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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible

Philippians 1

 

 

Verses 1-30

Consistently with the character of the epistle, in his addressing the Philippians, Paul does not do so as an apostle, but linking Timothy's name with his own, makes use of the lowlier title, "servants of Jesus Christ." It will be noted that in those epistles in which he writes as an apostle, he makes an authoritative communication of the mind of God, which rightfully requires the obedience of faith. As an apostle he is invested with God-given authority. As a servant, on the other hand, authority has no place, but lowliness of subjection to God. The power of this epistle lies therefore in his lowly example rather than in firm authority. Each is of course perfect in its place and appropriate as regards those who are addressed.

Timothy had but newly joined Paul in his missionary travels when Philippi was first visited: he had remained a true and steadfast helper in the work, despite an evident natural timidity which needed encouragement in the face of widespread departure and ignoring of Paul's doctrine. This is seen in Paul's last epistle to him. Timothy was therefore in Rome at this time, and closely identified with Paul. Whether a fellow-prisoner at the time may be doubtful, for Paul speaks of trusting in the Lord to send him shortly to Philippi. But the epistle to the Hebrews was written the following year (AD 63), perhaps only a few months intervening, and Paul informs them that Timothy had been set at liberty. It may be of course that at the time Paul wrote the Philippians, he was anticipating the liberation of Timothy.

As the "servants of Jesus Christ" therefore they write "to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons." This form of address is used only in this epistle. He does not address them as an assembly, for Christian experience is a personal thing which he seeks to promote in every individual. He is careful also to avoid the slightest partiality, for he addresses "all the saints." Five times in the first eight verses he speaks of them 'all', a lovely indication of his pastor's heart.

Yet he refers directly to "the bishops and deacons," and thus does not ignore the proper order of the assembly. The bishops (simply overseers) were responsible to maintain godly government, not one bishop in the gathering, but "bishops", an order far removed from that which formalism has developed today. Deacons were delegated to care for the temporal arrangements and details. (Cf. Acts 6:1-15) It was no elaborate system, but simple and direct, thus order maintained with a minimum of form and arrangement.

It is important however to observe that bishops (or elders Cf. Titus 1:5-7) were appointed only by apostolic authority, - Paul also giving title to Titus and Timothy to make such appointments. This was a matter never left in the control of the church as such; and there is today no more authority in the church to this end than there ever was. Hence, it is evident that this official appointment was confined to the original establishment of the church in its proper order. It remains unquestionable of course that such men of godly qualifications and spiritual weight are preserved to the assembly; but official appointment is both unnecessary and without Scriptural authority. Let us rather today emphasise the need of spiritual exercise to recognise the wisdom of godly men and to follow their guidance according to Scripture, without according them any official position.

Clearly, we cannot get back to the beginning of Christianity, for there are no divinely appointed apostles living on earth today. If men insist on an apostolic succession, they must acknowledge that Scripture is not their guide. In 1 Timothy, where the establishment of the church in proper order is contemplated, Timothy is instructed as to the qualifications of those desiring oversight. This plainly involved the appointment of bishops (or overseers) to an office. But in the second epistle, no mention is made of bishops or deacons, for the epistle contemplates rather the "great house" of Christendom long after the original institution of the church.

Is there then no means of preserving godly order in the midst of surrounding disorder? Thank God that fullest provision is made for this; but not by official appointment, nor official succession. Timothy is simply told, "And the things which thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also" (2 Timothy 2:2). This is true succession and the only true succession according to Scripture. The faithful man is not accorded an official place, nor indeed today would a faithful man seek it, for to seek it would not at all be faithfulness to the Word of God. Thus, order according to God is to be maintained only by spiritual exercise in subjection to His revealed Word. This sacred principle should govern both our individual lives and our corporate testimony.

The apostle wishes them the grace that supplies their souls' needs in practical life, and the peace that is tranquillity of soul in whatever circumstances. These can come only "from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ," and when it is so they are known in pure, living reality.

"I thank my God upon every remembrance of you," he assures them. Few as the disciples may have been after his first visit to Philippi, how could he forget the reality of the work of God there? a work that had been sustained and developed in evident truth and stability. The record in Acts 16:1-40 has an attraction peculiar to itself. But it was Paul's habit to thank God for the saints.

And prayer attends his thanksgiving; not in this case with "anguish of heart" and "many tears" as was true in the writing of his first epistle to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 2:4); but rather "making request with joy." They were going on well, and his heart was free, and full.

"From the first day until now" they had shown fullest fellowship with him in the Gospel. Their hearts were bound up with the message of Divine grace committed to him, and they had, immediately after conversion, ministered to his support, sending help to him twice while he was in Thessalonica (Ch. 4:16) at a time when he received nothing from other assemblies. This fellowship had continued, and another gift at this time is evidently the occasion for this epistle from prison. Moreover it was by no means wealth that made this possible. For Paul in writing to Corinth mentions "the assemblies of Macedonia; how that in great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power, they were willing of themselves" (2 Corinthians 8:1-3).

