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Bible Commentaries

Meyer's Devotional Commentary on Philippians
Philippians 1

 

 

Verse 1-2

THE VESTIBULE OF THE EPISTLE

Philippians 1:1-2

THIS is the tenderest of all the Epistles. There is no chiding or rebuke. It is suffused throughout with words of good cheer, of joy and peace, though it was written in bonds to which the Apostle makes frequent reference (Philippians 1:7; Philippians 1:13-16). There is no trace of despondency or gloom, and though sent to a Church which he had not seen for five or six years, there appeared no necessity for those strictures and reproofs with which the other Epistles are filled.

Date and Occasion of the Epistle.

If, as is supposed, this Epistle was written at the beginning of Paul's imprisonment in Rome, we must assign to it the date A.D. 62. It is the beginning of the precious prison literature of the Church which is amongst our greatest treasures. It was a persecuted Apostle writing to a persecuted Church, but his soul was unfettered and unchoked by prison damp. Perhaps his hired house in its discomfort would compare favourably with the gaol at Bedford, which Bunyan describes as "a den," but the Apostle was conscious, as Bunyan never was, of the daily clank of the chain which accompanied every movement.

The occasion of the writing of this Epistle is clearly indicated by the references which the Apostle makes. Philippi stood at the head of the Aegean Sea, about nine miles from the coast. Its earliest name was the Fountain City, afterwards it was enlarged by Philip, the King of Macedonia, and called after himself. It was the scene of the great battle between Brutus and Cassius on the one side, and Octavius and Antony on the other. In commemoration of the decisive victory of imperialism over republicanism, Augustus gave it the dignity and privilege of a Roman colony. It was, in fact, a miniature Rome, hence its consuls and lictors (Acts 16:20). The great Egnatian Way passed through it; and as a Roman colony situated on this great thoroughfare, it was flourishing and wealthy, though now it is a desolation, trodden only by the traveller and shepherd.

The Apostle had been brought there in answer to the vision of the man of Macedonia, but had met with a poor response. His first sermon was preached to a few devout Jews, especially women, who, unable to erect a synagogue, were wont to gather by the riverside on the Sabbath day. The story of the opening of Lydia's heart, and the subsequent formation of a Christian Church, which was favoured with two visits on the part of the Apostle, is too well-known to need detailed retelling.

Epaphroditus, whom the Philippians had sent with their greeting and pecuniary assistance, had fallen ill during his stay at Rome, and as the tidings of this misfortune caused great anxiety to his fellow-disciples, on his recovery the Apostle hastened his return and entrusted to his care messages of gratitude and affection; hurrying him back, that by his presence he might dissipate the anxiety which had cast a gloom over the entire Christian community.

It is sufficient to say that this Epistle has received unmistakable testimony as to its authenticity and genuineness. It is referred to by Ignatius and Polycarp, quoted by Clement, Irenaeus, and Tertullian, and bears in its texture abundant evidence of having issued from the heart and mind of the great Apostle to the Gentiles.

"Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus."

Years before, when quite a youth, Timothy had been brought to Christ on Paul's first visit to Lystra. Having been well instructed by his mother, Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois, when Christ was presented as the fulfilment of the Old Testament by Paul, he received Him with all the ardour of young manhood. The Apostle ever after considered him as "his own son in the faith." During the seven following years he grew in knowledge and love, and on Paul's second visit he was judged capable of accompanying him, and sharing his hardships and labours on behalf of the Gospel.

The two names are associated in 2 Corinthians, Colossians, Philippians 1:1-30 and 2 Thessalonians, and we can never forget the touching last letter which the Apostle dictated to him from the Mamertine prison on the eve of martyrdom. It is worthy of notice that the Apostle, who will presently refer to the saints at Philippi, classes himself with Timothy as the "bond-slaves of Christ Jesus." There is no assumption, no priestly prerogative, no pretentiousness in this simple designation. Though the Apostle had much in which he might glory, when he reviewed the work of his crowded life, he had so great an estimate of his Master, Christ, that in His presence he took the lowliest place;--the bought chattel of Him who had purchased him, not with corruptible things, but with His precious Blood. Men would have little fault to find with the ministers of the Churches, if they breathed the same spirit of simplicity, humility, and abandonment to the will of the great master.

Saints and Saintship.

"To all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops (R.V. marg. overseers) and deacons." The word "saint" is frequently used by the Apostle, in the opening words of the Epistles. In that to the Romans, he describes believers as "called to be saints." So in 1 Corinthians 1:2, see also Ephesians 1:1; Colossians 1:2. We are not to infer from this that they were perfect in character, but that they were set apart from the world, by the cross of Christ and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, for high and holy service in the world. Men use this term of the departed, and canonise their fellow-believers only after many years have elapsed since they passed to the service of the eternal world. But the Apostle did not hesitate to describe very imperfect men and women, who needed a large amount of tuition and admonition, as saints; thus imputing to them God's great ideal, as perhaps the likeliest means of inspiring them to deserve the title.

Is not this a true way of dealing with men? Do not be content with rebuking them when they do wrong, but lay your hand upon their shoulder, and tell them that you are sure that they are capable of better things, that the angel lies hidden in the marble, that the possibility of saintship is deep down in the soul, in virtue of the regenerating grace of the Spirit, who is forming Christ within. Thus you will inspire hope, resolve, high purpose, and the resolute intention that the character and walk shall not fall beneath this great word with which God does not hesitate to designate all who are incorporated in a living union with His Son.

Would you be a saint indeed? Then live "in Christ Jesus" as your King (Christ), and in Jesus in all the human relationship of daily life (Jesus). Let Him be your atmosphere and environment, your protection from the assaults of evil from without, and the sweet fragrance which will exhale through the inner sanctuary of your nature, in speech and act.

Bishops and Deacons.

As to the "bishops and deacons": "There is now no question," and this is endorsed by Bishop Ellicott, "that in the Holy Scriptures, the two titles of 'bishop' and 'presbyter' are applied to the same person." For this see Acts 20:17-28. Bishop Lightfoot affirms, "It is a fact now generally recognised by theologians of all shades of opinion, that in the language of the New Testament the same officer in the Church is called indifferently 'bishop,' or 'elder,' or 'presbyter.'" He goes on to say: "The opinion hazarded by Theodoret, and adopted by many later writers, that the same officers in the Church who were first called apostles came afterwards to be designated bishops, is baseless." According to this dictum "a New Testament bishop is a New Testament presbyter, and New Testament bishops and presbyters are simply ministers of Jesus Christ and pastors of churches."

Dr. Moule in his valuable book, Philippian Studies, says: "It is important to remember that our word bishop cannot properly translate the Greek word as it is used in the New Testament, for it is not used there as the special title of a superintendent pastor set over other pastors." For the office of deacon we have simply to refer to Acts 6:1-15. In the early Church there were evident ranks of gift, but not of grace. As believers gathered at the Lord's Table, or Love Feast, there was no distinction but that of humility and service. All were redeemed by the same Blood, stood on the same level; and each strove to be the lowliest and humblest of all.

The Combined Salutation.

"Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." Grace was the western, and Peace the eastern salutation. The Apostle combines them. He desired that his absent friends might know more and more of the free favour of God, of forgiveness and acceptance, and of the enjoyment of help and comfort. He would also have them know that peace which filled his own heart, amid trials of no ordinary description, and which was bequeathed by the Master,--"My peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you."

