corner graphic   Hi,    
ver. 2.0.19.12.15
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to classic.studylight.org/

Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Philippians 4

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 2-7

Chapter 17

PEACE AND JOY.

Philippians 4:2-7 (R.V.)

DR. LIGHTFOOT has observed that the passages in the Acts of the Apostles which record the Macedonian experiences of Paul have a good deal to say about women. [Acts 16:1-40; Acts 17:1-34] They convey the impression that in Macedonia women had a position and exercised an influence, at least in religious matters, that was not usual in the Greek world. And he has appealed to the remains of ancient Macedonian inscriptions to support the general idea that exceptional respect was accorded to women in that country. Here, at any rate, we have two women of note in the Church at Philippi. They might, very likely, possess social standing and influence. They had been qualified to render, and in point of fact did render, important help in setting forward the cause of Christ in that city. We cannot doubt therefore that they were warm-hearted Christian women, who had deeply felt the power of the gospel, so that, like many of their sisters in later days, they gladly embarked in the service of it. In those days such service on the part of women implied no small effort of faith; and doubtless it had cost them something in the way of cross-bearing. But now, disagreements and estrangement had fallen out between them. Most likely the keen practical energies, which made them serviceable Christians, had brought about collision on some points in which their views differed. And then they had not managed the difference well. Self came in, and coloured and deepened it. Now, one may think, they were in danger of being always ready to differ, and to differ with mutual distrust and dislike.

People cannot always think alike, not even Christians who share the same service. But there is a Christian way of behaving about these inevitable divergences. And, in particular, in such cases we might be expected to show a superiority, in Christ our Lord, to minor differences, not allowing them to trouble the great agreement and the dear affection in which Christ has bound us. Whatever is to be said about a difference, as to its merits, the main thing that has to be said about it often is, "You should not have let it come between you. You should both of you have been big enough and strong enough in Christ, to know how to drop it and forget it. In making so much of it, in allowing it to make so much of itself, you have been children, and naughty children."

What this difference was we do not know; and it is of no consequence. Paul does not address himself to it. He holds both parties to be in the wrong now, and, for his purpose, equally in the wrong; and he addresses entreaty to both, in exactly the same terms, to agree in Christ and be done with it: no longer to allow this thing to mar their own edification and hinder the cause of Christ. Yet, while he is sure that this is the right way, he does not conceal from himself how difficult human nature finds it to come happily out of such a complication. So he appeals to some old comrade at Philippi, whom he calls his "genuine yokefellow," to lend a hand. A Christian bystander, a friend of both parties, might help them out of the difficulty. In this connection the apostle’s mind goes back to happy days of cordial effort at Philippi, in which these women, and the "yokefellow," and Clement, and others had all been at work, shoulder to shoulder, all rejoicing in the common salvation and the joint service.

In difficulties between Christians, as between other people, wise and loving friendship may perform the most important services. Selfishness shrinks from rendering these; and on the other hand, meddlesomeness, which is a form of egotism combined with coarseness, rushes in only to do harm. Wisdom is needed, mainly the wisdom which consists in loving thoughtfulness. The love which seeketh not her own, and is not easily provoked, is much called for in this ministry of reconciliation.

These good women had little idea, probably, that their names should come down the ages in connection with this disagreement of theirs; and they might have deprecated it if they had thought of it. But let them be remembered with all honour-two saints of God, who loved and laboured for Christ, who bore the cross, and each of whom was so important to the Church, that it was a matter of public interest to have this difficulty removed out of the way of both. As to it, we of later times have not succeeded in keeping Christian activity so free of personal misunderstandings as to be entitled on this account to assume any attitude of superiority. Let us think only with tenderness and affection of those venerable and beloved, those long-remembered mothers in Christ, Euodia and Syntyche.

The commentators have tried to divine something further about this "true yokefellow"; but with no success. As to Clement, some have been willing to identify him with the Clement known to have laboured in the first age at Rome, and who is reported to have been the writer of a. well-known Epistle from the Church at Rome to that at Corinth. He, again, has been by some identified with another Clement, also a Roman, a near relation of the Emperor Domitian, whom we have reason to believe to have been a Christian. Both identifications are probably mistaken; and the Clement now before us was no doubt resident at Philippi, and belonged to a somewhat earlier generation than his Roman namesake. The Roman world was full of Clements, and there is nothing surprising in meeting several Christians who bore the name.

With the "yokefellow" and with Clement, the Apostle recalls other "labourers" who belonged to the fellowship of those gospel days at Philippi. We are not to think that they were all gifted as teachers or preachers; but they were zealous Christians who helped as they could to gather and to confirm the Church. Paul will not give their names; but it must not be thought that the names have ceased to be dear and honourable to him. "They shall not be in my letter," he says, "but they are written in even a better place, in the book of life. They are precious, not to me only, but to my Master." Here, again, if any one had asked Paul how he ventured to speak with so much assurance of the condition of persons whose course was not yet ended, he would no doubt have replied, as in: Philippians 1:7 "It is meet for me to think thus of them, because I have them in my heart: because both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, they all are partakers with me of grace."

These personal references indicate that the main burden of the Apostle’s thought in the Epistle has been disposed of, and that it is drawing to a close. Yet he finds it natural to add some closing admonitions. They are brief and pithy; they do not seem to labour with the weight of thought and feeling which pours through the preceding chapter. Yet they are not quite fragmentary. A definite conception of the case to be provided for underlies them, and also a definite conception of the way in which its necessities are to be met.

He had been pouring out his soul on the subject of the true Christian life-the deep sources from which it springs, the great channels in which it runs, the magnificent conditions of Christ’s kingdom under which it becomes possible and is accomplished. But yet, another order of things crosses all this. It is the incessant detail of human life on earth, with its pettiness and superficiality, and yet with its inevitable hold upon us all. How much we are at the mercy of it! How hard to keep quite true to the grand music of the gospel we believe, amid the multifarious patter of the incidents of life, playing on the surface only, but on the sensitive surface of our being. The case of Euodia and Syntyche was but itself an illustration of the commonest kind, of the liability of believing lives to be swayed and marred in this way. For all these little things claim attention; they assume a magnitude that does not belong to them, and they take a place to which they have no right. Can anything be said to help us to some prevailing mood, in which we shall be likely to take the right attitude toward these elements of life, and, at the same time, to keep due touch with the springs of our spiritual welfare?

The Apostle reverts to the significant "goodbye" which was heard at the beginning of the third chapter. "Rejoice," "Be of good cheer," was the usual farewell salute. He had begun to use it in the third chapter, with an emphasis on the native signification of the word. Now he resumes it more emphatically still, for here he finds the keynote which he wants: "Rejoice in the Lord alway; again I will say it, Rejoice."

