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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary

Philippians 1

 

 

Verse 1-2

Chapter 1

INTRODUCTORY: THE SALUTATION.

THE sixteenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles contains the account of the Apostle Paul’s first intercourse with the Philippians, and of the "beginning of the gospel" there. The date may be fixed as A.D. 51. After the council at Jerusalem, [Acts 15:1-41] and after the dissension between Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:39), the Apostle of the Gentiles, accompanied by Silas, took his journey through Syria and Cilicia. "Confirming the Churches," he went over a good deal of ground which he had traversed before. At Lystra he assumed Timothy as an additional companion and assistant; and he passed on, guided in a very special manner by the Holy Spirit, until he arrived at Troas. Here a Divine warning, in a dream, determined him to break ground in a new field. The little company, to which Luke was now added, passed on to Macedonia, and, having landed at Neapolis, where they do not seem to have made any stay or found any opportunity of preaching, they came to Philippi. This, therefore, was the first city in Europe in which, so far as we have any distinct intimation, the gospel of the grace of God was declared.

Philippi was a city of some importance, and had the position and privileges of a Roman colony. It was situated in a fruitful district, was near to gold mines, and was also near enough to the sea to serve as a depot for a good deal of Asiatic commerce.

It is hardly necessary to remind readers of the Scripture how Lydia and others received the word; how the preachers were followed by the damsel with the spirit of divination; how, when that damsel had been silenced by Paul, her masters raised a tumult against Paul and Silas, and got them scourged and cast into prison; how the earthquake, which followed during the night, resulted in the conversion of the jailor, and in Paul and Silas being sent forth from the city with honour. Perhaps Luke and Timothy remained behind at Philippi, and continued to edify the believers. At any rate, Paul himself had by this time continued there "many days." Two short visits of the Apostle to Philippi at a subsequent time are known to us. [Acts 20:2; Acts 20:6]

The Church thus founded proved to be an interesting one, for it possessed much of the simplicity and earnestness of true Christianity. Both in the Epistles to the Corinthians and in this Epistle, the Philippians are singled out, above all Churches, for their cordiality of feeling towards the Apostle who had brought to them the. knowledge of the truth. They made liberal contributions for the furtherance of his work in other regions, beginning shortly after he left Philippi, and repeating them from time to time afterwards. They seem to have been remarkably free from some of the defects incidental to those early Churches, and to the churches at all periods. The Apostle’s commendations of them are peculiarly warm and glowing; and scarcely anything had to be noticed in the way of special warning, except a tendency to disagreement among some of their members. It does not appear that there was any great number of Jews at Philippi, and we find no trace of a synagogue. This may account in some measure for their freedom from the Judaising tendency, for we find the Philippians exhorted, indeed, to beware of that evil, but not reprehended as if it had taken any strong hold among them. On the other hand, they seem to have remained in a good measure free from evils to which Gentile Churches were most exposed, and which, at Corinth for example, produced much that was disheartening and perplexing.

Eleven years, probably, had now passed since Paul had brought to Philippi the knowledge of Christ Jesus. During that time he had undergone many vicissitudes, and now he had been for some time a prisoner at Rome. Probably he had already written the Epistles to the Ephesians, the Colossians, and to Phlippians. Comparing these with our Epistle, we may conclude that his prospects as a prisoner had not improved, but rather darkened, since the date of those letters. At this time, then, Epaphroditus arrived, apparently after a dangerous journey, bearing with him a supply for the Apostle’s wants, bringing tidings of the state of the Philippian Church, and assuring him of their sympathy and their prayers on his behalf. It is no wonder that, in these circumstances, the Epistle bears marks of having been written by the Apostle with a special flow of tenderness and of affection.

The scope of the letter may be briefly stated. After the usual inscription and salutation, the Apostle expresses (as he does so often in his Epistles) his thankfulness for what the Philippians had attained, and his desire that they might grow to yet higher things. He goes on to tell them how matters stood with himself, and opens up, as to those whom he reckons trusted friends, the manner in which his mind was exercised under these providences. Returning to the Philippians, and aiming at this, that they and he might have growing fellowship in all Christian grace, he goes on to set before them Christ, specially in His lowliness and self-sacrifice. This is the grand end; attainment to His likeness is work for all their lives. Paul sets forth how earnestly his heart is set on this object, and what means he is taking to advance it. After a brief digression relating to his circumstances and theirs, he returns again to the same point. In order that defects may be removed, dangers avoided, progress made, Christ must be their joy, their trust, their aim, their very life. They, like the Apostle himself, must press on, never content till the consummate salvation is attained. [Philippians 3:21] If this should be so, his desires for them would be fulfilled. So he closes [Philippians 4:2] with directions rising out of this central view, and with renewed expression of the comfort he had derived from their affectionate remembrance. Their good will to the cause in which his life was spent, and to himself, had cheered his heart. And he took it as God’s blessing to him and to them.

Such is a brief outline of the course of thought. But the Epistle, while perfect in the unity of its feeling and of its point of view, is remarkable for the way in which it alternates between matters proper to the Philippians, including the instruction Paul saw fit to impress upon them, and matters personal to himself. The Apostle seems to feel sure of affectionate sympathy in both regions, and in both equally; therefore in-both his heart utters itself without difficulty and without restraint. Philippians 1:3-11; Philippians 1:27-30; Philippians 2:1-16; Philippians 3:1-4; Philippians 2:9, are occupied with the one theme, and Philippians 1:12-26; Philippians 2:17-30; Philippians 4:10-21, with the other. In short, more than any other Epistle, if we except, perhaps, that to Phlippians, the Epistle to the Philippians has the character of an outpouring. The official aims and obligations of the Christian instructor are fused, as it were, in the "glowing affection" of the personal friend. He is sure of his place in the hearts of his correspondents, and he knows how glad they will be to be assured of the place they hold in his.

Let us now attend to the inscription and salutation. Those who send the Epistle are Paul and Timothy. Yet plainly we are not to regard it as a joint Epistle proceeding from both equally; for it is Paul who speaks throughout, in his own name and by his own authority. Timothy only joins, as Sosthenes and Silas do in other cases, in heartily commending to the Church at Philippi whatever the Epistle contains. As there was harmony between the two labourers when they laid the foundation at Philippi, so there is also in the building up. Timothy is joined in the love and care; but the authority is Paul’s. Both alike are called "servants of Jesus Christ"; for to this Church no further commendation and no rehearsal of a special right to speak and teach are needed. And yet, to understanding hearts, what commendation could be more weighty? If these two men are called, and allowed by Christ to be His servants, if they are loyal and faithful servants, if they come on an errand on which Christ has sent them, if they deliver His message and do His work, what more need be said? This is honour and authority enough-to be, in our degree, Christ’s servants. But the word is stronger: it means bondservants, or slaves, -such as are the master’s property, or are at his absolute disposal. So Paul felt; for we are not to reckon this to be, on his part, a mere phrase. Already, in this word, we recognise the sense of entire consecration to his Master and Lord; in which, as we shall see, he felt he could count upon the hearty sympathy of his Philippian friends.

Those who are addressed are, in the first place, "all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi." The saints, or holy ones, is a common expression in the Scriptures. The word "sanctify" is applied both to persons and to things. Bible-readers will have noticed that the term seems to vibrate or vacillate between two meanings, - signifying on the one hand the production of personal intrinsic holiness, and on the other merely consecration, or setting apart of anything to God’s service. Now the connection of both meanings will appear, if we mark how both meet in the word as it is applied to the children of God. For such are separated, set apart for God from sin and from the world; not, however, by a mere outward destination, devoting them to a certain use and service, but by an internal hallowing, which makes the man really in his inward nature holy, fit for God’s service and God’s fellowship. This is done by the regeneration of the Spirit, and by His indwelling thereafter. Hence, to distinguish this consecration from the mere outward ceremonial sanctification, which was so temporary and shadowy, we find the Apostle Peter [1 Peter 1:2] saying that God’s children are chosen "by sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus." For the ancient Israel was sanctified to obedience in another manner. [Exodus 24:6]

Now because this real consecration takes place when we are grafted into Christ by faith, because the Spirit comes to us and abides in us as the Spirit of Christ, because whatever the Spirit does, as our Sanctifier, has its rise from Christ’s redeeming work, because He unites us to Christ and enables us to cleave to Christ and hold fellowship with Him, therefore those who are thus sanctified are called saints in Jesus Christ. It is the Spirit who sanctifies; but He does so inasmuch as he roots us in Christ and builds us up in Christ. Therefore saints are sanctified by, or of, the Spirit; but they are sanctified (or holy) in Christ Jesus.

This expression, "saints," or some phrase that is equivalent, occurs commonly in the Epistles as the designation of the parties addressed. And two things are to be observed in connection with it. First, when the Apostle addresses "all the saints," in any Epistle, he is not shutting out any professed members of the Church, any professed believers in the Lord. He never speaks at the outset of an Epistle as if he meant to make deliberate distinction between two several classes of members of the Church: as who should say, "I write now to some part of the Church, viz., the saints; as for the rest, I do not now address them." Hence we find the term used as equivalent to the Church-"to the Church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia," and again "to them that are called to be saints." We shall see presently the lesson which this is fitted to teach. But, secondly, on the other hand, the Apostle’s use of the word makes it clear that he uses it in the full sense which we have explained, of a real saint-ship. He does not restrain the sense to some merely external saintship, as if his meaning were "professing Christians whether they are real or not." The word stands, in the inscriptions, as equivalent to "sanctified in Christ Jesus," "faithful in Christ Jesus," "beloved of God"; or as in 2 Peter 1:1, "them that have obtained like precious faith with us," and in 1 Peter 1:2, "Elect according to the foreknowledge of God unto obedience." Thus then we are to take it: - The Apostle wrote to the visible, or the professed and accepted followers of the Lord, on the understanding that they were what they professed to be. He was not to question it: he assumed that they were saints of God, for to profess the faith of Christ is to claim that character. He rejoiced to hope that it would prove to be so, and gladly took note of everything which tended to assure him that their holiness was real. He proclaims to them, in the character of saints, the privileges and the obligations that pertain to saints. It was the business of every man to look well to the reality of his faith, and to try the grounds on which he took his place with those addressed as beloved of God and called to be saints. There might be some who had but a name to live. [2 Corinthians 13:5] If so, it was not the Apostle’s part, writing to the Church, to allow that possibility to confuse or lower the style of his address to Christ’s Church. He wrote to all the saints in Christ Jesus who were at Philippi.

This is evident from the strain of all the Pauline Epistles, and it is important to observe it and apply it. Otherwise we shall readily fall into this way of reasoning, -"Since there must have been some in these Churches who were only nominally and not really believers, the word saints must include such; therefore it can imply only an outward separation of men, apart from any determination of their inward state." If we do so, then everything the Apostle says to saints, their standing, their privileges, their obligations, and their hopes, will come to be strained and lowered in the interpretation, so as to mean only that such privileges and blessings are somehow attainable, and if attained may also on certain terms be secured. The interpretation of the Apostle’s teaching on these subjects will, in short, be what it must be, if it is taken to apply at once, in his intention, to those who are indeed saints and to those who are not. This line, in point of fact, has been taken, in the interpretation of the Epistles, so as to resolve everything the Apostle says about the eternal life of saved men, as actually theirs, from their election downwards, into a mere matter of outward privileges. This view, no doubt, involves a straining of plain words. Yet it will always seem to force itself upon us, unless we hold fast (what is indeed demonstrably true) that when the Apostle speaks to saints, he says what should be said to those who are indeed saints, and on the understanding that those whom he addresses are such.

