Scope and Divisions of Philippians
The epistle to the Philippians, coming in the fifth place of this series, is the Deuteronomy of the whole; that is, it gives us the practical result, not simply of a position in Christ, but of the apprehension of it and of Him, therefore, with whom it fills the soul. We have seen that in Colossians, the result of the apprehension of the position is Christ Himself known and nothing else, the knowledge of the new man. It is evident that in the third chapter here, we have precisely the moral result of this, Christ the one Object for the heart. The very name here, Philippians, agrees with this. "Philippians" means "fond of horses," of the race-course, as we may say, and the third of Philippians is just the Christian race, with Christ as the goal and prize of it.
The steps by which full Christian position is attained are not found here. We have simply the result. Thus, at the beginning of the third chapter, the true circumcision are those who "worship God in the Spirit and rejoice in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh;" but this "no confidence in the flesh" is just one side of the deliverance of the eighth of Romans. This, of course, is absolutely needed for such a race as we read of there. Confidence in the flesh, the flesh in the Christian as well as any other, would only be an absolute prohibition of such a course as the apostle speaks of there. We cannot carry the flesh with us upon such a journey. The very first chapter here, which gives Christ as the governing principle of the life, is also in necessary connection with this, while the second chapter traces His course as the pattern for the Christian. It is, therefore, as in Colossians, Christ all through, closing with the triumphant realization as learned by experience, of the competency for all circumstances thus acquired. Philippians is evidently Colossians, with just this one thing added, the actual experience which must be known in order to have the full result such as we have it here. The unity of subject makes the epistle practically a very simple one in its construction.
The divisions are:
1. (Phil. 1.): Christ as the governing principle of the Christian life.
2. (Phil. 2.): Christ in His self-humiliation the pattern for us.
3. (Phil. 3.): Christ in glory the Object before the soul, the goal and prize of the race.
4. (Phil. 4.): Christ as known by experience in His competence for all the circumstances of the way.
Division 1. (Phil. 1.)
Christ, the governing principle of the Christian life.
To reach the end that we have here, we must begin aright. Christ as the governing principle of the life is the starting point in the Christian race, and the necessary condition of the final result: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." It would be altogether wrong to suppose that every Christian can say this. It is open to him, surely; but as practical attainment, how far often from being reached! The result here is found only by the man to whom Christ is the governing principle of his life, the pattern of his way, and the Object for his heart. We must put these things together or we misplace the truth. It is a truth of experience; and experience alone can give it to us. Thus here, we have something more indeed than Christ being our life. It is rather the result which the epistle to the Galatians gives us, of Christ living in one. Christ our life is the necessary basis-truth; but Christ living in us is the actual power for the life, — Christ objectively present to the soul, governing it entirely: "To me to live is Christ;" and notice how this clears the sight as to all the way itself. The apostle is able to decide, as it were, whether he shall live or die, by these interests of Christ which govern him. He longs to depart and be with Christ, but he sees that his remaining in the flesh is necessary for Christ's interests, for the sake of His people, and thus he knows he shall remain and abide with them all. How thoroughly will a principle like this clear the sight as to all details! It is, in fact, the single eye; and if the eye be single, the whole body shall be full of light. It is the practical result of the exhortation in Colossians, to do whatever we do, in word or deed, in the name of the Lord Jesus; that is, as representing Him upon the earth. Thus, then, we start in the epistle before us.
1. The epistle begins with the state of the Philippians themselves. He is exceedingly happy about them. There has been with them an abiding fellowship with the gospel, that is, with the interests of Christ on earth, which has given them a necessary participation with the apostle in that defence and confirmation of the gospel which was entrusted to him. Here he finds the strongest encouragement to believe in their steady progress.
(1) He associates with himself Timothy, as together bond-servants of Jesus Christ. We now that this bond-service is the height of liberty, — that it is the language which love uses in the realization of the love which has sought us and gained us for God. He does not speak as an apostle here: he is a saint amongst other saints. The experience which we find in the epistle is plainly not to be thought of as if it belonged to men of eminence or in some noted place, officially. So also he writes to them not as the assembly in Philippi, but as saints in Christ Jesus; that is to say, therefore, as individuals, for all experience is individual; conscience and heart are individual also, and these are the things with which we have to do here. It does not affect this that he specially names the overseers and ministers (or deacons, perhaps,) of the assembly. These, as we find in the first epistle to Timothy, were ordained for piety, to promote the practical welfare of those who were learning how to behave themselves "in the house of God," as the apostle said to Timothy himself. The house of any one tells its story of, and gives its character to, the man whose house it is; and the house of God is that surely which holiness becomes. Thus, the holy ones in Christ that are in Philippi are seen here with those who have their place amongst them for the help of holiness; and it is evident that while, as already said, conscience, heart, and experience are all individual things, yet that does not mean that we are independent of each other, that we cannot receive help from each other with regard to them. Thus, the overseers and ministers are fully in place in this epistle, and to them all he wishes grace and peace, the ever abiding necessity, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
(2) He now reviews their history morally. We have seen, in the Acts that the principle developed in the work in Philippi is progress through conflict. The progress characterizes them all through; and the conflict, as we shall see, abides for them also, and does not daunt them. Thus the apostle is able to thank his God for his whole remembrance of them. There is nothing to hinder his heart going out towards them in the fullest way. This does not, of course, hinder his continual supplication for them also. He does not want this brightness to be clouded in the least, but he is able to make the supplication with joy and not with sorrow, as he realizes how thoroughly their spirit had been with the gospel, from the first day until the present time. They were men not satisfied with their own salvation, and not simply content with their individual blessing. They felt that so much, that they must have, if possible, all men share with them in it; and they felt their debt to Christ in such sort as to identify them with His interests upon the earth. These are necessary signs of real happiness and apprehension of our individual blessing. There cannot be the proper realization of it in the soul, unless as one is carried by it outside of one's self, and filled with the energy which faith and hope and love combine to inspire.