If joy be possible, it would seem to need no great persuasion to induce men to embrace it. But, as a matter of fact, Christians fail greatly here. In the Old Testament there are abundant exhortations to Israel to rejoice in the Lord: the Lord being Jehovah, without further distinction or limitation; and the ground of rejoicing being His revealed character, especially His mercy and His truth, and the fact that He is Israel’s God. Here the Lord is our Lord Jesus, in whom the Father is both known and found. Now, to rejoice in Him is, and should be recognised as being, for believers, the most direct inference from their faith. For if this Lord be what the believer holds Him to be, then there is more in Christ to make him glad, than there can be in anything whatever to make him sorry. This applies even to remembered sin; for where sin abounded, grace doth much more abound. If indeed the joy be really in the Lord, it will be found to agree well with humility and penitence, as well as with diligence and patience; for all these things, and whatever should accompany them, come naturally from faith in Christ. But not the less, joy should have its place and its exercise.

If one will think of it, it will be plain that rejoicing in the Lord just denotes this, viz., that the influence of the objects of faith has free play through the soul. It is well that faith should bring our intellective powers under its influence-that we should be brought to a vivid sense of the reality of Christ, and that our minds should work in reference to Him as they do in reference to things which are felt to be real, and which claim to be understood. That is well, even if, as yet, some malign force seems to impede cordial appreciation and personal fellowship. It is well, again, if Christ is felt drawing out personal trust, and with that, genuine affection, so that the heart beats with desire and admiration, even though for the present that can only be under the burden of a perplexed and sorrowful mind. But when the conviction makes way through all the soul, first that Christ is most real, and second that Christ is most good and desirable, and thirdly that Christ is for me, and when the soul surrenders thoroughly to it all, then gladness is the token that faith is playing through the human soul, throughout all its provinces. It is the flag hoisted to signify that Christ is believed and loved indeed. On the other hand, wrong is done to the Lord, and an evil report is brought up upon Him, when those who profess to believe in Him fail to rejoice in Him.

You well may rejoice in the Lord; you ought surely to do it. You ought to give yourselves time to think and feel so as to rejoice; you should be ashamed to fail to rejoice. You do not apprehend aright your position as a believer, you do not take the attitude that befits you, if the Lord believed in, though perhaps He makes you diligent, and patient, and penitent, and thankful, does not also make you heartily glad. Let the elements of this gladness come warm home to your heart and do their work. Then you will realise as, short of this, you never can, how the believer rises above the things that threaten to entangle him, and can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth him.

And, in particular, how influential this is to preserve men from being unduly moved and swayed by the passing things of time! These sway us by joy and grief, by hope and fear; and what an inordinate measure of those affections they do beget in us! but let the great joy of the Lord have its place, and then those lesser claimants will have to content themselves with smaller room. A great grief shuts out lesser griefs. When a woman has lost her son, will she grieve greatly for the loss of her purse? So a great joy keeps down the excess of lesser joys. A man that has just won the heart and hand of the woman he loves will not be greatly concerned about winning or losing at some game. He will be about equally glad either way. So he whose heart thrills with the joy of Christ will feel the pleasure and pain of earthly things; but they will not master him, nor run away with him.

According to the Apostle, a believer in the way of his duty, if he cherishes this joy, may ordinarily have a great deal of it. And, as it were, he urges us: "Now do not be moved away from it. Do not be so foolish. Various things will come, all sorts of things, claiming to preoccupy your mind, so that for the present this joy shall fall into the background. They claim it-and far too often they are allowed to succeed. Do not let them. ‘Rejoice in the Lord alway; again I will say, Rejoice.’"

Always: for many believers rejoice in the Lord sometimes; for example, in hours of undisturbed meditation. But when they go out into the stir of life, to meet experiences which neither greatly gratify nor greatly grieve them, then it seems fit that the new passion should have its turn, and the heart insists on this indulgence. So also when some great hope absorbs the mind, or some great anxiety weighs upon it, the soul seems fascinated with the coming good or ill, and hangs upon the prospect as if nothing else for the present could be minded. Now the Apostle does not say that insensibility is the duty of Christians in these circumstances. Indeed it is because these experiences do interest and impress, that they become an effective instrument of Divine training. But Christ is fit to be rejoiced in, right through all vicissitudes; and common experiences, duly dealt with, ought to throw into relief the reasons why He must still be cause of gladness, whatever may be felt about other things. This maintained joy of the Lord - a rejoicing faith, a rejoicing love, a rejoicing obedience-this is the temper in virtue of which all else of life will fall into its due place, and will assume its just proportion. "‘Though the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation." [Habakkuk 3:17-18]

So then, "Let your moderation (or forbearance) be known to all men." The word here used expresses a state of mind opposed to the eagerness that overrates the worth of our personal objects, and to the arrogance that insists on our own will about them. Some would render it "considerateness." It is a temper which dictates a gentle and forbearing way of dealing with men. This is the appropriate evidence that the impetuosity of the heart about earthly things has been assuaged by the unseen presence and the influence of Christ. Christ seen, felt, and rejoiced in, is the secret of this moderation. A great vision of faith, and that not a vision which is dreaded, but a vision which is loved, brings the movement of the soul into a happy order. Now, not only so: not only does the love of Christ, unseen and absent, work in this way; but Christ is coming and is near. The hopes connected with Him are soon to be realised, the gladness of fellowship with Him is soon to be complete. The Lord is at hand. "Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Stablish your hearts. The coming of the Lord draweth nigh." [James 5:7]

For believers, as we have already seen, the coming of the Lord is, according to the New Testament, the great hope. Then the joy in the Lord is to be complete and crowned. Those who apprehend that glad day as near are not supposed to be capable of yielding up their hearts to the uncontrolled sway of mere earthly interests.

Here, however, a question arises. Paul speaks of the day as near, and calls on his disciples to live under the influence of that belief. He does not merely say that it may be near, but that it is. Yet we now know that the day was then more than eighteen hundred years away. In the light of this fact one asks what we are to make of the statement before us, and what we are to make of the view of Christian life which the statement implies.

Our Lord expressly withheld from His disciples all definite statement of times and seasons in this connection. Yet the Early Church with one consent expected the Lord to come within comparatively few years (what are commonly called few), and language shaped itself in accordance with that impression. We have here, however, more than a mere mode of phrasing. The nearness of Christ is emphasised as the ground on which Christian experience ought to build. Was not this a mistake?

But one may ask in reply, Was it after all untrue that Christ’s coming was near then, or that it is near now? Even if anticipations in our own day which bring it within a generation are to fail again, as they have always done before, shall we think that the Lord is not near?

