It is ever happy to have the Lord Himself before our minds as the object of our thoughts. The Christian is so completely brought to God, that He goes out from God to shew the character of God to the world. The subject of this epistle is Christian Experience. And you get this experience in the power of the Spirit of God so completely, that you never get sin mentioned in the epistle from beginning to end, nor the flesh, looked at as bad flesh, save to say he did not trust in it. Paul here does not know which to do—die or live. If I die, I am with the Lord; that is better; but I cannot work for His saints. If I live, there is the activity of love for them: and so he does not know which to choose. There is utter absence of self in that, and power. Then, he says, it is more needful for the church that I stay, and so I know that I shall be acquitted; deciding his own case. It is all power, the power of the Spirit of God leading a person out of the reach of sin. If you look at the detail in verses 15, 16, you will find his exhortation to others is an exact picture of what the life of Christ really was: “blameless and harmless”; that is what Christ was—“the sons of God”; that is exactly what He was, Son of God— “without rebuke in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation”; such was Jesus— “among whom ye shine as lights in the world”; when He was in the world He was the light of the world— “holding forth the word of life”; He was that word of life. The detail is precisely the same power of the Spirit of God, and the exhortation is just the detail of Christ’s life in the world.
In this epistle there are two great principles of Christian life (the last chapter is, he is superior to all cares and all circumstances). In chapter 3, it is the energy that carries a man on, so that everything else is dross and dung—that is Christ in glory. He has seen Him up there, and he says, I must get that. There are hindrances in the way. I will throw them aside, he says. You will lose everything. I cannot help it; I must get Him. Oh, but you will die. No matter; that will be all the more like Him; I must get on to Him, the One up there in the glory, whom I have seen. “If by any means”; that is, whatever it may cost me, even life itself. “Resurrection from among the dead,” that is the character of Christ’s resurrection. The resurrection of the saints has nothing in common with the resurrection of sinners. Christ is the first-fruits, then those that are Christ’s at His coming: He is not the firstfruits of sinners to be judged. Not a hint in Scripture of saints and sinners being raised together. “That I may attain unto the resurrection from among the dead” (the apostle uses a rare and emphatic word to explain his meaning)— what is there to attain to, if the wickedest man in the world goes up at the same time and in the same way? “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection.” What is the good of that, if all rise together? The character of Christ’s resurrection was the positive seal of God’s approval on Him and His work, and so is ours. As regards justification His resurrection is of all importance, for it is the seal of God on the excellency and perfectness of the work of Christ. He was taken out from among the dead as a perfect seal upon His work and Person, and everything else; and so is our resurrection the seal of our acceptance. Because God delights in us, we are taken out from among the dead, as Christ was. So he continues his running till he gets that. You have Christ in glory, and all is dross and dung except that. He wants Christ instead of Paul, and all he gets by the way is nothing—if he gets even death, it is all the more like Him.
In chapter 2 you do not get Christ in glory as the one he is running after; not Christ gone up, but Christ coming down. One whom I am to be like in this, the graciousness of the walk that He displayed; and that is always going down—going from the form of Godhead down to death. Where do I find what God is fully displayed—righteousness and love perfectly displayed? In death. It is a wonderful riddle that has come out, the Holy One going down—the Prince of Life going into death. We never completely learn, till we see it there—the things that the angels desire to look into. No one knows the Son but the Father. We know the Father, but no one knows the Son; the divinity of Christ is maintained by the inscrutability of the incarnation: God becoming a man—that is unfathomable—and the meekest, lowliest man that ever walked this earth. Paul is taking up the truth of lowliness, etc., but the moment he begins he must bring out Christ. The motive of all exhortations is nothing less than the whole scope of Christianity. God come down and bringing salvation, and gone back again as man. Take the commonest exhortations, the spring and motive is nothing short of obedience to the word of God Himself. Eating and drinking even is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. I am merely eating like a beast if it is not. He exhorts them to walk in lowliness and love (there had been some little squabbling, I suppose, among them). These Philippians had been sending help to the apostle from a long way off, and he will not reproach them, but says, Now I see how you love me; I see how you care for me and my being happy. Now, if you want to make me perfectly happy, walk in love among yourselves. It is a reproach so delicately brought in that their hearts could not resist it. “And let each esteem other better than themselves.” It sounds unpractical and impossible; but if I think of myself with the mind of God, I see the evil, the sin in myself. If I think of another, and I am full of Christ, I shall see all the value of Christ upon him, I shall see with Christ’s heart, and I can esteem him better than myself, for I see evil in myself, and I see Christ in him. “Let this mind be in you,” etc., that is, the spirit in which Christ was, always going down; first, being in the form of Godhead, and in the glory, He takes the place of a man, and then He humbles Himself again to death. He is the first grand example of “He that humbleth himself shall be exalted,” and that is what we have to do— go down.
Here we get the principle of Christ’s whole personal course, and we get not only what He was, but the delight He took in us. He took us up. His interest is in us, and the expression of this delight was not simply He acts graciously towards men, but He Himself becomes one of them. He went down to death. We go down to death by sin, He by grace; we by disobedience, He by obedience. So He gets by obedience and grace what we get by disobedience and sin. From the first step that we go He takes us up till He has us where He is. Speaking in a general way, I cannot look at Christ in His life and walk till my soul is at peace and settled. If a soul has not settled peace, you will find it wants the Epistles first, not the Gospels; because the Epistles are the reasonings of the Holy Ghost on the value of Christ’s work. John’s writings bring God down here in grace to sinners. Paul takes man up there in righteousness to God. Paul takes man up to God in the light; John brings God down to man. You get in the Gospel of John, God brought down to us in our need, get Him talking to the woman at the well, and His disciples wondering, and she finds that in this tired man at the well, she has been speaking to the Lord of glory. I thought, she said, He was a poor tired Jew, who wanted a drink of water. Oh, He says, if you knew how that God had come so low as to be dependent on you for a drink of water, you would have confidence in Him at once. This poor, tired man was the Lord of life and glory, who not only could lay all her life bare before her in its sin and shame, but could fully meet her heart, meet her need, and attract her to Himself, so that she loses all her sense of fear and shame in her anxiety to bring others to Him too. When our consciences are awakened, we want then to know how a sinner can be just with God, and so we turn to Romans and the reasonings of the Epistles; but when the heart knows I am a child, and that the same favour rests on me as on Jesus, I turn back to the Gospels and say, I must look at Jesus— what a Saviour He is! I want Him close, close to me then! brought close to my eye. Then I look back to the Gospel of John and see God come down in Him. I get in Him one who, instead of driving the one who had the defilement away, drives away the defilement, and leaves the poor leper clean and near Him. Where do we find the blessed Lord going as soon as He is called out to His public ministry? To the baptism of repentance. Why does He go there? Oh, He says, these poor people going there are those in whom God is working. They are taking the first step in the right direction, and I must go with them. I find this perfectness and love in Him. I cannot leave them to go alone, He says, I must go with them. I need not say He needed no repentance, but it was the first right step of that poor remnant, and He will be associated with them. This is not your place, says John. Yes, He says, but “suffer it to be so now, for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” He does not haughtily say “becometh me,” but “becometh us.” He takes His place in grace along with us (here it was with the Jew), and the heaven is opened for Him, and the Holy Ghost descends upon Him, and the Father’s voice proclaims Him Son; the model of our place in grace through redemption.
I get heaven opened four times. At His baptism, when the Holy Ghost comes down on Him. Then heaven is opened, and the angels of God ascend and descend on the Son of man, that is, the highest angels become His servants. Heaven is opened, and He comes out on the white horse to judge. And between these two I get heaven opened for Stephen to see Him. The heaven was opened to Stephen as to Christ. But mark how the glory of His Person is always maintained. When heaven is opened to Stephen, it is that he may look in and see Jesus; but when at His baptism heaven was opened, it is for heaven to look at Him. He was not looking at an object in heaven. Heaven was looking at Him. Heaven was never opened for heaven to look down on anything in this earth till that divine blessed One is there. The fulness of the Godhead is in Him, but He is sealed as a man. The Father says, All My delight is there. What is most despised on earth is the One heaven cannot but be opened to, and the Father cannot keep silence about Him. A man is the delight of God. Heaven is opened to Him, the Holy Ghost comes down upon Him, and the Father’s voice proclaims Him His Son. And it is of profound interest to see that here first the whole Trinity is fully revealed, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
First, then, His place as the manifestation of accepted man is settled. As soon as that is setded, Yes, He says, but these people are in conflict and difficulty, and have got this tyrant over them, I must go and meet him for them. He meets the devil—overcomes him, of course. The devil wants Him to go out of His course, to keep not His first estate; he would have Him leave the place of obedience and a servant on the plea of His being a Son. The written word was sufficient to conquer the devil, and enough for the Son of God to use. All possible salvation depended on His victory; all that victory depended on the written word of God. Never, save at His death, was there such a solemn moment. What He held for enough, and what Satan held for enough, was the written word of God. He bound the strong man by that means, and set about spoiling his goods. There is one man who knows the truth because He is the truth, who is satisfied with the written word, and that is the Lord. There is no craft of Satan that the word of God is not sufficient to meet. There was One as a man wielding a power that was sufficient to deliver man from all the effects of sin. If sick, they were healed—healing all that were oppressed of the devil, for God was with Him—power working in goodness. And what is the effect? They would not have Him. The Lord on earth had power to remove the effects of Satan’s power, but behind those was man’s heart, which could ask Him to depart. Where there is a legion of devils, and He sends them off into the herd of swine, the men prayed Him to depart out of their coasts—did not want Him. The quiet devil that influenced their hearts was worse than all the legion of devils that ran noisily down the steep place into the sea.
Satan says, If you take this people up, you take them up at your cost. I have got the power of death over them. But He goes on. Presently Satan, prince of this world, raises all the world against Him. The disciples are afraid, and leave Him; one betrays Him, one denies Him, and the rest run away. Well, then, He says, since this hatred is so great, I must give up My life to redeem them out of it—“Through death, destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”
They ask Peter, “Does not your master pay tribute?” Peter comes to Jesus, and He shews He is God by shewing that He knows what is in Peter’s heart, and says, “Of whom do the kings of the earth take tribute; of their own children or of strangers?” “Of strangers,” Peter says. “Then are the children free.” He was the Son of the Great King of the temple, and free; and so was Peter. He puts Himself with Peter. “Notwithstanding, lest we offend” (puts Himself with Peter again), then shews He is God over all, and Lord of creation, by disposing of creation, commanding the fish of the sea to yield up the tribute money, “that give for thee and me”— puts Peter and Himself both together again. It is lovely!
While He was God in everything, He was the humblest, most affable man that ever walked this earth. In death only is He alone. He looked for compassion and found none. “Tarry ye here, and watch with me.” In His sore trial He looked in Gethsemane for them to watch with Him; they could not, and an angel from heaven comes to strengthen Him. Will He ever give up being a servant? Never? That form of servant He will never give up. Selfishness likes to be served. Love likes to serve. That is just what I find in Christ.
No intellect knows God. We only know God by our wants. Infidels say you cannot have more than the power of man’s mind. If I see a decrepit old woman leaning on the arm of a strong man, and supported by his strength, it is not in herself that she knows what strength is: and that is how we know God. No man can know God by knowing; he would not be man if he did, and God would not be God at all. It is conscience that knows the way God meets us. It is a want in me. Look at Simon the Pharisee and the woman. What did he know of Christ? He felt no need of Him; thought he was putting honour upon Him in asking Him, though in curiosity, to his house, and does not shew Him courtesy even as to a guest. And Christ is not inattentive to neglect. He knows and feels it. If I am cold and indifferent to Him, He knows and feels it all; it touches His heart. God’s essential names are Light and Love. Look at the woman: the light made her know herself, and the love made her know Christ and trust Him. Christ thoroughly knew her heart, and she thoroughly knew Christ’s heart. While Simon had thought Him unworthy of the common courtesies of life, she found a fulness of grace, and of light, and love that could meet all her need. Her sins, which are many (He knew them all), are all forgiven, for she loved much. God’s heart and man’s heart, through grace, met in blessedness where the Pharisee was an utter stranger.
I learn this lesson here, that the Person of the Lord Jesus may have full power in my heart before I know the fact of forgiveness. The essential names of God, Light and Love, I find both brought out in Christ; the light that reveals everything in me, and the love that puts it all away. When the light comes and manifests me before God, I find myself in the presence of love, that has done everything for me. If I had the light without the love, I must run away and hide myself. If I had the love without the light, it would not do at all. It could not be. I get both in Christ—the divine Light that discovers all, and the divine Love that makes me know that all is put away. When light comes in, the conscience is honest. Take the thief, and hear him—“We indeed justly” —light had discovered that to him— “but this man has done nothing amiss.” How did he know? By divine teaching. Would not our hearts all say, He has done nothing amiss? Then again, “Lord” he says—that is divine teaching as to His Person. All His disciples had run away; he alone owns His Lordship there on the cross—comforts His heart in that hour. And what does he ask? Is it relief from his pain? No. Suffering all that terrible agony on the cross, does he ask the One hanging by his side, whose power he owned, to lessen the suffering? No; but to be remembered by Him in His kingdom; and the effect of this is, “To-day thou shalt be with me in paradise.” Oh, here was a heart that had found out what He was. A Pharisee is a Pharisee, and a whited sepulchre, but a broken heart is suited to a heart-healing God.
Is He a Servant in the glory? Oh, yes, He says, indeed I am. He says to His disciples, I am going to the Father; I cannot be your companion any more on earth; but I am not going to give you up. What is to be done? I must fit you to be with Me; give you “a part with me.” You are clean, but you will be picking up dirt in your walk in this world, and this will not do to be associated with Me in glory; I must wash your feet. And that is what He is doing now. He is a Servant to wash our feet now.21 He sets Himself to that service. We do not cease to be clean, looked at as to our standing before God, but we walk through the world and pick up dirt, and Christ is our servant to wash it away. In Luke 12 we find He will be our Servant in the glory. “He will gird himself, and come forth and serve them.” It is divine love unspeakably blessed. He will never give up being a Man. “Let your loins be girded, and your lights burning.” I must have a full profession of Christ, that is, lights burning. Have your loins well tucked up for service, while I am away; when I come again I shall have My own way, and you shall sit down, and I will serve you. Shall I ever forget the humiliation of Christ? Shall I ever forget His manhood in that way, giving Himself for me, and then taking me up there to be with Himself, where He is remaining a Man for me through all eternity; shall I forget? Never! never! through all eternity. I shall never forget His humiliation on earth. While seeing Him in glory animates the soul to run after Him, what feeds the soul is the Bread that came down. That produces a spirit that thinks of everything but itself.
I need not go into detail, but you get in the rest of Philippians 2 all the delicacy of feeling brought out which flows from absence of self, and love to others, because the soul has got imbued with Christ, and is feeding upon Him, till unconsciously it grows to be like Him. I must have the second as well as the third of Philippians: all the energy you like, but then go and study Him, and live by Him, and you will come out in His likeness, in all His grace, and gentleness, and loveliness. Oh, what a place—redeemed by Him, going to be with Him in glory, and set meanwhile to manifest Him on earth!
The Lord give us to be so occupied with Him who was so full of love, so full of gentleness, so full of lowliness, that we shall manifest the same! The first sin of the world was losing confidence in God. He comes back to us in all these sins of ours and says, Now you may trust me. It is God winning back the confidence of your heart, unbounded confidence in unbounded love—and that not by exhortations from heaven, but by His presence on earth. If you are a poor woman, not fit to face any of your fellow creatures, come to Me; I will have you, trust Me: if you are hanging on a cross for your crimes, you shall go up to-day with Me to paradise. My blood is enough to put your crimes away; my heart is open to receive you.”
The Lord give us to know more of that One, who, when He put forth His own sheep went before them—met the lion for them, and delivered them! The Lord give us to realise what He was!
21 “Washed,” in John 13:10, refers to the whole body; “wash,” to feet or hands. The words are different in Greek.