The Apostle, under God the Holy Ghost, opens his, Epistle to the Church with his usual Salutation. He praiseth the Lord, for his Mercies towards them. In Allusion to his Prison State, he tells them of his Readiness to suffer in the Cause of Christ.
(1) ¶ Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: (2) Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
The first object which engageth our attention, in the opening of this Epistle, is of the persons to whom it is addressed; namely, to all the saints in Christ Jesus, Which were at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons. Saints, in scripture language, means regenerated sinners. Called to be saints, as the Apostle elsewhere terms it. 1 Corinthians 1:2. Similar to the Apostle Jude's expression; sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called, Jude 1:1. Reader! it is most essentially necessary to have this always in view, through the whole of this Epistle; yea, in all the inspired writings of the Apostles. For there are some things said in them which cannot have reference to the world at large; but are belonging to the Church of God only. And it is the grossest of all mistakes to make application to mankind in general of what belongs only to the saints of God. The Apostle's salutations is to the Church. Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
The bishops, and deacons, are taken from those saints. What these offices of the Church were, in those early days, is not so easy to be determined. Perhaps the same, as in other Epistles, are called Elders. 1 Peter 5:1. But one thing is certain, that as Paul addressed this Epistle to the Church at Philippi, and calls them bishops, and deacons, in the plural, there were more than one, if not many, of that order, in this Church. Of consequence, the primitive Church, under the Apostles, differed from modern Episcopacy, where there is but one bishop in a Diocese. And one thing more is as certain, namely, that as the Saints are mentioned, prior to the bishops and deacons, the office of the latter, of what kind soever it might be, must have been intended by way of ministry to the former. Peter, who stiles himself an Elder, seems to intimate, by what he recommended to the Elders, that they should consider themselves servants, and not lords over God's heritage: even as Christ himself, who though Lord of all, became servant of all. And that their services should be not by constraint but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind. 1 Peter 5:2-3. And what is still more important to observe, from this address of Paul, it is very evident, that as those bishops, and deacons, are included with the saints in Christ Jesus; the whole were considered by him, as forming the body of the Church of Christ; and consequently all had experienced the regenerating power of the Holy Ghost. And, to be sure, the very idea of servants in the ministry of God's holy word and ordinances, carries with it an assurance of having an eminency in the knowledge of divine things, from divine teachings, and from the quickening influences of God the Spirit. For to suppose Elders, Bishops, and Deacons, engaged as instruments under the Holy Ghost, for the conversion of others, while unconverted themselves, would be the most preposterous of all imaginations! Such could not have been the case in the Church, of Philippi. The Apostle directs his Epistle to this Church, as saints in Christ Jesus, with the bishops and deacons, how many soever of each order there might be. And to such he sends his Apostolic benediction of Grace. Reader! let You and I behold this Church of the Philippians, in this most endearing view, and now hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches!
(3) ¶ I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, (4) Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, (5) For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; (6) Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: (7) ¶ Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace. (8) For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ. (9) ¶ And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; (10) That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; (11) Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.
I admire the Apostle's entrance into the subject of his Epistle. He first blesseth God, and then blesseth the Church in the Lord's name. And he blessed God as his God in Christ. I thank my God, he saith. Right and property in God, as a Covenant God in Christ, is the only solid foundation for the assurance of faith. And the cause for which Paul found his heart led out into prayer to God, in the consciousness that the Church at Philippi was established in grace, would have had no such effect upon the Apostle's mind, had not Paul himself felt and enjoyed his own establishment in the faith. The Reader will readily enter into an apprehension of these things. He, and he only, that knows the blessedness of the fellowship of the Gospel himself, can describe what joy of the heart that is, which takes part in the felicity of others on the same account.
I beg the Reader not to overlook the confidence with which the Apostle tells the Church of their safety in grace. He that began the good work is a wise Master-builder, who never entered upon so grand a concern, as the salvation of the soul, to leave it unfinished. And the reason is evident. Because the beginning of the good work in regeneration, is, in fact, but the finishing the first and original purposes of God in election, the confirming it in redemption, and now by quickening the soul, which was before dead in trespasses and sins, to the knowledge and enjoyment of it in regeneration, becomes an earnest and pledge of an interest in it to all eternity. This work of regeneration by the Holy Ghost, though, in fact, the last in point of order among the Persons of the Godhead, is the first in point of our apprehension to the knowledge of the love of God. By this gracious act, God's children are brought into spiritual life, to discover their having been chosen of God the Father before the world, and redeemed by God the Son in the time-state of the Church, and now, by regeneration, made partakers of an inheritance with the saints in light. Hence, this good work, as Paul calls (and beyond all conception both of goodness and of greatness it is,) comes the earnest of our adoption-character, and our union with Christ Jesus. It is impossible, therefore, but that it must be completed, being secured by such principles, and not founded in human worth, but divine grace. Because I live, (saith Jesus,) ye shall live also. John 14:19.
