There is no epistle in the New Testament which gives so little space to the development of. doctrine as this to the Philippians. Need it be said that it has not the less its own proper office on that account? And what is this but the unfolding of the truth in the heart and in the ways of the Christian? Hence it is that, although doctrine is sparse, if not almost excluded, nevertheless what little appears comes in as ancillary to the main purpose. It is interwoven with practical appeal, and indeed the chief development of doctrine (namely, in the second chapter) forms a ground of exhortation.
Accordingly, from the very starting-point, we are prepared for a difference of tone and character. The apostle drops entirely his official status in addressing the saints at Philippi. He associates Timothy with himself, — not merely, as elsewhere, himself apostle and Timothy in some other relation, but here conjointly “Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ.” He thus takes a common place with his beloved son in the gospel. This place throughout is one of promoting, enlarging, deepening, and purifying the experience of the saints themselves in that which filled his own heart with joy in the Lord. We shall see the importance of this elsewhere. It is what enabled him to look at the saints, as he called them to look at one another, esteeming others, as he says, better than themselves. Had it been a question of his apostolic dignity, this could not have been; but an apostle even could, and did, and loved to, take the place of one that served others whom he viewed directly in their relationship to Christ. His own place toward them was but to serve them in love. Such did, such was, Christ. There is nothing so high as that which we all have been made in our blessed Lord.
So here at the beginning he simply takes the place of servant with Timothy, owning all the saints as well as the officials in their place: “To all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.” This last is but a confirmation of the same truth. It is not at all a question of ecclesiastical order, in which naturally the chief guides would have front rank. The apostle is here contributing to that which shall never pass away, and hence begins with the “saints in Christ Jesus” as such. These Philippians will not be less saints in heaven, where there can be no such charges as “bishops or deacons.” I do not say that the fruits of the loving service of any one of them will be forgotten there; nor that even glory will not bear the impress of that which has been really of the Holy Ghost here. Nevertheless there is that which is suited only to the conditions of time; there is that which, given here, survives all change. The apostle loved to give God’s place and value to everything; and here it is the mingling of Christ with the circumstances of every day. It is the forming of the heart with the affections and the judgments of the Lord. It is the imbuing of the Christian with that which is life everlasting, but the life that he is now living by “the faith of the Son of God, who loved him and gave himself for him.” Hence he at once begins, not with a doctrinal preparation after the introduction, but the introduction brings us as usual into the general spirit if not special object of the epistle. “I thank my God for my whole remembrance of you,” says he, after his usual salutation and wish, “always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy.”
There is no epistle that so abounds in joy. This is the more remarkable because it is so intensely practical. For we can all understand joy in believing; we can readily feel how natural is joy to the Christian who dwells on his eternal portion. The trial is to keep that joy undimmed in the midst of the difficulties and sorrows that every day may bring. This epistle treats of daily sorrows and difficulties, yet does it manifestly overflow with joy, which all the dangers, sufferings, and trials only made the more triumphant and conspicuous.
So he brings before them another remarkable feature of it — their fellowship; and this fellowship too with the gospel. Their happy and bright state in Christ did not dim their fellowship with the gospel. But whatever might be their own proper joy, whatever might be their delight in that which God works in the church, they had full and simple-hearted fellowship with His good news. It had always been so, as the apostle gives us to learn. It was not some sudden fit, if one may so say, nor was it the influence of passing circumstances. It was a calm, fixed, cordial habit of their souls, which indeed had distinguished them from the first. This was now among the last outpourings of the apostle’s heart, as he himself had almost arrived at the end of his active labours, if indeed it was not absolutely their end. He was in prison, long shut out from that which had been his joyful service, though in constant toil and suffering for so many years. But his spirit was as bright as ever, his joy perfectly fresh, deep, and flowing. And now he would have them looking to Christ, that no damp should gather round their hearts from anything that might befall him, — that nothing which happened, whether to themselves, to other saints, or even to the apostle, should interfere for a moment with their unclouded and abounding confidence in the Lord. So he tells them that he always thus remembered them for their “fellowship with the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that he who hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
There is not even the allowance of the possibility of their turning aside from the bright career both of possessing a Saviour they knew, and of enjoying Him increasingly. He had no theory that first love must necessarily wane and cool down, but the very reverse. Himself the striking witness to the contrary, he looked for nothing less in the saints he so dearly loved. Indeed that which had drawn out the epistle was the proof that the trying circumstances of the apostle had but called out their affections. His being out of sight rather made the remembrance of his words and ways the more distinct, and imparted a chastened earnestness to their desires of pleasing the Lord. “Being confident,” he therefore says, “of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work will perform it unto the day of Jesus Christ, even as it is meet for me to think this of you all.” It is not one who cherished a trust in the Lord’s fidelity spite of what was visible. This counting on the Lord the apostle might have even where things were wrong. It was so as to the Corinthians; nay, it was not wholly wanting for the Galatians, though that which they allowed imperilled the foundations of grace and faith. But the practical ways and spirit of the Philippians were the living evidence not only of life, but, so to speak, of vigorous health in Christ. So it was right for him to anticipate good and not evil, not as in the authorized version and other translations, because “I have you in my heart,” which would be no ground of assurance for them, but because “ye have me in your heart,” which showed their spiritual feelings to be true and sound. This seems to me the real meaning, which the margin gives rightly.
It is a thing more important in practice than many suppose. There is no more common device of Satan than to seek the destruction of the power of testimony by the allowance of evil insinuations against him who renders it. Of course, the enemy would have desired above all and at any cost to lower such an one as the apostle Paul in the loving esteem of God’s saints, more particularly where all had been sweet and happy; but, notwithstanding every effort, grace hitherto had prevailed, and these saints at Philippi felt the more for the apostle when he was a prisoner. When God does not interpose, men are apt to allow reflections and reasonings. Not seldom do they begin to question whether it can be possible that such a one is really of value to the church of God. Would God in this case let His servant be so long kept away from the gospel or the church? Surely there must have been something seriously wrong to judge in him!
It was not thus that the true-hearted Philippians felt; and spiritual feeling is worth more than all reasoning. Their affections were right. Reasonings on such matters are in general miserably wrong. Their sympathies, drawn out by the afflictions of the apostle in his work, were the workings of the Holy Spirit in their souls — at least the instincts of a life that was of Christ, and that judged in view of Him, and not according to appearances. They had him in their heart, as he says, “Inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers with me of grace,” or “of my grace.” “For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ.” For his was a heart deeply sensible of love, and consequently he was not one that had sought either to make the saints dependent upon him, and still less did the apostle depend on the saints for anything that was the fruit of grace in them. He desired not anything for himself, but only what should abound to their account in the day of Jesus Christ. This he must wish for them, if he wished them well. Accordingly he prays for them, that as they had shown this true and unabated love for himself as Christ’s servant, so their love might abound yet more and more, and this too in knowledge and in all judgment.
This is the great value of Christian experience. It is not love growing less but more, and this abounding in intelligence and knowledge, which could not be looked for in saints just beginning their career. There is no necessity — and where is the epistle that more thoroughly disproves the thought of any necessity? — that a saint should decline. To abound in love is far from declension. To “abound yet more and more,” — to have that love tempered by divinely given wisdom and divinely exercised judgment, — is the very reverse of going back. Their true and constant progress was what the apostle had before his own soul in prayer for them, instead of coolly giving up the saints, as if the new nature must grow feebler day by day — as if the things of the world must overcome faith, and the things which are seen outweigh those which are unseen and eternal. Is this your measure of the love of Christ? Is He really so far from any of those that call upon Him?
Thus, then, he prays for them, and to this end, — not that they might become more intelligent merely — not that they might grow more able to discourse of divine things, though I doubt not that there would be growth in these respects also; but all here has an eminently practical form, — “that ye may approve things that are more excellent; that ye may be pure and without offence till the day of Christ.” Such is the thought that the apostle had before his soul of that which became the Christian. He would have one who begins with Christ to (so on with Christ, have nothing but Christ before his eyes, and pursue this path without a stumble till the day of Christ. It is a blessed and refreshing picture even in thought. Oh that the Lord might make it true of His own! This is certainly what the apostle here puts before these saints. “Filled,” says he, “with the fruit of righteousness, which is by Jesus Christ;” for it is all supposed to be fruit, not isolated fruits here and there, but as a whole, which adds greatly to the strength of it. It should be “the fruit of righteousness, which is by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.”
Then he turns, not to doctrine after this opening, but to circumstances, — to circumstances, however, illumined with Christ The most ordinary details are taken out of their own pettiness (though it is really a little mind which counts them petty), and are made simple and genuine, and this through Christ Jesus intermingled with them. Oh, it is a blessed thing, that in the midst of the sorrows of this world, the Holy Spirit knows how thus to blend the name of Christ, as the sweetest balm, with the sorrow, however bitter, and to make the very memory of the grief pleasant because of Christ, who deigns to let Himself into it all. It was this that so cheered the apostle’s heart in his loneliness often, in his desertion sometimes, when the sight of a brother would have given fresh courage to his heart. Looking to the Lord, as it is the life-breath of love, so it adds to the value of brotherly kindness in its season. Thus we know how on approaching Rome Paul was lifted up and comforted, as he saw those who came to greet him. But there he was soon to experience the faltering of brethren; there he was to see not one standing by him in the hour of his shame and need. He must be conformed to his Master in all things; and this was one of them. But out of the midst of bitter experience he had learned Christ, as even he had never known Him before. He had proved long the power and the joy of Christ for every day, and for every circumstance of it.
It was such an one, truly the servant of Jesus Christ, and so much the more their servant because His, even their servant for Jesus’ sake — it was such an one that wrote from Rome to the tried saints at Philippi. Nor was he in that which he was about to write without deep feeling; but he had learned Christ for all; and this is the key-note of the epistle from the first, though only uttered distinctly at the last. He had learned practically what Christ is, and what He does, and what He can enable even the least to do, (as he says himself, “less than the least of all saints,”) and so much the more, because the least in his own eyes.
Thus then he writes, telling them, “I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel.” He knew well how much they might be tried by the report of his own imprisonment, and no deliverance coming as yet. But he had himself gone through the trial; he had weighed it all; he had brought it into the presence of God. He had put all, as it were, into the hands of Christ, who had Himself given him His own comfort about it. “I would, then, that ye should understand, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel.” Once you are right about Christ, you are right about everything while He is before you. There is nothing assuredly right, on the other hand, where Christ is not the object of the soul. With Him you will be right about the gospel, right about the church, right about doctrine, walk, and service. There is not one of these things but may in itself become the veriest snare; and so much the more dangerous because each looks fair. What looks and sounds better than the saints of God? what than the ministry of Christ? what than the testimony for God? Yet there is not one of these things that has not become the ruin of souls; and there are none that ought to know this better than those I am addressing this night. Who have had more mournful proofs of the danger of putting saints practically in the place of Christ? Who have had more palpable witness that service may become the object rather than Christ? Has it not been the rock on which many a gallant bark has made shipwreck?
But now the apostle was shut out from every labour apparently. Surely he, most of all, must have felt the change — the heart that took in the Gentiles, that swept the circle of lands from Jerusalem to Illyricum, that yearned over Spain, ever going out farther and farther, boundless in his desires for the salvation of souls. He was for a considerable time a prisoner. He is at Rome, where he desired to be, no doubt, but which he had never expected to visit as one in bonds. And that he ever was anything but a prisoner there, man at least cannot say. A prisoner he was; and such is all that Scripture tells about him there. We may see the moral harmony of that lot with his testimony, and how suitable it seems that he, who was above all men identified with the gospel of the glory of Christ, should be a prisoner, and nothing but a prisoner in Rome. At any rate, such is the picture that the Holy Spirit gives of him there. And now as he had Christ before his soul, in this way the gospel itself, he can feel, is only promoted so much the more. Far from him was the vanity of being the man first to preach Christ in the great metropolis. He forgot himself in the gospel. His desire above all was that Christ’s name might go forth. This was very dear to him, let God use whom he would. The things that happened to him he could therefore judge calmly and clearly. What seemed to some the death of the gospel was in point of fact distinctly for the furtherance of it.
The manner, too, in which these things happened seemed to make all as remote as possible from furthering the gospel; but here again he brings in Christ. This disperses all clouds from the soul. This filled Paul with sunshine; and he would have others to enjoy the same bright light which the name of Christ cast on every object. And mark, it is not the anticipation of light with Christ in heaven, but His light now while He is in heaven shining on the heart, and on the circumstances of the pathway here below. He says that they had happened rather for the furtherance of the gospel, — “so that my bonds in Christ are manifest;” for this is the way in which he looks at it — “my bonds in Christ.” Oh, how honourable, how sweet and precious, to have bonds in Christ! Other people would have merely thought of or seen bonds under the Roman emperor, the bonds of that great city that ruled over the kings of the earth. Not so Paul. They were bonds in Christ; how then could he be impatient under them? How could any murmur who believed they were really bonds in Christ? “My bonds in Christ,” he says, “are manifest in all the palace.” Strange way of God! but so it was that thus the gospel, the glad tidings of His grace, should reach the highest quarters. They were “manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; and many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by, my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”
Blessed is this confidence in Christ, and wondrous are His ways! Who would have expected that the timid man Nicodemus, and the honourable councillor Joseph of Arimathea, would have been brought out at the very time when even the apostles themselves had fled trembling with fear? Yet they were the witnesses of Christ whom God had put forth at the close; for it was manifestly of Him. God never can fail; and the very trials that would seem to crush all hope for the glory of Christ on the earth are the precise occasions in which God proves that after all it is He alone who triumphs, while man always fails even if he be an apostle. But the weakest of saints (how much more this greatest of the apostles!) cannot but be conqueror, more than conqueror, where the heart is filled with Christ. There was victory to his faith by the grace of God. And so, too, he could now read and interpret all things in that bright light around him. Had he occupied himself with the persons that were so preaching the gospel, how disconsolate he must have been! What might you and I have thought of such? Is it too much to say that many a groan would have gone forth from us that are here? Instead of this a song of joy and thanks comes from the blessed man of God at Rome; for, as he says here, “Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will. The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely,” — nor was this all, but — “supposing to add affliction to my bonds.”