In like manner, on the other side, we have a lesson to learn from the unhesitating way in which the Apostle writes to the saints and sends the letter to the members of a Christian Church as the parties intended. He may have some things to reprehend; he may even have to express fears, when things have gone amiss, that some in the Church may yet prove to be no saints. Yet writing to the Church, he writes to saints. Let us learn from this what those lay claim to who become members of Christ’s Church, and what responsibilities they take on. They claim, in Christ, the salvation which makes men saints-i.e., persons set apart under the influence of the Holy Spirit to enjoy Christ’s forgiveness and to walk in His ways. Christ does this for us, if He does a Saviour’s work. It is a thing incongruous, a thing, in the Apostle’s view, not to be taken for granted, that any one shall hold his place in Christ’s Church who is worldly, earthly, unholy. There may be such, but Paul will not assume it; he will not measure the Christianity of Christ’s Church by any such standard. Neither will he go about to determine whether perhaps it is so or not in the case of any who are professing Christ in the ordinary way. If any have entered Christ’s Church who are content to continue in worldliness and sin, not seeking in Christ the grace which saves, that is solely their own personal sin, and in it they lie unto the Lord. But not for that will the Apostle come down to speak to Christ’s Church as if it should be thought of as a company to which holy and unholy may equally well belong. If any be there who are in no vital sense saints, their intrusion will not hinder Paul from speaking to the Church of God in its own proper character and according to its calling.

But let it be remarked at the same time, that this same fact shows us that the Apostle was wont to judge of men and Churches charitably; yes, with a very large charity. We may be very sure that there was a good deal in all those Churches, and a great deal in some, that needed to be judged charitably. They were not all clear, eminent, conspicuous saints; so far from that, there might well be some whole Churches in which saintship was, so far as man’s inspection could perceive, faint and questionable. But the Apostle was far from thinking of shutting out the man whose faith was weak, whose attainments were small, whose regard to Christ was but a struggling and germinating thing. Far from being disposed to shut him out, no doubt the Apostle’s whole desire was to shut such a one in, among the saints in Jesus Christ.

To be accepted in the Beloved, to be sanctified in Christ Jesus, is a very great thing. No less than this great thing Christ offers, and no less we humbly claim in faith. Also it is no less than this that Christ bestows on those who come to Him. Let Christians, on the one hand, look to Christ, as able and willing to do no less than this even for them; on the other hand, let them look to themselves, that they neither deceive them; selves with false pretences, nor trifle idly with so great a gospel. And in the case of others, let hasty and needless adverse judgments be avoided. Let us be glad to think that Christ may see His own, where our dim sight can find but scanty tokens of His work.

Along with the saints the letter specifies, in particular, the bishops and deacons. The former were the officers who took the oversight, as the word implies; the deacons those who rendered service, especially in the Church’s outward and pecuniary concerns. These two standing orders are recognised by the Apostle. It is obvious that this does not suggest diocesan Episcopacy, for that implies three orders, the highest being a single bishop, to the exclusion of others assuming the office in that place.

It is more important to observe that the Epistle is not directed to the bishops primarily, or as if they were entitled to come between the people and the message. It is directed to all the saints. To them the Epistle, to them all the Scriptures belong, as their own inheritance, which no man may take from them. In so far as the bishops and deacons are distinguished from other saints, the Scriptures pertain to them that they may learn their own duty, and also may help the people in the use and enjoyment of that which is already theirs.

Now follows the salutation-Grace be unto you and peace. This is the ordinary salutation, varied and amplified in a few of the Epistles. It may be said to express the sum of all Christian well-being in this life.

Grace is, first of all, the word which expresses the free favour of God, manifested towards the unworthy in Christ Jesus. But it is further extended in meaning to that which is the fruit of this favour, to the principles and dispositions in the mind which result from grace, which recognise grace, which in their nature correspond to the nature of grace. In this sense it is said "grow in grace." Peace is the well-grounded tranquillity and sense of well-being which arise from the sight of God’s grace in Christ, from faith in it and experience of it. Grace and peace are the forerunners of glory. That is a blessed company to which so great a fulness of good is commended, as ordinarily theirs.

And from whom is this good expected to proceed? From God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. The Father who loved us, the Son who charged Himself with the burden of our salvation, impart a grace and a peace fragrant with that Divine love and charged with the efficacy of that blessed mediation. If any one wonders why the Holy Spirit is left out, a reason may be given for it. For if we look to the substance of the blessings, what are this grace and peace but the Holy Spirit Himself dwelling in us, revealing to us the Father and the Son from whom He comes, and enabling us to continue in the Son and in the Father?


Verses 3-11

Chapter 2

THE APOSTLE’S MIND ABOUT THE PHILIPPIANS.

Philippians 1:3-11 (R.V.)

AFTER the salutation, the first thing in the Epistle is a warm utterance of the feelings and the desires which Paul habitually cherishes in relation to his converts at Philippi. This is expressed in Philippians 1:3-11.

Note the course of thought, in Philippians 1:3 he declares his thankfulness and in ver. 4 (Philippians 1:4) his prayerfulness on their behalf; and he puts these two together, without as yet saying why he thanks and what he prays for. He puts them together, because he would mark that with him these are not two separate things; but his prayer is thankful, and his thankfulness is prayerful; and then, having so much to be thankful for, his prayers became, also, joyful. The reason why, he presently explains more particularly. For, Philippians 1:5, he had to thank God, joyfully, for their fellowship in the gospel in the past; and then, Philippians 1:6, knowing to what this pointed forward, he could pray joyfully

- that is, with joyful expectation for the future. And thus he prepares the way for telling what special things he was led to pray for; but first he interposes Philippians 1:7-8, to vindicate, as it were, the right he had to feel so warm and deep an interest in his Philippian friends. The matter of his prayer follows in Philippians 1:9-11.

First he thanks God for grace bestowed upon the Philippians. As often as he remembered them, as often as he lifted up his heart in prayer to make request for them, he was cheered with the feeling that he could make request joyfully-i.e., he could rejoice over mercies already given. We know that the Apostle, in his letters to the Churches, is found always ready to evince the same spirit; he is prompt to pour out his thanks for anything attained by those Churches, either in gifts or grace. We find it so in his letters to the Churches of Corinth and Ephesus and Colossus and Thessalonica. He does this, always, in a full and hearty way. He evidently counted it both duty and privilege to take note of what God had wrought, and to show that he prized it. Like John, he had no greater joy than to hear that his children walked in the truth; and he gave the glory of it to God in thanksgiving. In the case of this Church, however, the ground of thanksgiving was something that bound them to Paul in a peculiar manner, and touched his heart with a glow of tenderer love and gladness. It was, Philippians 1:5, "their fellowship in the gospel (or rather, unto the gospel) from the first day until now." He means, that from their first acquaintance with the gospel, the Philippian Christians had, with unusual heartiness and sincerity, committed themselves to the cause of the gospel. They had made it their own cause. They had embarked in it as a fellowship to which they gave themselves heart and soul. There might be Churches, more distinguished for gifts than that of Philippi was, where less of this magnanimous spirit appeared. There might be Churches, where men seemed to be occupied with their own advantage by the gospel, their individual and separate advantage, but withheld themselves from the fellowship unto it, - did not readily commit themselves to it and to each other, as embarking wholly and for ever in the common cause. This misconception, this servility of spirit, is but too easy. You may have whole Churches, in which men are full of self-congratulation about attainments they make in the gospel, and gifts they receive by the gospel, and doctrines they buildup about it - but the loving "fellowship unto it" fails. A large measure of a better spirit had been given to the Philippians from the first. They were a part of those Macedonian Churches, who "first gave their own selves" to the Lord and His Apostles, and then also their help and service. It was an inward fellowship before it was an outward one. They first gave their own selves, so that their hearts were mastered by the desire to see the ends of the gospel achieved, and then came service and sacrifice. Trials and losses had befallen them in this course of service; but still they are found caring for the gospel, for their brethren in the gospel, for their father in the gospel, for the cause of the gospel. This fellowship-this readiness to make common cause with the gospel, out and out, had begun at the first day; and after trouble and trial it continued even until now.

The disposition here commended has its importance, very much because it implies so just a conception of the genius of the gospel, and so hearty a consent to it. He whose Christianity leads him to band himself with his fellow-Christians, to get good by their help, and to help them to get good, and along with them to do good as opportunity arises, is a man who believes in the work of the gospel as a vital social force; he believes that Christ is in his members; he believes that there are attainments to be made, victories won, benefits laid hold of and appropriated. He is in sympathy with Christ, for he is attracted by the expectation of great results coming in the line of the gospel; and he is one who looks not merely on his own things, but rejoices to feel that his own hope is bound up with a great hope for many and for the world. Such a man is near the heart of things. He has, in important respects, got the right notion of Christianity, and Christianity has got the right hold of him.

Now if we consider that the Apostle Paul, "the slave of Jesus Christ," was himself a marvellous embodiment of the spirit he is here commending to the Philippians, we shall easily understand with what satisfaction he thought upon this Church, and rejoiced over them, and gave thanks. Was there ever a man who, more than Paul, evinced "the fellowship of the gospel" from the first hour to the last? Was there ever one whose personal self was more swallowed up and lost, in his zeal to be spent for the cause, - doing all things, for the gospel’s sake that he might have part therein? Did ever man, more than he, welcome sufferings, sacrifices, toils, if they were for Christ, for the gospel? Was man ever possessed more absolutely than he with a sense of the worthiness of the gospel to be proclaimed everywhere, to every man-and with a sense of the right the gospel had to himself, as Jesus Christ’s man, the man that should be used and expended on nothing else but upholding this cause, and proclaiming this message to all kinds of sinners? The one great object with him was that Christ should be magnified in him, whether by life or by death (Philippians 1:20). His heart, therefore, grew glad and thankful over a Church that had so much of this same spirit, and, for one thing, showed this by cleaving to him in their hearts through all the vicissitudes of his work, and following him everywhere with their sympathy and their prayers. Some Churches were so much occupied with themselves, and had so little understanding of him, that he was obliged to write to them at large, setting forth the true spirit and manner of his own life and service; he had, as it were, to open their eyes by force to see him as he was. This was not needed here: the Philippians understood him already: they did so, because, in a degree, they had caught the contagion, of his own spirit. They had given themselves, in their measure, in a fellowship unto the gospel, from the first day until now. They had claimed, and they still claimed, to have a share in all that befell the gospel, and in all that befell the Apostle.

Paul ascribed all this to God’s grace in them, and thanked God for it. True, indeed, much activity about the gospel, and much that looks like interest in its progress, may proceed from other causes besides a living fellowship with Jesus, and a true disposition to forsake all for Him. The outward activity may be resorted to as a substitute for the inward life; or it may express the spirit of sectarian selfishness. But when it appears as a consistent interest in the gospel, when it is accompanied by the tokens of frank good will and free self-surrender to the Church’s evangelical life, when it endures through vicissitudes of time, under trial, persecution, and reproach, it must arise, in the main, from a real persuasion of the Divine excellence and power of the gospel and the Saviour. Not without the grace of God does any Church manifest this spirit.

