“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. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:20–21

Magnitude is a term employed to allow graded comparisons in scientific fields. Among other things, it is used in describing the comparative power of an earthquake and it is used to describe perceived comparative brightness of stars. The root word of magnitude is magnus, meaning greatness. The brightness of the stars in the night sky, as appearing to the naked eye, is judged on a scale of magnitude (with Vega as the reference brightness) known as apparent magnitude. The brightest-appearing stars are at the top of the scale in minus territory (e.g., Sirius -1.5) and the dimmest appearing stars are down at the bottom in positive territory (e.g., Polaris 1.9).

Apparent magnitude is valuable for earthbound viewers as its scale aids in finding celestial objects from our vantage point. But it is a flawed measurement when it comes to valuing the real brightness of a star. Another scale of magnitude seeks to rectify the inaccuracy of “grading by eye.” Absolute magnitude attempts to identify the brightness of each object as theoretically observable from a uniform distance away from each object (32.6 light years). If our solar system was actually this close to Betelgeuse in the constellation Orion, the star would be bright enough to cast shadows on the Earth during the night!

I submit to you that these two scales illustrate the kind of thought behind the use of the word magnify, used to translate the Greek word megaluno in Philippians 1:20. It is not the idea of using a microscope to make larger a tiny organism so that the eye may see it by increasing the apparent size, as much as it is the idea of Christians providing a “sense of scale” to sin-benighted people around them of the absolute, mighty majesty of their own Creator. We are to “bring them closer” so they may see His true majesty.

There is much in this world to the unaided eye of sinful, earthbound man that appears brighter and more glorious than God. The blindness of man deceives his perception of the almighty eternal God, bringing Him down to a kindly, doddering, toothless, old gentleman. This is due to the spiritual distance of man’s heart from the Glorious One. Man has an apparent view of the magnitude of God but he is clueless as to the absolute magnitude of God. It is every believer’s job to make all men around him aware of God’s absolute magnitude!

It is this purpose of the believer that Mary expresses in her “Magnificat” expression of praise. In Luke 1:46f she declares, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” She takes her cue from many Old Testament passages where the saints are encouraged to express a sense of scale to their fellow men of the greatness of God.

Many Psalms echo the theme. In Psalm 70:4 David states, “Let all those who seek You rejoice and be glad in You; and let those who love Your salvation say continually, ‘Let God be magnified!’” In verse 30 of the chapter before, he says, “I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify Him with thanksgiving.” In Psalm 40:16 he also says, “Let all those who seek You rejoice and be glad in You; let such as love Your salvation say continually, ‘The LORD be magnified!’”

In the immediate context of each of these three verses David declares “But I am poor and needy” or “sorrowful.” Even as David is extolling God he is not losing his personal sense of scale. God is the Infinite One and we are in great need of His aid. In this same spirit David declares in Psalm 34:1ff, “I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make its boast in the LORD; the humble shall hear of it and be glad. Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His name together.”

When a man becomes a believer he is brought to salvation much as Paul was on the road to Damascus, he is struck with awe at the majesty of God, His perfections, and grace in providing salvation. The saint is tasked with the same job of declaring the absolute majesty of God to the lost around him just as the disciples were “eyewitnesses of His majesty (2 Peter 1:16).” This is why believers are children of light (1 John 1:5ff) and are to magnify God always (Acts 10:46, 19:17ff).

From prison Paul writes Philippians, where he was known by the church to be imprisoned for the sake of the Gospel. His words are a great illustration of what magnifying God means. His “earnest expectation” (keenly anticipated watching) was that he would have complete, outspoken boldness such that Christ would be magnified in him. He desired to provide anyone who only had an apparent view of the majesty of the true God with a sense of God’s absolute majesty either by his continued life, or in his death. This is the call of every saint throughout all his allotted days. We are to make people acquainted with an accurate view of God’s majesty no matter what befalls us. Perchance someone will be humbled in awe of his Creator through your faithfulness! Trust and obey.