If it suits your little publication,11 I send you some brief thoughts on Philippians 2 and 3. The whole epistle is a very remarkable one, and raises the Christian to his highest condition of matured experience; but on this I will say a few words before I close.
I turn now to the above chapters. The former gives us Christian character, as men speak—Christian grace; the latter, the energy which carries the Christian above present things. The former speaks of Christ coming down and humbling Himself; the latter, of His being on high, and of the prize of our calling above.
A little careful attention will shew that chapter 2 throughout presents the gracious fruits connected with the heart’s study of the blessed Lord’s humiliation, and of its imbibing the spirit of it; and that chapter 3 gives the picture of that blessed energy which counts the world as dross, overcomes on the way, and looks forward to the time when the Lord’s power shall have subdued even the power of death in us and all its effects, and change us into glory. We need both these principles and the motives connected with them. We may see much of the energy of Christianity in a believer, and rejoice in it; while another displays much graciousness of character but no energy that overcomes the world. Where the flesh, or mere natural energy, mixes itself in our path with the divine energy, the way of the sincere and devoted Christian requires to be corrected by the former; more inward communion and gracious likeness to Christ, more feeding on the bread which came down from heaven. Besides displaying Christ, it would give weight and seriousness to his activity—make it more real and divine. On the other hand, one who maintains a gracious deportment and judges, perhaps, what he sees to be fleshly in the energy of another fails himself in that energy, and casts a slur on that which is really of God in his brother.
Oh that we knew how to be a little self-judging and complete in our Christian path; that we had nearness enough to Christ to draw from Him all grace and all devotedness, and correct in ourselves whatever tends to mar the one or the other! Not that I expect that all Christians will ever have alike all qualities. I do not think it is the mind of God they should have. They have to keep humbly in their place. The eye cannot—it is not meant it should—say to the hand, I have no need of thee; nor the hand to the feet. Completeness is in Christ alone. Mutual dependence and completing one another under His grace is the order of His body. It is hard for some active minds to think so; but it is true humility and contented-ness to be nothing and to serve, and to esteem others more excellent than ourselves—an easy practical way to arrive at it. They have the thing in which we are deficient. Our part is to do what the Lord has set us to do, to serve and count Him all, for in truth He does it; and to be glad to be nothing when we have quietly done His will, that He may be all.
But to return to my chapters: that chapter 2 gives us the humiliation of Christ is evident. We are to pursue its application. But the way it is introduced is very beautiful. The Philippians, who had already early in the gospel history shewn grace in this respect, had thought of Paul in his distant prison; and Epaphroditus, giving effect to their love, and full of gracious zeal, had not regarded his life to accomplish this service, and minister to the apostle’s wants. The apostle makes a touching use of this love of the Philippians, while owning it as the refreshings of Christ. He had found “consolation in Christ, comfort of love, fellowship of the Spirit, bowels and mercies,” in the renewed testimony of the affection of the Philippians. His heart was drawn out also toward them. If they would make him perfectly happy, they must be thoroughly united and happy amongst themselves. How graciously, with what delicate feeling, he turns to note their faults and dangers here in association with their expressions of love to him! How calculated to win and to make any Euodiases and Syntyches ashamed of disputes where grace is thus at work! Then he speaks of the means of walking in this spirit. Every one should think of the spiritual gifts and advantages of his brother as well as of his own. To do this he must have the mind that was in Christ. This leads us to the great principle of the chapter.
Christ is set forth in full contrast with the first Adam. The first when in the form of man set up by robbery to be equal with God: “Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” And he became disobedient unto death. But the blessed One, being in the form of God, made Himself of no reputation, and in the form of a servant was obedient unto death. He was really God, as Adam was really man; but the point here is to note the condition and status each was in respectively, and out of which, in ambition or grace, he came. For Christ was truly God still, when He had taken the form of a man; but He had taken the form of a servant, and was too really a man and a servant in grace. Christ in love humbled Himself; Adam in selfishness sought to be exalted and was abased. Christ humbled Himself, and was as man exalted. It was not merely that He bore patiently the insults of men, but He humbled Himself. This was love. There were two great steps in it. Being in the form of God, He took the form of man; and as man He humbled Himself, and was obedient unto death, and that, the death of the cross. This is the mind which is to be in us—love making itself nothing to serve others. Love delights to serve; self likes to be served. Thus the true glory of a divine character is in lowliness, human pride in selfishness. In the former, in us, both gracious affections and devotedness and counting on gracious affections in others are developed, a source of genuine joy and blessing to the church.
In following the chapter, we shall see this taught in general, and produced unconsciously, as it were, in details. First, after stating the exaltation and glory of Christ as Lord, he presses obedience (perfectly shewn in Christ), than which nothing is more lowly, for we have no will in it; and having directly to do with the power of the enemy, without the shelter of the apostle’s energy, they were to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. For, if Paul, who had so laboured for them, was now in prison, and could not, it was, after all “God (not Paul) who worked in them, to will and to do of his own good pleasure.”
Salvation is always in the Philippians the great result of final deliverance from evil and entrance into glory. Everything is looked at at the end, though the blessing shines down on the way. See then the result: “That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life.” Is there a word in this that could not be said of Christ? Only He was the Model, and we are to follow His steps as partakers of life in Him. It is just what Christ was, and so it is Christian character. We study it with delight and adoration in Him. It is formed in us.
Now see the gracious affections which flow out from this lowliness, in which self disappears by love. “Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy and rejoice with you all.” He makes the faith of the Philippians the principal thing. It was the offering to God. His part was only supplementary towards it, though it went to death. For the Philippians were Christ’s, the fruit of the travail of Christ’s soul, Christ’s crown and joy as Redeemer. So the apostle saw them and rejoiced in them. His service had ministered to this. If it went on to give up his life for it, he rejoiced in the service, so much the more evidently self-sacrificing love, for love delights in this. And they, for this reason, were to rejoice with him, for it was really his glory thus to give himself up for Christ.
But more. He was thinking of their happiness, and would send Timotheus and learn how they were getting on. But he counted on their love, and he would not send him till he would be able to say to them how his affairs were going on at Rome, where he had to appear before the emperor, perhaps so to close his life. All this is very sweet. There is the confidence of love, the reckoning on it in others, which produces its free flow, mutually felt and known to be so. Nor was it in the apostle alone, as we shall see. Moreover, it was in the midst of the coldness of the saints, which trial (and for the flesh the discrediting opposition of the world) had produced, to which the apostle alludes in this epistle. But the apostle’s love did not grow cold nor distrustful by it, and God had given him the comforting testimony of love in the distant Philippians, as he notices in the beginning of the chapter; and love was springing up into courage in others too by a little patience, as we see in chapter 1:14.
But these same fruits of love are found in Epaphroditus and his relations with the Philippians. Paul sends him back with affectionate witness of what he was; for Epaphroditus was longing after them all. He had undertaken his commission heartily—came probably along the great Egnation high road nearly a thousand miles, and, in his refusal of relaxation, had been sick, nigh unto death. But it was the work of Christ. Did Paul appreciate it the less as to himself because it was for Christ? In no way. Had Epaphroditus fallen a victim to his service for him, it would have been to the apostie a deep blow and sorrow, and that he had his cup full of, though sustained of God. God had mercy on Epaphroditus, and on Paul in him. See here how the heart, free in grace, can estimate present mercies! It was not natural affection in relationship, just and fitting as that may be in its place, but divine affections. Epaphroditus would have gone to heaven surely. But the spirit of the apostle would taste present goodness—God’s goodness in circumstances; it would know a “God who comforts those that are cast down.” And he blesses God that the beloved Epaphroditus did not fall a sacrifice to his zeal in accomplishing his mission.
Nor was this all. What made Epaphroditus anxious was, that the Philippians had heard he had been sick, and he knew this. He reckoned on their love. They will be anxious, he thought, and will not be at rest until they know how I am; I must set off to them. How a son, who knew a mother’s love, who had heard he was ill, would reckon on her uneasiness and her desire for news, and would be anxious she should know he was well. Such was the affection among Christians, and among Christians where devotedness and love had alas! already sadly waned—where all sought their own, as a general state, such were “the consolations in Christ, the comfort of love, the fellowship of the Spirit, the bowels and mercies.” How refreshing it is! Nor is the blessed source ever wanting in Christ, however low all may be; for faith knows no difficulties, nothing between us and Christ. There is no lack in Him to produce fruits of grace.
If we look at ourselves, we could never speak of humbling ourselves: for we are nothing. But practically in Christ, the mind which was in Him is to be in us, and in grace we have to humble ourselves, to have the mind that was in Him, to have done with ourselves and serve. Then these lovely fruits of grace will flow out unhindered, whatever be the state even of Christendom around us. Working out lowlily our own salvation with fear and trembling in the midst of the spiritual dangers of the Christian life, and of pretensions to greatness and spiritual distinction, because true greatness has disappeared as it had when the apostle was put in prison; not with the fear of uncertainty, but because God works in us, and that gives the sense of the seriousness and reality of the conflict in which we are engaged; obedience, the humblest thing of all, for there is no will in it, characterising our path, we shall seek the mind of Christ, and be clothed with His character. Blessed privilege! Be more jealous to keep it than our human rights and importance, and the blessed graces of heavenly love will flow forth and bind together, in a love which has primarily Christ for its object, the hearts of the saints. In such a state it is easy to count others better than themselves; as Paul saw the value of the Philippians to Christ, he was but offered on their faith—easy, because when we are near Christ we see the value of others to and in Christ, and we see our own nothingness, perhaps our actual short-comings in love too.
I have lengthened out my communication on this chapter so much that I reserve what I have to say on the third chapter, and the character of the whole episde for another opportunity. I think, on the whole, that this gives the higher, though not the most readily striking and energetic, side of Christian life. But, as I said at the beginning, both have fully their place. If it suit your publication, I may afterwards, if the Lord will, take up some practical subjects which have connected themselves with these in my mind.
May the Lord bless your various communications to the edification of His saints, and make that blessing flow in those too who contribute them.
11 [This paper, like some others, was sent to the Editor of “The Girdle of Truth.”—Ed.]