Now to the Apostle who had this cause of gladness in the past, there opened (Philippians 1:6) a gladdening prospect for the future, which at once deepened his thankfulness and gave expectancy to his prayers. "Being confident of this very thing, that He that hath begun a good work in you will perform it unto the day of Jesus Christ." "Being confident of this very thing" is equivalent to "Having no less confidence than this"; for he desires to express that his confidence is emphatic and great.

The confidence so expressed assumes a principle, and makes application of that principle to the Philippian saints.

The principle is that the work of saving grace clearly begun by the Spirit of God shall not be destroyed and come to nothing, but shall be carried on to complete salvation. This principle is not received by all Christians as part of the teaching of Scripture; but without entering now into any large discussion, it may be pointed out that it seems to be recognised, not merely in a few, but in many passages of Holy Writ. Not to recite Old Testament indications, we have our Lord’s word: [John 10:28] "I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand." And there is hardly an Epistle of our Apostle in which the same principle is not presented to us, stated in express terms, or assumed in stating other doctrines, and applied to the comfort of believers. [1 Thessalonians 5:23-24; 1 Corinthians 1:8; Romans 8:30] The ultimate salvation of those in whom a good work is begun, is, in this view, conceived to be connected with the stability of God’s purposes, the efficacy of the Son’s mediation, the permanence and power of the Holy Spirit’s influence, and the nature of the covenant under which believers are placed. And the perseverance thus provided for is supposed to be made good through the faith, patience, fear, and diligence of those who persevere, and by no means without these. As to the place before us, whatever exceptions and whatever distinctions may be taken on the subject, it must be owned that, gladly recognising Christian character and attainment as a fact, he finds therein a warrant for emphatic confidence about the future, even to the day of Christ.

As to the application of this principle to the Philippians, the method in which the Apostle proceeds is plain. He certainly does not speak as by immediate insight into Divine counsels about the Philippians. He is directed to utter a conclusion at which he had arrived by a process which he explains. From the evidence of the reality of their Christian calling, he drew the conclusion that Christ was at work in them, and the further conclusion that his work would be completed. It may be asked how so confident an application of the principle now in view could be reached on these terms? How could the Apostle be sure enough of the inward state of his Philippian friends, to enable him to reason on it, as here he seems to do? In answer, we grant it to be impossible for any one, without immediate revelation on the point, to reach absolute assurance about the spiritual state of other people. And therefore we are to keep in view, what has already been suggested, that the Apostle, speaking to "saints," really remits to themselves and to their Lord the final question as to the reality of that apparent saintship. But then, we are taught by the Apostle’s example that where ordinary tokens, and especially where more than ordinary tokens of Christian character appear, we are frankly and gladly to give effect to those signs in our practical judgments. There may be an error no doubt there is, in unbounded charity; but there is error also when we make a grudging estimate of Christian brethren; when, on the ground of some failing, we allow suspicion to obliterate the impressions which their Christian faith and service might fairly have made upon us. We are to cherish the thought that a wonderful future is before those in whom Christ is carrying on His work of grace; and we are to make a loving application of that hope in the case of those whose Christian dispositions have become specially manifest to us in the intercourse of Christian friendship.

However, the Apostle felt that he had a special right to feel thus in reference to the Philippians-more, perhaps, than in regard to others; and instead of going on at once to specify the objects of his prayers for them, he interposes a vindication, as it were, of the right he claimed (Philippians 1:7): "Even as it is meet for me to be thus minded with respect to all of you, because I have you in my heart, you who are all partakers of my grace, not only in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, but also in my bonds." As if he would say, -There are special ties between us, which justify on my part special tenderness and vigilance of appreciation and approbation, when I think of you. A father has a special right to take note of what is hopeful in his son, and to dwell with satisfaction on his virtues and his promise; and friends who have toiled and suffered together have a special right to cherish, a deep trust in one another’s well-tried fidelity and nobleness. Let strangers, in such cases, set, if they will, a slight value on characters which they hardly know; but let them not dispute the right which love has to scrutinise with delight the nobler qualities of those who are beloved.

The Philippians were sharers of Paul’s grace, as sharing his enthusiasm for the successful advocacy and confirmation of the gospel. So they had their share in the grace that was so mighty in him. But besides that, the Apostle’s heart had been cheered and warmed by the manifestation of their sympathy, their loving thoughtfulness in reference to his bonds. So he joyfully owned them as partakers in spirit in those bonds, and in the grace by which he endured them. They remembered him in his bonds, "as bound with him." Every way their fellowship with him expressed itself as full and true. No jarring element broke in to mar the happy sense of this. He could feel that though far away their hearts beat pulse for pulse with his, partakers not only of his toil but of his bonds. So he "had them in his heart": his heart embraced them with no common warmth and yielded to them no common friendship. And what then? Why, then, "it is meet that I should be thus minded," "should use love’s happy right to think very well of you, and should let the evidence of your Christian feeling come home to my heart, warm and glowing." It was meet that Paul should joyfully repute them to be sincere - to be men cleaving to the gospel in a genuine love of it. It was meet that he should thank God in their behalf, seeing these happy attainments of theirs were so truly a concern of his. It was meet he should pray for them with joyful importunity, counting their growth in grace to be a benefit also to himself.

It would be a helpful thing if Christian friends cherished, and if they sometimes expressed, warm hopes and expectations in behalf of one another. Only, let this be the outcome of truly spiritual affection. Paul was persuaded that his feelings arose from no mere human impulse. The grace of God it was which had given the Philippians this place in his heart. God was his record that his longing after them was great, and also that it was in the mercies of Christ. He loved them as a man in Christ, and with Christlike affections. Otherwise, words like these assume a canting character and are undefying. Now at last comes the tenor of his prayer (Philippians 1:9): "That your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and all discernment; so that ye may approve the things that are excellent," and so on.

Let this first be noted, that it is a prayer for growth. All that grace has wrought in the Philippian believers, everything in their state that filled his heart with thankfulness, he regards as the beginning of something better still. For this he longs; and therefore his heart is set on progress. So we find it in all his Epistles. "As ye have received how ye ought to walk and to please God-so abound more." [1 Thessalonians 4:1] This is a very familiar thought, yet let us spend a sentence or two upon it. The spiritual prosperity of believers should be measured not so much by the point they have reached, but by the fact and measure of the progress they are making. Progress in likeness to Christ, progress in following Him; progress in understanding His mind and learning His lessons; progress ever from the performance and the failures of yesterday to the new discipline of to-day, - this is Paul’s Christianity. In this world our condition is such that the business of every believer is to go forward. There is room for it, need of it, call to it, blessedness in it. For any Christian, at any stage of attainment, to presume to stand still is perilous and sinful. A beginner that is pressing forward is a happier and a more helpful Christian than he is who has come to a stand, though the latter may seem to be on the borders of the land of Beulah. The first may have his life marred by much darkness and many mistakes; but the second is for the present practically denying the Christian truth and the Christian call, as these bear on himself. Therefore the Apostle is bent upon progress. And here we have his account of that which suggested itself to him as the best kind of progress for these converts of his.

The life of their souls, as he conceived it, depended on the operation of one great principle, and he prays for the increase of that in strength and efficacy. He desires that their love may abound more and more. He was glad to think they had shown, all along, a loving Christian spirit. He wished it to grow to its proper strength and nobleness.

No one doubts that, according to the Scriptures, love is the practical principle by which the fruits of faith are brought forth. The Christian character peculiarly consists in a Christlike love. The sum of the law from which we fell is, Thou shalt love; and, being redeemed in Christ, we find the end of the commandment to be love, out of a pure heart, and a good conscience, and faith unfeigned. Redemption itself is a process of love, setting forth from heaven to earth to create and kindle love, and make it triumph in human hearts and lives. Every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. No point is so well settled. Nobody doubts it.

Yet, alas! how many of us are truly aware of the great meaning which apostolic words, which Christ’s words, carry, when this is spoken of? or how shall it be made inwardly and vividly present to us? In the heart of Christ, who loved us and gave Himself for us, was a great purpose to awaken in human hearts a deep and strong affection, kindred to His own - true, tender, steadfast, all-prevailing, all-transforming. Apostles, catching the fire in their degree, were full of the wonder of it, of the glad surprise and yet the sober reality of it; and they carried about the gospel everywhere, looking to see men thrill into this new life, and become instances of its strength and gladness. And we? Let each man answer for himself. He is a happy man who can answer clearly. What is it to have love for the inspiration of the heart and the life: love submerging the lower cravings, love ennobling and expanding all that is best and highest, love consecrating life into a glad and endless offering? Which of us has that within him which could break into a song, like the thirteenth chapter of Corinthians, rejoicing in the goodness and nobleness of love? "That your love may abound." In our tongue it is but one syllable. So much the easier for our perversity to slide over the meaning as we read. But all our earthly life is too short a space for learning how deep and how pertinent to ourselves this business of love is.

No doubt, the kindness the Philippians had shown to the Apostle, of which he had been speaking, naturally prepares the way for speaking of their love, as the verse before us does. But we are not to take the word as referring only to the love they might bear to other believers, or, in particular, to the Apostle. That is in the Apostle’s mind; but his reference is wider, namely, to love as a principle which operates universally-which first holds lowly fellowship with the love of God, and then also flows out in Christian affection towards men. The Apostle does not distinguish these, because he will not have us to separate them. The believer has been brought back in love to God, and having his life quickened from that source he loves men. The manward aspect of it is made prominent in the Bible for this reason, that in love towards men the exercise of this affection finds the most various scope, and in this way also it is most practically tested. The Apostle would not grant to any of us that our profession of love to God could be genuine, if love did not exert itself towards men. But neither would he suffer it to be restricted in any other direction. In the present case he gladly owned the love which his Philippian friends bore to himself. But he sees in this the existence of a principle which may signalise its energy in all directions, and is able to bear all kinds of good fruit. Therefore his prayer fixes on this, "that your love may abound."

Now here we must look narrowly into the drift of the prayer. For the Apostle desires that love may abound and work in a certain manner, and if it shall, he assures himself of excellent effects to follow. Perhaps we may best see the reason which guided his prayer, if we begin with the result or achievement he aimed at for his Philippian friends. If we can understand that, we may the better understand the road by which he hoped they might be carried forward to it.

The result aimed at is this (Philippians 1:10-11): "that ye may be sincere and without offence until the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God." The last end is the glory and praise of God. This, let us be assured, is no mere phrase with the Apostle. All these things are real and vivid to him. If he were to come among us, knowing us to he professed believers, then, strange as some of us may think it, he would actually expect that a great degree of praise and glory to God should accrue out of our lives. The time he fixes on for the manifestation of this, the time when it should be seen how this has come to pass, is the day of Christ. The great day of revealing shall witness, in particular, the consummate glory of Christ’s salvation in His redeemed. And he prays that unto that day and at that day they may be sincere, without offence, filled with fruits of righteousness.

