How Do We Live with Christ-Exalting Joy? - Radical

How Do We Live with Christ-Exalting Joy?

In an earlier article, I argued that “our purpose in life . . . comes not first from what we do but what we are” because every human being is made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26–27).

This means that our ultimate purpose is determined, not by us, but by our Maker. We are made to glorify God by enjoying him forever.[1]

In this article, I am asking the “so what?” question: What does it look like for us to live in light of our ultimate purpose? How do we live with Christ-exalting joy? To answer this question, we turn to the example of Paul in his letter to the Philippians. 

A Difficult Situation

After Paul greets the Philippians and gives thanks for them, rather than launching into a theological issue or addressing his audience directly, Paul gives an auto-biographical update (Phil 1:12–26). He dwells on the imprisonment he mentioned earlier in passing (v. 7).

Paul is imprisoned under imperial guard (v. 13), and other “preachers” are seeking to afflict him by preaching Christ for their own gain (v. 17). It would seem they are seeking to “fill their pews” with those whom Paul had been teaching—adding insult to imprisonment. They are reaping fruit for which they did not labor while the laborer deserving of his wages—Paul—is in chains. 

How would you respond to (1) being imprisoned though innocent and (2) seeing others take advantage of your work?     

A Surprising Response

Surprisingly, Paul responds with Christ-exalting joy twice. First, Paul rejoices (present tense, v. 18a) because everything that is happening to him is advancing the gospel (v. 12).

Because he is imprisoned, (1) the imperial guard has heard about Christ, (2) many others have heard about Christ, and (3) the brothers are emboldened to fearlessly speak the word.

But, you ask, what about those no-good, coattail-riding opportunists who profited from Paul’s faithfulness? Whatever their motive, Paul rejoices to know that—even then—Christ is proclaimed.

Second, Paul says he will continue to rejoice (future tense, v. 18b) because of his confidence about his “salvation” (1:19, CSB). Although Paul believes he will be delivered from this imprisonment (see 1:25–26; 2:24), this is not the bedrock of his rejoicing.

No, Paul’s surprising, ongoing joy is grounded in his final salvation (1:19):[2] God’s working in him unto completion (1:6 cf. 2:13) so that Paul would gain Christ (3:8 cf. 1:21), his prize and Savior (3:14, 20). Does God’s work in you anchor your joy?

As verses 20–26 develop, Paul explains his confident hope in terms of his purpose in everything. His confidence stems, in part, from having a purpose greater than himself.

A Purpose for Living

Paul will continue with Christ-exalting joy because in his words, “[It is] my eager expectation and hope that in nothing will I be put to shame but in each opening—as always so also now—will Christ be magnified in my body whether by life or by death.

For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (1:20–21, my translation). Paul made it his goal that in everything—no matter what: (1) he would not be put to shame, but (2) Christ would be magnified. 

As different as those two statements may seem, they are really two sides of the same biblical life-purpose, which governs the way Paul lives in everything he does. Interestingly, his statements are reminiscent of the Psalms.[3]

In particular, Psalm 35:26–28 [4] uses words like “rejoice,” “ashamed,” and “magnify” to describe two kinds of people: (1) those who rejoice in others’ distress, magnify themselves, and ought to be put to shame; and (2) those who rejoice at the Lord’s righteous judgments, magnify the Lord, and are not ashamed servants but instead have peace. 

Paul puts himself in the second category: he is not put to shame because his confidence is in “the God of peace” (Phil 4:9), in Christ his Savior (3:20 cf. Psalm 35:3). And what do such confidence and resolute trust in Christ accomplish? It magnifies him![5]

An Example to Imitate

Paul’s confident joy in his ultimate salvation and his Christ-exalting purpose for living gives us an example to imitate. We too can “press on,” “strain forward,” and “be content” in any circumstance (Phil 3:12–14; 4:11–13) if we always place our confidence in Christ and so magnify him. 

This is the secret to abiding joy amidst imprisonment and every other kind of suffering or circumstance. We can have abiding joy if we stand firm in the Lord, placing our confidence in Christ—not ourselves.

By remaining tethered to our ultimate purpose of glorifying Christ, we can imitate Paul’s example (3:17) and obey his exhortation to rejoice always (4:4).


[1] This phrasing comes from Piper’s revision of the answer to question one of the Westminster Shorter Catechism (John Piper, Desiring God [Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 2003], 18).

[2] Doug Moo points out that Paul uses the “salvation” word-family “everywhere else to refer to ‘eternal salvation,’ usually with a focus on the final destiny of the believer” (A Theology of Paul and His Letters: The Gift of the New Realm in Christ, Biblical Theology of the New Testament [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2021], 301). For further technical discussion of the salvation Paul has in view, see

[3] I am indebted to Peter O’Brien for the observation that Paul’s language in Phil 1:20 reflects similar language in the Psalter (The Epistle to the Philippians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, The New International Greek Testament Commentary [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991], 114).

[4] To this example, we could add, e.g., Pss 25:2–3, 20; 31:17; 34:2–4; 40:14–17; 69:6, 30; 70:4; 119:116.

[5] When I think of magnifying, I always think of this illustration from John Piper: “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 [Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2003], 32–33).

David Christensen

David Christensen graduated from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with his Ph.D. in New Testament (2021), after previously earning a Th.M. (SBTS, 2017) and an M.Div. (FBS, 2016). Happily married for over a decade and the father of two lovely daughters, David is an active member of Ninth & O Baptist Church (Louisville, KY) and is seeking a teaching position in Christian higher education.


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