The Epistle to the Philippians has a peculiar character rather distinct from the other epistles; though there are indeed traces of the same in the Epistle to Timothy. Taking it characteristically, it is the epistle of Christian experience.
We do not get doctrinal teaching in it, but the experience of Christian walk—not the experience of one who is going wrong, but of one who is going right, the experience which the Spirit of God gives. The apostle is perfectly clear as to his position, yet here he counts himself not to have attained anything. He is on the road, he has not got there; but Christ has laid hold on him. When I speak of my place in Christ, as in Ephesians, it is in heavenly places; but, as a matter of fact, we are here going on through the earth full of temptations and snares.
Philippians gives us—not of course failure—but the path of the Christian, salvation being looked at throughout as at the end of the wilderness. Paul had no doubt that Christ had laid hold on him for this blessedness, but he had not got there. Salvation is always looked at as the close of the journey in Philippians.
It is so much the more remarkable as to the Christian’s path that you never find sin mentioned from the beginning to the end of the epistle. The thorn in the flesh was needed when Paul came down from Paradise; it was not that the flesh had become any better. The thorn was something to hinder sin, something that made him outwardly contemptible in his ministry. Every one, probably, would have a different thorn according to his need. There is no change in the flesh, but the power of the Spirit of God is such that the flesh is kept down. “Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus” would not be necessary if the flesh were any better. It is not that there is any uncertainty as to salvation or acceptance, but that we should so walk through the wilderness that the flesh should be shut up, as it were. Suppose I have a troublesome man in the house, if I keep him locked up, I am quite easy about him; but sometimes we are foolish enough to leave the door open. God looks at us as dead with Christ, and we are called on to reckon ourselves dead. I have a title to do it because Christ has died, and I am crucified with Christ. It is not only that we are born of God, but we have died with Christ.
Up to the middle of Romans 5 sins are treated of, and atonement; in verse 12 nature is dealt with. We have each our own sins, but “by one man’s disobedience “we have the same nature, we are all in the same boat; the remedy for this is that we have died with Christ. You cannot say of a man lying dead on the floor, ‘You have got bad passions and self-will’; he has neither passions nor self-will, he is dead.
Then we have the power of Christ. “In that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.” You say you are in Christ, then your acceptance is perfect; if you are in Christ, Christ is in you: then let me see Christ and nothing else.
If you are dead, you cannot live on in sins. If you have Christ, it is through His death you have got Him. In Colossians 3 we have God sees us as dead; in Romans 6 I reckon myself dead; in 2 Corinthians 4 we have “bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.” This is going very far indeed. Death to a Paul was so realised that only the life of Jesus works in him.
In chapter 1 we see the position and life of the Christian in this scene; in chapter 2 we see the pattern of Christ; in chapter 3 the energy that carries the Christian through this world* all things being dross and dung that he may win Christ; in cnapter 4 we see the Christian’s superiority to all circumstances. We have in this epistle the whole character of Christian life; this assumes that our place in Christ is settled. You cannot manifest Christ if you have not Christ. Assuming that Christ has borne our sins, and that we have died with Him, we get on that foundation the unfolding of the path of the Christian, the manifestation of this life we have got from God (a thing John looks at abstractedly in itself); “he that is born of God doth not commit sin.” The Christian is to manifest the life of Christ, and nothing else. “Ye are” (not ought to be) “the epistle of Christ,” and let Christ be read in you as plainly as the law in the tables of stone. As Christ represents us before God, so you appear in the presence of the world for Christ.
It is a great thing to say that my heart is so full of Christ that nothing but Christ appears. If I am in lowliness of heart before Him, living by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God, I shall manifest Christ. In these days when the word of God is so called in a question, it is blessed to think how a single verse of scripture was sufficient for Him for authority, and sufficient for the devil, who had not a word to say.
There is no uncertainty as to the faithfulness of Christ in bringing us through the wilderness. The moment the Christian looks at himself in Christ, there is no “if”; but the moment you get a Christian in the wilderness, there are “ifs”; not that there is the smallest doubt, but to bring in dependence. We are “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation,” this suffices, but dependence. I am “the righteousness of God in him.” “If ye hold fast the beginning of your confidence”; if I hold fast I am to be trusted. There must be positive dependence every moment; I learn that. The mischief of the state of the heart is that, as to will, man has got independent. The whole thing for us is to get to absolute dependence on infallible faithfulness, on unwearied love to carry us through. The heart is brought back to blessed dependence; the dependence is blessed, but the sense of that faithful love is unfailing joy and rest. It is not that the “if” is not true, but the Father’s hand will never let it take place. We have grace to help in every time of need; without Him we can do nothing; with Him, in a certain sense, everything. We learn here that I can never excuse myself if I let the flesh act. The existence of the flesh does not give a bad conscience: otherwise we should never have a good one.
“And this I pray that your love may abound yet more and more in all knowledge and in all judgment, that ye may approve things that are excellent.” There is growth. What I desire to press is, the practical place into which God has brought us in grace to Himself. “Thou hast guided them by thy strength to thy holy habitation.” That is where you are brought: God has brought you to Himself. It is not a rule imposed, but Christ revealed. The question for you as Christians is, Are you walking in the light as God is in the light? God is light and love; His essential names. You are brought to God without a veil, and there is light on everything you do.
God has brought us to know Christ: “This is my beloved Son,” that is what I delight in. The more we look at Him, the more we see there is the place God has brought us. If heaven opens on Him, it opens on us; if God owns Him as Son, He owns us as sons.
Now we have to learn Christ. Has Christ had such a place in your hearts to-day that the things which spring from Christ sprung from you? Have you understood that Christ has brought you to Himself? Now especially it is important that Christians should be Christians. What He was before God in perfection reproduced itself before men to please His Father. Are you thus learning Christ day by day? When I look at Christ, I see God manifested in a man in this world, the expression and pattern of what God delights in. I am not before God on the ground of what I have done, or what I am, but on the ground of Christ. There is for us this continually learning Christ. God has been revealed to us; we have seen what He is—seen it in light to love it. It is not an effort that I may get more like Christ, but that, according to the knowledge of Him I have got, there should be nothing contrary to that knowledge. One does not expect a babe to be a man. When one sees a babe delighting in its mother, and obedient, it is just as delightful in its way as to see a man.
“That is nothing I may be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, Christ may be magnified in my body whether by life or by death.” Whether it were life or death that he came across Christ would be always glorified in his body. The Christian, having his eye on Christ, knows no standard but Christ in glory. We are “to be conformed to the image of his Son”; this is the blessed hope of the Christian and nothing short of it. “As we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly”; there is no doubt, no uncertainty, of our having it or of what it is. Christ is “the firstborn among many brethren”—they like Him. Christ “shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied.”
Seeing Christ up there I get this unspeakably simple truth that, when I was a poor sinner, another Man stepped in and set me free. “Let these go their way,” Christ said of His disciples; they go away, they run—poor work, but they are safe. He takes the whole thing on Himself, and He is to be the judge. The perfect good of God and the perfect evil of man met at the cross; everything was settled there. The new heavens and the new earth depend upon the cross. The Man who was there made sin is now sitting at the right hand of God in glory. The Holy Ghost comes down and makes me know that my place is settled before God. A sinner cannot have confidence if sin is not put away; but there He is, the pattern of what I am to be, our “forerunner.”
I am going to bear the image of the heavenly; I want to attain that, to win Christ, to be like Him for ever. The treasure is indeed in an earthen vessel, but I have got the treasure. I never rest until I am like Christ in glory. Christ is my life; that life lives on Christ as its object; I am going to be like Him, I shall never be satisfied till then. The Spirit of God realises this in our hearts in power. The light that shines from the glory shines in my heart.
Even before chapter 4 how perfectly the apostle puts the heart at peace. “Some preach Christ even of envy and strife”: never mind, if Christ is preached. What peace of heart he had! He had been in prison for four years, in the most trying circumstances; “I know that this,” he says, “shall turn to my salvation.” It is what is behind that faith gets hold of. The wretched Jews, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the sabbath day, send the soldiers to break their legs; and what did they do? They sent one of them right into Paradise.
Paul has been feeding the church ever since from that prison at Rome. “To depart and be with Christ is far better; nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.” So completely happy, so completely settled that I do not know which to choose! Self is gone. It would be worth while to stay because I can labour for Christ. Christ loves the church: then I shall stay! With him it was labouring for Christ, or living with Christ. Christ had such a place that the power of circumstances disappears. How near he lived to Christ! There was not perfection—not yet; but he had Christ completely. He was living up to Christ in the measure to which he had attained.
We may get a blessed truth, as Peter did, revealed by the Father, a real revelation (I do not question that); but the flesh may not be broken down up to the measure of what we have been taught. Peter was doing Satan’s work, and Christ said to him, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” Would not Christ have to call you Satan in something? If we are not bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, our condition of soul is not up to the measure in which we have been taught. Have you the true desire? Is there a locked up chamber in your heart? Christ will open it some day. Can you say, “Search me, O God, and know my heart … and lead me in the way everlasting”? The Lord grant us wisdom to understand His love!
In this whole epistle is little or no doctrine, but the practical exhibition of Christian walk by the power of the Spirit of God.
The chapter before us shews us the spirit in which Christ walked down here, as the true character and spirit of the Christian, the meekness and gentleness of Christ, as in chapter 3 we see the energy of divine life. The next chapter gives the energy of divine life; in the last we see superiority to circumstances. In some Christians there is a certain degree of natural energy. When Moses killed the Egyptian, he had not forgotten the fleshly energy of Pharaoh’s court. Flesh on God’s side can never stand against flesh on the devil’s side. Moses had to be kept for forty years keeping sheep that he might learn to be quiet. If one side of Christian character is wanting, the other is always defective too. You never get one side by itself without even that being defective.
In this chapter we see the perfect blessed giving up of self, and the most delicate consideration of others. Wherever true love is at work, you always reckon on the love of others. Epaphroditus was very uneasy because he perfectly reckoned on the love of the Philippians when they heard that he had been sick. You see the thoughtfulness and considerateness of grace where self is done with. It was perfect in Him. Where there is not the positive power of Christ’s presence, self will be there directly.
How gently and graciously the apostle speaks! The Philippians had thought of him in prison. He had heard of disputings among them: Euodias and Syntyche were not of the same mind; but he cannot rebuke them sharply when he had just received their kindness. “Fulfil ye my joy,” if you want to make me perfectly happy, you will be like-minded, “having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind”—a rebuke, but a very gentle one. The spirit in which he writes is exceedingly beautiful.
Here we find that which in Christ leads to all this. In Him there was the total absence of self; in us there ought to be the suppression of self. “In lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” This will be no difficulty to us if we are practically with Christ. With Him, if I think of self at all, what do I think of? My faults, of course. I see in Christ such obedience, such love and grace, that I must think of my own failures. If I look at a brother, I see the blood of Christ upon him, I see the Spirit in him when I look on him with the eyes of Christ. Wherever the heart is feeling with Christ, one cannot but see good in others. Paul always speaks first of the good amongst those to whom he writes. There is only one exception to this amongst the epistles. Take Corinthians (which is not an exception): they were going on shockingly ill, arfd yet he says, before there is a word about the evil, “I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ, that in everything ye are enriched of him.” The Epistle to the Galatians is the exception; there he plunges right into the evil at once. Where doctrine and faith were touched, he was a great deal more severe than when Christians were walking badly, not that there is any excuse for a bad walk. “I stand in doubt of you,” he says to them; but in the next chapter, “I have confidence in you through the Lord”; his mind rises up to Christ.
In the ordinary path of the Christian, the heart being with Christ, the thing I see in myself is never a good thing—not that it brings distrust, for this is all wrong—it is thinking Christ’s heart is like mine! I do not doubt His love, but the effect of living near Him and being with Him is that, while love is perfect, light is perfect too. Suppose one Christian a powerful evangelist, another a teacher: the teacher will think, What a poor evangelist I am! the evangelist will feel, Oh, I know only the elements. He does see Christ in his brother. We are wretched creatures in ourselves, but this is not a cold measure of what a person is, but the thoughts of Christ about others and about self. The man who has a great gift from God will be thinking of bringing it out as pure as he got it in—‘He has lit a lantern in my heart: does the light come out as pure as it went in?’ It is wonderful the happiness with which a person walks when going through the world in that way. Self is gone. As a Christian, he sees that God has lit up grace in his heart, but alas! the sails of the lantern are sometimes dirty; when he looks at others, he sees they let out a little light any way.
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” What was the mind that was in Jesus? It was always coming down. We should call it a long journey from the throne of God to the cross; it was very far indeed, and it was always down. “He that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” The more He humbled Himself, the more He was trampled on. He begins His ministry with “Blessed, blessed,” He has to end it with “Woe, woe.” He goes down, whether trampled on or not, till He can go no lower, down to “the dust of death.”
He “being in the form of God thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made himself of no reputation.” He always was God, but He laid aside the form of God, the outward glory, “and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” He will never cease to be a servant, though Lord of all; He will never give up this service of love to minister to our blessing. In the condition of Godhead to begin, He takes the form of a servant, and He was always obedient. He had no will of His own: nothing could be more humble than this. We find in this chapter the path the Lord went, from having the form of God, down to that death on the cross. Adam was in the form of man, and he did set up by robbery to be equal with God; he was the first example of “he that exalteth himself shall be abased.” The last Adam abases Himself and is exalted; He lays aside His glory and takes a servant’s form.
Man (especially in these days) is just the opposite; man’s mind does not want God. The whole effort is to get the first man up; and you find even Christians joining in this, following where they cannot lead. Are children more obedient, servants more faithful, men of business more honest? It is the exaltation of man’s will and the setting aside of God. The second Man’s path was exactly the opposite; He always went down. Are you content to do this? Are you content to have the mind that was in Christ Jesus, content to be always trampled on? This was God’s path in the midst of evil, and this is what we want to get. People talk about God’s creation— why it was sin made it as it is, not the physical world of course, but the world as we have it. When was the world embellished? By Cain, when he went out from the presence of God. Man tries to make the world pleasant without God; this is the true and real character of the world. You continually hear it said, What harm is there in music? what harm in painting? There is harm in not one of physical things, the harm is in the use I make of them. What harm is there in strength? None whatever; but if I use my strength to knock a man down, there is harm in that. The harm is in the use people make of things. What harm was there in the trees of the garden? None. Men have in a certain sense lost God, and they try to get on as well without Him as they can.
Christ was in this world in the form of a servant, a poor carpenter. Love delights to serve, blessed infinite love! Nothing could be more divine than when He gave up “the form of God” and went down, down, till He came to the gibbet—I do not say the cross, for the cross has become an honoured name—but the actual gibbet. Then God exalts Him as Man.
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” We see the perfectness of love that takes the form of a servant and gives up self in everything. If this mind is in you, you do not look at self to look at the good that is there, or to spare yourself suffering. “And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us and given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God”; such is the character of divine love come into this world of evil. “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” will not do now. The world would be a paradise if that were done, but it is not a paradise; and what we want is a spirit of love that will carry us through the world. “For us, an offering and a sacrifice to God”; there was in Christ the absolute giving up of self for what is perfectly worthless, and yet with a worthy object. Take the divine side of love; and the worse the object, the greater is the love; but if you take the human side, the greater the object, the greater is the love. We find both in Christ. If I take the creature side, the excellence of the object makes the greatness of the affection; if I take the divine side the worthlessness of the object makes the greatness of the affection. We see divine power come into the midst of evil—there never was anything like it. God could not come among angels as He came in this sinful world. “Unto the glory of God by us.” “That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.” “Which things the angels desire to look into.”
Christ is the centre of all that. I find His divine Person tracing this path all the way down. He never gives up the service of love. He will reign as King above all; all must confess His Lordship. But the service of love He will never give up; as indeed it is a higher thing. He is made Lord (He was always God, of course), but He makes Himself a servant.
“Jesus knowing that … he was come from God, and went to God; he riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments, and took a towel and girded himself.” If He was going out of this world, the disciples might say He is gone into glory and has left us here; His service is over. No, says the Lord, and He shews them that He does not give up His service. The key to John 13 is this, I cannot stay with you, but you must have a part with Me: a spot will not do there. He will take the place of a servant even in the glory. “He shall gird himself… and will come forth and serve them.” His love is His glory; the nearer we are to Him, the more we shall adore Him.
In 1 Corinthians 15 we read, “Then shall the Son also himself be subject.” He gives up the kingdom which He will rule in, but He keeps His place as Man. He will be the “Firstborn among many brethren “for ever and ever. His ear was bored to the door-post. The slave had a right to go out free after seven years of service, but He says, “I will not go out free,” I will be a servant for ever, when He could have had twelve legions of angels at His command. Down here He was as much God as before He came down, but He had the form of a servant. “He ever liveth to make intercession for us,” and it will be His delight and joy to minister blessing throughout eternity, and thus make it doubly precious to us.
If I get hold of the path, the spirit, the mind of Jesus, nothing could be more hateful to me than anything of self. You never find an act of self in Christ. Not merely was there no selfishness, but there was no self in Him. He has given us the immense privilege of always going down to serve others as He did.
“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Salvation is always looked at as the end of the journey, as the thing arrived at, in this epistle; therefore he speaks of working it out. “Work out your own salvation”: this is in contrast with Paul’s working, not with God’s work, as people so often misunderstand it to be. Paul was in prison: they had lost him. They had not lost God, but Satan seemed to have got the victory. If you are there with Joshua fighting Amalek, it is a very solemn thing; and if you have not Moses’ hands up, you will be beaten.
There is no uncertainty, but it is exceedingly serious to fight God’s battle against Satan. Perhaps you think it must be easy to fight God’s battles. It is not easy even with the Lord to help me; it is a most solemn thing that my business is to overcome Satan. There was no conflict in Egypt; the Israelites were slaves there. When out of Egypt, there was both the conflict and the trial of the wilderness. When they got over Jordan, they entered into Canaan, and whenever Joshua crossed the Jordan, conflict characterised their state. “Art thou for us or for our adversaries?” There was no circumcision till they crossed the Jordan; the stamp of Egypt was on them till they were dead and risen. It is a solemn thing that I stand in Christ’s place, in Christ’s name (every Christian does, of course, I mean) in the scene of Satan’s power.
We are vessels of God’s power against Satan. Here am I standing in Christ’s name in Satan’s world! God works in me; but this makes it only the more serious still: I should not fail. “Do all things without murmurings and disputings.” Before God we never murmur, never dispute. If God were seen, there would not be one murmur, one disputation; and faith realises His presence. It is remarkable as to the exhortation which follows, that if you take it to pieces you see Christ in everything. “That ye may be blameless and harmless”; He was that. He was the Son of God, “without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation.” He was “the light of the world,” while He was in it: “holding forth the word of life”—this is just what He did.
“Ye are the epistle of Christ,” filled up with mud it may be, and hard to read, but still ye are the epistle of Christ. “That the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.” I owe everything to Christ: I owe Him salvation, heaven, everything. I owe Him myself. The heart becomes engaged with this manifestation. He is gone, and He has left us here, and He says, “I am glorified in them.”
Is that kind of desire yours?—not the desire of the sluggard who has nothing, who roasteth not that he took in hunting; but the real desire of manifesting Christ— the desire that cannot bear anything that is not Christ? God helps us in this. Paul could speak of “always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus”; he takes death and holds it on himself. He wants to keep the walls of the lantern bright, and so he would rub them.
“Always “? this is a great deal to say. What we have to do is to carry about with us the dying of the Lord Jesus, and then the flesh would never stir. We fail in this, and the Lord comes in and helps us. “We which live are alway delivered unto death.” The flesh is always present, there is no change in that. The Lord knows He has to help us, and He puts us through trials and exercises; the Lord makes everything to work for good to us.
The apostle could say, “delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake.” When we look back to a past life, we have more to be thankful for our trials than for anything else. Till the root is reached, the Lord does not let you go; the heart desires this— would not let the trial slip away. Oh, if we only trusted God, there would be confidence in His love! “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we look not at the things which are seen but at the things which are not seen.” Are your hearts on the things that are seen, or on the things that are not seen?
There are three spaces in our hearts: Christ must be at the bottom of our heart and at the top also; it is what is between the two that shews my state. Has your heart been open all day for the things of the world to trot over? Has the highway of your heart been open all day? May God give us to be anything or nothing, so that the Lord Jesus may be everything!
In this chapter we get the energy that carries the Christian on through the wilderness in view of the glory. It does not give us the meekness and gentleness of Christ like chapter 2, but the energy that counts all but dross and dung to win Him. Doctrine is not the point in this epistle. Salvation is always looked on as at the end of the journey. The Christian is viewed as in a race, and in that race he is entirely under the power of the Spirit of God; the flesh is not looked at as acting. Christ is before us: the thing we are predestinated to is to be conformed to His image. There is no thought now, inasmuch as there is a Man in the glory, of any place or object for the Christian but to be with and like that Man on high.
As Christ was taken up as man into glory, we shall be taken up the same way to be like Him. The thought of the believer can never rest short of this. Paul says that he wants not to be unclothed, but clothed upon. “To depart and be with Christ” is blessed, but it is still waiting. The apostle here says that He will “change our vile bodies.” The cross having come in, it has given us the death of the old man, and the reception of Christ as Head of the new family in glory; we look off from everything to this. The hope that is in Christ is that when He appears we shall be like Him. Thus we look to be like Himself, with Himself surely, but like Himself: nothing short of this is the object of the believer. He would grow undoubtedly, but still it is growth by looking at an object we shall never attain to till we are raised from the dead in His image or changed into it.
There is no mending of the flesh, no sanctification of nature, no forming of man as he is; there is death to it. The old man has been entirely and finally judged, but another is now in the glory as man. This we could not have as an object of faith until Christ was risen. God has “provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect”— “perfect,” that is, in glory. That could not be, nor was there any title for it, till the work upon the cross; therein is the title and groundwork for all this. There was no connection with Christ as man among the children of Adam; He was a true man, but union there was none whatever. He was one of them, but He was alone. He was a man without sin; we were men with sin: you can never unite the two, for they “are contrary the one to the other.” He could come in grace as a true man amongst us, but He abode alone.
In Hebrews 2 four reasons are given why Christ took flesh and blood: first, to make atonement; second, for God’s glory and counsels; third, to destroy him that had the power of death; fourth, that He should go through every sorrow, and so have sympathy with us. There was perfect grace in Him, but He was alone. People speak of Him as “bone of our bone,” but this is totally false; we are bone of His bone now that He is on high. Wherever you find the thought of Christ being bone of our bone, you get redemption and atonement made unnecessary, or at any rate muddled up. When atonement has been wrought, then by the Holy Ghost He unites us to Himself, and says we are “members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.”
Thus we learn that the only thing by which the flesh can be dealt with is death. Until atonement was made, God could not deal with sinners in the way of righteousness; He could forbear— “for the remission of sins that are past through the forbearance of God.” The difference with us is that righteousness is now before Him, and we are in it. Our souls stand in divine righteousness in the presence of God.
The apostle does not talk of sin in the flesh here. The flesh has its religion as well as its lusts, and this is much more attractive than worshipping God in the spirit—the flesh cannot do this. “Though I might also have confidence in the flesh,” such is the fleshes religion. Paul was the most positive enemy of God all the while. Suppose this blamelessness of Paul—to whose credit was it? Paul’s. Wherever religion is a credit to us, it is not worth anything; worse than that, it deceives us. You may have all the truths which do not test faith, and yet be without this. The time will come when whosoever “killeth you will think that he doeth God service.” They thought they were doing God service, but they would not hear of the truth that tested faith—the Father revealed in the Son.
Thus the whole system of the religion of the flesh is set aside here. It is always the truth that tests faith. Suppose I fast twice in the week, and give tithes of all I possess, to whose credit is this? Mine. The moment I get the cross the flesh is judged, and that is no credit to me. The thing that tests faith flesh resists. The disciples would not hear of the Lord’s death, because it tested their faith. Peter, the very man that owned what He was going to build the church on, says, “That be far from thee,” and the Lord has to call him “Satan.” Although he had got a truth, he had not the flesh judged up to the measure of what he knew; he would not have a truth that breaks through the flesh in a way he does not like.
“That I may win Christ”—this is the great principle of the whole chapter, and you get perseverance in it, which is more. Suppose a man just saved, what does he think about the world? That it has deceived him. Leave him for a while, and his family twine round him, and soon he begins to seek the things of the world. Paul saw Christ on the way to Damascus, and he gives up his importance, his Pharisaism, his teaching, everything else, and he counts all but loss that he may win Him. “And do count them but dung that I may win Christ”—not “did count,” which would be comparatively easy.
The value of Christ must be fresh enough in the soul, as a present thing, to enable one to count all the rest mere dross and dung. Everybody is governed by the object he is pursuing, and, what is more, everybody judges of others by the thing he is pursuing himself. One man makes money his object, another pleasure. The man who loves money says, Oh, what a fool that man is to spend so much on his pleasure! and the man who loves pleasure says, What a fool that man is to hoard up his money, it is no better to him than so much clay!
The moment I want to win Christ, all besides is dross and dung. You have only to lay aside every weight, Paul could say, with Christ has his object: only to lay aside is easily said, but the moment it becomes a weight it is easy. When I say, I must get Christ, death may be on the road, but never mind so that I get Him. The desire is not weakened by the eye being dimmed by present things. Paul goes on. There we get testing. He went on looking at Christ. He had found Christ the satisfaction of his soul, and he did not hunger, he did not thirst, as the Lord says, for anything else. People talk of sacrifices; but there is no great sacrifice in giving up dung. If the eye were so fixed on Christ that these things got that character, it would not be a trouble to give them up. The thing gets its character from what the heart is set on. The moment the heart is set on Christ, all the rest becomes dross. The man with one object is the energetic man. The Christian’s one object is Christ—the object God has and the object the Spirit gives to the heart of the Christian. Have we only to say that Christ is the one sole object of the heart? are there not distractions? We allow other things to come in; the eye is not single.
Paul however would “be found in him, not having mine own righteousness … but the righteousness which is of God by faith.” The apostle was still looking forward as he is always doing in this Epistle. Here he speaks of righteousness in contrast (not to his sins, but) to his righteousness. A poor man may not part with his old coat; but if you give him a new one instead, he will soon have done with it. The moment the soul has the eye fixed on the Lord Jesus, all our righteousness becomes filthy rags, and the heart revolts from mixing it up with Him. When the Spirit is come, He will convince the “world of sin, because they believe not on me.” The world’s sin was proved by not believing on Jesus; all are under sin together. The one single righteous Person was turned out of the world: where will you find righteousness now? At the right hand of God. The world will never see Christ again except in judgment. Satan was never called “the prince of this world “till Christ came, till the cross. When He comes, Satan raises the whole world against Him. There is the prince of this world, the Lord says. He might rule before, but in the cross Satan was proved the prince of this world.
Again, we hear of “the righteousness which is of God by faith”; not now righteousness of man for God, but of God for man. “Being made conformable unto his death.” In a world where Christ had been rejected, the object of all my hopes is at the right hand of God. I have got a life completely paramount over death. The resurrection of Christ was past sin, past Satan’s power, past judgment, past death. The second Man had gone into death—was made sin; but He is risen, and all that is past. God has been glorified, and death belongs to us now as we belonged to it in the first man. We have got this divine life which is above everything in the world. If I know Him, I want to know the power of His resurrection that left everything behind. What comes next? “The fellowship of his sufferings. Being made conformable unto his death”; all was gain to Paul. Do we not see the blessedness of being a martyr?
“If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead “: death might be on the road, but death would be positive gain because one would be like Christ. Christ risen becomes power in me going through the same scene as He did. The apostle was a man of like passions with us, but he was single-eyed. Here he gives us not only the Christ he was going to win, but something he was going to win for himself— “the resurrection from among the dead.”
In Mark 9:9, 10, we read of “the rising from the dead,” about which the disciples questioned; every Pharisee, every orthodox Jew, believed in the resurrection of the dead. What did the resurrection of Christ mean? It was God’s seal on everything He was, and everything He had done during His life here. He took Him out from among all the other dead. If He takes people out from among the rest of the dead because He delights in them, that is the seal of their acceptance. Paul says, No matter what it costs me, I will attain to that. What condition is the saint raised in? “Sown in weakness, raised in power; sown in dishonour, raised in glory.” “Christ the first-fruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.”
As God put His perfect seal on Christ and Christ’s work, and raised Him, so, when He raises us up, He puts His seal on us: only it is because of His righteousness, not our own. The apostle was apprehended of Christ Jesus, but he had not got it yet. What I am looking for is to lay hold of that for which Christ has laid hold for me. When we attain to that, we get Christ Himself and being like Christ; we do not, could not, get that down here. Perfection as to the state of the Christian means perfect conformity to the image of Christ in glory.
Three classes are spoken of here, the “perfect,” those “otherwise minded,” and those who are the “enemies of the cross of Christ.” The perfect are those who have entered by the power of the Spirit of Christ into this truth of being perfectly like Him. Many a Christian knows only the forgiveness of sins; he has not got the thing that is before him, but the thing that is behind him. The thought of having Christ in glory and being like Him governed Paul completely; but, like a man going through a strait passage with a lamp at the other end of it, he got more of the light as he went on, though as yet he had not attained. Every step the Christian takes he has got more of the light: “beholding… we are changed into the same image,” though in a certain sense we have none of it. One has not merely seen redemption that has given him the object, but he is running after the object. He has got what Christianity gives—got all of it, and this in a certain sense is perfection. “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling [calling above] of God in Christ Jesus.” Till we are above, we have not got the calling—the effect of it, I mean. It cost Paul suffering, it cost him difficulty, but it filled his heart with joy—filled it with Christ.
You know persons who have found they are poor sinners, who see their sins are forgiven, but they do not see farther; they are “otherwise minded,” but God will reveal this to them: wait a while, have patience. “But many walk of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ.” Those who call themselves Christians and love the world. Men who mind earthly things are the enemies of the cross of Christ. The cross and the glory go together, not at the same time of course, but the one depends on the other.
The cross of Christ toward this world is saying, “The world seeth me no more.” The cross is perfect security for heaven, but entire judgment of this world. Paul’s heart having followed Christ up there, his object, his heart, is there. “One thing I do” —that is the Christian. You may be in various circumstances, you may be a carpenter as Christ was; but the Christian’s “conversation is in heaven.” What is he waiting for? For Christ to come and take him to Himself. His heart is fixed on Christ’s Person. He has found Him at the cross, who has carried him into heaven with Him. I am changed into the same glory as Christ, while it is acting on my soul that I am to be like Him; it governs the heart the whole way.
The righteousness of the law was the righteousness of man, the law being the measure of man’s righteousness. Christ Himself is our righteousness. I have got life from God and righteousness: both are Christ. The power that raised Christ from the dead the Spirit will exercise to raise or change our bodies. These are God’s thoughts about us. What am I going to get? Christ, and to be like Christ; then do you run after Him. Can we say we are doing that? I distrust the moral condition of the man that thinks much of crimes. The thief went into paradise to be with Christ, the moral man went out.
Can we say, “This one thing I do?” I have but one thing, and I am pushing on. If you wanted a person to get to London, whether would you rather meet him, four miles from London with his back to it, or four miles from Holyhead with his face to London? Even a babe may have his face turned to Christ. Are you going God’s way? Can we honestly say, with glory before us, with Christ before us, “One thing I do”? Which way does your eye turn? Which way are you going? God has only one way—Christ.
There is the constant solicitation of distractions on the road: quite true, everything round us is a temptation. When the people came to Christ in the garden of Gethsemane, of what was it the occasion to Him? Of perfect obedience. Of what to Peter? Of temptation. What one looks for in the Christian is a single eye. One of the comforts of heaven will be that there I shall not want my conscience; I want it every moment now; I cannot let my heart out now.
The Lord give us in all liberty of heart so to see Him before us that we may run hard after Him, having our hearts kept by the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord.
This chapter takes up the entire superiority to circumstances which characterises the Christian. The apostle had gone through very trying circumstances; he had been in prison for four years, chained to a heathen soldier—a terrible kind of thing. There he had been to have the experience that no circumstances could ever separate from the love of Christ, and that the life of Christ was paramount to everything. Christ felt all, far more than we do; but there was that which sustained Him and made it positive joy to Him. It is a great thing to see that the power of Christ in us can set us entirely above everything. Paul knew how to suffer need, and he knew how to abound—a far more dangerous thing; for if we suffer need, we are thrown on God necessarily. What we find all through this epistle is the power of the Spirit of God raising him above all circumstances and sorrows; it is always the power of the Spirit of God which sustains him.
Sin is never, mentioned in the epistle, nor flesh as a gross thing, but only in its religious shape, But we get the power of the Spirit of God carrying us through this world where temptations are: not that the flesh is any better, but there is such a thing as living above it. This is a very important principle for all of us. It is true that “in many things we offend all”; but Scripture never supposes that we are going to offend; and we can never excuse ourselves if we do offend. The flesh is as bad as ever; and what we get is, not the grace of God for it, but a thorn in the flesh, the thorn being from the grace of God, of course.
If we are conscious of weakness and are leaning only on grace, we need not offend: there is power for us. It is possible that at a given moment I may not have power; but this is because I have been going wrong previously. Christ was witnessing while Peter was denying; but Christ had been praying while Peter had been sleeping. The armour should be put on before the battle, not just at the battle. When Satan came to Him with his wiles, the Lord had only to rest quietly in obedience: there was no longer reasoning, no confusion about it. Satan says, “Command that these stones be made bread”; the Lord answers He is come to obey. For it is written that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” Then Satan tells Him to cast Himself down (that is, not to trust God), but is told, “It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” These are wiles; but when Satan comes openly, then resist Satan. “Get thee hence, Satan”; then he flees. We have not to overcome him who is overcome; but we have to overcome his wiles by the word in obedience.
The only effect of trying circumstances is to give much deeper acquaintance with the Lord’s faithfulness, and withal much deeper joy. At the end of four years in prison Paul could say, “Rejoice in the Lord always”; he had nothing else to rejoice in. He says, as it were, The more I know of every trial and hindrance in my work as an apostle, the more I can tell you, You can rejoice in the Lord always. It is a beautiful thing to see Paul the person to say, You must be always rejoicing. The thing that hinders our rejoicing is not trouble, but being half-and-half. If in the world, his conscience reproaches the Christian; if he meets spiritual Christians, he is uncomfortable there; in fact he is happy nowhere. A man’s affections do not hinder his work for his children. If we were serving Christ simply, we should go back to Him all the happier when the service was done.
We never can give a reason for not rejoicing in Christ, except the evil of our hearts. Here we get what is so important practically—to rejoice always. Any one can rejoice in the Lord when the Lord gives him what he likes. “Bless the Lord at all times”: that is the testing point. “In everything give thanks.” “Jehovah is my Shepherd, I shall not want”; not, I have got blessing and shall not want, but “Jehovah is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” “He restoreth my soul.” He stood by me when in misery, sorrow, failure it may be. I may get my own weakness, death in the way; but the table is spread in the very presence of my enemies (like Joshua and the Israelites eating the passover before ever a blow was struck). God’s natural work is to give us green pastures and still waters; but He makes everything work together for our good: it is not the circumstances, it is the Lord. “I shall dwell in the house of Jehovah for ever.” After the sorrowful and trying things Paul had passed through, he is full of comfort. He had had green pastures, pleasant things from the Lord; but he rejoices all through, whatever the circumstances.
Again, he says, “Let your moderation [yieldingness] be known unto all men: the Lord is at hand.” He does not insist upon his rights, because he trusts the Lord; he is not careful. Abraham says to Lot, “Go to the left and I will go to the right.” Lot chooses Sodom—always the effect of choosing for oneself. The part Abraham seemed to have lost was Sodom and Gomorrah.
Then there is another exceedingly strong thing connected with it: how long is this going to last? “The Lord is at hand.” You have got your joy and strength elsewhere, and “the fashion of this world passeth away.” If conscious that my portion is in Christ, the looking for the Lord, who is my portion, makes me to sit loose to everything here. If our expectation, if the feeling of our hearts, is that the Lord is at hand (I do not mean prophecy, but the personal expectation of the saint himself), it must be so. What event is there between you and heaven? The only one is our going up there. If I am looking for Christ to come straight down from heaven and take me up, what event is there between? It is no great wonder if the Christian has power to go through circumstances and master them; he has joy in the Lord that nothing can touch. In waiting for Christ what must be done before He comes? “The day and the hour knoweth no man”; but there is only one thing that must be done, the gathering in of the saints. “The longsuffering of God is salvation.” “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise,” but He is waiting on poor sinners. Prophecy does not speak to us of heaven; faith looks to heaven, and sees what is there. Prophecy is God’s politics, and it saves us from human politics—a great mercy too. Our portion is Christ Himself.
There are trials in the way; but then you get, “Be careful for nothing.” This is a magnificent sentence and leaves no loophole. It has often stopped my mouth completely when I have thought of the church, the saints. “Be careful for nothing; but in everything, by prayer and supplication, let your requests be made known unto God.” He does not say, Do you go and do the will of God, but reckon on God that you are going to get the best thing. Present your requests to God; thank Him before you get them. He does not say you will get them always; it is the interest which God takes in us that is the point here. Paul besought the Lord three times that the thorn should be taken away. Indeed I am not going to take away what I sent for your good! such virtually was the answer. “My grace is sufficient for you.”
“And the peace of God which passeth all understanding shall keep your hearts.” This is not peace with God; or that your heart keeps the peace either. The peace keeps your heart, and it is the peace of God, the peace He is in. My own peace I understand very well. The peace He is in keeps my heart, and it passes all understanding—of course it does, because it is “the peace of God.” I do not know what I may get; but of one thing I am sure—I shall get the very best thing, though it may come in a way very grating to my feelings.
When this is the case, I can think of what is good. God thinks of my trouble; I can now think of what is good. “Whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are of good report … if there be any virtue, if there be any praise, think on these things.” What a blessed condition of soul this is, beloved friends! There is no burden in my cares: I cannot burden God, when I put them there. “And the God of peace shall be with you.” Cast your care on God, and the peace of God will keep you; walk as a Christian ought to walk, and the God of peace will be with you. You have a companion in the path of trouble and sorrow, and such a companion too! “The God of peace! “He is never called the God of joy. Joy is an uncertain thing, peace is always there. This word continually through Scripture is attached to God’s name. Where peace is, there is no trouble. Rejoicing in the Lord always, his moderation known unto all men, the Lord at hand, no care—what a happy picture of the Christian!
There is more: “But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again, wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity.” Observe the delicacy of the apostle here; “I am glad that at the last”— this proves that he had been in trouble, in want—I do not mean you were forgetting me, but ye lacked opportunity. I have learned in whatsoever state I am to be content; this is the effect of trusting Christ in it all. “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound.” He was in abundance sometimes; and this is much more dangerous: we are apt to rest in the gift instead of looking at the giver; but with Paul it brought out only thankfulness.
“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” This is the epistle of experience. It is not people can do all things, but “I can do all things”; Christ is always sufficient. Paul found it so. He had gone through perils of all kinds, but Christ was always sufficient. He was in abundance now, but Christ in all things was sufficient. It is a blessed truth that, though we may fail Him, we cannot be in circumstances Christ is not sufficient for. Whether it be the church or individual saints, it is impossible to be in a place for which Christ is not sufficient. Paul was in danger from the flesh, and a thorn was sent to him. The thorn was something which made him in some way despicable in his ministry. The wonderful effect of his preaching, then, did not come from him; the evidence of the power of Christ was there. Then let me have it, Paul says: “I glory in my infirmities.” The thorn was not power, but it was the way of power; the flesh is broken down completely that Christ may come in. If there had been a fourth heaven, the flesh would have been only the more puffed up: you cannot correct what is evil in its nature. What came to make nothing of Paul is not power, but Christ is there. 2 Corinthians 12 takes two sides; we have there a man in Christ (a man in the flesh totally put down), and then Christ in a man, the other side of the Christian life—the power of Christ in us, and with us.
Do not say, A Christian can do all things; it is quite true in the abstract, but not what the apostle says. “I can do all things through him who strengtheneth me.” “I have learned in whatsoever state I am to be content.” He found Christ always sufficient. His whole heart was full at the same time of affectionate remembrance of the Philippians. “Even at Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity.”
I think it is beautiful how the apostle does not take himself out of a man. Superiority is to go through circumstances and feel them all, and yet to be above them. Look how he speaks of Epaphroditus in Philippians 2. As a doctrine, if he had died, he would have gone to heaven; but it was not that. He felt it as it was, it was not a hard mind that cast off the trial. When the Lord saw the widow, “He was moved with compassion.” There was no insensibility in Him, but in going through the circumstances He was sensible of them, yet above them. The way we should walk is as never governed by circumstances, not in insensibility, but in superiority. Christ is the answer to it: cast your care on Him.
Paul attaches all the importance of divine grace to their service. You see what a link there is in the church of God even in gifts. Poor old bed-ridden women may have prayed for Paul. “My God shall supply all your need.” It is “my God,” he knew Him—the God I know, the One I have been with, as if answering for the God he knew. How his heart gets up to the source of it all! The heart gets back to God. What was to be the measure of supply? Was it their need? No, “his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” We find here a blessed picture of the way in which the Spirit of God lifts him, while feeling everything, above the circumstances. It is perfect impressibility by the circumstances here below, but we have this source of strength in Christ Himself. The thing I have to learn is my own weakness.
We make a mistake about the apostles, we often think of them as if they were eagles soaring above all. Paul says, “I was with you in weakness and fear and much trembling.” There were great people in Corinth. Paul was a blessed vessel, but the vessel must be made nothing of. What we have to learn is being nothing that Christ may be everything. If a person is humble, he does not want to be humbled; but if he is not humble, he must be.
Are we content to be nothing? Are we content to walk in the secret of God? The Lord give us to learn practically what it is thus to pass through this world. You can get neither the Christian nor the church in a state that Christ is not sufficient for. The Lord give us to know our nothingness.
[End Of Practical, Volume 2]