There is a nearness which pertains to all future events which are at once very great and important, and also are absolutely certain. Being so great, involving interests so great, and being contemplated in their inevitable certainty, such events can loom large upon the eye, and they can make their influence felt in the present, whatever tale of days may interpose before they actually arrive. If, for instance, one were told of a friend, whom he supposed he might meet at any time, "You shall certainly see him six months hence," the reply might be, "Six months! That is a long time to wait." But if he were told with infallible authority, "Six months hence you shall die," would he then say, "It is a long time"? Would he not feel that it was near? Would not an event so momentous as death, so inclusive of all interests and all issues, prove able to stretch, as it were, across six months, and to come into each day, as part of that day’s concern? So of the coming of Christ. It is the great event for the individual, the Church, the world. All issues run up to it; all developments are broken off by it; all earthly histories await its decision. To it all earthly movement tends; from it all that lies beyond is dated. It is the great gate of the world to come. Let us think what it means: and suppose that we could be assured that it is still ten thousand years away, shall we say, "How far off it is"? Not if we believe in its certainty, and realise what it means. If we do so our hearts will stir and thrill as we hearken how the surges of the eternal world are beating on the thin barrier of ten thousand years. Come when it may, it comes hasting to us, pressing before it all that lies between, big with the decisions and the fulfillments of Eternity. If we truly believe and rightly estimate it, we shall feel that it is near-even at the door. We shall be aware whenever we look forward that beyond all possible events of earthly history it rises high, catching and holding our gaze, and hurrying toward our individual selves not one whir the less because it aims at others too.

We are apt to ask why the words of warning and encouragement in reference to the future are not connected with the prospect of death, rather than with that of the Lord’s return; for death certainly is the topic generally selected for such purposes by moralists and preachers of more recent days. The answer may partly be, that the possibility and likelihood of the Lord’s return, even in the lifetime of themselves and their contemporaries, might render it more natural for the Apostles to fix all but exclusively on that. Yet this will not suffice. For nobody could overlook the fact that some believers were dying, and that death before the Lord’s return might well be the portion of more. Besides, in particular circumstances, death does come into view in a perfectly easy and natural way, as at Philippians 1:23; and the bearing of it on what lies nearer is considered. The true answer is that death is not the great expectation of the believer-not death, but victory over death, consummated and conclusively manifested when the Lord comes. This expectation is certainly associated with the solemn prospect of judgment; but not so as to quench the gladness of the hope for those who love the Lord and have trusted in Him. This is our expectation -" the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our hope." [1 Timothy 1:1] Death is a great event; but it is negative, privative, and, after all, provisional. True, it seals us up for the coming of the Lord, and so, in many respects, it may be, for many purposes, practically identified with that coming. The sermons which are preached upon it, commonly from Old Testament texts, are, no doubt, well grounded and edifying. But the New Testament, speaking to believers, all but constantly passes on to the day of the Lord as the true focus of the future; and it will be well for us to conform our thinking and our feeling to this model. No one can estimate, who has not made it matter of personal study, how large and how influential a place this topic takes in New Testament teaching.

Meanwhile, no doubt, the vicissitudes and the possibilities of earthly life press upon us. Now the Apostle provides a special additional relief for that. We are not merely prepossessed with a joy that should fortify us against undue disturbance from this source, but we have access in all things to the mind and heart of our Father. We can bring our thoughts and wishes about them all into contact with the deep, true thoughts and with the fatherly love of God. The incidents and the possibilities of life exercise us: they tend to become anxieties, keen and wearing; and anxieties are the materials of disturbance and temptation. "Be anxious about nothing; but in all things by prayer and supplication, with thankfulness, let your requests be made known unto God."

This is the practical way of getting continually to those springs of joy which comfort and establish the heart. The way to be anxious about nothing is to be prayerful about everything.

It is promised that when we pray in faith God hears us, and that he that asketh receiveth. However, this does not mean that whatever appears to us desirable shall certainly be brought to pass in answer to prayer. That would be to sacrifice our own welfare, and also the order of God’s world, to our shortsightedness and vanity. There is great reason to believe indeed that those who live by prayer find many a desire granted, and many a burden lifted, in token of God’s loving interest in them, and the heed He gives to their prayers. But we are not to start from a general principle that we are to get all our own way by praying. Two things we may fix upon: First, the absolute promises of the gospel, the blessings which pertain to eternal life, are given to us through prayer. "This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him." Secondly, concerning all other things we have access to God in prayer, as to One who grudges us no good thing; we are to express our anxieties and our desires, and to receive the assurance that they are lovingly considered by One who knows our frame and understands our troubles. Often the answer comes, even in small things. But, generally, we may in this point have an absolute assurance that we shall either have what we ask, or else something which God sees to be better for us than that.

It is this second article of the doctrine of prayer that is chiefly in view here. The prayer of faith must be a prayer of thanksgiving, because faith knows how much it owes to God. "Thou hast not dealt with us after our sins." At the same time it has supplications and requests, over and above the great petition for life eternal.

For our daily human experience is God’s providence to us. It exercises our thoughts and feelings, and sets a-going contemplations and desires, which may be short-sighted and erring, but, so far, they are the best that we can make of it; or, if not the best, they have the more need to be corrected. Here, then, we are encouraged to pour out our hearts to God. We are to do it with submission: that is one of the best parts of the privilege, for our Father knows best. At the same time, we are to do it with supplication; we not only may, but we should. Our desires should all be made known in this quarter; nowhere will they have a kindlier hearing. So, last of all, we come, not only touching eternal life, but touching each day’s concerns, into a blessed agreement with God our Father through Christ. It is agreed that He takes loving charge of our anxieties and desires, as One who would withhold no good from us; and it is agreed that we put unreserved confidence in Him, -in which confidence we say, "Abba, Father; not our will, but Thine be done."

The confidence we have that all this is most real and solid, and not merely a deceptive piece of religious acting, comes to us in the channel of the faith and experience which have been fulfilled in God’s children from the first; but it is most emphatically confirmed and made sure to us by Christ. He has taught us to pray. His is the religion in which men pray. Under His influence we come away from ceremonial utterances, and also from the despairing experiments of supplication with which, in other religions, men assail the heavens; and hand in hand with that loving Mediator, we pray. Prayer, when it is real, when it is "in the Holy Spirit," is a wonderfully simple and a wonderfully great thing.

So it comes to pass that the peace of God which passeth all understanding is found. For this great and deep agreement with God in Christ, about all things great and small, is the very entrance into the peace of God Himself, and is the participation of it. In this, as in other aspects, things are daily realised in the history of believers, that pass all understanding, because God in Christ is in the matter. The infinite and eternal life is wedding itself to us and our affairs. It may be understood, finally, that this peace, arising to Christians at the throne of grace, guards their minds and hearts. It guards them against being overcharged, outworn, surprised; it guards them against being carried captive by earthly care. Yet this peace does not disable them for earthly business. Rather, because their main interests are so secure, it gives them calmness and clearness; it supplies them a moral vantage ground from which to dispose of all earthly affairs.


Verse 8-9

Chapter 18

THE THINGS TO FIX UPON.

Philippians 4:8-9 (R.V.)

THE topics last considered bring us naturally to the remarkable exhortation of Philippians 4:8-9. This proceeds on the same view of the moral and spiritual situation, and completes what the Apostle has to say in reference to it.

If men are to live as citizens of a heavenly commonwealth, on great principles and to great ends, it is, as we have seen, a very practical question, What to do about the inevitable play and onset of this changing earthly life, which assails us with motives, and detains us upon interests, and inspires us with influences, of its own. These cannot be abjured: they are not easy to harmonise with the indications of that loftier and purer world; they are prone to usurp the whole heart, or at least a very undue share of it. This is the practical problem of every honest Christian. In reference to the solving of it the Apostle had suggested the place given to Christian joy; he had suggested also the place and power of prayer. These were indications as to the spirit and the method in which a believer might bring into play the resources of the Kingdom of Christ to control and subjugate those insubordinate forces. But might not all this seem to be too negative? Does it not speak too much of holding off and holding in? After all, do not all human experiences constitute the scene in which we are both formed and tried? What can we make of life unless we are interested in it? How otherwise can we even be religious in it? What is life if it is not a scene of inquiry and of search set in motion by the objects around us, a scene in which we like and dislike, hope and fear, desire and think? The answer is, Yes, we are to be keenly interested in the experiences of life, and in the possibilities it opens. Life is our way of existing; let existence be animated and intense. But while the aspects of it that are merely transient are to have their place, and may attract a lively interest, there are other aspects, other interests, other possibilities. All the transient interests have an outgate towards such as are eternal. Life is the experience of beings that have high capacities, and can rise to noble destinies. It is the experience of societies of such beings, who mould one another, exchanging influences continually. The changing experience of human life, when seen in the true light, is found to add to all its lower interests a play of interests that are more interesting as well as more worthy. It is iridescent with lights which it catches from the infinite and the eternal. Every step of it, every turn of it, asks questions, offers opportunities, calls for decisions, holds out treasures, which it is the business of a lifetime to recognise and to secure. It has gains, it has victories, it has accomplishments, it has glories, which need not lead us to deny its lower interests, but which we may reasonably feel to be far the higher. Endless shades, and forms and types of goodness, of being good, getting good, doing good, gleam reflected to us from the changing experience. Goodness is not one monotonous category embodied in some solemn phrase, and exhausted when that is learned. There is no end to the rich variety in which it is offered, and in which it is to be caught, understood, appropriated. And life, through all the manifoldness of its legitimate interests, and its illegitimate possibilities, is the scene in which all this passes before us, and asks to be made ours. The Apostle says to us, Think on these things. Take account, that is, of what they are, and what their worth is. Lay forth on these the care and pains which spent themselves before on mere pain and pleasure, loss and gain. Reckon what these are, search out their nature, prove their capabilities, appropriate and enjoy them. Think on these things. So earthly life, through all its busy processes, shall acquire a nobler interest; and it shall begin, at the same time, to minister with unexpected readiness to your true welfare. Enter then, or press on, in this wide field. Be this your passion and pursuit; that which unifies your life, and draws all its resources towards one result.

We may be helped to fix more firmly the point of view from which this striking catalogue of good things is drawn up, if we observe that the Apostle collects all these excellences under the notion of "a virtue and a praise." Let us consider how men are trained to progressive conceptions of virtue and praise. For virtue and praise, both name and notion, have had a large place in men’s minds and a great influence on their actions. How has this influence been sustained and made to grow?

Men are conscious of obligations; and they are aware, more dimly or more clearly, that the standard of those obligations must exist somehow above themselves. It is a standard not of their own creation, but such as claims them by an antecedent right. Yet if each individual could hold himself apart, forming his own conceptions of fit and right for himself without regard to others, the standard would tend downwards rapidly, because moral judgment would be warped by each man’s selfishness and passion, excusing evil in his own case and putting it for good. Even as it is, this has taken place only too widely. But yet the tendency is powerfully counteracted by the fact that men do not exist, nor form their notions, in that separate way. A principle within them prompts them to seek one another’s approbation, and to value one another’s good opinion. Indeed the consciousness that what is law for me is law for others, and that they are judging as well as I, is one of the forms in which we realise that duty descends upon us all, from some august and holy source.

This principle of regarding the judgment and seeking the approbation of others, has had an enormous effect on men and on society. For though men are skilful enough, in their own case, in averting or silencing the admonition of the monitor within, they have little reluctance to make full use of their sense of right in scrutinising one another. They judge, in their thoughts about each other, with far more clearness, shrewdness, and certainty than they do about themselves. Men do in this way make requirements of one another, which each of them might be slow to make from himself. This is a great operative force in all cases; and in those cases in which, in any society, vivid convictions about truth and duty have taken possession of some minds, the principle we are speaking of propagates an influence through the whole mass, with effects that are very striking.

This mutual criticism of men "accusing or else excusing one another," has had a great effect in sustaining what we call common morals. But especially let it be observed that this criticism, and the consciousness of it, stimulating the higher class of minds, sustain and develop the finer perceptions of morality. There are minds that eminently strive for distinction in things that are counted for a virtue and a praise. And through them is developed in the general mind the approving perception of more delicate shades of worthy conduct, which in a coarser age were unperceived or unheeded. These come up in men’s mutual judgments; they are scrutinised; they interest the mind and take hold of it. So, whether in the case of those who begin to pay respect to such forms of good because they perceive that others approve of them, or in the case of those who, when those forms of good are thus presented, perceive a worth in them and take a pride in living up to them for their own sake, -in both cases, the creating and sustaining of the higher standard depends on the principle we have now before us.

Thus there arises, for example, the code of honour, the fine perception of what is socially right, becoming, and graceful. Men, no doubt, are always to be found who cultivate the nicest sense of this, not from a mere desire that others should know it, but because they see it to be desirable in itself, and because they shun the sense of inward disgrace that follows when they fall below their own standard. Yet it is the process of mutual criticism which develops the consciousness, and it is this which, on the whole, sustains it.

Thus we find in the world not merely a sense of duty, but something that has spurred men on to things counted for a virtue and a praise. Outside of all Christian influences, wonderful examples are found of self-sacrificing devotion to the noble and the true. Men have eagerly pursued the nicest discriminations of duty and honour, that they might be, and might show themselves to be, accomplished, finished, not merely in some things, but in whatever things were counted to be the proper tokens of a noble mind.

Well now, the Apostle is not shutting out from his plan of mental life the attainments made in this way in the true or the good, even apart from Christian teaching. Far less is he excluding the human social method, in which mind whets mind, and one stirs another to discern and appropriate what is for a virtue and for a praise. He supposes this mode of influence to go on in Christianity more successfully than ever. And he is not at all excluding the natural life of men; for that is the scene, and that yields the materials, for the whole process. But he does suppose that now all old attainment shall be set in a new light, and acquire a new life and grace, and that new attainment shall come wonderfully into view by reason of the new element which for us has entered into the situation. And what is this element? Is it that we recognise around us a society of Christians with whom we share a higher standard, and with whom we can give and take the contagion of a nobler conception of life? Yes, no doubt; but far before that, the great new element in the situation is the Lord-in whom we trust and rejoice.

It is always human duty to have regard to the will of God, however it may reach us. But when you are called to know the Lord and to rejoice in Him, when He vouchsafes Himself to be yours, when you begin to enjoy His peace, and to walk with Him in love, and to have it for your hope to be with Him for ever, then you are placed in a new relation to Him. And it is such a near and dear relation on both sides that much may be expected from you in it. If this be so, you are now dealing with Him always; not merely in direct acts of worship, but in your thoughts, your feelings, your words, your business, your common intercourse with men, and all your daily life, you walk with Him. You cannot repudiate having so much to do with Him, unless you will repudiate your Christianity.

Then, if so, something new is expected. A new test of the becoming, of that which is for a virtue and for a praise, has come into operation, and has become intelligible to you; and it is a test of new delicacy and new force. It is expected we should recognise it. Not now the mutual judgments merely of erring men, but His mind and His will, what He delights in and approves, - this begins to solicit us and press upon us, for we walk with Christ. That this "walk" of ours may escape being mean, coarse, offensive, we have great lessons to learn. We have to learn what, in His judgment, as seen by His eye, as tried by the sensibilities of His heart, are the things that are true and venerable and just, what with Him counts for a virtue and a praise.

And here, indeed, is our crown. The crown of honour which man cast away when sin gained him, was the approbation of the Lord. But now we are set on afresh to seek it, testing our ways by the perception of that which He approves; or, on the other hand, what He counts to be mean and degrading, fit to be recoiled from and rejected. It is our calling (whatever our attainment may be) to be more sensitive to the nicest touches of truth and honour towards our Lord than ever we were towards men. And this does not apply only to some narrow field of life. It goes through all relations, up to God and Christ, and out through all duties and ties. The great calling reaches wide and far; it is very high and noble: we cannot pretend to disclaim it, unless we disclaim the Lord. This way lies God’s crown. Win it; wear it; let no man take thy crown.

When our Lord’s mind and heart are said to be the test, this does not exclude our profiting by our fellows, accepting the admonition contained in human judgments, and especially in those of Christian people. Great good comes to us in such channels. Only now the judgment of our fellows is to refer itself always to a further standard; and a new Presence brings new tenderness and grace, new depth and significance, to every suggestion of right feeling and worthy life. This is the light and this the influence under which we are to learn what shall be counted for a virtue and for a praise. And we must bend our mind to think upon it, if we are to learn our lesson.

We must think upon it. For, on the one hand, it is not "some things," but "whatsoever things." What should we say of a man who proposed in his dealings with others to do "some things" that are honourable, but not all things, not "whatsoever things"? And, on the other hand, we may be further off from even a small measure of attainment in this field than we are disposed to think. Christians who, as to all social excellence, as that is commonly understood between man and man, are unexceptionable, may be sadly blind to the requirements of an honourable walk with God; may be sadly wanting even in the conception of what is due in all love and honour to Christ, and to men for His sake. Men may be the soul of honour and delicacy in their ways, judged from the world’s point of view; yet not far from a savage coarseness in the manner of their life, judged by Christ’s standard. We would not needlessly wound another’s feelings; but with what indifference have we "grieved the Spirit." We would shrink from saying anything to our fellows that is deceitful and hypocritical: can we say as much for our prayers? In our common life we maintain truth in the ordinary sense between men; but do we loyally express and act out the truth by which God’s children live in our speech and action among men? Is there that fine congruity of our bearing to the truth we live by, which becomes a child of God?

We are greatly hindered here by the assumption we make, that when we have mastered the form of knowledge concerning the will of God, we then know all about our calling. It is a great delusion. We must not only sit down at the feet of Christ to learn from Him; but also, with a watchful eye on the phases of life, catching the lessons which things and men afford, we must be trained to know and sharpened to loving discernment as to our Master’s mind, and so, as to what is honourable and right-minded, refined and noble, in a walk with God. We do not easily emerge from the meanness of our spirits; we do not easily shake off that insensibility to what is spiritually fair and fit, on which the angels look down with pity and wonder.

Therefore, says the Apostle, think on these things, the things, which in the Lord’s kingdom and under the Lord’s eye are well-pleasing, and count for a virtue and a praise; think on those things which are related to His esteem, and to the esteem of persons who learn of Him, as various excellences are to the common judgment of the world. Do so, for here you are close to the genuinely and supremely true and good; and this, as was said before, is your crown.

The Apostle is thinking of a perception of duty and privilege attained not merely by studying a catalogue of virtues, but by a far finer and more living process-by life that is instinct with observant watchfulness, that is frank in self-criticism, that is recipient of the light flashing from the experience and the censure of others: all this under constant regard to the Lord, and leading us into fuller sympathy with Him.

That this is so appears from the Apostle’s way of arranging the particulars of his exhortation. He does not merely desire his disciples to discern what is right in general: but he would have them grow into a vital knowledge, so as to feel the right in those matters where the shading becomes delicate; where it may be difficult to distinguish argumentatively an absolute right and wrong, but where a mind purged and trained in the Master’s school can well discern a difference. "Whatsoever things are true"-which includes not only veracity and fidelity, but also whatever in conduct and temper God’s truth requires as agreeable to itself; and then "Whatsoever things are venerable"-the character that emerges when all that is congruous to truth, in its finest filaments and ramifications, has been developed, and has assumed its own place. "Whatsoever things are just"-rightfully due on all hands to God and to man; and then "Whatsoever things are pure"-the character that recoils from all that sullies, from the smallest shade or infection of iniquity. "Whatsoever things are lovely"-the dear or amiable, whatever draws out love, cherishes it, befits it; and then "Whatsoever things are of good report"-actions that can hardly be more discriminatingly classified than by saying that the heart is pleased to hear of them; it confesses that they are of a good name, of a welcome sound; they are like some delicate sound or odour on which you dwell with delight, but cannot definitely describe it. In a word, "If there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." Study them, look out for them, learn to recognise them, to know their worth, to pursue them lovingly through all their manifestations.

