Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
He testifieth his thankfulness to God, and his love toward them, for the fruits of their faith, and fellowship in his sufferings; daily praying to him for their increase in grace: he sheweth what good the faith of Christ had received by his troubles at Rome, and how ready he is to glorify Christ, either by his life or death: exhorting them to unity, and to fortitude in persecution.
Anno Domini 62.
AFTER giving the Philippians, with their bishops and deacons, his apostolical benediction, St. Paul thanked God for their conversion; and declared his humble hope and confidence that God would preserve them in the faith to the end of their lives, as it was meet for him to think, because he had them in his heart: he also expressed the most tender affection for them; and prayed God to bestow upon them spiritual blessings, that they might be filled with the fruits of righteousness, Philippians 1:1-11.—In the nextplace, lest they might have been afraid that his long imprisonment had been hurtful to the gospel of Christ, he assured them that it had contributed to advance that good cause, Philippians 1:12.—insomuch that the gospel was now known in the palace itself, Philippians 1:13.—That the indulgence shewn to him, had made many of the brethren more bold in preaching than formerly, Philippians 1:14.—yet they were not all actuated by laudable motives, Philippians 1:15.—For some preached publicly, merely to enrage the priests and magistrates against him, as the ringleader of the Christians, Philippians 1:16.—But he told the Philippians, he knew that this, through the direction of the Spirit of Christ, would rather contribute to his enlargement, Philippians 1:19.—At the same time he declared his resolution boldly to defend the gospel when brought before the emperor, even although it were to bring death upon himself, Philippians 1:20.—To be continued in life, he told them, would promote the cause of Christ, but to die would be more for his own advantage, Philippians 1:21.—Therefore he was in a strait, whether to choose life or death, Philippians 1:23.—Only knowing that his continuing in life would be more for their interest, Philippians 1:24.—he was persuaded that he should still live, Philippians 1:25.—In which case he promised to visit them, Philippians 1:26.—In the mean time he exhorted them all to behave suitably to the gospel; and, in particular, strenuously to maintain the true doctrine of the gospel, both against the unbelieving Jews and against the Heathens, Philippians 1:27.—and to be in no respect terrified for their threatenings, Philippians 1:28.—but to suffer cheerfully for their faith in Christ, Philippians 1:29.—after his own example, Philippians 1:30.
PHILIPPIANS.] Philippi was a city of no great extent, in Macedonia, on the borders of Thrace. The Christian religion was first planted there about the year 51, by St. Paul, (see Acts 16:12.) who left St. Luke and Timothy to carry on the work. He afterwards paid them a second visit, Acts 20:6 and, it is probable, saw them afterwards a third time. This Epistle was sent at the same time with the preceding, in the year 62 or 63. The design of it is, to comfort the Philippians, under the concern that they had expressed for his imprisonment at Rome, to check a party-spirit which had crept in among them; and to promote, on the contrary, an entire union and harmony of affection;—to guard them against being seduced from the purity of the Christian faith by Judaizing teachers; to support them under the trialswith which they struggled, and, above all, to inspire them with a concern to adorn their holy profession by the most eminent attainments in the divine life.
Philippians 1:1. Paul and Timotheus,— This and the following verse contain the inscription, or introduction of this Epistle. St. Paul might choose to join Timothy with him, as he not only had attended the Apostle in his general travels into these parts, but had assisted in preaching the gospel at Philippi. Comp. Acts 16:1; Acts 16:3; Acts 16:12. Some have inquired why St. Paul does not stile himself an Apostle here, and in his two Epistles to the Thessalonians, and in that to Phlippians, as he does in all the other Epistles which bear his name; and have accounted for it by observing, that no objection had been made to his character at Thessalonica or Philippi; and that, having received a present from them, he might not seem to be burdensome as an apostle of Christ. Perhaps it rather was, because Timothy and Silas, who were neither of them apostles, are joined with him here, and in the Epistles to the Thessalonians.