First, sincere: that signifies simplicity of purpose, and singleness of heart in following out that purpose. Sincere Christians cherish in their hearts no views, no principles, adverse to the Christian calling. The test of this sincerity is that a man shall be honestly willing to let light shine through him, to evince the true character of his principles and motives. Such a man is on the road to the final, victorious, and eternal sincerity. For the present there may be within him too much of that which hinders him, and mars his life. But if he is set on expelling this and welcomes the light which exposes it, in order that he may expel it, then he has a real, present sincerity, and his course is brightening towards the perfect day.

Second, without offence. This is the character of the man who walks without stumbling. For there are obstacles in the way, and they are often unexpected. Grant a man to be in a measure sincere-the call of the gospel has really won his heart. Yet as he goes, there fall in trials, temptations, difficulties, that seem to come upon him from without, as it were, and he stumbles; he fails to preserve the uprightness of his life, and to keep his eye fixed with due steadiness on the end of his faith. Suddenly, before he is well aware, he is almost down. So he brings confusion into his mind, and guilt upon his conscience; and in his bewilderment he is too likely to make worse stumbles ere long. He who would be a prosperous Christian has not only to watch against duplicity in the heart: he must give diligence also to deal wisely with the various outward influences which strike into our lives, which seem often to do so cruelly and unreasonably, and which wear some false guise that we had not. foreseen. Paul knew this in his own case; and therefore he "studied to keep a conscience void of offence." We may have wisdom enough for our own practice as to this, if we know where to. go for it.

Third, filled with fruits of righteousness-which is the positive result, associated with the absence of guile and the freedom from stumbling. A tree that bears any fruit is alive. But one that is filled with fruit glorifies the gardener’s care. "Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be My disciples." Distinct and manifold acts of faith and patience are the proper testimonies of the soul that is sincere and without offence,

This is the line of things which the Apostle desires to see running its course towards the day of Christ. Now let us ask, In what circumstances is the believer placed for whom Paul desires it?

He is placed in a world that is full of adverse influences, and is apt to stir adverse forces in his own heart. If he allows these influences to have their way-if he yields to the tendencies that operate around him, he will be carried off in a direction quite different from that which Paul contemplates. Instead of sincerity, there will be the tainted, corrupt, divided heart; instead of freedom from offence, there will be many a fall, or even a complete forsaking of the way; instead of fruits of righteousness filling the life, there will be "wild grapes." On the other hand, if, in spite of these influences, the Christian is enabled to hold his course, then the discipline of conflict and trial will prove full of blessing. Here also shall the promise be fulfilled that all things work together for good to them that love God. Strong temptations are not overcome without sorrow and pain; but being overcome, they turn out ministers of good. In this experience sincerity clears and deepens; and the bearing of the Christian acquires a firmness and directness not otherwise attainable; and the fruits of righteousness acquire a flavour which no other climate could have developed so well. This hard road turns out to be the best road towards the day of Christ.

The effect, then, of the circumstances in which the believer is thus placed will be according to the way in which he deals with them. But plainly, to deal rightly with them, implies a constant effort of judging the things within him and without him, the world within and the world without, that he may "approve what is more excellent"-that he may choose the good and refuse the evil. Discerning, distinguishing, as to opinions, influences, feelings, habits, courses of conduct, and so forth, so as to separate right and wrong, spiritual and carnal, true and false, must be the work in hand. There must be the prevailing practical mind to elect and to abide by the proper objects of choice, to cleave to the one and to put away the other.

So we can understand very well, if the Philippians were to be sincere, without offence, filled with fruits of righteousness, that they must, and ever more and more searchingly and successfully, "approve the things that are more excellent." The phrase is also rendered "try the things which differ"; for the expression implies both. It implies such a putting to proof of that which is presented to us, as to make just distinctions and give to each its proper place-silver on the one side, dross on the other. What is the whole life and business of the Philippians, of any Christians, as Christians, but that of following out perpetually a choice, on given principles, among the multitude of objects that claim their regard? The fundamental choice, arrived at in believing, has to be reiterated continually, in a just application of it to a world of varying and sometimes perplexing cases.

When we have all this in view it is easy to understand the scope of the Apostle’s prayer about the growth and education of their love. Out of love this needed discrimination must come. For

1. No practical discriminations or determinations are of any worth in God’s sight except as they are animated by love, and, indeed, determined by it. If a Christian should choose anything, or reject anything, yet not in love, his choice as to the matter of fact may be right, but for all that the man himself is wrong.

2. Love alone will practically carry through such habitual discrimination, such faithful and patient choice. Love becomes the new instinct which gives life, spring, and promptitude to the process. When this fails, the life of approving the things that are more excellent will fail: the task will be repudiated as a burden that cannot be endured. It may still be professed, but it must inwardly die.

3. Nothing but love can enable us to see and to affirm the true distinctions. Under the influence of that pure love (that arises in the heart which God’s love has won and quickened) the things which differ are truly seen. So, and only so, we shall make distinctions according to the real differences as these appear in God’s sight. Let us consider this a little.

Evidently among the things that differ there are some whose characteristics are so plainly written in conscience or in Scripture, that to determine what should be said of them is matter of no difficulty at all. It is no matter of difficulty to decide that murder and theft are wrong, or that meekness, benevolence, justice are right. A man who has never been awakened to spiritual life, or a Christian whose love has decayed, can make determinations about such things, and can be sure, as he does so, that as to the thing itself he is judging right. Yet in this case there is no just apprehension of the real difference in God’s sight of the things that differ, nor a right mind and heart to choose or to reject so as to be in harmony with God’s judgment.

And if so, then in that large class of cases where there is room for some degree of doubt or diversity, where some mist obscures the view, so that it is not plain at once into what class things should be reckoned-in cases where we are not driven to a decision by a blaze of light from Scripture or conscience-in such cases we need the impulse of the love which cleaves to God, which delights in righteousness, which gives to others, even to the undeserving, the brother’s place in the heart. Without this there can be no detection of the real difference, and no assurance of the rectitude of the discrimination we make.

Now it is in such matters that the especial proof and exercise of religious life goes on. Here, for example, Lot failed. The beauty of the fair and prosperous valley so filled his soul with admiration and desire that it chilled and all but killed the affections that should have steadied and raised his mind. Had the love of the eternal and supreme maintained its power, then in that day when God on the one hand and Lot on the other looked down on the plain; they would have seen the same sight and judged it with the same mind. But it was otherwise. So the Lord lifted up His eyes and saw that the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly; and Lot lifted up his eyes and saw only that the plain was well watered everywhere, as the garden of the Lord, as the land of Egypt.

But the love of which the Apostle speaks is the breath of the upper world and of the new life. It cleaves to God, it embraces the things which God loves, it enters into the views which God reveals, -and it takes the right view of men, and of men’s interest and welfare. The man that has it, or has known it, is therein aware of what is most material. He has a notion of the conduct that is congruous to love’s nature. What love knows, it is the nature of love to practise, for it knows lovingly; and at every step the practice confirms, establishes, and enlarges the knowledge. So the genuine growth of love is a growth in knowledge (Philippians 1:9)-the word implies the kind of knowledge that goes with intently looking into things: love, as it grows, becomes more quick to see and mark how things really are-when tried by the true standard. Conversing practically with the mind of God in the practice of life, love incorporates that mind and judges in the light of it. This prepares a man to detect the false and counterfeit, and to try the things that differ.

Not only in knowledge shall love grow, but "in all discernment," or perception, as it might be rendered. There may be instances in which with our best wisdom, we find it hard to disentangle clear principles, or state plain grounds which rule the case; yet love, growing and exercised, has its percipiency: it has that accomplished tact, that quick experienced taste, that fine sensibility to what befriends and what opposes truth and right, which will lead to, right distinctions in practice. So you discriminate by the sense of taste things that differ, though you can give no reason to another, but can say only, "I perceive it." In this sense "he that is spiritual judgeth all things."

For all this the aid of the Holy Spirit is held out to us, as we may see in 1 John 2:1-29. He makes love to grow, and under that master influence unfolds the needed wisdom also. So comes the wisdom "from above, which is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and of good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy." [James 3:17] It is hidden from many wise and prudent, but God has often revealed it unto babes.


Verses 12-20

Chapter 3

HOW THE PHILIPPIANS SHOULD THINK OF PAUL AT ROME.

Philippians 1:12-20 (R.V.)

HAVING poured out his feelings about those dear friends and children in the Lord at Philippi, the Apostle recognises corresponding feelings on their part towards him. These. must naturally be feelings of anxiety to know how it was with him in body and spirit and how far he had been protected and sustained amid the dangers and sorrows of a prisoner’s lot. On this then he is glad to be able to give them good tidings. He can do so, because he is in the hands of a wonder-working Lord, who turns the shadow of death into the morning. Hence his history as well as theirs (Philippians 1:11) is moving towards the glory and praise of God.

The Apostle’s affairs had seemed to be full of trial to himself, all the more that they bore so discouraging an aspect towards the cause to which he was devoted. He had been for years a prisoner. The work of preaching to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ had been stopped, except as the narrow opportunities of a prisoner’s life offered scant outlets for it. He had, no doubt, his own share of experiences tending to depress and embitter: for in his day philanthropy had not yet done much to secure good treatment for men situated as he was. Still more depressing to an eager soul was the discipline of delay, the slow, monotonous months passing on, consuming the remainder of his life, while the great harvest he longed to reap lay outside, uncared for, with few to bring it in. Meanwhile even the work done in Christ’s name was largely taking a wrong direction; those who under the Christian name preached another gospel, and perverted the gospel of Christ, had a freer hand to do their work. Paul, at least, had no longer the power to cross their path. Ground on which he might have worked, minds which he might have approached, seemed to be falling under their perverting influence. All this seemed adverse-adverse to Paul, and adverse to the cause for which he lived-fitted therefore to awaken legitimate concern; fitted to raise the question why God’s providence should thus depress the heart and waste the life of an agent so carefully prepared and so incomparably efficient.

Most likely these things had tried the faith of Paul himself, and they might distress and perplex his loving friends at Philippi. It was right to feel that these providences were trying; but one might be tempted also to conclude that they were in every sense to be lamented. So much the better it was, therefore, that the Apostle could testify how here also all things were working for good, and in particular were turning out to be for the furtherance of the gospel. This was taking place in two ways at least.

First, Paul’s imprisonment had become the means of bringing to the knowledge of the gospel many who were not likely ever to hear of it in any other way; for his bonds had become manifest in Christ in the Praetorium, and in all other places. The precise meaning of the several words here used has become matter of discussion; but the general result is much the same whatever view is taken of the matters debated. The word translated "palace" in the Authorised Version (Marg. Caesar’s Court) may perhaps refer to the quarters of the guard, in the immediate neighbourhood of the palace. Prisoners whose cases were in a special manner reserved to the Emperor were sometimes confined there. And Paul, whether actually confined there or not, must have come into contact with the troops stationed there, for we know he had been delivered to the captain of the Acts 28:16. Then the "all others" (Marg. of A.V) may probably mean the rest of the Emperor’s household, {comp. Philippians 4:22} and would naturally be connected with it in the minds of men, so that a mere indication like this was enough. For, in a military system such as that of the Empire was, the soldiers and officers of the guard formed an important part of the household. That household, however, was an immense affair, including hundreds or even thousands of persons-mostly freedmen or slaves, performing all sorts of functions.