(12) ¶ But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; (13) So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; (14) And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
It should seem, by what the Apostle here saith, that the Church at Philippi had so much affection for Paul, (as they well might,) that on account of his imprisonment, they were anxious to know the event. And Paul's regard for them was not behind. But how graciously the Lord overruled the malice of his enemies, in causing even the imprisonment of his Servant to minister to his glory. He tells them, that as his bonds in Christ was known in the palace of the emperor, it had occasioned some enquiry concerning the faith in Christ. And we know, that it was made instrumental in the hand of the Lord, for the conversion of some of Nero's household. For in the close of this Epistle he tells the Church of Philippe, that amidst the salutations of the brethren which were with him at that time in Rome, they chiefly desired to salute the Church which were of Cesar's household. And Paul further adds, that his chains had made many bold to preach Christ. Reader! do not overlook these things. They are not uncommon now. How many have I known who have felt confidence from the exercise of the Lord's tried ones? Yea, what instances have I not observed, where the Lord hath raised up glory to himself, and comfort to his people, from the malice of his enemies?
(15) Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: (16) The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: (17) But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel. (18) What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. (19) For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, (20) According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. (21) ¶ For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (22) But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. (23) For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: (24) Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you. (25) And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith; (26) That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again.
There is somewhat very striking in the Apostles account of these different preachers. Who could they be that preached Christ, even of envy and strife? Not, surely, regenerated men! And yet, is it not possible, even for God's own children, in preaching, to do so? May not as well as in all the other circumstances of life, men feel the breakings out of corruption; so as to mingle in holy seasons, as well as upon other occasions? Is it not possible for jealousy to appear in the ministry, as well as in other parts of life? Alas! where, or in what part, of his time-state upon earth, is a child of God exempt from corruption, in all that pertains to the flesh? As to those who preached Christ out of good will; there is somewhat very blessed in this relation, however weakly and imperfect it was done. But what we have most to admire on this occasion is, that the great soul of the Apostle rejoiced at everything, and in everything, provided Christ was the one glorious subject of all preaching. Let the interest of my Lord and Master be forwarded, (said Paul,) and I care not about the instrument, or the motive by which he is guided. Oh! the triumphs of grace through Christ.
I very earnestly entreat the Reader particularly to remark what Paul saith of himself, and, of consequence, all the Lord's people like himself, who are conscious of being in a justified state before God in Christ. He had no choice whether to live or die. And, if the Lord had referred it to the Apostle to have made his own choice, very sure I am that Paul would have referred it back again. And what I observe of this great Apostle, may be said of much humbler saints. When Paul looked forward, and beheld that eternal weight of glory which awaited him, his holy soul could not but long for the body to be dissolved, that in spirit he might be with the Lord. But when he looked around and beheld Christ's Church comforted and refreshed by his personal ministry, Paul felt a willingness to postpone his own everlasting happiness, for the promotion of the everlasting happiness of the Lord's people. Hence, the Apostle was suspended in his desires. He paused over the prospect; and, therefore, left it with the Lord. And so, I am fully convinced, is it with many of the faithful of the Lord, in every age of the Church. They long for Christ. They long to be with Christ. And nothing here below, as it concerns themselves, could make them for a moment wish to remain in the prison of a sinful body, no, not an hour. But, if Jesus employs them in his service, and condescends to make them useful to his Church and people, willingly will they delay their own personal felicity, in the presence of God and the Lamb, to forward the everlasting happiness of their brethren upon earth.
Reader! what saith your personal apprehension of these things? It would sound somewhat strange, to say to a child of God, and especially to a minister of Christ, I do not wish your departure for a long time from the Church upon earth, though very sure I am, whenever the Lord shall call you out of life, it will be but to exchange the Church below for the Church above. But out of love to the Lord's little ones, in this sorrowful world, I earnestly hope your personal enjoyment of Christ in heaven will be many years postponed. This would be an extraordinary thing to say. But yet, such are the motives to wish, that Jesus will not take home his chosen ones, in compassion to his Church in the wilderness, that godly souls cannot but mourn and cry out, Help, Lord! when the faithful are diminished from among the children of men.