Philippians 1:3. I thank my God— From this verse to the 11th the Apostle acquaints the Philippians with the satisfaction that he had in them, and how much he thanked God upon their account, and what was the matter of his prayers to God for them. Instead of, upon every remembrance of you, Dr. Heylin reads, as often as I make mention of you: and he observes, that it was the custom, as well of the Jews as of the Christians, to name in their prayers those for whom they had a great regard. Others, however, understand the passage as referring to the kind remembrance which the Philippians had of St. Paul.
Philippians 1:4. Always in every prayer, &c.— It is not to be supposed that St. Paul never made any prayer, public or private, wherein he did not expressly mention the case of the Philippians: the meaning of the passage therefore onlyis, "Always in every prayer of mine, which I put up for you all, praying with joy; which joy is on account of your fellowship, &c."
Philippians 1:5. For your fellowship, &c.— Your participation in the gospel: so Doddridge, and also Heylin, who observes that the meaning is, "the part you have in the gospel;—obeying its precepts, and profiting by the graces which accompany it." See 1 Corinthians 1:9. 2 Corinthians 8:4; 2 Corinthians 13:13.
Philippians 1:6. Until the day of Jesus Christ:— See Philippians 1:10. The Apostle speaks this from a judgment of charity, and from the consequent confidence that he had in them; because, says he, it seems just, or fit for me to conceive this good hope of you, by reason of that great affection which you retain towards me, and your patience in enduring the like afflictions.
Philippians 1:7. Even as it is meet, &c.— As it is just in me to be thus affected towards you all; because you have me in your hearts, both in my bonds, and in my defence and confirmation of the gospel, being all partakers with me of its grace. Doddridge. Dr. Heylin renders the verse more paraphrastically thus; And it is but just that I should have this opinion of you all; being intimately conscious, as I am, of the interest which you take in the favour that God does me, with respect to my confinement and the defence and confirmation of the gospel.
Philippians 1:8. God is my record, &c.— "God is my witness, that I long to see you with that peculiar tenderness of affection, which nothing but these bonds of mutual faith and love centering in him can be capable of producing; and which greatly resemble the compassion which Christ himself feels for those whom his grace hath made the members of his body." Bowels is a term which denotes the most intense, ardent, and sincere affection. Dr. Heylin renders the verse, For God is my witness, that I love you all with a truly Christian affection.
Philippians 1:9. In knowledge, and in all judgment;— The former of these is explained of speculative, the latter of practical knowledge; but the difference between the ideas suggested by the original would be much better preserved, by rendering the last word
αισθησει, perception, or discernment. He wishes that they might not only know the principles which recommend candour and benevolence, but feel their influence on their hearts; which daily experience and observation shew, in some great pretenders to this kind of knowledge, is a very different thing.
Philippians 1:10. That ye may approve, &c.— So as to prove things which differ:—"To prove by experience, and know by trial, how incomparably excellent the Christian character is beyond any other; (see 1 Thessalonians 5:21.) that you may be found not only sincere and cordial, but altogether inoffensive through the whole of your Christian course, even until the great day of Christ." The word rendered without offence, is of doubtful signification. Sometimes it implies, "The not giving offence to others;" 1 Corinthians 10:32. But, considering the word sincere with which it is here joined, the Apostle's meaning rather seems to be, "that they might do nothing to offend themselves," to wound or grieve their own consciences, but might have απροσκοπον συνειδησιν, a conscience void of offence. Acts 24:16.
Philippians 1:11. Being filled, &c.— "Being filled with all the genuine fruits and effects of righteousness, which are produced by virtue of a living faith in Jesus Christ."
Philippians 1:12. But I would ye should understand,— The Philippians, from the great affection they bore to St. Paul, being much concerned on account of his present sufferings, he labours, from this to the 26th verse, to abate their concern, by representing to them how useful his bonds had been to promote and spread the gospel; how calm and easy he was under all his trouble, and how entirely resigned to the will and service of Christ; and withal lets them know, that he was verily persuaded that he should be freed from his bonds, and have another joyful opportunity of visiting them.
