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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Philippians 2

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-4

Chapter 6

THE MIND OF CHRIST.

Philippians 2:1-4 (R.V.)

In the verses last considered the Apostle had begun to summon his Philippian friends to Christian duty. But so far his words bear the character only of occasional exhortation, which falls naturally in as he dwells upon his own circumstances and on theirs. Associated as they have been and are, let there be no mistake as to the central bond between him and them. Let the Philippian believers partake increasingly in his own glowing apprehensions of the Christian calling. Let them abound in the loving, steadfast, energetic, expectant life in which men are united who have become acquainted with Christ.

But he thinks fit to press the theme in a more set and deliberate way. For it is no light thing to awaken in men’s hearts a right impression of what it is to be a Christian; or, if it has been awakened, to nurse it to due strength. These Christians possessed some insight into the world of truth which held the mind of Paul; they had some experience of evangelical impression: in these things they had a happy fellowship with one another and with their great teacher. But all this must be affirmed and embodied, in the conflict and ministry of Christian life. It must prove strong enough for that. Deeds are the true confession of our faith; they are the verification of our religious experience. And in this practical form we must overcome, not the temptations of other people or other ages, but our own. There is no more dangerous working of unbelief than that in which it never questions the doctrinal theory, but renders our Christianity cold and slack, and leads us to indulge a preference for a religion that goes easy. Could we but see as we are seen, we should find this to be a matter of endless lamentation.

Temptations to rivalry and discord were working at Philippi. We are not obliged to think that they had gone very far; but one could see a risk that they might go further. The Apostle has it in his heart to expel this evil, by promoting the principles and dispositions that are opposed to it. And in this work the Philippians themselves must embark with all their might.

It has been remarked already that causes are easily found to account for rivalries and misunderstandings springing up in those primitive Christian congregations. The truth is, however, that in all ages and conditions of the Church these dangers are nigh at hand. Self-seeking and self-exaltation are forms in which sin works most easily, and out of these come rivalry and discord by the very nature of the case. Eager grasping at our own objects leads to disregard of the rights and interests of others; and thence come wars. Danger in this direction was visible to the Apostle.

It may be asked how this should be, if the Philippians were genuine and hearty Christians, such as the Apostle’s commendations bespeak them? Here a principle comes to light which deserves to be considered. Even those who have cordially embraced Christianity, and who have loyally given effect to it in some of its outstanding applications, are wonderfully prone to stop short. They do not perceive, or they do not care to realise, the bearing of the same principles, which they have already embraced, upon whole regions of human life and human character; they do not seriously lay to heart the duties Christianity imposes or the faults it rebukes in those departments. They are pleased to have won so much ground, and do not think about the Canaanites that still hold their ground. So, in whole regions of life, the carnal mind is allowed to work on, undetected and practically unopposed. This tendency is aided by the facility we have in disguising from ourselves the true character of dispositions and actions, when these do not quite plainly affront Christian rules. Self-assertion and bad temper, for example, can put on the character of honest firmness and hearty zeal. More particularly, when religious principles have led us into certain lines of action, we are apt to take for granted that all is right we do in those lines. Religious zeal leads a man to take trouble and incur responsibility in Church work. Under this notion, then, he readily persuades himself that all his Church work is conscientious and disinterested; yet it may be largely and deeply tainted with the impulses of the fleshly mind. In a measure it might be so here. The Philippians might be generally a company of sincerely Christian people. And yet the churchmanship of some of them might disclose sad tokens of selfishness and bitterness. Therefore they must be called to give heed to the principles and to give effect to the motives that expel those sins.

In all this we may feel ourselves in the region of commonplaces; we know it all so well. But the very point in hand is that for the Apostle these are not commonplaces. He is greatly in earnest about the matter, and his heart is full of it. We do not understand him until we begin to sympathise with his sorrow and his anxiety. This is for him no mere matter of expediencies or of appearances. He is striving for the victory of grace in the souls of his beloved friends; for the glory of Christ; for his own comfort and success as Christ’s minister. All these are, as it were, at stake upon this question of the life of the Philippian Church proving to be, under the influence of Christ, lowly, loving, and answerable to the gospel.

No one more than Paul appreciates the value of good theological principles; and no one more than he lays stress on the mercy which provides a gracious and a full salvation. But no one more than he is intent upon Christian practice; for if practice is not healed and quickened, then salvation ceases to be real, the promises wither unfulfilled, Christ has failed. We may well feel it to be a great question whether our own sympathy with him on such points is growing and deepening. The Kingdom of God within us must exist in a light and love for which goodness is a necessity, and evil a grief and heart-break. But if it is not so with us, where do we stand?

In four clauses the Apostle appeals to great Christian motives, which are to give strength to his main appeal-"If there be any comfort (or store of cheering counsel) in Christ Jesus, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any tender mercies or compassions"; in a fifth clause he draws a motive from the regard they might have for his own most-earnest desires-fulfil ye my joy; and then comes the exhortation itself, which is to unity of mind and heart-"that ye be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind." This, in turn, is followed by clauses that fix the practical sense of the general exhortation.

It has been made a question whether the Apostle means to say, "If there be among you, Philippians, influences and experiences such as these," or "If there be anywhere in the Church of God." But surely he means both. He appeals to great practical articles of faith and matters of experience. The Church of God believes them and claims a part in them. So does the Church of Philippi, in its degree. But there may be a great deal more in them than the Philippian believers are aware of-more in them as truths and promises; more in them as contemplated and realised by riper Christians, like Paul himself. He appeals, certainly, to what existed for the faith of the Philippians; but also to that "much more" which might open to them if their faith was enlarged.

The "comfort" or cheering counsel "in Christ" is the fulness of gospel help and promise. Great need of this is owned by all believers; and, coming as needed succour to them all, it may well bind them all together in the sense of common need and common help. As it comes from the good Shepherd Himself to all and each, so it is conceived to be ever sounding in the Church, passing from one believer to another, addressed by each to each as common succour and common comfort. Hence, in the next place, there comes into view the mutual ministry of "consolation" which Christians owe to one another, since they "receive" one another, and are to do to one another as Christ has done to them. Here the consolation acquires a special character, from the individual affection and friendship breathed into it by the Christian, who carries it to his neighbour to encourage and cheer him on his way. This love of the Christian to his brother, which comes from God, is itself a means of grace; and therefore the "consolation of love" deserves to be distinctly named.

The "fellowship of the Spirit" {see 2 Corinthians 13:13} is the common participation of the Holy Spirit of God in His gracious presence and working. Without this no one could have a real share in Christian benefits. The Spirit reveals to us the Son and the Father, and enables us to abide in the Son and in the Father. He brings us into communion with the mind of God as revealed in His word. He makes real to us the things of the Kingdom of God; and it is He who opens to us their worth and sweetness, especially the lovingkindness which breathes in them all. Through Him we are enabled to exercise Christian affections, desires, and services. It is He, in a word, through whom we are participant in the life of salvation; and in that life He associates together all who share His indwelling. The Apostle supposes that no Christian could ever contemplate without, shall we say, a pang of gratitude, the condescension, the gentleness, and the patience of this ministration. And as all Christians are recipient together of so immense a benefit, they might well feel it as a bond between them all. But more especially, as the Holy Spirit in this dispensation evinces a most Divine love and kindness-for what but love could be the spring of it?-so also the upshot of all His work is the revelation of God in love. For love is at the heart of all God’s promises and benefits; they are never understood until we reach the love that is in them. And God is love. So the love of God is shed abroad in the hearts of believers through the Holy Spirit given to them. Hence this is the leading view of that which the Spirit comes to do: He comes to make us members of a system in which love rules; and He inspires all loving affections and dispositions proper to make us congruous members of so high and good a world.

Therefore, in the fourth place, it is to be supposed that "tender mercies and compassions" in human breasts are abundant where the fellowship of the Spirit is. How abundant they might be; surely also in some measure they must be present; they must abound amid all human infirmities and mistakes. All kinds of gentle, friendly, faithful, wise, and patient dispositions might be expected. They are the fruits of the country in which Christians have come to dwell.

To all these the Apostle appeals. Perhaps a pathos is audible in the form of his appeal. "If there be any." Alas! is there then any? Is there some at least, if not much? For if all these had been duly present to the faith and in the life of the Church, they would have spoken their lesson for themselves, and had not needed Paul to speak for them.

The form of appeal, "Fulfil ye my joy," brings up one more motive-the earnest desires of one who loved them wisely and well, and whom they, whatever their shortcomings, loved in turn. It is worth observing that the motive power here does not lie merely, in the consideration "Would you not like to give me pleasure?" The Philippians knew how Paul had at heart their true welfare and their true dignity. That which, if it came to pass, would so gladden him, must be something great and good for them. If their own judgment of things was cold might it not take fire from the contagion of his? The loving solicitude of a keener-sighted and a more single-hearted Christian, the solicitude which makes his heart throb and his voice tremble as he speaks, has often startled slumbering brethren into a consciousness of their own insensibility, and awakened them to worthier outlooks.