Notice how closely he conjoins the Father and the Redeemer. He did not think that he was robbing God of His unity or supremacy when he included our Lord in the same sentence. Though all his early training had recognised the Oneness of the Divine Nature, he had no scruple in adding to God the Father the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is remarkable to notice also the number of times in which he mentions the Saviour's name. It occurs forty times in this Epistle, that is, on an average, in every two or three verses, but this is characteristic of the New Testament, and especially of the writings of this Apostle. He was a slave of Jesus Christ; he viewed all saints as living, with himself, in Christ; his life was full of Christ; Christ was his life; to die was to depart to be with Him; his rejoicing was in Christ Jesus; and steadfastness was only possible, as he and his converts stood fast "in the Lord." The Lord was always at hand to him, and because all believers were in Christ, they could count on God to supply all their need.

Let us rejoice to know that "grace and peace" are not exhausted, but that they flow down to us still in this remote century, and amid the altered circumstances of modern life. Christ was, and is, and is to come. In Him the Church still exists, through Him she is still supplied with grace upon grace, and unto Him she will be gathered without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing.


Verses 5-11

THE GROUNDS AND PURPOSES OF PRAYER

Philippians 1:5-11

A Consciousness of Kinship.

The ground of his intercession was threefold. First, it arose from his consciousness of their kinship. We find this in Philippians 1:5 : "I make supplication with joy for your fellowship." The Greek word there is going shares--having in common: "I make supplication with joy because of your fellowship in furthering the Gospel." (See also Philippians 1:7.)

It was the consciousness that those for whom he prayed were so closely akin to him in their determination and aims, that quickened the wheels of his supplication. Had they not shown this fellowship by sending repeatedly to his necessity, as we learn from the close of this Epistle? The Philippian Church, though very poor, had sent again and again generous gifts to supply the Apostle's wants, and this proved that they and he were animated with the same determination.

But more than this, there was the wireless telegraphy which bore out to the storm-tossed ship of his life the prayer and sympathy of his converts. For us also there are kindred spirits in different parts of the world, who are able by their prayer to send vibrations of holy energy into our souls, and when we pray for such we are able to make supplication with joy.

Living with God.

Secondly, the Apostle recognised that he was in the line of God's purpose. This always makes it easy to pray. "Being confident of this very thing, that He which began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ." He mentions two days in these verses—“From the first day," and "the day of Jesus Christ,"—and he says that between those two days, God, who began the work on the first day, and who will perfect it on the last day, is maintaining and building it up step by step.

That first day of our Christian life was due to the interposition of the grace of God. "In the beginning God created." The longer we live, the more sure we are that the beginning of the good work within must be attributed to God. No pastor, no mother, no teacher began it, but in the depth of our heart, by His Holy Spirit, God laid the first foundation stone of the new life, and amid all our sins, failures, and backslidings, He has been building up the work He commenced, and He cannot leave it. At Baalbec we find the remains of unfinished temples which man has abandoned half complete; but nowhere in the universe do we find unfinished worlds, half-made suns left incomplete, though many in the making. We go into the artist's studio and find there unfinished pictures covering large canvases, and suggesting great designs, but which have been left, either because the genius was not competent to complete the work, or because paralysis laid the hand low in death; but as we go into God's great workshop we find nothing that bears the mark of haste or insufficiency of power to finish, and we are sure that the work which His grace has begun, the arm of His strength will complete. It is easy to pray for a soul when you know that God also is at work perfecting it.

Impelled by Affection.

Thirdly, His tender affection towards them (Philippians 1:7-8). He says: "I have you in my heart . . . and God is my witness, how I long after you all in the tender mercies of Christ Jesus." The Apostle had got so near the very heart of his Lord that he could hear its throb, detect its beat, nay, it seemed as though the tender mercies of Jesus to these Philippians were throbbing in his own heart.

Let us live like this. You have children in your schools that greatly trouble you, boys and girls whose restless and obstinate natures seem to resist every overture; men and women meet you daily in your home-life, whom you cannot love with the love of natural affection; but, let every one of us get back to the heart of Jesus Christ until it pours its contents into ours, until we begin to yearn over the lost with the compassions of Jesus. Before you pass round that unkind story, before you say you will never speak to that man again, before you treat another with distance and coldness, get back to the heart of Jesus Christ, until His tender compassions shall fill yours. Then you can make supplication with joy.

Subject Matter of the Prayer.

He says in Philippians 1:9 : "This I pray, that our love may abound yet more and more." The Greek word is—That your love shall pour over—as the bucket which stands under a streamlet issuing from a fissure in the rocks pours over on all sides; I pray, he says, that your love may pour over towards each other, and specially toward God. Oh, that we might know this and be perfected in love, that there might be room for nothing more, that this might affect our whole being; for, depend upon it, when the love of God really fills the heart, the accent of the voice, the movements of our body, the look on the face, the demeanour, everything is affected. Too often we show the worried expression, the querulous tone, the over-strained nervous system, but through all this the love ought to pour, carrying away the discontented gloomy look, so that when we return to our dear ones at the close of the day, the entire household may feel that because we have come, sunlight and the love of God are flooding the house, which during the day had missed the music of our presence. Let "your love abound yet more and more."

"In all knowledge." When this love enters a man's heart he knows. "Everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God." Words infinitely deep, but corroborated here, because our Apostle prays that their love may abound more and more in all knowledge and discernment. When the fishers had tossed all night and taken nothing, and the grey dawn was breaking on the beach, it was the eye of him that loved which discerned the figure of the Master standing beside the fire of coals, and John said to Peter, "It is the Lord." If your love abounds more and more, you will not only know, but you will discern, you will be able to detect the traces of the footsteps of your Lord where other men fail to detect them, and hear His voice amid the jangling mart and the hubbub of the city.

RESULTS: DISCRIMINATION.

The effect of what love will be threefold. (1) Discrimination. "That you may discriminate between things that differ" (Philippians 1:10, marg. R.V.). Such, without doubt, is the true rendering of the Greek, and we are reminded of Isaiah's words, which predict that the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon the Messiah, and make Him 'of quick understanding.' The margin gives it quick of scent. When one has been on the ocean for a week, breathing the pure ozone, it is marvellous how quick one is to detect poisonous smells. This is well, and if we were quicker of scent, and detected the noisome effluvia which indicate corruption and disease, we should more certainly be saved from taking the poison into our systems. A man who has lost the sense of smell may go into the midst of disease without knowing it, but the man who is quick of scent is warned of danger. And the soul that loves deeply is marvellously quick to detect anything which may hurt or offend the loved one. It is so with the nature that loves God. It discerns, it discriminates, and amid the darkness or the grey dawn of our life, when things are so mixed, that they appear like one another, though really different, the love that loves God perfectly, discerns and distinguishes between things that differ. A man's growth in grace is indicated by the delicacy of the discrimination that rules in his life. As he gets nearer God he detects in himself habits, and practices, ways of behaviour, and of business, which he once permitted without seeing evil in them, but now puts aside as unfit, to follow only the good. This is the first effect of perfected love.

RESULTS: SINCERITY.

(2) Sincerity. "That you may be sincere and without offence" (Philippians 1:10). Just as the X-rays passing through the limb will show at once the fracture, or the result of some accident, so the X-rays of God's truth are always searching the heart, and when a man is living in perfect love, he also lives in perfect truth, for love and truth are one; and the man who lives in love does not mind meeting the searching rays of God's truth, which show that he is no hypocrite.

RESULTS: FRUITFULNESS.

(3) Fruitfulness. It makes us "full of the fruits of righteousness which are through Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:11). An orchard is fair to see in the spring when there is promise of the blossom, but it is fairest in autumn, when every tree is laden to the ground with fruit. Let us seek this. The pruning is ever going on; the sunshine, and rain; but the whole discipline is making you full of luscious fruit, that thirsty souls may come to partake of the ripe fruit of your life, and turn from you to glorify and praise God. Be sure that love unites the believer very closely with the true Vine, and to be in living unison with Christ involves that we shall bear much fruit.

But all this is only "through Jesus Christ." Do not concern yourself so much with the fruit end of the bough, but with the end of fibrous wood which is connected with the vine. See to it that you live always in union with Jesus Christ, for without Him, severed from Him, you can do nothing. Abide in Him, and let Him abide in you. Let the one agony of your life be to keep near to Jesus. See to it that every morning in your prayer you touch Him, that you meditate on the Bible, that all day the union is kept unbroken, so that the living Christ may pour through you the sap of His own vitality, and fill you with the fruits of righteousness.

Is this your life? It may be from to-day. If you have never become united to Jesus Christ, the Divine man, you may become so by one look of faith. Then go forth to bear the fruit of a holy life to the glory of God, so that your life may praise Him in concert with the seraphs around His Throne.

"Thy love, Thy joy, Thy peace

Continuously impart

Unto my heart,

Fresh springs that never cease,

But still increase."


Verses 12-18

THE FURTHERANCE OF THE GOSPEL

Philippians 1:12-18

Man's Purpose and God's Power.

In Psalms 75:1-10, breathing courage and confidence, which exalts the mighty Sovereign of all and magnifies His mighty power, the Psalmist tells us that the wrath of man shall be made to praise God. The wicked may plot against God, seeking to injure His servants and obstruct the progress of His truth, and within certain limits they may appear to succeed; but when they expect to reap the harvest of their evil machinations, they suddenly find themselves put to the worse, and God takes all that they had meant for the suppression of the Gospel, to promote its progress and triumph. There are few instances establishing this fact more striking than the story of the Apostle, for the misfortunes which befell his human life, and the difficulties over which he was compelled to make progress, were used by God to promote the highest interests of that very Gospel which was so dear to his heart, and for which he suffered so much.

St. Paul's yearning for Rome.

How eagerly he set his heart upon reaching Rome! In the Epistle to the Roman Christians, he tells them that he hopes presently that he may see Rome, not only that he may comfort them and be comforted by them, but because Rome was the metropolis of the world. From the golden mile-stone that stood in the Forum the mighty roads emanated to the far East and West. What Jerusalem was during the one week of the Passover, Rome was always. The statesmen who filled her Senate would be commissioned to all parts of the known world as consuls and praetors; the soldiers who gathered in her barracks might be despatched to the far Euphrates on the one hand, or the white cliffs of Britain on the other. To reach Rome seemed like standing in some telephonic centre, from which a whisper would reverberate to the ends of the world.

The Apostle Paul was a great strategist. He knew the value of cities; they were the head of waters, into which if seed were dropped the current would carry it everywhere. Therefore, as he had spoken in Jerusalem, the heart of Palestine; at Antioch, the heart of Syria; at Ephesus, the heart of Asia Minor; and at Athens, the heart of Greece, he was desirous of preaching at Rome also, the heart of the empire of the world. No doubt he expected to get there as to other places, paying his own passage, going freely, and being welcomed by the little Churches of the saints, which were beginning to shed their light amid the surrounding gloom. But it was not thus that Paul accomplished his life-purpose. He came to Rome a prisoner, his passage paid as a convict by the Roman Government; and the hatred of his enemies was the breath of the Almighty that wafted him to his chosen destination.

Thus, constantly, God allows men to rage madly against His Gospel up to a certain point, which may cause annoyance, inconvenience, and pain, but there is always a "thus far and no further," and the Gospel proceeds upon the very lines which God from all eternity had determined.

This wonderful truth, which is capable of almost endless application, meets with three very remarkable illustrations in this paragraph.

Paul's Imprisonment in its Effect upon the Soldiers.

"My bonds became manifest in Christ throughout the whole praetorian guard, and to all the rest" (Philippians 1:13). It would be better translated—to the whole circle of the imperial life-guards. We are all familiar with the fact that the Apostle was chained to a Roman soldier during the entire term of his two years' imprisonment, the soldier being changed every six hours. What an exquisite torture this must have been to a sensitive nature like his! Bad enough never to be alone, but still worse to have to spend the long hours always in company with a man chosen from the Roman guard.

In the Epistles of Ignatius, the good bishop of Antioch, who was entrusted to such guards to bring him from his see at Antioch to be thrown to the wild beasts, describes himself as fighting day and night with ten leopards, who, the more kindness was shown them, waxed worse and worse. Though we may well imagine that some of the soldiers chained to the Apostle may have been quiet and wistful men, eager to know the truth, yet, quite as likely, others would fill the room with ribald songs and jokes, and turn into blasphemous ridicule the words they heard the Apostle speak to those who came to visit him.

At times the hired room would be thronged with people, to whom the Apostle spoke words of life; and after they withdrew the sentry would sit beside him, filled with many questionings as to the meaning of the words which this strange prisoner spoke. At other times, when all had gone, and especially at night, when the moonlight shone on the distant slopes of Soracte, soldier and Apostle would be left to talk, and in those dark, lonely hours the Apostle would tell soldier after soldier the story of his own proud career in early life, of his opposition to Christ, and his ultimate conversion, and would make it clear that he was there as a prisoner, not for any crime, not because he had raised rebellion or revolt, but because he believed that He whom the Roman soldiers had crucified, under Pilate, was the Son of God and the Saviour of men. As these tidings spread, and the soldiers talked them over with one another, the whole guard would become influenced in sympathy with the meek and gentle Apostle, who always showed himself so kindly to the men as they shared, however involuntarily, his imprisonment.

The Witness of the Consistent Life.

How absolutely consistent the Apostle must have been! If there had been the least divergence, day or night, from the high standard which he upheld, his soldier-companion would have caught at it, and passed it on to others. The fact that so many became earnest Christians, and that the Word of Jesus was known far and wide throughout the praetorian guard, indicates how absolutely consistent the Apostle's life was. Do you not see how this applies to your own life? You may be bound to unsympathetic companions, as the Apostle to his soldier, as Ignatius to his ten leopards, or as Nicholas Ridley, afterwards Bishop and martyr, to the bigoted Roman Catholic Mayor of Oxford; but by your meek consistency and purity of life you may win these for God, and what might therefore have appeared an obstacle to your growth in grace, and to the progress of the Gospel, may turn out just the opposite. See to it that you so live and speak that it may be so.

The Imprisonment: its Effect upon the Brethren.

"Most of the brethren in the Lord, being confident through my bonds, are more abundantly bold to speak the word of God without fear" (Philippians 1:14). That is, courage was supplied them by the striking example of this noble man. Many who realised that, notwithstanding his chains and bonds, he was as enthusiastic in spreading the Gospel as he had been when his life was at his own disposal, and that, in spite of every difficulty and obstacle, he was still doing so much for the Gospel he loved, were rebuked for their lack of zeal and said: "If the Apostle is so strong and brave and energetic, when there is every reason for him to slacken and mitigate his energy, how much more reason there is for us, who have unrestrained liberty of action, to be unceasing in our endeavours for that Gospel for which he suffers."

The man who works for Christ when everything is against him stirs those up who have no such difficulties; just as he who makes confession for truth and righteousness, when there are many reasons for him to hush his voice, incites others to break forth in confession of Jesus Christ. They who dare to speak for God, even to death, are the means of stirring others to heroic defence of the Gospel. Think, for instance, of one of the greatest men that ever lived in England—a man whose name is almost forgotten now, but who is immortally associated with the cadence and splendid diction of the Bible—William Tyndale. It was his avowed purpose that every plough-boy in England should be able to know as much of the Bible as the priests. To accomplish this he appealed to the Bishop of London, but received no sympathy, and sorrowfully discovered that England could not hold the translator of the Bible. He was compelled to flee from England to Hamburg, from Hamburg to Cologne, from Cologne to Worms, and finally to Antwerp, where he was executed as a martyr; but not before he had put his imprimatur upon the magnificent English of the Bible, and had invested the Scriptures with priceless interest for the minds and hearts of those who had watched his noble life, his beneficent career, and his bloody death, so that out of his ashes there sprang a hundred, nay, a thousand men, to scatter the Bible for which he died.

