Notes of a Bible Reading on Philippians 4.

1918 25 The first verse really belongs to the previous chapter. It is the one epistle (as I suppose most of us know) that is devoted to Christian experience. Paul does not here write as an apostle — his apostleship is not brought forward in any wise. When it was a question of saints being led away by bad doctrine, he makes a great deal of his apostleship. But this is a Christian speaking of his own experience. This epistle is very stimulating and encouraging, and should help us to go on in the Christian path. And it is characterised by joy. In that respect it corresponds with Deuteronomy in the O.T. Deuteronomy has seven distinct references calling on the people to rejoice, and the charge that the Lord has against them is that they did not serve Him "with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart" (Deut. 28:47).

The law of liberty belongs to us — not liberty to do our own will, but the will of God, and to serve His saints. The verse that would stand out as giving the character of the epistle is, "To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21).

In Phil. 2 we have Christ as the great Pattern (vers. 5-8). And there the One who went down, in wondrous grace, lower than any other, is the One who is exalted above all. Then in the next chapter (Phil. 3) you get the Lord Jesus as the Object of faith. Paul has his eye on Him in the glory, and cannot be satisfied till he is with Him there. He was the object of Paul's desire "That I may know Him," etc., and then He is the object of our hope (vers. 20, 21). That is but a little outline of what we have in these three chapters; now in Phil. 4 we get the wonderful resources which we have in Him.

First then, he would put these two sisters right. There seems to have been some alienation between them. The impartiality of Paul comes out in his addressing both (ver. 2). It must affect Christian joy if we are at variance with our fellow-believers. So as far as in us lies, we are called to live peaceably, with all men, not only with fellow-believers. I dare say we forget sometimes we do not "see ourselves as others see us," and that others have to forbear with us as we with them. I may try them as much as they perhaps try me. I could quite imagine a worldly Christian finding it difficult to get on with a more spiritual one. I heard a lady recently say that Paul must have been a difficult man to get on with; at any rate, Demas could not do so.

Ver. 3. "True yoke-fellow" — Whom was he addressing? It appears to me that Epaphroditus, who brought these things to Paul, was in all probability writing this epistle at Paul's dictation. We have reason to believe that every epistle Paul sent was written by an amanuensis, except that to the Galatians. I don't know that he put his signature to the First Epistle to the Thessalonians, which was the first he wrote; but in the Second Epistle he said they were to look out for his signature as proof of its being genuine. So in all probability, Epaphroditus was writing at Paul's dictation, and it looks as if he was addressing him. Well, as that verse finishes up, there is seen something far greater than any service. When the disciples came back, telling the Lord the demons were subject to them, He said, "Rejoice not in this; but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven." That is all grace.

What ought to characterise us is joy (ver. 4). The scenes around ought not to affect our joy in the Lord. We ought to be superior to all that is passing around. Paul, in prison at Rome, and chained to a soldier, you would have thought to be the one who needed comfort, but he is the one who is ministering joy to those in more favourable circumstances than himself. With the Christian joy and sorrow go together. The Man of sorrows is the Lord Jesus, but He was the happiest Man that ever walked the earth. "The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places, yea, I have a goodly heritage."

Everything changes here — there is nothing to rest on. But we have stability and unchangeable blessings in our Lord Jesus, so whatever we are pressed with here we should always rejoice in the Lord. Of the world we may say they enjoy "the pleasures of sin for a season," and it is possible for a child of God who is indifferent to communion with the Father and the Son to be less happy than a worldling. He is spoilt for the world, and has not got the proper Christian enjoyment in Christ.

Ver. 5. "Moderation" here, is "yieldingness," "gentleness," or mildness" not standing upon our rights; giving up rather than dishonour the Lord or grieve another. This ought to be seen in each of us. "The Lord is at hand" is the reason. That would apply to time or to place. So some take it as meaning His presence, as in Ps. 16. "The Lord … is at my right hand"; others again, that He will soon be here. You get that at the end of chap. 3. He is the object of our hope. He will soon be here so we can afford to be yielding. We don't want to be grasping here, or demand what as men we have a right to. We can afford to give in. Let us illustrate it. Suppose a man is working for a master, and that master always pays his due, and expects the man to be there at the proper time — that is a righteous man requiring righteousness. But if the man falls ill, and the master, instead of being only righteous, sends his wages every week — that is a good man, and the servant would feel 'I could die for him, he has been so kind.' Psalm 112. tells us what a good man is, so we need not go outside the word.

Ver. 5. I have heard a man say, I seek to act righteously to others, and I expect them to act righteously by me. But that falls much below what we have here. Then we are told to "Be anxious for nothing" (ver. 6). Bengel has said, "Care and prayer are as opposed to each other as fire and water." If you really know what it is to have to do with God, the care goes; and if you are still carrying it, you have failed in prayer to God. It is showing us the secret of having a quiet heart and mind. We cannot keep our own hearts. There are things come along that disturb and distress us, but there is One who can keep it for us. And "in everything" — great matters and small ones. G. V. W. used to speak of "handing up every thing to God." Of course there is always room for thanksgiving and earnest supplication. And then I have the sense of having left it in the hands of One of almighty power: and here is the secret of a quiet heart and mind.

"And the peace of God" — quite a different thing from "peace with God." This goes with justification at the end of Romans 4, speaking of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus "Who was delivered for our offences and was raised again for our justification. Therefore, being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." There I have peace of conscience, and am cleared of everything. That is what the Christian life starts with. I have peace with God, and that can never be changed. "That which shakes the cross, can shake the peace it gives." Well, what is the peace of God? God is up above all the evil of the world and all the power of Satan. He sees the end from the beginning, "Who doeth these things known from eternity." He "worketh all things according to the counsel of His own will." He makes the wrath of man to praise Him, and makes everything work for His own glory. That peace which can never be discontented — that comes down into this poor heart, and keeps it as a garrison.

If I look around, and see the state of the church, its fragmentary condition, it ought to cause me grief, but I ought to remember it has not taken. God by surprise, and His purposes will be accomplished. Many here have heard of the two carpet weavers, one of whom was greatly disturbed by all the confusion. Well, said the other, do you see any design in the carpet you are weaving? No, of course he didn't, he was working at the back of it; the pattern was on the other side. We see things on the back side now, but we shall see them right side up by and by. That would be the teaching of Haggai when some were weeping and others rejoicing at the building of the house. But the prophet was inspired to tell them, "the latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former" — looking forward to the millennium. We look back to Pentecost, and we shall not get comfort from that. But look on to the Revelation, whence we have it at the end in all its beauty and glory. Pentecost is not to be compared to that. There is the secret. This is not stoicism. It is not to make us hard, but more feeling, more tender, not to be indifferent to joy or sorrow.

Ver. 8. Whatsoever things are "true," "venerable," "just," "pure." We should have our mind occupied with the good. Even if duty compels us to deal with evil, it is defiling; and one is not in a condition to deal with evil unless occupied with good. "Virtue" is a word constantly used by the heathen, but this is the only time Paul uses it. Peter uses it three times. "Add to your faith virtue," or courage. The heathen made everything almost, of courage, and that is the form of it there. You need courage to live out the proper Christian life. Believers have been "called out of darkness: and we are to show forth the "virtues" or excellencies of Him Who hath called us. This is an evil world, and if we are not watchful, we shall have the mind constantly occupied with evil.

Ver. 9. "Heard" — i.e., what he had taught them. Now we don't want to look at that in a vague, general way, but it shows you how to have "the God of peace" with you. He is never called the God of joy. Joy is an uneven thing it fluctuates.
"My love is oft-times low,
My joy still ebbs and flows,
But peace with Him remains the same, —
No change Jehovah knows."

Let us think now of the Christian walk and the teaching of Paul. The Christian is not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, and in Romans 6. Paul teaches them that they have a new master as well as a new life. Don't let sin govern you. Then he goes on to show that the Lord Jesus died unto sin. It is a question of the evil nature which we shall not get rid of till we are out of this scene. The believer has faith, and the word Of God for it, that he is justified; and he expects to be able to walk along full of joy in a holy path. But he finds he has an evil nature still, and that the evil is stronger than the good, according to Romans 7. "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of death?" What an awful experience! Then he sees it all accomplished — he sees it in Christ — and he is free then to be occupied with Christ and not with himself. Then Rom. 8 begins: "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus," and now begins Christian experience. But then we are to carry it out practically. It is not only "heard" but "seen in me." If we turn to 2 Corinthians 4 we find we have this treasure in earthen vessels … always bearing about in the body, the dying of the Lord Jesus — that is, making a right use of the cross.

You see as Paul said, "To me to live is Christ." No doubt the figure here is Gideon and his men. You get the breaking of the pitcher and the shining in this experience the life of Jesus manifested in our body; but it is only through making a right use of the cross.

"So then death worketh in us, but life in you." How was that? It was using the cross and the putting to death of Jesus, and keeping the flesh inactive, so that what came Out in Paul was not flesh at all. Death was dealing with old Paul, and blessing going out to the Corinthians in consequence.