This was the manifest work of God in their souls, and Paul speaks of his confidence that God would complete this good work He had begun. The completion is nothing short of "the day of Jesus Christ," this is when He shall be manifested and they also manifested as the finished product of His workmanship.

He felt it perfectly right to think this of them all, "because", as he says, "ye have me in your hearts, inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the Gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace." He could not question the reality of their faith - of the fact that it was really God's work in their souls. For in spite of his imprisonment and suffering for the Gospel's sake, they had remained firmly attached to him and the Gospel he preached. They willingly participated in the same grace that sustained him in all these things. They too, stood firm for the Gospel. What is real will absolutely endure, for it is God's work.

The heart of the apostle responded fully to their faith. God bore witness to his great longing toward them "in the bowels of Jesus Christ." It is the expression of deepest feeling begotten through the love of Christ known in the soul. For as the soul dwells upon Christ, so is it expanded in love toward His saints and in concern for His interests.

His prayer for them is that their "love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment." Our measure of this love can never be too great; and as we progress in the Christian path the love ought to deepen and become more full in every way. Alas, that too often when knowledge increases, love begins to grow cool! This must be watched against with utmost care and godly exercise. Knowledge is badly abused if it decreases love in any measure.

Yet also, if love is to be exercised in proper moral balance, this requires "knowledge and all judgment." Love must not remain ignorant of the true needs of its objects; and it must also have discernment as to the godly means of meeting those needs. Thus it has far greater scope than the mere feeling of affection. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 lists some of the solid characteristics of love: it is well worth our quiet meditation.

This real activity of love is required in order to "judge of and approve things that are more excellent" (New Trans.). This is the character of godly balance, the discernment of things in proper proportion. If there is a tendency to magnify small things, there will be a comparative overlooking of more important things which ought to deeply engage the soul. Such a case discloses a serious lack of love's true activity. Or if, on the other hand, we are content with things because we "see no harm in them." it is not real love that is motivating us. Love according to God seeks the things that are "more excellent." This is indispensable if we are to be "pure and without offence" in view of "the day of Christ." Is this not certainly the character in which we desire to be presented before Him? If so, we must cultivate it now.

It is important to observe that this produces "the fruits of righteousness by Jesus Christ." Merely seeking to do right never produces the fruits of righteousness: only the pure love of God known and responded to in the soul can do so, and it is sufficient for a real fulness of these fruits also. Again the mere object of doing right does not have God's glory as its purpose; but "the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ" are shown to be "unto the glory and praise of God." Nothing can be truly right except as it is held in intimate relationship to God.

In verse 12 the apostle turns from his speaking of the constancy of the Philippians - so real a joy and encouragement to him - to assure them concerning his circumstances, which were so contrary to their own hearty fellowship, contrary to him, contrary to God and to the Gospel of His grace. These things could not take his joy from him, and his confidence is only increased by the overruling of God's hand in producing blessing not only in spite of the opposition, but by its means. The things that had happened to him had resulted in the furtherance of the Gospel, and this he fully perceives. How Treat God is! Paul would rather encourage the Philippians than have them discouraged by his imprisonment.

His bonds were manifest as being "in Christ," and this not only in Caesar's court, but to all who knew of his imprisonment. It was known that he was suffering, not for evil-doing, but for Christ's sake. This drew attention to Christ Himself, and the Gospel was furthered. Moreover, many brethren in the Lord were strengthened in faith by this, to speak the Word without fear.

There were some indeed, he fully realises, who preached Christ "even of envy and strife," - their motives being thoroughly false. Envious of Paul, they evidently supposed that he would suffer more in prison, the more Christ was preached. It was subtle evil, of course, but they reckoned without the great power of God and the firm faith of the apostle, who cared not for his own sufferings so long as Christ was proclaimed. But how serious an admonition for our own souls, to take care that love should be the true and real motive behind every service. A spirit of rivalry and envy may stir up great zeal and energy, but while it may be that God will sovereignly bless His Word proclaimed even with such motives, yet he who so preaches will have to answer before Him for these motives.

Those who, on the other hand, preach Christ "of good will" and "of love" will not fail to be rewarded "in that Day." Persuaded of Paul's, firm purpose of heart, they would wholeheartedly back him up in his testimony of the Gospel. Let us take heed to the motives behind our every work, for the best of things may be done with the worst of motives. Our God is moved by love and good-will, and we must be also if we would represent Him.

But the apostle's heart of love toward the Lord is not at all dismayed whatever the motives of men. Indeed, he says "Notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice." This is the bright triumph of faith, which of course neither excuses unholy motives nor in any way links himself with those guilty of such motives. But he is persuaded that the hand of God perfectly overrules all this, and when Christ is preached, this in itself causes him unfeigned joy of heart. May we in this be true followers of Paul.