He prophesies, therefore, for them a steadfast progress, not indeed as having confidence in the flesh; but he realizes that this good work which God has begun in them is a work which will continue on to its completion in the day of Christ. Brightness and happiness merely, as we reckon these, might have been found with the Galatians, who, as we know, were soon in a very different condition, but it is Christ enjoyed that their conduct here declares. One may enjoy one's blessing, enjoy the comfort of one's security, without rightly enjoying Christ; but there is nothing that promotes stability and progress of the soul short of this. The evidence of it he saw in their earnest fellowship with him self. He was in their hearts, not simply as one to whom they owed a debt of gratitude, but as one who was set for the confirmation and defence of the gospel, and who was suffering even to bonds on this account. It was this that drew out their earnest sympathy, and on the apostle's side towards them; he longed after them, in the bowels," that is, the tender affections of Christ Jesus.
(3) He prays that this love which they manifest may abound more and more in full knowledge and all intelligence. This is what in fact love manifested in this manner is on the way to. The love of Christ is, as has already been said, the true condition of knowledge, — the eye single and the whole body full of light. Christ becomes the test of everything for the soul, and everything, therefore, is seen in its true character. They could approve thus the things that were more excellent, see things in their proper proportion to one another; and this too is needed in order to be perfectly right and without offence. It is an unhappy sign to see small things made comparatively much of, and externals take the place which only belongs to that which is inward and spiritual. While nothing, of course, is to be neglected, small as it may seem, yet a disproportionate zeal for externals, which are the smaller things, will naturally and necessarily accompany a comparative displacement of what, before God, is more excellent. He desires, therefore, that the fruit of righteousness in them may be complete and that thus, through Jesus Christ, there may be glory and praise to God from their life on earth.
2.(1) He now turns to his own circumstances in order to show how thoroughly that which seemed to be not merely against him, but against that truth for which he stood, which he represented, had been overruled of God really for the spread of the gospel and for its entrance, it may be, into places which otherwise would have been closed to it. Those bonds which were manifestly for Christ and for Christ only, (which proclaimed him a martyr, not a malefactor,) could not but draw attention to him, and make men realize what Christ must be to His own, who could thus make competent His people to suffer, and to suffer joyfully in His behalf. Thus, in all the praetorium, in the places of rule in imperial Rome, and in all other places around, the tidings went abroad; and the effect upon those themselves Christians, was to increase confidence in the Lord, instead of depressing and discouraging. Their mouths were opened to speak with more fearless confidence the word of God.
(2) But there was not unmixed comfort as to this. Even here, alas, the enemy could come in. There were those who for envy and strife could preach, as well as for good will. On the one hand, there were those who redoubled their own efforts as they sought to supply, as far as might be, the place of him who was now shut up. On the other hand, there were those who, in the spirit of contention even, could announce Christ; exalting themselves at his expense, who was now removed from any power of hindrance. These were the bright, early days of the gospel, and yet such a thing could even then be seen. How clear that where the Spirit works we must not expect but that the enemy will work also! Here, in fact, is that which would excite his enmity, and amongst Christians themselves there are always those who, through some lack of devotedness on their own parts, will be in his hands to promote his schemes.
(3) But the apostle triumphs over it all. At any rate, he says, it is Christ who is preached, and that he can rejoice in. Christ would do His own work, would testify for Himself, whatever the spirit of His professed heralds. How blessed a thing to know, in the terrible failure which has come in since then, that, nevertheless, Christ remains the true and faithful Witness, and that for every soul with whom there is earnestness and simplicity, the witness that He gives will not really be clouded by the failure of others. For himself, the apostle realized that this was turning out for his own salvation; a strange term, as it might seem, for one like the apostle, — but only strange because we misconceive so much what "salvation" for such an one as himself should signify. To think of it as implying any lack of absolute security with regard to his eternal blessing, would be indeed to lower the Christian in the fullest possible way; but if we realize the condition of conflict which the world presents and what it means for one to be set for Christ in the world, (set to magnify Him, as he says directly by life or death), "salvation" will have a totally different meaning from that which is perhaps almost exclusively attached to it. We are apt to use it, in fact, in too technical a way and as if it meant only the one thing; that is to say, deliverance from. guilt and condemnation. This is a salvation which is of God entirely and which we start with. No incidents of the way, no attainments that we can. make, can either imperil this or increase its blessedness. God has saved us. That is the starting point; but then, on the other hand, salvation is used in other senses in the New Testament. It is used, of course, for that final salvation as to which at present we are only "saved in hope," when there will be complete deliverance from all that now makes one groan, "waiting for the adoption, to wit the redemption of the body;" but in this final form salvation is again a salvation of God entirely. We have no part in it ourselves, except to receive it. It is Christ, as the apostle tells us here afterwards, whom we wait for as Saviour who Himself change our body of humiliation into the likeness of His glorious body; so that in this also we have that of which the apostle cannot possibly be speaking here.
There is a third application of the term, however, which the second chapter will introduce us fully to, a salvation in which we have our part; God working in us and we working out. This is salvation from all the perils of the way, and what perils to one to whom to live is Christ! The peril is never to be made light of and was what he felt, that after all, Christ might not, (at least as He should be,) be magnified in His own,
This was what was before the apostle. The circumstances of which he speaks here, that seemed most against him, were things which really tended to help him in this direction, to deliver him from self-confidence, to make him realize that it was God, after all, who had all things in His hand; and that, apostle as he was, he was only the humble instrument of God's will who could as well set him aside and carry on His work without him as use him for His purpose. This was, in fact, to such as the apostle a manifest help and encouragement; and here the prayers of the saints counted for something, and he solicits them; while the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ could not be wanting for one set for Him. He shows us directly here what is in his thought. His earnest expectation and his hope was that he should be ashamed in nothing, but that with all boldness. as always, Christ should be magnified in his body, whether by life or death. Salvation in such a case must necessarily have its significance from the point of view of him who speaks of it, and his earnestness to realize it only shows him the more manifestly to be the man he was.
3. He now explicitly assures us of what is before him. The principle of his life was this: to him to live was Christ. Necessarily, for such an one, to die, on the other hand, would be gain. He would go to Christ; and he represents himself in a certain difficulty with regard to these two things whether to choose life or death. To die was gain; to live was worth his while. He could not possibly want motive to live, as he looked around him and realized the condition of men and the labor of Christ Himself in their behalf. Thus there were two motives which would lead him in different directions. He could not but desire to depart and be with Christ; which, for himself, personally, would be very much better; but if he looked at the saints and thought of them, then his remaining in the flesh was more necessary, and the simple heart for Christ which carried him through all perplexities could decide for him, that, therefore, he would remain, that their progress and joy in the faith might be ministered to. It was not in the power of that Rome in which he was, head of the whole world, and with no apparent possibility for anything to thwart her will, — it was impossible for Rome to decide as to this poor prisoner. Death for him, or life, was not found by any imperial decree. Christ was the Lord of all; and. thus he can prophesy not merely with regard to his continuing to live, but even his return to them again, that "your glorying may abound in Christ Jesus through me, by my presence with you again." How simply is the one, for whom Christ is the light upon the path, delivered from perplexity, just in proportion to the simplicity of his soul in this respect! This by itself would assure us that there was, in fact, a way for the apostle out of that Roman prison-house in which he was just now shut up, and that he did have for a time that liberty which has been so much questioned on the ground of historical evidence. Here is something more than history. It is the confidence of a soul for whom Christ decides absolutely his path, and such confidence, clear sighted as he assures us it was, could not possibly be disappointed.
4. He turns to them once more in his earnest desire for them, that they may still conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, that, present with them or absent, he may find them standing firm in one spirit, with one heart, unwearyingly laboring in that same conflict which in his person the gospel was experiencing. Opposers there would be and were. They had realized this from the very beginning of their Christian course. It was a thing which they had taken account of, and which, therefore now would not frighten them. A joyful spirit of confidence in this respect was itself an evidence that these adversaries would meet destruction, and that they themselves were heirs of that salvation which is from God alone. The suffering was as much a gift from God to them as their believing on Christ had been. It was a privilege not something to be mourned over or regretted. They were partaking of that which they had seen in him when he was amongst them, and still heard to be his portion.
Division 2. (Phil. 2.)
Christ in His self-humiliation our pattern.
We have now, therefore, set before us the whole path to its issue in glory, but as trodden in the first place and in full reality by Him who had come down into the world, drawn by His love alone, giving up all which was His just right, which He might have retained, and taking His place amongst men, to come down to the very lowest possible place in this way, the death of the cross. Such was the path which had ended, however, for Him in the glory in which now He was, and where every knee should shortly bow to Him and every tongue confess Him Lord. Such, then, is the pattern for us of One perfect in the path, but the apostle shows us also that there were, in fact, those who were running in it witnesses to the joy which, for themselves also, could make them despise the shame, and enable them to run on stedfastly to the goal which already has been shown us, — Christ Himself — the foremost in the race and who has reached the end of it.
1. He desires for the Philippians that there may be amongst them but one mind, but then, this mind could, therefore, only be the mind of Christ. If here for Him, representing Him on earth, they must realize the spirit in which He walked upon earth. There was abundant blessing that they had found already, which would be an incitement to them for this. Faith, hope and love, all drew them on, and were in them the testimony of that love which Christ had shown them.
(1) He appeals, therefore, to the comfort in Christ which they had enjoyed, the consolation of a love which had sought them and which was with them ever, a communion of the Spirit which had in it, therefore, a true, divine energy. There were bowels and compassions, tender thoughts and desires for others which the Spirit had awakened. He could appeal to them, therefore by all this, that they would fulfil what was his joy for them, that there might?be that perfect unity of mind which was but the unity of one aim, one interest, — the same love responsive in them all, soul joined to soul by this precious sympathy. Here oneness of mind would be not from mere reception of a common creed, but as the whole outcome of truth received, with all its blessed effects, as God wrought in them by it. The first necessity for this was that the spirit of the world, as the spirit of strife, with which the world was full, of vain glory which would necessitate a striving after it, should be absent from them. In the presence of God, lowliness is that which marks the soul. How could pride be nursed in such a presence? and where as a consequence realizing what they were themselves, of which they knew more, necessarily, than they could know of others? The result would be simple enough, the esteeming others as better than themselves. With regard to others, we have to give them credit to the full with regard to things in which we cannot know. With regard to ourselves, we are not called upon to spare ourselves; and in the consciousness of the love which is towards us, spite of all we are, we shall be delivered from any desire to make ourselves more than others. From this point of view, we can look upon each other, not with suspicion or envy, but, on the contrary, as rejoicing in that which we find of Christ in them. This is, in fact, the truest blessing for our own souls, — to walk in the enjoyment of that which Christ is, to all His own around us, and of the effects, therefore, produced by the reality of what Christ is, thus enjoyed.
(2) Now he puts before them this mind that was to be in them; a marvelous thing indeed, that, for such as we are, this mind can be enjoined and expected to be found in us, — the mind of One who, from a height of glory beyond possible apprehension, could come down, moved by His love alone, into the lowest possible depth where again the eye cannot follow Him, every step the giving up afresh of something that might be held! This is the course which manifests the mind of Christ, a course of continued self-denial and self-sacrifice, yet with an object which makes this not to be realized indeed as such. Here, we have then before us this wonderful path, — One subsisting in the form of God, that is to say, God Himself manifestly, so that there could be no question with regard to Him at all, yet this form of God He gave up; not the divine reality, which was, of necessity, His at all times, but the manifestation of it, the outward aspect. This he did not esteem "an object to be grasped," this equality with God. This, no doubt, is the proper translation here. It is much more than His not esteeming it robbery to be equal with Him. The point is, as the next words show us, that He was not seeking to retain that which was His without any question, but emptying Himself."
In this spirit, He took the place of a bond-servant in the likeness of men. He does not tarry among angels, unutterable condescension as that would be. The need of men appeals to Him and brings Him on. He is not merely a Man, but in the likeness of men also, (in all the truth of that which manhood implies,) but a Manhood necessarily without blemish, a Man unfallen, nay, more perfect and greater than Adam before the fall. Here then, He was found amongst us, but even here He could not tarry. Love brought Him farther in this path which continually descended. "Being found in fashion as a man, he humbled Himself and became obedient unto death." The very words show the glory that was His, and that that which was the consequence of the fall had no title over Him. It was in His self-humiliation that He stooped to death, this being for Him a path of obedience in which God was infinitely glorified.
But death itself was not the whole matter here. There was a depth far below death merely, the death of the Cross: not simply a death of shame, or which showed (as it did show) man's rejection of Him, but beyond all that, a death in which alone man's need could be reached, a death which alone could work atonement, a death, as we have seen in Galatians, of curse and penalty, not from man simply, but from God Himself. Here was the lowest point. Obedience itself could go no farther; and here was, at the same time, necessarily therefore, the full display of His proper glory to a soul that can realize it. Who could have stood in this place to do this work, but Himself alone? Who could, in utter loneliness and in the feebleness of humanity, — for "He was crucified through weakness," — yet lay the foundation upon which could be securely built a new creation brighter than all before; and where God should be seen in the full display of righteousness and holiness and love, His whole nature manifested, there where every element of trial and opposition was met and mastered! Here is the pattern path. For us it is not, after all, a path that we could take, save only in the principle of it, the mind which the apostle says we are to have of One who was perfect in the obedience which made the greatest demands upon Him, and in which every step of the way was a further surrender of that which otherwise was His to retain. How wonderful, we may say again, that God should work in such as we are any resemblance to this mind of Christ, and how wonderfully must He have supplied and qualified us, in order to expect any such thing rightly from us!
(3) To this point it is Christ's course that we see, God leaving Him to it. Power was not on His side, but against Him. It was not by power that this conflict could be fought to victory, or those ends that He sought attained. Hitherto Christ might seem to be alone the worker, God simply remaining an impassive spectator of His course, but now the whole heart of God comes out manifestly. Once He has reached this point, the work being accomplished, the result gained, God now manifests Himself completely. "He has highly exalted Him, and given Him a name that is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of heavenly, earthly and infernal beings, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father." Thus we see the goal reached. All opposition is vanquished and ceases. Every knee even of infernal beings must in result bow to Him. Everywhere He is confessed the Lord of all, a Man still, in the full reality of manhood, but a Man in whom now all that was lost or imperilled by the fall is restored and more than restored. The glory of God shines out as nowhere else.
2. This then is the example set before us, one that we might say, perhaps, is absolutely beyond us. We may concede that it is beyond us, but not that this would induce hopelessness. On the contrary, the perfection of the standard is that which gives continually fresh desire for acquirement, and in an object such as this is for the heart, an energy for acquiring. But we have now before us witnesses amongst mere men, who present us with such actual accomplishment in men as we can no longer say, therefore, is beyond us. Whatever such an one as Paul might be in this respect, there is no inherent impossibility in our following him, even as he followed Christ. Paul was a man encompassed with the same difficulties as those that we have, and we, on the other hand, have dwelling in us the same Spirit as he had.
(1) The apostle immediately encourages us, in fact, with the assurance that if we are to work out our own salvation, yet it is God who worketh in us both the willing and the doing. We have already seen what this working out of salvation means, that it applies to the difficulties in the way, a salvation from all that would hinder the glorifying of Christ in our life here. It is this, therefore, which is to induce the fear and trembling; not in selfish dread, but the sense of our responsibility to Him to whom we owe our all and whose our life is. Plenty there is to make us serious in such work as this, but nothing to dishearten us. If God has taken in hand to work in us after this fashion, that is ample security for our success. The fact that the apostle was now absent from them, whose presence had been so great a comfort and blessing to their souls, was only to make them more completely realize this divine power which was carrying them on to the full blessing beyond.
(2) They were to preserve, on the one hand, the character which belonged to them, and on the other, to hold forth that word of life which was their public testimony in the world. The one must have the other as an accompaniment, if it was to be a testimony for, instead of against the One they heralded. Solemn it is to realize that as witnesses for Christ there can by no possibility be a negative position for us. We have the responsibility of witnesses; and if we are not that, so as to commend Christ to others, we cannot help but dishonor Him.
The apostle bids them, therefore, act in the spirit of those who are in full subjection to God, without murmuring at circumstances which they might pass through, without reasonings such as unbelief might urge, where there was such a spirit. On the other hand, they were to be harmless, children of God, who could take that name without bringing reproach upon it; and that in the midst of a generation crooked and perverse. Stars are best seen in the night, though they may shine at all times; and the world, such as it is, is the best possible place for testimony of this kind. As lights in it, they would not shine indeed by their own light. Christians are planets and not suns. The word of life held forth is that which declares the light to be reflected light, from Him who, though absent, (for it is night time now,) is yet in this sense still the true light of it. Without the testimony to Christ, the best life may appear only to testify of what is natural in man. Men constantly plead, as we know, the lives of others who make no profession. The "word of life" held forth gives the glory to God which is His due, shows that the power is outside one's self, while the effect upon one is manifest. The two things are here put in their place, the life and the light. The life in Christ was the light, but not so with us, although without the life the light would indeed be darkened. Their testimony would be for the apostle a thing to glory in, in the day of Christ, when it would be seen that he had "not run in vain nor labored in vain;" for a labor really vain must of necessity show a great defect in its own character. No true labor can be in vain in the Lord, as the apostle assures us.
(3) So much then as to the character of witness on the part of Christians; but now we have examples in actual life. First of all, the apostle himself, who in the joy which so fully characterized him, a joy in Christ, which is strength for all the way, was ready in the spirit of his Master to be poured out even as a drink-offering on the sacrifice and service of the disciples, faith. The drink-offering was itself the symbol of joy; here a joy which set the offerer of it beyond all selfish calculation. He could pour out his life in the mere joy of the service of others. It was one who, as we know, was the prisoner of Jesus Christ at this time, who could say this; and who could bid them, therefore, rejoice, and rejoice with him, in that very suffering. Here is the first and most perfect witness amongst men merely, to the ability given of God to follow Christ. He does not give it openly as an example, but the Spirit of God, nevertheless, surely would draw our attention to it. It was the simple expression of his own joy, without a thought, one may say, of any peculiar testimony in it. The witness to Christ is that just in the proportion in which he is unconscious of being so. But he now brings forward those of whom he can speak as witnesses.
(4) First of all, we have here Timotheus, true to his name, a man who "honors God;" now, alas, all the more manifest for what he was, in the midst of a departure sad enough to realize in days such as we are contemplating. "All seek their own," the apostle could say, "not the things of Jesus Christ;" and yet he was in the midst of that Roman assembly of whom, in his epistle to them, he had spoken as having a faith which was being proclaimed in the whole world. How short a time this testimony seems to have lasted! But Timotheus is not dragged down by it. We are not made by our circumstances; that is, if there is any vigor in our souls at all. We are manifested by them, which is a very different thing. One can easily look at the condition of things around and make it an excuse for the inexcusableness of our own condition; but God has not ordained for us that we should be down to the level of those around us. All His grace abides for us, none the less. The power of the Spirit is not a mere register of the outside temperature. If men seek their own things, they will excuse themselves by the fact that they are only in keeping with the company around them. If Christ be really before the soul, it will be impossible to do so. This would rather stir up and energize one who thought of Him to serve Him the more earnestly. Thus it was with Timothy, a worthy spiritual child of such a father as Paul was, one who had served as companion with him in the work of the gospel. He had, therefore, in mind to send him immediately to them — another beautiful example as to himself of that self-denying love which wrought in him.
(5) And this goes further, for not only would he send Timothy, but he had thought it necessary already to send back to them Epaphroditus, one who had been their messenger, and minister on their part to his need, whom yet he would dismiss from the place in which his value had been thoroughly felt, in order that he might now give joy to the Philippians. There was a special reason for this on Epaphroditus, part, which shows him as another witness to the attainment of the mind in Christ. He had been sick, nigh unto death, and sick from the work into which he had thrown himself, realizing the responsibility of ministering to one identified with the gospel as the apostle was; a responsibility which, in a sense, was rather that of others, but which lacked through no fault of theirs. It was this lack that he was filling up, and with such energy and zeal that he had hazarded his life in doing this. They were to receive him, therefore, in the Lord, with all joy; and, in fact, the apostle could count so much upon their sympathy with him that he could not be content just with the assurance of his present recovery, but must send him to them, that they might satisfy themselves about it. How beautiful a testimony still to the one who could speak and act thus. How necessarily in all this the character of the man, the heart that was in him, shows itself! Feeling, on the one hand, with no ascetic stoicism, the mercy God had shown to him through Epaphroditus, the mercy He now shows in restoring him, and yet ready to sacrifice what he could realize thus the value of, almost, as one might say, without the need of doing this, merely to make their joy complete. Such, then, are the examples given us, in a way marked by such beautiful simplicity, of the possibility of the attainment of the mind of Christ in those who like ourselves were men, in all the weakness of men, and in all the difficulties, if not more than all the difficulties that encompass us also.
Division 3. (Phil. 3.)
Christ in glory the Goal and Prize.
The apostle has already led us up to the blessed Object before him. What he has been just enlarging upon is the example of the Lord's humiliation, but he is now going to enlarge upon the glory which is his strength for such a path as this; the light which now shines for us upon the path, and shines more and more unto the perfect day. It is beautiful to realize that the very thing that is wanting to him now, as we look at him here, is the very thing which makes him a pilgrim and a racer, — an Object outside himself, something which he has not yet attained, but to which, because of its glory for him, he gives his whole energy to pressing on for its attainment. This is what characterizes all that we have here. His look is forward only. A racer does not look at the road on each side. He looks at what is before him; and so it is that in everything here, the principle is "forgetting that which is behind, and pressing on to that which is before." This is true of all attainment and experiences by the way, as it is of other things. It is not merely the world which is left behind, — that surely; but he himself, whatever up to the present he might be, is still left behind. It is Christ before him that gives oneness of purpose and character to his present life.
1. The thing, therefore, that he would press upon them now, as if it was all he wanted to say, was, "Rejoice in the Lord." He might seem to be insisting upon this in almost a needless manner, but it was not needless; nor for those who realized what Christ was to them, irksome either. There was opposition also. There were "dogs," evil workmen, men of the concision, just, surely, the judaizing spirit that we have seen active in the other epistles. He gives them the same title that they would apply to Gentiles. They were dogs, unclean, ferocious creatures. They were workmen it is true, but evil workmen, and busy for no good end. They were the "concision," the mutilators of the flesh, as we may say, but which left it still with real strength for hindrance. After all, it was flesh they trusted in. The law, as we have seen many times, has to do with the man in the flesh and no other. Ascetic severity may be practised even to any extent, as the apostle has told us in Colossians, while the flesh gets real satisfaction by this. He will not call them the circumcision, the title they would have given themselves; for, now that Christianity has come, true circumcision is no more in the flesh, but is spiritual. There had indeed always to be what was spiritual in connection with it, to make it true for God; but now the characteristics of the circumcision are spiritual altogether. We are that, he says, who worship in the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who have no confidence in the flesh. Manifest it is that this "no confidence in the flesh" applies as much to the flesh in the Christian as to any other. Confidence in self, of any kind, is confidence in the flesh. The opposite to it here, the Object of all glorying, is Christ Himself. The knowledge of the new man is, as we have seen, Christ is all; and this it is that makes worshipers in the power of the Spirit of God, for Christ alone is He whom the Spirit glorifies, and with whom He occupies the heart. Beautiful it is to see how here the lesson of Romans, as already said, has been learned. There is no mention all the way through the epistle by the apostle, on his own part, of conflict with the flesh. His heart is there where the flesh can have no place. "The law of the Spirit, of life in Christ Jesus, has set" him free from the law of sin and death." This Object beyond himself has made him master of himself. There is a real attainment which is the very opposite of that self-conscious sanctification which so many are seeking now. On the contrary, he sees self in such a way as that he can trust it no longer, and Christ, not self, (good or bad either,) is the One before his eyes. He does not turn back to tell you of his own experience. He is not thinking of his own attainments. He has attained nothing yet, as it were, until he is with Christ in glory. This is the genuine Christian spirit, as far removed from the helpless misery of the bondage which some would persuade us is normal for the Christian, as it is, on the other hand, far from all Pharisaic self-satisfaction or comfort in one's own condition.
2. He does indeed now tell us what ground of comfort he might have, if any, in the flesh; but only to dismiss it all as unworthy; as that which, if it were gain to him, were all the more, on account of the Christ before him, loss indeed. Anything which gave value and importance to himself would be but loss. It is in Christ that he finds all; and there is no separate interest, no treasure of any kind apart from Christ; but it is of use for him to show that he is not despising things which were not his. On the other hand, he had all that the proudest Jew could boast himself of, — a Jew himself, a circumcised man, circumcised. the eighth day, of Israel's race, of the tribe of Benjamin, — not a descendant of one of Jacob's handmaids, — a Hebrew of the Hebrews, a thorough, out and out Jew, unmixed with Gentilism in any way. As to the law itself; one of the straitest sect, a Pharisee; as to zeal, (the kind of zeal that goes with law keeping,) persecuting the Church of God; but as to himself also, with regard to such righteousness as could be found in man under law, blameless. Plainly he was one in whom there was no conscious evil indulged to awaken the clamor of conscience in his soul. As he says in Galatians, he was no sinner of the Gentiles. The very things which made him afterwards to realize himself the chief of sinners were, in this way, to him, (in the state of which he speaks,) only things to be credited to him for good. As he has told us in Romans, he had not yet found the power of that commandment which brings about the full detection of man's natural evil, "Thou. shalt not lust."
All this was gain to him, then. He felt and valued it; but Christ had been revealed, and where was the value now? He does not stop to debate about these things; he does not sift them to show that after all they were not what they seemed. Whatever they were, make them as much as possible, pile them. up mountains high, Christ in glory set them aside altogether. They were not merely slight in gain; they were loss. He wanted nothing but that Christ who had been revealed to him. How blessed and wonderful to remember that this is, after all, not the picture simply of a great apostle. It is substantially the picture of a Christian in his normal character as that. The joy and the power of Christian life are found here, and the joy is the power. The life in its highest character, the spiritual condition in its fullest blessedness, are all found here.
3. It was not merely, however, for him the throwing aside of that which was religious gain to him. He had thrown all things aside. He had suffered the loss of all things and counted. them, not to be some valuable sacrifice that He had made, but mere defilement, for it was Christ who was before him to be gained. He is not, from this point of view, telling us that he has gained Christ, but that he is seeking to win Him. It is the actual possession of Christ in glory that he is thinking of. When there, what would it be as to himself? From that point of view, he may be permitted to think of himself. What will the man find as to himself who has thus won Christ? Not, he says, his own righteousness: that would be the legal principle essentially. He would be found in Christ, in possession of the righteousness which is by faith of Christ, righteousness which, he repeats emphatically, is of God, of His bestowal, through faith, that humblest of principles, which necessarily turns its back upon all that is of self, to lay hold of Another.
This is then the One he wants to know. He knows Him, but does not count this knowledge yet as the knowledge that he seeks. He cannot, of course, set aside this, as he has set aside other things. He would not mean to undervalue it; it was all of Christ that for the present he had; but what, nevertheless, would it be in that day when Christ Himself would be at last before his eyes, the goal of the race he had been running? He wanted to know Him after this manner, to know the power of His resurrection not, as many think, a present power, therefore of resurrection in his soul, — that he already knew. He was risen with Christ and knew it; but it is not a condition to be attained down here, still less a condition that he had attained, that he was thinking of, but that which will put him in the place in which he seeks to be; and as a prisoner of Christ in the Roman dungeon, he is entitled to think here of the sufferings attendant, and of the death which might so easily be before him. What then? That would be his way through to the resurrection from among the dead. Thus, the sufferings themselves, the manner of death, whatever it were, if it were complete conformity to Christ's crucifixion, he would take it as that which only the more assimilated him to Christ for the present, while it was the way which led on to the apprehension of the power of that resurrection which would at last bring him to Christ in glory. As already said we have to realize, for the apprehension of what is here, that it is Christ Himself before his eyes, an Object outside the world, that is filling them. It is this and not any intervening thing that he is pressing after. It is no spiritual condition apart from this. He wants no halting place, no place to loiter in by the way, no present satisfaction, as it were, except that indeed which is derived from the blessed Object ever drawing nearer, and which is gaining upon his soul with every step he takes.
4. But he insists upon it that he has not attained, he is not already perfected. It is this that makes him pursue, with such stedfastness of aim and purpose, that which is before him. He wants to apprehend, that is, to lay hold of, that for which Christ has already laid hold of him. He is doing one thing, therefore, — how all our lives are spoilt by the desire to do more things than one! He is "forgetting the things behind, stretching out to the things before," pressing ever to the goal "for the prize of the calling on high of God in Christ Jesus;" not simply the high calling, but the "calling above," the calling to a place outside the earth altogether. This is what gave him the stedfastness which was manifestly his. This is what made him the man he was, and this attitude is what indeed he calls "perfection." If men would be perfect, let them be thus minded; and then, as to the details, whatever other minds they might have, God would make all plain to them. Is not this that which we need so much, — not to seek, as it were, to be of the same mind with one another? As to the details of the path, the perseverance in the path is that which only aright can make all details plain. It is manifest that as we press along a road, (one of many roads, let us say, all tending to the same point at last,) we cannot see things where we are just as others see them from their own points of view. We see things from where we are. As we get on further, each one of us, we find of necessity that our view of things is growing to be the same; not exactly because we have sought to have this so, but rather that it is the necessary result of all pressing on together to the one place in which we shall at last see absolutely together, eye to eye. Here it is that the prize awaits us. Christ is both goal and prize at the same time. What a perfect solution it will be of all the difficulties of the way! How the light of the glory of God will make everything absolutely plain, and not merely plain, but bright also!
5. "Nevertheless," he says, "whereto we have already attained, let us walk in the same steps;" that is, whatever may be our convictions at the present, let us act according to these convictions. Let us have truth practical. If we want it to be what the truth should be, we must walk in it to make it real. In this way, also, he could exhort them to follow him as he was following Christ, — to follow any others who were thus walking: not, as is evident, a following of man as man. We have to scrutinize the walk in order rightly to follow it. No man is altogether a model, and therefore Paul must say of himself, giving us the limit in this: "as I follow Christ." This brings us of necessity, to Christ Himself after all, as the one perfect Example for us; while, at the same time, we recognize and are encouraged by the example of those who are following Him. But he has now to warn them that already there were many walking, — of course with a profession, which is argued by the walk, and yet of whom he had told them often, and now even weeping told them, that they were the enemies of the cross of Christ. Not enemies of Christ Himself, exactly; that is not the thing of which he is speaking. They take no place of open adversaries, clearly, and they may even make much of the cross of Christ itself, if it were to shelter themselves by the grace that is in it from the rightful judgment of their unholy ways. It was possible, even then, as we know, to turn the grace of God into fleshly license, but this could not possibly avert the end to which such a course would lead. We have seen again and again that there is a way which leads to a certain end, and which will always lead there, although the mercy and goodness of God are not restricted by this; and there is a way of death from which, if grace works, it must deliver the soul. It cannot save one in it. For these, then, their end was destruction. Their god was really their belly; that is to say, the fleshly craving in them had never been set aside by any satisfaction that they had found for themselves in Christ. The craving of an unrenewed nature, — for he is not speaking of Christians, plainly, — led and governed them. These were their god, as he says, in strong, decisive language; and so deceived could they be as to glory in their shame. Earthly things they valued and secured, — prided themselves upon securing them. How different from that which we have had before us as the apostle's example!
Here, then, was the awful contrast that could yet be found amongst professing Christians in that day; and they were not few, but many, he tells us, who walked thus. "For our citizenship," he adds In contrast, "is in the heavens." All our interests, all our relationships, all our rights, all our gains are there; and while it is true that that leaves us, in the meanwhile, as it were, perhaps, but scantily provided, we are waiting for the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour, who shall transform the very body of our humiliation into conformity to His body of glory, according to the working of the power which He has, even to subdue all things to Himself. That is a hope which clearly can never interfere with the pressing on in the path meanwhile, — the very opposite. The power of it is that the Christ who is a the end of the way is thus brought so near us, we may arrive there at any moment; like the disciples who, receiving Christ into the ship, were immediately at the land whither they were going. There is no necessity of so many steps upon this path of which we have been told. Divine grace may cut it short at any time. God may fulfil all our hopes in a speedier way than we can imagine.
Division 4. (Phil. 4.)
The experience of Christ through all the way.
The doctrine, if we may call it so, (though it is doctrine very different plainly from that which we have had in the other epistles,) is now complete. Nevertheless, one thing remains, without which the epistle, as a whole, could not be complete. He who has been running this path with Christ, who has been thus before him, — he is to give us his experience now; and manifestly it is the experience of one who on both sides can speak with decision. He knows what Christ is. He knows the various difficulties and exigencies of the way itself. What is needed now, is to put the two together as he does here, and to show that for all these things Christ has been found competent, absolutely so.
1. There are exhortations to others which naturally come in here. His brethren are, as he has shown us, in his heart. He longs after them. They are his joy, and to be his crown. He would have them stand fast in the Lord. That is a standing fast which means, of necessity, the fullest progress. He exhorts Euodia and Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. It is the common purpose of heart, the common thought of the One they serve that is to bring them right. And he presses upon one who is not named, but whom he calls his yoke-fellow, (perhaps the Epaphroditus who seems to be carrying the letter, and whom he is sending to them,) urging him to assist these who have contended along with him in the gospel, with Clement and other fellow laborers, whose names are in the book of life. And again he urges upon them this joy in the Lord that he can never forget. They are to "rejoice in the Lord always," and he will still repeat it, he will say "rejoice."
2. In this way, they will indeed be competent to let their moderation be known to all men. They can be moderate enough as to all the things of life, as men say, when the Lord is thus their joy, and when the Lord is near also: near, I suppose, as one who never leaves his people, not perhaps in the sense that He is coming, (although He is coming,) but whether He comes or not, He is always with His people. They need be anxious, therefore, about nothing. Prayer became them, the confession of dependence, which, in a creature, is always becoming. Prayer and supplication, then, they could use with regard to everything, but with thanksgiving, which delivers the prayer itself from being the expression of any unbelief or murmuring, and also increases confidence in the prayer itself to One whose answers have been already manifest. Thus, spreading out before the omniscient eye of God who loves us, all their need, the peace of God, the peace in which He abides Himself, the peace which is the consciousness of perfect command of everything, so that nothing, after all, can disturb the serenity of perfect confidence, this peace of God, he says, "Shall guard your hearts and thoughts by Christ Jesus." The heart kept from wandering, the thoughts will be formed aright.
Then he would have them occupied, not with the evil around, of which there was so much, as we have learned, but with the very opposite. The heart can only find blessing in the contemplation of that which is true, noble, just, pure, amiable and of good report. These are the things to be thought about, so that the power of evil itself may not disturb us, not weigh us down, not provoke in us a spirit of mere judgment, such as evil may naturally arouse. Again he can speak of what they had seen in him as an example, — what they had learned and received and heard from him also. They were to do these things, and the God of peace, not merely peace, but the God of peace, would be with them.
3. He now turns to speak of that which might at first sight seem personal to himself. Personal it is, but experience is personal, and here it is that we are to have the joy of learning what was his personal experience in the things through which he passed. It is suited to this that he has to speak of, or at least to intimate, a real necessity in which he has been, so that he can rejoice about their thinking of him again; that is, as far as their present ministry might indicate that, but he can credit his Philippians with having thought of him indeed when they had lacked opportunity to carry out what was in their hearts. It was not his privation, whatever that might have been, that he would speak of. He had found with regard to that, in whatever circumstances he was, a perfect content. He knew how to be abased on the one hand. He knew (what is more difficult, no doubt,) how to abound on the other. He knew what it was to be in prosperity, as men speak, as well as in adversity, — how to be master of himself in both. He had learned as a disciple, had been initiated into the secret of how to be full and to be hungry, how to abound and to suffer need, everywhere and in all things. Here is a blessed experience indeed. He does not stop here without showing to us the source of this contentment and this peace which were always his. It was Christ who gave him the strength. No wonder, then, that it was ability for all things. This is, in fact, the jubilant summing up from the side of experience. How good it is to have it from one so well able to give it! It is plain that, personal as the need and the trial have been, what he seeks here is to give Christ the glory of that perfect competence which he had found in Him.
4. He will not, on this account, make light of that which ministered to his need, and was the manifestation of the Philippians, love and care for himself. He recognizes how well they have done, not simply at the present time, but from the beginning. At the beginning of the gospel, they were, in fact, alone in their communication with him then. They had sent and sent again for his need in Thessalonica. His heart rejoices, not in his having received such things as he plainly says, but to have such fruit in them, abounding to that account which, by and by, is to be fully given. He was now fully supplied. He was now, as he says, "abounding." A very little would, in fact, make one like this abound as to his temporal needs. He had received the things sent from them through Epaphroditus, "an odor," as he says, "of a sweet savor, an acceptable sacrifice, agreeable to God." No doubt it was that; not merely a little out of abundance, but a ministry which cost them something; and which yet, after all, in itself, one may surely say, repaid them abundantly above all costs. So it is ever, and must be, with the gracious God we have. If there is an odor of a sweet savor to God in that which is done, there will be something corresponding to it in the souls of those who have in this way offered what is agreeable to Him.
He could speak himself, therefore, for God with regard to them. His God, the God he knew so well, would abundantly supply all their need. How far? "According to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus." We must take that into account if we are to realize the character of this abundant supply. We may make great mistakes otherwise, and plainly there is no straitness with Him at any time. If we speak of straitness, after all, God is abundant in His love, as He is abundant in the riches that He delights to minister. "To Him," he says, our God and Father, "be glory through the ages of ages." He closes with brief salutations, mentioning, amid the general salutation of the saints at Rome, those specially of Caesar's household, manifestly in a difficult place these for disciples of Christ, and beautiful it is to see that they can be prominent in this way in their salutations of Christ's people elsewhere.
The apostle closes with what is in one way or other the close in all of them: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit."