William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament
“Paul and Timothy, the slaves of Christ Jesus, to all the saints who are at Philippi, along with the bishops and deacons.” As Luke is the writer, he here modestly, as usual, omits his own name. In this salutatory verse, Paul declares himself, along with all saints, “the slave of Jesus Christ;” a beautiful allusion to the slavery under the law of Moses, from which all went free responsive to the jubilee trumpets; the law specifying that all who were unwilling to leave their masters might remain forever, having had their ears bored and nailed to the doorposts. All sinners are Satan’s slaves; all wholly-sanctified people are God’s love slaves; while the unsanctified Christians are hired servants in the kingdom of God; e.g., preachers and others working for salaries. Sanctification blows the jubilee trumpet, the tocsin of freedom to all in a justified state; i.e., they can no longer remain in that loose relation, but must heed the incoming dispensation of holiness to the Lord, or go back into the devil’s kingdom, where he will allow them all the freedom of a sinful life.
Thank God, we still find not a few who are unwilling to leave their Master, even if through the ordeal of having their ears bored amid flowing blood, they must be nailed to the door-post forever; i.e., they must march up to the cross, and be nailed to it, where old Adam bleeds and dies, and they become God’s love slaves, world without end. O, the unutterable bliss of God’s love slave!—perfectly free from every care as to food, clothing, lodging, life, death, time, and eternity. He has a check on heaven’s bank for everything he needs in this and all other worlds, fully assured that it is the delight of his Heavenly Father, with the boundless resources of millions of immortal worlds, to render him prosperous and happy. We see here Paul recognizes but two offices in the leadership of the Philippian Church; i.e., “bishops and deacons.” The human ecclesiasticisms have so obscured the popular mind that we actually need the clear illumination of the Holy Ghost to apprehend the simplicity of the New Testament Church. “Bishop” is episcopos,—from epi, over, and scopeo, to see.
Hence, it simply means an overseer; i.e., the pastor of the Church, the leader of those little holiness bands constituting the Apostolic Churches. Now, do not forget that the only bishop known in the New Testament is simply the pastor of a Church. What a pity any Church has ever transcended New Testament precept and example, in the inauguration of the post-apostolical episcopacy, utterly unwarranted in the Scripture, and productive of a thousand corruptions culminating in the papacy! The deacon is the officer in charge of the temporal interests of the Church. He may be a flaming preacher, like Stephen and Philip, but he has charge of the material interest, and the pastor or bishop the spiritual.
CHRISTIAN PERFECTION AND THE LORD’S THE TWO HEMISPHERES CONSTITUTING THE GLOBE— APOSTOLIC INSPIRATION
4-6. “Having confidence in this very thing, that he who began a good work in you, will thoroughly perfect it unto the day of Christ Jesus.” As none but the perfect will be ready for the rapture of the Bridehood when the Lord comes, if we are in possession of Christian perfection at that time it will suffice for our admission into the marriage supper of the Lamb. Though we have our entire probation in which to get ready, the slightest postponement is very risky, as we know neither the day nor the hour when our Lord shall descend. Perfect is from facere, to make, and per, complete. Hence, it means made complete. God made us upright; i.e., perfect. Satan poisoned us with sin, thus destroying our perfection, and rendering us imperfect. Christ came to destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8.) The work of the devil is sin. It is conquered in regeneration, and destroyed in sanctification. The word here, epitelesei, is very strong; from teleoo, to complete; and epi, completely. Hence, it means to thoroughly make perfect. The Lord is liable any moment to ride down on a cloud. Are you enjoying the experience of perfect love? The Omnipotent Spirit is this moment ready to make you perfect, and prepare you for the day of the Lord. Submit to him fully, and trust him to do it this moment.
7. Paul recognizes the privilege of all the saints by their perfect consecration and recognition of the Divine will to actually participate the blessings of his persecutionary sufferings.
8. “How I long after you in all the affections of Christ Jesus.” Grace is free for all. As Paul enjoyed the affections of Christ (or, as the word means, the heart of Christ), so can we. His heart was perfectly free from sin, He came to make our hearts like his.
