I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace. For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels [or, tenderness] of Jesus Christ. And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment [or, perception]; that ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence [or, blameless] till the day of Christ. Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God. (vv. 3-11)
In these verses we have the apostle’s own introduction to this delightful specimen of early Christian correspondence. His interest in the saints at Philippi did not cease with his leaving their city. Through all the years that had passed he had borne them on his heart, and presented them to God in prayer. There were sweet and blessed memories too that filled him with gladness as he looked back on the season of ministry spent among them, and as he learned of their continuance in the grace of God in after days.
He thanks God upon every remembrance of them. There was nothing, apparently, in their past history that had caused him pain or anxiety of mind. And so, in every prayer of his for them all, he preferred his request with joy. Their fellowship with him in the gospel had been consistent from the beginning. It will be noticed what a large place “fellowship” has in this epistle, and also how frequently “the gospel” is mentioned. An assembly of saints walking together in the fear of the Lord, exercised about holding forth the Word of Life to the unsaved, is likely to know more of real fellowship than a company of believers occupied chiefly with their own affairs, their own blessings—all about themselves. On the other hand, no assembly can prosper that fails to recognize the importance of the divine and holy principles given in the Word to guide believers in this scene.
Fellowship in the gospel may be exercised in various ways: by prayer, by participation in the public testimony, by furnishing the means to enable the laborer to go forth unhindered by perplexities and anxieties as to necessary means to carry on his work. Every servant of Christ going forth for the Name’s sake, “taking nothing of the Gentiles,” should be entirely cast upon the Lord for his support. On the other hand, it should be esteemed a privilege on the part of those abiding at home, to help them by ministering in temporal things; and such ministry will never be forgotten by Him who has said, “ [Whosoever] receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward.”
I remember a brother’s definition of fellowship. He was a teamster, and was asked, “What do you understand by fellowship?” He replied, “For each one to pull his own trace and keep it tight.” The simile is a crude one, but will be readily understood.
It is noticeable that the apostle had no doubt as to the final outcome for every true believer. He was absolutely confident that the One who had begun a good work in them would never leave off until He had perfected that which He Himself had commenced. But this would only be attained and manifested in the day of Jesus Christ. A godly old brother used often to say, “The Lord always looks at His people as they will be when they are done.” And it is well for us if we can learn to look at them in the same way.
An incident is told of an artist who had conceived in his mind a great picture, which he meant to be the masterpiece of his life. He was working on a large canvas, putting in the drabs and grays that were to compose the background, when a friend entered, unnoticed. The artist worked on with enthusiasm, not aware of the onlooker’s presence. But, finally happening to turn, he saw him, and exclaimed, “What do you think of this? I intend it to be the greatest work I have ever done.” His friend burst into a laugh and exclaimed, “Why, to be frank, I don’t think much of it. It seems to me to be only a great daub.” “Ah,” replied the artist, at once sensing the situation, “you cannot see what is going to be there. I can.”
And so it is with God our Father. He sees in every believer that which will be fully brought out at the judgment seat of Christ, and He is working now toward that end. We too often see the present imperfection and forget the future glory. But, in the day of Jesus Christ, when all shall be manifested, every believer will be conformed to the image of God’s blessed Son. Surely we can join with the apostle even now and say, “It is meet for me to think this of you all.” Thus to look upon God’s people will deliver from much strife, and from disappointment, when we see crudities and carnalities in those from whom we had expected better things. It is humbling and healthful too to remember that others probably see similar imperfections in us.
Paul carried the saints in his heart, and, though himself in prison, he recognized their fellowship in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, and rejoiced in the manner in which they shared this grace with him. He calls God to witness how greatly he yearned after every one of them in the tender love of Christ Jesus; and in verses 9-11 we have his prayer, which reminds us somewhat of the prayer in Colossians 1. He would have their love abound yet more and more in knowledge and all perception, or discernment. Brotherly love is not a matter of mere sentimentality; it is love in the truth. And this calls for study of the Word of God in order that one may know just how to manifest that love according to each particular occasion. Let us remember there is never a time when we are not called upon to show love to our brother, but we cannot always manifest it in the same way, if subject to the Word of God. Therefore the need of instruction in that Word, and enlightenment by the Holy Spirit, that we may perceive what is in accordance with the mind of God.
The first clause in the tenth verse is sometimes rendered, “That ye may try the things that differ;” or, as given above, “Approve things that are excellent.” The meaning is practically the same. For by testing things that differ, we approve what is excellent. Again the test is the Word of God. That Word is given to try all things, and it will manifest what is truly excellent, thus giving the believer to understand how he may walk so as to please God, that he may be sincere and blameless in the day of Christ.
Attention has often been called to the striking fact that we have here the anglicized Latin word sincere, meaning, literally, “without wax”—used to translate a Greek word meaning “sun-tested.” It might seem at first as though there is no connection between the two terms. But we are told that the ancients had a very fine porcelain that was greatly valued and brought a very high price. This ware was so fragile that it was only with the greatest difficulty it could be fired without being cracked, and dishonest dealers were in the habit of filling in the cracks that appeared with a pearly-white wax, which looked enough like the true porcelain to pass without being readily detected in the shops. If held to the light, however, the wax was at once manifested as a dark seam, and honest Latin dealers marked their wares “sine cera” (without wax). Thus the apostle would have the saints tested by the sunlight of God’s truth and holiness and found to be without wax, that is, he would have them straightforward, and honorable in all their dealings. Anything that savors of sham or hypocrisy is as the wax used to hide the imperfection in the porcelain.
Blameless (see also 2:15) refers to “motive” rather than to act, I take it. It is not the same thing as sinless, which would, of course, imply complete moral perfection. “Blamelessness” implies right motives. “The fruits of righteousness” of verse 11 is the same as in Hebrews 12:11, where “the peaceable fruit of righteousness” is the result of exercise under the hand of God. All is through Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.