Philippians 1:13. So that my bonds in Christ are manifest— "So that my bonds in or for Christ are manifested and taken notice of in all the palace of Caesar, and all other places in and about the city; and have seemed so remarkable, that many have been excited to inquire, much to their own satisfaction and advantage, what there was in this new and unknown religion, which could animate me so cheerfully to endure hardships and persecution in its defence; for they soon traced up my sufferings to this, as their only cause." Mr. Peirce would render this verse, So that it is manifest, both in the Pretorium and elsewhere, that my bonds are for Christ; that is, "that I suffer only for the sake of Christianity, and not for any real crime." And Dr. Heylin gives nearly the same interpretation:—So that my imprisonment for the sake of Christ is now publicly known at the court, and in all other places.
Philippians 1:14. Waxing confident by my bonds, &c.— Encouraged by my bonds, preach the word with greater freedom and intrepidity.
Philippians 1:15. Some indeed preach Christ, &c.— It is very proper here to inquire who these preachers were, the rightly stating of which may give some light to this Epistle. There can be no doubt that they must have been professed converts to the Christian religion; for no unconverted Jews or Gentiles would ever give themselves the trouble to preach Christ; and in all probability these preachers must have been converts from Judaism; for, first, by comparing what St. Paul says in his other Epistles, it appears, that the greatest opposition, disturbance, or hindrance that he met with from any who professed themselves Christians, was from them: nor could he, indeed, well be opposed, by any others but Jewish converts, or such as were seduced by, and fell in with them. Secondly, who besides these were likely to endeavour to add affliction to St. Paul's bonds?—He continually represents the cause of his bonds to be his preaching and asserting the liberty of the Gentiles. Now they who were most displeased with that conduct which brought his sufferings upon him, were likely enough to be most forward in endeavouring to aggravate his trouble under them;—and who could they be but the Jewish converts?
Philippians 1:16. Not sincerely,— This may refer to the matter of their preaching: it was not sincere, pure, and uncorrupted gospel; but they adulterated it, by mixing Judaism with it; and so they perverted the gospel of Christ. Galatians 1:7. Or it may refer to the intentions of the preachers: they acted not sincerely in what they did; but while they pretended their great end was to preach Christ, instead of that they made it their chief business to preach down the Apostle, and to lessen his reputation. The next words seem to support the latter sense, as does what he says in Philippians 1:18. See the Introduction to this chapter.
Philippians 1:17. I am set, &c.— Some would render the word κειμαι, I lie, that is to say, in bonds for the gospel, in order to make an apology for it before Nero; and this they think a more moving consideration, and one which would sooner excite love and tenderness, than what is expressed in our translation;—that he was set, called, raised up, for the defence of the gospel. Heylin renders it, Knowing that I am reduced to this state, for the defence of the gospel.
Philippians 1:19. This shall turn to my salvation— My deliverance: Peirce; who thinks, that as they who preached Christ out of love, made more friends for the Apostle, so they who preached him out of envy, gave his friends an opportunity of representing his persecutors as proceeding upon principles of malice. But, as such an event could scarcely be said to proceed from the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, by salvation may be meant the Apostle's eternal happiness; and his persuasion might be, that all the designs of his adversaries against him should be so over-ruled, that through the supplies of the Holy Spirit, all should work together for good; and his eternal salvation be advanced thereby through the concurrence and assistance of their prayers.
Philippians 1:20. With all boldness,— With all openness, or in the most public manner. See John 7:4.
Philippians 1:21. To me to live is Christ, &c.— "He is the supreme end of life, and I value it only as it is capable of being referred to the purposes of his honour; and, in consequence of that, to die is gain: for as that temper argues my interest in the friendship of that Redeemer, who is the Lord of the invisible, as well as the visible world, I am well satisfied that he will make ample provision for my happiness, when I quit this transitory life, and surround me with far more important blessings than any which I must then resign. Nor is the utility of my death confined to this; it may be instrumental towards gaining others over to the religion of Christ; so that, in all cases, whether I respect the honour of Christ, or, my own eternal condition, To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." Mr. Pierce would render this, For Christ is gain to me, living or dying.