Thus, let it be said once more, the Apostle is not open to the objection that he calls us to a mere retreat from energetic life. To such a call men have always replied that they find in themselves capacities wonderfully adapted to grapple with life, and to do so with interest and with energy. Virtually the Apostle says, Yes, true; and life has aspects to interest the mind, and results to engage the will, which are its noble and its imperative possibilities: for the followers of Christ these become dominant; they afford noble scope for all human faculty; and all forms of life are dignified as they become subservient to these supreme interests and aims. Now, lay forth the care and pains that fastened before on mere joy and sorrow, hope and fear, on a certain thinking and making account of the true, the venerable, the just, the pure, the lovely, that which is of good report. Reckon what they are; search out their nature; make them your serious object. "O man of God, flee those things; but follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness."

But progress is not to be made in this line by mere subtle refining and contemplation. If there was any danger that the Apostle’s call to "think" might be interpreted that way, presently it is corrected. The thinking is to be practical thinking, bending itself to action. "What things ye have received and learned"-those practical points in which the Apostle always taught his Gentile converts to put to proof the grace of Christ; and "What ye have heard and seen in me"-in a man poor, tried, persecuted, a man whose life was rough and real, who knew weakness and sorrow, who bore heavy burdens, that were not proudly paraded, but which brought him lowly and weary to Christ’s feet, -these things do. That is the road to the attainments on which I bid you think.

"And the God of peace shall be with you." In those ways (for they are His own ways) God walks with men; and peace with God, spreading out into peace with men, becomes the atmosphere in which such wayfarers move.


Verses 10-23

Chapter 19

GIFTS AND SACRIFICES.

Philippians 4:10-23 (R.V).

THE Apostle had urged joy. in the Lord, and a moderation visible to all men. If any one supposes that in doing so he recommended a stoical temper, insensible to the impressions of passing things, the passage which now comes before us will correct that error. It shows us how the Apostle could "rejoice in the Lord," and yet reap great satisfaction from providential incidents. "I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your thought for me," or, as In the older version, "that your care for me has flourished again."

Worldly eagerness, and worldly care and anxiety about persons and things, are rebuked by the spirit of rejoicing in the Lord. But the persons and the things about us all have a connection with the Lord, if we have eyes to see it, and hearts to mark it; and that is the chief thing about them. They are in the Lord’s world, the Lord calls us to have to do with them: as for the persons, they are, some of them, the Lord’s servants, and all of them the Lord calls us to love and to benefit; as for the things, the Lord appoints our lot among them, and they are full of a meaning which He puts into them. So regard to the Lord and a spirit of rejoicing in Him may pervade our earthly life. The worldly eagerness and worldly care must be controlled. There is no avoiding that conflict. But now-shall we in faith give ourselves to learn the true rejoicing in the Lord? If not, our Christianity must be at best low and comfortless. But if we do, we shall be rewarded by a growing liberty. The more that joy possesses us, the more will it give occasion to the finest and freest play of feeling in reference to passing things; and some of these which, on other accounts, might seem insignificant, will begin to yield us an abounding consolation.

These Philippians, who had given early proof of attachment to the gospel, had lately, for some reason or other, been unable, "lacked opportunity," to minister to the wants of Paul. Now the winter, whatever it was, that hindered the expression of their good will was gone, and their care of Paul flourished again. Did the Apostle think it needful to freeze up. the feelings of satisfaction which this incident awakened? No: but in his case those feelings, having spiritual elevation, became so much the more deep and glad. He rejoiced greatly in this; and still, he was rejoicing in the Lord. Let us mark how this comes out both when we consider what was not the spring of his gladness, and what it was.

"Not that I speak in respect of want." It was not the change from want to comparative plenty that explained the nature of his feelings. Yet he evidently implies that he had been in want, strange as that may seem in a city where there was a Christian congregation. But though the removal of that pressure would no doubt be thankfully taken, yet for a man whose gladness was in the Lord no mere change of that kind would lead to "rejoicing greatly." "I speak not in respect of want: I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know also how to abound: in everything and in all things have I learned the secret (have been initiated) both to be filled and to be hungry, both to abound and to be in want. I can do all things through Him that strengtheneth me."

"Therewith to be content." Paul had learned to be so minded that, in trying circumstances, he did not anxiously cast about for help, but was sufficed: his desires were brought down to the facts of his condition. In that state he counted himself to have enough. He knew how to suit himself to abasement, that common experience of the indigent and friendless and he knew how to suit himself to abundance, when that was sent: each as a familiar state in which he made himself at home-not overgrieved or overjoyed, not greatly elevated or greatly depressed. "‘I have been instructed," or initiated (the word used by the heathen of introduction to the mysteries), "not only into the experience of those conditions, but into the way of taking kindly with them both." Mark how his words follow one another: "I have learned"-been put through a course of teaching and have had a teacher; "I know"-it has become familiar to me, I understand it; "I am initiated"-if there is a secret in it, something hidden from the natural man, I have been led into that, out and in, through and through.

