An Expository Outline by Hamilton Smith.
The study of the different epistles shows that each has been written with a special purpose, so that God, in His wisdom and goodness, has made full provision for the establishment of the believer in the truth, as well as for his guidance in all circumstances, and in every age.
In the Epistle to the Romans we have truths that establish the believer in the great foundations of the gospel. The Epistles to the Corinthians instruct us in church order. The Epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians present the counsels of God, and the doctrines concerning Christ and the church.
In the Epistle to the Philippians we have little or no formal unfolding of doctrine, but a beautiful presentation of true Christian experience. Believers are viewed, not as seated together in heavenly places in Christ, as in Ephesians, but as journeying through the world, forgetting the things that are behind, and pressing on to Christ Jesus in the glory. It gives us the experience of one who takes this journey in the power supplied by the Spirit of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:19). It is not, be it noted, necessarily the experience of Christians that is passed before us, for this, alas! we know may fall far short of true Christian experience. Nonetheless, it is experience that is not confined to an apostle, but is possible for any believer in the power of the Spirit. It may be for this reason that the Apostle does not speak of himself as an apostle, but writes as a servant of Jesus Christ.
The epistle was called forth by the fellowship these Philippian saints had with the Apostle, manifested at that time by the gift they had sent to help in meeting his necessities. This practical fellowship with the Apostle when in bonds was to him evidence of a good spiritual state, for there were those who had forsaken him, and turned from him when in prison.
(Vv. 3-6). This happy spiritual condition drew forth the Apostle's praise and prayer on their behalf. We may be able to thank God for one another as we recall the grace of God manifested on particular occasions; but, of these saints, the Apostle could say, "I thank my God upon every remembrance of you." Moreover, we may pray for one another, though, at times, it may be with sorrow of heart on account of failure and poor walk; but of these saints the Apostle could make "request with joy."
Furthermore, the spiritual condition of these saints gave the Apostle great confidence that He which had begun a good work in them would perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. Thus, as they had shown their devotedness by their fellowship with the Apostle from the first day until that moment, so he was confident they would be sustained in the same grace in their onward journey until the day of Jesus Christ.
(Vv. 7, 8). Moreover, the Apostle felt justified in this confidence inasmuch as it was clear that they had the Apostle in their hearts ("Ye have me in your hearts" is the correct translation). This was proved by the fact that they were not ashamed to be associated with the Apostle in his bonds, and in his defence of the gospel. Having fellowship with him in his trials, they would also partake of the special grace ministered to him. This love was mutual; for if they had the Apostle in their hearts, he, on his side, longed after them all in the bowels of Jesus Christ. It was not simply a human love that responds to kindness, but divine love — the yearning love of Jesus Christ.
(Vv. 9-11). In praying for them, the Apostle desires that this love that had been so blessedly manifested to him might abound yet more and more, showing itself in knowledge and all intelligence: for, be it remembered, that, in divine things, spiritual intelligence springs from love. The heart that is attached to Christ is the one that will learn the mind of Christ — not simply a knowledge of the letter of Scripture, but intelligence as to its spiritual meaning. With this divinely given intelligence we shall be able to approve things that are excellent. It is comparatively easy to condemn things that are wrong. In a great measure this is possible for the natural man, but to discern and approve things that are morally excellent requires spiritual discernment. The more we are attached in love to Christ the greater will be the spiritual intelligence that will enable us to do the right thing, in the right way, at the right moment, in all circumstances. Approving things that are excellent, and acting with a pure motive, we shall give no ground for offence, "neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God" (1 Cor. 10:32). We should thus be kept without offence until the day of Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, as with the saints at Philippi, we should not only be kept from falling, and thus giving offence, but we should bring forth fruit by Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God. We know that it is only as we abide in Christ that we shall bring forth fruit by manifesting the beautiful qualities seen in Christ as Man; and if we bring forth fruit, it will be for the glory of the Father, and testimony to men that we are the disciples of Christ (John 15:4-8).
(Vv. 12-14). The Apostle then alludes to the special circumstances that he had to face, which might be thought such a hindrance to the spread of the gospel, and so depressing for him. However, Paul views every circumstance in connection with Christ. He was in the loneliness of a prison, and apparently all opportunity for preaching the gospel was at an end, and his public service over. But he would have the saints to know that these apparently untoward circumstances had turned out for his own blessing and the furtherance of the gospel. As regards himself, so far from being depressed by his bonds, he can rejoice, for it was manifest that his bonds were in Christ. He was not cast down by any thought that he was imprisoned for any wrong that he had done, but rejoiced that he was counted worthy to suffer for Christ's sake.
In reference to the gospel, his bonds had become an occasion for reaching men in the highest quarters, even as the saints knew that when with them at Philippi, he could sing praise when cast into the inner prison, and that then his bonds became the occasion for reaching a sinner in the lowest social scale. The stocks, the dungeon, and the midnight darkness, all turned to the furtherance of the gospel.
Furthermore, the opposition of the world to Christ and the gospel, shown by the imprisonment of the Apostle to the Gentiles, had become the occasion for stirring up some, who naturally might have been timid, to come forward and boldly proclaim the word of God without fear.
(Vv. 15-18). Alas! there were some who were preaching with an impure motive. Moved by envy, and with a malicious desire to add tribulation to the Apostle, such took occasion of his imprisonment to seek to exalt themselves by preaching the gospel. Having Christ before him, and not thinking of himself, he could rejoice that Christ was preached. The impure motives, the faulty manner, and fleshly methods that might be employed by the preacher, he could leave the Lord to deal with in His own time and way; but in that Christ was preached, he could rejoice.
