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Here we have observable, 1. The important duty which the apostle exhorts the Philippians to; and that is, love and unity, unity in judgment and opinion, unity in heart and affection, unity in design and endeavours; so necessary and advantageous is the duty of unity and concord among all the professors of Christianity, that all the cautions and warnings, all the advice and counsel, all the melting entreaties and passionate importunities of the ministers of Christ, are little enough to excite persons to it, and direct them in the practice of it.
Observe, 2. What an heap of arguments the apostle makes use of to excite and quicken the Philippians to the love and practice of this duty: If there be any consolation in Christ, any comfort of love, any fellowship of the Spirit, any bowels and mercies.
As if he had said, If ever you have tasted, by means of my ministry, any sweetness and consolation in Christ and his holy religion, if ever you have found any comfort in his love, if ever you have enjoyed any communion with his Spirit, if ye be men, and have any bowels of mercy for yourselves, if ye be Christians, and have any pity for me in my bonds, fulfill ye my joy in this, that ye be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, and of one mind.
O! the tenderness, the gentleness, and meekness of soul which was in St. Paul, and ought to be in every spiritual pastor towards his people, to win them, and prevail upon them to love the truth and peace.
Fulfil ye my joy, says the apostle; as if he had said, Sufferings I have enough already; O! do not you, by your divisions and dissensions, add more: I am already a prisoner, expecting the sentence of death, preparing for the sword of persecution, but none of these things move me; I can rejoice in a dungeon, sing in the stocks, triumph in death, if I can but hear you stand fast in one spirit, striving together for the faith of the gospel. But, if I hear that you are broken by divisions, my heart is broke; the news of differences and dissensions among you will be heavier to me than my chain, darker than my dungeon, sharper than Nero's sword. Do not thus add to my sorrow and sufferings; but as you have begun and occasioned joy in me, I beseech you fulfil and complete my joy, by your being of one heart, of one mind, entirely one.
Here our apostle dissuadeth the Philippians from a double vice, destructive to unity, namely, contention and vain-glory, which are the very bane of unity and unanimity: let nothing be done amongst you through emulation and envy, through contention and vain-glory. Pride and ambition are usually attended with strife and contention: a vain-glorious person overrates himself, undervalues others, and breaks the peace with all.
Here our apostle directs to humilty, in order to peace and unity; which humility he styles lowliness of mind, a grace whereby a man thinks meanly of himself, and highly of others, having a better opinion of others' wisdom and piety than his own; now this a man may do, and not sin, though he be mistaken; the publican judged the Pharisee better than himself; and though it was not so, God did not disapprove him for it, but he went away justified. It is no crime to judge another better than ourselves, though he be not so; but it is pride to judge another worse than ourselves, though he really be so.
Learn hence, That true humility doth not consist in lowliness of expression, but in lowliness of mind and opinion: not the man that speaks meanly of himself, but he that thinks so, is the humble man.
Learn, 2. That the humble and lowly-minded man is so conscious to himself of his own infirmities, so modest in the estimating of his graces and virtues, and so forward to hope and believe the best of others, that not only in outward expression, but in real estimation, doth he give others a preference before himself: In lowliness of mind, let each man esteem others better than themselves.
The apostle here, dissuadeth from another sin, which is very destructive of unity and peace, of concord and love; and that is, the sin of inordinate self-love, whereby we regard only our own honour and profit, wholly neglecting the concerns of others. Look not every man on his own things; that is, his own provate advantage only or chiefly, but take care of the things which tend to the advantage of others.
Not but that a Christian may and ought to look at his own things, but not wholly: our regard must extend further than ourselves, and our own things; we must look on the things of others also; we must be as just and true to another's reputation as to our own, and regard both the honour and profit of our neighbour as well as our own: and where Christians are of this public spirit and temper, it contributes much, very much, towards the preserving and maintaining of unity and peace among them.
That is, this humble mind. Here the apostle presses the duty of humility, from Christ's example; he was a perfect pattern of humility when here on earth: example therefore should recommend this grace and virtue to us, which was so orient in the life of Christ, whose humility was as conspicuous as his innocency; and accordingly the apostle descends in the next verse to give particular instances of the humility and humiliation of the Son of God.
Behold here the greatest example of humility, of lowliness and abasement, that ever the world was acquainted with: the mighty God became less than man!
To make a due estimate hereof we must first observe, What Christ was before his incarnation and humiliation, namely, the great and mighty God: for, says the apostle, he was in the form of God, and equal with God; that is, being the substantial form, and essential image of the Father, enjoying the divine nature, with all its glory, and all the ensigns of majesty which God himself had eternally and invariably. As to be in the form of a servant, signifies that he was a servant; so to be in the form of God, signifies that he was God.
And observe, 2. He was in the form of God, before he was in the form of a servant: And, being in the form of God, he thought it no robbery to be equal with God. Now if he thought it no robbery, it could be no robbery; and if no robbery, he must be equal; and if equal, he must be God by nature, as the Father is.
Learn hence, That our Saviour possessed that glory which is truly divine, before he assumed our nature as man: he had a peerage or equality with his Father in glory; the angels adored him im heaven before his incarnation on earth, Isaiah 6:1-2.
Observe, 3. What mighty abasement the holy Jesus, God blessed for evermore, underwent, when he humbled himself: He was found in fashion as a man; he took upon him the form of a servant, and became obedient to death, even the death of the cross.
Behold here the Son of righteousness under an (almost total) eclipse; he that was eternally beautiful and glorious, being the brightness of his Father's glory, was so veiled, clouded, and debased, in the day of his humiliation, that he appears not like a God, scarce like a man.
Note, 1. He took upon him the form of a servant: now this was a lower degree of condescension than the assuming the naked human nature; for a servant is not simply a man, but a mean man, a man in a low estate.
Lord! what abasement was here, that Christ, who was in the form of God, should degrade himself into the form of a servant, and take the human nature without honour, after it had lost its primitive innocency, after sin had blotted the original glory of it, and withered the beauty and excellency thereof! O inconceivable condescension!
Note, 2. He emptied himself, or made himself of no reputation, that is, in the day of his incarnaton he laid aside the robes of his glory, he emptied himself of that divine splendour and majesty which before he had; not by ceasing to be what he was, but by assuming something to himself which before he was not: the Son of God descended from his throne, and put on our vile mortality; he parted with his glory, that he might part with his life for our salvation.
Note, 3. He was made in the likeness of man, and found in fashion as a man; that is, he was truly and really man, made in the likeness of other men, without any visible outward difference: He was in all things like unto us, sin only excepted, Romans 8:3. He is said to appear in the likeness of sinful flesh, that is, in flesh that had the marks and miserable effects of sin upon it: not that Christ assumed sinful flesh, or flesh really defiled, by sin, but he assumed the human nature, attended with a whole troop of human imfirmities, which sin first let into that nature, as hunger and thirst, weariness and pain, mortality and death. By reason of which, though he was not a sinner, yet he looked like one, and they that conversed with him took him for one, seeing all these effects of sin upon him.
Lord, what a stoop was this! To be made in the likeness of innocent flesh had been much; but to be made in the likeness of sinful flesh, rebellious flesh, flesh, though not defiled, yet miseraably defaced by sin! O, what is this! and who can declare his humiliation!
Note, 4. The nature of this humiliation: he humbled himself; the word imports both a real and a voluntary abasement. Real: Christ did not personsate an humble man, nor act the part of one in a debased state, but was really and in very deed humbled, both in the sight of God and man: and, as it was real, so also was his humiliation voluntary. It is not said he was humbled, but that he humbled himself; he was willing to stoop to this low and abject state for us; and it was the voluntariness of his humiliation that made it so acceptable to God, and so beneficial and servicable unto us.
