A Worthy Expectation
September 1, 2011
..Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death—Philippians 1:20, NKJV
By Joe Stowell
I recall asking a friend who is a counselor, “What is the most frequent cause of trouble in the lives of those you work with?” His reply was surprising. He said, “broken expectations.” He explained that when life, friends, family and/or careers do not measure up to expectations, it often causes a lengthy list of personal struggles. From self-doubt to deep bitterness to a damaged view of life and relationships, broken expectations pose a serious problem to life as we wish it could be lived.
This is why I’m so taken with the Apostle Paul’s perspective in the face of unrealized expectations. You might expect that God would grant Paul—the leading apostle of the early church—an ongoing broad access to the growing movement of Christianity.
However, as Paul writes to the Philippians and encourages them to walk worthy of Christ, he finds himself restricted by imprisonment in Rome. In addition, given Paul’s credentials, one could expect that people would like, support and respect Paul and his ministry. Instead, some of the believers in Rome preached the Gospel from a spirit of rivalry and strife, hoping to add afflictions to Paul’s bonds.
Yet Paul remains upbeat and not distressed. What is his secret? In Philippians 1:20 he says, “According to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death” (NKJV). Paul had one pressing expectation in life: Regardless of the situation he found himself in, he would seek to magnify Jesus. Regardless of where he was or whom he was with, he expected to make Jesus evident through his attitudes and responses.
The best part of the story is in the concluding verses of Philippians, where Paul says, “The saints in Caesar’s household greet you” (Cf. Philippians 4:22). Could it be that while in jail Paul had led some of the guards to Christ through his testimony about his imprisonment for the cause of Christ? That God had restricted his life to a bad place for the purpose of carrying the Gospel into the chambers of the royal palace? Because he expected to magnify Christ wherever he was, Paul saw jail as an opportunity to “bloom where he was planted” for Jesus! Instead of focusing on his enemies in the Roman church, his expectation that Jesus be magnified was fulfilled in that the Gospel was being preached. And this fact led him to rejoice rather than get bogged down in a fight with cantankerous competitive believers.
This all goes to prove that expectations matter … and that only one expectation matters most.
I must admit, making Christ visibly large through your life regardless of circumstances can be a challenging expectation. Once I made reservations to fly from Kokomo, Ind., to Grand Rapids, Mich., to speak at a conference. Any time I flew from my hometown airport (affectionately called the Kokomo International Airport), there was a chance that the weather would deter the small commuter plane I needed to board from making its scheduled landing.
As I arrived at the airport, I noticed that the ticket-taker, the baggage-handler and the air traffic controller were all the same person. As he took my bag and began to process my ticket, he informed me that the cloud ceiling might be too low for the incoming plane to land in Kokomo. I tensed up and made it clear to him that the plane had to land; otherwise I couldn’t board, and I would miss showing up to speak to more than a thousand people. As I was filing my appeal, the ticket-taker/baggage-handler morphed into the air traffic controller, and I overheard the pilot of the incoming plane telling him that they would try to land in spite of the weather. The pilot tried once to no avail but said he would try once more. I ramped up my protest and reminded the air traffic controller of how important it was to get the plane to the gate.
Then came the bad news. After a second attempt, the pilot announced, “We can’t get the plane down. We’re on our way to the next stop.”
My response was not admirable. As the ticket-taker handed the ticket back to me he said, “Aren’t you a minister?”
I could have crawled in a hole. Sheepishly, I said, yes—to which he replied, “Then God will take care of you!” Fretting, I walked away all in a knot about what I would do, only to remember that an attorney friend had a small plane and had offered to provide transportation if I ever needed it. I called him, and he happily responded with instructions about where I should meet him.
As I left the airport lobby, I felt ashamed. I had missed an opportunity to magnify Christ. How different it would have been if I had let the ticket-taker/baggage-handler/air traffic controller know that it was important for me to get to Grand Rapids, but regardless of the outcome, my life was in the hands of Jesus, who had consistently guided and provided for my life for many years. If I had magnified Christ like that, think of the joy of going back to tell him the “rest of the story.” How different it would have been if my one expectation had been to magnify Christ regardless of my circumstances.
If we are to walk worthy of Christ, we have to live with just one expectation: Wherever we are or whomever we are with, we will seek to magnify Christ! ©2011 Joe Stowell
Joe Stowell is president of Cornerstone University, in Grand Rapids, Mich., and is a frequent speaker at the Billy Graham Training Center at the Cove.