9. “I pray for this, that your Divine love may abound more and more in perfect knowledge and every sense.” The soul has the five senses—sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch—like the body. A dead man has eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and nerves; yet he neither sees, hears, smells, tastes, nor feels. So the sinner is utterly destitute of spiritual sense, walking blind, deaf, and senseless into hell, till he is quickened into life by the Holy Spirit.
10. “So as to distinguish things which differ.” Animals are provided with instinct to fortify them against destructive poisons; man has no such protection till his spiritual senses are quickened into life by the Holy Spirit. Hence, the sinner, tasting the devil’s filth, whisky, tobacco, and debauchery, walks straight into hell, neither seeing the lurid flames, hearing the groans of the damned, smelling the brimstone, nor feeling the scorching flames. “In order that you may be pure and irreproachable in the day of Christ.”
The word here, which I translate “pure,” simply for the want of a stronger word, is eilikrinees, from eile, a sunbeam, and krino, to judge, from the custom of testing purity by the sunbeam. Hence, the plain meaning: God proposes to make your heart and mine so pure, that when illuminated by the infallible Sun of righteousness the omniscient eye of God will discover no impurity in it. So, spread yourself, preaching Christian purity, and rest assured you will not get the standard above the Bible. God help us to come up to the Bible standard, by which we will be judged! “In the day of Christ;” i.e., when he comes for his Bride. These two grand, salient gospel culminations were constantly moving in panorama before the illuminated spiritual eye of Paul; i.e., perfect purity and the Lord’s return to the earth, the latter the goal of probationary privilege, and the former the qualification for an eternity of holy wedlock with Christ.
VICTORY IN THE BARRACKS
On the death of Burrus, the Praetorian prefect, Paul’s only influential friend at Nero’s court, the military authorities dragged him out of his city mission into the Imperial barracks. Over this Paul shouts for joy. Instead of the little mission audience, he now preaches to twenty thousand soldiers. Two years in the mission have rested and recuperated his voice.
O how he enjoys preaching to the vast multitude! Though every gesture of his right hand waves the ponderous chain, he stands erect, leaps and shouts and praises God for the change, out of the little mission into the great army.
12-14. His comrades witnessing his triumph despite chains and soldiers, survive their despondency, and join Paul in a general jubilee.
15-18. The great Roman Empire worshipped Jupiter, Apollo, Venus, Minerva, Diana, and other Greek and Roman gods, who, they believed, gave them the conquest of all nations and universal dominion. Hence, the preaching of Jesus Christ, a crucified man, not only provoked universal contempt, but aroused the bitterest antipathy. Many staunch votaries of these good old Roman gods sought to culminate a crisis against Paul, by their invidious and sacrilegious publicity of his religion, provoking the contempt of the rabble, and arousing popular animosity, and thus expediting the cruel fate of the bold advocate. Here we see Paul rejoicing in everything, their dark and malignant persecutions no exception. Why did he rejoice in their wicked, blasphemous, and invidious publication of Christ and his doctrine? Because he knew God would bring good out of it.
God’s truth will always profit by publicity. The mere notoriety of truth will result in good to somebody. Hence, when truth is preached by wicked men and devils, God will bring good out of it. “The gospel is the power of God unto salvation,” whether preached by saint, sinner, angel, or devil. When I was presiding elder twenty-four years ago, Rev. Solomon Pope venerable with years, told me that his preaching father was converted in the days of Bishop Asbury, under the ministry of Seth Meade. He gave me the notable experience of the latter, which here I relate by way of illustration. Seth and a young comrade, both unconverted, were traveling on horseback through the wilds of the Carolinas, to their home in old Virginia. Their money all expended, they are in a dilemma. “Shall we stop and hire out to work, or beg our way?” Seth, whose father was a Methodist circuit-rider under Bishop Asbury, said, “Let us play preachers,” to which his comrade acquiesced. Riding on, they meet a man, and ask him if there are “any Methodists in that country with whom we can lodge tonight.” He informs them that a celebrated old class-leader lives just about the right distance. Rejoicing in their good luck, they proceed on their way, reaching the designated place as the sun is hastening through the gates of Hesperus.
Halting at the gate, a robust, elderly man walks out. “Are you the man of the house, a Methodist class leader?” “Glory to God, I am.” “Then your house is the home of Methodist preachers.” At this the stalwart woodsman hastens to lift them out of the saddle. Escorting them into his capacious log cabin, he shouts aloud: “Tom, run that way, Ben that way, and Sam over the hill, and tell everybody to come to meeting, for two Methodist preachers are at my house.” The poor fellows, scared almost to death, do their best to keep their equilibrium, and receive the introductions to the family.
So soon as practicable, they retire and speak either to other: “Now we are in it for certain. What shall we do if we leave? We must lay out, and the Indians will get us.” Seth then proposes to stay, and abide their destiny, observing that he believed he could preach quite a considerable from one of his father’s old sermons, his companion consenting to do the praying. When they return to the house, the people are pouring in from all directions. Soon they begin to sing uproariously and pray vociferously, as all the Methodists at that time were Jehus. Seth’s companion, who had promised to do the praying, dodges the issue altogether, amid so many volunteers. But he is forced, erelong, to face the music.
In his subsequent testimony, he said that starting off on one of his father’s old sermons, he found it the hardest work he ever did. At the expiration of ten minutes he lost his whereabouts, recognizing himself and environments about midnight, when the house was roaring with the shouts of new-born souls, commingled with the groans and cries of penitents stretched out on the floor. Among those who had passed triumphantly from death to life were he and his companion, both of whom from that notable hour became powerful Methodist preachers, and so lived and died. Seth said that the people told him that when he had preached about ten minutes, an awful conviction fell on them, pervading the entire congregation, many falling on the floor; meanwhile he spoke about two hours, literally preaching himself into the kingdom. The gospel gun is a dangerous thing for an unskillful shooter to handle, as he is very apt to shoot himself. When the Australian boomerang is thrown by an unskillful party, instead of going on and slaying the intended victim, it returns, and, fastening itself on the thrower—kills him. A town among the border ruffians was so wicked that all Christian immigrants backslid. It becomes a consummate hell den. In their impudent blasphemy they appoint a mock prayer-meeting, selecting as their leader a notorious backslider, now the devil’s right-hand man. With the impudence of devils, they proceed to mock God with their diabolical pretensions. Going through the sanctimonious modus operandi, they kneel in mock adoration of the great God, led by this notorious reprobate. While engaged in the solemn farce, behold, their leader breaks down in his prayer, falls on the floor, and cries piteously for God to have mercy on him. An awful conviction seizes others, like a nightmare from the bottomless pit. Many are unable to get out of the house. A preacher is sent for. A great revival breaks out, and sweeps like a cyclone.
20. Here Paul exults in the assurance that Christ will be magnified in his body, whether by life or death.
21. “For Christ is my life, and death is my gain.” What a triumphant proclamation of his literal and personal identity with Christ!
22-25. Heaven is the climax of human aspiration, infinitely preferable to health, life, prosperity, and everything else. Frequently the Lord has wonderfully healed my body. But the time draweth nigh when I will have no faith to be healed, but plenty of faith to sweep into glory. Then I will get to go to heaven. Paul is flooded with impulses to sweep into glory, simultaneously subordinated to the Divine will in the interest of the toiling, persecuted Church, buoyant with the assurance that the glory of God will be magnified and the Church edified through his instrumentality, whether living or dying.
26. “In order that your rejoicing may abound in Christ Jesus, in me through my coming again unto you.” I believe with Dean Alford and the abler critics, that Paul passed through two distinct imprisonments at Rome. All the Roman authorities in Judea, Lysias, Felix, and Agrippa, pronounced a verdict of innocence in behalf of Paul, certifying to his legal manumission so far as the criminal charges against him were concerned, as they consisted only in accusations of disharmony with Jewish laws and customs, which had no criminal signification in Roman jurisdiction. The only reason for which he was carried a prisoner to Rome, was because he had appealed to Caesar. This he did, not because he cared anything about Caesar’s tribunal, but that he might verify his long-cherished aspiration of preaching the gospel in the world’s capital and metropolis, that the light of God’s truth, radiating from the center, might shine out into every land. His rights as a Roman citizen entitled him to an appeal to Caesar, thus forcing his enemies to defray his traveling expenses all the way from Jerusalem to Rome, a journey at that time greater than the circumnavigation of the globe at the present day. When finally he stood at Caesar’s tribunal, as he was charged with nothing criminal in Roman law, they could but acquit him. This took place about A.D. 63 or 64; after which he returned to Asia, visiting the Churches the last time. Having crossed the Aegean Sea again, he lands in Greece, where he wrote the first letter to Timothy and Titus, expecting to spend the winter of A.D. 68 at Nicopolis, in Southern Macedonia. About that time a great fire sweeps over Rome, wrapping the city in an ocean of flame six days and seven nights. When I was there my guide showed me the old tower on which Nero sat during the conflagration, playing his fiddle, and singing the destruction of Troy.