Not only was an utterly wrong spirit indulged in the work itself, and toward others engaged actually in it; but even as to the apostle, shut out from such service, a desire to pain and wound was not wanting. “The one preach Christ of contention supposing to add affliction to my bonds: but the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel. What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached.” Christ is the sovereign balm for every wound; and it was the apostle’s joy, whatever men’s spirit might be, not only to enjoy Christ himself, but that His name was being proclaimed far and wide by many lips, that souls might hear and live. Whatever the motives, whatever the manner, the Lord would surely deal with these in His own day; but, at any rate, Christ was now preached, and God would use this both for His own glory and for the salvation of souls.
Hence, says he, “I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Christ Jesus.” We must carefully remember throughout all this epistle that “salvation” never means acceptance. If this be borne in mind a large part of the difficulty that some have found completely disappears. Impossible that anything done by other saints should turn to one’s acceptance any more than what is done by himself The apostle uses salvation throughout his letter to the Philippians (nor is it confined to this scripture only) in the sense of the complete and final triumph over all the power of Satan. Hence it may be remarked that in the epistle to the Philippians it is not a question of lusts of the flesh; the flesh is not so much as named here, except in a religious way; not in its gross sins, as man would judge, but in its pretensions to religion. See for instance Philippians 3. Hence the conflict is never with internal evil, but rather with Satan. For such conflict we need the power of the Lord and the whole armour of God. But that power displays itself not in our strength, or wisdom, or any conferred resources. The supply of the Spirit of Christ Jesus shows itself in dependence, and this expresses itself therefore in prayer to God. And observe, too, that the apostle felt the value of others’ prayers. They contributed to his. victory over the foe. How lovely that even such a man should speak, not merely of his own prayers, but of theirs, turning all to such account. “This shall turn,” says he, “to my salvation through your prayers, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” There is nothing so unaffectedly humble as real faith, and, above all, that character of faith which lives on Christ, and which consequently lives Christ. Such was the apostle’s faith. To him to live was Christ.
“According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed.” If he desired for them that they should be without one stumble till the day of Christ, it was the purpose to which grace had girded up his own loins. But “that in nothing I shall be ashamed.” What a word, and how calculated to make us ashamed! It is not a question of acceptance in Christ. No; it is practical. It is his state and experience every day, as to which his hope was that in nothing he should be ashamed; “but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ. shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.”
And what is it that gave such a hope to one that owns himself the chief of sinners and less than the least of all saints? There was but one spring of power — even Christ. And, let me observe, it is not merely that Christ is my life. Sweet and wondrous word to say that Christ is our life; but the question is, how are we living? Are we living out that life which we have? Is this the life that is practically exercised? or are there mingled ways and mixed motives? Is there the struggle of the old with the appearance sometimes of the new? Does this content our hearts? Or is it, on the settled judgment of the old as altogether and only self and sin, that we are habitually manifesting Christ? Have we that one blessed person as the hope, motive, beginning, end, way, and power of all that occupies us from day to day? It was so with the apostle. May it be so with us! “To me,” may each say truly, “to live is Christ.”
Habitually, indeed throughout this epistle, we find the word “me,” and a very different “me” from the “me” of Romans 7. There it was an unhappy “me,” though distinct from the flesh: “O wretched man that I am” Here it would be, O happy man that I am! He is one who has his joy exclusively from and in Christ. When first he tasted it, he found it so sweet that he cared for none other. And thus it was the power of the Spirit of God that gave him to look out in the midst of all that he passed through day by day, that all, whatever it might be, should be done to Christ, and so too all by Christ, the Holy Ghost working it, so to speak, in his soul to give him simply and settledly in everything that occurred an opportunity of having Christ Himself as the substance of his living and serving, no matter what might come in the course of duty. “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” In any case, indeed, to the Christian, death is gain; but he could best say it who could say, “To me to live is Christ,” who could say it not merely as the faith of Him, but as a matter of simple, unconstrained, spontaneous enjoyment of Christ in practical ways.
Now he proceeds to give his reason. It is his own personal experience; and this is the reason why we have “I” so often here. It is not legal experience, for which you must turn to the chapter spoken of in Romans 7, the only bit of a saint’s experience under law, as far as I know, that the New Testament affords (certainly in the epistles). But here is the proper experience of a Christian. It is the apostle giving us what his heart was occupied with when he could not go forth in the activities of work, and when it seemed as if he had nothing to do. Now we all know that when a man is carried on the top of the wave, when the winds fill the sails and all goes prosperously, when hearts are gladdened in sorrow, when one witnesses the joy of fresh deliverance from day to day, it is a comparatively easy thing. But to one cut off from such work it was, in appearance at least, a heavy burden and an immense trial; but Christ changes all for us. His yoke is easy, and His burden light. It is Christ, and Christ only, that thus disposes of grief and pressure. And so accordingly His servant says here, “If I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour.”
It is needless to recount the comments on these words. They really mean, this is worth my while, a well-known phrase in Latin too. He puts it as a matter left for him to judge of and decide by Christ. “if I live in the flesh, it is worth my while.” But if not, what then? Why, it was gain. As far as he was concerned, therefore, why could he choose? In a certain sense too he could not, and in another he would not choose. Christ was so truly before his heart, that in fact there was no self left unjudged to warp the choice. This is what brings him, if one may so say, into the dilemma of love. If he left this world, he would be with Christ; if he lived longer in this, world, Christ was with him. In short, he was so living Christ, that it was only a question of Christ here, and of Christ there. After all it was better for Christ to choose, not for him. But the moment he has Christ before him thus, he judges according to the affections of Christ, and he looks at the need of saints here below.
The question is at once settled as a matter of faith. Though he wist not to choose what between the two before, when the need of souls rises before him, he says that he shall live, and is not yet going to die. Through the wonderful sight of the love of Christ, this answered the question to his faith, leaving all circumstances entirely aside. Witnesses, prosecutors, judges, emperor, everybody, became, in point of fact, nothing to him. “I can do all things,” as he says elsewhere, “through him that strengtheneth me.” So he could settle now about his life and death. “Therefore,” says he, — though I am in a strait betwixt two,” as he had said before, “having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you. And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith; that your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again.”