If we would know by what discipline the Lord trained Paul to this mind, we may listen to what Paul himself says of it: [1 Corinthians 4:9-13] "I think God hath set forth us the apostles last of all, as men doomed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world. Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place; and we toil, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat: we are made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things, unto this day." {see also 2 Corinthians 6:4; 2 Corinthians 11:23} If, again, we would know the manner of his training in such experiences, take: 2 Corinthians 12:8-9 "Concerning this thing I besought thrice that it might depart from me. And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee; for My strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities." Also how his faith wrought and gathered strength in all these, we may see from: Romans 8:24-28 "We are saved by hope. If we hope for that which we see not, then do we with patience wait for it. Also the Spirit helpeth our infirmity: for we know not how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit Himself maketh intercession for us…And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God." So "being strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, to all patience and long suffering with joyfulness," [Colossians 1:11] he was able to say, I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." This was the course, and this the fruit, of Paul’s biography. But each Christian has his own life, the tenor and the upshot of which should not be wholly estranged from Paul’s. Now what it was that did move him so to rejoice is explained when he speaks of the Philippians "holding fellowship, with his affliction"; and, again, when he says, I desire fruit that may abound to your account." He saw in their succour the blessed unity of Christ’s living Church, the members having mutual interest, so that if one suffers all suffer, The Philippians claimed a right to take part as fellow-members in the Apostle’s state and wants, and to communicate with his affliction. And this was only a continuation of their former practice in the beginning of the gospel. This, as a fruit of Christ’s work and of the presence of His Spirit, refreshed the Apostle. It was a manifestation in the sphere of temporal things of the working of a high principle, communion with the common Lord. And it betokened the progress of the work of grace, in that the Philippians were not weary in well doing. So it was fruit that abounded to their account. It may be noticed that the directness and frankness of the Apostle’s speech to the Philippians on these matters convey a testimony to the generous Christian feeling which prevailed among them. He speaks as one who feared no misconstruction. He does not fear that they will either mistake his meaning or do wrong to his motives; as he, on the other side, puts no other than a loving construction upon their action. He could not so trust all the Churches. In some there was so little of large Christian sympathy that a complaining tone in such matters was forced on him. But in the case of the Philippians he has no difficulty in interpreting their gift simply as embodying their earnest claim to be counted "partakers of the benefit," and therefore entitled to bear the burdens and alleviate the sufferings of Paul.

Gladly he admits and welcomes this claim. It is worth observing that the way of giving vent to Christian feeling here exemplified was apparent at Philippi from the very first. Not only did it appear when Paul departed from Macedonia (Philippians 4:15); but, before that, the earliest convert, Lydia, struck the keynote, -"If ye judge me faithful in the Lord, come into my house." [Acts 16:15] Both in individuals and in Churches, the style of feeling and action embraced at the outset of Christianity, under the first impressions, often continues to prevail long after.

Now, in virtue of this liberality, Paul had all and abounded. He had desired to see the old spirit flourish again, and he had his wish. "I have all: I feel greatly enriched since I received the things sent by Epaphroditus." What gladdened him was not the outward comfort which these gifts supplied, but much more, the spiritual meaning they carried in their bosom. Let us see how he reads that meaning.

This gift comes to him. As it comes, what is it? From its destination and its motives it takes on a blessed character. It is "an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing unto God." This was what came to the Apostle: something that was in a peculiar manner God’s own, something which He regarded, set value on, and counted precious. Further, it turned out to be something in connection with which the assurance ought to go forth, "My God shall fulfil every need of yours." They had ministered to Paul’s need, in faith, love, thankfulness, and loyal care of Christ’s servant. Christ counted it done to Him: as such He would surely repay it, supplying their need with that considerate liberality which it becomes Him to exhibit. Observe, then, the position in which the Apostle finds himself. He is himself the object of Christian kindness; affections wrought in the Philippians by the Holy Ghost are clinging to him and caring for him. He is also one so linked with God’s great cause that offerings sent to him, in the spirit described, become an "odour of a sweet smell, an acceptable sacrifice to the Lord." Also this supply of his need is so directly a service done to Christ, that when it is done, God, as it were, stands forth directly on His servant’s behalf: He will repay it, supplying the need of those who supplied His servant. Poor though Paul may be, and sometimes sad, yet see how the resources of God must be pledged to requite the kindness done to him. All this made him very glad. His heart warmed under it. What a blessed, happy, secure, and, looking forward, what a hopeful state was his! This came home to him all at once with the Philippians’ gift. No wonder that he says, "I have all and abound."

If any one chooses to say that all this was true about the Apostle, and he might have known it, apart from the gift, and even if it had never come, that may be a kind of truth, but it signifies exactly nothing to the purpose. It is one thing to have a doctrine which one knows: it is another thing to have the Holy Spirit setting it home with a warmth and glory that fills the man with joy. The spirit of God may do this without means, but often He uses means, and, indeed, what we esteem little means; by little things carrying home great impressions, as out of the mouths of babes and sucklings He perfects praise. When a child of God is cast down, no one can tell out of how small a thing the Spirit of God may cause to arise a peace that passeth all understanding.

Christianity confers great weight and dignity on little things. This gift, not in itself very great, passing between Christians at Philippi and an Apostle imprisoned at Rome, belongs after all to an unearthly sphere. Paul sees its connection with all spiritual things, and with the heavenly places where Christ is. And it comes to him carrying a rich meaning, preaching everlasting consolation and good hope through grace.

Mark, again, the illustration of the truth that the members have need of one another, and are compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part. The strong may benefit by the weak, as well as the weak by the strong. This Apostle, who could do all things through Christ who strengthens him, might be very far more advanced as a Christian than any one in Philippi. Possibly there was nothing any of them could say, no advice they could tender to him in words, that would have been of material benefit to the Apostle. But that which, following the impulse of their faith and love, they did, was of material benefit. It filled his heart with a joyful sense of the relation in which he stood to them, to Christ, to God. It welled up for him like a water-spring in a dry land. No one can tell how it may have conduced to enable him to go forward with more liberty and power, testifying in Rome the gospel of God.

Nor must we omit the comfort to all who serve God in their generation arising from the view which the Apostle is here led to take. There may be trials from without and trials from within. Still God careth for His servant. God will provide for him out of that which is peculiarly His own. God so identifies him with Himself, that He must needs requite all who befriend him out of His own riches in glory.

So far for the bearing of the case on Paul. We have still to look a little into the view given of this Philippian gift on its own account. It is emphatically called a sweet savour, an offering acceptable and well-pleasing to God. We have seen already [Philippians 2:17] that believers are called upon to offer themselves as a sacrifice; and now we see also that their obedience, or that which they do for Christ’s sake, is reckoned as an offering to God. So it is said [Hebrews 13:16] "to do good and to communicate forget not, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased." It need hardly be said they are not sacrifices to atone for sin. But they are offerings accepted by God, at His altar, from His children’s hands. They suitably express both the gratitude of believers to God, and the sincerity of their Christianity in general. God grants us this way of expressing the earnestness of our regard to Him: and He expects that we shall gladly avail ourselves of it; our obedience is to assume the character of a glad and willing offering. The expressions used by the Apostle here assure us that there is a Divine complacency in the manifestation of this spirit on the part of God’s children. The heart of Him who has revealed Himself in Christ, of Him who rested and was refreshed on the seventh day over His good and fair works, counts for a sweet savour, acceptable and well-pleasing, the works of faith and love willingly done for His name’s sake.

In this connection it is fit we should remember that the view we take of money, and the use we make of it, are referred to with extraordinary frequency in the New Testament, as a decisive test of Christian sincerity. This feature of Bible teaching is very faintly realised by many.

