It is a great thing to have the spirit so free from everything else, as to be able to be thus occupied with "these things." It is not a healthy thing to be occupied with evil, though of course we must be sometimes.
In Numbers 19, if anyone touched the unclean person, whoever had anything to do with it was unclean till even. You cannot have to say to evil, without getting, in a certain sense, away from God. It may not be like the man who had to be cleansed, and wait seven days; but the mind cannot touch sin without a certain removal from direct communion with God.
It may be necessary to go to a brother or sister who is in evil. I do not mean now temptation: there you get positive evil; but the man who touches is "unclean till even" - a kind of warning against having to say to it. One sees persons who like to pry into evil; but, if in the power of the Spirit, I am occupied with "these things," which are pure, lovely, etc. I may have to come down, and be occupied for a time, as a duty, with that which God hates.
The principle of Numbers 19 remains the same. It was grace, and to restore communion. There a man was actually defiled. Sin is sin in God's sight, whatever way I have to do with it; and sin is hateful to God. Even if a man did not know, still he had to bring an offering. It was not a question of imputation here; the ashes of the red heifer were there, the testimony that the sin had all been consumed when the heifer was burned; but something had come in to destroy communion. The ashes put into the water gave the consciousness there was no imputation: that question was not raised; but the man could not go in to God for worship till he were clean. The very putting the ashes in gave the character that sin was judged for the saint, all done away; but then he may have been doing a thing that Christ had to die for. It is a question of holiness and my state, just because there is no imputation.
What he looks for here (Phil. 4) is, that their souls should be in the peaceful enjoyment of these things, what God likes and loves; and the God of peace should be with them. Now, when we meet in intercourse, are these the kind of things that occupy the mind? It may be mischievous talking - that will not do you any good; or it may be idleness, vanity - that is no good either; or it may be talking about people; but how far can God say, I can go there, for they are talking about things I like? "My heart is inditing a good matter, I will speak of the things I have made touching the king." If the heart is inditing a good matter, we get fellowship and communion; the heart is full, and it comes out.
245 It is a lovely picture in Luke 1, 2: a despised remnant nobody knew or cared about; yet there they were speaking of Christ.
Verse 10. The apostle let slip something here - "now at the last." He thought it rather a long time coming, and then, to correct it, immediately adds, "but ye lacked opportunity." He let out that he had really been in need, and it had come at the last. It is beautiful to see the delicacy of intercourse in that way: we get it amongst ourselves. Like everything else, he just took it up for Christ. At Corinth, where they were rich, and fond of money, he would take nothing; but here he is very glad to have it.
But, going back to what was said about our intercourse when we come together, we find "these things" are not uppermost. There are two things: in the first place, if we are full of the Lord, it will come out; but if there is watchfulness, it will come in. It is just our ordinary intercourse I mean. I may have to go and speak about special things, but that is not the point here.
Paul was the expression of the power of divine grace in that which was committed to him. Here were Gentiles who had to learn everything, and he was sent in their way, the expression of divine life, that they might learn what it was: he could say, "Walk as ye have us for an example."
Truth came only "by Jesus Christ": that which is "true" characterises the whole thing. "He has given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true." "Whom I love in the truth." But it is remarkable what the apostle says in verse 12. It characterises all the epistle. He is above circumstances, and experimentally he had found Christ sufficient in all things. He had been in hunger, cold, and nakedness, and found Him a wonderful source of content. It was not a general principle, but what he had actually learned; "I am instructed." It is more difficult to abound than to be abased. You are cast on God when you are abased; but when all is comfortable around, then is the tendency to be independent of Him. "I can do all things": not I go on well, but the presence of positive power; not that I get into a better state, not that the circumstance is changed, or the state of my mind; but power has come in, and put those things away which were pressing upon me. It is "all things" - you cannot get anything for which Christ is not sufficient as a present thing. If we have to die, He is sufficient for us; if we have to live, He is sufficient for us.
246 These are things to be learned, not known in a moment; but if he had not known what Christ was, he could not have said this. He says, I have learned that all through. It is true Christian experience.
We get the power of the Spirit in all the epistle. Here you have it shewn in entire superiority over circumstances. It is not merely known, but "I have learned." Then it is Christ strengthening us, strength made perfect in weakness. That is its nature, the character and kind of strength. "My strength" is not made perfect in people who think they are strong. We must be brought down to nothing as to strength, in order to know where real strength is; that is what people are rather slow to learn.
