The Epistle to the Philippians looks at the Christian as on a journey with an object before him, and that object the actual winning of Christ, the laying hold of that for which he had been laid hold of by Christ; and therefore salvation is looked at as a thing to be attained—the Christian reaching in result what he had laid hold on before by faith.
Chapter i is an introduction. Chapters 2, 3, 4, present to us three aspects of Christian life. In chapter 2 we see the gracious mind that was in Christ illustrated in the servants and the saints also: in chapter 3 the energy of the apostle in running after the prize: and in chapter 4 his complete superiority over all circumstances. In all of it the experience which is the result of the power of the Spirit of God acting in the Christian—no idea of failure.
We do not get sin mentioned throughout the epistle. There were a few things that needed setting right: for instance, the two women in chapter 4 needed exhorting to be of the same mind, they were in a little discord; but what is described is the effect of the Spirit’s power. Sin is not mentioned. Nevertheless I suppose the Thessalonian saints were in the freshest condition of any we read of, as we find the first epistle was written to them only about two months or the like after their conversion, so that their first love was in activity.
There was real devotedness in the gospel amongst the Philippians, which the apostle does not omit noticing, nor forget their kindness now renewed. (See chap. 4:15, 16, and 1:3, 7, where read “ye have me,” not “I have you.”) And this gave him confidence as to them, as well as regarded himself, that He who had begun the good work would accomplish it unto the day of Christ. There the work is still viewed as one reaching on to its great result. As to himself this confidence was most blessed, and accompanied by, and in some respects the fruit of, a conscience kept in the full light of God’s countenance by the Spirit of God. “As always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body.” Self is always shut out when grace is really known and enjoyed.
Then a word as to verse 6. It is a great comfort to know that what God has begun He is going to complete; and it was Paul’s confidence towards the Philippian saints, because they had him in their heart, as verse 7 tells us. This made it but just for him to judge the divine life was working in them; but then there was this deep comfort for the love that was in his heart, and freshly awakened in it; but then that was God’s work and He would complete it. This verse should be read according to the margin, and not as translated in the text. The apostle was in their hearts, and it was a proof to him of divine life.
Paul was not occupied at all with his outward life, but with the inward life. He had Christ always before him, and when it was a question of which he would choose, whether to go to be with Christ or to remain on the earth, he is in a strait; if he dies, it is to be with Christ; and if he remains, it is worth while, for here he can labour for the church’s good: and through the blessedness of both paths he knows not which to choose, so that self is done away as a motive. Blessed state! And then the blessing of the saints is his motive under Christ, and so he remains as more needful for them. You see it is Christ that decides thus the result, and he decides his own case; for if it be better for the church he should remain, Christ was over all—he would remain. It is not the reckless Nero nor any one else; it is a question with Paul what most pleases Christ. He never thinks of the circumstances which he was in: nigh unto death, he has got his eye only on Christ. To die would be gain to any Christian, and so would to live be Christ. But there is a difference between an abstract truth and the practical realisation of that truth; like Paul, in the Acts, when before Agrippa, he could say, “I would that… all that hear me this day were … altogether such I am, except these bonds.” We know any Christian could say that, for it would be better that all were saved; but it is a very different thing to be in Paul’s condition, and say it with his spirit.
In verse 10, where the expression “the day of Christ” occurs, it means the day when He comes to judge; it is always so when it refers to our responsibility; it never means the rapture of the church when it speaks of saints’ responsibility, as in 1 Timothy 6:13, 14, “I give thee charge … that thou keep this commandment without spot until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We could not connect the rapture with responsibility. We are all alike caught up together, and alike conformed to the image of God’s Son. It is the result of grace for every saint; but the rewards will be according to the fruits and works, as in John 15, “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit.” And the Christian is not merely called on to avoid open evil, but to have spiritual discernment, so as to understand what is excellent—more conformed to the divine mind. This makes verse i o of chapter I a very important one. Verse 12 brings out the power over circumstances. It did not matter what position Paul was in; he always reckoned on the power of Christ.
It is beautiful to see how Christ is the sole object before the apostle. He is glad though it be in contention that Christ is preached, so that He was preached. “I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.” A person who is converted may walk in a manner that does not dishonour Christ, but it is a different thing to have Christ as the motive for everything; and if the latter condition be that of the soul, it always raises the mind above sorrow. For the thought that Christ was preached of contention might cause sorrow in the apostle’s heart, but he is above that because Christ is preached.
Where there is not real spiritual energy, the thought of prison cows people; and when Satan managed to get the preacher of Christ there, he thought he had gained his end; but they got courage as to his bonds. Paul was so identified with the gospel that, when the gospel succeeded, it was to him success; and in that day the gospel was not made to suit people as in this day. Paul was nothing terrified by his adversaries; as Peter also says, “As long as ye do well and are not afraid with any amazement.” Satan tried to alarm people and make them shy. When the apostle speaks of the gospel or the vocation, as in chapter 1:27, he means the whole thing (Christianity). The word “conversation “in this verse refers to one’s walk.
“To them an evident token of perdition.” For when Satan’s power is fully exercised, and it is seen that it has no power over Paul or any servant of Christ, it is manifested that it has met One which is superior to itself, that is, a divine One, and that they who oppose are its adversaries; and thus it is a token of perdition to them, and for the same reason, of salvation to those helped by divine power; for still salvation in the epistle is the result in victory. Then in verse 29 we see that “it is given not only to believe, but to suffer for his sake.” And now we come to the end of chapter 1, which is a kind of introduction to the epistle.
Chapter 2 is full of instruction. It is very touching the way the apostle speaks in this chapter. They had sent him help from a long way, and sought to minister to his wants; but he says, if they want to make him truly happy—to fulfil his joy, they must be walking like Christ; they must be of one mind. How gently and courteous a way of dealing with them is this, in the presence of their love and kindness to him! He could not harshly reprove, but love would not have the evil uncorrected, and deals thus delicately as to it. “If there be any consolation in Christ,” etc., “fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded.” He sets Christ before them as an example; and he could say too, “Be ye followers of me, as I also am of Christ,” not ‘as far as I follow Christ’; but I am following Christ, and I want you to copy my example and follow Him too.
Then in verses 3, 4, of this chapter, each is exhorted to “esteem each other better than himself.” Now there will be no difficulty in this if we are really walking before God; we shall be occupied with each other’s good, and the one will esteem the other better than himself, because when the soul is really before the Lord, it will see its own shortcomings and imperfections, and will be in self-judgment; and according to the love and spirit of Christ see all the good that is from Him in a brother and one dear to him, and will therefore look upon his fellow-Christian as better than himself, and so all would be in beautiful harmony; and we should be looking after each other’s interests too. As I have often remarked, love likes to be a servant, and selfishness likes to be served.
Then, in verses 5-8, we get the humiliation of Jesus even unto death, though not in the sense of atonement, nor of patience of suffering put upon Him, but in voluntary humiliation, the way and pattern of lowliness for our souls, producing the graciousness which becomes the Christian and adorns his life. This is in contrast with the first Adam. He sought to be exalted when in the form of man, and that by robbery; he ate that which was forbidden, to become equal with God; but the last Adam, when in the form of God (though He thought it not robbery to be equal with God as to His dignity) left all and came down here to be a man, and in the form of a servant; and then as a man humbled Himself, and became obedient to death.
God looks for us to walk in the character of the last Adam, and not of the first—that of humbling and not of exalting. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ.” Thus a self-humbling Christ, the mind that was in Him, is the source of Christian graciousness and consideration for others; and this will be found exemplified in Paul’s way of dealing with them, and all that follows as to Timothy and Epaphroditus, where Christian love is so sweetly insisted on as well as shewn.
In chapter 3, on the other hand, Paul sees Christ up in the glory, and is running after Him, giving its energy to the Christian life, as in chapter 2 he sees Him on the earth as the brightest example of lowliness; and as the result of that lowliness God gives Him a name which is above every name: this is given to Him as Son of man. The mind that was in Christ was the mind of coming down, and that is what the apostle wants to see in us.
There is no place where Christ is so glorified as at the cross, although it was in shame. In the glory we shall be with Him and like Him, though there would have been no glory for us without the cross. But who could have been with Him on the cross? There He was wholly alone with God.
The word “Lord “is used in two distinct senses in the New Testament; in some places it means “Jehovah,” and in others made “Lord and Christ,” as Lord over all; as in Acts 10. He is “Lord of all.” This is the sense in which it is used in chapter 2:11. Of course, we know that He is Jehovah, as in John 12, where the quotation is made from Isaiah 6, “I saw the Lord,” etc. There you get Him as Jehovah, and often in the Old Testament. In truth the second Person of the Godhead is He in whom Jehovah is revealed there. We may see how the three persons are closely connected all through the acts of Christ, even in the miracles—Christ as Son wrought the miracles; but it is said, “The Father that is in me, he doeth the works.” And also, “If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God.” So we see the three inseparably united, as in the resurrection of Christ also. We find in chapter 2 of John’s gospel Christ speaking of raising Himself. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it again.” Then we read in another scripture, “Whom God raised from the dead”; and lastly, He was “quickened by the Spirit.” All God’s glory was engaged in the resurrection of Christ.
In the epistles of John you cannot separate Christ and God. The apostle speaks of Christ both as God and Christ in the very same sentence, as in 1 John 2:28; chap. 3:1: “Abide in him; that when he shall appear… at his coming”; that is Christ, born of Him. In verse 29 the same person is God, as is manifest from chapter 3:1; “him not” is Christ; “he shall appear,” now it is Christ again, and so all verses 2, 3. Thus he calls Him God and Christ in the same verse, and there are other similar instances in this epistle. We see this divine union in the words of Christ Himself, for He says in John’s Gospel, “The Son of man, who is in heaven,” although He was then actually on earth at the time. The word “Jehovah” refers to the three persons of the Gospel, which men rightly call the Trinity.
The New Testament is the opening out of the unity of the Godhead in the Trinity of the Persons. Christ was here God as well as Man, and His Person cannot be divided. “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Of course it is spiritually that this is true; but nevertheless it is our privilege to rejoice in His presence as that very Jesus who shed His blood for us. It is not the Spirit’s presence, though He must be present that we may enjoy Christ’s. But the Spirit has not died, suffered, and walked amongst us as Jesus did. The Holy Ghost is present, and reveals the Father’s love and Christ Himself to us, and thus the Holy Ghost is the power in us, and the Father and the Son are they with whom we have fellowship; and this is the reason why we do not pray to the Holy Ghost. His place, in the ways of grace, is to be in us; the Father and the Son are the objects, by His revelation of them, before the soul.
I would just notice the way in which people have blundered with reference to the twelfth verse, which they think conveys the idea of a person working himself to obtain eternal life in contrast with God’s working, insisting on the words “work out your own.” It is altogether mistaken. The apostle had been with them and had cared for them, had worked for them, kept at bay the power of the enemy, meeting the difficulties of the warfare. But this was not to continue; he now being in prison and having left them, they had to work out their salvation. That is, they would now have to fight their own battles, and have their own conflicts, which Paul felt was a very solemn thing; they were to do it “with fear and trembling.” And I am sure we shall all feel it a solemn thing, if we have a right apprehension of it, when we think of the great powers that are against us—the world, the flesh, and Satan j and are having to make good God’s cause and maintain by grace our own standing (learning too the conflict of flesh and Spirit).
It is indeed a solemn thing to know that we are the vessels of a conflict between God and Satan. But it is no contrast between our working and God’s; but our working and Paul’s, who could no longer be in the conflict for them, but who adds, “it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do”— they had not lost Him. When Scripture speaks of my place in Christ as the result of accomplished redemption, there are no “ifs” or “buts” or warnings about it. These come when it looks at me as a Christian in the world under responsibility. And the Lord brings us through our trials and difficulties; but it is only to shew us what is in ourselves and also to display what is in God, to abound over it all. So we see the passage of the children of Israel from the Red Sea to Canaan taught them many difficulties, but it also taught them the faithfulness of God: and when the journey through the wilderness was really finished, and they were come to the borders of the land, and were called to go up the mountain and enter into the land, their unbelief and distrust broke out, and they wanted Moses to send spies to see the land before they attempted to enter. Well, God permitted it, but what was the result? The very appearance of the place frightened them; the high walls, etc., staggered them; and they were afraid to go up. So Moses says, Well, there is nothing but the wilderness for you; and so they turned back. But, though chastening, God turned back with them.
Surely it only brings out God’s purpose of grace, as Moses told them in Deuteronomy 8, it was to “humble thee and prove thee, to know what was in thine heart,” and also to shew them what was in His. And He was above all their failure and shortcomings, taking care of them even to the nap of their coats. His ultimate result was blessing. “In all their afflictions he was afflicted.” I am sure it is a real conflict; but then we have the joy that God works in us. A man who has been a very proud one, when he is really broken-hearted before God, makes a humbler Christian than a man who never shewed signs of pride at all; for he finds grace with God to be subdued, and manifests that grace with others; when he sees it rising, he knows what is rising, and therefore is ready with a check upon it.
Verses 14, 15. In this latter verse each element of the exhortation is exactly what Christ was upon earth; blameless, harmless, Son of God, and without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, the light of the world, holding forth the word of life. It forms a lovely picture of Christ’s path, and just what we are exhorted to be. So we hear Paul saying of himself what Christ could have said, “I endure all things for the elect’s sake, that they may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” This is a very wonderful thing to say. Real fellowship with Christ’s sufferings was this, and we find Paul looking on to the day, in verse 16, with joy at the time when the result of all would be manifested. It is then when rewards are distributed; it is not a question of salvation at all. Reward is connected with labour, not with salvation.
Verses 19-30. How sweet it is to see the gracious thoughtfulness of the apostle towards these saints. “I trust in the Lord to send Timotheus shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state.” You see he could say he would send Timotheus shortly; not so with Epaphroditus— he must send him at once, for they had heard he had been sick and were sorrowful, and so the apostle is careful to end that sorrow by sending Epaphroditus unto them (v. 28). In the last verse he seems to intimate that they had been a little careless about him—“Your lack of service,” and also in chapter 4:10; and he gives a very gentle rebuke and corrects what he says by expressing his assurance of their loving care; not that he spoke in respect of want, for he knew how to be abased and how to abound. If it was a gift of love, he would gladly receive their gifts; but still the good of the gospel is in his mind. If as the Corinthians they attached great importance to their money, he would have nothing to do with it, he wanted not their money but their hearts.
In chapter 3 we see Paul, in his energetic spirit, running after a prize. Important warnings in verse 2, he will not allow these Judaisers to be the “circumcision” here, but “concision,” which was a word of contempt: “we are the circumcision.”
Paul counts all dross and dung that he might win Christ. O what single-eyed energy for Christ! You see if Christ is so precious to me that everything else is dung and dross, it will be no difficulty for me to throw it aside; that is the secret— the power of an absorbing object to deliver me from all else. It is to the extent my heart values an object that it is a temptation to me. Suppose I have a very beautiful cloak on, and I am running a race, if my heart is really occupied with the prize, I shall not mind the beauty of the cloak; I shall only know it as a weight, and shall cast it off me, as we find in Hebrews, “laying aside every weight and the sin which doth so easily beset.” There they are only looked at as weights that have simply to be thrown aside. Note, this was not a mere passing effect with Paul when the glory of Christ first gleamed in upon him; but at the end of his course he could say, “And I do count them but dung that I may win Christ.” He kept up to it all through his course; and we shall do the same just to the extent our minds are on the prize; and first of all the prize to him was winning Christ Himself.
Verses 11, 12. Paul views his own glory as connected with it at the end of his journey. The resurrection is an object of attainment. He looked at all suffering too in the power of resurrection, which always makes suffering easy. He says, It does not matter what I pass through, whether death or anything else, so that I may get Him. “If by any means”— no matter what (v. 11), if it costs me my life— “I might attain unto the resurrection from among the dead”; not “of the dead,” but “from among the dead.” This was the difficulty in Mark 9:10. They reasoned what the resurrection from the dead meant. A general resurrection of the dead was common enough: every Pharisee or orthodox Jew held it; but one from the dead was a new thing altogether, and this is the character of the saint’s resurrection. God delighted in Christ, and therefore raised Him from among the dead. He also delights in us and is going to raise us from among the dead. We run a race, but not an uncertain one.
The perfect ones spoken of in verse 15 are those who have laid hold on the truth of being risen and glorified with Christ on high; not only knowing that my sins are just forgiven, but apprehending the higher truth of resurrection in Christ. And it is as these we are called to walk. This is the same perfection as is spoken of in 1 Corinthians 2, “We speak wisdom among them that are perfect.” The only perfection the apostle has before him is to be hke Christ in glory and not like the first Adam.
A person may more easily know his sins forgiven, but it is a further truth to know that he is himself “dead to sin.” He finds this conflicts with his experience—that does not affect his experience. Suppose I tell you a debt of a thousand pounds which you owed was paid by “some one, it would not be a question of experience, but of simply believing my statement. Just so with God. He tells us our sins are forgiven, and it is a question whether we believe Him. But when He tells us we are dead to sin, we look inside and say, Ah, sin is still at work: how is that? A person must be taught of God to know really the truth that he is dead to sin.
The rest of the epistle is still simply experience—sitting loose to the world, caring about nothing but Christ, superiority over all circumstances; and the apostle concludes, “My God shall supply all your need”—my God, the One whom I have been learning, I count upon for all your wants.