Brief Notes on the Epistle to the Philippians

J. N. Darby.

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The Epistle to the Philippians presents the development of two distinct subjects. On the one hand it shews us the ties of affection which exist between the Lord's servant and those to whom he had been blessed; and, on the other, Christian experience. It is perhaps the only epistle which treats of the experience of the Christian. We thus see the completeness of God's word; in it every subject has its own proper place.

Chapter 1:5-7. "I have you in my heart" ought rather to be translated, "Ye have me in your hearts." The meaning of this verse is this: "It is righteous for me to think thus as to you (that is, that I should have confidence in the completion of the good work begun in you), since ye have me in your hearts."

"Ye are all partakers of my grace." This signifies that they were all participators in the grace that rested on him. Everyone has not a gift of ministry; but by grace, whoever loves the Lord participates in the gospel.

Verse 10. "That ye may approve things that are excellent" - that is, that differ and so are the best. There may be a regular walk, which does not perhaps shew enough of that delicacy and regard which the love of Christ teaches, and by which God is glorified.

Verse 11. "The fruit of righteousness" - that is, such fruit as would have been found in the life of Christ Himself.

Verse 12. "The things which happened unto me … for the furtherance of the gospel." All the difficulties resulting from Paul's absence only turned out for good; Christ was more abundantly preached; the Philippians were taking courage, the gospel was carried before Caesar, etc. And Paul was rejoicing when he saw that the efforts of Satan were contributing to the progress of the gospel.

Verse 16. Who are the preachers pointed out in this verse? All that is said is, that they preached Christ in a bad spirit. They might be persons who had too little spiritually to dare to act when Paul was present, but availed themselves of his absence to come forward.

Verse 19. "For I know that this shall turn to my salvation" - that is, shall contribute to my final victory over the enemy.

172 Does the apostle refer in these words to the hope he had of being delivered from his bonds? I do not think that he does. The word "salvation" is used for our complete deliverance, and not merely for passing deliverances which we may experience by the way. Salvation is an absolute thing; it is the final result of the race. It is well to maintain the sense of this word; because we have here the key to the whole epistle. If there be not a salvation at the end of the race, of what avail is the priesthood of Christ?

Verses 20, 21 are the same subject. Whatever may be Caesar's decision about me - whatever may await me, be it life or death, it works salvation to me, says the apostle; my race is accomplished through such circumstances. If life be left me, I will labour for the church; if death be my portion, I will die for Christ, for His name; as to this, Christ will decide. As regarded himself, Paul wished to die. Having death before him, he had, so to speak, attained his Gethsemane; and thus he had confidence that the Christ who had been glorified in his life would be also glorified in his death.

Verse 21. "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." Christ was all in Paul's life. If Paul lived, it was by Christ and for Christ. Therefore to die would be better; he would be most entirely with Him.

Verses 25, 26. Paul decides his own case; he decides it in the sense of the good and profit of the church. Neither Caesar nor his court would decide it, but Christ; and He would do it in the interest of the church. Paul in this shews the most elevated faith.

Verse 27. "The faith of the gospel." In this expression Paul personifies the gospel. He sees the gospel carrying on warfare in the world, and the saints carrying on warfare for Christ, associating it with that Person. The epistles of Paul present several instances in which the gospel is thus personified.

Verse 28. "Of salvation." Here again salvation is looked at as the result of the race.

Verses 29, 30. Paul on one side, the Philippians on the other, were in the warfare, and they had - all of them - salvation before them.

Chapter 2. We see further on that the Philippians had sent help to Paul. While expressing his satisfaction, he insinuated, but with caution, that they might have done so sooner; chap. 4:10. Here, with the same delicacy, he says, "If it be true that there are any bowels and mercies, if it be true (which he did not doubt) that ye have my joy at heart, fulfil ye that joy, by thinking the same thing," etc.

173 Verses 3, 4. Above all else, the heart of Paul desired that unity might be maintained among the saints; and, as a means of maintaining happy harmony, he recommends humility, which teaches the Christian to esteem himself to be least of all.

Verse 5. Paul, doubtless, will find an echo in the hearts of the Philippians, but he wished to give them higher motives than those which related only to himself. To this end he places before their eyes the humiliation of the Lord Jesus, who, being God, yet became man and servant; and was obedient even unto the death of the cross.

Verses 5-11. In these verses, although the thing is not said in express terms, there is, it seems to me, a contrast between Christ and Adam. Adam - man - in wishing to exalt himself to be like God, was disobedient unto death; Christ - who was God - emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondman, and, even when He was in fashion as a man, became obedient and obeyed even unto death. There are two degrees in Christ's humiliation. He first strips Himself of His own glory, and becomes a man: then, being man, He goes down even unto the death of the cross.

Verse 10. "That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow." The name of Jesus is a personal name - Jah-Oshua* (Jehoshua) - Jehovah - Saviour. It is the name of His Person. The name "Christ" expresses a title - that of a man who is appointed. Independently of any title, Jesus possesses His own proper personal claim to supremacy over all things. He is God. The deity of Jesus occupies in the New Testament a much greater place than is generally observed.

{*See Numbers 13:16.}

But as man Jesus has also a glory which He receives, the glory which results from His humiliation - "God also hath highly exalted him."

All things are subjected under the lordship of Christ - things heavenly, and earthly, and infernal (which are under the earth). This third class has no part in the reconciliation of "all things," as they are mentioned in Colossians 11:20.

Verses 12, 13. The emphasis in verse 12 is on these words: "not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence." If, Paul being absent and retained in prison, the Philippians were deprived of him, God would suffice; He is never absent.

174 "Work out your own salvation" - not your acceptance, but your salvation. Apply yourselves to the things which become persons who look for salvation. Be watchful, lest anything should lead you out of your way, for your path is strewed with difficulties. Here, as in the preceding instances, salvation is looked at as the end of the race. We never find in the Epistle to the Philippians that the Christian is viewed as possessing that which is a matter of faith - a very remarkable thing; unless we discern it in the believer on his way and striving for salvation, it is unintelligible.

Paul, when he was called, saw the Lord in glory. He knew that he would one day be in that glory with his Master, and like Him. Hence, until he reached this, he felt that nothing could entirely satisfy him, and, moved by heavenly affections, he pressed on towards that blessed moment.

The Christian, through grace, is placed on the same road. At the starting-point he is reconciled with God; and that reconciliation has become in its turn the starting-point for his other blessings. Now the Lord, in calling that Christian with a heavenly calling, has put into his heart spiritual affections; grace has formed a relationship between the Christian who is on earth and Jesus who is on high. But if this blessed relationship is not sustained, the heavenly affections in the heart of a child of God become dormant and cold affections. The assurance of salvation might remain perhaps, but isolated; all spiritual affections are lost.

"With fear and trembling." We meet with difficulties on the road, though indeed we are sure to arrive. Although the race be not the title of our acceptance, still that race is none the less a serious and important thing. What a privilege and what an honour to be God's instruments in the conflict engaged with Satan! But what a responsibility also! One cannot stand firm in this conflict if one is careless, if we act in a bad spirit, if we yield to the flesh, etc.

Verse 14. Translate, "Without murmurings and reasonings."

Verse 15. Translate, "Ye appear as lights."

Verse 17. It is, "If also I am poured out as a libation."

Verses 25-30. What a contrast between the feelings of Paul, and those which he knew to exist in the Philippians respecting Epaphroditus, with the mass of ice to which Christianity has been reduced in these days! How quick and coldly one says of a departed Christian, "He is happy." Of course Epaphroditus, if he had died of his sickness, would have departed happy to be in the bosom of Jesus. And Paul would assuredly have been resigned in seeing the departure of his brother; but his recovery filled Paul's heart with joy.

175 Chapter 3. This chapter forms a kind of parenthesis, at least after the first verses. Paul interrupts the subject of brotherly intercourse to give us the beautiful developments of the heavenly calling, which we notice in this portion of the epistle. He then draws from those developments some teaching for the Philippians; and by this he comes to chapter 4, the exhortations and spiritual communications of which form a sequel to those of chapter 2.

Verse 2. "Beware of dogs." That is, of those who do evil shamelessly.

Verse 3. We see in this verse three features which characterise the service of the Christian. One worships God in [by the] Spirit, not in carnal ceremonies; one boasts in Christ Jesus, and not in man; one has the Lord, and therefore has no confidence in the flesh.

Verses 4-6. The flesh finds means, even in the things instituted by God, to do many things in order to exalt oneself.

Verse 7. Paul's doctrine presents the abiding fact, that the last Adam has all superiority over the first, and the Spirit over the flesh. One cannot retain anything of the first Adam without detriment to the last.

Verses 7, 8. Always that which is before - "to gain Christ" - to reach unto Him. Had Paul reached Christ? Not absolutely. As to his soul, he had; he is with the Lord; but not as to the body. The resurrection has not yet taken place.

Verse 8. "I have suffered the loss of all things." What things? Those which the flesh values - things like those which the apostle tells us he had given up.

Verse 9. "Found in him." When? Rather at the end of the race.

Having "the righteousness which is of God." To be in Christ in order to have that righteousness, and not to possess righteousness as a means to get Christ. Such is the order in which things present themselves to Paul when it is a question of the heavenly calling and of the race. Mark well, he wished not for the righteousness of the law, not because he cannot attain to it (which, however, would be true); but because in Christ he had something better than that. The righteousness of the law, had he been able to attain to it, would hinder his possessing Christ - so he will not have it.

176 Verses 9, 10, present two things - to be in Him, and to know Him.

Verse 10. Paul points out in this verse the means by which he would arrive at the resurrection from among the dead and attain Christ. When he had laid hold of the power of the resurrection, he can pass through death and not before.

Verse 12. A fact which precedes all others is that before taking a single step in this path Paul had been taken possession of by Christ. He had been taken possession of by Christ - for Christ Jesus.

Verse 14. "Toward the mark" - always this aim - the glorious Christ towards whom the race tends.

Verses 15, 16. The degree to which one has attained in the knowledge of Christ is not the rule of unity; the saints must be able to walk together, whatever difference there may be between them as to the extent of that knowledge. Let not the strong in receiving the weak require from him a state to which he has himself attained: and let not the weak lay down the limit unto which he has arrived, as the rule for others. Let us walk together: and as to that which goes beyond the measure to which we have attained, God will teach us.

Could it be that a Christian might not finish his course? In some respects it might so happen: or, at least, the course would not be finished in the way that was intended. Nevertheless such a case was foreseen in God's counsels. Ananias and Sapphira furnish perhaps a similar instance. There are some who make shipwreck, who fail as to faith, as to the doctrine that faith receives, without its being said on that account that they had abandoned their faith. Having in view this danger, Paul recommended Timothy to maintain faith and a good conscience; to hold fast the truth of God as well as that uprightness of heart in which the soul judges itself, and abides in the presence of God, ever open under His eye. If a good conscience fails, the enemy finds an entrance, and faith is in danger.

There is a crown of righteousness promised to those who love the Lord's appearing. Why is it called a crown of righteousness? Because it will be given to those to whom it is righteous to give it, "which the Lord the righteous judge shall give me," 2 Tim. 4:8. "God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love which ye have shewed towards his name," Heb. 6:10.

177 Verses 18, 19. "Who are the many whose walk made Paul weep?" They are rather professors than real Christians; those perhaps in the beginning of the chapter. I should feel a difficulty in saying in an absolute way as applying it to Christians - "whose end is destruction."

These two verses have this importance, that they may indicate the period when Christendom will have gone beyond Christianity. We see in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, that the saints are warned of this danger; chap. 10. And in this epistle we find that the very presence of evil is already stated.

Verses 20, 21. Here again salvation is presented as a future thing. "We look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus." He is coming in glory to receive us into that glory. This is the goal towards which we run.

Chapter 4. Paul now returns to exhortations.

Verse 3. "Thee also, true yokefellow." It was, doubtless, the one who carried the letter, Epaphroditus. Literally, "Help them [those] who have contended along with me." It is a recommendation to help the women who had contended in the gospel. Euodia and Syntyche were of that number.

Verse 7. "The peace of God … shall keep your hearts." The peace of God is that peace in which God Himself is. We read, not that our hearts keep that peace, but that it keeps our hearts.

Verses 8, 9. In walking according to the exhortations of the apostle, the Philippians would find God with them - the God of peace.

Verse 10. "Your care of me hath flourished again." It is a slight reproach, which Paul softens by adding, "wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity."

Verses 12, 13. It is often in a very abstract way that one says, "I can do all things." While Paul says, "I can do all things," he adds, "I have learned," "I am instructed."

Verse 19. "My God" - that faithful God, whose faithfulness Paul had felt so often. It is with this feeling of gratitude that Paul says, "My God."


In the race which the Lord has opened to faith, the Christian finds himself individually engaged, and his responsibility finds its place. The Christian, it is true, is no longer before God in the condition of a man with his sins. But, in virtue of the new position which grace has made unto him, he has entered upon a new and different responsibility. He has practically to answer all the privileges which are vouchsafed to him. He has to walk in the Spirit, to press towards the goal, to shew himself worthy of his calling, and as a child of God to walk in love, etc.

The day of Christ will shew in what manner that child of God has run. It is while he runs the race that he has to watch, lest anything should stop him, or turn him aside from his road. He meets with hindrances, and may perhaps find them even in the unfaithful state of God's people. It is for him to watch; the delay of others could not justify His own; the race is an individual things.

Nevertheless, in the Book of Numbers, which presents the going through the wilderness, do we not see a people on their march? This is true, but we must observe, that in the heavenly calling, of which we are partakers, God has formed a relationship with each of His saints; and that relationship is infinitely more developed than it could have been with the Israelites in the wilderness.

The reward at the end of the race is never the motive given to make us enter on the course; it is an encouragement to persevere when one is already engaged therein. Jesus Himself knew these encouragements - "Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame," Heb. 12.