Note, 5. The degrees of our holy Lord's humiliation: he became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Here we have the depth of Christ's humiliation specified; it was unto death, and also aggravated, even unto the death of the cross; he humbled himself, not only to become a mortal man, but a dead corpse; and that too hanging on a tree, dying the death of a malefactor. There was pain, shame, and a curse, in the death of the cross: Christ underwent the pain patiently, the shame meekly, the curse obediently, all of them willingly and cheerfully, that the justice of God might be satisfied, his wrath pacified, his majesty reconciled, death and hell vanquished and destroyed. Behold the trancendency of Christ's love to the children of men! Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend; but greater love had the Son of God than this, that he laid down his life for his inveterate enemies: he became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
The former verse spake of the depth of Christ's humiliation; these, of the height of his exaltation.
Where observe, 1. The dignity itself conferred by God upon Christ; God exalted him, highly exalted him, exalted him above all exaltation, as the word signifies. Christ in his resurrection was exalted; in his ascension, he was highly exalted; in his sitting at God's right hand, he was very highly exalted above all exaltation.
Observe, 2. How the steps of Christ's exaltation did punctually answer the steps of his humiliation; the first step of his humiliation was his incarnation, by which he was made man, and, as our surety, was made sin.
The first step of his exaltation was his resurrection, by which he was declared to be the Son of God with power; and, as our surety, having paid our debt was released from the prison of the grave.
The second step of his humiliation, was his poor and contemptible life, and his painful, shameful, and accursed death; answerable thereunto is Christ's ascension into heaven, and sitting there at God's right hand, advancing him above all principalities and power, that is, above all the angels, and placing him next himself in dignity and honour.
Observe, 3. The connection between Christ's humiliation and exaltation: he humbled himself, and became obedient to the death; wherefore God hath highly exalted him.
Where note, That some make the humiliation of Christ the meritorious cause of his exaltation; and his exaltation the reward of his humiliation: others make the humiliation of Christ only the antecedent of his exaltation; he humbled himself, and God has exalted him to a dignity above all dignities and pre-eminency whatsoever, making him King and Head of his church, and giving him all power both in heaven and earth, requiring that the divine honour due to God should be given to him also.
Observe, 4. The particulars of our Lord's exaltation declared: and they are three.
1. God hath given him a name above every name; that is, dignity and power, majesty and authority, over all creatures both in heaven and earth.
2. That every knee, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, should bow to the name of Jesus: every knee, that is, every creature in heaven, earth, and hell, shall bow, that is, yield subjection to Christ, some voluntarily, others unwillingly; the good angels and good men paying a cheerful homage, the evil angels and bad men yielding a forced and constrained subjection to him.
3. That every tongue must confess that Jesus Christ is Lord; every tongue, that is, every person, men of all nations and languages, shall confess Christ crucified to be the Lord and Judge of the world, acknowledging his royal sovereignity and dominion.
Observe, 5. The end of Christ's glorious exaltation; it was, to the glory of God the Father: that is, it pleased God the Father, for his own glory, that the Lord Jesus Christ, after he had been deeply humbled, should be highly exalted.
Observe, lastly, the apostle's great design and scope in setting before the Philippians the humiliation and exaltation of Jesus Christ: and that was to excite them to the grace and duty of humility, that the same humble mind should be in them which was also in Christ Jesus. As if he had said our Lord Jesus Christ humbled himself greatly for us, and afterwards was highly exalted by God above us; so in proportion may you expect to be exalted by God, if you humble yourselves, in order to maintain and preserve the church's peace and unity; for before honour is humility.
Observe here, 1. The commendation given by St. Paul of his beloved Philippians, for their cheerful obedience to the precepts of the gospel: they always obeyed, that is, ever since their first conversion to christianity, not only while the apostle was upon the spot with them, but since the providence of God necessitated his absence from them; not in my presence only, but now much more in my absence.
But how came it to pass that their obedience was greater, when they wanted the apostle for their instructor?
Ans. In the absence of one teacher they had another, and him a better that the inspired apostle, even the inspiring Spirit of God, who in the apostle's absence was more immediately present with them by his inward motions, to excite and enable them both to will and to do what is well pleasing to him.
O! how good is God at the supplying the wants, and making up the losses of his people! If persecution drives his church's ministers into dungeons, and they cannot hear a voice behind them, they shall have the presence of his Holy Spirit, and hear a voice within them, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it.
Observe, 2. A special duty which St. Paul exhorts the Philippians to be found in the practice of, namely, to work out their salvation with fear and trembling; implying, that it should be every christian's great work to be daily working out his own salvation, that is, diligently making use of all means and faithfulness, practising all duties in order thereunto.
Note here, 1. The excellency of the object proposed; and that is, salvation: there is salvation held forth and tendered by God to lost sinners, in the gospel.
Note, 2. The difficulty of salvation, supposed and implied in the word work; which signifies an exerting our utmost endeavours, in order to the attaining of it. The work of salvation is no lazy man's business, but a work of labour and difficulty, though the difficulties may be overcome by an industrious diligence.
Note, 3. The necessity of perseverance, in order to our attaining of salvation: Work out your salvation, that is, perfect and consummate the work which you have happily begun.
Note, 4. The manner how we should work out our own salvation: namely, with fear and trembling; intimating, that an holy fear of God, and an humble fear of ourselves, will be of singular use and advantage to us in the working out of our salvation.
Observe, 3. The argument or motive to excite unto this labour and diligence in and about the work of salvation; and this is very encouraging, because God works with us, and in us, Php_2:13 . For it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do.
That God works with us, is great encouragement to work; but we must remember God works arbitrarily, and not necessarily; he worketh but of his own good pleasure, as a free agent, who can cease when he pleases. Therefore work with fear and trembling.
Learn from the whole, 1. That we can do nothing without God.
2. That he will do nothing without his assistance, he will do nothing without the concurrence of our endeavours: he worketh in us both to will and to do, and we must work with him, in order to the working out of our salvation.
Here our apostle seems to resume the exhortation which he began to press before, namely, to love and concord, to unity and peace, among themselves; he exhorts them, as to do all things without contention, so without murmurings, and hot disputings, in which usually the laws of charity are violated, and the peace of the church, and quietness among christians, interrupted.
And, to provoke them thereunto, he discovers to them the many great and blessed advantages which would redound unto them by their unity and concord.
1. Hereby they should be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, that is, very inoffensive persons, or, as the Greek word renders it, that ye may be the spotless sons of God; not absolutely spotless, pure, and perfect, but without such spots as are inconsistent with your sonship: there is a spot which is, and a spot which is not, the spot of God's children, Deuteronomy 32:4. Sins of infirmity are spots found upon the best of his children: sins of presumption, if at any time found upon you, they are not the spots of his children.
2. Hereby they should shine as lights in the world, that is, in the Pagan world, and in the christian church. This imports both the high dignity and special duty of christians, to do as so many suns, to arise and shine like mighty luminaries in the firmament of the world, casting out their rays and beams in a holy and heavenly conversation.
3. Hereby they would hold forth the word of life; not only hold it fast for their own comfort, but hold it forth for others' benefit, that is, in their christian practice and profession; the lives of christians should publish the word of life in practice, as by holding it forth from the pulpit; an holy life is the loudest proclamation, and the best way of holding forth the word of life.
4. Hereby he should have joy and rejoicing, as well as they reap benefit and advantage: That I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain; that is, that I have not preached the gospel unprofitably amongst you.
Here note, That the work of the ministry is a laborious work, a spending work; the apostle here sets it forth by running a race, which is a wasting and strength-consuming exercise; I have run, I have laboured.
Note, 2. That the labour and pains of the most faithful and indefatigable ministers of Christ may be, and too often are, lost upon, and in vain unto, the people that are constantly made partakers of them; they may run in vain, and labour in vain, as to their people, but blessed be God, it shall not be in vain as to themselves, Isaiah 49:5 Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall they be glorious.
Note, 3. That the glory which shall be upon our people in the day of Judgment, who were converted to God by our ministerial endeavours, will add to our joy as ministers, and be our crown of rejoicing in that day: That I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, nor laboured in vain.
Behold here now St. Paul, the undershepherd, imitates Christ, that great and good Shepherd, in his readiness to lay down his life for the sheep; not for their reconciliation, but for their confirmation: If, says he, it shall please God that I be, by martyrdom, offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith; that is, to establish you in the faith which I have taught you, and to confirm and seal the truth of it with my blood, I will rejoice therein for your sakes; and I desire you to rejoice with me, and to bless God for me in so doing.
Note here, The emphasis and elegancy of the apostle's words, If I be offered up: a manifest allusion to the Jewish sacrifices, in which there was wine poured out as a libation upon the sacrifice, and then offered up to God. Thus, says he, if my blood, like wine, be poured forth, whilst I am employed by the preaching of the gospel to render you Gentiles an acceptable sacrifice, and a sweet-smelling savour unto God, I should rejoice even thus to die in your service, and for the confirmation of your faith.
Hence learn, That life itself is not, and will not be thought too dear, or accounted by the ministers of Christ too much, to lay down in the service of their people's souls, and for the confirmation of their faith: If I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy and rejoice.
Learn, 2. That the ministers of Christ should not preach any thing to their people, but what they dare seal and confirm the truth of, with their very blood, if God calls them thereunto. St. Paul had before preached the doctrine of the gospel to the Philippians, and now he stood ready to seal it with his blood.
Our apostle, having finished the first part of this chapter, which contained exhortations to duty, comes now to the second part of it, containing arguments of comfort; and here first he comforts the Philippians, by promising to send Timothy unto them shortly.
Observe here, 1. The greatness of St. Paul's soul, widened with desires to advance the kingdom of Jesus Christ: his pious zeal put him upon contriving some way of making a supply of his necessitated absence from the Philippians; what he could not do by himself, he desires and endeavours to do by another, even Timothy; him he promises to send as a living epistle, to instruct and exhort, to quicken and comfort, the church at Philippi, in his constrained absence from her.
"Blessed apostle; so that Christ might be advanced, thou caredst not by whom it were, whether by thyself or by another; thou wert willing to stand in the crowd, and be hidden, so that Christ might stand upon another's shoulders, and be seen!" I trust in the Lord to send Timotheus unto you shortly.
Observe, 2. St. Paul, being about to send Timothy to Philippi, sends first a commendation of him; and that which he particularly commends Timothy for, was, his affectionate love unto the Philippians, and his tender care and concern for them: I have no man like-minded, who will care for your state.
Now this care in Timothy, for and towards the Philippians, is here commended by St. Paul in several observable instances of it.
1. It was a spiritual care chiefly, he careth for your state, that is, for your spiritual state: not that he was without concern for their temporal happiness, but the prosperity of their souls was the prime object of his care.
2. It was a solicitous care; the Greek word signifies an anxious care, a soul-cutting, a soul-rending care; his care was not to cut and wound the souls, to vex and grieve the spirits of his people, but he cuts his own soul with caring for his people.
3. It was a sincere care, a natural, genuine care, he naturally careth for your state; naturally, that is, heartily, sincerely, not artificially, and in appearance only. Some can artificially act the part of a zealot, when their own interest or applause makes it necessary; but Timothy was unskilful in such arts, he did naturally, cheerfully, and constantly, care for their state; there was a reality, yea, a larger quantity of love and natural affection towards the Philippians found with him.
4. St. Paul commends this care in Timothy towards them, for the rarity of it: I find none like-minded, that is, few, very few, like-minded with him, and equal-hearted to him in the cause of Christ. St. Paul had divers ministers now with him, but one Timothy; others sought their own things, but he the things of Jesus Christ: yet I conceive this is not to be understood universally, but synecdochically; not as if all ministers, except Timothy only, sought themselves and regarded their own private interest, but the most and far greatest part did so, refusing to undertake such a tedious journey from Rome to Philippi, as Timothy stood ready to undertake.
Learn hence, That it is a great sin in all, but especially in the ministers of Jesus Christ, to be of a self-seeking spirit.
Observe, 3. He commends this care of Timothy's towards them, by their experimental knowledge of it, and acquaintance with it; for, when old Paul was at Philippi, young Timothy was an assistant to him, as a son to a Father, obeying his counsel, following his directions, imitating his example, in all things tending to the edification of the church.
Now from the whole, this is, from St. Paul's care to send Timothy, thus qualified, to labour in the gospel, at the church at Philippi, we note, That such as have power to send forth ministers to flocks, and pastors to take care of the souls of a people, should send such as are both able and willing to spend and be spent for the good of souls, and, if it may be, such as are well known unto, and approved of by the flock, for their zeal and diligence in the work of Christ.
St. Paul is a pattern here for all patrons, laying before them the qualifications of the persons whom they should recommend to the care of souls, such as, with Timothy, have a compassion for souls, a truly solicitous care and concern for the happiness and welfare of souls, such as the people have had some knowledge of, or at least a liberty to inquire after; the man of good ministerial abilities, not of great Simoniacal gifts: for if patrons, in the execution of that vast trust (but little considered) do seek only their own things, no wonder that their clerks seek not the things of Jesus Christ.
Our apostle having in the foregoing verses declared his resolution to send Timothy to the Philippians as soon as he should see how it would go with himself at Rome, and what would be the issue of his bonds; and having also discovered his own purpose to come himself to them, as soon as the providence of God should set him at liberty; in the mean time, he assures them, he would no longer detain their own special minister Epaphroditus from them, whom they had so kindly sent with a liberal supply unto him, in the prison at Rome: I supposed it necessary to send unto you Epaphroditus, my brother, my companion in labour, my fellow-soldier, your messenger, and he that ministered to my wants.
Here note, 1. How copious St. Paul is in the commendation of Epaphroditus: he calls him his brother, his brother in Christ, his brother in the ministry, his companion in labour, his fellow-labourer in Christ's vineyard, travelling from one part of it to another, to plant and propagate the gospel of Christ; his fellow-soldier also, a faithful and constant associate with him in the Christian warfare: their apostle or messenger, the bishop of Philippi, say the ancient fathers; their messenger to carry the church's alms to St. Paul, say others.
Behold here, in St. Paul's sending away Epaphroditus loaden thus with commendation, the great modesty, sincerity, and humility, of this chief apostle. St. Paul had many prerogatives above Epaphroditus; he was immediately called by Christ extraordinarily fitted and furnished for his calling; he laboured and suffered more abundantly than all the rest; yet he almost equalizes and levels Epaphroditus with himself, calling him brother, fellow-labourer, fellow-soldier, and highly magnifies the gifts and graces of God's Spirit in him, without the least diminution: teaching such as are dignified in the church, and exalted by their merits above others, not to despise the persons, nor to extenuate and lessen the gifts, and graces, and usefulness, of their inferior brethern. Pride in any person is odious, but in a minister it is monstrous; they that have received more than others, ought to be patterns of humility unto others.
Note, 2. The reasons here assigned, why St. Paul judged it necessary to send Epaproditus back to his charge at Philippi.
1. He longed after his flock, Php_2:26 . He longed after you all, even unto heaviness: we do not read of his longing after his family, or his family, or his friends, or the fleece, but his flock, his church and charge at Philippi; this lay near his heart, this he longed to be with.
2. This longing and heaviness was mutual: the Philippians longed for him, and were full of heaviness because of his sickness.
When the head of a faithful minister of Jesus Christ aches, his people's hearts ache: mutual longings between ministers and people in case of absence, and mutual heaviness and mourning in case of sickness, is a certain argument and evidence of mutual love one towards another.
Note, 3. How our apostle confirms the report of Epaphroditus's sickness, and celebrates the mercy and goodness of God in his unexpected recovery; indeed he was sick nigh unto death, but God had mercy on him, &c.
Here observe, 1. The eminency of the person who was sick: Epaphroditus, a great man, a good man, a man of God, St. Paul's brother, companion, fellow-soldier, falls sick when engaged in Christ and the church's special service: saints, as well as sinners, ministers as well as people, are subject to sickness, diseases, nay, death itself may meet them in the work of Christ.
Observe, 2. As the eminency of the person, so the extremity of the disease; he was nigh unto death.
But why did not St. Paul, who had the gift of healing, help Epaphroditus now sick, as well as raise Eutychus when dead? Acts 20:9.
Ans. The apostles had not the gift of healing to make use of it at their pleasure, but as God was pleased by a special instinct and a strong faith to excite them to it, when it was his pleasure to have them use it: these gifts were given for the sake of unbelievers, to convince them of the truth of christianity, but God did not think fit to have them ordinarily exercised upon believers.
Observe, 3. The recovery of Epaphroditus, and the author of it: God had mercy on him; he who is Lord of life and death, said in mercy to him, "Return and live." When God preserves the lives and restores the health of his faithful ministers, it is an act of no small mercy both to their people and themselves: to their people, as they become the greater instruments of their good; to themselves, as it increases their own reward: the longer a minister lives, the more glory he brings to God; and the more glory he brings to God on earth, the more glory shall he partake of with God in heaven; in short, the longer he lives, the more souls he converts, and every soul is as a new gem added to that crown which shall one day be put upon his head, Daniel 12:3 They that turn many to righteousness shall shine as the stars for ever and ever.
Observe lastly, The share which St. Paul had in the mercy of Epaphroditus' recovery: God had mercy, not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. Paul had much sorrow, a great load of sorrow upon him at that time; he was now among strangers, yea, among prisoners, in the midst of persecutors, and his mind oppressed with sorrow, partly for the Philippians, partly for Epaphroditus; therefore the Lord, in tender pity to him, did not take away by death his dear and useful companion, lest he should have sorrow upon sorrow, and cause his wounds to bleed afresh.
Learn hence, So compassionate is God towards his dear children, that though he often causes them grief and sorrow, yet he will not overcharge them therewith, nor add affliction to the afflicted, nor suffer them to be exercised and tried above what they are able: God had mercy upon me, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.
Here, first, St. Paul assigns the reason why he was so careful to send back Epaphroditus to the Philippians, namely, to assuage his own grief, and to increase their joy, that when ye see him, ye might rejoice, and I be the less sorrowful.
Next, the apostle exhorts them to receive him with all joy and gladness, and to give him, and all such as he was, due honour, and deserved respect; and doubtless, the Philippians received him with inexpressible joy, as the minister of Christ risen from the dead, recovered from the grave; received to life and service, when all hopes of enjoying him were cut off.
O the folly and frailty of human nature! We prize our mercies more by the want, than by the worth of them.
Lastly, he assigns a special reason why he would have them receive him with such demonstrations of joy, namely, because it was in their and his service that he was brought to the very brink of the grave; For the work of Christ, he was nigh unto death: the work here meant is properly his journey to Rome, which was long and tedious; his watchings and pains-taking with and for the apostle there were very spending, he endeavoured to supply the absence and want of the whole church to St. Paul; his zeal for God, and his affection to St. Paul, carried him out beyond himself, beyond his strength, to the apparent prejudice both of his health and life.
Learn hence, 1. That to relieve the members, but especially the Ministers of Christ, in their necessities and wants, is the work of Christ. For the work of Christ he was nigh unto death. Ministers are not only engaged in the work of Christ when they preach, &c. but when they visit their flock, inquire into the wants of the poor, and administer to the necessities of the distressed; this is the work of Christ.
Learn, 2. That sickness may overtake, yea, death itself may meet, the faithful servants and ministers of Christ, when they are engaged in his own work: it was in the work of the Lord that Epaphroditus met with sickness; and had he met with death itself, he had been happy; for, Blessed are they that die in the work of the Lord; they shall rest from their labours, and their works shall follow them.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Philippians 2". Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany