It has often been observed that in the Epistle to the Philippians Christ is presented as the motive, pattern, object, and power of the Christian, each chapter giving us these facts respectively.
It has also been pointed out that Christianity is therein viewed as the practical experience of the apostle, who was used in writing it; and full of interest it is to notice how, for instance in chapter 1, that blessed motive operates in his heart. Now, we must own that the heart is often governed by motives which, if not selfish, are frequently mixed, and that grace alone can give a spring of affection that is wholly according to God. But this chapter shows us how fully the apostle was under this wondrous motive-power, how he was swayed and controlled by Christ in his varied relations, whether with regard to the Philippians, the preaching of Christ in their midst, or his own life as a man, and a servant of Christ.
With reference to the first of these we read, in verse 8, “For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ.”
Words strong and tender these! Not only did he love these true-hearted young Christians, but he did so in “the bowels of Jesus Christ.” He yearned over them. He could thank his God for the whole remembrance of them. There had not been a cloud of sorrow to darken that memory. Their testimony had been peculiarly bright. They had fellowship with the gospel in all its difficulties; nor had they been daunted by its sufferings. The birthplace of that church was amid the fires of persecution, and this fact gave a steadiness and a living reality to their after-course. What they had witnessed in the apostle had furnished an example to themselves. There was every thing in them that led him to long after them all in the love, and joy, and sympathy of Jesus Christ. And this produced the most earnest solicitude. He prayed for them that their love might abound “more and more in knowledge and in all judgment.” He desired no curtailment of that love. Fervent at first, it should yet become more so; it should abound more and more. The prevalence of iniquity should not make it wax cold; nay, contrariwise, it should be intensified in its beautiful course—only it should be regulated by knowledge and by judgment. These should be the rails on which this mighty engine should speed along. Without such guides it might pursue a headlong course, for love is blind; but, thus directed, it would tell a tale of surpassing charm, it would make known, in a practical way, the truth itself, for “God is love.”
Thus they would “try the things that differ … be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.”
Such were the desires that filled the heart of Paul for them; such were his longings, in the bowels of Jesus Christ, over them; and such is the desire of the Lord, we may safely say, for His people today. He would have us sincere, without offence, and full of the fruits of righteousness, in view of His coming. And we too, in our own little measure, long for each other; we too pray for the welfare of the Church, and for the growth of the saints in grace and faithfulness to the Lord; but when we compare our desires with those of the apostle, our longings with his, our prayers with his, our motives with his, how immense, alas! is the difference. What we need, beloved, in a day that is admittedly difficult, is the bowels of Jesus Christ—those deep and tender compassions that led Him to His wondrous and inimitable self-sacrifice, when He “loved the church, and gave Himself for it.” How a deeper sense of that love would lead us to stoop and wash one another’s feet, not resting content with merely communicating fuller truth, or correcting false apprehensions, but diligently seeking to leave no stone unturned so that blessing might reach the souls of all that are dear to the Lord. In the power of such a motive all self-interest would be set aside. We should seek not theirs, but them. We should connect them with the day of Christ, and earnestly yearn that their present state might answer to their glorified condition on that day.
Then again, if we think of how he regarded the preaching of Christ in their midst, and recollect that it was being done by some who hoped thereby to add affliction to the apostle’s bonds. Some, who were no friends of his, animated perhaps by jealousy, and seeking to increase his sufferings, but even then he rejoiced that Christ was being preached. He could not commend their spirit, nor ignore the fact that it was prompted by envy and strife; none the less it was Christ they preached, and therein he rejoiced. Hence we notice how, in the exercise of this powerful motive, he was raised above personal feelings, and above considerations for his own safety. Happy and large-hearted servant of Christ! Whatever exalted the Master, no matter the cost to himself, was precious to Paul.
“Christ is preached,” said he, “and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.” Such was the cause of his joy. Christ was made known. As to the spirit and ways of those who did so he could easily leave that with One who can correctly appraise all our actions. The Lord appreciates aright our spirit, thoughts, words and ways, and will award accordingly.
Do we, beloved, rejoice in the preaching of Christ, even when the mode and manner of the preacher may fail to commend themselves to our judgment? We may detect something in his style, his plan of procedure, or his associations, that appear to us irregular, and, indeed, may be so; yet, if it be Christ he presents, is it not our highest wisdom to rejoice in that, and leave the rest with his Master, to whom alone he stands or falls? The manner is, after all, secondary, the matter is the chief concern, and a heart that is governed by the blessed motive that constrained the apostle Paul will rejoice in knowing that Christ is preached.
Lastly, when we view him in relation to his own life, we find him saying, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (v. 21). His life was in jeopardy; he was in a Roman prison, and at the mercy of a godless emperor; yet he could calmly and truly say that to him to live was Christ, that he had therefore a life that was superior to temporal vicissitudes, one that was affected neither by storm nor sunshine, neither by prison walls nor by liberty, neither by circumstances of earthly comfort nor of earthly woe, in fact, that to die would be gain. Beautiful superiority! And yet it is the portion of all to whom the first sentence is true. If, dear reader, to you to live is Christ, then to you to die is gain, for the Christ of Paul is your Christ also, and you may fully claim the comfort and peace he enjoyed. The grace that filled his large cup may, and can, fill your small one.
On the other hand, if to you to live is self, then to die is loss, sad, irreparable loss. Hence the reason why death is secretly dreaded. It necessitates the relinquishment of that to which self clings; that gone, all is gone. But when Christ is all, then death only places you in fuller possession. It is a positive gain.
And such a gain was dear to Paul, yet he could say, “To abide in the flesh is more needful to you.” He could forego, for their sakes, this unspeakable gain; he would, for the sake of the church, face the sorrow and trial of apostolic life below, in order to be a help to the saints whom he loved so dearly. Thus self was set aside by the operation of this mighty motive—a motive produced by the Spirit of God in the soul that is created in Christ Jesus—a motive which, in Paul, expressed itself in the deepest solicitude for the saints, the greatest delight in the fact that Christ was preached, and a total disregard of personal interests and desires.
What a motive, and what a Christ for its spring and source! Beloved, may we all know more and more of this motive.