IN OPENING, PAUL does not present himself as an apostle, but just as a bondman of Jesus Christ. Hence we are not to regard the experience which he is led to relate as being something apostolic, and therefore beyond the reach of ordinary Christians. On the contrary it is the experience of a bondman or servant, and we all are that. He addresses himself to those at Philippi who could be spoken of as “saints in Christ Jesus.” Being in Christ they were set apart for God. They had bishops and deacons in their midst, but even so these are not mentioned in the first place. These men holding of fice in this local assembly had a place of importance and honour, but they were not lords over God’s heritage, claiming in everything the first place. Moreover, instead of there being one bishop presiding over many churches there were several bishops in this one church.
Immediately after the opening salutation Paul puts on record his joyful remembrance of the Philippian saints. They had been peculiarly marked by fellowship in the Gospel. They had had Paul very much in their hearts (for so verse Philippians 1:7 should read) and they had stood by him as partners, all of which was proof of the work of God within them. God had by His Spirit begun a good work in them, which had been evidenced in this way; and what God had begun He would carry to completion, which would be reached in the day of Jesus Christ.
Evidently they were marked by a great love for the Gospel and hearty fellowship with it in a practical way, and not only with it but also with Paul who was its ambassador, and so they were partakers of his grace. And they were partakers not only as to the confirmation of the Gospel by the wonderful results it produced, but as to its defence against all adversaries, and as to the bonds in which the ambassador lay. Many there are who are eager to partake in the confirmation, and possibly in the defence, who are not so eager when bonds and afflictions are in evidence. Bonds are the test, and a readiness to partake in that connection is a surer proof of the work of God within than much erudition as to Christian doctrine.
Verse Philippians 1:8 assures us how fully Paul reciprocated all the affection of the Philippians, and indeed exceeded in it. Verses Philippians 1:9-10 show us that which was the desire of his heart for them, even that they should increase continually in love, intelligence, discrimination, purity and fruitfulness. There was much about them which was delightful, but the Apostle’s desire is summed up in the words, “yet more and more.”
While the work of God for us has been accomplished once and for ever by the Lord Jesus, the work of God in us by His Holy Spirit is a progressive thing. That we should abound more and more in love is evidently the principal thing, for as we do our knowledge and powers of discrimination will increase. More and more we shall discern what is excellent and delight in it, and keep ourselves clear of all that would tarnish it, and consequently be filled with those fruits which are produced by righteousness to the glory and praise of God. Love is indeed the Divine nature. In that nature we are to grow as the result of God’s work in us, which will continue to the end of our sojourn here, and be brought to fruition and into display when the day of Christ arrives.
When we reach verse Philippians 1:12 we find the Apostle beginning to refer to his own circumstances; but not as complaining or occupying our thoughts with them, but rather as showing how the God who is above all circumstances had made them work out to the furtherance of the Gospel.
What a blow it must have been to the early believers when Paul was imprisoned by the iron hand of Rome. A sudden extinguisher seemed to drop on his unparalleled labours and triumphs in the Gospel, and it must have appeared to be an unmitigated disaster. Yet it was nothing of the kind but rather the reverse, and in the succeeding verses we learn the way in which God had overruled it for good.
It was distinctly to the good that things had so fallen out as to make it manifest that Paul’s imprisonment was wholly on account of the Glad Tidings. From the highest circles in Rome to the lowest it had been made perfectly clear that his bonds were on account of Christ, and not those of an ordinary malefactor.
It was even more to the good that the most of the brethren had been stirred up in a right way by his captivity. Instead of being cast down and cowed by it they were moved to a fuller trust in the Lord, and consequently were more fearless in speaking forth the Word of the Lord. There was an unhappy minority who joined in the preaching from evil motives—for they were antagonistic to Paul and hoped to stir up more trouble for him—but at any rate they did preach Christ, and therefore God would overrule it for blessing.
Here then we get a striking glimpse of the inner life and spirit of the Apostle. His trials were very deep. Not only was his imprisonment likely to chafe his spirit, but the action of these envious and contentious brethren must have been irritating beyond measure. Yet here he is, calm, confident, gracious, without a trace of irritation in his spirit: a veritable triumph of the power of God. And the secret of it was evidently that he had learned to forget himself and view things altogether from the Divine side. What weighed with him was not how things affected himself but how they affected Christ and His interests. It might be bad for Paul, but if it was good for Christ then nothing further need be said, for that was the only thing that mattered to him.
As a consequence of this the Apostle could say, “I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.” He rejoiced in the preaching of Christ, and he rejoiced in the assurance that all this which seemed to be so much against him would turn out to his own salvation; the Philippians helping by prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ being always available for him.
Verse Philippians 1:19 sets before us a present salvation and one which Paul himself needed and expected to get. The nature of it becomes clear as we consider verse 20. His earnest desire and expectation was that Christ should be magnified in his body, whether by life or by death. The fulfilling of that desire would involve a salvation, for naturally we each aim at selfmagnification and self-gratification through our bodies. Have we each discovered that to have the whole bent and tenor of our lives diverted from self to Christ is a wonderful present salvation ? Have we ever prayed after this fashion?—
“My Saviour, Thou hast offered rest,
Oh, give it then to me,
The rest of ceasing from myself,
To find my all in Thee!”
Present salvation is found, then, in the setting aside of self and the exaltation of Christ, and not only salvation but also that which is really life. When the Apostle said, “For me to live is Christ,” he was not announcing a fact of Christian doctrine but speaking experimentally. It is indeed a fact that Christ is the life of His saints, but here we find that the fact was translated into the experience and practice of Paul, so that his life coutd be summed up in one word—CHRIST. Christ lived in Paul and through Paul. He was the Object of Paul’s existence, and His character was manifested in him, though not yet, of course, in perfect measure.
If life meant Christ living in Paul, death meant Paul being with Christ. Hence he adds, “to die is gain.” To every Christian death when it arrives IS gain, but it is very obvious that not many of us are in the abiding consciousness of that fact. When our loved ones who believe are taken from us, we console ourselves with the reflection that for them it means being with Christ, which is far better; yet we continue clinging to life in this world very pertinaciously ourselves. Have we ever been “in a strait betwixt two,” as Paul was? The great majority of us would have no difficulty in deciding if the choice were left with us! We would elect at once for the alternative which is not spoken of as far better.
Death is gain, and Paul knew it to be gain; and he, be it remembered, had years before been caught up into the third heaven, though whether in or out of the body he could not tell. Whichever way it was, he was granted some foretaste thereby of the blessedness of being with Christ. We may take the words, “far better,” as being Paul’s own verdict as the fruit of that wonderful experience, as well as the revelation, as from God, of a wonderful fact.
When he says, “What I shall choose I wot not,” we are not to understand that he was actually left to decide whether he was to live or die. At least, so we judge. He writes very familiarly and with much freedom to his beloved Philippian converts, and hence does not stop to say, “if the choice were left to me.” He knew that it was not merely better but far better to be with Christ, yet he does not decide the point by reference to his own feelings. We see again that the only thing that mattered was, what was most calculated to further the interests of his Lord. He felt that what would be for the more help of the saints was his remaining amongst them for a little longer, and hence he had the confidence of so doing, as he says in verse 25.
Let us all be quite clear that the departure of what the Apostle speaks here has nothing to do with the coming again of the Lord. He refers to the intermediate, or “unclothed,” state, to which he refers in 2 Corinthians 5:4. In that passage he shows that the “clothed” state—when we are “clothed upon” with our bodies of glory is in every way superior to the “unclothed.” Yet in our passage we see that the “unclothed” state is far better than the best that we can know while still clothed in our present bodies of humiliation. What it all means in detail must of necessity be inconceivable to us in our present condition, but let us rest assured that blessedness beyond all our thoughts lies ahead of us.
It would seem pretty certain that Paul was justified in his confidence, and that he did “abide and continue” with them for a few years further with a view to their spiritual progress and joy, and give them cause for further rejoicing by his coming amongst them for a brief season.
Only there was one great desire which he had as regards them, and that equally whether he was absent from them or present with them, that they should conduct themselves in a way that was worthy of the Gospel. Not only were they to stand fast; they were to “stand fast in one spirit.” Not merely to strive for the faith of the Gospel, but to do so “with one mind,” and “together.”
Here is an apostolic injunction which may well strike very deeply and acutely into our hearts. It goes a long way to explain the lack of power manifested in connection with the Gospel, whether as regards its progress amongst the unsaved or as regards the stability of those who are saved. Standing fast, you notice, comes before the striving. And the word translated striving is one from which we derive our word, athletics. It would seem therefore to indicate not so much a striving by word or argument in order to maintain the truth of the Gospel, as striving in the shape of actual labour on the Gospel’s behalf.
In Romans 15:30 and in Jude 1:3 we have the words “strive” and “contend,” but there a different word is used, from which we get our word, agonize. The saints were to agonize together in prayer with Paul, and to earnestly agonize for the faith. Here we are enjoined to labour (or, athleticize, if we may coin a word) together for the Gospel, and at the beginning of chapter 4 we read of two women who did so labour together with Paul, for the same word is used there. If there were more agonizing together in prayer, and athleticizing together on behalf of the Gospel we should see more in the way of result.
As we proceed further in the epistle we shall discover that this oneness of mind and spirit is the main burden that was resting on the Apostle as regards the Philippians, for dissension is an evil which has a way of creeping in amongst the most spiritual and devoted Christians in various subtle ways.
When dissension is banished and unity prevails among saints the adversaries do not appear so alarming, and there is more readiness to suffer. The fact is we never need be terrified by adversaries of an open sort. The very fact that they are adversaries is to them only a token of destruction when God rises up. And when He rises up it will mean salvation for His people. While we wait for His intenention it is ours to have conflict and suffering for His sake. The Philippians had seen it in Paul, as Acts 16:1-40 bears witness, and now they heard of the same kind of thing befalling him in Rome.
Suffering for Christ and His Gospel is here presented as a privilege, granted to us as believers. If we were not so sadly enenated by the dissension and disunity that prevails in the church, on the one hand, and by the inroads of the world and the spirit of the world, on the other, that is the light in which we should see it. And how immensely should we thereby be blessed!
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Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Philippians 1". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
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