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The Epistle to the Philippians.
An Expository Outline by Hamilton Smith.
The study of the different epistles shows that each has been written with a special purpose, so that God, in His wisdom and goodness, has made full provision for the establishment of the believer in the truth, as well as for his guidance in all circumstances, and in every age.
In the Epistle to the Romans we have truths that establish the believer in the great foundations of the gospel. The Epistles to the Corinthians instruct us in church order. The Epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians present the counsels of God, and the doctrines concerning Christ and the church.
In the Epistle to the Philippians we have little or no formal unfolding of doctrine, but a beautiful presentation of true Christian experience. Believers are viewed, not as seated together in heavenly places in Christ, as in Ephesians, but as journeying through the world, forgetting the things that are behind, and pressing on to Christ Jesus in the glory. It gives us the experience of one who takes this journey in the power supplied by the Spirit of Jesus Christ ( Php_1:19 ). It is not, be it noted, necessarily the experience of Christians that is passed before us, for this, alas! we know may fall far short of true Christian experience. Nonetheless, it is experience that is not confined to an apostle, but is possible for any believer in the power of the Spirit. It may be for this reason that the apostle does not speak of himself as an apostle, but writes as a servant of Jesus Christ.
The epistle was called forth by the fellowship these Philippian saints had with the apostle, manifested at that time by the gift they had sent to help in meeting his necessities. This practical fellowship with the apostle when in bonds was to him evidence of a good spiritual state, for there were those who had forsaken him, and fumed from him when in prison.
(Vv. 3-6). This happy spiritual condition drew forth the apostle's praise and prayer on their behalf. We may be able to thank God for one another as we recall the grace of God manifested on particular occasions; but, of these saints, the apostle could say, "I thank my God upon every remembrance of you." Moreover, we may pray for one another, though, at times, it may be with sorrow of heart on account of failure and poor walk; but of these saints the apostle could make "request with joy."
Furthermore, the spiritual condition of these saints gave the apostle great confidence that He which had begun a good work in them would perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. Thus, as they had strewn their devotedness by their fellowship with the apostle from the first day until that moment, so he was confident they would be sustained in the same grace in their onward journey until the day of Jesus Christ.
(Vv. 7, 8). Moreover, the apostle felt justified in this confidence inasmuch as it was clear that they had the apostle in their hearts ("Ye have me in your hearts" is the correct translation). This was proved by the fact that they were not ashamed to be associated with the apostle in his bonds, and in his defence of the gospel. Having fellowship with him in his trials, they would also partake of the special grace ministered to him. This love was mutual; for if they had the apostle in their hearts, he, on his side, longed after them all in the bowels of Jesus Christ. It was not simply a human love that responds to kindness, but divine love - the yearning love of Jesus Christ.
(Vv. 9-11). In praying for them, the apostle desires that this love that had been so blessedly manifested to him might abound yet more and more, showing itself in knowledge and all intelligence: for, be it remembered, that, in divine things, spiritual intelligence springs from love. The heart that is attached to Christ is the one that will learn the mind of Christ - not simply a knowledge of the letter of Scripture, but intelligence as to its spiritual meaning. With this divinely given intelligence we shall be able to approve things that are excellent. It is comparatively easy to condemn things that are wrong. In a great measure this is possible for the natural man, but to discern and approve things that are morally excellent requires spiritual discernment. The more we are attached in love to Christ the greater will be the spiritual intelligence that will enable us to do the right thing, in the right way, et the right moment, in all circumstances. Approving things that are excellent, and acting with a pure motive, we shall give no ground for offence, "neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God" ( 1Co_10:32 ). We should thus be kept without offence until the day of Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, as with the saints at Philippi, we should not only be kept from falling, and thus giving offence, but we should bring forth fruit by Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God. We know that it is only as we abide in Christ that we shall bring forth fruit by manifesting the beautiful qualities seen in Christ as Man; and if we bring forth fruit, it will be for the glory of the Father, and testimony to men that we are the disciples of Christ ( Joh_15:4-8 ).