In regard to all these considerations, the main point is to catch sight of the moral and spiritual scenery as the Apostle saw it. Otherwise the words may leave us as dull as they found us. For him there had come into view a wonderful world of love. Love had come forth preparing at great cost and with great pains a new destiny for men. Love had brought Paul and the other believers, one by one, into this higher region. And it proved to be a region in which love was the ground on which they stood, and love the heaven over their heads, and love the air they breathed. And here love was coming to be their own new nature, love responsive to the love of Father, Son, and Spirit, and love going out from those who had been so blessed to bless and gladden others. This was the true, the eternal goodness, the true, the eternal blessedness; and it was theirs. This was what faith embraced in Him "who loved me and gave Himself for me." This was what faith claimed right to be and do. If this was not so, Christianity was reduced to nothing. If a man have not love, he is nothing. [1 Corinthians 13:1-13] "Is there any truth at all in this glorious faith of ours? Do you believe it at all? Have you felt it at all? Fulfil then my joy." Unity of mind and of heart is the thing inculcated. Under the influence of the great objects of faith and of the motive forces of Christianity this was to be expected. Their ways of thinking and their ways of feeling, however different, should be so moulded in Christ as to reach full mutual understanding and full mutual affection. Nor should they rest contented when either of these failed; for that would be contentment with defeat; but Christ’s followers are to aim at victory.

It is obvious to say here that cases might arise in which turbulent or contentious persons might make it impossible for the rest of the Church, however well disposed, to secure either one accord or one mind. But the Apostle does not suppose that case to have arisen. Nothing had occurred at Philippi which Christian sense and Christian feeling might not arrange. When the case supposed does occur, there are Christian ways of dealing with it. Still more obviously one might say that conscientious differences of opinion, and that even on matters of moment, must inevitably occur sooner or later; and a general admonition to be of one mind does not meet such a case. Perhaps it may be said in reply that the Church and the Christians have hardly conceived how much might be attained in the way of agreement if our Christianity were sincere enough, thorough enough, and affectionate enough. In that case there might be wonderful attainment in finding agreement, and in dismissing questions on which it is not needful to agree. But if we are not to soar so high as this, it may at least be said that, while conscientious diversities of judgment are not to be disguised, they may be dealt with, among believers, in a Christian way, with due emphasising of the truth agreed upon, and with a prevailing determination to speak truth in love. Here again, however, the Apostle recognises no serious difficulty of this kind at Philippi. The difficulties were such as could be got over. There was no good reason why the Philippians should not in their Church life exhibit harmony; it would be so, if Christian influences were cordially admitted into minds and hearts, and if they made a fit estimate of the supreme importance of unity in Christ. The same thing may be said of innumerable cases in later times in which Christians have divided and contended. It is right to say, however, that these considerations are not to be applied without qualification to all kinds and degrees of separation between Christians. It is a cause for sorrow that denominational divisions are so many; and they have often been both cause and consequence of unchristian feeling.. Yet when men part peaceably to follow out their deliberate convictions, to which they cannot give effect together, and when in doing so they do not unchurch or condemn one another, there may be less offence against Christian charity than in cases where a communion, professedly one, is the scene of bitterness and strife. In either ease indeed there is something to regret and probably something to blame; but the former of the two cases is by no means necessarily the worse.

In following out the line of duty and privilege set before them by the Apostle, Christians have to get the better of arrogance and selfishness (Philippians 2:3-4).

In the Church of Christ no man has a right to do anything from a spirit of strife or vainglory. Strife is the disposition to oppose and thwart our neighbour’s will, either from mere delight in contest, or in order to assert for our own will a prevalence which will gratify our pride; and this is the animating principle of "faction." "Vainglory" is the disposition to think highly of ourselves, to claim for ourselves a great place, and to assert it as against the claims of others. In the jostle of the world it may perhaps be admitted that forces acting on these lines are not without their use. They compensate one another, and some measure of good emerges from their unlovely energies. But such things are out of place among Christians, for they are right against the spirit of Christianity; and Christianity relies for its equipoise and working progress on principles of quite another kind. Among Christians each is to be lowly-minded, conscious of his own defects and of his ill-desert. And this is to work in the way of our esteeming others to be better than ourselves. For we are conscious of our own inward and deep defect as we cannot be of any other person’s. And it is abundantly possible that others may be better than we are and safe for us to give full effect to that possibility. It is said, indeed, that we may possibly have conclusive reason to believe that certain other persons, even in Christ’s Church, are worse than we are. But, apart from the precariousness of such judgments, it is enough to say it is not for us to proceed on such a judgment or to give effect to it. We all await a higher judgment; until, then it becomes us to take heed to our own spirit and walk in lowliness of mind.

Selfishness ("looking to its own things," Philippians 2:4), as well as arrogance, needs to be resisted; and this is an even more pervading and inward evil. In dealing with it we are not required to have no eye at all to our own things; for indeed they are our providential charge, and they must be cared for; but we are required to look not only on our own, but every man on the things of others. We have to learn to put ourselves in another’s place, to recognise how things affect him, to sympathise with his natural feelings in reference to them, and to give effect in speech and conduct to the impressions hence arising. So a Christian man is to "love his neighbour as himself"-only with a tenderer sense of obligation and a consciousness of more constraining motive than could be attained by the Israelite of old. Lovingly to do right to a brother’s claims and to his welfare should be as cogent a principle of action with us as to care for our own.

Arrogance and selfishness-perhaps disguised in fairer forms-had bred the disturbance at Philippi. The same baleful forces are present everywhere in all the Churches to this day, and have often run riot in the House of God. How shall the ugliness and the hatefulness of the every-day selfishness, the every-day self-assertion, the every-day strifes of Christians, be impresses upon our minds? How are we to be awakened to our true calling in lowliness and in love?


Verses 5-11

Chapter 7

THE MIND OF CHRIST (CONTINUED).

Philippians 2:5-11 (R.V.)

IT proves hard to make us aware of the sin and the misery involved in the place commonly allowed to Self. Some of the conspicuous outrages on Christian decency we do disapprove and avoid; perhaps we have embarked in a more serious resistance to its domination. Yet, after all, how easily and how complacently do we continue to give scope to it! In forms of self-assertion, of arrogance, of eager and grasping competition, it breaks out. It does so in ordinary life, in what is called public life, and, where it is most offensive of all, in Church life. Hence we fail so much in readiness to make the case of others our own, and to be practically moved by their interests, rights, and claims. There are certainly great differences here; and some, in virtue of natural sympathy or Christian grace, attain to remarkable degrees of generous service. Yet these also, if they know themselves, know how energetically self comes upon the field, and how much ground it covers. Many among us are doing good to others; but does it never strike us that there is a distant and arrogant way of doing good? Many in Christian society are kind, and that is well; but undoubtedly there are self-indulgent ways of being kind.

Having to deal with this evil energy of self, the Apostle turns at once to the central truth of Christianity, the person of Christ. Here he finds the type set, the standard fixed, of what Christianity is and means; or rather, here he finds a great fountain, from which a mighty stream proceeds; and before it all the forms of self-worship must be swept away. In bringing this out the Apostle makes a most remarkable statement regarding the Incarnation and the history of our Lord. He reveals, at the same time, the place in his own mind held by the thought of Christ coming into the world, and the influence that thought had exerted on the formation of his character. He bids us recognise in Christ the supreme exemplification of one who is looking away from his own things-whose mind is filled, whose action is inspired by concern for others. This is so at the root of the interposition of Christ to save us that the principle becomes imperative and supreme for all Christ’s followers.

We have to consider the facts as they presented themselves to the mind of Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, that we may estimate the motive which he conceives them to reveal, and the obligation which is thus laid upon all who name the name of Christ and take rank among His followers.

The Apostle, let us first observe, speaks of the Incarnation as that reveals itself to us, as it offers itself to the contemplation of men. To involve himself in discussion of inner mysteries concerning the Divine nature and the human, and the manner of their union, as these are known to God, is not, and could not, be his object. The mysteries must be asserted, but much about them is to continue unexplained. He is to appeal to the impression derivable, as he maintains, from the plainest statement of the facts which have been delivered to faith. This being the object in view, determines the cast of his language. It is the manner of being, the manner of living, the manner of acting characteristic of Christ at successive stages, which is to occupy our minds. Hence the Apostle’s thought expresses itself in phrases such as "form of God," "form of a servant," and the like. We are to see one way of existing succeeding another in the history of Christ.

