the verse:
Christ is glorified in you when he is more precious to you than all that life can give or death can take.
Or simply, God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. If that is true, then there is no conflict between your greatest exhilaration and God’s greatest glorification.
In fact, not only is there no conflict between your happiness and God’s glory, but his glory shines in your happiness when your happiness is in him. And since God is the source of greatest happiness, and since he is the greatest treasure in the world, and since his glory is the most satisfying gift he could possibly give us, therefore, it is the kindest, most loving thing he could possibly do — when he reveals himself, and magnifies himself, and vindicates himself, and communicates himself to us, at the cost of his Son’s life, for our everlasting enjoyment. “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). This is not megalomania; this is love.
God is the one being for whom self-exaltation is the most loving act because, in exalting himself, he is exalting for us the one thing that can satisfy us fully and forever. If we exalt ourselves, we are not loving because we distract people from the one Person who can make them happy forever — God. But if God exalts himself, he draws attention to the one Person who can make us happy forever — himself. He is not an egomaniac. He is an infinitely glorious, all-satisfying God, offering us everlasting and supreme joy in himself.
That’s the solution to our problem.
- No, Oprah Winfrey! If God were not jealous for all your affections, he would be indifferent to your misery.
- No, Brad Pitt! If God didn’t demand that you see him as the best, he wouldn’t care about your supreme happiness.
- No, Mr. Lewis! As you later came to see and show us, God is not vain in demanding your praise. This is his highest virtue, and your highest joy.
- No, Erik Reece! If Jesus didn’t lay claim on greater love than your children do, you would lose your everlasting joy and your children.
- No, Michael Prowse! God does not crave your adulation from his neediness, he calls it forth as your greatest pleasure.
God’s design to pursue his own glory is not megalomania. It is the opening of a door into a feast of beauty and truth that alone can satisfy the human soul forever, whether in Europe or among any people on this planet. It is love. And our duty to pursue God’s glory turns out to be a quest for joy. In demanding our praise, God is demanding our pleasure because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.
Joy Changes Everything
And this solution to our problem changes everything. What is conversion to Christ? It is not only believing the highest truth. But also embracing the most valuable Treasure.
What is saving faith? It is seeing and savoring that Treasure, Jesus Christ, above all things.
And what is the good fight of faith? It is a fight for joy. A fight every day to see and savor Jesus more than anything in the world. Because this savoring shows him to be supremely valuable.
And what is hell? It is a place of suffering prepared for people who refuse to be supremely happy in the triune God.
And evangelism? Not only persuasion about truth, but pointing people to a Treasure — Jesus Christ — that is more valuable and more satisfying than anything they could ever possess.
And what is evil? Not just breaking God’s law, but the suicidal preference for the dry and empty wells of the world over the living waters of God’s fellowship — the river of his delights.
What is “self-denial”? It is real.
- Deny yourself the wealth of the world so you can have the wealth of being with Christ.
- Deny yourself the fame of the world to have the joy of God’s approval.
- Deny yourself the security and safety of the world to have the solid, secure fellowship of Jesus.
- Deny yourself the short, unsatisfying pleasures of the world so that you can have fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore at God’s right hand.
This means there is no such thing as ultimate self-denial because to live is Christ and to die is gain.
And what is money? It is a cultural means of showing where our treasure is. If our treasure is in heaven, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). The power behind generosity is joy in God. Sacrificial giving is the overflow, the expression, the expansion of our joy in God.
And so what is love? It is the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others.
And what, then, is ministry? Your ministry? 2 Corinthians 1:24: “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy.” All ministry, one way or the other, means “working with you for your joy.” Doing whatever it takes, at any cost to ourselves, to bring as many people as we can into the experience of Philippians 1:20–21 — magnifying Christ by enjoying him forever.
O, that we might not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be magnified in our bodies, whether by life or by death. For to us to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Christ will be most magnified in Europe when Europe is most satisfied in Christ — when he is more precious than all that life can give and all that death can take.