A Call to You.

This may also be the case with you who are called to suffer for the Gospel. It may seem as if your voice were being hushed in blood and tears; but others are being made bold. Many a young man in that worldly society or godless counting-house is saying "If he dares to stand for God, I too will be a hero"; so that the very effect of your example is to stimulate weaker ones to become confessors and martyrs for Jesus Christ. Has not this been the result of the wholesale martyrdoms of Chinese missionaries and converts?

The Imprisonment: its Effect upon the Opponents of Evangelical Truth.

"Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife, and some also of goodwill." "What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and therein I rejoice, yea, and will rejoice" (Philippians 1:1-18). There were two parties in Rome. The one loved Paul enthusiastically, and accepted his teaching; the other, though professedly Christian, held by the Temple, the Pharisees, and the old restrictions of Judaism. They avowed Christ, but often looked backward to the Old Covenant and tried to weave the two together. Paul's coming aroused these to more earnestness in promoting their own views of Christianity, but he said: "It does not matter, if Christ is preached; they do not love me, they do not come to me for help, they are doing all they can to make my life difficult; but nevertheless, if my Lord Jesus Christ is being preached, I am more than thankful." Perhaps that explains why God has permitted the various denominations to divide England between them. Perhaps it is better that it should be so, because one stirs up the other. It may be that the efforts of the Nonconformists stir to more activity the members of the Church of England, and vice versa. In any case the various doctrines of Christianity are more likely to be strongly enforced and maintained, when they underlie the very existence of a body of Christians, than if they were held in common by all.

All through the history of the world God has taken what seemed to be a hindrance and obstacle, and, if only His servants were patient and true to Him, has converted it into a pulpit from which they could better promulgate the truth. Remember how Nebuchadnezzar harried the Jews. It seemed as if the holy city was never again to wield an influence for good over the world; but the chosen people were scattered with their Scriptures throughout the world, and the world of God was magnified much more than it could have been by their concentration in their own city. The devil stirred up the Jews to murder Christ, but the grain of wheat which fell into the ground to die, no more abode alone, but has covered the world with the harvests of rich grain. The Emperors persecuted the early Church, but only drove the disciples everywhere preaching the Word. King Charles chased the Puritans out of England, but they landed on Plymouth Rock, and founded the great Christian commonwealth across the Atlantic. Out of the awful Civil War the conditions arose that made it possible for Abraham Lincoln to free the slave, and again the wrath of man turned out to further the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

"Careless seems the great Avenger,

History's pages but record

One death-grapple, in the darkness,

'Twixt old systems and the Word.

Truth for ever on the scaffold,

Wrong for ever on the throne;

Yet that scaffold sways the future,

And, behind the dim unknown,

Standeth God within the shadow,

Keeping watch upon His own."

So it May be with us.

So it will be in our life. Let us begin to rejoice at difficulties, to rejoice when Satan rages. The power which is used against us, God will convert for our good; only let us always cherish the eager expectation and hope that Christ may be magnified in our body, whether by life or by death, whether by joy or by shame, whether by good fortune or by misfortune, whether by success or by failure. Christ, Christ, Christ, the Blessed Christ--not the Bible alone, not the creed alone, not doctrine alone, but Christ, Christ, Christ, always Christ manifested in our body, whether it be by life or by death.

Is Christ dear to you? Do you live for Him? Is the one passion and aim and purpose of your nature to glorify Him? Can you say: To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain? Oh, let us from today begin to live for this!

And if you are discouraged and disheartened, be of good cheer. When you are devoted to Christ, your very bonds will become electric chains through which the pulsations of energy shall go to others, and your very troubles will be pulpits from which you shall preach the unsearchable riches of Christ.

Storms cannot shipwreck the Gospel; they waft it forward. Its foes contrive ingenious devices to obstruct it, but they awake to discover that all they had done to hinder is used to help. The lines of rail and the rolling stock which the enemy elaborated for incursions of hostile intent, are found to be simply invaluable to bear forward the precious message of the Gospel they would overthrow. It will be found, doubtless, at the end of all things, that the beneficent purposes of God have not been hindered one whit, but promoted and fostered, by all that has been done to frustrate them. This is the mystery of God's providence—that, so far from being set aside by evil, evil helps by furnishing the material on which the fire of the Gospel feeds, and flames to the furthest limits of God's universe.


Verse 19-20

GOOD OUT OF EVIL

Philippians 1:19-20

The Two Parties.

As we have seen, there were two parties in Rome. The one was devoted to the Apostle, and were doing their best to help him in preaching of the Gospel of our Lord. These disciples were imbued with the spirit of their master, and were carried along in the current of his own devotion. "In his bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the Gospel, they were all partakers with him of grace." The work they did was of good-will and of love, because they knew that he was set for the defence of the Gospel.

The other party refused to accept the Gospel in its simplicity. They belonged to the Judaising party, and held that it was necessary for a man to pass through the ceremonies of the old covenant, in order to participate in the benefits of the new. Throughout his life the Apostle was constantly troubled by the presence of these men, and his stay in Rome seems to have stirred them up to still greater activity. They preached Christ of envy and strife, not sincerely, but of faction, thinking to raise up affliction in his bonds.

But out of this aggravation of his anxieties he managed to extract a new-found joy, to quote his own inimitable words, "What then? only that in every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and therein I rejoice, yea, and will rejoice." When the heart is absolutely right with God, when God is the one great fact which underlies all facts, it is able to elicit joy for every circumstance in life, as musicians music from the roar of the torrent, and the rush of the storm.

It is a serious question which each should ask, Is God the underlying fact in my life? Do I detect His presence in every storm shower, and sunbeam, in the dark night as well as in the day, in my losses and sorrows as well as in halcyon hours of summer joy? To such an one every wind wafts argosies across the sea laden with blessing, dreaded evils pass him by without molestation, the very Judases of life bring cups which have been mixed by the Father's hand. When God is real to us, and we receive all things either by His permission or appointment, we can find occasions for joy where other men see unmitigated grief, chinks of blue in the dark sky, and songs in the night.

Why Paul Rejoiced. For Christ was Proclaimed.

Paul was glad, first because Christ was proclaimed. So long as that name was being passed from lip to lip, and enquiry was excited into all that it stood for, and men were beginning to feel after Him, if haply they might find Him as the Saviour from their sins, and the solution of life's mysteries, he was satisfied. Better half a loaf than no bread, and better the preaching of Christ from wrong motives than not at all. Better Christ pilloried than not lifted up before the thought of time. A good man may be glad when the world's press deals with Christian truth, even though it be travestied and misrepresented, it is better thus than that men should lose interest in Christianity. Nothing is more fatal than apathy and neglect.

For All Would Turn Out Well.