Only he desires that their conversation should be as it became the gospel of Christ. It was not merely their calling in Christ, their being Christians, that was before him, but a walk as it became the gospel of Christ. It is not at all as the objects of the gospel, but as having fellowship with it, their hearts bound up and identified with all the trials and difficulties that the gospel was sustaining in its course throughout the world. “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ.” Thus fervour of desire for others is the happy index of this whenever coupled with adequate knowledge of ourselves. But how can this be unless the heart is perfectly at ease as to itself? “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ.” Let me press this, because alas! there is no small tendency whenever people know the gospel well, if this be all, to settle down, thinking they have nothing more to do with the matter. It was not so with the Philippians. They had so much the more to do because Christ had done all for their souls. They were coupled with the gospel in all its conflict and progress. It was not because of their own personal interest, though this was great and fresh, but they loved that it should go forth. They identified themselves, therefore, with all who were declaring it throughout the world. Hence he desired that their conversation should be as became such zeal; “that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; and in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God.”
This is the more important, because such fear is the main weapon of Satan. It is always the power of Satan that is in view here. He is regarded as the true adversary, working, of course, by human means; but none the less is it his power. It may be remarked here, that from an expression often misunderstood in Philippians 2 it might seem as if the apostle wished somehow to weaken their confidence. So unbelief interprets, but most assuredly it is wrong. The apostle does call for “fear and trembling” on the part of the saints in that chapter; but there is not an atom of dread or doubt in it. He would have them realize the solemnity of the strife that is going on. He desires for them, not anxiety about the issue of it, but true gravity of spirit, because of feeling that it is a question between God and the devil, and that we have to do with that struggle in the most direct way. We need to draw from God, the spring and the only supplier of power that can resist the devil; but, at the same time, that we have the devil to resist in His power is a conviction that may well demand “fear and trembling;” and this, lest in such a conflict we should let in anything of self, which would at once give a handle to the devil. In Him, we, know, who was the perfect model in the same warfare, which He fought single-handed, conquering for God’s glory and for us, the prince of this world came, and had nothing in Him, absolutely nothing. With us it is far otherwise; and only as we live on Christ do we remove, as it were, from the enemy’s hand that which would furnish him abundant occasion.
In rich measure did the apostle live thus himself — it was the one thing he did; and he would have the saints to be living in it too. “In nothing,” says he, “terrified by your adversaries [this is the other side]: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God. For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.” Thus the very suffering which unbelief might interpret wrongly, and regard as a severe chastening, and so cause the heart to be cast down, instead of taking comfort before God, the suffering for Christ’s sake is a gift of His love, as much a gift as the believing in Christ for the salvation of the soul. For, in point of fact, through this epistle salvation is seen as going on from first to last, and not yet complete, being never viewed as such till the conflict with Satan is altogether closed. Such is the sense of it here. Hence he speaks of the conflict which they once saw to be in him, and now heard to be in him.
Next, not only did he exhort them not to be terrified by the power of Satan, which is itself an evident and solemn sign of perdition to those that oppose the saints of God; but he calls on them to cast out the sources of disunion among themselves; and this he does in the most touching way. They had been manifesting their mindful love for the apostle, who on his part was certainly not forgetful of its least token. If, then, they really loved him, — “If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if there be any comfort of love, any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies,” — he would venture to seek another proof of it. That there was all this abundantly in these saints he did not doubt; they had just shown him the fruit of love personally. Did he want more for himself? Far from it. There was another way which would best prove it to his heart; it was not something future secured to Paul in his need, which would be the way of nature, not of love or faith. Not so: Christ is always better; and so says he, “Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vain-glory.” There is always danger of these, and the more so where there is activity among souls. There was evidently energy among these Philippians. This commonly is apt to give occasion for strife as well as vain-glory. No saints are outside the danger.
Nothing, then, would the apostle have done in strife or vain-glory; “‘ but in lowliness of mind each esteeming other better than themselves.” Let me look at another as he is in Christ. Let me think of myself as one that is serving Him (oh, how feebly and failingly!) in this relationship, and it is an easy thing to esteem others better than myself. It is not sentiment, but a genuine feeling, thus “looking not each at his own things, but each also at the things of others.” Now the saint that has Christ Himself before him looks abroad with desires according to the activity of divine love.
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself.” There are two chief stages of His humiliation flowing out of His perfect love. First of all He emptied Himself, becoming a slave and a man; and having thus come down, so as to take His place in the likeness of men, He, found in figure as a man, humbled Himself, becoming obedient even to the lowest point of degradation here below. He “became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
It will be observed that there is no such thing in the first instance as “to the glory of God,” when we hear of all bowing in the name of Jesus. To the confession of His Lordship is added “to the glory of God the Father.” The reason is, in my judgment, perfectly beautiful. “Jesus” is His own name, His personal name. Jesus is Jehovah, although a man; consequently the bowing in that name to the glory of God the Father does not occur to the apostle. Why, then, is it so in the next instance? Because he looks at Jesus, not in His own personal right and glory, where necessarily all must bow, but rather at Him in His official place as Lord — the place He has righteously acquired as man. This is wholly distinct from His own intrinsic eternal glory. He was made Lord and Christ. The moment you look at what He is made, then it is to the glory of Him who thus exalted Him. It was God the Father that made Him Lord and Christ, but God the Father never made Him Jehovah. He was Jehovah, equal with God the Father. Impossible that He could be made Jehovah. Reason and sense are out of the question, though reason must reject a creature’s becoming God. Such a notion is unknown to scripture, and revolting to the spiritual mind. Hence we see the great importance of this truth. All error is founded on a misuse of a truth against the truth. The only safeguard of the saints, of those that love the truth and Himself, is simple subjection to the word of God — to the whole truth He has revealed in scripture.
Evidently, therefore, two glories of Jesus are referred to here. There is His own personal glory; and this first. The other is what suits it, but a conferred position. If Jehovah so served, it was but natural that He should be made Lord of all, and so He is. It was due to His humiliation and obedience; and so it is here treated.
Thus, in both parts of the history of Christ, presented to us in no obscure contrast with the first Adam, we have first of all His own glory, who humbled Himself to become a servant. The very fact, or way of putting it, supposes Him to be a divine person. Had He not been God in His own being and title, it would have been no humiliation to be a servant, nor could it be indeed a question of taking such a place. The archangel is at best but a servant; the highest creature, far from having to stoop in order to become a servant, can never rise above that condition. Jesus had to empty Himself to become a servant. He is God equally with the Father. But having deigned to become a servant, He goes down lower still. He must retrieve the glory of God in that very death which confessedly had brought the greatest shame on God outwardly. For God had made the world full of life; He “saw every thing that He had made, and, behold, it was very good,” and Satan apparently won the victory over Him in it. All here below was plunged under the sentence of death through Adam’s sin; and God’s word could but seal it till redemption.
The Lord Jesus not only comes down into the place of servant in love among men, but goes down into the last fortress of the enemy’s power. He breaks it completely, becomes conqueror for ever, wins the title for God’s grace to deliver righteously every creature, save only those who, far from receiving Christ, dare to reject Him because of that very nature which He took on Him, and that infinite work on the cross which had caused Him suffering to the utmost in working all out for the glory of God. Oh, is it not awful to think, that the best proof of the love of Christ and of His glory is the very ground which the base heart of man turns into a reason for denying both His love and His glory? But so it is; and thus the food of faith becomes the poison of unbelief. But the day is coming when every knee shall bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth.” Not that all shall be delivered and centred in Him, but that all must bow. All who believe shall surely shine in His glory; and the universal creation, which, belonging to Him as His inheritance, He will share with His own, shall be reconciled and delivered in due time. But there are the things, or if you will, the persons under the earth which can never be delivered. Yet these shall bow, no less than those in heaven, or on earth. In His name all must bow. Thus the difference between reconciliation and subjection is manifest. The lost must bow; the devils must bow; the lake of fire must own the glory of Him who has power to cast them there, as it is said, “unto the glory of God the Father.” But all in heaven and on earth shall be in reconciliation with God and headed up in Christ, with whom the Church shall share the unbounded inheritance. (Compare Eph. 1 and Col. 1) But all, even these in hell, must confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
But now the apostle turns to the use that he makes of so blessed a pattern, “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence.” It was the exact reverse in good of what the Galatians were in evil, for they had been cordial and bright when the apostle was with them; but directly his back was turned, their hearts were alienated. Even he who knew them well marvelled that they were so soon shifting, not only from him, but from the gospel, after he left them. But with the Philippians there was increased jealousy for Christ. They were more obedient in his absence than in his presence. Hence he calls upon them, as one that could not be with them to help them in the conflict, to work out their own salvation. Such is the force of the exhortation. This epistle is therefore eminently instructive to those who could not have an apostle with them. God was pleased, even whilst the apostle was alive, to set him aside and to prove the power of faith where he was not.
Hence he says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” It is not the dread of losing the Saviour of their souls, but because they felt for His name; “for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” Therefore he intreated them to “do all things without murmurings and reasonings, that they might be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, — in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom they shone as lights in the world; holding forth the word of life.” It is a description that might almost do for Christ himself, so high is the standard for those that belong to Christ. Christ was surely blameless in the highest sense, as His ways were harmless, — “holy, harmless, undefiled,” as it is said elsewhere. Christ was Son of God in a sole and supreme sense. Christ was “without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation.” Christ shone as the true light in the world — the light of life. Christ held it forth; nay, more, He was it. For what believer would deny that, however close the conformity, there is always that dignity and perfection which is proper to Christ, and exclusively His? Let us uphold the glory of His person, but, nevertheless, let us not forget how the apostle’s picture of the saint resembles the Master! Like, another apostle (2 John 8) he does not hesitate to blend with all this an appeal to their hearts for his own service in their well-being.
“That” (says he, after he had exhorted the Philippians thus to stand,) “I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain. Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith.” How truly he accounted himself less than the least of them! How gladly would he be a libation upon the sacrifice of their faith! He esteemed men better than himself. He too in love still keeps up the servant-character, and gives them as it were the Christ-character. This is the unfailing secret of it all — the true source of humility in service. “For the same cause also do ye joy and rejoice with me. But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timotheus shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state.”
And now there is the most lovely picture of Christ again; for it is always Christ here, and this again practically. Timothy was very dear to him, and was then with him; but he is going to part with the one that was so much the more valued by him in his solitariness and sorrow because of his circumstances at Rome. Indeed he esteemed others better than himself. He is just about to send Timothy from himself that he might know about them. “For I have no man like-minded, who will naturally care for your state.” Timothy shared the unselfishness of the apostle’s heart. “For they all seek their own.” It might have been thought that so much the more would Paul need his love and services. Whatever he needed, love is never itself but in unselfish action and suffering. I speak of Christian love, of course. “For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s. But ye know the proof of him, that, as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel. Him therefore I hope to send presently, so soon as I shall see how it will go with me. But I trust in the Lord that I also myself shall come shortly. Yet I supposed it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labour, and fellow-soldier, but your messenger, and he that ministered to my wants.”
He loves, we see, to couple with the relationship to himself what was related to them. Epaphroditus was his fellow-servant, and indeed more than that — “my brother, and companion in labour, and fellow-soldier, but your messenger, and he that ministered to my wants. For he longed after you all, and was full of heaviness.” Why? because he. himself had been sick? No; but “because that ye had heard that he had been sick.” How lovely that this it was that pained him — unselfish love! the love of Christ everywhere! “For indeed he was sick nigh unto death: but God had mercy on him.” Was this all the apostle had to say? Not so. “And not on him only, but on me also,” (what a difference is made when love interprets!) “lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I sent him therefore the more carefully, that, when ye see him again, ye may rejoice, and that I may be [not rejoicing here, but] the less sorrowful.” He did feel it. Love feels acutely — nothing so much; but it triumphs. “Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness; and hold such in reputation” (he would turn it again to practical profit as to others): “because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me.”
This chapter then looks for the working of the gracious feelings of Christ Himself in the Christian individually, showing us, first, the fulness of them all in Christ in contrast with the first Adam. But it gives us also the effect of Christ in the saints eventually — of Paul himself, of Timothy, of Epaphroditus, and indeed of the Philippian saints. It shows us grace practically in different measures and forms. But the (trace of Christ wrought in them all; and that was the great joy and delight of the apostle’s heart.
In Philippians 3 it is not the display of intrinsic affection in Christ, or the gracious dispositions of Christ in the saints. Not the passive side of the Christian as being in the world, but the active comes before us. Accordingly, this being not so directly the subject of the epistle though a Very important part of it, it comes in parenthetically in a large measure, not now in any wise as a question of truth or development of the mystery of Christ, as we saw in Ephesians 3, but, nevertheless, as a parenthesis; for he resumes afterwards the internal side again, as we shall see in Philippians 4. Energy is not the best or highest aspect of Christianity. There is real power, there is strength from God that works in the saint; but the feelings of Christ, the mind of Christ morally, is better than all energy. Nevertheless, energy there is, and this assuredly judges what is contrary to Christ.
Here, accordingly, it is not the outgoings of love, but the zeal that burns indignantly as to what dishonours the Lord. This is one of the main features of our chapter. “Finally,” says he, “my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe. Beware of doers.” In Matthew 23 we have woe upon woe pronounced upon scribes and Pharisees, and so it is here. As it was a true though distressing part for Christ to judge religious evil, something akin could not be absent here; but at the same time it was by no means a prominent characteristic of Christ’s task here below — far from it. It was a necessary duty sometimes as things are on the earth, but nothing more; and so it is still. “Beware of evil workers; beware of the concision.”
“For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” This is the only allusion, as far as I know, to flesh in this epistle, but it is flesh in its religious form, and not as a source of evil lusts and passions. It is all judged, and its religious form not least, by Christ “Though,” says he, “I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other” — carrying on the same thought of the flesh — “if any other man thinketh that he hath matter of trust in the flesh, I more. Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” And what did the apostle do with all this roll of fleshly advantages? It was seen laid in the grave of Christ. “What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.” Will it be said that this is what the apostle felt, and did, and suffered in the freshness of his first acquaintance with Christ? It was also what he carried up to the moment of writing to the Philippians as ardently as ever. “Yea,” said he, “and I count all things but loss.” It is not only his reckoning in the first fervour of love for the Saviour. “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.”
Such experience is both a real and a precious boon. Let us not mistake in this; let us not be driven from it by a too common misuse. That which men call by this name is really the trial of what flesh is under law much more than experience of Christ. But let us not be turned aside, and think that it is merely a question of believing and of knowing our place secure; but let us live of that very Christ who is our life. This is what he did, and accordingly this is the source, not merely of a firm faith and confidence as to the issue, but of present joy and all-overcoming power. This is what gives force to our affections, and rivets them on Christ. This is, accordingly, what flows forth in praise from himself, and in calling out praise from other hearts. So he says here, “For the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung.” Thus the two things are repeated — the past judgment and the present power: “and do count them but dung, that I may, win Christ.” This will be, no doubt, at the end of the journey: the faithful win Christ where He is. For it is not meant looking to Him now, or having Him as one’s life: to win Christ means having Him at the other side. He always looks there in Philippians.
It is not at all a question of what one has here. This has its most weighty place elsewhere; but when it is a question of experience, the end cannot be here. There is the present joy of Christ; but this does not content the soul. The more one enjoys Christ here, the more one wants to be with Him there. “That I may win Christ,” therefore he says; “and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law.” This was precisely what he desired when a Jew. Now, having seen Christ, if he could even bring his own righteousness into heaven, he would not. It would be mere independence of Christ if he could have stood without a single flaw, as blameless, in fact, as in a certain sense outwardly he was under the law, until the Spirit of God gave him to see what he was in God’s mind. Then he found himself a dead man — condemned and powerless. But supposing it possible to be clothed with the righteousness of the law, he would not have it now. He had got a better righteousness, and he desired nothing so much as to be found in Christ, having that which is through faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith. Nothing but the righteousness that was of God as its source satisfied him. It is the only place in Scripture where the phrase means, not simply the righteousness of God in point of character, but the righteousness of God in point of source. Such is the meaning here. Elsewhere it is God’s or divine righteousness. Here the object seems to be to make its difference from legal obedience more felt — the contrast with the law more complete.
“That I may know him.” Now here we have what is present; so that the passage presents some difficulty to souls because of intermingling the present with the future. Thus easily do we fall into error, because the human mind likes to have either one thing or another, and thus avoid all difficulty in Scripture, having each squared according to our notions. But it is not so that God has written His word. Nevertheless, God will surely teach His own, and knows how to clear up what is hidden from them. He has written His word not to perplex, but to enlighten. Thus the true bearing of the passage is, that from the first the eye of faith is fixed steadily on the end of the journey. “That I may win Christ, and be found in him” — where not a vestige of self remains, but all will be Christ, and nothing but Christ. This is the righteousness whose source is in God; it is also by faith of Christ, and not through the law, which, of course, would have man’s righteousness if it could.
But now he adds, “That I may know him” (speaking of entrance by faith into communion with Christ)” that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection.” This is open to the heart now. “And the fellowship of his sufferings” — again and certainly a present thing, not relating to heaven. “Being made conformable to his death:” — this too is clearly in the world now. “If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection from the dead.”1 Clearly we here look out of the world and into a state to come, when we have the consummation of our hopes and the end of the journey. This is what he calls “salvation.” It cannot be till the Christ is risen according to the pattern of Christ Himself.
Dr. S. T. Bloomfield indeed (Addit. Annotations in loc.) admits that the external testimony is quite in its favour, though it is hard to see what he means by the internal evidence being in this case denied; for he suggests himself that
τὴν ἐκ may have been a correction proceeding from those who thought that the sense which the context requires, “the resurrection from the dead,” could not be extracted from
ἐξαν. τῶν νεκρῶν. The critical reading he owns has force and propriety; but he does “not see why
ἐξανάστ. τῶν νεκρῶν should not of itself have the same sense as that conveyed, with more propriety of expression (and for that reason likely to be adopted in the early Uncial MSS.),
ἐξαν. τὴν ἐκ νεκρῶν. Little probable is it that the reading,
ἐξανάστ. τὴν ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν should have been altered to
τῶν νεκρ. There is great reason to think that the
ἐξ arose from those who thought it necessary to the sense, and did not see that it could be fetched from the
ἐξανάστ. Hence I am inclined to retain
ἐξαν. τῶν νεκρ. as a popular and familiar mode of expression (suitable to the persons addressed), according to which the expressions
ἐξαν. τῶν advert — as at Rom. 4:16, and elsewhere — to the state of the persons in question, that state or kind of resurrection unto life of those who have died in the Lord, and whose resurrection will be a resurrection unto life and glory, their bodies being raised incorruptible, and both body and soul united for ever with the Lord. See 1 Thess. 4:6-18.”
I have transcribed this note at length, because it is a fair sample of Dr. B.’s critical, scholastic, and exegetic manner. Enough has been already said above, before I even knew of his reasoning, to prove how unfounded it is in every point of view. The internal evidence (i.e. the scope of the context) is as decidedly for
τὴν ἐκ as the weightiest external witnesses. How the text got gradually changed from the most correct form (not correction) in the early Uncials has been explained. When the distinction of the resurrection of the just from that of the unjust got lost in Christendom, and all were merged in the error of one general indiscriminate resurrection, one can understand that people would not feel the impropriety of substituting
τὴν ἐκ (for as to
τὴν ἐκ τῶν, of which Dr. B. speaks, it exists in no document whatever). There is therefore not the slightest ground to countenance the rather dangerous idea, that the apostle did not employ a phrase analogous to the correct one which is found elsewhere in the New Testament, and adopted “a popular and familiar mode of expression,” i.e. a really inaccurate mode. And why should our Lord adopt a correct form to the Sadducees (Luke 20 repeated in Acts 4), and Paul an incorrect one to the Philippians? Who can understand why it should be “suitable to the persons addressed,” on Dr. B’s showing? Of the two, the converse would be more intelligible; but my conviction is that both the Lord and His apostle used similar and correct phraseology, as did the Holy Spirit elsewhere. And as to Rom. 4:17 (which was probably meant rather than 16), it has no bearing on the matter, as it is there merely a question of God’s power displayed in quickening the dead, and calling things that are not in being as in being, and in no way distinguishing the resurrection of life from that of judgment. When the state or kind of resurrection is meant to be expressed, the anarthrous form is requisite, as we see in verse 24 of this very chapter, and regularly so. (See Rom. 1:4.) I believe, therefore, that
ἐξανάστασιν, especially if
ἐκ be supposed to be fetched (as Dr. B. says) from
ἐξανάστ, is incompatible with
τῶν νεκρῶν, the one conveying the notion of a selected company, and the other of the dead universally. Modern editors of value, however differing in their system of recension agree in the ancient as against the received reading; so Scholz, Lachmann, Tischendorf, Ellicott, Alford, Tregelles, Wordsworth, etc.
Thus we see here the power of a risen and a heavenly Christ, not now treated doctrinally as in 1 Corinthians 15 or 2 Corinthians 5 and elsewhere, but as that which bears on the Christian for the constant experience of every day. Hence that which judged and put aside religion after the flesh, righteousness after the law, all that was now left completely and for ever behind, and the saint is set on the road that nothing can satisfy him but being in the same glorious condition with Christ Himself. Hence he says, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind.” This, carefully remember, does not mean forgetting sins. Far from losing sight of our past ways, it is a very wholesome thing indeed to remember them: we are never safe in forgetting what we are and have been. What he means by forgetting the things that are behind is, that we should not think of any progress we may have made in following Christ, — that we should lose sight of everything calculated to give us self-satisfaction. This were to spoil all, because it would please the flesh.
It is our progress then that we are to forget. Let us be humbled on account of our sins. Self-judgment, where grace is known, is a most wholesome exercise of soul; and we shall have it in perfection even in heaven itself before the judgment-seat of Christ. One of the elements of heavenly happiness will be the calm and settled knowledge of all that we have been here below. This will not detract for an instant from the perfect enjoyment of Christ, but rather promote it so much the more, making it more evidently and always pure grace even in glory. Thus “forgetting those things which are behind” refers to the progress that we may make. True experience is still the great theme which the apostle has in hand here as well as in his own personal history. He was too much bent on what was before to be occupied with calling to mind what was behind him; it must have impeded him in the race. “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise [i.e. differently] minded, this also will God reveal to you.” Differences there may be among the saints, and especially when we come to the question of experience. But in truth it may betray itself in doctrine and practice in various shapes.
And what is the true divine rule? Is it agreeing to differ? This is but a poor human resource, as unworthy of the saints as of the truth of God, who would not have us to wink at any mistake. It is no rule, but an evasion. There is, however, a sure and only divine standard: as far as we have attained, our call is to walk in the same path. And this is true from the first moment of our career as God’s children. For, let me ask, what is our title to communion? What is it that brings us into the blessed fellowship that we enjoy? There is but one title, there can be no sufficient ground but the name of Christ — Christ known and confessed in the Holy Ghost; and where He is simply before us, the progress is most real, if not always easy and sensible. It is not meant that there are no difficulties, but that Christ makes the burden light and all happy to the praise of God’s grace; whereas any other means or measure detracts from His glory and draws attention to self.
Supposing, for instance, we mingle with Christ knowledge or intelligence about this truth or that practice, does it not give a necessary prominence to certain distinctive points, which so far must make Christ of less account? Even, therefore, if you could have (what is impossible) ever so much real spiritual knowledge along with Christ, who would so much as notice these acquisitions in comparison with Christ? Let us merely take up a single point of the primary ground of fitness for fellowship, which is often a difficulty with the saints. Yet the truth as to this abides, not only at the starting-point, but all the way through. What is there that you can rightly plead but Christ’s own name? And this ground is one which always brings in the strength of the Holy Ghost, as it is based on God’s mighty work of redemption. If right here, we are at one, so to speak, with His present purposes. What is the Spirit now doing? He is exalting Christ. It is not merely exalting His work, or His cross; it is not so much His blood, as Christ Himself. The name of Christ Himself is the true centre of the saints; unto this the Spirit gathers. As he had said elsewhere before, so he says here, “Be followers together of me, and mark them which walk — so as ye have us for an ensample. For 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.” Thus, as at the beginning of the chapter, there was the energy that went out against the evil workers, with a religious mind after the flesh, so now there is the energy that bursts forth against those that were misusing Christianity, making it an earthly system, setting their mind on things here below, under the name of the Lord Jesus; and between the two, is set forth the positiveness, if one may so speak, of Christ Himself.
It is plain, then, that in Philippians 2 the great spring of power is the love and the glory of Him who came down; who, even when He did so come, went down still lower, where none could accompany Him. Yet we may follow, and seek conformity unto His death; but there was that in His death on the cross which could be His alone.
In Philippians 3 there is no coming down from glory in the power of divine love, resulting in His exaltation by and for the glory of God the Father after a new sort. Here we see One who is in glory, and on whom the eye of the believer is set; and accordingly the judgment of evil is from the side of heaven. The one thing that suits is to pursue the glory before him, till he is in the same glory along with Christ. This is the object set before us in Philippians 3. The one therefore, I say, is the passive side of the Christian; the other is his activity. The passive shines in Christ coming down; the active is realized by the eye that is fixed on Christ, who is actually in glory. This separates from all, and judges the best of man to be dung, as the former conforms the heart after His love.
Philippians 4 is founded on both. The apostle takes up, no doubt, the sweet affections of chapter 2, but then they are strengthened by the energy that Christ seen in glory imparts, as in chapter 3. Hence he thus opens, “Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown.” One cannot overlook the amazing strength with which he speaks even of his affections. “My joy and crown,” “my dearly beloved.” Not that there were not difficulties; there were many. “I beseech Evodia” (we may just notice the true form in passing; Euodias sounds like a man’s name, whereas here it is really a woman). “I beseech Evodia, and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord. Yea [not and], I entreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which labour with me.” According to the true meaning it is not others, but those very sisters that he commends to Epaphroditus in desire for their blessing, “which labour with me in the gospel [or seeing that they shared the conflict of the gospel with me].” “Laboured” gives a wrong sense. Many hence have wrongly gathered that they were preachers. There is really no reason to suppose that they preached at all. What they did seems a much more proper thing, in my judgment, for a woman. They shared the conflict of the gospel; they partook of the reproach that covered those who preached it. This is lost in the idea of labouring in it. We must think rather of the conflict of the gospel: there was often for all concerned disgrace, and pain, and scorn.
Let nobody suppose me to insinuate that a woman is not in place when exercising, according to the Scripture, any gift God has given her. Women may have gifts as well as men. We are not to suppose that, because we are men, we monopolise all the gifts of Christ. Let us see to it that we walk according to the place which God has given us. At the same time, God’s word is to me plain as to the manner in which the gifts are to be exercised. And is there not evidently a path of unobtrusiveness (for the veil or sign of power on the woman’s head is no vain figure) which most befits a woman? I believe that a woman shines most where she does not appear. Hers is a more delicate place than that which becomes the man, and one which a man attempting it would awkwardly fill. But while a man is quite unfit to do a woman’s work, can it be doubted that a woman brings no honour to herself, or to the Lord, by attempting to do a man’s task? The Lord has laid down their places respectively with distinctness. It is ignorance and absurdity to answer such scriptures by the text, that in Christ there is neither male nor female. We do not speak of standing in Christ now, but of their allotted services. In this we hear of difference; and scripture does not obliterate but contrariwise asserts it, and treats the practical denial of it as a scandal brought in by Corinthian headiness. No doubt the new creation is essentially neither male nor female; it is not a race perpetuated in a fleshly way; but all things are of God and in Christ. Notwithstanding, it has been already explained that the man has a relative place as the image and glory of God, being set in a remarkable position between God and the woman in matters of outward decorum.
Returning, however, to the women Evodia and Syntyche, they had devoted themselves to an exceedingly happy and prized service. They joined with those who preached the truth and partook of their obloquy. They helped them, and in that sense “laboured” if you will. At any rate they endured the conflicts of the gospel in its earlier days at Philippi. Why should women expose, themselves? Why go in the way of crowds of soldiers or civil officers? Why should such as they face the unmannerly officials that took advantage of the imperial government to treat with injury those identified with the gospel? Love does not calculate these costs and dangers, but goes calmly forward, come what will, trouble, scorn, or death. No wonder the apostle was grieved to think of differences among such women as these. “Help them” (says he) “with Clement also, and with my other fellow-labourers, whose names are in the book of life.”
Finally, he calls them again to rejoice, and now with more emphasis than ever. “Rejoice in the Lord alway.” in sorrow? Yes. In affliction, in prison, everywhere. “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.” He did not make a mistake. He did not forget, but meant what he said. “Again I say, Rejoice.” Let your moderation go along with it, because along with this joy there might be a certain enthusiastic spirit that would hinder calm judgment. But this is not the character of Christian joy. “Let your moderation be known unto all men;” that is, the meekness and gentleness which bends to the blow, instead of resisting it in the spirit that ever asserts its rights and fights for them. Have rather that spirit which counts nothing as a right to be claimed, but all one has as gifts of grace to be freely used in this world, because one has Christ in view. “Let your moderation be known unto all men,” strengthened by this consolatory truth, — “the Lord is at hand.”
And this nearness of Christ I take simply to be the blessed hope here made a practical power. It is not the Lord at hand to succour one now and here from time to time. No one denies this, which is, or ought to be, no new thing for a Christian. He means the Lord, really, personally, at hand; as he had said in the end of the last chapter, that this was what we look for. “Our conversation is in heaven; from whence we wait for the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour” — for this is the true meaning of it. And this puts the doctrine, as far as there is doctrine in the epistle, in a very clear light. There is no looking at Him as Saviour on the cross merely; but when He comes for us, there will be in the filial sense (as ever in our epistle) “salvation.” Thus he anticipates the removal of the last trace of the first Adam; he looks for our being brought fully, even as to the body, into the likeness of the Second Man, the last Adam. This is salvation in truth. Hence he says, “We look for the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour: who shall change our vile. body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able to subdue all things unto himself.” It does not matter how unlike they may be, or how opposed; it does not matter what vessels of shame and misery they may have been now; “He is able to subdue all things unto himself.”
Then, as to our practical every-day expectation, “the Lord is at hand.” And, accordingly, why should one be a prey to care, if this be really so? “Be anxious [or be careful] for nothing; but in everything” — this is the resource — “in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.” Better not make them known to men; it is a dangerous snare. By all means let them be made known unto God. There is something which ought to be made known unto men, namely, the not fighting for your rights. “Let your moderation be made known unto men.” “Let your requests be made known unto God.” It is not that you have failed, perhaps, or broken down in some particular. Certainly this is painful and humbling. But it is better for you to lose your character, than for Christ through you to lose His; for you are responsible to display the character of Christ. “Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.” “Let your requests,” whatever they may be, “be made known unto God;” and not only so, but “with thanksgiving.” You may be perfectly sure of an answer when you make known your requests: therefore let it be with thanksgiving. And what is the result? “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus,” — feeling, judgment, everything, guarded and governed by this precious peace of God. The peace which God has in everything He will communicate to keep you in everything; and not only so, but the heart, being free from care, will enter into what pleases Him. And therefore, “whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Instead of occupying oneself with all one hears that would cast down, now that we have committed all. that is miserable to God, we can go on delighting in the goodness of God, as well as in its fruits. In God there is ample supply. All we want is, that the eye of faith be a little open; but it is only Christ before the eye that keeps it open.
Then he turns to what had drawn out the epistle. “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.” So tender, so delicate is his sense, that he would not spare what was needful if there had been any want of thought, but at the same time he hastens to make whatever apology love could suggest. “Not,” says he, “that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am,” — this is the great design of the epistle; it was not truth that was made known simply, but experience that was grown into — “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through him who strengtheneth me.” At the same time he intimates his value for their love, and takes care that his was independence founded on dependence, — an independence of circumstances which finds its strength in simple and absolute dependence upon God.
So the apostle lets them know that he owned their hearty love; “not,” he says, “because I desire a gift.” For no personal end did he mention their grace; “but I desire fruit that may abound to your account.” It was not that he wanted more. We know well that as men have sarcastically said, gratitude is a kind of fishing for fresh favours. There was the very reverse in Paul’s case. As he tells them, fruit that might abound to their account was all that his heart really yearned after. Their gift to him was “an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God.” What a God is ours, so to treat that which, connected with the world, Christ Himself calls “unrighteous mammon!” His goodness can even take this up and thus make it fragrant even to Himself. “But my God shall supply all your need.” How rich and full he was of the goodness of the God he had proved so long and could recommend so well! And there is not now merely His riches of grace, but he looks forward into the glory where he was going, and can say, “My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”
Thus with salutations of love he closes this most characteristic and cheering even of Paul’s epistles.
1 There is no reasonable doubt that the received text is wrong, followed by the Authorised Version (“of,” instead of “from” the dead). The Alexandrian, Vatican, Sinai, Clermont, and St. Germain Uncials, supported by some ten cursives, very many versions, and the chief Greek and Latin ecclesiastical writers read
τὴν ἐξανάσταιν τὴν ἐκ νεκρῶν. Codd. F and G, by manifest error, read
τῶν ἐκ, and this seems to have been corrected (or rather corrupted) in order to make sense into
ἐκ) in K and L and the mass of cursives. But in my opinion the sense, and even the Greek, seems bad; for on the one hand both
ἐξανάστασιν and the drift of the argument point to a resurrection of favour and blessedness, not to that in which the unjust must rise to judgment; while on the other hand
τῶν νεκρῶν would imply the dead, i.e. all the dead, as a class. Hence I cannot but consider it a surprising error in Griesbach that he edited the received text in this place. Alter and Matthaei followed according to their plan the manuscripts before them; but the latter was too good a scholar not to feel the difference, though he appears to impute it to a corrector for the sake of elegance in his second edition. Long before them, Mill had given his judgment in favour of the more ancient reading; and Wetstein repeated it apparently with approval. Bengel hesitated; but Dr. Wells in this, as in many other instances, showed his sound judgment and quiet courage in rejecting the common text, and adopting that which has by far the best authorities.