(V. 19). The Apostle could rejoice, for he knew that the preaching of Christ, whether by himself, by true brethren, or by those who preached with an impure motive, together with the prayers of the saints and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, would turn to his complete and final deliverance from all the power of Satan. Let us remember that, however great our need, there is with the Holy Spirit an ample and unfailing "supply" to meet the need. If drawing upon this supply, we shall find that the rage of men, the envy of those who preach with a wrong motive, the opposition of adversaries, and the enmity of Satan, will have no power over us.
(V. 20). The Apostle clearly shows the character of the salvation that he had before him. Obviously he is not thinking of the salvation of the soul that entirely depends on the work of Christ. That was for ever settled for him, and in no wise depended upon anything that he could do, nor upon the prayers of the saints; nor even, we may add, upon the present supply of the Spirit. Furthermore, Paul is not thinking of being delivered from prison, and in that sense being delivered from trying circumstances. The salvation that he has before him is surely the complete deliverance from everything, in life or death, that would hinder Christ from being magnified in his body. Christ filled the Apostle's heart, and his earnest expectation and hope was that he would be preserved from anything that would make him ashamed of confessing Christ, and that with all boldness he might witness to Christ, so that, whether by life or death, he would glorify Christ.
(V. 21). This leads the Apostle to state that Christ was the one Object before him, the spring and motive of all that he did, so that he can say, "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain." In this verse the whole of our passage through this world is summed up by the contrasted words "to live" and "to die." With Paul it is so blessed to see that both living and dying were connected with Christ. If he lived, it was for Christ: if he died, it would mean that he would be with Christ. Having Christ as the one Object of his life sustained him through all the changing circumstances of time, and not only robbed death of all its terrors, but made death far better than living in a world from which Christ is absent.
This, indeed, is true Christian experience, possible for all believers; but, alas! we have to confess how little known in the measure in which the Apostle lived this life. How could those, in the Apostle's day, who were preaching Christ of contention (Phil. 1:15), seeking their own things (Phil. 2:21), or minding earthly things (Phil. 3:19), know anything of this true Christian experience? Let us challenge our own hearts as to how far we have been content with merely an occasional taste of such blessedness as living only for Christ. With Paul it was the constant experience of his soul. It was not only that Christ was his life, but he says, "For me to live is Christ." It is one thing to have Christ as our life — every believer can say this — but it is another thing to live the life that we have. Is Christ the one Object before us, that occupies us from day to day — the motive for all that we think and say and do?
(Vv. 22-26). The Apostle is speaking of his own personal experience, and therefore again and again he says "I". Seeing, then, that he can say "For me to live is Christ", he can also add, "If to live in flesh is my lot, this is for me worth the while" (N. Tr.). It is well worth living if Christ is the one Object of the life. Nevertheless, for his own personal joy, it would be far better to depart and be with Christ. However, thinking of Christ, His interests, and the blessing of His people, he felt it would be needful for him to continue yet longer with the saints on earth. With this confidence he knew that he would be left here for the blessing and joy of the saints, and they would be led to rejoice further in the Lord through his being permitted to visit them again.
(Vv. 27-30). In the meantime he desires that their conduct might be such as becomes the gospel of Christ — a searching word for us all, for we have the flesh in us, and, but for the grace of God, it can lead us into conduct not only beneath that becoming to a Christian, but far below the conduct of a decent man of the world, as indeed was the case with some who were preaching Christ even of envy and strife.
That these saints might walk becomingly, he desires that they might be found standing fast against every adversary. To stand fast, the saints must be of one spirit so that with one soul they may strive together for "the faith" of the gospel. The great effort of Satan is to rob the saints of the truth. To "stand fast" in striving together for the faith may entail suffering. But let us not be terrified into thinking that any suffering we might be called to pass through is the destruction of all our hopes. In reality, if suffering for Christ's sake, it will turn to our salvation from all the wiles of the enemy by which he would seek to turn us away from "the faith of the gospel." Let us ever view sufferings for Christ's sake as an honour given to those who believe on Him. Of such conflict and suffering the Apostle was an example, as they had already seen when he was with them at Philippi, and of which they were again hearing. Samuel Rutherford, in his day, when, like the Apostle, he was imprisoned for Christ's sake, esteemed it a privilege, for he could say, "Christ's cause even with the cross is better than the king's crown. Suffering for Christ is my garland."
At the close of the first chapter we are reminded that, not only is it given to us to believe on Christ, but also, "to suffer for His sake." If Christ had to meet the adversary in His path through this world, we may be sure that the more believers exhibit the character of Christ the greater will be the opposition of the enemy. We must then be prepared for conflict, even as the saints at Philippi, who, marked by so many of the graces of Christ, found themselves for this very reason faced by adversaries.
From this second chapter we further learn that the enemy was seeking to mar their testimony to Christ, not only through adversaries from without, but by stirring up strife within the Christian circle. In the first two verses the Apostle brings before us this grave danger. Then, secondly, we learn from verses 3 and 4 that unity amongst the Lord's people can only be maintained by each one having the lowly mind. Thirdly, to produce this lowly mind, our eyes are directed to Christ as our pattern of lowly grace, as set forth in verses 5 to 11. Fourthly, the blessed result, for those who live according to the pattern of lowliness in Christ, will be that they become witnesses to Christ, as described in verses 12 to 16. Finally, the chapter closes with bringing before us three examples of saints whose lives were fashioned after the perfect pattern, and were thus marked by the lowly mind that forgets self in the consideration of others — verses 17 to 30.
(Vv. 1, 2). The Apostle gladly owns that, through the devotedness and kindness of these saints to him in all his trials, he had tasted of the consolations that there are in connection with Christ and His own. He had been comforted by their love, and the fellowship that flowed from the Spirit engaging their hearts with Christ and His interests. He had realised afresh the compassion of Christ manifested through the saints for one who was suffering affliction (Phil. 4:14). All these evidences of their devotedness gave him great joy. He sees, however, that the enemy was seeking to mar their united testimony to Christ by raising strife in their midst; therefore, he has to say, "Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind." With great delicacy of feeling the Apostle refers to this lack of unity, though evidently he felt its seriousness, for we have four allusions to it in the course of his epistle. Already he has exhorted these saints to "stand fast in one spirit, with one mind" (Phil. 1:27). Here he exhorts them to be likeminded. In the third chapter he can say, "Let us mind the same thing" (Phil. 3:16); and in the closing chapter we have an exhortation to two sisters to "be of the same mind in the Lord" (Phil. 4:2).
(Vv. 3, 4). Having with tender consideration for their feelings referred to this weakness in their midst, he proceeds to show that it can only be met by each one cultivating the lowly mind. So he warns us against doing anything in the spirit of strife or vainglory, the two great causes of the lack of unity among the Lord's people. It is not that we are to be indifferent to wrongs that may arise among the people of God, but we are warned against meeting them in an unchristian spirit. Too often, alas! troubles in an assembly become the occasion of bringing to light unjudged envy, malice, or vanity, that may be lurking in the heart. This leads to strife by which we seek to oppose and belittle one another, and vainglory that seeks to exalt self. How we need to judge our own hearts, for, as it has been remarked, "There is not one of us but attaches a certain importance to himself."
To escape this danger, how needful the exhortation that, "in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves." We can only carry out this exhortation as we look away from ourselves and our own good qualities to those of others. The passage is not speaking of gifts, but the moral qualities that should mark all saints. Moreover, it contemplates saints living in a right moral condition. If a brother is going on with evil, I am not exhorted to esteem him more highly than myself if I am living rightly. But amongst saints living a right, normal Christian life it is easy for each of us to esteem others better than ourselves, if we are near to the Lord; for in His presence, however correct the outward life before others, we discover the hidden evils of the flesh, and see how many are our defects, and what poor things we are before Him, and in comparison with Him. Looking at our brother, we cannot see the hidden defects, but rather the good qualities that the grace of Christ has given him. This surely would keep us humble and enable us each to "esteem other better than themselves"; and we should be delivered from a spirit of vainglory that leads to strife and breaks up the unity of the saints. It is evident, then, that true unity amongst the Lord's people is not brought about by any compromise at the expense of truth, but by each one being in a right moral condition before the Lord, set forth by the lowly mind.
(Vv. 5-8). To produce this lowly mind, the Apostle directs our gaze to Christ, as he says, "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus." He then gives a beautiful picture of the lowly mind set forth in Christ as He took the path from the glory of the Godhead to the shame of the cross. Thus Christ is set before us in all His lowly grace as our perfect Pattern. If the flock is following the Shepherd, the eyes of the sheep will be upon Him, and it is only as we are each looking to Him that unity will be maintained in the flock. The nearer we are to Christ the nearer we shall be drawn to one another.
In Christ we see set forth the lovely traits of One Who in perfection had the lowly mind, manifested in His setting aside every thought of self, and taking the path of the servant, and becoming obedient to death. In tracing this path, the Apostle shows us not only each downward step, but the mind in which Christ took this path — the lowly mind. It is not possible to follow all His steps, for we were never in the height from which He came, nor are we asked to travel into the depths that He went, but we are exhorted to have His mind in taking these steps.
Our gaze is first directed to Christ in the very highest place, "in the form of God." Then it was that in His mind He "made Himself of no reputation". He did not consider Himself. To carry out the will of the Father, and secure the blessing of His people, He was prepared to take the lowly place. As He could say, in view of coming into the world, "Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God" (Heb. 10:7).
Secondly, with this mind the Lord took the form of a servant. When on earth, He could say to His disciples, "I am among you as He that serves" (Luke 22:27). One has said, "Not only does Christ take the form of a servant, but He will never give it up … In John 13, when the blessed Lord was going to glory, we should have said, there is an end of service. It is not so. He gets up from where He was sitting among them as a companion, He gets up and washes their feet; and that is what He is doing now … In Luke 12 we learn that He still continues the service in glory — 'He shall gird Himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them.'… He never gives up the service. Selfishness likes to be served, but love likes to serve; so Christ never gives up the service, for He never gives up the love" (J.N.D.).
Thirdly, not only did the Lord take "the form of a servant" but He was "made in the likeness of men." He could still have been a servant had He taken the likeness of angels, for they are sent forth to serve; but He was made a little lower than the angels, and was "found in fashion as a Man."
Fourthly, if the Lord was made in the likeness of men, He refused to use this condition in order to exalt Himself among men. His lowly mind led Him to humble Himself. He was born in a stable, and cradled in a manger, and lived amongst the lowly of this world.
Fifthly, even if He humbled Himself to walk with the lowly, He might have taken the place of rule in the world — the place that is His by right; but moved by the lowly mind, He "became obedient". Coming into the world, He said, "Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God." Passing through it, He said, "I do always those things that please Him." Going out of the world, He said, "Not my will, but Thine, be done."
Sixthly, with this lowly mind, the Lord not only became obedient, but He became obedient to death.
Seventhly, with this lowly mind, the Lord not only faced death, but submitted to the most ignominious death that a man can die — "even the death of the cross."
As we trace this wonderful path, down and down, from the highest glory to a cross of shame, let us not be content with merely being admirers of that which is morally beautiful — for this is possible even for a natural man. We need grace, not only to admire, but that there may be a practical effect produced in our lives according to the Apostle's exhortation, "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus." In the light of the lowly mind seen in Jesus, we may well challenge our hearts as to how far we have judged the vainglory that is so natural to us, and with the lowly mind have sought to forget ourselves in order to serve others in love, and manifest something of the lowly grace of Christ.
We wonder at Thy lowly mind,
And fain would like Thee be,
And all our rest and pleasure find
In learning, Lord, of Thee.
(Vv. 9-11). If, however, our hearts are drawn out to Christ as we see the lowly grace in His down-stooping from the glory to the cross, we also see in Him the most perfect example of the truth that, "He that humbles himself shall be exalted" (Luke 14:11). "He humbled Himself," but "God also has highly exalted Him." If, with the lowly mind, He went down below all, God has given Him "a Name which is above every name," and a place of exaltation above all. In Scripture "name" sets forth the fame of a person. There have been others famous in the history of the world, and amongst the saints of God, but the fame of Christ, as a Man, exceeds them all. On the Mount of Transfiguration the disciples, in their ignorance, would have put Moses and Elias on a level with Jesus. But these great men of God fade from the vision, and "Jesus was found alone", and the Father's voice is heard saying, "This is My beloved Son."
The Name of Jesus expresses the fame of this lowly Man. It means, as we know, Saviour, and as such it is a Name that is above every name. May we not say it is the one Name that the Lord had to come down from the glory to a cross of shame to secure? Over the cross it was written, "This is JESUS". Men in their scorn said, "Let Him now come down from the cross." Had He done so, He would have left the Name of JESUS behind Him. He would still have been the Creator, the mighty God, but never more would He have been JESUS — the Saviour. Blessed be His Name, His lowly mind led Him to be obedient to the death of the cross, and in result every knee will bow to the Name of Jesus, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
(Vv. 12-13). Our gaze having been directed to Christ in all His lowly grace, we are exhorted to obey the Apostle's exhortations to judge all the tendencies of the flesh to strife and vainglory, and seek to walk in the lowly spirit of Christ our Pattern, and thus resist the efforts of the enemy to sow discord among the saints. When present with these believers, the Apostle had kept them from the attacks of the enemy, but now, much more in his absence, they needed to be on their guard against adversaries without the Christian circle, and strifes within. Walking in the lowly spirit of Christ, they would indeed work out their own salvation from every effort of the enemy to break up their unity and mar their testimony to Christ: but let them work out their deliverance from the enemy with "fear and trembling." Realising the alluring character of the world around us, the weakness of the flesh within us, and the power of the devil against us, we may well fear and tremble. But is not the fear and trembling connected also with what follows? The Apostle immediately adds, "For it is God which works in you." While not forgetting the mighty power that is against us, we are to fear lest we undervalue, and thus slight, the almighty power that is for us, and works in us, "both to will and to do of His good pleasure." God leads us not only to "do" but also to "will" to do His pleasure. This indeed is liberty. Apart from being willing, the doing would be mere servile legality. Naturally we like to carry out our own will for our pleasure, but God's work in us leads us to be willing to do His pleasure, and thus have the lowly mind of Christ our Pattern, Who could say, "I delight to do Thy will, O my God" (Ps. 90:8).
(Vv. 14-16). With our eyes upon Christ, and in as far as we have His lowly mind, we shall in this measure, not only be saved from the allurements of the world and the power of the enemy, but we shall become a witness to Christ before the world. This, surely, is the "good pleasure" of God that has been perfectly expressed in Christ, Who could say, "I do always those things that please Him" (John 8:29). Thus the exhortations that follow present a lovely picture of Christ.
We are to "do all things without murmurings and reasonings" (N. Tr.). The Lord, indeed, groaned over the sorrows of men, but no murmur ever escaped His lips. It has been truly said, "God permits a groan, but never a grumble." Again, we are to beware of "reasonings", which might call in question God's way with us. However painful the Lord's path, no "reasoning" as to God's ways arose in His mind, or fell from His lips. On the contrary, when all His ministry of grace had failed to touch the hearts of men, and He was charged with doing His works by the power of the devil, He could say, "Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in Thy sight" (Matt. 11:26). Good for us, when faced with any little insult or trial, to follow in His steps, and without reasoning submit to what God allows, in the spirit of the Lord's lowly mind. Acting in this spirit we shall be "blameless" before God, and "harmless" before men. This again expresses something of the perfection of Christ, for He was "harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners" (Heb. 7:26). Following in His steps, we should be "irreproachable children of God" (N. Tr.). The Lord could say, "For Thy sake I have borne reproach" (Ps. 69:7); but no reproach could be brought against Him for any evil way. On the contrary, men had to say, "He has done all things well" (Mark 7:37). We, too, are privileged to suffer reproach for His Name, but let us beware of anything in our ways and words unbecoming to the children of God, and that would thus give occasion for reproach. By a right walk that cannot be rebuked we should manifest that we are the children of God in the midst of a generation whose crooked and perverted ways clearly show that they are not in relationship with God. Moses, in his day, could say that God is "a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is He"; but immediately he has to add that he finds himself in the midst of a people who "have corrupted themselves, their spot is not the spot of His children: they are a perverse and crooked generation" (Deut. 32:4-5). In spite of the light of Christianity, the world has not changed. It is still a world in which men "rejoice to do evil, … whose paths are crooked, and who are perverted in their course" (Prov. 2:15 N.Tr.). In such a world we are left to "shine as lights", and to be found "holding forth the word of life", and thus again follow in the steps of the Lord, Who was "the Light of the world", and Who could say, "The words that I speak to you, they are spirit, and they are life." The light presents what a person is, rather than what he says. Holding forth the word of life speaks of testimony rendered by proclaiming the truth of the word of God. Our lives must reflect something of the perfection of Christ if our words are to tell forth the way of life.
If, as the result of the Apostle's ministry, the saints were brought to have the lowly mind of Christ, and thus become a witness to Christ, he would indeed rejoice that he had "not run in vain, neither laboured in vain." Here, in his own case, he would seem to distinguish between "life" and "testimony" for does not "running" speak of his manner of life, and the "labour" speak of his ministry?
In these seven exhortations of the Apostle, do we not see a lovely picture of a life lived according to the perfect pattern set forth in Christ? — a life in which there is no murmur as to our lot; no reasoning as to why God allows this, or that, trial by the way; no blame for anything we say or do; no harm to others by our words or ways; with nothing in our lives that would call for rebuke as being inconsistent with a child of God; shining as a light in a world of darkness; and holding forth the word of life in a world of death. So living we should be for the pleasure of God, the glory of Christ, the help of saints, the blessing of the world, and have our reward in the day of Jesus Christ. If all the saints, with their eyes on Christ, were living this beautiful life, there would be no strife in the Christian circle. We should be one flock following one Shepherd.
(Vv. 17, 18). In the remaining verses of the chapter there pass before us three examples in actual life of believers, who, in large measure, exhibited the lowly mind of Christ that forgets self to serve others, and so shone as lights in the world and held forth the word of life.
First, in the Apostle himself the Spirit of God surely intends us to see one who lived according to the pattern of Christ. The faith of the Philippian saints, in helping his necessities, had made a sacrifice to serve him. But if, in spite of this service, his imprisonment was to end in his death, he would still rejoice that he had been allowed to suffer for Christ, and for this cause he calls upon these saints to rejoice. He thus exhibits the lowly mind that in consideration for others can forget self and follow Christ even to death.
(Vv. 19-24). Paul passes on to speak of Timothy, one who was "like-minded" with him, as being marked by the lowly mind that forgets self in thinking of the good of others. Alas! the general condition of the primitive church, even in the Apostle's day, had fallen so low that, so far from being marked by this self-denying love, he has to say, "all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's." In Timothy the Apostle found one who cared for others, and served with him in holding forth the word of life in the gospel. Seeing that Timothy was marked by the lowly mind of Christ, Paul could use him in the care of the saints, and hoped to send him to the Philippian assembly as soon as he knew how his trial would end.
(Vv. 25-30). Finally, in Epaphroditus we have a striking example of the lowly mind that forgets self in longing after the good of others. He was not only a brother in Christ, but a companion in the work of the Lord, a fellow-soldier in contending for the truth, a messenger of the saints and a minister to meet the Apostle's needs. In his unselfish love he longed after the saints, and was full of heaviness lest they should be over-anxious as to himself owing to his illness. He had indeed been nigh to death, but in the mercy of God he had been spared. Now Paul, not thinking of himself, and how he would miss such a valued companion, sends this loved servant to the Philippians for their joy. Such an one they can receive in the Lord with all gladness, and hold in reputation. The Apostle adds a word which so blessedly shows the kind of reputation that is of such value in the sight of God. Epaphroditus was marked by faithfulness in the work of Christ, and with the lowly mind was prepared, after the pattern of Christ, to face death in his service for others.
Seeing that in those early days all were seeking their own and the saints were no longer like-minded with the Apostle, we need hardly be surprised if in these last days the people of God are divided and scattered. As Samuel Rutherford could say in his day, "A doubt it is if we shall have fully one heart till we shall enjoy one heaven." Nevertheless, encouraged by those bright examples of saints marked by the lowly mind, how good for us to look away from all the ruin around us to Christ our Pattern, and seek to walk with His mind, and thus become in some small measure a testimony to Christ, and so pass through this world according to the good pleasure of God.
O patient, spotless One!
Our hearts in meekness train,
To bear Thy yoke, and learn of Thee,
That we may rest obtain.
The second chapter presents the graciousness of the Christian life, that forgets self in consideration for others, and walks according to the lowly mind set forth in Christ our Pattern. In this third chapter we see the energy of the Christian life that overcomes the dangers by which we are beset, forgets the things that are behind, and presses on to Christ our Object in the glory.
We need both grace and energy, for, as it has been pointed out, "Sometimes we see a want of energy where there is loveliness of character; or a great deal of energy, where there is a want of softness and consideration for others."
In the course of this chapter we are warned against certain dangers by which the enemy would seek to prevent believers from shining as lights in the world and holding forth the word of life, and so mar our testimony to Christ as we pass through a world that is in moral darkness and under the shadow of death.
In verses 2 and 3 we are warned against the evil works of those who were corrupting Christianity by judaising teaching. In verses 4 to 16 we are warned against confidence in religious flesh. In verses 17 to 21 we are warned against enemies of the cross of Christ within the Christian profession. That we may have the needed energy to overcome these dangers, the Apostle presents Christ in the glory as our unfailing resource.
(V. 1). Before speaking of the special dangers to which we are exposed, Paul sets the Lord before us as the One in Whom we can rejoice. The Apostle had been in prison four years and was about to be tried for his life. But, whatever his circumstances, however great the failure amongst the people of God, whatever the dangers he warns us against, his final exhortation is, "Rejoice in the Lord." The Lord is in the glory, the everlasting witness to God's infinite satisfaction in His work on the cross, and the One in Whom all the blessing that He has secured for believers is set forth. If He is in the glory, we shall be in the glory, in spite of all that we may have to pass through on the way, whether from trying circumstances, the failure of the saints or the power of the enemy: therefore let us "Rejoice in the Lord."
(Vv. 2, 3). Having directed our gaze to Jesus Christ as Lord to Whom every knee is going to bow, the Apostle warns us against special dangers with which we are faced. We are to "Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision." These three evils would seem to refer to judaising teachers within the Christian circle, who sought to mingle law and grace. This meant the setting aside of the gospel that grace proclaimed, and the re-instating of the flesh that the gospel set aside. Realising that this evil assails the foundation of all our blessing, Paul is unsparing in its condemnation. The dog is one that returns to his vomit and has no shame. To behave in a way that is manifestly evil, and refuse to acknowledge the evil, is to act without conscience or shame.
Moreover, these judaising teachers covered up evil works with a cloak of religion. Against such the Lord warned His disciples when He said, "Do not ye after their works." Such may have professed to be the circumcision, who have refused the flesh, but, in reality, by seeking to mingle law and grace, they were indulging religious flesh rather than cutting off the flesh. The Apostle exposes such in terms of contempt.
In contrast to the system of these judaising teachers, Paul sets before us the outstanding characteristics of Christianity. In Christianity those who refuse the flesh — and thus form the true spiritual circumcision — "worship by the Spirit of God", and not in a round of religious ceremonies. They boast in Christ Jesus, and not in men and their works. They have no confidence in the flesh, but put their trust in the Lord.
There are indeed the lusts of the flesh which we are to judge, but here the Apostle is warning us against the religion of the flesh. This is a far more subtle danger for Christians, for religious flesh has a fair appearance, whereas the lusts of the flesh are manifestly wrong, even to the natural man. One has said, "The flesh has a religion as well as lusts, but the flesh must have a religion that will not kill the flesh."
The Apostle's words have, surely, a special warning for us in these last days, when this judaising teaching, which was such a danger to the primitive church, has developed into Christendom becoming a corrupt mixture of Judaism and Christianity. The result is that a vast profession has arisen in which forms and ceremonies have taken the place of worship by the Spirit; in which the works of men according to the law have set aside the work of Christ according to the gospel; and which appeals to man in the flesh, while raising no question of new birth or personal faith in Christ. Having formed itself after the Jewish pattern, Christendom has become an imitation Jewish camp, having the form of godliness but denying the power thereof. From this corruption, the Apostle, in his other epistles, warns us to "turn away", and to go forth to Christ "without the camp, bearing His reproach" (2 Tim. 3:5; Heb. 13:13).
(Vv. 4-6). Paul proceeds to expose the worthless character of religious flesh by recalling his own life before his conversion. If there were any virtue in religious flesh, he would have had more ground for trusting the flesh than others, for he was pre-eminently, and sincerely, a religious man after the flesh. In his case the religious ordinances according to the law had been carried out — he had been circumcised on the eighth day. He was a Jew of the purest descent. As to his religious life, he belonged to the straightest sect — a Pharisee. None could question his sincerity and zeal, for, in seeking to maintain his religion, he had persecuted the church. As regards the righteousness that consisted in observing the outward law, he was blameless.
(V. 7). All these things were gain to him as a natural man, and would have given him a great place among men, but the moment he was brought to see Christ in glory, he discovered that, in spite of all his religious advantages, he was the chief of sinners, and had come short of the glory of God. Moreover, he saw that all blessing depended upon Christ and His work, with the result that henceforth the things that were gain to him as a natural man he counted loss for Christ. To trust any longer in the fact that he was a Hebrew of the Hebrews, and that, touching the righteousness which is in the law, he was blameless, would have been to set aside Christ's work by his own works, and to rejoice in himself rather than in Christ.
(Vv. 8, 9). Moreover, it was not only at the time of his conversion that he counted his works according to religious flesh to be loss, but throughout his career he continued to count them loss; for, while he could look back and say "I counted," he can also say in the present, "Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss." Moreover, it was not only the things of which he had been speaking that he counted loss, but "all things" in which the flesh might boast, and which would have given him a place in this world. Paul was a well-born man, of good social standing, a citizen of Tarsus — no mean city. He was well educated, having been trained at the feet of Gamaliel. He was well known to Jewish leaders, and, under their authority, had acted in an official way; but the knowledge of Christ Jesus, of Whom he can speak as "my Lord," threw all these things into the shade. Such is the excellency of Christ that, compared with Him, all the things in which the flesh could boast were counted by the Apostle as but "filth." Having come to this estimate of these things, he had no difficulty in letting them go, for who would object to leaving a dung hill behind?
In this deeply searching passage the Apostle has been setting before us his own experience; but we do well to challenge our own hearts as to how far we have become followers of the Apostle, in so entering into the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, our Lord, that, compared with Him, any worldly advantages that might give us a place among men are counted but filth to be left behind. Naturally we glory in anything that would distinguish us from our neighbours and bring honour to ourselves, whether it be birth, social position, wealth or intellect. One has said, "Whatever you are decking yourself out with — it may be with a knowledge of Scripture — it is glorying in the flesh. Ever so little a thing is enough to make us pleased with ourselves; what we should not notice in another is quite enough to raise our own importance" (J.N.D.).
Having, through the excellency of the knowledge of Christ, discovered the vanity of religious flesh and the things that are gain to us as natural men, and having Christ in the glory as his one Object, the Apostle can freely express the desires of his heart as all being bound up with Christ, as he says:
"That I may win Christ";
"Be found in Him";
"That I may know Him";
That "I may apprehend that for which I am apprehended of Christ Jesus."
When the Apostle says, "that I may win Christ," he is looking on to the end of the journey. He is running a race, and he sees that the goal is to be with Christ and like Christ in the glory. Christ down here is the pattern for the Christian life; Christ in the glory is our Object, the One to Whom we press on.
In that great day, the Apostle can say he will "be found in Him." It will be seen, then, that every blessing that has been secured for the believer by His work on the cross is set forth "in Him" in the glory. This will mean that our righteousness, set forth in Him, will not be the righteousness that would result from our own works, but the righteousness which is the result of what God has done through Christ. Christ was delivered by God for our offences and was raised again for our justification. The believer comes into this blessing by faith: we are justified by faith.
(Vv. 10, 11). In the meantime, while pressing on to reach Christ, the Apostle's desire is expressed by his words, "That I may know Him." We want to know Him in all His loveliness as set forth in His lowly grace and obedience even to death; we want to know Him in the mighty power that is for us, as set forth in His resurrection; we want to know Him in glory as the One to Whom we are going to be conformed, and with Whom we shall be for ever. To know Him in His lowly grace as our Pattern will teach us how to live for Him; to know Him in the power of His resurrection will enable us to face death, if, like Paul, we are called to suffer death for His name's sake; and to know Him in the glory will keep us pressing on in spite of all opposition. The Apostle's great desire was to reach Christ in the glory, and with this end in view he was prepared to be conformed to Christ's death — to die to all that to which Christ had died, even if it meant for him a martyr's death in order to reach the blessed condition of "the resurrection from among the dead" (N. Tr.).
(V. 12). Paul was still in the body, so he did not, and could not, claim that he had already obtained the prize of being with Christ and like Christ in the glory. Nevertheless, it was the end he had in view, and as he passed along his way he was seeking to grow in the apprehension of the glorious end for which he had been destined by the grace of Christ.
(Vv. 13, 14). If he had not yet attained the prize, neither did he claim to have apprehended in all its fulness the blessedness of the prize. But he could say, "One thing — forgetting the things behind, and stretching out to the things before, I pursue, looking towards the goal, for the prize of the calling on high of God in Christ Jesus." Good for us, if we too could have such a vision of Christ in the glory and the reality of "those things which are before," that we should be led to forget the things that are behind. Paul not only counted them loss but he had forgotten them. We could not boast in something we had forgotten. As with every other spiritual blessing, our calling on high is set forth in Christ.
(Vv. 15-17). Having set before us the path he was pursuing through this world, the spirit in which he trod the path, and the glorious end to which it leads, he now exhorts as many as enjoy this full — or "perfect" — Christian experience to have the same mind. There may indeed be some who have as yet but little entered into this ripe Christian experience, but, even so, God can lead us on and reveal to us the blessedness of the mind that forgets the things that are behind and presses on to Christ in the glory. If, however, there are differences in spiritual attainment, there is no reason that we should not walk in the same steps. One may see further along the road than another, but this would not hinder such treading the same path and looking in the same direction.
We are exhorted, then, to be followers of the Apostle in the path that he was treading, and, not only followers, but "followers together," having one mind and one object. With the lowly mind that forgets self, and with our eyes upon Christ in the glory, we shall be drawn together by one object.
We are to mark them which walk thus. It is not merely the profession we make, or the fair words we may utter, but the walk, which speaks of the life we live, that is of such value in the sight of God. Paul could say, "For me to live is Christ."
(Vv. 18, 19). We are then warned that, even in that early day, there were "many" professors amongst the people of God, whose walk was such that it proved them to be the enemies of the cross of Christ, and whose end would be destruction. So far from having the lowly mind that forgets the things that are behind and presses on to Christ in glory, they were wholly occupied with earthly things. If the Apostle has to warn of such, it is with weeping. Already he has warned us against judaising teachers who appealed to religious flesh. Now he warns us against those who were seeking to turn Christianity into a merely civilising system in the effort to make a better and brighter world. Such were minding earthly things. Thus we are warned against the two evils that are rampant in these last days, one that uses Christianity to appeal to religious flesh, the other that would use it to improve the flesh. Both set aside Christ, His work, and the heavenly character of Christianity.
(Vv. 20, 21). In contrast to such, the Apostle can say of believers that our associations are in heaven, "from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ." At His coming these bodies of humiliation will be changed, and fashioned like to His glorious body. This change will be effected by the power whereby Christ is able "to subdue all things to Himself." Every power that is against us — whether the flesh within, the devil without, the world around, or even death itself — He is able to subdue. Thus the beginning of the journey was that we were brought to know something of the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord, and the end will be that, in spite of every opposing power, we shall be with Him on high, and like Him, having a body of glory.
With this glorious hope before us, we may well challenge our hearts by asking the question of another, "Is CHRIST so simply, so singly the object of our souls, as to be the power of the displacement of all that we have clung to in the past; all that would entangle us, and make us turn our backs on the cross in the present; and all the schemes and expectations, the fears or anticipations of the future?"
In the second chapter the Apostle has presented Christ coming down from the glory to the cross, setting forth the lowly mind that should mark believers, enabling us to be true witnesses for Christ in the world we are passing through. In the third chapter he has directed our gaze to Christ exalted in glory as Lord, our Object in Whom we see the glorious end to which we are journeying. In this closing chapter he gives us exhortations as to the practice that should mark the every-day life of those who have Christ before them as their perfect Pattern, and their one Object, and he presents Christ as the One Who can strengthen us for all things.
(V. 1). Firstly, we are exhorted to "stand fast in the Lord." The evils we have to meet, whether from the flesh within, the devil without, or the world around, are too strong for us, but the Lord is able "to subdue all things to Himself." We are not asked, or expected, to overcome in our own strength, or by our wisdom, but to "stand fast in the Lord" — in the power of His might.
(Vv. 2, 3). Secondly, we are exhorted to "be of the same mind in the Lord." There was a difference of judgment between two devoted women at Philippi, and the Apostle foresaw how a circumstance that the saints might judge to be of small import could easily lead to great sorrow and weakness in the assembly. "Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindles" (James 3:5). The Apostle, however, who knows how to take the precious from the vile, does not overlook the devotedness of these sisters, who had stood with him in contending for the gospel in the face of opposition, insults and persecutions. Their very devotedness would surely only add to his grief that there should be any difference between them in the Lord's interests. He, therefore, not only beseeches them to be of the same mind, but entreats Epaphroditus to assist them. In seeking to help them, let him remember that their names are "in the book of life." Amongst the people of God there may not be "many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble" that are called, but can we think lightly of any "whose names are in the book of life"?
(V. 4). Thirdly, we are exhorted to "Rejoice in the Lord alway." Already the Apostle has exhorted us to rejoice in the Lord, but now again he can say, not only "Rejoice," but rejoice always. However painful our circumstances, however great the opposition of the enemy, and however heartbreaking the failure among the Lord's people, in the Lord we can always rejoice. Of Him we can say "Thou remainest" and "Thou art the Same."
(V. 5). Fourthly, in reference to the world we are passing through, with all its violence and corruption, the exhortation is "Let your gentleness be known to all men" (N. Tr.). In His own time the Lord will deal with all the evil and bring in all the blessing, and His coming is near. It is not for believers, then, to interfere with the government of the world, nor to assert their rights and fight for them. Our privilege and responsibility is to represent Christ, and thus exhibit the gentleness that marked the Lord. The Psalmist could say, "Thy gentleness has made me great" (Ps. 18:35). We belittle ourselves in the eyes of the world if we assert ourselves and oppose its government. If we exhibit the gentleness of Christ, the world itself will hardly be able to condemn, for, as it has been said, "Gentleness is irresistible."
(Vv. 6, 7). Fifthly, as regards the trials by the way, the daily necessities and bodily needs in connection with the present life, we are to find relief from all anxiety by making them all known to God. If our gentleness is to be made known to all men, our requests are to be made known to God. The result will be, not perhaps that all our requests will be answered, for this might not be for our good or God's glory, but that the heart will be relieved from its burden of anxiety, and be kept in calm peace — "the peace of God, which passes all understanding." To be "careful for nothing" does not mean that we are careless about anything, but that, instead of being continually worried by the cares of the day and the fear of to-morrow, we pour out our cares to God, and He pours the balm of peace into our souls. And it is "through Christ Jesus" we can draw near to God, and through Him God can grant His blessing.
(V. 8). Sixthly, being relieved of our cares, our minds will not only be kept in peace but set free to be occupied with all those things in which God delights. The world we are passing through is marked by violence and corruption, and we are called to refuse the evil; but we are to beware lest our minds become defiled by dwelling upon its evil. Good for us to have a hatred of evil and a dread of it, and the love of good and the choice of it. If our thoughts were controlled by the Spirit of God would they not be occupied with, and delighting in, all those blessed things which were seen in perfection in Christ? Was He not true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and the One in Whom there was everything to call forth praise? May we not say that to be occupied with these things will mean that our minds are delighting in Christ?
(V.9). Seventhly, having exhorted us as to the things of which we should think, Paul passes on to exhort us as to that which we should do. In our practical life we are to "do" even as the Apostle. Already he has told us, "this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth to those things which are before, I press toward the mark" for the prize of the calling on high of God in Christ Jesus. So walking, we shall not only enjoy in our souls the peace of God while passing through a world of turmoil, but we shall have the God of peace with us — the peace of God preserving our souls in calmness, and the presence of God supporting us in our weakness.
However trying the circumstances we may have to pass through, however terrible the evils in the world, the corruptions of Christendom, the failure amongst the people of God, however great the opposition of the enemy, and whatever insults and reproaches we may have to meet, how blessed our lives would be if lived in accord with these exhortations: —
(1) To stand fast in the Lord;
(2) To have one mind in the Lord;
(3) To rejoice in the Lord always;
(4) To exhibit the gentleness of the Lord to all men;
(5) To cast all our care upon God by prayer;
(6) To have our thoughts occupied with that which is good as expressed in Christ;
(7) To be governed in all that we do by Christ our one Object.
(Vv. 10-13). In the closing verses of the epistle we see in Paul one who was superior to all circumstances. He had rolled all his cares upon God, and now he could rejoice that the Lord had given these saints the love and the opportunity to care for him in his affliction by helping to meet his needs.
Nevertheless, we are permitted to see in the Apostle a saint who was lifted above circumstances, for he knew how to be abased and how to abound, how to be full and how to be hungry, how to abound and how to suffer need. Such knowledge he had gained by experience and divine guidance, for he can say, "I have learned" and "I am instructed." If God allows us to pass through testing circumstances, it is to instruct us. One has said, "If full, He keeps me from being careless, and indifferent, and self-satisfied: if hungry, He keeps me from being cast down and dissatisfied" (J.N.D.).
Paul can thus say, "I have strength for all things", but, he adds, this strength is "in Christ". He does not say "I have strength in myself", but "in Him that gives me power."
(Vv. 14-18). Through this dependence upon Christ to meet all his needs, he was lifted above being influenced by men in order to obtain their favour and help. Nonetheless, the Philippian saints had "done well" in helping to meet the needs of the Apostle. The love that promoted this gift would ascend as fruit to God and abound to their account, for it was a sacrifice on their part, "well-pleasing to God."
(Vv. 19, 20). From his own experience of the goodness of God, he can say with all confidence, "My God shall abundantly supply all your need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus." We can find relief from all anxiety by making known all our needs to God by Christ Jesus; and God will abundantly meet our needs by Christ Jesus. Well may we say with the Apostle, "Now to God and our Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen."
(Vv. 21-23). The closing salutation gives a beautiful picture of Christian fellowship in the early church, and the esteem in which these saints were held by the Apostle, for he not only says that he saluted "every saint in Christ Jesus", but "all the saints salute you." He closes by saying, "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit" (N. Tr.). We need the mercy of God to meet the needs of our bodies, and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ to keep our spirits.
How blessedly is Christ kept before us from the commencement to the end of this beautiful epistle. In the first chapter it is Christ our Life, leading the believer to view everything in connection with Him (Phil. 1:21). In the second chapter it is Christ our Pattern in lowliness, to unite us together in one mind (Phil. 2:5). In the third chapter it is Christ our Object in the glory, to enable us to overcome all opposition (Phil. 3:14). In the last chapter it is Christ our Strength, to meet all our needs (Phil. 4:13).
Moreover, in the course of the epistle we learn the experience we should enjoy if, in the power of the Spirit, we took our journey through this world with Christ before us. We should, with the Apostle, experience joy in the Lord (Phil. 1:4; Phil. 3:1-3; Phil. 4:4, 10); confidence in the Lord (Phil. 1:6); peace that passes all understanding (Phil. 4:7); love to one another (Phil. 1:8; Phil. 2:1; Phil. 4:1); hope that waits for the coming of the Lord Jesus (Phil. 3:20); and faith that counts upon the Lord's support (Phil. 4:12-13).
Jesus! Thou art enough
The mind and heart to fill;
Thy patient life — to calm the soul;
Thy love — its fear dispel.