Paul, then, in charge of the guard, coming in contact with individuals belonging to the various reliefs which successively had him in custody, spoken of as one reserved to the judgment of the Emperor himself, became known throughout the quarters of the guard, and to persons of the household of every rank and class. In point of fact we know and can prove from evidence external to the Bible that a few years later than this (perhaps even earlier than this) there were members of the household who were Christians. Before the end of the century a branch of the family which then occupied the imperial throne seems to have joined the Church, perhaps through the influence of a Christian nurse, who is commemorated in an inscription still preserved.

But how did his bonds "become manifest in Christ"? The words no doubt mean that he became known extensively as a man whose bonds, whose imprisonment, was for his adherence to the name and doctrine of Jesus Christ. Let us consider how this would come about.

There might, at first, be universal indifference with reference to the cause of this prisoner’s confinement. When his character and statements led to some curiosity about him, men might find it difficult to understand what the real nature of this mysterious case could be. For while the charge, whatever form it took, was not yet a common one, we may be very sure that the man struck people as profoundly different from ordinary prisoners. For ordinary prisoners the one thing desirable was release; and they employed every artifice, and exhausted every form of influence and intrigue, and were prepared to sacrifice every scruple, if only they could get free. Here was a man who pleaded for truth; his own freedom seemed to be quite secondary and subordinate. So at last men came to an understanding, more or less, of the real cause of his bonds. They were bonds for Christ. They were the result of his adherence to the faith of Christ’s resurrection, and to the truths which that great event sealed. They were connected with a testifying for Christ which had brought him into collision with the authorities of his own nation, which had set on Jews "everywhere" to "speak against" him. [Acts 28:22] And in his imprisonment he did not lay down his testimony, but preached with all his heart to every man who would hear him. This state of things dawned upon men’s minds, so far as they thought about him at all; it became clear; it was "manifest in the Praetorium, and to all the others."

One influence was at work which would at least direct attention to the case. There were certain Jews in the household; there were also Jews in Rome who made it their business, for their worldly interest, to establish connections in the household; and about this time Jewish influence rose to the person, nearest to Nero himself. There was therefore a class of persons in the household likely to feel an interest in the case. And on these most likely the influence of Jewish religious authorities would be exerted to produce an unfavourable opinion of Paul. It would be felt desirable that the Jews of the household should think of Paul as no loyal Jew, as a seditious person, and of his opinions as not legitimately pertaining to Jewish religion-as a religious belief and practice which Judaism repudiated and denounced. Thus, while Paul’s case might begin to influence the guard, because members of it were personally in contact with him, in the rest of the household there was a class of persons who would feel an interest in discussing his case. One way or another, some impression as to the peculiar character of it was acquired.

Now think how much was done when some view of the real nature of Paul’s bonds had been lodged in the minds of these men. Think what an event that was in the mental history of some of these heathens of the old world. Paul was, in the first place, a man very unlike the ordinary type of movers of sedition. It seemed that his offence stood only in religious opinions or persuasions; and that itself, precisely in Nero’s days, was a little singular to figure as the ground of political imprisonment. He was persecuted and endangered for his faith, and he neither denied nor disguised that faith, but spent all possible pains in proclaiming it. This was new. He had a faith, resting professedly on recent facts, which he proclaimed as indispensably necessary to be received by all men. This was new. He seriously told men, any man and every man, that their welfare must be attained through their being individually transformed to a type of character of the unworldliest type; he could press that alike on sordid Jews and gay young officers. This was new. He was a man who, in place of the ordinary anxieties and importunities of at prisoner, was ever ready to speak and plead in behalf of Christ that singular young Jew who had died thirty years before, but whom Paul affirmed to be alive. And in all this, however it might strike one as foolish or odd, there were tokens of an honesty, a sanity, and a purity that could not be explained away. All this struck men who stood near the centre of a world falling many ways into moral ruin, as something strange and new. Paul’s own explanation of it was in the one word "Christ." So his bonds were manifest in Christ.

A few of them might have heard previously of Christianity as a new and a malignant superstition. But another conception of it reached them through the bonds of Paul. This imprisoned man was a fact to be accounted for, and a problem to be solved. In him was an influence not wholly to be escaped, an instance that needed a new interpretation. Many of them ‘did not obey the truth, some did; but at least something had become manifest that could not easily be got rid. of again, -the beginning, in their case, of that leaven which was eventually to revolutionise the thinking and feeling of the world. Remember also that most of these were men to whom Paul at liberty, speaking in synagogues and the like, would have found no access, nor would he have come near the circles to which their influence extended. But now, being imprisoned, his bonds became manifest in Christ.

Thus does it often come to pass that what seems adverse proves to be on our side. Fruit is not always borne most freely when the visible opportunities of labouring are most plentiful. Rather the question is, how the opportunities given are employed, and how far the life of the labourer bears witness of the presence and power of Christ.

But besides the direct impression on those who were outside, arising from the fact of Paul’s imprisonment, it became the means of stimulating and reinforcing the labours of other Christians (Philippians 1:14). It is not hard to see how this might be. From Paul’s bonds, and from the manner and spirit in which they were borne, these brethren received a new impression as to what should be done and what should be borne in the service of Christ. They were infected with the contagion of Paul’s heroism. The sources of Paul’s consecration and of his comfort became more real to them; and no discouragement arising from pain or danger could hold its ground against these forces. So they waxed confident. While dangers that threaten Christians are still only impending, are still only looming out of the unknown future, men are apt to tremble at them, to look with a shrinking eye, to approach with a reluctant step. Now here in the midst of those Roman Christians was Paul, in whom were embodied the trouble accepted and the danger defied. At once Christian hearts became inspired with a more magnanimous and generous spirit. Wherever dangers and hardships are endured, even apart from Christianity, we know how prompt the impulse is to rush in, to give help, and to share burdens. How much more might it be so here.

Not that the impulse to evangelistic earnestness, arising from Paul’s presence in Rome, was all of this kind. It was not so. Some preached out of good will, in full sympathy with the spirit that animated Paul’s own labours and sustained him in his trials. But some preached Christ out of envy and spite, and supposed to add affliction to his bonds. How are we to fit this into our notions of the Primitive Church?

The truth is that, ever since the gospel began to be preached, unworthy motives have combined with worthier in the administration and professed service of it. Mixture of motive has haunted the work even of those who strove to keep their motives pure. And men in whom lower motive and worse motive had a strong influence have struck into the work alongside of the nobler and purer labourers. So if has pleased God to permit; that even in this sacred field men might be tried and manifested before the judgment of the great day; and that it might be the more plain that the effectual blessing and the true increase come from Himself.

More especially have these influences become apparent in connection with the divisions of judgment about Christian doctrine and practice, and with the formation of parties. The personal and the party feelings have readily allied themselves, in too many men, with a self-regarding zeal and with envy or spite. And where these feelings exist they come out in other forms besides their own proper colours and their direct manifestation. More often they find vent in the way of becoming the motive power of work that claims to be Christian-of work that. ought to be inspired by a purer aim.

There were, as we all know, in the Church of those days powerful sections of professed believers, who contested Paul’s apostleship, questioned his teaching, and wholly disliked the effects of his work. Perhaps by this time the strain of that conflict had become a little less severe, but it had not wholly passed away. We call these persons the Judaisers. They were men who looked to Jesus Christ as the Messiah, who owned the authority of His teaching, and claimed interest in His promises. But they insisted on linking Christianity to Jewish forms, and rules, and conditions of law-keeping, which were on various grounds dear and sacred to them. They apprehended feebly the spirituality and Divineness of Christ’s religion; and what they did apprehend they wished to enslave, for themselves and others, in a carnal system of rules and ritual that tended to stifle and to bury the truth. With this there went a feeling towards Paul of wrath, fear, and antipathy. Such men there were in Rome. Possibly there might even be a Christian congregation in the city in which this type prevailed. At any rate, they were found there. Before Paul’s coming no very remarkable nor very successful efforts to spread abroad the gospel in that great community had been going on. But Paul’s arrival made men solicitous and watchful. And when it was seen that his presence and the enthusiasm that gathered round him were beginning to give impulse and effect to the speaking of the word, then this party too bestirred itself. It would not-could not-op-pose the carrying of the message of Christ to men. But it could try to be first in the field; it could become active, energetic, dexterous, in laying hold of inquiring and susceptible persons, before the other side could do so; it could subject Paul to the mortification, the deserved mortification, of failure or defeat, so far as these would be implied in his seeing the converts going to the side which was not his side. Evangelistic zeal awoke on these terms, and bestirred itself. And sheaves that in other circumstances might have lain untended long enough, were gathered now.

This very same spirit, this poor and questionable zeal for Christ, still works, and does so plentifully. The activities of Churches, the alertness of mission societies and agencies, still partake, in far too many instances, of this sinister inspiration. We ought to watch against it in ourselves, that we may overcome the evil and grow into a nobler temper. As regards others, we may, in special cases, see the working of such motives clearly enough, as Paul saw them at Rome. But usually we shall do well, when we can, to impute the work of others to the better side of their character; and we may do so reasonably; for as Christian work is far from being all of it so pure and high as we might desire, on the other hand, the lowly and loving temper of Christ’s true followers is very often present and operative when it is not easy for us to see it. Let us believe it, because we believe in Him who worketh all in all.

Now the Apostle, looking at this, is glad of it. He is not glad that any men, professing Christ, give way to evil and unchristian tempers. But he is glad that Christ is preached. There were cases m which he vehemently contended with such persons-when they strove to poison and pervert Christians who had learned the better way. But now he is thinking of the outside world; and it was good that the making known of Christ should gather strength, and volume and extension. And the Apostle knew that the Lord could bless His own message, imperfectly delivered perhaps, to bring thirsty souls to Himself, and would not fail in His unsearchable wisdom to care for those who came, and to lead them in the ways He thought best. Let Christ be preached. The converts do not belong to the denominations, but first of all to Christ. Neither is it appointed that the denominations shall permanently hold those whom they bring in; but Christ can hold them, and can order their future in ways we cannot foretell.

It is not true that the preaching of Christ serves no purpose and yields no fruits, in cases where it is not carried on in the right or the best spirit. Indeed, God honours the pure, loving, lowly hearts, which He has Himself cleansed; they are appropriate agents for His work, and often receive a special blessing in connection with it. But God is not tied up to give no success to men acting under wrong motives: at least, if we are not to say He gives the success to them, yet in connection with them He is well able to take success to Himself. Through strange channels He can send blessings to souls, whatever He gives or denies to the unworthy workmen. But perhaps the success which attends such preachers is not remarkable nor very long continued. Souls truly gathered in will soon get beyond their teaching. At any rate, it is a poor business to be serving Christ upon the devil’s principles. It cannot be good for us-whatever good may sometimes come thereby to others. Let us purge ourselves from such filthiness of the flesh and of the spirit.

"Christ is preached." How glad the Apostle was to think of it! How he longed to see more of it, and rejoiced in all of it that he saw! One wonders how far the thoughts and feelings associated with these words in Paul’s mind find any echo in ours. Christ is preached. The meaning for men of that message, as Paul conceived it, grew out of the anguish and the wonder of those early days at Damascus, and had been growing ever since. What might Christ be for men?-Christ their righteousness, Christ their life, Christ their hope; God in Christ, peace in Christ, inheritance in Christ; a new creature, a new world; joy, victory-above all, the love of Christ, the love which passes knowledge and fills us with the fulness of God. Therefore also this was the burning conviction in Paul’s soul-that Christ must be preached; by all means, on all accounts, Christ must be preached. The unsearchable riches of Christ must be proclaimed. Certainly, whoever might do or not do, he must do it. He was to live for nothing else. "I Paul am made a minister of it." "Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel."

Lastly, as to this, not only does he rejoice that Christ is announced to men, but he has an assurance that this shall have a happy issue and influence towards himself also. What is so good for others shall also be found to contribute an added element of good to his own salvation; so good and rich is God, who, in working wide results of Divine beneficence, does not overlook the special case and interest of His own servant. This work, from which the workmen would shut Paul out, shall prove to pertain to him in spite of them; and he, as reaper, shall receive here also his wages, gathering fruit unto life eternal.

For it is characteristic of this Epistle [Philippians 2:17; Philippians 4:10; Philippians 4:18] that the Apostle reveals to his Philippian friends not only his thoughts concerning the great objects of the gospel, but also the desires and hopes he had about his own experience of deliverance and well-being in connection with the turns and changes of progressive providences. Here, it is as if he said: "I confess I am covetous, not a little covetous, to have many children in Christ; I would fain be a link in many a chain of influences, by which all sorts of persons are reached and blessed in Christ. And here where I sit confined, and am also the object of envy and strife that are solicitous to baffle me, I can descry ties forming between my influence in my prison and results elsewhere with which I seem to have little to do. I can claim a something of mine, granted me by my Lord, in the Christianity of those who are kept far from me, and taught perhaps to doubt and dislike me. If I in my prison experience can but live Christ, then all sorts of effects and reactions, upon all sorts of minds, will have something in them that accrues as fruit to Christ-and something also that accrues as my Lord’s loving recognition of me. Only do you pray-for this is a great and high calling-pray, you who love me, and let the Lord in answer plentifully give His Spirit; and then, while I lie here in the imprisonment which my Lord has assigned to me, and in which He vitalises me, oh how fruitful and successful shall my life be; what gain and wealth of salvation shall be mine! There shall be fruit for an Apostle still, coming in ways I cannot follow; and in it, and with it, the confirmation and deepening of my own eternal life. It shall turn to my salvation."

So the eager Apostle, caged and cabined, triumphed still in Christ, assured that there was a way of dealing with his Lord’s will, discouraging as that might seem, in which it would reveal both enlargement for the Kingdom and the most loving enrichment also for himself.

This is a commonplace of Christianity. Christians trust in Christ to cause all to work for good. They know He can impart His most precious gifts through what seem adverse providences. But it is a memorable embodiment of this conviction that meets us in the Apostle’s confidence, that when Christ’s providence outwardly stops his work, it not the less pertains to Christ’s wisdom to continue and extend his usefulness. The applications of the same principle to various cases in which Christians are trained through disappointment are inumerable. But mostly, even when, in a way, we are open to the lesson, we take it too easily. We forget that here also it is Christlike life and life in Christ that proves so fruitful and so happy. We do not apprehend how great a thing it is-what prayer it asks-what supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. For the Apostle, as we learn from what presently follows, this blessing came in the line of "earnest expectation and hope." It was not an exceptional effort of faith which awoke in him so firm a confidence about his circumstances at Rome, and was rewarded so manifestly. His whole life was set on the same key. He applied to that Roman experience the same mode of view which he strove to apply to every experience. This was his expectation-he was on the outlook for it-and this his hope, that not only in one great crisis, but all along his pilgrimage, his life should eventuate one way-should shape into glory to Christ. His whole life must turn out to be a loving, believing, effectual manifestation of the greatness and goodness of Christ. This was what rose before his mind as Success in Life. His thoughts, his prayers turned this way. As some men’s minds turn spontaneously to money, and some to family prosperity, and some to fame, and some to various lines of recreation or of accomplishment, so Paul’s turned to this. And in this world of failure and disappointment, success welcomed him and gladdened him. His would have been the nobler life even if its expectation had been disappointed. But this is the life which cannot fail, because God is in it.

There is a great admonition here for all of us who profess to be followers of Christ. Our line of service may not be so emphatically marked out for distinction, for special and exceptional eminence of doing and suffering, as Paul’s was. But for every believer the path of service opens, however commonplace and undistinguished its scenery may be. And in some of its stages it takes, for all of us, the peculiar character, it assumes the distinguishing features which mark it out as Christian. Here, in Paul, we see the spirit that should inspire service, should make thee strength, the peculiarity, the success of it, should be the quickening and gladdening influence of its efforts and its prayers. This ought to be for us also the longing outlook and the hope.

Let us note also, before we pass on, that the Lord’s personal kindness to ourselves is matter of legitimate rejoicing and legitimate desire. That may be gathered from almost every verse. There have been persons who conceived that a true Christian is to be so occupied with the thought of God’s glory and wills or so occupied with the weal of others, as to have no personal desires or interests at all. This is a mistake. One of the most intimate and special channels in which the glory of God and the revelation of it are secured, is in the expression of His good will to His child’s own heart. This is the privilege of faith, to cherish the expectation that His glory and our good are to agree well together. Only, as to the latter, let us leave it to Him how it is to come to pass; and then it will come divinely and wonderfully. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."


Verses 21-26

Chapter 4

THE CHOICE BETWEEN LIVING AND DYING.

Philippians 1:21-26 (R.V.)

AT the close of the preceding section we see that the ruling principle of the Apostle-the earnest expectation and hope which inspired his life-came into special exercise at this time with reference to the possibility, and the likelihood, of an early and violent death. Dying for the name of the Lord Jesus, as well as enduring imprisonment for Him, might be near. He might not only be straitened in his labours, and secluded from the activities connected with his loved work on earth, but might be completely and finally withdrawn from it by Roman doom and execution. The Apostle’s faith looked steadily at this final possibility. As at all times, so now also, Christ should be magnified in him, whether by life or by death.

Now, when some great alternative of the future rises before a Christian, -some possibility which God’s providence may turn either way, -it is natural that he should look heedfully to it, that he may order aright his faith and patience as the day of decision draws near. And it is natural in particular that his thoughts should be occupied by the consideration how far the one way of it is in itself more attractive to him than the other. For in view of that he has to watch his heart, that as to what seems more attractive he may not desire it idolatrously, nor let his heart be "overcharged" with it if it is realised; and that as to what seems less attractive he may await God’s will with submission and faith, and welcome it, if so it come to pass, with sincerity. So also the Apostle fixes his eye, ponderingly, on this alternative of life or death, so strongly suggested by his circumstances. But, as it were, with a smile he recognises that to a man standing, as he did, in the light of Christ, it was hard to say which should attract him most. Life and Death-what had they once been to him? what were they still to many? To live, self-self pleased, provided for, contended for, perhaps fighting for itself a losing battle with a bitter heart; to die, a dark, dire necessity, full of fear and doubt. But now, to live is Christ. In all life as it came to him, in all its various providences, he found Christ; in all life, as it fell to him to be lived, he found the circumstances set for him and the opportunity given to follow Christ; in all the attraction and all the pressure, the force and strain of life, he found the privilege of receiving Christ and employing Christ’s grace, the opportunity for living by the faith of the Son of God. That was all very real to him; it was not only a fine ideal, owned indeed but only distantly and dimly descried; no, it was a reality daily fulfilled to him. To live was Christ, with a support, an elevation, and a love in it such as the world knows not. That was good, oh, how good! And then to die was better; to die was gain. For to die, also, was "Christ"; but with many a hindrance passed away, and many a conflict ended, and many a promise coming into fulfilment as here it could not do. For if, as to his own interest and portion, he lived by hope, then death was a long step forward into possession and realisation. By grace Paul was to show how he valued Christ; he was to show it in his life. And Christ was to show His care for Paul-in this life, no doubt, very lovingly; but more largely and fully at his death. To live is Christ-to die is gain; to be all for Christ while I live, to find at length He is all for me when I die!

Which should he prefer, which should he pray for (subject to God’s will), which should he hope for, life or death? The one would continue him in a labour for Christ, which Christ taught him to love. The other would bring him to a sinless and blessed fellowship with Christ, which Christ taught him to long for. Looking to the two, how should he order his desires?

It is because he speaks as one always does speak who is pondering something-the words rising, as it were, from what he sees before him-that he speaks so elliptically in Philippians 1:22. "But if to live in the flesh come to me, as its fruit and reward bringing What? The Apostle sees, but does not say; something that might well reconcile him" to prolonged toil and suffering. But why produce the considerations on either side, why balance them against one another? It is too long, too difficult a process. And how can even an Apostle confidently judge as to better or best here? "And what I shall choose, really I do not know." But this he knows, that so far as his own desires are concerned, so far as the possible futures draw his spirit, he is in a strait between two, having a desire to depart and to be with Christ, for that is far better; and yet that he should continue in the flesh is of more imperative necessity for the sake of friends like the Philippians.

Not every Christian is in the state of mind which would naturally express itself as a desire forthwith to depart and be with Christ. The great hope claims its place in every Christian heart; but not in every case so as to inspire the longing-to overleap all intermediate stages. Rather must we not say that there are periods of Christian experience, as there are also casts of character, for which it is more usual and natural to desire, if it be God’s will, some further experience of life on earth? If this be immature Christianity, we will not, therefore, judge that it cannot be genuine.

Yet to be ready, and, subject to God’s will, desirous to depart, is an attainment to be aimed at and made good. Sooner or later it should come. It lies in the line of ripening Christian affection and growing Christian insight. For this is better. It is not that life in this world is. not good; it is good, when it is life in Christ. It has its trials, its conflicts, and its dangers; it has also its elements of defect and evil; yet it is good. It is good to be a child of God in training for a better country; it is good to be one who carries the life of faith through the experiences of time. And, for some especially, there is a strong and not an unworthy attraction in the forms of exercise which open to us just in such a life as this, under the guarantee and the consecration of Christ. Knowledge opens its career, in which many a generous mind is drawn to prove its powers. Love, in all the "variety of its calmer and its more ardent affections, sends a glow through life which gladdens it with promise. The tasks which call for practical effort and achievement stir vigorous natures with a high ambition. And when all these spheres are illuminated by the light, and dominated by the authority, and quickened for us by the love of Christ, is not life on those terms interesting and good? True, it is destined to disclose its imperfection. Our knowledge proves to be so partial; our love is so sorely grieved, so often bereaved, sometimes it is even killed; and active life must learn that what is crooked cannot wholly be made straight, and that what is wanting cannot be numbered. So that life itself shall teach a Christian that his longings must seek their rest further on. Yet life in Christ here upon the earth is good; let us say no unkind word of those who feel it so, -"whose hearts, with true loyalty to Christ, would yet, if it be His will, put life fully to the proof before they go. Still, this must be said and pressed-let it be joyfully believed-that to depart is better. It is far better. It is better to be done with sin. It is better to be-where all hopes are fulfilled. It is better to rise above a scene in which all is precarious, and in which a strange sadness thrills through our happiness even when we possess it. To be-where Christ most fully, eminently, experimentally is, that is best. Therefore it is better to depart. Let mortality be swallowed up of life.

It is not only better, so that we may own it so to be as a certainty of faith; but also so that we may and ought to feel it warming and drawing the heart with delight and with desire. It is not needful that we should judge more hardly of life on earth; but we might attain a far more gladdening appreciation of what it must be to be with Christ. With no rebellion against God’s appointment when it keeps us here, and no grudging spirit towards earth’s mercies and employments, we might yet have this thought of departing in God’s time as a real and bright hope; a great element of comfort and of strength; a support in trouble; an elevating influence in times of gladness; an anchor of the soul, sure and steadfast, entering into that which is within the veil.

The hope of the gospel implies it. If that hope is ours and is duly cherished, must it not assert itself and sway the heart, so as more and more to command the life?

The earnest of the Spirit implies it. Of the very substance of the life eternal a foretaste comes, in the presence and grace of the Spirit of love and comfort. Can that be with us, can that leaven work duly in our hearts, and not awaken longing for the full entrance into so great a good? It may be expected of us Christians that we should lift up our heads because redemption is drawing nigh.

As for the Apostle, however, if the choice were his, he felt that it must fall in favour of still cleaving to the present life; for this, though less attractive to himself, was more necessary for the Churches, and, in particular, for his friends at Philippi. This was so clear to him that he was persuaded his life would, in fact, be prolonged by Him who appoints to all their term of ministry. Probably we are not to take this as a prophecy, but only as the expression of a strong persuasion. Work still lay before him in the line of training and cheering these believing friends, furthering and gladdening their faith. He hoped to see them yet, and to renew the old glad "fellowship." [Philippians 1:5] So there should be for the Philippians fresh matter of exultation, -exultation primarily in the great salvation of Christ, but yet receiving impulse and increase from the presence and ministry of Paul. Mainly, they would be exceeding glad of Christ; but yet, subordinately, exceeding glad of Paul also.

It is a striking thing to see how confident the Apostle was of the resources given to him to wield. He knew how profitable and how gladdening his coming would be to the Philippian believers. He admits no doubt of it. God has set him in the world for this, that he may make many rich. Having nothing, he yet goes about, as one possessing all things, to impart his treasures to all kinds of people. To disguise this would be for him mock humility; it would be a denying of his Master’s grace. When ministers of Christ come aright to this impression of their own calling, then they are also powerful. But they must come to it aright. For it was not the Apostle’s consciousness of himself, but his consciousness of his Master, that bred this superb confidence, this unabated expectation. In subordination to that faith the Apostle no doubt had specific reason to know that his own personal mission was of the highest importance, and was designed to accomplish great results. Ordinary ministers of Christ do not share this peculiar ground of confidence. But no one who has any kind of mission from Christ can discharge it aright if he is destitute of the expectancy which looks forward to results, and, indeed, to momentous results; for the reapers in Christ’s harvest are to "gather fruit unto life eternal." To cherish this mood, not in the manner of a vain presumption, but in the manner of faith in a great Saviour, is the practical question for gospel ministers.

Alike in the utterance of his mind about his Philippian friends, and in his explanations about himself, it is remarkable how thoroughly the Apostle carries his faith through the whole detail of persons and things. The elements and forces of the Kingdom of God are not for him remote splendours, to be venerated from afar. To his faith they are embodied, they are vitally and divinely present, in the history of the Churches and in his own history. He sees Christ working in the Philippian believers; he sees in their Christian profession and service a fire of love caught from the love of Christ-the increase and triumph of which he anticipates with affectionate solicitude. The tender mercies of Christ are the element in which he and they are alike moving, and this blessedness it is their privilege assiduously to improve. So he was minded in regard to all the Churches. If in any of them the indications are feeble and dubious, only so much the more intently does he scrutinise them, to recognise, in spite of difficulty, that which comes and only could come from his Master’s Spirit. If indications too significant of a wholly different influence have broken out, and demand the severest rebukes, he still casts about for tokens of the better kind. For surely Christ’s Spirit is in His Churches, and surely the seed is growing in Christ s field towards a blessed harvest. If men have to be warned that naming the name of Christ they may be reprobates, that without the Spirit of Christ they are none of His, this comes as something sad and startling to be spoken to men in Christian Churches. So also in his own case-Christ is speaking and working by him, and all providences that befall him are penetrated by the love, the wisdom, and the might of Christ. In nothing is the Apostle more enviable than in this victoriousness of his faith over the earthly shows of things, and over the unlikelihoods which in this refractory world always mask and misrepresent the good work. We, for our part, find our faith continually abashed by those same unlikelihoods. We recognise the course of this world, which speaks for itself; but we are uncertain and discouraged as to what the Saviour is doing. The mere commonplaceness of Christians, and of visible Christianity, and of ourselves, is allowed to baffle us. Nothing in the life of the Church, we are ready to say, is very interesting, very vivid, very hopeful. The great fire burning in the world ever since Pentecost is for us scarcely recognisable. We even take credit for being so hard to please. But if the quick faith and love of Paul the prisoner were ours, we should be sensitive to echoes and pulsations and movements everywhere, -we should be aware that the voice and the power of Christ are everywhere stirring in His Churches.


Verses 27-30

Chapter 5

UNDAUNTED AND UNITED STEADFASTNESS.

Philippians 1:27-30 (R.V.)

AT Philippians 1:27 the letter begins to be hortative. Up to this point the Apostle has been taking the Philippians into his confidence, in order that they may share his point of view and see things as he sees them. Now he begins more directly to call them to the attitude and work which become them as Christians; but up to Philippians 1:30 the sense of the dear tie between him and them is still very present, colouring and controlling his exhortations.

"Be assured," he has been saying, "that by the grace of God, abounding amid trials, it is well with me; and I have very good hope of yet again enjoying this honour, that through my means it may be well with you; -only fix you on this, let this be your concern, to walk as it becomes the gospel: this is the ground on which you must win your victory; this is the line on which alone you can make any effectual contribution to our common welfare, and that of all the Churches." So the Apostle urges. For, let us be assured of it, while we debate with ourselves by what efforts and in what lines we can do some stroke of service to the good cause, or to some special representative of it, after all the greatest and weightiest thing by far that we can do is to be thoroughly consistent and devoted in our own Christian walk, living lives answerable to the gospel.

The original suggests that the Apostle thinks of the Philippians as citizens of a state, who are to carry on their life according to the constitution and laws of the state to which they belong. That citizenship of theirs, as we shall afterwards see, is in heaven, [Philippians 3:20] where Christ their head is gone. The privilege of belonging to it had reached them through the call of God. And it was their business on the earth to act out the citizenship, to prove the reality of it in their conduct, and to manifest to the world what sort of citizenship it is. Now the standard according to which this is to be done is the gospel of Christ-the gospel, not only as it contains a code of rules for practice, but as it reveals the Saviour to whom we are to be conformed, and discloses a Divine order of holiness and grace to the influence of which our souls are to bow. And, indeed, if our thinking, and speaking, and acting held some proportion to the gospel we profess to believe; if they corresponded to the purity, the tenderness, the Divine worth of the gospel; if from step to step of life we were indeed building ourselves on our most holy faith, what manner of persons should we be? This opens more fully in the next chapter.

But we are tried by circumstances; and the same Christianity will take different manifestations according to the circumstances in which it is unfolded. For every Christian and for every Christian community much depends on the shaping influence of the providences of life. The Apostle, therefore, must have regard to the circumstances of the Philippians. We are all ready, commonly, to exert ourselves, as we say, to "improve our circumstances"; and, in one view, it is natural and fitting enough. Yet it is of more importance-much more-that in the circumstances as they stand we should bear ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel. Some of us are ready to stir heaven and earth in order that certain unwelcome conditions of our lot may be altered or abolished. It would be more to the point to walk with God under them as long as they last. When they have passed away, the opportunity for faith, love, and service which they have furnished will have passed away for ever.

The Apostle, therefore, specifies what he wished to see or hear of in the Philippian Church, as proper to the circumstances in which they stood. He calls for steadfastness as against influences that might shake and overthrow, put in motion against them by the enemies of the gospel.

The words suggest the strain of the situation as it was felt in those small early Churches. It is difficult for us adequately to conceive it. There was the unfriendly aspect both of Roman law and of public opinion to unauthorised religious fraternities; there was the hostility of ardent Jews, skilful to stir into activity enmities which otherwise might have slumbered; there was the jealousy of religious adventurers of all kinds with whom that age was becoming rife. But besides, there was the immense pressure of general unbelief. Christianity had to be embraced and maintained against the judgment and under the cool contempt of the immense majority, including the wealth, the influence, the wisdom, the culture-all that was brilliant, imposing, and exclusive. This temper was disdainful for the most part; it became bitter and spiteful if in any instance Christianity came near enough to threaten its repose. It found, no doubt, active interpreters and representatives in every class, in every family circle. Christianity was carried forward in those days by a great spiritual power working with the message. It needed nothing less than this to sustain the Christian against the deadweight of the world’s adverse verdict, echoing back from every tribunal by which the world gives forth its judgments. Then every feeling of doubt, or tendency to vacillate, created by these influences, was reinforced by the consciousness of faults and failings among the Christians themselves.

Against all this faith held its ground, faith clinging to the unseen Lord. In that faith the Philippians were to stand fast. Not only so; looking on "the faith" as if it were a spiritual personality, striving and striven with, they were to throw their own being and energy into the struggle, that the cause of faith might make head and win fresh victories. The faith is knocking at many doors, is soliciting many minds. But much depends on ardent and energetic Christians, who will throw their personal testimony into the conflict, and who will exert on behalf of the good cause the magic of Christian sympathy and Christian love. So they should be fellow-athletes contending on the side of faith, and in the cause of faith.

In our own day a livelier sense has awakened of the obligation lying upon Christians to spend and be spent in their Master’s cause, and to be fellow-helpers to the truth. Many voices are raised to enforce the duty. Still, it cannot be doubted that in most cases this aspect of the Christian calling is too languidly conceived and too intermittently put in practice. And many in all the Churches are so little qualified to labour for the faith, or even stand fast in it, that their Christianity is only held up externally by the consent and custom of those about them.

At this point and in this connection the Apostle begins to bring forward the exhortation to peace and unity which goes forward into the following chapter. Apparently no steadfastness will, in his view, be "worthy of the gospel," unless this loving unity is added. If there was a common instinct of worldliness and unbelief, giving unity ‘to the influences against which the Philippians had to contend, the operation of a mighty uniting influence was to be expected on the other side, an influence Divine in its origin and energy. The subject is brought forward, one can see, in view of tendencies to disagreement which had appeared at Philippi. But it was a topic on which the Apostle had intensely strong convictions, and he was ever ready to expatiate upon it.

We need not be surprised at the earnestness about peace and unity evinced in the Epistles, nor think it strange that such exhortations were required. Consider the case of these early converts. What varieties of training had formed their characters; what prejudices of diverse races and religions continued to be active in their minds. Consider also what a world of new truths had burst upon them. It was impossible they could at once take in all these in their just proportions. Various aspects of things would strike different minds, and difficulty must needs be felt about the reconciliation of them. In addition to theory, practice opened a field of easy divergence. Church life had to be developed, and Church work had to be done. Rules and precedents were lacking. Everything had to be planned and built from the foundation. The very energy of the Christian faith tended to produce energetic individualities. If all these things are weighed, instead of being surprised at the rise of difficulties we may rather wonder how interminable disagreement was averted. The temper of "standing fast" might seem perhaps likely rather to aggravate than to alleviate some of these sources of discord.

On the other hand, to the Apostle’s mind a glorious unity was one especial mark of the triumph of the Kingdom of God. That expressed the victory in all the members of the new society of one influence proceeding from one Lord; it expressed the prevalence of that new life the chief element of which is the uniting grace, the grace of love. It should not be difficult to understand the value which the Apostle set on this feature in the life of Churches, how he longed to see it, how he pressed it so ardently on his disciples. Sin, dividing men from God, had divided them also from one another. It introduced selfishness, self-seeking, self-worship, self-assertion, everything that tends to divide. It rent men into separate interests, societies, classes, worships; and these stood over against one another isolated, jealous, conflicting. Men had long ago ceased to think it possible to have things otherwise ordered. They had almost ceased to desire it. How eminently then did the glory of the redemption in Christ appear in the fact that by it the dispersed out of all kinds of dispersion were gathered into one. They were bound to one another as well as to Christ; they became more conscious of oneness than ever they had been of separation. It testified to the presence and working of Him who made all, and from whom all, by different paths, had gone astray.

The means by which this unity was to be maintained was chiefly the prevalence of the Christian affections in the hearts of believers-the presence and power of that mind of Christ, of which more must be said in connection with the following chapter. Certainly the Apostle regards this as, at any rate, the radical security for unity in life and work, and without it he does not suppose the unity for which he cares can exist at all. In this connection it is worth observing that the unity he is thinking of is chiefly that which should bind together the members of those little communities which were rising up in various places under his ministry. It is the harmony of those whose lot is cast in the same place, who can influence one another, whose plain business it was to confess Christ together. Wider unity was supposed indeed, and was rejoiced in; but the maintenance of it had not yet become so much a practical question. This continued to be the case for some time after the Apostolic period. Men were anxious to hold each local congregation together, and to avert local splits and quarrels. If that were done, it seemed as though nothing further were urgently needed.

Yet the same principles establish the unity of the visible Church throughout the world, and indicate the discharge of the duties which are necessary in order to the expression of it. Christians differ indeed among themselves upon the question how far the Church has received organic institutions fitted to give expression or embodiment to her unity; and diversity of judgment on that point is not likely soon to be removed. For the rest the main thing to observe is that Christ’s Church is one, in root and principle. This applies not only to the Church invisible, but to the Church visible too. Only the latter, as she falls short in all service and attainment, falls short also in expressing her own unity and in performing the duties connected with it. On the one hand they err who think that because the state of the visible Church is marred by divisions, therefore unity in her ease is a dream, and that the unity of the Church invisible is alone to be asserted. On the other hand they err who, on much the same grounds, conclude that only one of the organised communions can possess the nature and attributes of the visible Church of Christ. The visible Churches are imperfect in their unity as they are in their holiness. In both respects their state is neither to be absolutely condemned nor to be absolutely approved. And no one of them is entitled to throw upon the rest all the blame of the measure of disunion. Any one that does so becomes a principal fomenter of disunion.

This is too wide a subject to follow further. Meanwhile it may be gathered from what has been said that the most direct application of the Apostle’s language must be, not to the mutual relations of great communions, but to the mutual relations of Christians in the same local society. There is great room for such an application of it. Exaggerated statements may sometimes be made as to the indifference of Christians in modern congregations to one another’s weal or woe; but certainly very often self-will and bitter feeling are allowed to prevail, as if the tender ties and solemn obligations of Christian fellowship had been forgotten. And very often mutual ignorance, indifference, or silent aversion marks the relations of those who have worshipped God together for long years. Certainly there is either some element lacking in the Christianity which is supposed to sustain Church life of this kind, or else the temperature of it must be low. Hence it comes, too that the edification of Christians has so largely dissociated itself from the fellowship of the Churches to which they still resort, and seeks support on other lines. It was not so in those earliest Churches. The life and growth of the Christians were nursed in the Church meetings. There they gathered to read and sing and pray and break bread; to strengthen one another against Pagan violence and seduction; to love one another, as bound together by ties which Pagans never knew; to endure together the scorn and wrong which Christ’s name might bring upon them; and not impossibly, after they had thus fought side by side, to die together one triumphant martyr death. Similar conditions have more or less returned again whenever the Churches have been tolerably pure and united, and have at the same time been subjected to some sharp pressure of persecution.

They were to stand fast-then in one spirit, cherishing that "spirit of the mind" which is the immediate fruit of the working of the One Spirit of God, the common gift of the Father. It is supposed that Christians know what this is and can recognise it. But they might not be solicitous enough to maintain it, and they might be betrayed into preferring a spirit of their own. The Holy Spirit’s influence, creating in each of them the new spirit of the mind, would be the key to right conduct in their common life. It would inspire a purer wisdom and a higher motive than the flesh supplies. Recognising it in one another, they would find themselves confirmed and cheered, established against external opposition and internal strife. Too easily we content ourselves with thoughts, words, and deeds which come only from our own private "spirit" and which are governed by that. We are too careless of living in a higher region. For the want of this some persons among us are infidels. They think they can account for all they see in Christians from the men’s own spirit. Their cavil is by no means always true or fair; yet it finds too much plausible support.

The same unity in the one spirit, with its accompanying vitality, gladness, and courage, was to characterise their active labours in the gospel. Let it be remembered that men do not make this attainment in a moment by stepping across some definite line. They grow into it by sincerity of aim, and by steadfast endeavour in the strength of Christ. In this way the "fellowship unto the gospel" (Philippians 1:5), already so happily characteristic of the Philippians, was to grow yet more in cordiality, devotedness, and power.

Meanwhile, what were they to make of the attacks directed against them by those who hated the gospel? This was no doubt a very practical question. Although persecution of the Christians had not yet revealed the energy it was afterwards to assume, their lot was often hard enough. The first burst of trial of this kind exerts a very depressing influence on some minds; with others the prolonged endurance of it, wearing out the spirit, is the more dangerous experience. Either way the dark cloud is felt, suddenly or gradually, shutting out the sky. This feeling of depression and dismay is to be steadfastly resisted. Enmity, unpleasant and ominous as it may be, is not to perturb or move you. It is not to be regarded as a reason for depression or an augury of defeat. Far otherwise: here should be discerned and grasped a token of salvation given by God Himself.

It has been said that earthly prosperity was the promise of the Old Covenant, but adversity that of the New. This is, at least, so far true that the necessity and benefit of chastening are very plainly set before us. Such discipline is part of the salvation secured for us; it is necessary to lead us aright to final well-being; and it will be administered to God’s children as He sees fit. When it comes, it does not necessarily indicate special Divine displeasure, still less Divine ill will. It does indicate that we have lessons to learn, attainments to make, and faults to be purged out; it indicates also that God is taking loving pains with us for these ends. All these things ought to be very certain to Christians. Yet some Christians, when their own turn comes, find it very hard to believe so much. Pains, losses, and disappointments, coming in the very forms they most deprecate, wear such an unfriendly aspect that they can only feel scorched and affronted; and the hurt spirit breaks out in a querulous "Why?" To be so thrown off our balance is a failure of faith.

But Paul is occupied here with the spirit in which one special form of trial is to be dealt with. Antipathy, contempt, and persecution are bitter, very bitter to some sensitive souls; but when they come upon us as followers of Christ, and for His sake, they have a consolation proper to themselves. They are to be borne gladly, not only because all chastening is guided by fatherly love and wisdom, but because this kind of suffering is our glory. It comes to believers as part of their fellowship with Christ; and it is such a part of that fellowship as carries with it a peculiar power of assurance and confirmation. Christians share with Christ the enmity of the world’s unbelief, because they share with Him the knowledge and love of the Father. If, indeed, by indulging self-will and passion (though perhaps under religious forms) we bring enemity on ourselves, then we suffer as evildoers. But if we suffer for righteousness, the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon us. Some share of suffering for Christ comes, therefore, as God’s gift to His children, and ought to be valued accordingly.

As to the exact point of the Apostle’s remark on the "token" of perdition and of salvation, two views may be taken. In the line of what has just been said, he may be understood to mean simply that when God allows believers to suffer, persecution for Christ’s sake, it is a sign of their salvation; just as, on the contrary, to be found opposing and persecuting God’s children is a sign and omen of destruction. As if he said: "It is not you but they who have cause to be terrified; for lo! thine enemies, O Lord, for lo! thine enemies shall perish."

This is a scriptural view. Yet both here and in 2 Thessalonians 1:6 it is perhaps more precise to say that for the Apostle the special sign of salvation on the one side, and destruction on the other, is the patience and calmness with which Christians are enabled to endure their trials. This patience, while it is a desirable attainment on their part, is also something secured for them and given to them by their Lord. It is very precious and should be earnestly embraced. In this view the Apostle says: "In no wise be terrified by your adversaries; and this tranquillity of yours shall be a sign, on the one part, of your salvation, and also, on the other part, if they repent not, of their destruction." For this tranquillity is a victory given to you by God, which endures when their malice is exhausted. Does it not tell of a power working for you which mocks their malice, a power which is well able to perfect your salvation as well as to overthrow the enemies of God? So you find coming into experience that which beforehand was given you by promise. It was given you to believe in Christ, and also to suffer for Him. Now that you find yourselves enabled to suffer for Him so calmly, will not that become a sign to confirm all you have believed? For the tranquillity of spirit into which faith rises under persecution is an evidence of the source from which it comes. Much may be borne by resolute men for any cause in which they have embarked. But very different from this striving of the human heart hardening itself to bear, in order that an enemy’s malice may not spy out its weakness, are the calmness and patience given to God’s children in the hour of trial. That bespeaks an inward support more mighty than all sorrow. The Divineness of it becomes still more conspicuous when it approves itself as the One Spirit, triumphing in persons of diverse tempers and characters. This has been a sign to many an unbeliever, filling him with rage and fear. And to the children of God it has been the Spirit witnessing with their spirit that they are His children.

The Apostle will not allow it to be overlooked that in this point as in others his Philippian friends and he are tied together in closest fellowship. This conflict of theirs is the same which they had heard of and seen as proceeding in his case too. Perhaps we may say of this that it admonishes us not to think too meanly of our own Christian experience, and of the questions and decisions which it involves. The Apostle knew that his Philippian friends regarded his conflict as something conspicuous and great. He was a standard-bearer, on whom much depended; and then, all the movements of his soul were magnanimous and grand. But their own experience might seem petty-almost mean; their trials not very serious, and their way of dealing with them at times so halting and half-hearted that it seemed an offence against humility to make much account of them. If this was the true view, then also it must be Christ’s view; and so a very depressed way of looking at their calling and their encouragements might set in. The Apostle will not allow this. He thinks, and they are to think, that it is the same question that is being fought out in their case as in his-the same forces are arrayed against one another in both cases-and the victory in both cases will be equally momentous. So he would quicken their sense of the situation by the energy and vivacity of his own convictions. It is unquestionable that Christians suffer much loss by indulging a certain bastard humility, which leads them to underrate the solemnity of the interest attaching to their own history. This renders them inattentive to the serious eyes with which Christ their Master is looking down upon it.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Philippians 1:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/philippians-1.html.


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Wednesday, June 28th, 2017
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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