"For," he adds, "I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ." This salvation is plainly in reference to the circumstances in which Paul was, - not of course salvation of the soul, but salvation from the difficulties and dangers of his path. God would turn these things in his favour, however unfavourable they may appear for the time. But he includes their prayers as having a very real part in this, and "the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ." God would make his own soul to triumph in the blessed confidence that by all these things God was glorifying His own Name. This, after all, was the reason for Paul's labours whether free or bound, indeed, he had made it the very reason for his life. Thus he was content. How blessed thus to lose sight of self in the joy of the knowledge of God glorified!

Hence, he is assured that all will work "according to his earnest expectation and hope." This hope was not for his release from prison, but rather that, whatever his circumstances, "in nothing" he "should be ashamed," but that with all boldness, as always, Christ should be magnified in his body, "whether by life or by death." Whether life or death, he would be as thoroughly content with one or the other, if only he might boldly and unashamedly magnify Christ in his body. This patience and submission in suffering is how blessed a proof of the reality of faith - proof of the reality of the sustaining hand of the Lord. It is the same blessed spirit seen in the Master Himself in the face of His supreme suffering: "The cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?"

"For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." Living, Christ was the very principle and motivating power of his life. Dying, he would have the greater joy of being with Him for Whose sake he had lived. "But," he adds, "if I live in the flesh, this is worth my while:" there would be definite value in his living, whether in prison or otherwise. Hence, if it were for him to choose, he would simply not know which way to decide. Good indeed it is that He who has infinite wisdom makes this choice for us.

"For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better." Precious and rewarding as were his labours for Christ, yet far better is the privilege of being with Him, - even in the disembodied state. How clear a proof of the conscious bliss of the believer even while the body lies silent in death. For it is plain that at death the body does not "depart", but the spirit and soul depart from the body, and in the case of the believer there is immediate entrance into "paradise," the very presence of the Lord. Thus the day of the crucifixion, the one thief was with Christ in paradise. Luke 23:43. The Lord Jesus Himself, in dying, said, "Father, into Thy hand I commend My spirit." Stephen also, later, in being stoned to death, used similar words of triumphant faith, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."

Who will doubt that Paul's desire was a true and precious spiritual one? Yet he will forego this for the time being, because he adds, "to abide in the flesh is more needful for you." Blessed to see this spirit of unselfish devotion to the care of the saints, because they belonged to Christ.

This settles the matter. "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." There can be no doubt whatever from this that the apostle was later liberated and saw the Philippians again. True of course that here he is simply expectant of this; but he writes as having ascertained the mind of God in the matter; and since what he writes is Scripture, we are shut up to regarding this as a Divinely inspired prophecy. His coming again to the Philippians would cause them abundant rejoicing in Christ Jesus, for the fact of his being so manifestly preserved and delivered by the hand of God, as well as for the help he would be to them.

But he turns to their practical conduct. Joy in the Lord's manifest goodness was one thing; but this should be carried into the details of everyday life. Their manner of life was to be worthy of the Gospel of Christ, - "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." How important a part of worthy conduct is the steadfast unity of saints in standing for the grace of Christ in the face of opposition. This demands the submerging of merely selfish interests, consideration of others, forbearance and longsuffering. Moreover, it should be practised as fully and diligently when the apostle was absent as when he was present. This is a searching word for our consciences.

Courage too was not to be lacking: there were adversaries, certainly, but what were they when measured against the power of God? Was our Lord intimidated by the strength of His enemies? Nor ought we to be. As Timothy personally was told, "Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me, His prisoner, but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the Gospel according to the power of God:" (2 Timothy 1:8) so also the Philippians collectively are told, "in nothing terrified by your adversaries" If there were this firm, faithful boldness in standing for Christ, it would be "to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God." To the adversaries this would be a strong testimony to the solemn reality of judgment against sin; and on the other hand, the fact of their having this courage from God was an evidence to themselves that God would deliver them.

Suffering for Christ's sake is no misfortune; quite the reverse: it is a God-given privilege. "Unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake." Christ is no longer suffering on earth for the glory of God, but it is the believer's privilege to suffer on His behalf. Rather than fainting or becoming resentful, we ought to "rejoice and be exceeding glad, for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you." Though it may seem dishonour from a human standpoint, yet if our thoughts simply rise to God, we recognise it as great honour, for it is the path of our Master.

And it was the path of Paul also. The Philippians honoured him for his steadfast faith in suffering for Christ's sake: he may well encourage them to be partakers of the same conflict as he himself. They had seen it when he was with them, and had heard of his present suffering. They would well remember his imprisonment in Philippi for the Gospel's sakes: now he was prisoner in Rome.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Philippians 1:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/philippians-1.html. 1897-1910.


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