Though all the people believed that the wicked emperor had ordered the conflagration, he charged the Christians with that dark iniquity, lighting on it as a pretext for issuing that bloody edict which caused them to bleed and burn three hundred years. Though Paul was not at Rome during the conflagration, when this high crime is saddled on the Christians, they have him arrested about Nicopolis in Greece, because he was a prominent leader of the Nazarenes. Upon his second arrest and transportation to Rome, he was incarcerated in that loathsome old Mamertine prison, not as a mere disturber of the Jewish religion, as in the first imprisonment, but as “an evil doer.” (2 Timothy 2:9.) Kakourgos, from kakos, evil, and ergos, work, is the word here applied to him in his second imprisonment. It is because they accused him of burning Rome, which was a crime of the darkest dye. From this prison led out, he was tried by Nero, and condemned to decapitation. This locates his martyrdom about A.D. 68.
UNITY OF CHRIST AND SPIRIT
27. The Lord’s salvation, when received in its fullness and power, unifies people in spirit and purpose.
28. “And not being intimidated in anything by the adversaries, which to them is a manifestation of destruction, but of your salvation.” Persecution has a deep and wonderful signification, a clear evidence of your salvation, and an equally decisive testimony of the persecutor’s destruction.
29,30. Here Paul assures us that to believe on Christ and to suffer in his behalf are equally fraught with blessings from God.
1,2. His exhortation here is intensified with burning irony, enforcing the spiritual unity of the saints, either with other, and with Christ.
3,4. “—In humility esteeming one another better than ourselves.”—Lord, help us all in the fear of God to obey this commandment! How amiable is that perfect humility which causes me to take the lowest seat, feeling that all others are better than myself!
5. “Let the same mind which is also in Christ Jesus.” The sinner has none but the carnal mind. The sanctified has only the mind of Christ; while the unsanctified Christian is double-minded James 1:8; James 4:8), having the mind of Christ dominant, and the carnal mind subjugated; but an exterminating war between them, till the latter is utterly consumed by the sanctifying fire of the Holy Ghost, or the former exterminated in fatal apostasy.
6-8. “—But made himself of no reputation, taking the form of a slave: being in the likeness of men, and found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, being subject unto death, even the death of the cross.” When it was my privilege to hold the first holiness meeting in a prominent Southern city, I visited Dr. A—, pastor of the First Methodist Church, showed myself fraternal, and invited him to attend the meetings in the court-house. Two days have elapsed, audience is large, and interest cheering; meanwhile I look in vain for my brother. Again I visit him at the parsonage, and inquire into the cause of his absence. “Brother Godbey, I am glad you have come, as I was wanting to see you. I find your congregation consists of the poor and uninfluential people of this city. They have rallied to you from the slums and the jungles. Many of them are actually the refuse and the offscouring of the earth. When I ascertained the character of your crowd, I felt that I could not attend your meeting with safety to my reputation. I have written to a prominent preacher in the Kentucky Conference, who assures me of your good standing in that body. I feel it my duty to inform you that if you do not withdraw from that meeting, you will seriously damage your reputation.” Then I respond: “Dear Brother A—, I read Philippians 2:7, that my blessed Savior ‘made himself of no reputation,’ that he might come down to this dark world of sin and sorrow, bleed and die to save my soul from death and hell. Therefore, since, in my humble way, I am trying to be his disciple, I am not willing, but anxious, to damage and destroy my reputation, world without end, and even render myself scandalous for his sake.” Brother A—, with flowing tears, responds: “Brother Godbey, I would give all the world to be where you are.” I respond: “That is just what it cost me, and you can have it.” We mutually fall on our knees, and pray. Again he promises to come to my meeting. I have never seen him since.
Tuesday, March 28th, 2017
the Fourth Week of Lent
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