Zealous, faithful servants of the Lord are but few here below. And, while they shine as lights in the world, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, we cannot but regret when any of them cease to lighten around, for we too sensibly feel the darkness their absence makes. It is a sad sign of approaching night, when the Lord extinguishes his brightest luminaries! And, in relation to themselves, though the change in every sense makes for their good, yet they need not depart to enjoy Christ. For they do enjoy by faith, a real personal communion and fellowship with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ, by God the Spirit. And, moreover, in one way they can and do, promote the Lord's glory upon earth, which they cannot in heaven. There are no sinners there ignorant of Christ's Person, and of his Godhead and salvation. But there are thousands here of the Lord's own redeemed ones, while in the unrecovered state of our Adam-nature, to whom the Lord can make them useful, in speaking of his princely royalties, and his loving kindness and mercy.
(27) ¶ Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; (28) And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God. (29) For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake; (30) Having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me.
By the conversation, which the Apostle recommends as becoming the Gospel of Christ, must be meant the general frame and deportment of the whole life, such as is suited to a child of God, savingly called by grace, and regenerated by the Holy Spirit. The Apostle is writing to the Church it should be remembered. And the Church firms one body in Christ. The common interest and happiness of the whole, in the glory of their Lord, is the one uniform conversation, which should mark every member. They all speak the same language, even the language of Canaan. They all wear the same garments, even Christ's robe of righteousness. They all eat the same spiritual meat, even the bread of life. And they all drink the same spiritual drink. For Christ is both the bread of life, and the water of life to all. Hence, a uniformity of conversation, pursuits, and desires, form the distinguishing feature of this royal family, whom Christ hath made Kings and Priests, to God and the Father. Reader is it so in your instance? Do men of the world look at you as men wondered at? Do they think it strange, that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you? And are these among the marks by which the carnal take knowledge of you, that ye have been with Jesus? There is not, perhaps, a more alarming thing to the enemies of Christ; and his people, than when they see the firmness with which the Lord's tried ones are borne up, under the cruel pressure of their persecution. It is, as the Apostle saith to them, an evident token of perdition. They see, they feel, their nothingness, and forebode their misery, when their threats, and menaces, and punishments which they inflict, are lost upon the objects of their bitterness. What a beautiful example of this the Holy Ghost hath recorded of the three children in the Court of Babylon. We will not (said they) serve thy gods. The King's visage changed with rage, but inward horror was felt at the same time in his soul. Daniel 3:17-18. It is so. It must be so. Such things are for signs, yea evident tokens of perdition to the enemies of our God, and of his Christ. But they afford at the same time to the Lord's people, sweet manifestations of salvation, and that of God!
Reader! do not overlook that precious verse, and the doctrine contained in it, that it is given to the Church, in behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also, if needful, to suffer for his sake. Yes! faith and fortitude are the Lord's gifts, and not our graces. When a child of God believes to the salvation of his soul, the strength of that faith, and all the parts of that faith, are from the Lord. It is blessed to believe, blessed to be firm in that belief: blessed to believe always. But the largest portions of faith are all the Lord's gifts. And wherein no man's faith differs from another, the diligent measures of grace are His, who is both the Author, and Finisher of faith. So that the strong in faith, when taught of God, in the exercise of it, will always rejoice in the great object of faith, the Lord Jesus; and not in themselves, from the fruits and effects of it. Oh! for grace both to believe in Christ; and, if needs be, to suffer for his sake.
BLESSED be God the Holy Ghost for his servant's gracious instruction in this chapter. How truly delightful is it to trace the ministry of Paul from such slender beginnings, in raising a Church to the Lord at Philippi, and then furnishing the Church, both at Philippi, and throughout the world, with this divine portion of the Lord's holy word, and his pleasure in the government of it. Surely, O Lord, the whole Church, in every age, both then and now, and during all the time-state of its continuance upon earth, must find cause to bless thee for such tokens of thy love over it.
Reader! let us both seek grace from the Lord, to improve what the Holy Ghost hath here taught by Paul, of the confidence every child of God derives in regeneration, for the sure consummation of grace in glory. All that are new born in Christ, as well as Paul, may be confident of this very thing, that He which hath began the good work, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. For whom the Lord called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified.
My soul! listen to what Paul saith. See that your whole conversation is corresponding to the whole character of a child of God. Prove thy right and freedom to the city, which hath foundation, whose builder, and Maker, is GOD), by the marks of citizenship. Let thy conversation be in heaven, from whence thou art looking for thy Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. And oh! for the constraining love of Jesus, to rejoice as saints of old did, when suffering shame and reproach for Jesus.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Philippians 1". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Easter