Philippians 1:22. But if I live in the flesh,— "But if my lot should be to live longer in the flesh, this magnifying, or serving of Christ will be the fruit of my labour, &c." There seems to besomething emphatic in the Apostle's manner of expressing himself, in this and the 24th verse. It appears to be his intention to shew the little value that he set upon life for its own sake, and therefore to speak of it by way of contempt and disparagement: as if he hadsaid, "If I must yet live longer in this painful, miserable flesh." He thought life valuable and important, considered with respect to Christ and his service, as he had spoken of it before; but by this variation of his style, or his adding in the flesh, he may be understood to hint, that he was not fond of life as men commonly are. Instead of, I wot not, read I know not.
Philippians 1:23. For I am in a strait, &c.— "For I am, as it were, borne two different ways; having on the one hand a more earnest desire, out of regard to my own immediate happiness, to be unbound, to weigh anchor, and, quitting these mortal shores, to set sail for that happy world, where I shall be immediately with Christ;—which is better beyond all comparison and expression, with regard to my own private happiness." The original is very emphatic; and seems to be an allusion to a ship stationed at a particular place, and riding at anchor, and at the same time likely to be forced to sea by the violenceof the winds: which gives us a lively representation of the Apostle's attachment to his situation in the Christian church, and the vehemency of his desire to weigh anchor, and set sail for the heavenly country, that he might be with Christ—an expression, which plainly proves that the separate spirits of good men are with Christ in such a manner, as that their state is far better than while they continue in this present world, which a state of insensibility cannot possibly be; though this does not tend at all to disprove that accession of happiness after the resurrection, which other scriptures plainly declare. See 2 Corinthians 5:5-10. The original of what we render far better, is so very emphatical, that it cannot be translated literally. Better beyond all expression, in some measure gives the sense; for indeed the Apostle seems to labour here for expression as much as in any part of his writings.
Philippians 1:25. I know that I shall abide, &c.— "I am persuaded that I shall live yet longer, and have an opportunity of visiting you all." Probably the Apostle had some particular revelation whereupon to ground his confidence. It is not by any means to be imagined that he refers to intimations from the palace how it should go with him. He must have known little of princes and courtiers, especially in Nero's reign,to build so confidently on such a foundation. Dr. Heylin, upon the last words, joy of faith, observes, that the preaching of an apostle never fails of producing actual faith in minds disposed like those of the Philippians; and experience teaches that such faith is accompanied with joyous sensations. It is luminous, and fills the soul with a delectable relish of truth. Hence joy in believing, &c.
Philippians 1:27.— From this verse to ch. Philippians 2:18. St. Paul presses upon the Philippians a perseverance and unanimity in the faith which he had taught them, notwithstanding the opposition that they met with on account of it; and withal, he urges them to be peaceable, and condescending to one another, and ready to perform all mutual good offices. This he inforces by various affecting considerations, and particularly that of the condescension of Christ, and his blessed reward; which he speaks of in very strong and lively terms.
There can be no doubt, that having their conversation worthy of the gospel of Christ, imports in general their living according to the direction of the gospel, and answerablyto the great favour vouchsafed them. See Ephesians 4:1. Colossians 1:10. 1 Thessalonians 2:12; 1 Thessalonians 4:1. But the latter part of this verse, together with the next, shews what he had here principally in view; namely, their continuing steadfast in the doctrine that he had taught them, concerning the liberty which God had granted them as Gentiles. The word rendered, Let your conversation be, signifies literally, "to behave as denizens of some city or corporation."
Philippians 1:28. In nothing terrified, &c.— It evidently appears hence, and from several other passages in this Epistle, that the Philippians were now in a sufferingstate: which is a circumstance to be borne in mind as we go on, as it illustrates several masterly strokes in the Apostle's address to them. "I suppose," says Dr. Heylin, "that the word
ητις, which, in this verse, refers to πιστις του ευαγγελιου, the faith of the gospel, in the verse above; and that the sense is the same as in Romans 1:18 where it is said, that inthe gospel the wrath of God is revealed against all impiety and injustice of men, &c. Wherever the gospel is preached, it is no indifferent thing, even to those who do not receive it; because it is a warning to them from God, of the danger they incur by disobedience." See on Ephesians 1:15.
Philippians 1:29. For unto you it is given, &c.— For it is granted to you as a favour, on the part of Christ. Doddridge, Heylin, &c. St. Paul very skilfully diverts them from viewing persecution under its most frightful appearance, and leads them to consider it as a gift and an honour conferred upon them. We may observe the like in the discourse of another apostle, 1 Peter 4:12-16. Some would read from the words in Philippians 1:28 which is to them, &c. to the end of the present verse, in a parenthesis, and connect the 30th with the former part of the 28th verse. See the original.
Philippians 1:30. Having the same conflict, &c.— "Having, in a great measure, the same struggle with the adversaries of the gospel, who labour to overbear it by brutal violence,—as ye saw to be in me, when I was among you in Philippi, and was stripped, and scourged, and laid in the dungeon, and in the stocks; and which you now hear to be in me at Rome, whither you know I have been sent in bonds, as an evil-doer; having beenobliged to appeal unto Caesar, for the preservation of my life." See Acts 16:19. &c.
Inferences.—Amid the numberless mercies, with which, through the indulgence of our heavenly Father, we are daily surrounded, what can demand our humble and grateful acknowledgments more than our participation of the gospel? To whatever afflictions it may expose us, or whatever we may be called to sacrifice to its interests, every day, in which we share its comforts and supports, calls aloud for our praises, both in the enjoyment and in the recollection. No wonder, therefore, that where this blessed work is begun, there is a great affection between those who were the instruments of producing it, and those in whom it is produced. No wonder if St. Paul made mention of these his Christian converts at Philippi, in his prayers, offering up requests for them, and praying for the increase of their hope and love. No wonder, on the other side, if their hearts were tenderly set upon him, and that, distant as he was, he seemed to lodge there, and their tender care followed him through every circumstance of his bonds; so that his sufferings and dangers were even more painful to them than their own: while he, on his part, longed for them all in the bowels of the Lord, and could conceive of no greater charm in liberty itself, than that it might give him opportunity of cultivating so endearing a friendship by personal intercourse.
The increase of love founded on knowledge, and attended with other sentiments of experimental religion, is to be numbered among the best of apostolic blessings. Every experience of these things will confirm our resolution of maintaining that godly sincerity, which will render our conversation unblameable, and our account in the day of the Lord comfortable. To glorify God by the fruits of righteousness, is the great end for which these rational natures were given us; and it is by the exercise of lively faith in Christ that these dispositions are cultivated, and these fruits rendered most abundant.
Again. How admirable is the conduct of Divine Providence! and in how beautiful a manner does it often work the purposes which it wisely and graciously determines, by events that seem to have the most contrary tendency! Who would have imagined that the imprisonment of St. Paul would have been effectual to the advancement of Christianity! Thus can God animate and encourage his servants, by the extremity which their brethren suffer in his cause, so that they shall wax confident by their bonds and their martyrdom. Let this then reconcile us to all the allotments of Providence, and establish us in an earnest expectation and hope that Christ will be glorified in all things by us, whether by our life or death: and who, that knows the grace of God in truth, would not rejoice even in death itself, if the gracious Redeemer, who gave his own life for us, may thereby be magnified?
But, how execrable was the temper of those who preached Christ out of envy and contention, and managed a ministry which should have breathed nothing but love, in a view of adding affliction to those bonds which oppressed this holy, this excellent man! But generous and amiable is the disposition which the Apostle expresses, when he rejoices in this—that Christ was preached, though the purposes with regard to himself were so unkind! These are the wonders which the love of Jesus produces in the soul; thus does it empty us of every malignant passion, and reconcile us to the most disagreeable events which may advance his interests. Where such principles inspire the breast, the faithful servants of Jesus will find their own account, while they are wholly intent on his honour. But let it be remembered, that it is through the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, which sanctifies to the faithful every circumstance through which they pass, that all these events are so blessed unto them. That these supplies may be imparted, let us unite our prayers in favour of all who love our common Lord in sincerity,
Again. How happy must that man be, who can truly say, that to him to live is Christ, and to die is gain! What a blessed alternative is before him, and how cheerfully may he leave it to Providence to decide which of the two shall be appointed for him! And yet, how vain must life be, and how miserable death, to that man who cannot say it! He that gathereth not with Christ scattereth abroad (Matthew 12:30.); and when death comes to such a one, it is the loss of all, and attended with the final, and, alas! the eternal loss of himself: while the good man pronounces it better, beyond all comparison, to depart, that he may be with Christ, and submits only to continue in life, as the part in which self-denying duty requires him to acquiesce. But O! how unworthy the Christian character is it, to be adverse to so advantageous a remove!—to be unwilling, and that even on such terms, to depart and to be with Christ! as if any converse, any friendship, any enjoyment, any hope here, were comparable; yea, as if it were preferable to serving him in his immediate service, under the everlasting tokens of his acceptance and delight.
But if that Master, whom we have the honour to serve, determine to us an abode here for months and years to come, and his church may receive advantage by it, ill shall we requite his love, if we are unwilling for a while to wait till he shall call us up to himself. Very deficient shall we be in that gratitude and zeal which we owe him, if we find not something of a heaven begun even here below, in doing what may be pleasing to him, in managing his interests, with such degrees of ability as he shall be pleased to honour us with, and so training up others to a meetness for those enjoyments which he has taught us by his grace to expect and pursue.
Whatever our stations may be, whether in public or private life, let it be our care, in every circumstance and relation, that our conversation may be as becometh the gospel; that we may adorn so holy a profession, and answer so glorious a hope. If opposition arise, let it not terrify us. It will, if well supported, be a token of salvation, and that of God. Let us account it an honour, and the gift of the Divine favour to us, to be called and strengthened to suffer for his sake. So were the prophets, so were the apostles, dignified. We have heard of their noble contentions, that we might emulate them: and well may we do it, since we have the same Author and Support of our faith, and hope to partake of the same exceeding and eternal weight of glory. 2 Corinthians 4:17.
REFLECTIONS.—1st. The apostolical inscription and benediction open the epistle. Paul, and Timotheus who joins him in all cordial salutations, the servants of Jesus Christ in the gospel, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, brought into real union with him in faith and holiness, with the bishops and deacons, the superior officers in the church: grace be unto you, and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Note; (1.) There can be no true peace but what flows from divine grace and favour. (2.) Every covenant mercy that we receive at God's hands, comes to true believers as the fruit of our adored Redeemer's undertaking.
2nd, The Apostle, after his gracious introduction, begins,
1. With thanksgivings to God on their behalf. I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, and of the rich grace that he has bestowed upon you, (always, in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, delighting in and over you) for your fellowship in the gospel, thankful for all the inestimable privileges to which you have been admitted, for the love and union maintained among you, and for your liberality in contributing to the furtherance of the gospel; from the first day until now, with steadfastness and perseverance, in the midst of all opposition, continuing to approve your fidelity. Note; (1.) It is a great joy to a minister's soul, when his people walk steadily in the fellowship of the gospel. (2.) Our grateful thanksgivings are ever due, while we are mentioning the divine mercies.
2. He expresses his confidence concerning them—Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you, by his divine grace converting your souls, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ, will do every thing on his part, consistent with the harmony of his divine perfections, for your present and eternal salvation; and I indulge a humble hope and confidence, from your past conduct and present experience, and probable fidelity in future, that you will be kept by him unto the day of his appearing. Note; Whatever good is found in us, comes from God, in and through Jesus Christ; and he must have all the glory.
3. He gives the reason for that confidence in them which he entertained—Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, bound in the judgment of charity to esteem the whole church, and every member true to their profession. And I the more readily entertain such a persuasion of you, because I have you in my heart, embraced with my warmest affections, and sharing my constant remembrances, inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace, enduring the like tribulations as I suffer; and by your sympathy with me, and your readiness to assist me, both in my bonds, and amidst all the opposition which I meet with in defence of the gospel, ye manifestly appear to have received out of the same Redeemer's fulness. Note; We are bound to think well of those who, not only make a creditable profession, but dare to suffer for the truth themselves, or nobly own, even in bonds, those who do.
4. He appeals to God for the warm attachment of his heart unto them. For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ, with the truest spiritual affection, like that which Jesus himself feels for precious souls.
5. He tells them what were his prayers for them. And this I pray, (1.) That your love may abound yet more and more towards God and one another. (2.) That ye may advance in knowledge and in all judgment, grounded and settled in the true principles of the gospel; and that thus your love may be increased day by day. (3.) That ye may approve the things that are excellent, bringing every thing to the test of God's word, that their different excellencies may be ascertained; and examining by this unerring rule the doctrines of seducers, that the purity of the gospel may be maintained, in opposition to their errors. (4.) That ye may be sincere, and without offence, or allowed guile, before God and man, true to your principles, and upright in your conduct, till the day of Christ, persevering in your fidelity, and walking as those who constantly eye a heart-searching God and a judgment-day. (5.) Being thus found faithful, you will be filled with the fruits of righteousness, with every divine temper and gracious work which the Spirit of God produces in the faithful, and which are by Jesus Christ, accepted through him, as well as derived from him, unto the glory and praise of God. His own glory is the great end which he proposes in all his works, and which we therefore should ever regard as the great end of our being.
3rdly, Nothing could tend more gloriously to remove the ignominy of St. Paul's chain, or to comfort the hearts of his spiritual children, who might be much dejected at his reproaches and sufferings, than the account which he gives of himself.
1. Even in his bonds the gospel was not bound, but his sufferings tended to confirm and propagate the knowledge of the truth. I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me, dark and afflictive as the dispensation might appear to you, have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; for God can easily bring the greatest good out of what appeared the greatest evil. Thus the blood of the martyrs has ever been the seed of the church. So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, where my sufferings for the gospel, and patient fortitude under them, are known to all the great men of Nero's court, and in all other places, and are made the happy occasion of raising inquiries, about the gospel in those who might not otherwise have heard it, and of bringing some under the joyful sound even out of Caesar's household. And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, and fully satisfied of the goodness of the cause, and of the hand of the Lord visible in the support that he gives me, are much more bold than ever to speak the word without fear, and to proclaim the salvation which is only to be found in a crucified Jesus. Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife, taking this opportunity of my imprisonment to pursue the base end of setting up themselves, even under the covert of zeal for the gospel, envying my reputation, and hoping to supplant me in the affection of the churches, and some also of good-will, with hearty affection to the cause, and true regard for me. The one preach Christ of contention, out of mere pride and rivalship; not sincerely, from a right principle of love unfeigned; but from envy, supposing to add affliction to my bonds, by ingratiating themselves, to my prejudice, with the members of the churches, or hoping to incense the government more against me by the noise that they make, and the divisions they seek to raise: but the other preach Christ of love, truly attached to the Saviour, and longing to promote the salvation of immortal souls; knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel, and suffered to bear these bonds on purpose to have an opportunity, before the highest in this world, publicly to vindicate and defend the cause of Christ. Note; (1.) Strange as it may appear, that any should preach Christ out of envy, so subtle is the Tempter, and so corrupt the heart of man, that even the gospel may be turned into the gall of asps, and made the pedestal on which the proud heart would erect its reputation. (2.) Faithful souls are whetted by opposition, and made more bold by bonds and reproaches.
2. He expresses the joy that he felt in his own soul, amidst all he suffered from open enemies and false friends. What then? though some act on principles so base, notwithstanding every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice: if his name is spread abroad, and his gospel propagated, that is matter of real joy; and the ministry may be blest, though the preacher perishes. For I know that this shall turn to my salvation, however different the designs of these men may be; and serve to procure my liberty the sooner, as well as to advance my soul's present and eternal benefit, through your prayer daily offered up for me, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, which can enable me to improve under every dispensation, and cause it to work for good—according to my earnest expectation and my hope, that I shall be supported and delivered, and that in nothing I shall be ashamed of that glorious cause for which I suffer; but that with all boldness, and unshaken fortitude of mind, as always hitherto I have been enabled to act, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life or by death; by longer patient suffering, if such be his will; by a faithful discharge of my trust, should I regain my liberty; or by sealing the testimony with my blood, if his glory so require. Note; (1.) We are much indebted to our brethren's prayers. (2.) The supply of the Spirit of Christ can make up all other wants, and cause every providence to prove a blessing. (3.) If we are not a shame to the gospel, we need never be ashamed of it, though devoted, for the sake thereof, to the most ignominious death.
4thly, The Apostle was happy to die, yet, for their sakes, content to live.
For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain; living or dying, he is to me all and in all; for his glory I only desire to live; and in whatever way I die in his cause and service, I know it shall prove my everlasting gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour, to preach and suffer for the truth's sake, in order to advance my great Master's cause: yet what I shall choose, I wot not, whether life or death: for I am in a strait betwixt two; having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ, longing for the heavenly blessedness in store, and to see him face to face, where sorrow and sighing shall be for ever done away; which is far better than any possible situation that I can be in here below: nevertheless, to abide in the flesh is more needful for you, and for your benefit I can gladly forego, for a while, my own happiness, and conflict still amid the opposing powers of earth and hell. And having this confidence, that my abode below will be for your edification, I know, by divine intimations, that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith, to confirm and stablish you yet more and more; that your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me, by my coming to you again, restored to liberty, and enabled to resume my useful labours among you. Note; (1.) If we can say with truth, to live is Christ, that his glory is our single aim, we may confidently add, to die is gain; how great, heaven only can tell! (2.) But for one thing can earth be truly desirable to the faithful Christian, and that is the service which can be rendered to immortal souls, and the glory accruing thence to the Redeemer; for this therefore he lives.
5thly, The Apostle closes with two exhortations.
1. Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ ( πολιτευεσθε .) Behave as citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, walk worthy of your high vocation, adorning the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things, and proving the solidity of your hope by the spirituality of your conduct; that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, with joy, that ye stand fast in one Spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, united in truth and love; resisting, with the most vigorous efforts, every persecuting or seducing foe; holding fast the unadulterated principles of grace, and building up each other on your most holy faith. Note; (1.) The faith of the gospel will ever meet with opposition, till the great Millennium. (2.) Unanimity among Christians is the great means of their establishment; while dissention and schism render them an easy prey.
2. In nothing terrified by your adversaries, however many or mighty, whether from earth or hell; but defy their malice and rage, cleaving unshaken to the gospel; which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God; such patient and faithful suffering for the truth proves your interest in it; while the opposition of your foes must end in their eternal ruin. For unto you it is given, as your distinguished honour, in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, to the conversion and sanctification of your souls, which is a most eminent gift of God, but also to suffer for his sake; having the same conflict which ye saw in me, when I was with you, and steadily sustained the shock; and now hear to be in me. Note; (1.) Faith is the gift of God, but always ready to be bestowed upon the penitent. (2.) Sufferings and reproaches, on the behalf of Christ, are real honours. (3.) It is an encouragement to us patiently to endure the cross, when we see others cheerfully bearing it before us, and glorying in tribulation.
Tuesday, March 28th, 2017
the Fourth Week of Lent
Search This Commentary