Paul rejoiced because he saw that everything would turn out right for him. "I know that this shall turn to my salvation." There has been a good deal of controversy as to what he meant by "salvation". Of course he was already fully saved, except that his body bore the marks of humiliation and suffering. It has been thought by some that he referred to his hope that his life might be preserved, and that release from captivity was not far away. In the Epistle to Phlippians, which was written from Rome at the time of the writing of this Epistle, he says, "Prepare me also lodging, for I hope that through your prayers I shall be granted unto you." But it seems better to think that he believed that the coming of our Lord depended upon the extension of the Gospel throughout the known world, and that, therefore, all the preaching of the Cross which disseminated the knowledge of the Gospel, brought nearer that day to which he so often refers as the day of Christ, when the top stone should be placed upon the edifice, and complete salvation would come, not to him only, but to all those who loved the appearing. This yields a good sense to the passage. He rejoiced in the preaching of this hostile faction, because it made Christ better known, and in so far as men knew and accepted Him, the coming of His Kingdom was hastened, which meant peace, joy, deliverance, and perfect life. When that long-expected day was inaugurated, the last remains of sin would be destroyed in his heart, and the body of his humiliation would be changed for a body in the likeness of Christ. In this sense the word "salvation" is employed elsewhere, "He shall appear the second time without sin unto salvation."

How often has God overruled the designs and deeds of evil men for the glory of His name, the success of His Kingdom, and the salvation of His saints. What they mean for evil He turns to good. The oppression of Pharaoh, as we have seen, secures the establishment of Israel in their own land. The persecution of the Sanhedrin forced the early Christians to become evangelists throughout the empire. The Pope's bull against Luther inaugurated modern Protestantism. The persecution of the Stuarts urged the Pilgrim Fathers to lay the foundations of the great commonwealth in the United States. Truth has again and again been brought to the scaffold, and wrong has swayed the sceptre, but God is ever standing within the shadow "keeping watch upon His own." Be of good cheer, lift up your heads, your redemption draweth nigh!

For Christ was being Magnified.

Paul rejoiced also because Christ was being magnified. The word "expectation" has in it the idea of the uplifted head (Luke 21:28), the outstretched neck (Romans 8:19). It is as when one stands on tiptoe, anxiously looking for the advent of an anticipated prosperous issue out of affliction. The expectation of creation which waits for the revelation of the sons of God, had its counterpart in the Apostle's experience as he craned his neck in intense hope and anticipation that the great purpose of his life would be realised in the magnifying of the Lord. Each morning, as he arose, his soul was stirred with passionate thought and ambition that the hours should be as full as possible with whatever might promote the glory of his Master. Whatever event happened, he always questioned how far it would enhance men's estimation of the Lord. He thought comparatively little of what befell himself in the various incidents of his life, so long as each one furnished an increment of glory to the Master who filled the entire horizon of his affections.

In the original Greek, their prayer and the supply of the Holy Spirit are so classed together as to be practically one. It is as though the Apostle felt that if only his Philippian friends would unite in earnest intercession, there could be no doubt as to the response. For them to pray for the Holy Spirit would be equivalent to his reception of Him. There are some prayers, concerning the answer to which we cannot be sure, for they deal with matters which are outside the promises of God, but wherever we claim for ourselves or others, things which God has offered us in Christ, we may be sure that to ask is to have.

Prayer Besought.

Throughout the Epistles the Apostle is constantly asking for the prayers of his fellow disciples. "Brethren, pray for us," occurs more than once. He bids them "help together by prayer." In that touching exhortation at the close of the Epistle to the Romans, he entreats them to strive together in their prayers for him that he might be delivered from his enemies, and might come to them with joy by the will of God; and in the Epistle to Ephesus and, probably, to the other Asiatic churches, he bids the disciples to pray always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints, adding significantly, "and for me." It is hardly possible to over-estimate the value of prayer, when some kindred soul really unites itself with us, in our temptations, sorrows, and efforts in the service of Christ. Full often some special influx of faith, hope, and courage is due to the fact that God is moving someone who loves us to strong entreaty and intercession on our behalf. The angels visited Sodom, laid their hands on Lot, and led him forth because Abraham, yonder on the heights, was pleading with God that if there were ten righteous, He would not destroy the city, not knowing that God was more eager to save Sodom than he to pray for it.

"The Supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ."

"The supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ" is a most interesting phrase. The Apostle describes the Holy Spirit as pre-eminently "the Spirit of Jesus Christ." Elsewhere he speaks of Him "as the Spirit of the Son," "as the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus," "as the Spirit of Jesus." There is ample warrant for this. Our Lord was conceived of the Holy Ghost, anointed by the Spirit at the waters of Baptism, filled with the Spirit as He was led up to be tempted, wrought His miracles and spoke His words in the power of the Holy Spirit, yielded Himself to the Father in death by the power of the Eternal Spirit, and was raised from the dead on the third day by the Spirit of Holiness, who is pre-eminently the Author of Resurrection Life. During the forty days, it was "through the Holy Spirit that He gave commandment to the apostles whom He had chosen." In answer to His intercession, He received the Holy Spirit in Divine fullness into His risen and exalted nature, and throughout the Acts He is represented as communicating the Spirit to those who seek Him by faith. Throughout this dispensation our Lord is, so to speak, the depository or storehouse of the Holy Spirit. It need hardly be said that the Spirit is equally Eternal and Divine with the Father and the Son, but during the present age, in the Divine economy, He is specially communicated through the nature of the Risen Lord to all members of His mystical Body, the Church, and works through them upon the world. We may be thankful, indeed, that as the blood circulates between the heart and the most distant member of the body, so does the Spirit of God unite us with Christ our Master. We are one with Him; the very thoughts and emotions that occupy Him are conveyed to us; because He lives we live also, by the direct impartation of His life.

"Supply."

The word supply demands our attention. It occurs, with its kindred verb, several times in the New Testament. It contains a suggestion of the choir or singing entertainment, which was supplied on public occasions by some wealthy citizen to grace a triumphal entry, or celebrate some auspicious anniversary. It stands for the free and spontaneous furnishing of that which enriches and quickens the lives of others. It is as though the Apostle felt, that in answer to the prayer for which he pleaded, there would be a constant impartation into his nature of that Divine Spirit whose entrance brings joy and strength.

It is an important question to ask how far we know that same Spirit, who enables sufferers to discover reasons for thankfulness in their afflictions, lifts us out of our private tribulation into the great current of adoration and praise which is ever flowing towards the Throne of the Lamb, turns anxieties and privations into fountains of blessing and salvation, and inspires the one consuming purpose that Jesus should be glorified whether by life or death.

How to feel as St. Paul did.

As we read these wonderful paragraphs, and see how eager the Apostle was for the "greatening" of Jesus, we feel the infection of his spirit and long to be animated by the same passion. There is no way of catching its fire, except by studying and obeying the laws on which the Holy Spirit is supplied to saints still. Nor is it enough to be acquainted with the method of operation, we must assiduously obey them, being sure that the Holy Spirit is a Spirit of method and order, and that He will immediately respond to the feeblest appeal made for His succour.

Let the poor dweller beside the Nile make the smallest channel in the time of flood, and the responsive water will forthwith flow into his little garden plot; so if by obedience and faith the channel is open towards the Blessed Spirit, there can be no doubt that He will immediately fill the heart with His abundance; though the glad recipient of His bounty will not concentrate his thought upon the Spirit of Jesus Christ, but pass through Him to Jesus Christ Himself. Just as we do not specially dwell upon the light which is the medium between the sun and our earth, but through sunlight live in contact with the mighty sun and orb of day; so those that are fullest of the Holy Spirit are fullest of the glory of Christ, and are most eager that He should be magnified in their bodies, whether it be by life or by death.


Verses 21-26

WHETHER TO LIVE, OR TO DIE!

Philippians 1:21-26

Life and Death.

Omit the words "Christ" and "gain" and you are reminded how very close life and death lie; they are separated only by a comma. Life is the vestibule of death, and death follows closely upon life. The little babe is born and dies; the flower opens and fades; the spring seems hardly to have unfurled herself in summer before the leaves begin to fall; you clasp the hand of your friend in vigorous life to-day, to-morrow you hear that he has passed beyond the confines of our world. Life and death, the systole and diastole, the beat and throb of the pulse, the swing of the pendulum hither and thither. Every man stands where that comma stands, between life and death; all men are balancing between the two.

Probably there is not a single man or woman—the exceptions, at least, are very rare—that does not at some time of life count the gain of life against death; and there is the balance on one side or the other, and sometimes the equilibrium. Now life is the heavier, and again death. So Hamlet and Paul may be compared, as representing two classes of men. There is the one class, represented by Hamlet, who weigh the evils of life and death; there are other men, like St. Paul, who weigh the blessings.

Hamlet weighs the sorrows of life, from which death would relieve him, against the terrors of death, from which life delivers him. "To be, or not to be, that is the question." There are the sorrows of life, the whips and scorns of time, the rich man's pride, the proud man's contumely; and as he weighs these up upon the scale, he thinks that probably it would be better to die to escape them; but when he considers what death might bring, what dreams might come in death's sleep, he turns back to life as after all to be preferred.

St. Paul, on the other hand, is impressed with the riches of life and death. He does not know which to choose, because each is so sweet. Life is sweet, because it is Christ; death is sweet, because it is more of Christ. And so he balances the one against the other, and presently exclaims: "I am in a strait between the two. I do not know which of them to choose, but on the whole death preponderates, death is gain, to depart is far better." So that we have just these two thoughts: the blessings of life, and the blessings of death, as regarded by the Apostle Paul.

The Blessings of Life.

"To me to live is Christ." We may picture the Apostle Paul landing on the quay at Neapolis, the port of Philippi. His dress betokens travel and toil. Evidently a poor and somewhat insignificant man, unattended save by two or three as poor as himself. As he lands upon the busy quay he encounters many different men. There, for instance, is the merchant receiving his wares from the Orient, and preparing them for transit; he cries: "To me to live is wealth." Near him are the men who carry the packages from the ships to the emporiums of trade, or the great warehouses—the poor slaves—for them to live is toil and suffering, heavy blows and privations. Beside stands the philosopher, in his hand the scroll with the mystic words of wide knowledge, and as he looks upon the toil of the trader he prides himself that he lives for a superior aim, as he says: "To me to live is knowledge." Near to the little group is a soldier, who looks with contempt upon the man of letters, and cries: "To me to live is fame." Then the shadow of Octavius, the mighty emperor, who not far from Philippi won the great battle that gave him the empire of the known world, seems to rise amongst the group, crying in awful accents: "To me to live is empire." Amid all these voices the affirmation of the Apostle strikes in: "To me to live is not wealth, nor hard work, nor literature, nor fame, nor glory, but Christ. Christ first, last, midst, all in all, and perpetually Christ."

Christ—The Origin of our Life.

If you had asked the Apostle just what he meant, he would probably have replied, as William Tyndale brings out in his translation, that Christ must be the origin of our life. The Day of Pentecost meant that from that moment, and onward, the Holy Spirit should bring the germ of the Christ-life, and sow it in the soil of our spirits, so that the very nature of Jesus glorified, transfigured and Divine, might be sown in the soil of our humanity, as incorruptible seed, to reproduce in endless succession the growth of the Christ-life.

The Essence of our Life.

Christ must be the essence of our life. As we reckon ourselves dead to our own selfish existence, Jesus Christ will take its place, so that we may be able to exclaim with the Apostle: "I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me."

The Model of our Life.

Christ must also be the model of our life. Every man works to a model. Consciously or unconsciously, we are always imitating somebody; and every true Christian will endeavour, in ever-growing perfectness, to approximate to the measure of the stature of his Lord. "It is enough that the disciple should be as His master."

The Aim of our Life.

Christ must also be the aim of our life. We desire to make Him known, loved, and revered, that His will may be done on earth as it is done in Heaven; that others may know Him as we know Him, love Him as we love Him, live for Him as we live for Him; that He may be the crowned King of men, putting down war and strife, and hastening on that glorious consummation, for which the Church prays and creation groans.

The Solace of our Life.

Christ must be the solace of our life. Amid all the storm, strife, and tumult, there is no cleft where the Christian finds safe abiding, but in the riven Rock of Ages, in the side of the pierced Christ, in the heart of the Redeemer, the doors of which always stand open, and He is evermore bidding us come to Him for rest.

The Reward of our Life.

Christ must be the reward of our life. The one reward for every Christian man is to get more of Christ; the one crown for every brow is to know Him better; the one infinite gain that comes for every labour, every tear, every act of sacrifice, is that Christ gives Himself, nearer, dearer, better than ever.

This enabled the Apostle, and enables us, to say, "Life is good; it is worth living." To live down here for Christ, to live in fellowship with Christ is to have the key to nature, to beauty, to love, to everything that is true and good. Life with all its darkness and sorrow is, after all, a good thing when a man can say, "To me to live is Christ."

The Blessings of Death.

But "to die is gain." What are the blessings to which death introduces us? Let us weigh them up. First, death is a beginning. The world says it is an end; Scripture says it is the beginning of an endless series. Take, for instance, the term employed by the Apostle Peter. He spake of his exodus, "his going out." As the exodus was the beginning of the national life of Israel, their going out into freedom, so death is the exodus of the spirit into the freedom of eternity.

Death a Birth.

The Apostle Paul speaks of death as a birth: "The first-born from the dead." It is the emergence of the spirit from the cramped, confined conditions of the first stage of its being into its true existence. He also speaks, in this passage, of death as a loosing. "Having a desire to depart." The Greek word there is marvellously beautiful; it is the unmooring of a vessel from its anchorage. We sometimes sing of the close of life thus:

"Safe home, safe home in port!

Rent cordage, shattered deck,

Torn sails, provisions short,

And only not a wreck."

How much truer is the conception suggested by Tennyson's description of the death of Arthur:

"So said he, and the barge with oar and sail

Moved from the brink, like some full-breasted swan,

That, fluting a wild carol ere her death,

Ruffles her pure cold plume and takes the flood,

With swarthy webs."

Death is Freedom.

Secondly, in death we become free. It is the freeing of an imprisoned spirit: "We that are in this tabernacle do groan being burdened, not that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life." It is freedom from sin, freedom from the limitations of mortality, freedom from temptation, sorrow, care, and the anticipation and natural shrinking from death itself.

Death reveals Self.

Thirdly, death teaches us to discover our true selves. You remember Rudyard Kipling's poem about the ship that thought she was a lump of rivets and iron; but after a while she was loosed, and glided out to the ocean to be tested by the storm and the tempest. But it was only as the winds screamed through her cordage, and every timber was strained, that she suddenly discovered that she was a ship. And so we do not know what we are, until we are loosed, until our nature, which is full of strange yearnings and discontent, finds its real consummation and bliss in eternity.

In death also the Christian who has lived Christ here passes through the veil and sees Christ. He is with Christ in a sense in which we cannot be with Him here. Here we walk by faith, there by sight, and we shall see His face, and His name shall be in our foreheads.

After Death with Christ.

We can have no sympathy with the idea of some people who suppose that when we die we go into a kind of swoon, and stop there until the Judgment. Paul says: "I shall see Christ, I shall be with Christ; for me to live is Christ, to die is gain, for I shall be with Christ, which is far better." To be asleep would not be far better. If there is in reserve for us an experience far better than to live with Christ down here, it cannot be a negation, it must consist in more of Christ: nothing less would compensate the soul. When the spirit leaves for a little while the body which has been its humble friend, its companion and vehicle, laying it aside for a moment to take it again one day in transfigured beauty, it passes immediately into the presence of Jesus Christ, where it knows Him as it is known, and sees Him face to face.

And So Far Better.

This seems something of what Paul meant when he said that death was gain. There was the beginning of the real life; there was the liberation, the emancipation of his life, so that it might find itself in the presence of Christ, and in Christ the recovery of all beloved ones that had gone before. Probably they are with us now by their sympathy, their prayer, their thought of us. But we have to be with Him before we can be literally with them. When you find Christ you will find all your loved ones again in Him. Bret Harte, in a poem quoted in this connection by Dr. Campbell Morgan, says:

"As I stand by the Cross, on the lone mountain's crest,

Looking over the ultimate sea,

In the gloom of the mountain a ship lies at rest,

And one sails away from the lea;

One Spreads its white wings on the far-reaching track,

With pennant and sheet flowing free;

One hides in the shadow with sails laid a-back,

The ship that is waiting for me.

But lo! in the distance the clouds break away,

The gate's glowing portals I see,

And I hear from the outgoing ship in the bay

The song of the sailors in glee.

So I think of the luminous footprints that bore

The comfort o'er dark Galilee,

And wait for the signal to go to the shore

To the ship that is waiting for me."

Do you catch that thought? Two ships lying against the shore; one ship speeding out to sea in sunlight, the other ship waiting. That is your friend who has gone to Heaven, your wife, your child; this is your ship waiting for you. Some day you shall embark on that ship, the ship that is waiting for you. Mind that when that moment comes for loosing the shore-rope, you are ready.

The Choice between the Two.

Life's Opportunities.

"Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you." It is blessed to go when the Gate Beautiful opens to us, but there are reasons why the balance of choice may fall for the prolongation of life here. Granted that we shall know Christ there, yet here we may know Him as the angels cannot. They have never been tempted, have never fallen into sin, have never been solaced and comforted as we have been, have never continued with Him in all His trials and temptations, have never known Him forgiving sin with unwearied tenderness and pity, and lifting from the gates of death.

Granted that we may serve Him yonder, yet we can hardly do such work for Him there as here. Tears do not need to be wiped in that fair world. Words of comfort are devoid of meaning. There are no prodigals to come home, no backsliders to be restored, no lost sheep to be sought.

The Privilege of Suffering.

It is a good thing also to live for Christ here, because we have the opportunity of suffering for Him. Only here can we be nailed to His Cross, bear some of His shame, share our proportion of the blasphemy which is hurled upon His blessed person, or be reproached with His reproaches. Shakespeare makes King Henry say upon the field of Agincourt:

"For he to-day that sheds his blood with me

Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,

This day shall gentle his condition:

And gentlemen in England now abed

Shall think themselves accursed they were not here.

So surely those who are beyond the reach of the pain and trouble of this world—babes like flowers nipped in early infancy,—will for ever be the losers because they never had the chance, as we have had, of standing alongside of Jesus Christ in this great battle.

The Privilege of Helping Others.

It is also good to live in this world as long as we may, because of the opportunities of helping others. When a man thinks it quietly over, however great his longing, it may be, to be gone, he reasons thus with himself: "I can do good while I stay. I would like to be away, but there are downtrodden ones I may uplift, there are weaklings who want my help, there are lost ones to be saved, and for their sake I cannot wish to be gone before my time. Let me remain as a pilot at his wheel, as the shepherd near his flock, as a sentry at his post, as long as I can help one other soul."

Often there come glimpses of the city; often there are love tokens thrown over its walls; often bunches of the everlasting flowers fall at our feet; often there are quaffs of the water of life; often the heavenly ones come and walk beside us, and speak of things in words that we cannot possibly reproduce. There are high moments in our life when the tide rises, when the chalice of our joy is full; but we turn back from the radiancy of glory, and the joys beyond compare, glad to abide in the flesh as long as there is one more lesson to learn, one more errand to fulfil, one more thirsty soul to refresh, one more backslider to bring home.

As His Lord did, so His great Apostle turned His back on the open door of Paradise, descended from the Transfiguration Mount, and set His face steadfastly to bear the Cross for a little longer. To abide in the flesh was manifestly better for these Philippian disciples especially, and indeed for many others in all the Churches, which Paul had been the means of founding; and there was borne in upon his mind the conviction that his willinghood to wait was accepted. "Having this confidence," he said "the confidence that I can help you best by remaining with you, I know that I shall abide, and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, that your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me, by my coming to you again." Not yet the final appearance before Nero: not yet the death-sentence: not yet the beheading beyond the city gate! A brief respite would be granted in which he would be able to pay another and farewell visit! One more meeting and parting, one more coming in and going out, one more Welcome and Good-bye. So the Lord had chosen for him, and so they required his help. He was therefore willing to turn back from the opened Heaven, with the immediate gain of death, to a few more tears, toils, and conflicts ere He should realise that the time of departure had really come (2 Timothy 4:6-7).


Verses 27-30

THE MANNER OF LIFE WHICH BECOMES THE GOSPEL

Philippians 1:27-30

A Time of Suspense.

The Apostle had been in suspense; on the one hand, the supreme interest of living was that he might know and serve Christ; on the other hand, to die would be gain because it would usher him into an existence with wider horizons and opportunities. Which of the two to choose had thrown him into difficulty and suspense. Finally, however, he had come to the conclusion, that, in all probability, the hour for striking his tent, weighing his anchor, and departing to be with Christ had not come, and that he would have still to abide in the flesh, staying at his post, maintaining his witness on behalf of the Gospel, and bearing the burden and weight of the Churches which looked to him as their father. As far as he was concerned, it was infinitely better to go to be with Christ, but for the sake of the work that needed him, he realised that it was more necessary to remain with his fellow-believers, as their comrade and helper, so as to promote their progress in the knowledge of God, and their joy in believing.

How to Live Meanwhile.

He counted, therefore, with almost absolute certainty that he would return again to Philippi, and already he seemed to hear their shouts of rejoicing as he disembarked at the quay, and was welcomed by the membership of the Church which had come down to Neapolis to greet him. In order that that glad hour might be a sky without clouds, that there might be nothing to jar on the greatness of their mutual gladness, he urged that their conversation (lit. their citizenship) should be worthy of the Gospel of Christ, so that whether he came to see them or was compelled still to be absent, he might hear good tidings of their steadfastness, unity, undaunted courage, and willingness to suffer.

Our "Conversation."

The word conversation is the rendering of a Greek word, which is familiar to us in the terms "police," "politics," "politicians." Its primary reference is to cities and city life. The Apostle thought of the Philippian disciples as citizens. They were citizens of Rome in the first instance, but they were also citizens of the Heavenly Jerusalem. Later on in this Epistle he says, "Our conversation (lit. citizenship) is in heaven." Is not this true of us all? Much as we glory in our earthly citizenship, we have more to glory in when we remember that we are under a Divine Sovereign, that we owe allegiance to Heavenly laws, and that we have burgess rights in the City of God. This, Macaulay tells us, in his eloquent description of the Puritans, was their pride and boast, and it may be ours. We desire a better country, that is, an heavenly, and believe that God has prepared for us a city. We confess that we are pilgrims and strangers on the earth, because we greet from afar the Celestial City, the home of God's elect.

The word, in the course of usage, obtained a wider significance than citizenship, and refers to the manner of life which is incumbent on all those, who by faith have become children of the Jerusalem which is above. We have daily to live in a manner which becomes our high calling and great profession.

We must be Steadfast.

"That ye stand fast." It is comparatively easy to mount up with wings, to run without wearying, and even to walk without fainting, but the hardest matter is to stand fast. Not going back, not yielding to the pressure of circumstances, not cowering before the foe, but quietly, resolutely, and determinedly holding our ground. This note rings through the Apostle's writings. "Having done all," he cries, "see that ye withstand in the evil day, and stand" (Ephesians 6:13-14). In this Epistle, we shall find him bidding his brethren "stand fast in the Lord" (Philippians 4:1). Evidently, in his judgment, steadfastness was of supreme importance in the make-up of character.

It is good to begin, but it is better to keep on steadily to the end. It is much when the young soldier, well equipped for battle, steps out into the early dawn, with the light shining upon his weapons, but it is more important far, if, in the late afternoon, he is found standing in the long thin line, resisting the perpetual onset of the foe. We are told of Daniel, that he "continued" (Daniel 1:21). This, perhaps, is the greatest tribute to him, that through decades he did not swerve from his loyalty to God, or devotion to the high interests which were committed to his charge. The men that are steadfast in their loyalty to truth, in their prosecution of duty, in their holding the post assigned to them by the providence of God, are those which leave the deepest impression on their contemporaries. It is not the flash of the meteor which the world really wants, but the constant radiance of the fixed star. What though the storm beats in your face, and every effort is made to dislodge you, though it seems as if you were forgotten in that lone post of duty, still stand fast: the whole situation may depend upon your tenacity of purpose, the campaign may be decided by your holding your ground without flinching. If the Master has put you as a light on the cellar stair, never desert that post because it is lonely and distasteful, and because the opportunity of service comes rarely. To be found doing your duty at the unexpected moment, when His footfall is heard along the corridor, will be a reward for years of patient waiting.

We must Preserve the Spirit of Unity.

"In one spirit, with one mind (R.V. soul) striving together (lit. wrestling) for the faith of the Gospel." The idea of the Apostle is derived from the ancient games, when men might wrestle side by side against those of another city or nation. We put each other in good heart when we stand and strive shoulder to shoulder. The regiments which are drawn from the same locality, are most likely to give a good account of themselves in the battle. Every care should be taken to guard against the outbreak of misunderstanding and jealousy, for these, more than anything else, will induce a spirit of disunion, which is the sure precursor of failure.

In the Home.

To use the illustration of our Lord, the homes that are united are irresistible in their impact upon men, the household which is divided against itself cannot stand. So it is with the alliances, leagues, and parties of human politics; so it is with the army, with federations of operatives, or in the administration of the affairs of state. Directly there are suspicions, jealousies, envies; so soon as men are alienated by the spirit of faction and intrigue; directly parties are for themselves rather than for the state;—paralysis ensues.

In the Church.

In Church life, it is of course necessary that each should preserve his individuality. Each stone in the foundation of the New Jerusalem must flash with its own lustre. Each star must shine with its own glory; each ray in the prism must be itself, or the pure beam of light cannot be produced. The very glory of our common Church life is in the play and mutual interaction of different temperaments, dispositions, and character. A dull uniformity is much to be feared. "If the different members of each Church were similar, if all held the same views, all spoke the same words, all viewed truth from the same stand-point, they would have no unity, but would be simply an aggregate of atoms--the sand pit over again." But amid all these differences there may be a true unity, the different notes may make one splendid burst of music, the different regiments may be animated by a common heroism, the crowd of Medes, Parthians, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Cretans and Arabians, Jews and Gentiles, may make one Church, of whom it may be said "They continued with one accord in the temple, and in breaking bread at home." Whatever we do as members of Christian organisations, we should lay stress upon the things in which we are agreed, and refuse to be alienated over inconsiderable matters, about which we differ.

We must Show Courage in the Presence of our Enemies.

"In nothing affrighted by the adversaries, which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God." The adversaries include the virulent hate of Jews who dogged the footsteps of the Apostle, and sought to overthrow his work, and the strong hatred of the Gentiles, which showed itself in the cruel scourging and imprisonment to which Paul and Silas had been subjected ten years before. The origin of the word translated affrighted, suggests the behaviour of a horse when it becomes scared, springs aside, or dashes off wildly. It is an expression of panic and dismay; as if one should say, "It is vain to resist, the enemy is too strong."

In point of fact, our adversaries bluster much, but effect very little. They come near to us, as Goliath to David, threatening the terrible things that they are prepared to perpetrate for our undoing, but when they discover that we manfully hold our own, they recoil as the waves from the rocks and cliffs of the shore. It seems, sometimes, as though the ocean would prevail, the mighty waves, mountain high, come towering towards the coast, but within a moment there is nothing to show for their fury but a mass of foam. It was so with the Spanish Armada, when with loud defiance it was hurled against Elizabeth; it was so with the long strife that followed the burning of John Huss and Jerome at Prague, when all Europe arrayed itself against their followers in vain. "Lo the kings assemble themselves, they pass away together; they saw it and then were they amazed; they were dismayed and were stricken with terror; trembling took hold of them there, and pain as of a woman in travail; with the east wind Thou breakest the ships of Tarshish."

Courage Becomes God's Servant.

Undaunted courage becomes the servant of God. It shone in the faces of the three young men, who told the king that they would not bow down to his graven image. It inspired the apostles, who told the Sanhedrin that they must obey God rather than men. It flamed forth in Luther's lonely stand against the papacy. "Be of good comfort, Master Ridley," said Latimer, "and play the man, we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out." In these words was evidence of the undaunted courage which has never failed to animate the martyrs of Jesus. It is impossible to ordinary flesh and blood, but, by faith, we may receive the lion-heart of Him, who is not only the Lamb as it had been slain, but the Lion of the tribe of Judah.

We must Accept Suffering as a Gift from God.

"To you it hath been granted in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer in His behalf; having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me." How greatly these words must have encouraged the Philippian Christians! They realised that the Apostle looked upon them as fellow soldiers in the same fight as that in which for a life-time he had been engaged. Their steadfastness and victory at Philippi would make his own resistance easier, just as his heroism in Rome sent a thrill of courage and hope into that far distant city. They were comrades, fellow soldiers, entrusted with similar responsibility on behalf of the dear Lord who was leading the fight.

Our Victories are Our Lord's.

The same thought was in the mind of the Master, when, on the return of the seventy from casting out a few demons, He said, "I beheld Satan fallen as lightning from heaven." He encouraged them by reminding them that their victories were His. So is it always. There is not a single lad at whom shoes are thrown in the bedroom by his school-fellows, because he says his prayers beside his bed; there is not a girl who brings on herself the derisive epithets of her fellow factory hands, because she reads her Testament in the dinner hour; there is not a single working man who endures obloquy and reproach, the hiding of his tools, and exclusion from the companionship of his fellow workmen, because he dares to rebuke their blasphemous and impure conversation, who is not sharing in that same conflict, which is always raging between heaven and hell.

Suffering for Christ's Sake is a Gift.

In that conflict suffering is inevitable, but let us dare to recognise that suffering for Christ's sake is a gift. "It is given to you on behalf of Christ." He entrusts money to some, learning to others, gifts of speech and organisation to others, but to some, who may well stand in the inner circle, He gives the prerogative to suffer. Accept your suffering as a precious gift from His hand, and dare to believe that in and through it all, you are filling up that which is behind of His own suffering, for His Body's sake, which is the Church. You are being admitted into His Gethsemane to watch with Him, your suffering is precious in His sight, and will have a distinct and undoubted effect in hastening the advent of His Kingdom.

 


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Bibliography Information
Meyer, F.B. "Commentary on Philippians 1:4". "Meyer's Devotional Commentary on Philippians". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcp/philippians-1.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, October 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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