The other point noteworthy in relation to this Philippian gift is the assurance that it shall be recompensed. God will not be unfaithful to reward their work and labour of love, in that they have ministered to His servant.

We are not to shrink from the doctrine of reward because it has been perverted. It is true the good works of a Christian cannot be the foundation of his title to life eternal. They proceed from the grace of God; they are imperfect and mixed at their best. Yet they are precious fruits of Christ’s death, and of God’s grace, arising through the faith and love of souls renewed and liberated. When a penitent and believing man is found devoting to God what he is and has, doing so freely and lovingly, that is a blessed thing. God sets value on it. It is accepted as fruit which the man brings, as the offering which he yields. The heart of Christ rejoices over it. Now it is fit that the value set on this fruit should be shown, and the way God takes to show it is to reward the service. Such a man "shall in no wise lose his reward." God orders the administration of His mercy so that it really comes in a way of recompense for works Of faith and labours of love.

This may well convince us that the kindness of our Father is measureless. He omits nothing that can win His children’s love, and bind them to Himself. Might not those servants who have gone furthest and done most, feel it almost a bitter thing to hear reward spoken of? For if their service could be far more worthy, it could not amount to an adequate expression of gratitude for all their Father has done for them. Yet He will certainly reward. Cups of cold water given to disciples shall have remembrance made of them, by Him who reckons all those gifts to be bestowed upon Himself. Every way God overwhelms His children with His goodness. There is no dealing with this God, otherwise than by confessing that every way we are debtors. It is vain to think of paying the debt, or relieving oneself of any of the weight of obligation. Only we may with all our hearts give glory to Him to whom we owe all.

Accordingly the Apostle closes in a doxology: "Now unto our God and Father be glory for ever."

Among the salutations with which the Epistle winds up, every one must be struck with that which goes in the name of "those of Caesar’s household." Bishop Lightfoot has annexed to his Commentary an essay on this topic, which collects, with his usual skill, the available information. It was remarked in connection with Philippians 1:12, that Caesar’s household was an immense establishment, comprehending thousands of persons, employed in all sorts of functions, and composed chiefly, either of slaves, or of those who had emerged from slavery into the condition of freedmen. Indications have been gathered from ancient mortuary inscriptions tending to show that a notable proportion of Christians, whose names are preserved in this way, had probably been connected with the household. At the end of the first century, a whole branch of the Flavian imperial family became Christian; and it is possible, as indicated in an earlier page, that they may have done so under the influence of Christian servants. This, however, fell later. The Apostle wrote in Nero’s days. It is certain that at this time singularly profligate persons exercised great sway in the household. It is also certain that powerful Jewish influences had got a footing; and these would in all likelihood act against the gospel. Yet there were also Christian brethren. We may believe that Paul’s own work had operated notably to produce this result. [Philippians 1:12] At all events, there they were. Amid all that was vile and unscrupulous, the word of God had its course; men were converted and were sanctified by the washing of water by the word. Then, as now, the Lord gathered His elect from unlikely quarters: how secure soever the strong man’s goods seemed to be, his defences went down before the might of a stronger than he. Probably the Christians in the household belonged chiefly or exclusively to the lower grades of the service, and might be partly protected by their obscurity. Yet surely entanglements and perplexities, fears and sorrows, must often have been the portion of the saints of Nero’s household. Out of all these the Lord delivered them. This glimpse lets us see the process going on which by-and-by made so strange a revolution in the heathen world. It reminds us also for what peculiarities of trial God’s grace has been found sufficient.

"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit." This is the parting benediction; certainly an appropriate one, for the whole Epistle breathes the same atmosphere. The Epistle would not fail of its effect, if their spirit retained the consciousness of the grace of Christ; if throughout their life they owned its sway, and felt its attraction, its charm, its power to elevate and purify and comfort.

In following the course of thought and feeling which this letter embodies, we have seen the Apostle touch various topics. They rise into view as pastoral care, or friendly feeling, as outward circumstances suggest them. The demands of Christian friendship, the responsibilities of the Christian ministry, the trials of Christian endurance; what is due from an apostle, or from a Church member; how life and death are to be confronted; what is to be done about dangers and faults; how pride and self-will are to be judged and remedied; how the narrow heart is to be rebuked and enlarged; how the life of a disciple is to become luminous and edifying, -in reference to all, and all alike, he speaks from the same central position, and with the same fulness of resource. In Christ revealed, in Christ received and known, he finds the light and the strength and the salve which every case requires. Each new demand unlocks new resources, new conceptions of goodness and of victory.

So, in one great passage, in the third chapter, catching fire, as it were, from the scorn with which a religion of externals fills him, he breaks forth into a magnificent proclamation of the true Christianity. He celebrates its reality and intensity as life in Christ-Christ known, found, gained-Christ in the righteousness of faith and in the power of resurrection. He depicts vividly the aspiration and endeavour of that life as it continually presses onward from faith to experience and achievement, as it verifies relations to a world unseen, and looks and hastes towards a world to come. Then the wave of thought and feeling subsides; but its force is felt in the last wavelets of loving counsel that ripple to the shore.

One feels that for Paul, who was rich in doctrine, doctrine is after all but the measure of mighty forces which are alive in his own experience. No doctrine, not one, is for the intellect alone: all go out into heart and conscience and life. More than this: he lets us see that, for Christians, Christ Himself is the great abiding means of grace. He is not only the pledge and guarantee that holiness shall be reached: He is Himself our way of reaching it. He is so for the Christian societies, as well as for the individual Christian soul.

One cannot but wonder sometimes in reading Paul’s Epistles what manner of congregations they were to whom such remarkable letters were sent. Did they understand the deeper and loftier passages? Were Paul and they on common ground? But the answer may be, that whatever they failed to attain, they at least apprehended a new world created for them by the interposition of Christ-new horizons, new possibilities, new hopes and fears, new motives, new consolations, new friendships, and a new destiny. The grace of Christ has made all new-in which process they themselves were new. The "spirit" had become like a lyre new-strung to render new harmonies. And the great thoughts of the Apostle, if not always grasped or followed, yet made every string vibrate-so much on his part and so much on theirs being sensitive to the grace of our Lord Jesus.

Ere long they all passed away: Paul beheaded at Rome, as the story goes; the Philippian converts dying out; and the world changing in manners, thought, and speech, in all directions. But the message entrusted to Paul lives still, and awakens the same response in the hearts of Christians to-day as it did among the Philippians when first read among them. It still assures us that the highest thing in life has been found, -that it meets us in Him who came among us meek, and having salvation.

 


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

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

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, December 15th, 2019
the Third Week of Advent
ADVERTISEMENT
Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
ADVERTISEMENT
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology