Paul’s Chief End

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” (v. 20).

- Philippians 1:18b–20

Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor from AD 161 to 180, said that “the true worth of a man is to be measured by the objects he pursues …” (Wisdom of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, p. 116). We readily see the truth in this observation, even if it comes from a pagan thinker. Our estimation of individuals’ lives, at the end of the day, is related to the ends for which they worked and not how much money they made, the education they acquired, the sizes of their families, or anything else.

Biblically speaking, men and women are honored only if the glory of God is their highest goal. Ultimately, the only life that is well lived is one in which we have feared the Lord and sought to keep His commandments (Eccl. 12:13–14). If His own glory is the chief goal of our Creator — the most worthy being in the universe — then the only goal that can identify us in any sense as worthy is the aim of glorifying the Lord in all things (Ex. 14:17; Ps. 149:5; Isa. 42:8; John 11:4). Paul understood this principle well, and there can be little doubt that it is why he made the honor and glory of Christ his chief end. As he explains in Philippians 1:18b–20, the apostle sought for Jesus to be honored in his body, whether in life or in death.

At the time Paul originally wrote this statement, he anticipated a release from prison so that he could freely continue his missionary outreach to the Roman Empire (v. 19). Nevertheless, he understood that only God knows the future completely (James 4:13–17), and so it was his hope that Jesus would be honored and glorified even if things did not turn out as planned. This notion of hope is in keeping with the biblical use of the term, which refers to a settled conviction about what will certainly happen in the future, not wishful thinking. In other words, Paul knew that Christ would definitely be glorified in his trial whether or not it ended in his release from the Roman prison from which he wrote to the church at Philippi.

This hope also included the conviction that he would not be ashamed (v. 20). The apostle speaks of the divine assessment of the people of God that Christ will proclaim at the last day. When Christ returns to judge the living and the dead, He will make it clear to all creation that we are righteous in Him and thereby worthy to enjoy the presence of His glory forever (Deut. 32:36; Ps. 135:14; Rev. 20:11–15).

Coram Deo

One evidence that we are truly in Christ is that we make His glory, and therefore the glory of the triune God, our chief end in life. As we pursue His glory and seek to lovingly obey Him in all things, we can be sure that we have been declared righteous in Him by faith alone and that all of creation will know that we are His on the last day. That vindication will be sweet indeed as we enjoy His blessed presence forever.

Passages for Further Study

Isaiah 8:13
John 5:19–29

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