You have this in 2 Corinthians 12. Paul wanted to get rid of the thorn, But the Lord says, No, I must have you incapacitated: and then evidently it is My work and power, not yours. You get the two sides of Christian life in that chapter. One was, "I know a man in Christ"; the other, that Christ's power was known in him. When I come down here, I find myself made nothing of, and then it is Christ in me. You must have weakness: "When I am weak, then am I strong." We may know we can do nothing without Him; but it is a different thing when one comes to say, I can do nothing without Him.
In Colossians 1 we get strengthened with all might . . . unto all patience, etc. Here he is speaking of his circumstances. But it is a very great thing, and one we are slow to learn, that without Him we can do nothing. We all know it as a truth - all Christians do. It is connected with abiding in Christ.
247 It is not actual service, though true of it; but you get that more in 2 Corinthians 12. I do not feel the want of Him so much in joy; we do, but we do not so feel it.
Hence, often a Christian, after a great deal of joy - even spiritual joy, will get a trip. I must have all the armour on before I can take the sword.
"My God shall supply all." A very strong expression, which means a great deal. As I know Him, who has been through all these things, and know what He is to a person in every case. It is not "God," but "my God," the God I know, who taught me to abound, and to be hungry. It could not come down lower than that. I see my need, and He is rich. No matter what need I get into, He is sufficient for me. Paul was in a most trying position, not only kept a prisoner, but all his activity totally stopped - a terrible trial to Paul.
"His riches in glory" meet the need. As in Ephesians, when he speaks of all the thought and purposes of God, he speaks of the glory of His grace; when He speaks of my sins, it is the riches of His grace. All the dealings of God are according to what He is in glory, having taken us up in grace. It is all through Christ Jesus, whatever it is; it all comes down, and all goes up, through Christ.
It is a simple thing, but not simple for us - at least we are not simple enough for it. (See Psalm 23.) Jehovah is my shepherd. In Psalm 30 he says, "I shall never be moved. Thou, Jehovah, by thy favour hast made my mountain to stand strong. Thou didst hide thy face" - and where was this fine mountain then? But in Psalm 23 he cannot say, Jehovah is my shepherd, till he has been through all the power of evil. Not Jehovah has given me abundance of green pastures (though He does give them), but He is my shepherd, and then come the green pastures and still waters, but he is not looking at that only. "He restoreth my soul," if he had got into trouble. Then he goes on to death: "I will fear no evil"; Jehovah is the shepherd. If he meets enemies, Jehovah spreads a table for him in their presence, as Joshua did when they went into Canaan. Then he says, "He anointeth my head with oil." He reckoned on Jehovah, and learned to reckon through all the difficulties of the way. For His name's sake He leads in the paths of righteousness, and goodness and mercy follow me all the days of my life; but he did not say that till he had been through all the power of evil. The point is, Jehovah is my shepherd, not, having good things.
248 When Christ says, "sufficient for thee," it is clear there was something He had to be sufficient for. We need strength made perfect in weakness. God hath chosen the weak things of the world, "that no flesh should glory in His presence." He pulls down all human competency. He makes vessels, it is true, but they are mere vessels. It is weakness here; not failure, but infirmity. What a blessed thing to have Him to go with us, to take care of us, to lift us up, and keep us up!
Restoring the soul is not necessarily after failure, but takes it in. "For his name's sake" He makes good what He is in all His dealings. If I set up to have any strength, that is not according to what He is; and He has to pull me down. He must make the vessel nothing, so that the work shall be His.
It is a great deal to keep self nothing in the heart; we know it is so; but still. . . . Even a heathen writer said, "You may drive nature out with a pitch-fork, but it will ever slip in." The thorn was not strength, but it made nothing of Paul, and Christ could act, because Paul was put down.
A person gets on, and the flesh takes subtler forms; but I ask the question, Am I just as happy if others are blessed in their service as if I am? All these things are so dreadfully subtle. There might be room for self-judgment if there was no blessing, and quite rightly; but am I content if I know I am doing His will, and there are no results? There is no standard but what becomes Christ and His revelation.
Self can come in everywhere. In 1 Corinthians 14 it was the shutting out self to covet the best gifts. They were fond of tongues which made a show, and they were told to covet prophecy.
Anything can puff up the flesh; a man would rather be the best thief in the country than nobody at all! Self is so very subtle, that, unless in God's presence, we do not detect it.