First, our Lord is recognised as already existing before the beginning of His earthly history; and in that existence He contemplates and orders what His course shall be. This is plain; for in the seventh verse He is spoken of as emptying Himself, and thus assuming the likeness of men. For the apostle, then, it was a fixed thing that He who was born in Nazareth pre-existed in a more glorious nature, and took ours by a notable condescension. This preexistence of Christ is the first thing to consider when we would make clear to ourselves how Christ, being true man, differs from other men. In this point Paul and John and the writer to the Hebrews unite their testimony in the most express and emphatic way; as we hear our Lord Himself also saying, "Before Abraham was, I am," and speaking of the glory which He had before the world was. But what manner of existence this was is also set forth. He "existed in the form of God." The same word "form" recurs presently in the expression "the form of a servant." It is distinguished from the words "likeness," "fashion," which are expressed by other Greek terms.

Frequently we use this word "form" in a way which contrasts it with the true being, or makes it denote the outward as opposed to the inward. But according to the usage which prevailed among thinking men when the Apostle wrote, the expression should not be understood to point to anything superficial, accidental, superimposed. No doubt it is an expression which describes the Being by adverting to the attributes which, as it were, He wore, or was clothed with. But the word carries us especially to those attributes of the thing described which are characteristic; by which it is permanently distinguished to the eye or to the mind; which denote its true nature because they rise out of that nature; the attributes which, to our minds, express the essence. So here. He existed, how? In the possession and use of all that pertains to the Divine nature. His manner of existence was, what? The Divine manner of existence. The characters through which Divine existence is revealed were His. He subsisted in the form of God. This was the manner of it, the glorious "form" which ought to fix and hold our minds.

If any one should suggest that, according to this text, the pre-existent Christ might be only a creature, though having the Divine attributes and the Divine mode of life, he would introduce a mass of contradictions most gratuitously. The Apostle’s thought is simply this: For Christ the mode of existence is first of all Divine; then, by-and-by, a new form rises into view. Our Lord’s existence did not begin (according to the New Testament writers) when He was born, when He was found in fashion as a man, sojourning with us. He came to this world from some previous state. One asks from what state? Before He took the form of man, in what form of existence was He found? The Apostle answers, In the form of God.

To Him, therefore, with and in the Father, we have learned to ascribe all wisdom and power, all glory and blessedness, all holiness and all majesty. Specially through Him the worlds were made, and in Him they consist. The fulness, the sufficiency, the essential strength of Godhead were His. The exercise and manifestation of all these were His form of being. One might expect, then, that in any process of self-manifestation to created beings in which it might please Him to go forth, the expression of His supremacy and transcendence should be written on the face of it.

The next thought is expressed in the received translation by the words "thought it no robbery to be equal with God." So truly and properly Divine was He that equality with God could not appear to Him or be reckoned by Him as anything else than His own. He counted such equality no robbery, arrogance, or wrong. To claim it, and all that corresponds to it, could not appear to Him something assumed without right, but rather something assumed with the best right. So taken, these words would complete the Apostle’s view of the original Divine pre-eminence of the Son of God.

They would express, so to say, the equity of the situation, from which all that follows should be estimated. Had it pleased the Son of God to express only, and to impress on all minds only, His equality with God, this could not have seemed to Him encroachment or wrong.

I think a good deal can be said for this. But the sense which, on the whole, is now approved by commentators is that indicated by the Revised Version. This takes the clause not as still dwelling on the primeval glory of the Son of God, and what was implied in it, but rather as beginning to indicate how a new situation arose, pointing out the dispositions out of which the Incarnation came. "He counted it not a prize to be on an equality with God." To hold by this was not the great object with Him. In any steps He might take, in any forthgoings He might enter on, the Son of God might have aimed at maintaining and disclosing equality with God. That alternative was open. But this is not what we see; no holding by that, no solicitude about that appears. His procedure, His actings reveal nothing of this kind. What we see filling His heart and fixing His regard is not what might be due to Himself or assumed fitly by Himself, but what might bring deliverance and blessedness to us.

On the contrary, "He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men." In the Incarnation our Lord assumed the "form" of a servant, or slave; for in the room of the authority of the Creator now appears the subjection of the creature. He who gave form to all things, and Himself set the type of what was highest and best in the universe, transcending meanwhile all created excellence in His uncreated glory, now is seen conforming Himself to the type or model or likeness of one of his creatures, of man. He comes into human existence as men do, and He continues in it as men do. Yet it is not said that He is now merely a man, or has become nothing but a man; He is in the likeness of men and is found in fashion as a man.

In taking this great step the Apostle says, "He emptied Himself." The emptying is perhaps designedly opposed to the thought of accumulation or self-enrichment conveyed in the phrase "He counted it not a prize." However this may be, the phrase is in itself a remarkable expression.

It seems most certain, on the one hand, that this cannot import that He who was with God and was God could renounce His own essential nature and cease to be Divine. The assertion of a contradiction like this involves the mind in mere darkness. The notion is excluded by other scriptures; for He who came on earth among us is Immanuel, God with us: and it is not required by the passage before us; for the "emptying" can at most apply to the "form" of God-the exercise and enjoyment of Divine attributes such as adequately express the Divine nature; and it may, perhaps, not extend its sense even so far; for the writer significantly abstains from carrying his thought further than the bare word "He emptied Himself."

On the other hand, we are to beware of weakening unduly this great testimony. Certainly it fixes our thoughts on this, at least, that our Lord, by becoming man, had for His, truly for His, the experience of human limitation, human weakness and impoverishment, human dependence, human subjection, singularly contrasting with the glory and plenitude of the form of God. This became His. It was so emphatically real, it became at the Incarnation so emphatically the form of existence on which He entered, that it is the thing eminently to be regarded, reverently to be dwelt upon. This emptiness, instead of that fulness, is to draw and fix our regard. Instead of the form of God, there rises before us this true human history, this lowly manhood-and it took place by His emptying Himself.

Various persons and schools have thought it right to go further. The word here used has appeared to them to suggest that if the Son of God did not renounce His Godhead, yet the Divine nature in Him must have bereaved itself of the Divine attributes, or withheld itself from the use and exercise of them; so that the all-fulness no longer was at His disposal. In this line they have gone on to describe or assign the mode of self-emptying which the Incarnation should imply.

It does not appear to me that one can lay down positions as to the internal privations of One whose nature is owned to be essentially Divine, without falling into confusion and darkening counsel. But perhaps we may do well to cherish the impression that this self-emptying on the part of the eternal Son of God, for our salvation, involves realities which we cannot conceive or put in any words. There was more in this emptying of Himself than we can think or say.

He emptied Himself when He became man. Here we have the eminent example of a Divine mystery, which, being revealed, remains a mystery never to be adequately explained, and which yet proves full of meaning and full of power. The Word was made flesh. He through whom all worlds took being, was seen in Judea in the lowliness of that practical historical manhood. We never can explain this. But if we believe it all things become new for us; the meaning it proves to have for human history is inexhaustible.

He emptied Himself, "taking the form of a servant," or bond slave. For the creature is in absolute subjection alike to God’s authority and, to His providence; and so Christ came to be, He entered on a discipline of subjection and obedience. In particular He was made after the likeness of men. He was born as other children are; He grew as other children grow; body and mind took shape for Him under human conditions.

And so He was "found in fashion as a man." Could words express more strongly how wonderful it is in the Apostle’s eyes that He should so be found? He lived His life and made His mark in the world in human fashion-His form, His mien, His speech, His acts His way of life declared Him man. But being so, He humbled Himself to a strange and great obedience. Subjection, and in that subjection obedience, is the part of every creature. But the obedience which. Christ was called to learn was special. A heavy task was laid upon Him. He was made under the law; and bearing the burden of human sin, He wrought redemption. In doing so many great interests fell to Him to be cared for; and this was done by Him, not in the manner of Godhead which speaks and it is done, but with the pains and labour of a faithful servant. "I have a commandment," He said, as He faced the Jews, who would have had His Messianic work otherwise ordered. [John 12:49]

This experience deepened into the final experience of the cross. Death is the signature of failure and disgrace. Even with sinless creatures it seems so. Their beauty and their use are past; their worth is measured and exhausted; they die. More emphatically in a nature like ours, which aims at fellowship with God and immortality, death is significant this way, and bears the character of doom. So we are taught to think that death entered by sin. But the violent and cruel death of crucifixion, inflicted for the worst crimes, is most significant this way. What it comprehended for our Lord we cannot measure. We know that He looked forward to it with the most solemn expectation; and when it came the experience was overwhelming. Yes, He submitted to the doom and blight of death, in which death He made atonement and finished transgression. The incarnation was the way in which our Lord bound Himself to our woeful fortunes, and carried to us the benefits with which He would enrich us; and His death was for our sins, endured that we might live. But the Apostle does not here dwell on the reasons why Christ’s obedience must take this road. It is enough that for reasons concerning our welfare, and the worthy achievement of the Father’s Divine purposes, Christ bowed Himself to so great lowliness. A dark and sad death-a true obedience unto death-became the portion of the Son of God. "I am the Living One, and I was dead." So complete was the self-emptying, the humiliation, the obedience.

"Therefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him the Name that is above every name." For still we must think of Him as One that has come down into the region of the creatures, the region in which we are distinguished by names, and are capable of higher and lower in endless degrees. God, dealing with Him so situated, acts in a manner rightly corresponding to this great self-dedication, so as to utter God’s mind upon it. He has set Him on high, and given Him the Name that is above every name; so that Divine honour shall be rendered to Him by all creation, and knees bowed in worship to Him everywhere, and all shall own Him Lord-that is, partaker of Divine Sovereignty. All this is "to the glory of the Father," seeing that in all this the worthiness and beauty of God’s being and ways come to light with a splendour heretofore unexampled.

So then we may say, perhaps, that as in the humiliation He who is God experienced what it is to be man, now in the exaltation He who is man experiences what it is to be God.

But the point to dwell on chiefly is this consideration-What is it that attracts so specially the Father’s approbation? What does so is Christ’s great act of self-forgetting love. That satisfies and rests the Divine mind. Doubtless the Son’s pure and perfect character, and the perfection of His whole service, were on all accounts approved, but specially the mind of Christ revealed in His self-forgetting devotion. Therefore God has highly exalted Him

For in the first place, Christ in this work of His is Himself the revelation of the Father. All along the Father’s heart is seen disclosed. It was in fellowship with the Father, always delighted in Him, that the history was entered on; in harmony with Him it was accomplished. Throughout we have before us not only the mind of the Son, but the mind of the Father that sent Him.

And then, in the next place, as the Son, sent forth into the world, and become one of us, and subject to vicissitude, accomplishes His course, it is fitting for the Father to watch, to approve, and to crown the service; and He who has so given Himself for God and man must take the place due to such a "mind" and to such an obedience.

Let us observe it then: what was in God’s eye, and ought to be in ours, is not only the dignity of the person, the greatness of the condescension, the perfection of obedience and patience of endurance, but, in the heart of all these, the mind of Christ. That was the inspiration of the whole marvellous history, vivifying it throughout. Christ, indeed, was not One who could so care for us, as to fail in His regard to any interest of His Father’s name or kingdom; nor could He take any course really unseemly, because unworthy of Himself. But carrying with Him all that is due to His Father, and all that befits His Father’s Child and Servant, the wonderful thing is how His heart yearns over men, how His course shapes itself to the necessities of our case, how all that concerns Himself disappears as He looks on the fallen race. A worthy deliverance for them, consecrating them to God in the blessedness of life eternal-this is in His eye, to be reached by Him through all kinds of lowliness, obedience, and suffering. On this His heart was set; this gave meaning and character to every step of His history. This was the mind of the good Shepherd that laid down His life for the sheep. And this is what completes and consecrates all the service, and receives the Father’s triumphant approbation. This is the Lamb of God. There never was a Lamb like this.

How all this was and is in the Eternal Son in His Divine nature we cannot suitably conceive. In some most sublime and perfect manner we own it to be there. But we can think of it and speak of it as the "mind of Christ": as it came to light in the Man of Bethlehem, who, amid all the possibilities of the Incarnation, is seen setting His face so steadily one way, whose life is all of one piece, and to whom we ascribe grace. "Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ." Therefore God has highly exalted Him; and given Him the Name that is above every name. This is the right way. This is the right life.

Are we followers of Christ? Are we in touch with His grace? Do we yield ourselves to His will and way? Do we renounce the melancholy obstructiveness which sets us at odds with Christ? Do we count it our wisdom now to come into His school? Then, let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, this lowly, loving mind. Let it. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Do nothing through strife or vainglory. In lowliness of mind let each esteem the other better than himself. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and envy, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice, and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. If there is any comfort in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any tender mercies and compassions, let this be so. Let this mind be in you; and find ways of showing it. But, indeed, if it be in you, it will find ways to show itself.

The Church of Christ has not been without likeness to its Lord, and service to its Lord, yet it has come far short in showing to the world the mind of Christ. We often "show the Lord’s death." But in His death were the mighty life and the conclusive triumph of Christ’s love. Let the life also of Christ Jesus be manifest in our mortal body.

We see here what the vision of Christ was which opened itself to Paul, -which, glowing in his heart, sent him through the world, seeking the profit of many, that they might be saved. This was in his mind, the wonderful condescension and devotion of the Son of God. "It pleased God to reveal His Son in me." "God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus." "Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, how that though He was rich yet for our sakes He became poor, that we through His poverty might be made rich." "He loved me and gave Himself for me." And in various forms and degrees the manifestation of this same grace has astonished, and conquered, and inspired all those who have greatly served Christ in the Church in seeking to do good to men. Let us not separate ourselves from this fellowship of Christ; let us not be secluded from this mind of Christ. As we come to Him with our sorrows, and sins, and wants, let us drink into His mind. Let us sit at His feet and learn of Him.

A line of contemplation, hard to follow yet inspiring, opens up in considering the Incarnation of our Lord as permanent. No day is coming in which that shall have to be looked upon as gone away into the past. This is suggestive as to the tie between Creator and creature, as to the bridge between Infinite and finite, to be evermore found in Him. But it may suffice here to have indicated the topic.

It is more to the point in connection with this passage to call attention to a lesson for the present day. Of late great emphasis has been laid by earnest thinkers upon the reality of Christ’s human nature. Anxiety has been felt to do full right to that humanity which the Gospels set before us so vividly. This has been in many ways a happy service to the Church. In the hands of divines the humanity of Christ has sometimes seemed to become shadowy and unreal, through the stress laid on His proper Godhead; and now men have become anxious to possess their souls with the human side of things, even perhaps at the cost of leaving the Divine side untouched. The recoil has carried men quite naturally into a kind of humanitarianism, sometimes deliberate, sometimes unconscious. Christ is thought of as the ideal Man, who, just because He is the ideal Man, is morally indistinguishable from God, and is in the closest fellowship with God. Yet He grows on the soil of human nature, He is fundamentally and only human. And this, it is implied, is enough; it covers all we want. But we see this was not Paul’s way of thinking. The real humanity was necessary for him, because he desiderated a real incarnation. But the true original Divine nature was also necessary. For so he discerned the love-the grace, and the gift by grace; so he felt that the Eternal God had bowed down to bless him in and by His Son. It makes a great difference to religion when men are persuaded to forego this faith.


Verses 12-18

Chapter 8

WORKING AND SHINING.

Philippians 2:12-18 (R.V.)

AFTER his great appeal to the mind of Christ, the Apostle can pursue his practical object; and he can do so with a certain tranquillity, confident that the forces he has just set in motion will not fail to do their work. But yet that same appeal itself has tended to broaden and deepen the conception of what should be aimed at. He had deprecated the arrogant and the selfish mind, as these are opposed to lovingkindness and regard for others. But now, in presence of the great vision of the Incarnation and obedience of Christ, the deeper note of lowliness must be struck in fit accord with that of love; not only lowliness in the way of doing ready honour to others, but deep and adoring lowliness towards God, such as is due both from creatures and from sinners. For if Christ’s love fulfilled itself in such a perfect humility, how deeply does it become us to bear towards God in Christ a mind of penitence arid gratitude, of loving awe and wonder, such as shall at the same time for ever exclude from our bearing towards others both pride and self-seeking. In this way the one practical object suggested by the circumstances at Philippi-namely, loving unity-now allies itself naturally with ideas of complete and harmonious Christian life; and various views of that life begin to open. But each aspect of it still proves to be connected with the gracious and gentle mind of Christ, in the lowly form of that mind which is appropriate for a sinner who is also a believer.

So then they are to apply themselves to the "calling wherewith they are called," in a spirit of "fear and trembling." The phrase is a common one with the Apostle. [1 Corinthians 2:3; 2 Corinthians 7:15; Ephesians 5:6] He uses it where he would express a state of mind in which willing reverence is joined with a certain sensitive anxiety to escape dangerous mistakes and to perform duty well. And it is fitly called for here, for

1. If lowliness so became the Divine Saviour, who was full of grace, wisdom, and power, then what shall be the mind of those who in great guilt and need have found part in the salvation, and who are going forward to its fulness? What shall be the mind of those who, in this experience, are looking up to Christ-looking up to lowliness? Surely not the spirit of strife and vainglory (Philippians 2:3), but of fear and trembling-the mind that

2. dreads to be presumptuous and arrogant, because it finds the danger to be still near.

3. The salvation has to be wrought out. It must come to pass in your case in the line of your own endeavor. Having its power and fulness in Christ, and bestowed by Him on you, yet this deliverance from distance, estrangement, darkness, unholiness, is given to believers to be wrought out; it comes as a right to be realised, and as a power to be exercised, and as a goal to be attained. Think of this, -you have in hand your own salvation-great, Divine, and wonderful-to be wrought out. Can you go about it without fear and trembling? Consider what you are-consider what you believe-consider what you seek-and what a spirit of lowly and contrite eagerness will pervade your life! This holds so much the more, because the salvation itself stands so much in likeness to Christ-that is to say, in a loving lowliness. Let a man think how much is in him that tends, contrariwise, to self-assertion and self-seeking, and he will have reason enough to fear and tremble as he lays fresh hold on the promises, and sets his face to the working out of this his own salvation.

4. This very working out, from whom does it come? Are you the explanation and last source of it? What does it mean? Wherever it takes place, it means that, in a very special sense, God’s mighty presence and power are put forth in us to will and to do. Shall not this thought quell our petulance? Where is room now for anything but fear and trembling-a deep anxiety to be lowly, obedient, compliant?

Whether, therefore, we look to the history of the Saviour, or to the work to which our own life is devoted, or to the power that animates that work and on which it depends-in all alike we find ourselves committed to the lowly mind; and in all alike we find ourselves beset with a wealth of free beneficence, which lays obligation on us to be self-forgetting and loving. We are come into a wonderful world of compassionate love. That is the platform on which we stand-the light we see by-the music that fills our ears-the fragrance that rises on every side. If we are to live here, there is only one way for it-there is only one kind of life that can live in this region. And, being as we are, alas! so strangely coarse and hard-even if this gospel gladdens us, there may well thrill through our gladness a very honest and a very contrite "fear and trembling."

Now all this is by the Apostle persuasively urged upon his Philippian children (Philippians 2:12): "As ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence." For, indeed, it proves easy comparatively for our human indolence to yield to the spell of some great and forcible personality when he is present. It is even pleasant to allow ourselves to be borne on by the tide of his enthusiastic goodness. But when the Apostle was at Philippi, it might come easier to many of them to ‘feel the force and scope of their calling in Christ. And yet now that he was gone, now was the time for them to prove for themselves, and evince to others, the durable worth of the great discovery they had made, and the thoroughness of the decision which had transformed their lives. Now, also, was the time to show Paul himself, that their "obedience" was of the deep and genuine quality which alone could give content to him.

Such in general seems to be the scope of these two verses. But one or two of the points deserve to be considered a little before we go on.

Mark how emphatically the Apostle affirms the great truth, that every good thing accompanying salvation which comes to pass in Christians is of the mighty power and grace of God. Therefore Christianity must stand so much in asking and in thanking. It is God that worketh in you. He does it, and no other than He; it is His prerogative. He worketh to will and to do. The inclination of the heart and the purpose of the will are of Him; and the striving to bring forth into act and deed what has been so conceived-that also is of Him. He quickens those who were dead in trespasses and sins; He gives the renewing of the Holy Ghost; He makes His children perfect, working in them that which is well pleasing in His sight through Jesus Christ. All this He does in the exercise of His proper power, in the "exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe"-"according to the working of His mighty power, which wrought in Christ when He was raised from the dead." Apparently we are to take it that in the children of God there is the new heart, or new nature, in respect of which they are new creatures; and also the indwelling of God by His Spirit; and also the actual working of the same Spirit in all fruits. of righteousness which they bring forth to the glory and praise of God. And these three are so. connected that regard should be had to all of them when we contemplate each.

He worketh to will and to do. From Him all godly desires and purposes proceed-from Him, every passage in our lives in which the "salvation that is in Christ Jesus" is by us received, put to proof, wrought out into the transactions of our lives. It must be so, if we will only think of it. For this "salvation" involves. an actual, and in principle a complete agreement with God, affirmed and embodied in each right thought, and word, and deed. Whence could this flow but from Himself?

In their statements and explanations about this Christians have differed. The difference has been mainly on the point, how to make it clear that men are not dealt with as inert nor as irresponsible; that they must not hold themselves excused from working on the ground that God works all. For all agree that men are called to the most serious earnestness of purpose and the most alert activity of action; but the theorising of this activity occasions debate. It is from the motive of trying to make more room for these indispensable elements on the human side, that modes of statement have been suggested which limit or explain away the Apostle’s statement here. The motive is commendable, but the method is not commonly successful. All efforts to divide the ground between God and man go astray. In the inward process of salvation, and especially in this "willing and doing," God does all, and also man does all. But God takes precedence. For it is He that quickeneth the dead, and calleth things that are not as though they were. Here we may say, as the Apostle does. in another case, "This is a great mystery." Let us recognise it as a mystery bound up with any hope we ourselves have of proving to be children of God. And under the sense of it, with fear and trembling let us work, for it is God that worketh in us to will and to do.

He worketh in us to will. When I trace back any of my actions to the fountain where it takes its rise as mine, I find that fountain in my will. The materials which I take up into my act, the impressions which gather together to create a situation for me, may all have their separate, history going back in the order of cause and effect to the beginning of the world; but that which makes it mine, is that I will, I choose, and thereupon I do it. Therefore also it is that I must answer for it, because it is mine. I willed it, and in. willing it I created something which pertains to me and to no other; something began which is. mine, and the responsibility for it cleaves only to me. But in the return to God through Christ, and in the working out of that salvation, there are acts of mine, most truly mine; and yet in these another Will, the Will of Him who saves, is most intimately concerned. He worketh in us to will. It is not an enslaving, but an emancipating energy. It brings about free action, yet such as fulfils a most gracious Divine purpose. So these "willings" embody a consent, a union of heart and mind and will, His and mine, the thought of which is enough to bow me to the ground with "fear and trembling." This is He who gathereth the dispersed of Israel into one.

On the other hand, the salvation is to be wrought out by us. To have faith in the Son of God in exercise and prevalence; to have heart and life formed to childlike love of God, and to the fulfilment of His will; to carry this out against the flesh and the world and the devil, -all this is a great career of endeavour and attainment. It is much to make the discoveries implied in it, finding out at each stage the meaning of it, and how it should take shape. It is much to have the heart brought to beat true to it, to love it, consent to it, be set upon it. It is much to embody it in faithful and successful practice in the rough school of life, with its actual collision and conflict. Now the nature and working of God’s grace at each stage are of this kind, that it operates in three ways at least. It operates as a call, an effectual call, setting a man on to arise and go. It operates also in a way of instruction, setting us to learn lessons, teaching us how to live, as it is said in Titus 2:11-12. And it operates as a power, as help in time of need. He that sits still at the call-he that will not be considerate to learn the lesson-he that will not cast himself on the strength perfected in weakness, that he may fulfil and do the Father’s will-he is a man who despises and denies the grace of God.

Now what has been said of the believer’s relation to the saving God prepares the way for referring to his office towards the world. Here the moral and practical theme which is in the Apostle’s mind all through proves again to be in place: the lowly and loving mind will best discharge that office towards the world, which the arrogant and distempered mind would hinder. "‘Do all things without murmurings and disputings, that ye may be blameless and harmless."

A murmuring and disputatious temper-murmuring at what displeases us, and multiplying debate about it-is simply one form of the spirit which Paul deprecates all through this context. It is the sign of the disposition to value unduly one’s own ease, one’s own will, one’s own opinion, one’s own party, and to lie at the catch for opportunities to bring that feeling into evidence. Now observe the harm which the Apostle anticipates. It is your office to serve God by making a right impression on the world. How shall that come to pass? Chiefly, or at least primarily, the Apostle seems to say, by the absence of evil. At least, that is the most general and the safest notion of it with which to begin. Some, no doubt, make impressions by their eloquence, or by their wisdom, or by their enterprising and successful benevolence-though all these have dangers and drawbacks attending them, in so far as the very energy of action provides a shelter for unperceived self-will. Still, let them have their place and their praise. But here is the line that might suit all. A man whose life stands clear of the world’s deformities, under the influence of a light and a love from which the world is estranged, gradually makes an impression.

Now murmuring and disputing are precisely adapted to hinder this impression. And sometimes they hinder it in the case of people of high excellence-people who have much sound and strong principle, who have large benevolence, who are capable of making remarkable sacrifices to duty when they see it. Yet this vice, perhaps a surface vice, of murmuring and disputing, is so suggestive of a man’s self being uppermost, it so unpleasantly forces itself in as the interpretation o the man, that his real goodness is little accounted of. At all events, the peculiar purity of the Christian character-its blamelessness and harmlessness, its innocence-does not in this case come to light. People say: "Ah, he is one of the mixed ones, like ourselves. Christian devoutness suits some people; they are sincere enough in it, very likely; but it leaves them, after all, pretty much as it found them."

I say no more about murmuring and disputing as these reveal themselves in our relations to others. But the same spirit, and attended in its operations with the same evil effects, may manifest itself in other ways besides that of unkindness to men. As frequently, perhaps, it may show itself in our behaviour towards God; and in that case it interferes at least as seriously with the shining of our light in the world.

Just as in the camp of Israel of old on many memorable occasions there arose a murmuring of the people against God, when His ways crossed their will, or seemed dark to their wisdom; just as, on such occasions, there broke out among the people the expression of doubt, dislike, and disputation, and they criticised those Divine dealings which should have been received with trust and lowliness, so is it also, many a time, in the little world within us. There are such and such duties to be discharged and such and such trials to be encountered-or else a general course of duty is to be pursued under certain discouragements and perplexities. And, you submit, you do these things. But you do. them with murmuring and disputing in your heart. Why should it be thus? "How is it fit," you say, "that such perplexities or such burdens should be appointed? Is it not reasonable, all things considered, that I should have more indulgence and greater facilities; or, at least, that I should be excused from this conflict and this burden-bearing for the present?" Meanwhile our conscience is satisfied because we have not rebelled in practice; and it takes no strict account of the fretfulness which marred our act, or the grumbling which well-nigh withheld us from compliance. You are called, perhaps, to speak to some erring friend, or you have to go on a message of mercy to some one in affliction. Indolently you postpone it; and your heart begins to stretch out its arms and to cling to the careless temper it has begun to indulge. At last conscience stirs, conscience is up, and you have to do something. But what you do is done grudgingly, with a heart that is murmuring and disputing. Again, you are called to deny yourself some worldly pleasure; in Christian consistency you have to hold back from some form of dissipation; or you have to take up a position of singularity and separation from other people. Reluctantly you comply; only "murmuring and disputing." Now this inward temper may never come to any man’s knowledge, but shall we suppose it does not tell on the character and the influence of the life? Can you, in that temper, play your part with the childlike, the cheerful, the dignified bearing, with the resemblance to Christ in your action, which God calls for? You cannot. The duty as to the husk and shell of it may be done; but there can be little radiation of Christ’s likeness in the doing of it.

Notice the Apostle’s conception of the function which believers are to discharge in the world. They are set in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation. These words were applied to the children of Israel of old on account of the stubborn insubordination with which they dealt with God; and they were applicable, for the same reason, to the Gentiles, among whom the gospel had come, but who had not bowed to it. Judged by the high and true standard, these Gentiles were crooked and perverse in their ways with one another, and still more so in their ways with God. Among them the Christians were to show what Christianity was, and what it could do. In the Christians was to appear, embodied, the testimony proposed to the crooked and perverse nation, a testimony against its perverseness, and yet revealing a remedy for it. In the persons of men, themselves originally crooked and perverse, this was to become plain and legible. Now, how? Why, by their being blameless and harmless, the sons of God without rebuke.

It has been remarked already that the special way in which we are to manifest to the world the light of Christianity is here represented as the way of blamelessness. That man aright represents the mind of Christ to the world, who in the world keeps himself unspotted from the world, -in whom men recognise a character that traces up to a purer source elsewhere. As years pass, as cross-lights fall upon the life, even in its most common and private workings, if it still proves that the man is cleansed by the faith he holds, if the unruly working of interest and passion and will, give way in him to motives of a higher strain, men will be impressed. They will own that here is something rare and high, and that some uncommon cause is at the bottom of it. For the world knows well that even the better sort of men have their weaker side, often plainly enough revealed by the trials of time. Therefore steadfast purity makes, at last, a deep impression.

Innocence indeed is not the whole duty of a Christian; active virtue is required as well. The harmlessness called for is not a mere negative quality-it is supposed to be exhibited in an active life which strives to put on Christ Jesus. But the Apostle seems to lay stress especially on a certain quiet consistency, on a lowly and loving regard to the whole standard, which gives evenness and worthiness to the life. If you will do a Christian’s office to the "perverse nation," you have to seek that they may have nothing against you except concerning the law of your God; you have to seek that your reproach may be exclusively the reproach of Christ, so that if at any time the malice of men seeks to misconstrue your actions, and lays to your charge things which you know not, your well-doing may silence them; and having no evil thing to say of you, they may be-ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.

Strong appeals are made in our day to members of the Christian Church to engage actively in all kinds of Christian work. They are summoned to go forth aggressively upon the world’s misery and sin. This has become a characteristic note of our time. Such appeals were needed. It is a shame that so many Christians have absolved themselves from the obligation to place at their Lord’s service the aptitudes and the energies with which He has endowed them. Yet in this wholesale administration diversities are apt to be overlooked. Christians may be undervalued who do not possess qualities fitting them for the special activities; or, attempting these without much aptitude, and finding little success, they may be unduly cast down. It is important to lay stress on this. There are some, perhaps we should say many, who must come to the conclusion, if they judge aright, that their gifts and opportunities indicate for them, as their sphere, a somewhat narrow round of duties, mostly of that ordinary type which the common experience of human life supplies. But if they bring into these a Christian heart; if they use the opportunities they have; if they are watchful to please their Lord in the life of the family, the workshop, the market; if the purifying influence of the faith by which they live comes to light in the steady excellence of their character and course, -then they need have no sense of exclusion from the work of Christ and of His Church. They, too, do missionary work. Blameless, harmless, unrebuked, they are seen as lights in the world. They contribute, in the manner that is most essential of all. to the Church’s office in the world. And their place of honour and reward shall be far above that of many a Christian busybody, who is too much occupied abroad to keep the light clear and bright at home.

Blameless, then, harmless, unaspersed, must the children of God, His redeemed children, be. So will the light of Christian character come clearly out, and Christians will be "luminaries, holding forth the word of life."

The word of life is the message of salvation as it sets forth to us Christ, and goodness and blessedness by Him. Substantially it is that teaching which we have in the Scriptures; although, when Paul wrote, the New Testament was not yet a treasure of the Churches, and the "word of life" only echoed to and fro from teacher to taught, and from one disciple to another. Still, the teaching rested on the Old Testament Scriptures understood in the light of the testimony of Jesus; and it was controlled and guided by men speaking and writing in the Spirit. What it was therefore was very well known, and the influence of it as the seed of life eternal was felt. It was for Christians to hold by it, and to hold it out, - the expression used in ver. 16 (Philippians 2:16), may have either meaning; and virtually both senses are here. In order to give light there must be life. And Christian life depends on having in us the word, quick and powerful, which is to dwell in us richly in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. This must be the secret of blameless Christian lives; and so those who have this character will give light, as holding forth the word of life. The man’s visible character itself does this. For while the word and message of life is to be owned, professed, in fit times proclaimed, yet the embodiment of it in the man is the mare point here, the character being formed and the practice determined by the "word" believed. So also we are said to live by the faith of the Son of God. The life of faith on Him is the life of having and holding forth His word.

Here, as everywhere, our Lord goes first. The Apostle John, speaking in his Gospel of the Eternal Word, tells us that in Him was life, and the life was the light of men. It was not merely a doctrine of light; the life was the light. As He lived, in His whole being, in His acting and suffering, in His coming and staying and departing, in His Person and in His discharge of every office, He manifested the Father. Still we find it so; as we contemplate Him, as His words lead us to Himself, we behold the glory, the radiance of grace and truth.

Now His people are made like Him.. They too, through the word of life, become partakers of true life. This life does not dwell in them as it does in their Lord, for He is its original seat and source; hence they are not the light of the world in the same sense in which He is so. Still they are luminaries, they are stars in the world. By manifesting the genuine influence of the word of life which dwells in them, they do make manifest in the world what truth and purity and salvation are. This is their calling; and, in a measure, it is their attainment.

The view of the matter given here may be compared with that of 2 Corinthians 3:4. Christ, the Father’s Word, may also be regarded as the Father’s living Epistle. Then those who behold Him, and drink in the significance of this message, are also themselves, in their turn, Epistles of Christ, known and read of all men.

So to shine is the calling of all believers, not of some only; each, according to his opportunities, may and ought to fulfil it. God designs to be glorified, and to have His salvation justified, in this form. Christ has said in the plainest terms, "Ye are the light of the world." But to be so implies separateness from the world, in root and in fruits; and that is for many a hard saying. "Ye are a holy nation, a peculiar people, that ye should show forth the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light."

In the sixteenth and following verses comes in again Paul’s own share in the progress and victory of the Christian life in his friends. "It would be exceeding well," he seems to say, "for you; how well, you may partly gather from learning how well it would be for me." He would have cause to "rejoice in the day of Christ" that he had "not run in vain, neither laboured in vain." What might be said on this has been anticipated in the remarks made on Philippians 1:20 fol. But here the Apostle is thinking of something more than the toil and labour expended in the work. More than these was to fall to his lot. His life of toil was to close in a death of martyrdom. And whether the Apostle was or was not enabled to foresee this certainly, doubtless he looked forward to it as altogether probable. So he says: "But if I be offered (or poured out as a drink-offering) in the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy and rejoice with you all; and do ye also likewise joy and rejoice with me."

To see the force of this expression we must remember that it was an ancient custom to seal and complete a sacrifice by the pouring out of a libation on the altar or at the foot of it. This might be intended as the crowning testimony of the abundant freewill with which the service had been rendered and the sacrifice had been offered. To some such rite the Apostle alludes when he speaks of himself-that is to say, of his own life - as poured forth at the sacrifice and service of their faith. And it is not hard to understand the idea which dictates this mode of speech.

We read in Romans 12:1-21 an exhortation to the saints to yield themselves a living sacrifice, which sacrifice is their reasonable service. They were to do so in the way of not being conformed to the world, but transformed by the renewing of their minds. So here the course of conduct which the Apostle had been exhorting the Philippians to pursue was an act of worship or service, and in particular it was a sacrifice, the sacrifice of their faith, the sacrifice in which their faith was expressed. Each believer in offering this sacrifice acts as a priest, being a member of the holy priesthood which offers to God spiritual sacrifices. [1 Peter 2:5] Such a man is not, indeed, a priest to make atonement, but he is a priest to present offerings through Christ his Head. The Philippians, then, in so far as they were, or were to be, yielding themselves in this manner to God, were priests who offered to God a spiritual sacrifice.

Here let us notice, as we pass, that no religion is worth the name that has not its sacrifice through which the worshipper expresses his devotion. And in Christian religion the sacrifice is the consecration of the man and of his life to God’s service in Christ. Let us all see to it what sacrifices we offer.

This doctrine, then, of the priesthood and the sacrifice was verified in the case of the Philippians; and, by the same rule, it held true also in the case of Paul himself. He, as little as they, was priest to make atonement. But certainly when we see Paul so cordially yielding himself to the service of God in the gospel, and discharging his work with such willing labour and pains, we see in him one of Christ’s priests offering himself to God a living sacrifice. Now is this all? or is something more to be said of Paul? More is to be said; and although the point now in view is not prominent in this passage, it is present as the underlying thought. For the whole sacrifice of holy life rendered by the Philippians, and by his other converts, was, in a sense, the offering of Paul also; not theirs only, but his too. God gave him a standing in the matter, which he, at least, was not to overlook. God’s grace, indeed, had wrought the work, and Paul was but an instrument; yet so an instrument that he had a living and abiding interest in the result. He was not an instrument mechanically interposed, but one whose faith and love had. wrought to bring the result to pass. To him it had been given to labour and pray, to watch and guide, to spend and to be spent. And when the Apostle saw the lives of many true followers of Christ unfold as the result of his ministry, he could think that God owned his place too in bringing all this tribute to the temple. "God grants me a standing in the service of this offering. The Philippians bring it, each for himself, and it is theirs; but I also bring it, and it is my offering too. God takes it at their hand, but also at my hand, as something which with all my heart I have laboured for and won, and brought to His footstool. I also have my place to present to Christ the sacrifice and service of faith of all these men who are living fruits of my ministry. I have been minister of Christ to these Gentiles, ministering the gospel of the grace of God, that the offering up of these Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost. I have therefore whereof I may glory through Jesus Christ." [Romans 15:16-17]

There remains but one step to be made, to reach the seventeenth verse (Romans 15:17). Consider the Apostle’s heart glowing with the thought that God counted the holy fruits of those believing lives to be sacrifice and service of his, as well as theirs, and accepted it not only from their hands, but from Paul’s too. Consider the gladness with which he felt that after all his toil and pains he had this great offering to bring, as his thank-offering to his Lord. And then imagine him hearing a voice which says: "Now then, seal your service, crown your offering; be yourself the final element of sacrifice; pour out your life. You have laboured and toiled, spent years and strength, very willingly, and most fruitfully; that is over now; one thing remains; die for the worthy name of Him who died for you." It is this he is contemplating: "If I be poured out at the sacrifice and service of your faith; if I am called to go on and complete the sacrifice and service; if one thing more alone is left for Paul the aged and the prisoner, and that one thing be to lay down the life whose labours are ending; if the life itself is to run out in one final testimony that my whole heart, that all I am and have are Christ’s,"-shall not I rejoice? will not you rejoice with me? That will be the final identification of my life with your sacrifice and service. It will be the expression of God’s accepting the completed gift. It will be the libation that crowns the service. I am not to be used, and then set aside as having no more interest in the results. On the contrary, your Christianity and mine, in the wonderful relation they have to one another, are to pass to God together as one offering. If, after running and labouring, all issues of my life be finally poured out in martyrdom, that, as it were, identifies me finally and inseparably with the sacrifice and service which have filled your lives, and also my life. It becomes one complete offering.

It may give cause for thought to ministers of the gospel that the Apostle should so vitally and vividly connect himself with the results of his work. It was no languid, no perfunctory ministry that led up to this high mood. His heart’s blood had been in it; the strength and passion of his love to Christ had been poured out and spent on his work and his converts. Therefore he could feel that in some gracious and blessed way the fruits that came were still his-given to him to bring to the altar of the Lord. How well shall it be with the Churches when the ministry of their pastors burns with a flame like this! What an image of the pastoral care is here expressed!

But may not all Christian hearts be stirred to see the devotedness and the love which filled this man’s soul? The constraining power of the love of Christ so wrought in him that he triumphed and rejoiced both in bringing and in becoming an offering, -breaking out, as it were, into sacrifice and service, and pouring out his life an offering to the Father and the Son. All hearts may be stirred; for all, perhaps, can imagine such a mood. But how many of us have it as a principle and a passion entering into our own lives?


Verses 19-30

Chapter 9

TIMOTHY AND EPAPHRODITUS.

Philippians 2:19-30 (R.V.)

THE outpouring of his thoughts, his feelings, and his desires towards the Philippians has so far spent itself. Now he turns to mention the steps he is taking, in response to their communication, to express practically his love and his care for their welfare. Yet we must carry along with us what has just been said of the Christian service and sacrifice, and of the tie between the Apostle and his converts; for these thoughts are still in the Apostle’s mind, and they gleam through the passage which now comes before us.

Paul had been contemplating the possibility of dying soon in his Master’s cause; no doubt it was an alternative often present to his mind; and we see with what a glory of high association it rose before him. Still he, like ourselves, had to await his Master’s will, had meanwhile to carry on the business of his life, and indeed [Philippians 1:25] was aware that the prolongation of his life might very likely be a course of things more in the line of God’s purpose, and more serviceable to the Churches at Philippi and elsewhere. So, while he has expressed the mood in which both they and he are to face the event of his martyrdom, when it comes, he does not hesitate to express the expectation that he may be set free and may see them again. Meanwhile he has made up his mind ere long to send Timothy. Timothy will bring them news of Paul, and will represent the Apostle among them as only a very near and confidential friend could do; at the same time he will bring back to Paul an account of things at Philippi, no doubt after doing all that with God’s help he could to instruct, correct, and edify the Church during his stay.. In this way a sustaining and gladdening experience for the Philippian Christians would be provided; and, at the same time, Paul too ("I" also, Philippians 2:19) would be gladdened by receiving from so trustworthy a deputy a report upon men and things at Philippi. In connection with this declaration of his intention, the Apostle reveals some of the reflections which had occupied his mind; and these suggest several lessons.

1. Notice the spirit of self-sacrifice on Paul’s part. Timothy was the one thoroughly trusted and congenial friend within his reach. To a man who was a prisoner, and on whom the burden of many anxieties fell, it was no

2. small ease to have one such friend beside Him. Our Blessed Lord Himself craved for loving human fellowship in His time of sorrow; and so must Paul do also. Yet all must give way to the comfort and well-being of the Churches. As soon as Paul can descry how it is to go with him, so that plans may be adjusted to the likelihoods of the situation, Timothy is to go on his errand to Philippi.

3. Notice the importance which may justly attach to human instrumentalities. One is not as good as another. Some are far more fit for use than others are. The Apostle thought earnestly on the point who was fittest to go, and he was glad he had a man like Timothy to send. It is true that the supreme source of success in gospel work is God Himself; and sometimes He gives unexpected success to unlikely instruments. But yet, as a rule, much depends on men being adapted to their work. When God prepares fresh blessing for His Church, He commonly raises up men fitted for the service to be rendered. Therefore we do well to pray earnestly for men eminently qualified to do the Lord’s work.

1. Timothy’s special fitness for this mission was that he had a heart to care for them, especially to care for their true and highest interests. So far he resembled Paul himself. He had the true pastoral heart. He had caught the lessons of Paul’s own life. That was the main thing. No doubt he had intellectual gifts, but his dispositions gave him the right use of gifts. The loving heart, and the watchfulness and thoughtfulness which that inspires, do more to create pastoral wisdom than any intellectual superiority. Timothy had a share of the "mind" of Christ (Philippians 2:5), and that made him meet to be a wise inspector and adviser for the Philippians, as well as a trustworthy reporter concerning their state and prospects.

2. What is most fitted to impress us is the difficulty which Paul experienced in finding a suitable messenger, and the manner in which he describes his difficulty. He was conscious in himself of a self-forgetting love and care for the Churches, which was part, and a great part, of his Christian character. He was ready {1 Corinthians 10:33} to please all men in all things, not seeking his own profit, but the profit of many, that they might be saved. He looked out for men among his friends whose hearts might answer to him here, but he did not find them. He had no man likeminded. One indeed was found, but no more. As he looked round, a sense of disappointment settled on him.

One asks of whom this statement is made-that he finds none like-minded-that all seek their own? Probably not of Epaphroditus, for Epaphroditus goes at any rate, and the question is about some one in addition, to be, as it were, Paul’s representative and commissioner. Nor are we entitled to say that it applies to Tychicus, Aristarchus, Marcus, and Jesus, mentioned in Colossians 4:1-18. For these men might not be with the Apostle at the precise moment of his writing to the Philippians; and the character given to them in the Epistle to the Colossians seems to set them clear of the inculpation in this passage: unless we suppose that, even in the case of some of them, a failure had emerged near the time when the Epistle was written, which vexed the Apostle, and forced him to judge them unprepared at present for the service. It will be safest, however, not to assume that these men were with him, or that they are here in view.

Still, the sad comment of the Apostle must apply to men of some standing and some capacity, - men of Christian profession, men who might naturally be thought of in connection with such a task. As he surveyed them, he was obliged to note the deplorable defect, which perhaps had not struck himself so forcibly until he began to weigh the men against the mission he was planning for them. Then he saw how they came short; and also, how this same blight prevailed generally among the Christians around him. Men were not "likeminded"; no man was "likeminded." All seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s. Is not this a sad saying? What might one expect at the outset of a noble cause, the cause of Christ’s truth and Church? What might one count upon in the circle that stood nearest to the Apostle Paul? Yet this is the account of it, -All seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.

Is it any wonder that the Apostle pleads earnestly with Christians to cherish the mind of "‘ not looking each of you to his own things" (Philippians 2:4); that he presses the great example of the Saviour Himself; that he celebrates elsewhere [1 Corinthians 13:1-13] the beauty of that love which seeketh not his own and beareth all things? For we see how the meaner spirit beset him and hemmed him in, even in the circle of his Christian friends.

What does his description mean? It does not mean that the men in question broke the ordinary Christian rules. It does not mean that any Church could have disciplined them for provable sins. Nay, it does not mean that they were destitute of fear of God and love to Christ. But yet, to the Apostle’s eye, they were too visibly swayed by the eagerness about their own things; so swayed that their ordinary course was governed and determined by it. It might be love of ease, it might be covetousness, it might be pride, it might be party opinion, it might be family interests, it might even be concentration on their own religious comfort:-however it might be, to this it came in the end, All seek their own. Some of them might be quite unsound, deceivers or deceived; especially, for instance, if Demas [2 Timothy 4:10] was one of them. But even those of whom the Apostle might be persuaded better things, and things that accompany salvation, were so far gone in this disease of seeking their own that the Apostle could have no confidence in sending them, as otherwise he would have done, on a mission in which the mind and care of Christ were to be expressed to Christ’s Church. He could not rely on a "genuine care."

You mistake if you suppose this faulty state implied, in all these cases, a deliberate, conscious preference of their own things above the things of Jesus Christ. The men might really discern a supreme beauty and worth in the things of Christ; they might honestly judge that Christ had a supreme claim on their loyalty; and they might have a purpose to adhere to Christ and Christ’s cause at great cost, if the cost must finally be borne. And yet meanwhile, in their common life, the other principle manifested itself far too victoriously. The place which their own things held-the degree in which their life was influenced by the bearing of things on themselves, was far from occupying that subordinate place which Christ has assigned to it. The things of Jesus Christ did not rise in their minds above other interests, but were jostled, and crowded, and thrust aside by a thousand things that were their own.

You may not cherish any avowed purpose to seek your own; you may have learned to love Christ for the best reasons; you may have the root of the matter in you; you may have made some sacrifices that express a sense of Christ’s supreme claims, and yet you may be a poor style of Christian, an inconsistent Christian, a careless, unwatchful Christian. Especially you may habitually fail to make a generous estimate of the place to be given to the things of Jesus Christ. You may not be reckoned so defective either in general judgment or in your own esteem, because you may come up very well to what is usually expected. And yet you may be allowing any Christianity you have to be largely stifled and repressed by foreign and alien influences, by a crowd of occupations and recreations that steal heart and life away. You may be taking no proper pains, no loving pains, to be a Christian, in Christ’s sense of what that should be. Though only at the beginning of the conflict, you may be living as if there was scarcely a conflict to be fought. And so in practice, in the history of your hours, you may be seeking your own things to an extent that is even disgraceful to Christian religion. You may allow your course of thought and action to be dictated by that which is of self, by gain, sell-indulgence, or frivolity, to a degree that would even be appalling if your eyes were opened to discern it. We all know that in religious exercises formality may usurp a large place, even in the case of men who have received power for reality. Just so in the Christian course, and under the Christian name and calling, what is "your own" may be suffered to encroach most lamentably on the higher principle; so that an Apostle looking at you must say: "They all seek their own, not the things that are Jesus Christ’s." You are not faithful enough to apply Christ’s standard to your heart and ways, nor diligent enough to seek His Spirit. Perhaps if you were strongly tempted to deny Christ, or to fall into some great scandalous sin, you would awaken to the danger and cling to your Saviour for your life. But as things go commonly, you let them go. And the consequence is, you are largely losing your lives. What should be your contribution to the good cause, and so should be your own gladness and honour, never comes to pass. some of you have thoughts in your minds upon this point, why you do not seem to find any doorways into Christian usefulness. You do wish to see Christ’s cause prosper. Yet somehow it never seems to come to your hands to do anything effectually or fruitfully for the cause. What can the reason be? Alas! in the case of how many the reason is just what it was in the case of Paul’s friends: you are so largely seeking your own things, not the things that are Jesus Christ’s, that you are not fit to be sent on any mission. If the Apostle could say this to the Christians of his day, how great must be the danger still! Now if we look at it as part of the experience of Paul the Apostle, to find this temper so prevailing around him, we learn another lesson. We know Paul’s character, his enthusiasm, the magnanimous faith and love with which he counted all to be loss in comparison of Christ. And yet, we see what he found among the Christians around him. This has been so in every age. The unreasonableness, faintheartedness, and faithlessness of men, the unchristlikeness of Christians, have been matter of experience. If our hearts were enlarged to plan and endeavour more generously for Christ’s cause, we should feel this a great trial. All large-hearted Christians have to encounter it. Let it be remembered that it is not peculiar to any age. The Apostle had full experience of it. "Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil. At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me." [2 Timothy 4:10-16] Let us be assured, that if Christ’s work is to be done, we must be prepared not only for the opposition of the world, but for the coldness and the disapprobation of many in the Church-of some whom we cordially believe to be, after all, heirs of the kingdom.

Timothy is to go to Philippi, and is to bring to Paul a full report. But, at the same time, the Apostle finds it necessary to send Epaphroditus, not, apparently, with a view to his returning to Rome again, but to resume his residence at Philippi. It seems, on all accounts, reasonable to believe that Epaphroditus belonged to the Philippian Church, and was in office there. In this case he is to be distinguished from Epaphras, [Colossians 4:12] with whom some would identify him, for no doubt Epaphras belonged to Colossae. Epaphroditus had come to Rome, bearing with him the gifts which assured Paul of the loving remembrance in which he was held at Philippi, and of the abiding desire to minister to him which was cherished there. His own Christian zeal led Epaphroditus to undertake the duty, and he had borne himself in it as became a warmhearted and public-spirited Christian. He had been Paul’s brother and fellow-workman and fellow-soldier. But, meanwhile, the Apostle was aware how valuable his presence might be felt to be at Philippi. And Epaphroditus himself had conceived a longing to see the old friends, and to resume the old activities in the Philippian Church. For he had been sick, very sick, almost dead. Amid the weakness and inactivity of convalescence, his thoughts had been much at Philippi, imagining how the brethren there might be moved at the tidings of his state, and yearning, perhaps, for the faces and the voices which he knew so well. Paul was accustomed to restrain and sacrifice his own feelings; but that did not make him inattentive to the feelings of other people. Trying as his position at Rome was, he would not keep Epaphroditus in these circumstances. He had had great comfort in his company, and would be glad to retain it. But he would be more glad to think of the joy at Philippi when Epaphroditus should return. So he gives back Epaphroditus. As he does so he admonishes his friends to value adequately what they are receiving. Paul was sending to them a true-hearted and large-hearted Christian; one who allowed nothing-neither difficulties nor risks-to stand in the way of Christian service and Christian sympathy. Let such men be had in reputation. It is a lawful and right thing to make a high estimate of Christian character where it eminently appears, and to honour such persons very highly in love. If they are not honoured and prized, it is too likely that others will be whom it is not so fit and so wholesome to admire. And the ground of admiration in the case of Epaphroditus sets once more before us the theme of the whole chapter. Epaphroditus was to be had in reputation because he had approved himself to be one seeking not his own, one willing to lay down his life for the brethren.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Philippians 2:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/philippians-2.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, November 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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