(Vv. 12-14). The apostle then alludes to the special circumstances that he had to face, which might be thought such a hindrance to the spread of the gospel, and so depressing for him. However, Paul views every circumstance in connection with Christ. He was in the loneliness of a prison, and apparently all opportunity for preaching the gospel was at an end, and his public service over. But he would have the saints to know that these apparently untoward circumstances had turned out for his own blessing and the furtherance of the gospel. As regards himself, so far from being depressed by his bonds, he can rejoice, for it was manifest that his bonds were in Christ. He was not cast down by any thought that he was imprisoned for any wrong that he had done, but rejoiced that he was counted worthy to suffer for Christ's sake.
In reference to the gospel, his bonds had become an occasion for reaching men in the highest quarters, even as the saints knew that when with them at Philippi, he could sing praise when cast into the inner prison, and that then his bonds became the occasion for reaching a sinner in the lowest social scale. The stocks, the dungeon, and the midnight darkness, all turned to the furtherance of the gospel.
Furthermore, the opposition of the world to Christ and the gospel, strewn by the imprisonment of the apostle to the Gentiles, had become the occasion for stirring up some, who naturally might have been timid, to come forward and boldly proclaim the word of God without fear.
(Vv. 15-18). Alas! there were some who were preaching with an impure motive. Moved by envy, and with a malicious desire to add tribulation to the apostle, such took occasion of his imprisonment to seek to exalt themselves by preaching the gospel. Having Christ before him, and not thinking of himself, he could rejoice that Christ was preached. The impure motives, the faulty manner, and fleshly methods that might be employed by the preacher, he could leave the Lord to deal with in His own time and way; but in that Christ was preached, he could rejoice.
(V. 19). The apostle could rejoice, for he knew that the preaching of Christ, whether by himself, by true brethren, or by those who preached with an impure motive, together with the prayers of the saints and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, would turn to his complete and final deliverance from all the power of Satan. Let us remember that, however great our need, there is with the Holy Spirit an ample and unfailing "supply" to meet the need. If drawing upon this supply, we shall find that the rage of men, the envy of those who preach with a wrong motive, the opposition of adversaries, and the enmity of Satan, will have no power over us.
(V. 20). The apostle clearly shows the character of the salvation that he had before him. Obviously he is not thinking of the salvation of the soul that entirely depends on the work of Christ. That was for ever settled for him, and in no wise depended upon anything that he could do, nor upon the prayers of the saints; nor even, we may add, upon the present supply of the Spirit. Furthermore, Paul is not thinking of being delivered from prison, and in that sense being delivered from trying circumstances. The salvation that he has before him is surely the complete deliverance from everything, in life or death, that would hinder Christ from being magnified in his body. Christ filled the apostle's heart, and his earnest expectation and hope was that he would be preserved from anything that would make him ashamed of confessing Christ, and that with all boldness he might witness to Christ, so that, whether by life or death, he would glorify Christ.
(V. 21). This leads the apostle to state that Christ was the one Object before him, the spring and motive of all that he did, so that he can say, "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain." In this verse the whole of our passage through this world is summed up by the contrasted words "to live" and "to die." With Paul it is so blessed to see that both living and dying were connected with Christ. If he lived, it was for Christ: if he died, it would mean that he would be with Christ. Having Christ as the one Object of his life sustained him through all the changing circumstances of time, and not only robbed death of all its terrors, but made death far better than living in a world from which Christ is absent.
This, indeed, is true Christian experience, possible for all believers; but, alas! we have to confess how little known in the measure in which the apostle lived this life. How could those, in the apostle's day, who were preaching Christ of contention ( Php_1:15 ), seeking their own things ( Php_2:21 ), or minding earthly things ( Php_3:19 ), know anything of this true Christian experience? Let us challenge our own hearts as to how far we have been content with merely an occasional taste of such blessedness as living only for Christ. With Paul it was the constant experience of his soul. It was not only that Christ was his life, but he says, "For me to live is Christ." It is one thing to have Christ as our life - every believer can say this - but it is another thing to live the life that we have. Is Christ the one Object before us, that occupies us from day to day - the motive for all that we think and say and do?
(Vv. 22-26). The apostle is speaking of his own personal experience, and therefore again and again he says "I". Seeing, then, that he can say "For me to live is Christ", he can also add, "If to live in flesh is my lot, this is for me worth the while" (N. Tr.). It is well worth living if Christ is the one Object of the life. Nevertheless, for his own personal joy, it would be far better to depart and be with Christ. However, thinking of Christ, His interests, and the blessing of His people, he felt it would be needful for him to continue yet longer with the saints on earth. With this confidence he knew that he would be left here for the blessing and joy of the saints, and they would be led to rejoice further in the Lord through his being permitted to visit them again.
(Vv. 27-30). In the meantime he desires that their conduct might be such as becomes the gospel of Christ - a searching word for us all, for we have the flesh in us, and, but for the grace of God, it can lead us into conduct not only beneath that becoming to a Christian, but far below the conduct of a decent man of the world, as indeed was the case with some who were preaching Christ even of envy and strife.
That these saints might walk becomingly, he desires that they might be found standing fast against every adversary. To stand fast, the saints must be of one spirit so that with one soul they may strive together for "the faith" of the gospel. The great effort of Satan is to rob the saints of the truth. To "stand fast" in striving together for the faith may entail suffering. But let us not be terrified into thinking that any suffering we might be called to pass through is the destruction of all our hopes. In reality, if suffering for Christ's sake, it will turn to our salvation from all the wiles of the enemy by which he would seek to turn us away from "the faith of the gospel." Let us ever view sufferings for Christ's sake as an honour given to those who believe on Him. Of such conflict and suffering the apostle was an example, as they had already seen when he was with them at Philippi, and of which they were again hearing. Samuel Rutherford, in his day, when, like the apostle, he was imprisoned for Christ's sake, esteemed it a privilege, for he could say, "Christ's cause even with the cross is better than the king's crown. Suffering for Christ is my garland."
Philippians 1 .
Christ our life.
In the first chapter Christ is viewed as the source and motive of the Christian life lived on earth. Paul can write, "For me to live is Christ." Others might well shrink from publicly stating, "For me to live is Christ," though it may indeed be the desire of the heart. Paul, as led by the Spirit, could say this in all truth. As the man of the world lives for money, or pleasure, or fame, and the loss of these things would deprive him of his object in life; so Paul lived solely for Christ, and had it been possible to rob him of Christ he would have had nothing left for which to live.
It is plain that a man's life is governed by, and viewed in connection with, that which is his object in life. If he lives for money, everything will be viewed in connection with money. If pleasure, everything will be viewed in connection with pleasure. Other things may at times demand his attention, but that which is his life will dominate his thoughts and actions. Nor is it otherwise with the Christian. If, as Paul can say, "For me to live is Christ," it will mean in practice that everything in Paul's life will be viewed in connection with Christ and His interest.
The natural man lives for self, and views everything in connection with self. It is the privilege of the believer to know that, in the cross of Christ, God has dealt with "self," so that we need not be occupied with "self" any more. Our old man has been crucified with Christ and thus we have a title to reckon ourselves to be dead to sin. This reckoning is the foundation of practical Christianity, involving as it does the entire setting aside of the old man in the judgment of the cross, and the introduction of a new man in a new world, Christ in the glory.
Alas! our experiences as Christians are often low because we view things in relation to ourselves. The true Christian experience as set before us in this chapter is the result of seeing everything in connection with Christ. This is strikingly set forth in the case of the Apostle Paul. Everything he touches upon in this opening chapter is viewed in relation to Christ.
1. The Gift of the Philippians (Verse 5).
After the introductory verses the apostle at once refers, in an indirect way, to the gift sent by the Philippians, in which he sees a fresh expression of their fellowship. Christ, however, being his life, he views this gift not in connection with himself, but in relation to the gospel of Christ. Hence he speaks of this gift as "fellowship in the gospel." Had he thought only of himself he would have said "fellowship with me." Forgetting himself and his immediate needs, he sees in it a proof of the Lord's grace working in the Philippians.
2. The Philippian Assembly (Verse 6).
The gift leads the apostle to think of those who had given the gift. Christ being his life, he views the Philippians, as before he had viewed their gift, in connection with Christ. Viewing them thus he can say, "He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." Viewing the saints in connection with the flesh that is in them, the world that is around them, the Devil who is against them, or the difficulties opposed to them, we may well be cast down in regard to them. When for a moment the apostle thought of the Galatian saints in connection with their ways, he has to say, "I stand in doubt of you." Directly, however, he views them in connection with Christ, he can say, "I have confidence as to you through the Lord" ( Gal_4:20 ; Gal_5:10 ).
So with the Philippians, viewing them in connection with Christ, he can speak of "being confident" that the work commenced in them will be finished in the day of Jesus Christ.
3. The Love of the Apostle (Verses 7, 8).
Thinking of the Philippians naturally leads the apostle to speak of his love for them. He can say, "God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ." Moreover, Christ being his life, this love to the Philippians is viewed in connection with Christ. He does not long after them with mere human affection which waxes and wanes according to the way others may act, but with deep divine affection - the bowels of Jesus Christ; a love that, having loved, loves to the end.
4. The Prayer of the Apostle (Verses 9-11).
Those we love, we pray for. So with the apostle: loving the Philippians he prays for their state of soul, that their love may abound yet more and more. If, however, he prays for their state, he does so in connection with Christ. He does not pray for a good state in connection with himself, that they may be a credit to him; or that they may accredit themselves before men, in man's small day. He prays for them in view of the day of Christ. Furthermore he desires that their lives might be filled with the fruit of practical righteousness. This, however, he at once connects with Christ, for such practical fruits can only be by Jesus Christ. Nor does the apostle desire these fruits that he may be praised, or the Philippians praised, but for the glory and praise of God.
5. The Circumstances by the Way (Verses 12-14).
Counting upon their loving interest in himself, the apostle passes from the Philippians to speak of himself and his circumstances. Again we see that, Christ being his life, he views his circumstances in connection with Christ and His gospel. He says, "I. would have you to know, brethren, that the circumstances in which I am have turned out rather to the furtherance of the glad tidings" (N.T.). The circumstances were such as to make the stoutest heart quail. For four years he had been a prisoner in bonds under the rule of the tyrant Nero; he was no longer able to minister in the assemblies, or preach to the crowds. Had he viewed his circumstances in connection with himself he might well have been cast down, and possibly have reproached himself for actions in the past which might have led to his imprisonment. Rising above all considerations of self - whether lack of wisdom in the past, or ease and comfort in the present he views his circumstances entirely in connection with Christ. He does not ask, "How do these untoward circumstances affect me?" but, "How do they further the interests of Christ?" Viewing them thus he sees that God is above all circumstances, even if brought about largely by our own mistakes, and makes the most unpropitious circumstances, as nature would think, turn to the furtherance of the gospel. Viewing circumstances in the light of Christ and His interests, they become the occasion of experiencing joy in the Lord - as he says, "I herein do rejoice, and will rejoice."
6. Contentious Brethren (Verses 15-18).
Not only, however, has Paul to meet untoward circumstances, but he has to deal with contentious brethren. There were such in Paul's day, and there are such in our day - men who take up service with impure motives. How are they to be viewed? Had Paul viewed such in relation to himself, he might well have been indignant, for he knew full well that they were hoping to add affliction to his bonds. In the presence of Paul they would have been silent; now that he is absent they give expression to their envy by making themselves prominent, thinking thus to belittle Paul and magnify themselves. Paul, however, refuses to view them in connection with himself, and thus their efforts to annoy Paul entirely fail. For Paul to live was Christ, and hence he views the action of these men in connection with Christ, with the result he sees clearly that, whatever their motive, "Christ is preached." This again leads to Christian experience. "I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice."
7. The Present Salvation of the Apostle (Verse 19).
Here the apostle passes on to speak of the deliverance from all the ill effects of trying circumstances and contentious brethren. The latter thought to arouse tribulation for the apostle (verse 17, N.T.). "No," says the apostle, "through your prayers all will turn out to my salvation." He will be delivered from being cast down because of his bonds, and from self-confidence, as if the work entirely depended upon the apostle. But this salvation from perils that beset his soul he connects with Jesus Christ. It will come through the gracious supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
8. The Mortal Body (Verse 20).
From the perils that beset his soul, he passes on to speak of his body. If he thinks of his body, his thoughts are not engrossed with feeding and clothing it, or devising means to minister to its comfort. This indeed would be to think of his body in connection with himself. For Paul to live is Christ, therefore he thinks of his body in connection with Christ, and hence his "earnest expectation" is "that Christ shall be magnified" in his body. For Paul his body was only a vessel in which to set forth Christ.
9. Life and Death (Verses 20-26).
The apostle faces the great realities of life and death. He speaks of the life lived on earth. Had he viewed this life as a natural man, with all his great abilities, advantages of birth and education, it would have appeared to be full of possibilities and dazzling prospects. Christ, however, being his life, he entirely refuses to view the life here in connection with himself, and can say, "For me to live is Christ."
Then death passes before him. To the natural man death is the king of terrors and the terror of kings, being the loss of all things that men count dear. Viewing death in connection with Christ it no longer held any terror for the apostle, and entailed no loss. Indeed, he can say "to die is gain," for "to depart" is "to be with Christ." The man who makes money his object would not find death 'a gain. He would not gain more of his object by death; he would lose all that for which he had lived, for shrouds have no pockets. If Christ is the object, then death is gain, for by death more of that blessed object would be gained, and by death all things that hinder the enjoyment of Christ would be removed.
If, however, Paul is to abide for a while in this life and continue with the saints, it would be for their "furtherance and joy of faith." He still thinks only of Christ. He has no thought of continuing in order that the saints may rejoice in Paul through Jesus Christ, but that they may rejoice "in Jesus Christ through Paul" (N.T.).
10. The Conduct of the Philippians (Verses 27-30).
Whether Paul is absent or present with the saints, he desires that their conduct may be worthy of the gospel of Christ. He does not think of their conduct in relation to himself - that it might be worthy of Paul - but in relation to Christ. Hence he desires that they may stand fast in one spirit, with one soul, striving together for the faith of the gospel.
Finally there are adversaries to meet and sufferings to be borne. If we view such in connection with ourselves we may well be terrified, for we are weak and they are strong. Paul viewing such in connection with Christ can say, "Unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake." Suffering is robbed of its terror and seen to be a Christian privilege that has been "given" to us in grace, carrying with it a bright reward in glory.
Thus, from a rapid review of this chapter, it becomes plain that everything is viewed in connection with Christ. Whether it be a gift from the saints, the saints themselves, or the love between the servant and the saints; whether it be the condition of the saints or the fruits they bring forth, the circumstances which befall them, the contentious men they may have to meet, the body in which they tabernacle, the life they live down here, or the death that ends that life; whether it be the presence or absence of a gifted leader, the adversaries that oppose the saints or the sufferings they may have to endure - all are viewed in connection with Christ. This blessed viewpoint is the result of having Christ for the life.
Moreover, the result of having Christ for the life, and viewing all in connection with Christ, is the enjoyment of true Christian experience. Thus the apostle expresses thankfulness in remembering the saints (verse 3); joy in praying for them (verse 4); confidence as to their future (verse 6); loving interest in their present welfare (verses 7-11); continuous joy that Christ is preached. He has no trace of fear in the presence of life or death or adversaries, or sufferings; he is filled with joy at the thought of departing to be with Christ; he is filled with calm and peace in the presence of adversaries, if for a while he is left here to be for Christ. Such are the happy and true Christian experiences of a man who has Christ for his life. As set forth in the apostle we cannot but admire this life, though humbled as we have to confess how far we come short in living the life.
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Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Philippians 1". "Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent