We need all Scripture, but there are times in the life of the Christian and in the history of the assembly, when certain portions of the word of God bear in upon the mind with peculiar force, and appeal strongly to heart and conscience. As the end of this present day of grace draws near, and the advancing tide of evil rises as a flood, God keeps the hearts of His own by moral power through the word of truth. He gives more light by the word, and He brings Christ, the beloved centre of all His most blessed counsels, ever more vividly before the soul. When, through grace, Christ is made precious to our hearts, to reach Him in the glory becomes our earnest desire and the end of all holy, godly striving. The one who hopes to find at the end of the race everything for which he strives, will not be hindered by anything on the way. The scriptures that particularly show us a soul drawing near to the end of its earthly pilgrimage, and that look on to the day of complete and perfected salvation, are very precious to us in this day, for we near the end of the journey and the Lord is at hand. If we realize that the day of trial is nearly over and if faith is active, Christ will claim our hearts and to be with Him will be our joy in prospect. On a dark night as we approach a distant light it grows brighter the nearer we come to it. The bright and Morning Star is already risen in the heavens as our hope, faith looks up and welcomes the sight; the world sleeps on.
The departing apostle, in his second letter to Timothy, exhorts him to set a true Christian example to others in word and in behaviour. He does not at that late hour of life press doctrine upon his son in the faith, but as the end of life here closes for him, the apostle's heart rests more upon the work of God Himself, which he could discern going on in the hearts of Timothy's grandmother and mother. He felt assured that the same hand was at work in Timothy's own heart producing an unfeigned faith. The apostle stresses the necessity in an evil day of the living tree producing the fruit that corresponds to the true nature of the tree. Only in man can the strange paradox be found of sweet water and bitter water flowing from the same fountain.
From his prison in Rome where he had been for some years, the apostle Paul wrote a most heart-moving letter to the Christians at Philippi, an assembly he greatly loved. Right from the first days of their conversion they had shown sincere devotedness in the gospel. They had come to his assistance in the past, and now at the end of his service they renewed their connection with the apostle by sending him a gift, and his heart was deeply moved by their care and love for him. Far from them and bound in prison, he wrote from the fullness of his heart. Not to instruct them in doctrine, but to perfect them in life through faith and love. He exhorted them by word and by example to lay aside every hindrance and to press on after Christ, that if possible they might reach Him above in the glory. The character of these thoughts which the apostle expresses from a full heart, lays hold upon our hearts, if we have in any measure tasted the reproach of Paul in chains. When nearing the end of the journey thoughts do not turn so much to the means by which the way has been directed, but they turn to the end to which all has been guided. Sound doctrine shows us the way, and we need to be well grounded in the doctrine by sound teaching, otherwise, not knowing the truth, we shall wander far astray. All ministry is for the perfecting of the saints, and for the edifying of the body of Christ (see Ephesians 4:11-16). As we draw near to the goal, expectation of the prize, towards which the soul has bent its efforts that it may attain its object, fills the mind. While we tread the pathway, thoughts turn to the difficulties of the way and to the thousand and one questions that seem vital and to need our utmost concentration, but as we see the end of the race in sight, the last hindrances have to be shed for the final effort, so that nothing should hinder us from winning the prize. The last hindrances to be discarded are not the worldly weights that are easily seen as those which contradict our heavenly calling, but personal encumbrances of self-importance which have no place in heaven, cling to us to the last, as we see in the message to the assembly in Laodicea (Revelation 3:17). Not the gross habits that offend even a natural conscience, but those things which exalt us in our own eyes and the eyes of men. Where self at its natural best intrudes, there is no room for Christ, and it is more subtle in its power to deceive when we prosper naturally by the providence of God. If Christ is the sole object of our hearts we are lifted above earthly circumstances. Though feeling them, we are with Christ about them and they lose their power over us. The believer has a risen Christ as his life, and that life in us is livingly connected with its source. Christ is its source, its power, and its most blessed object.
The epistle to the Philippians has been well described as the book of Christian experience, that is, the kind of experience a Christian would know if Christ were his "All". As another has said, "We see the Christian rising to the highest condition of matured experience." It is the pathway of one who is living clown here in the power of the Spirit, and occupied with that which the Spirit has come down here to fill the minds of God's pilgrims with on their way heavenward, and in spite of the most trying circumstances. So that he may know how to walk in grace by the way, Christ in humiliation is set before him; and so that he may find strength to pursue his pilgrimage without failing, and to reach his goal at the end of the journey, Christ in glory is the powerful attraction that draw him through this world and upward to heaven.
The letter was written by Paul when he was held a prisoner of Rome and awaiting his trial before the emperor Nero. The apostle, now bound with a chain, was no longer free to carry on his apostolic labours amongst the assemblies. He could only communicate with them through a messenger or by letter. Though he was physically restricted in his movements, he remained unfettered in his spirit. In spirit he could go out to all the assemblies and be with each as he thought of its needs. He sought to establish those to whom he wrote, firmly upon the grounds of the truth he had taught them, and, above all, he desired to see believers formed after Christ, and "grow up to him in all things, who is the head, the Christ" (Ephesians 4:15 JND).
Though the apostle was often in necessity he gave liberally of the spiritual gifts with which he was richly endowed by the Spirit. He held those gifts in readiness for the service of the assembly under Christ, the glorified Head of the Church. He even rejoiced to think that his life might be poured out in the service of the gospel, to which the Philippians had also consecrated themselves He felt the restraint of his bonds, but by the wisdom and grace of God, these bonds only set him freer in spirit. He had not now to weigh up his physical movements and to decide whether to go here or to go there. He could be with the saints in spirit only; but, being confined to a prison he could give his mind wholly to their spiritual needs, and he could pray. Men may bind the servant of the Lord with chains and seek to silence him, but his heart and mind remain free and above the world's constraint, if he can think of himself as the prisoner of the Lord for the truth's sake. By owning the hand of the Lord in his circumstances, he learned the power of His grace by which a fettered man could be powerful in spirit for God. The spirit of man cannot be bound with steel chains. A conscience defiled through giving way to the flesh brings the spirit of man into bondage.
The apostle was no longer able to move amongst the saints and to fight for them in their difficulties, he had now to direct them by spiritual energy through the word of truth, and we at this late hour feel the benefit of his untiring labours. The source of his spiritual energy is better seen by the circumstances in which he was placed. The apostle was in the barest desert of his experience, and though often in want he knew what it was to draw from a limitless supply of divine energy and an inexhaustible store of divine grace. Freed from the things that would have naturally occupied his mind when moving about in contact with the world of men, he was the more free to occupy himself with the spiritual state of others. His imprisonment was none of his choosing, as though he would shut himself off from the world of strife. God ordered his way, and he spoke of himself as the prisoner of the Lord, though apprehended by the world's governing authority, while serving the Lord amongst the Gentiles. He did not need to withdraw himself from the fellowship of others to consider their state, nor seclude himself from the world of men and women to walk in separation from evil; but God who makes even the wrath of man to praise Him, set the apostle apart to concentrate, as it were, on the needs of saints when he would not be present to help them. The adversary had been, in measure, let loose at him, and now he was bound, a captive of a heathen empire, and almost alone at the latter end of his days. He was more alone than many who shut themselves in cloisters away from the world. But in proportion as his captivity bound his physical energy that had in his free days carried him into many lands, so much the more did his spiritual energy break out from the depressions with which Satan sought to silence him, and so withhold from the needy assembly the personal care of the apostle. Alone and more inwardly cast upon God, his mind could sift the thoughts that passed through it, and his ministry was concentrated on the essential needs of Christians and their united testimony to their calling on high. The powerful words that went out from prison walls did their work, and they remain to do their work with telling power. The apostle could still labour in faith and in love for those who, moving freely in Satan's world, were in the greater moral danger. The adversary has no power over the servant of God while he is doing the will of God. While God, in His own extraordinary way, helps His servant to hold loosely the things of this world, and to care for nothing but Christ, the adversary can gain no advantage.
The vessel of the heavenly testimony made transparent by many afflictions, now had to remain just what it was, a mere vessel, through which the blessed light of heaven must shine undimmed. He was in the capital city of the civilized world, but not as a free agent to come and go as he pleased or as the Spirit directed him. So little did God regard the mighty capital of the world and any distinction that it might lend to His testimony, that none of the apostles ever laboured there in free apostolic service. Paul, the ambassador of the Lord, spoke in Rome as a discredited prisoner of the empire, and not as a world-accredited messenger of a new religion. Worldly prominence and human glory do not add to the testimony of God; in proportion as they seek to lend their support to the ministry, so far the testimony is hindered. If, for the furtherance of the gospel of God concerning His Son, the presence of the apostle was necessary at Rome where man in his pride was exalted, God would bring His ambassador there as a mere vessel of the truth, and he would act there only in so far as he bore in himself a personal testimony to the power of the truth. Such power is not of the earth, it is of heaven, and we can see how it sustained the prisoner of the Lord in the face of world-opposition. As a man, Paul, from his confinement, could do nothing of himself, but he was powerful in word by the Spirit of God, as his epistles bear full witness even to this day. How many have been converted and been built up in the truth through the writings of Paul in chains!
Not being able to go in person where he felt his presence was needed, he had to send a word which would act in power upon the consciences and in the hearts of those who were free to move about in the world that was subject to the wicked one. He had not to decide whether he would come to an assembly in the low state of a Corinth. He had not to think of coming with a rod or with demonstration of outward power. The light had to shine with powerful beam through the walls of a Roman prison to reach the souls of wearying Christians, who were in danger of losing their heavenly character and encasing themselves in the worldly respectability of earthly citizenship and religious formalism. Already Christians were beginning to mind earthly k things and were giving themselves up to will-worship so pleasing to the flesh.
The Spirit of God was able to use the vessel God had prepared and who had been made willing by grace, without changing the confined circumstances of the vessel. The apostle was a willing vessel in the day of the Spirit's manifested power on earth, and when Christ, rejected by the world, remains hidden in the glory on high. To finish the work of the Lord with which he was entrusted, he needed to be freed from the influences of the world which might claim his activities in combating its distractions. He had been through God's school to render the vessel transparent. His bonds were the strange means God used to free him from outside distractions. There will be no need to fetter Christians in the day Christ is manifested in His glory, His saints will be manifested with Him, eternally freed from all the working of the flesh and natural influences. Believers will then be wholly like Christ, even in bodies like unto His body of glory, and they will be sustained in the glory by the power of the Spirit which now keeps them in the days of trial and difficulty. In that day of glory Christ will be glorified in His saints, and wondered at in all who have believed.
It is most blessed to have opened to us the working of a truly spiritual mind under the powerful influence of the Holy Spirit, while the soul is suffering the trials of the wilderness journey. The power of the Spirit is as undimmed at the end of the journey as at the beginning. We see His power in the apostle's life; we can find the same power available for Israel in days of old (see Haggai 3:5) ; and all through the history of the Church we can see the effect of the presence and the power of the Spirit of God in the assembly, and His power is still available if we do not grieve or quench Him. The Holy Spirit produces pure thoughts and true sentiments according to the mind of God and such as are in keeping with the feelings of the soul in its circumstances. The sentiments are richer and fuller when God is realized and is enjoyed as the only hope and stay of the soul. Without divine help we would not, nor perhaps know how to, curb the working of the flesh. Many earnest souls have unsuccessfully tried to restrain their natures and have not found the liberty they sought. When God helps, as He did the apostle by giving him a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to buffet him, and by imprisonment when He would have the mind of the apostle unhindered by the claims of missionary labours, and free to be taken up with the needs of the saints according to the weighty principles of their heavenly calling, He knows just where to apply pressure. Self-affliction, which has been tried by so many, may check one tendency, but nature driven out in one place creeps back in another. God goes to the root of things, He knows how to free the soul and bring every thought into subjection to Christ.
The apostle was strongly attached to the Philippians and they to him. He had a strong natural affection for them for they had often come to his aid. But the love that filled his heart for them had a divine origin. God, who is love in nature, was at work in his heart, and he loved them because God loved them; he gave to them the same character of love he found and learned in God. Once again the Philippians had come to meet his need, and it was evident that they were the ministers of God in their service to His messenger of the gospel, and this drew out his heart to the beloved saints at Philippi.
Our all-wise God knows how to separate the natural from the spiritual, we are so inclined to mistake the one for the other. Our natural affections are called out by what appeals to them, and such love may wane and grow cold, and if not governed by divine love, natural affection may end in shutting out God. Divine love acts according to the nature and will of God, and leads our hearts above the weakness of nature and gives definite character to our natural affections. In our natural affections we please ourselves; if governed by divine love we seek to please God and love those whom He loves.
The Psalms which speak of the sufferings of the godly bring God in as the all-sufficient resource of the soul. The persecuted remnant of the future day, which these Psalms set before us prophetically, voice their complaint when they lose all hope in earthly succour, but they cry to God as their one and only resource in their extremity. They hope against hope and look to God. He remains the hope of the hopeless and He brings the soul up from the place of death; He is the living God, the God of resurrection. In the epistle to the Philippians the soul stands beneath the shadow of death, but the Christian who stands there knows what the Psalmist could not express; death has no power over the life the believer has in Christ risen from among the dead. Our salvation means complete likeness to Christ, when the Saviour comes to glorify our bodies even, into the likeness of His own body of glory. The experience, of one who knows this and by faith anticipates that day of glory, leads him to say that to live now is to live Christ and to serve Him: to die and go to be with Him is positive gain for himself. Every deprivation here works practically to help such n man to see the real source and object of the life we have in Christ with God, though it spells death to what is merely natural. There is proof of this in the power of the words that come from a heart that is occupied with Christ. Under trial the heart that has been reached by grace speaks the language of faith, for faith gives hope when circumstances seem impossible, and the effect of the words of faith is seen in the power they hare in the hearts of others, it is then we see the power of the truth which works by faith and love. The duties and obligations of our natural life remain as instituted by God, and they are bound upon us while we are in them, even though we may realize higher claims upon us. But we have a further proof in a practical way that the power of the life we have in Christ is not of nature. The natural relationships, in which the believer is born into this world, take on a new character and the Christian is to act in them as a new-born creature, born of God. He may if he is called of God and given power, act outside and above nature, but God maintains in its integrity that which He has instituted in nature. Man has fallen from simple dependence upon God and has spoiled all his natural relationships by sin, so now needs grace and strength to act for God even in his simple duties.
The Christian is called by a heavenly calling and it makes him a stranger and pilgrim down here. His resources for the way are found in God Himself, as the epistle shows. We may say that the key to the epistle is God. He is for us all along the way. His love and power are as great for the way as they were for our redemption from the bondage of sin, the evil of the world, and from the power of Satan. The power of God will bring us into the glory and maintain us there. When death draws near whom have we but God? He is the living God, the God of our salvation. Who but God is able to take up the cause of those who are given into the hands of death? When the saints of God are left apparently helpless in an enemy's land, who can find them a way? Only God who gives the will and the power to go on. God in mercy spares the suffering heart and fills it with joy. God is the blessed object of worship for those who worship in spirit and in truth. He reveals to the heart that which it seeks in all sincerity. The peace of God keeps the dependent heart, and the very God of peace is with those who seek the pure and good, for they seek it with God. My God, says the apostle, the God whom I have learned, supplies the need of those who take refuge in Him, and the measure of His supply is according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. The heart when filled with grace forgets its present circumstances and overflows with praise, ascribing all glory to God and our Father for ever and ever.
The apostle at the end of his days, the assembly drawing near the end of its journey down here, and the Christian who has passed through many trials with God, can thank Him more for the trials than for the 10 days of ease. This epistle is the expression of a heart that has found God in everything. The absorbing object in the epistle is Christ who is the centre of all God's thoughts. The apostle longed to have Christ wholly, and if death gave him more of Christ then death to him was gain. When it came to a choice, the apostle was sober while thinking of others, and as they needed him he would remain and minister Christ to them. The assembly, too, responds from her heart when Christ presents Himself. In Revelation 22:16 the Lord speaks of Himself as the bright and Morning star, immediately the Spirit and the bride say, "Come." The assembly cannot remain silent when the Bridegroom presents Himself in the brightness of His person coming to claim His bride: her one desire is that He should come and take her to Himself. The Christian who has run his course and kept the faith, looks on to the day of Christ's appearing when the result of his labour and the trial of his patience will be seen. He began with Christ, he will find Christ at the end, and having kept Christ before his heart all the way, he can say, "I want Christ and Him only, and if death comes, the fellowship of His sufferings and the power of His resurrection will only conform me more to His likeness."
Time is running out for the Christian and we are near the end of the wilderness journey. Like the children of Israel in the plains of Moab, we are learning the power of grace to meet the needs of a people who have been tried in every way and have come to the end of the journey, through the grace and patience of God. Wells of water are available with a little labour. Many noble hearts have already dug for us, and we turn to such epistles as this to the Philippians, to find the grace and power by which God sustains His people until the journey is over and He takes them into the land, which is heaven for us. But the epistle gives us even more than this. In it we see a heavenly mind to which the world has become a complete wilderness; the experiences of such a one are those of a heavenly citizen who finds the world a prison-house. The Christian waits for his deliverance from this world, and looks for his house from heaven-his glorified body. If he can say with the apostle that the cross of Christ is his boast, and that by it the world is crucified to him, and he to the world, the world becomes but a prison or a grave. He who has entered into the true circumcision of Christ and put off the body of the flesh as having died with Him, lives in the hope of glory. The life in which he lives unto God is a life not of this world, Christ risen is his life. He overcomes the world, not by natural strength, but through Christ who strengthens him. He walks in the Spirit and not in the flesh. The epistle does not speak of an over pressed, unstable Christian overcoming sin in the flesh and the temptations of the world, but one who, living in the power of the Spirit with Christ as the motive of all his thoughts and activities, finds all his joy and strength in Christ, and everything else in the world a hindrance. Anything that displaces Christ in the smallest measure by making something of man out of Christ, is abhorrent, and keeps him from having Christ as All.
The apostle first thinks of the assembly at Philippi as he had established it. Now deprived of his presence and personal help he mentions in his address those who held office amongst them. He does not speak as to an assembly in disorder, or his heart could not have gone out so freely and fully towards them. The Philippians had shown earnestness in the gospel from the first, and so far they had not given up the apostle. (c.f. 2 Timothy 1:15) He credits them with undiminished zeal. Because of their fellowship in the gospel he was sure there was a real work of God going on in them. They gave proof of it by keeping the apostle in their hearts. He was convinced this work of God would continue, and that He would finish what He had begun in their hearts until the day when they would be manifested with Christ. In that day there will be no half-finished work of God, all will be brought to completion for the glory of Christ and to the honour of His own great name.
Greatly moved by the love of the Philippians, the desire of the apostle for them was to see that love growing and abounding. He desired that, the more they learned of Christ, so much the more should their love take a practical character according to that knowledge. He opens his heart to them and voices his thoughts about his own sufferings. Christ was the answer to them all. Come what would, if Christ were magnified the apostle triumphed, and this was the measure of his success. If there were those who preached a Christ of contention and thereby thought to add to the sufferings of Paul, it did not matter, all that really concerned him was that they preached Christ. Christ was so much everything that when faced with death, the apostle did not know whether to choose death and go to be with the Lord, or to remain here and serve Him amongst His saints. Serving Christ and ministering Christ to the assembly weighed heavily in the balance, so the apostle, practising charity and true godly patience in the wilderness, was content to stay and minister Christ to the hearts He claimed as His own. Like Caleb and Joshua of old, he was a true man of God in wilderness circumstances. The heart that has entered into the secret of the Lord while treading the wilderness way learns patience, and patience characterizes those who wait upon the Lord. Patience is the ground upon which hope can build its walls to withstand the flood of circumstances by which many are thrown into confusion. Christians are characterized by the way they behave in the wilderness journey. They may be like murmuring, complaining Israel; or if faith is strong in the Lord, they may tread the path like Caleb and Joshua who were men of faith in whom was another spirit.
The apostle awaiting his trial decides it himself. He looks to Christ and reckons on the salvation of God. Men of the world fall into a secondary place with him and they simply serve God's ends. For this reason he encourages the Philippians to be confident in trial, and when they suffered for Christ's sake not be in any way terrified. The fear of man is a great snare. Law courts and prisons strike terror into the hearts of those who have not experienced what it is to lean wholly on God for real spiritual strength. Timid hearts often take courage when they see God's champions bold in the face of the adversary, though they may be suffering acutely through his attacks. The gospel as it is preached today is little opposed. Men hear so many doctrines that they have grown indifferent even to the truth. If consciences were more aroused by the preaching there would be more opposition, and the resources of God would be better known by the very proving of them.
Satan was not able, even by the depression of imprisonment, to silence the apostle, and other weaker servants of the Lord only grew bolder by the evidence of the sustaining power of God as they saw it working in the apostle. This was a proof that a greater power than the adversary's was at work in the servants of God. When God gave some the privilege of suffering for Christ's sake, He also gave the strength to endure to the end. Trials and persecutions only brought God more manifestly to the aid of the sufferers, and the glory of their triumph, even in death, will be manifested when they appear with Christ in the day of His revealed glory.
Paul was in many ways a pattern man. (c.f. 1 Timothy 1:16) He was imprisoned for the gospel he preached, and is it too much to say that he is still in prison? His teaching is little understood and less practised. Scripture does not tell us definitely that the apostle was released, but certain passages lead us to think that he was set free for a little time. Tradition says that he suffered martyrdom at Rome. It seems that, spiritually, his history is in danger of being repeated. If the apostle were released we are not told of his travels or of his work during that time. After being taken to Rome, as we read in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, it does not appear that Paul ever again carried on free apostolic service, or that he laboured in new regions.
Much of Paul's teaching has been recovered to us in these last one hundred and twenty years, and through the grace which gave the Church a revival of the 14 apostle's doctrine, some few found blessing as they learned to walk in the truth once delivered to the saints. Their weakness, which they realized and confessed, and the grace which wrought in them to count on God in their need, were the way of strength for them. God providentially gave His help in their weakness, and much needed gift was given from the blessed Head on high. In the forefront of the battle there were those who were, through grace, prepared to wear a remnant like character and these, led of God, brought much spiritual blessing to the whole assembly at large. On the man-ward side the spiritual energy of a revival soon declines, though the grace and power of God remains undiminished. We might well ask, Has the gospel of the glory of Christ and the truth of the assembly as preached by Paul, suffered a second imprisonment, even as he did?
If it be true that Paul was again imprisoned after a short release and died in captivity, which seems more than likely, the truth he taught remained unchanged. Even when in prison his spiritual energy was unabated, though he had much to burden his spirit. He wrote to Timothy, "This thou knowest, that all which are in Asia be turned away from me" (2 Timothy 1:15). Europe held him captive; no man stood by him at his trial ; Asia left him, but unsubdued in spirit, he could speak to Timothy of the crowning day when the work of faith will receive its reward-the crown of righteousness which will be given to all who love Christ's appearing. This will be the prize of the triumphant fight of faith.
Though the Church soon left Paul's teaching, the Lord did not leave the Church, but He sent the apostle John to present to believers a picture of government and judgment as an answer to their state. For faith, the Spirit of God, by the hand of the same apostle, set before those who had left their high and heavenly calling to occupy an earthly place, the moral glories of the Son of God. The blessed perfection of the Son Himself is alone the power that will draw failing Christians from the distractions of the world. A heart filled with Christ forgets the world around. If the Son be refused nothing remains but judgment, when He comes to cleanse the world from unrighteousness and to claim the inheritance.
Paul saw the tendency of Christians to give way to the beggarly elements of the world, the ritual of heathenish clothed in Judaic guise; and he exhorted them to put on Christ and to enter into the joy of the Lord. The joy of the Lord was their strength; and in Him all their patient hopes would be fully realized. There is but one answer to the wiles of the enemy, it is Christ. Satan was completely vanquished when he met Christ, and he can do nothing against Christ when he finds Him in a believer. The apostle knew this and the subject of chapter two is Christ in the character in which He overcame the enemy. It is the character in which those who, walking in the steps of the Lord down here, may overcome the adversary, "Even as I also overcame…"
The apostle credits the Philippians with largeness of heart and open-handed generosity, which he had previously experienced, and now again tasted in their gift sent by the hand of Epaphroditus. It only encouraged him to look for yet more of the work of God in them. They had given proof of their love to him by their gift, now he desired to see Christ more and more magnified in them, and amongst them an even greater unity of heart and mind. The latter desire suggests that there was something disturbing the harmony of the fellowship at Philippi. Chapter four speaks of dissension between two sisters, and where there is division of heart there will soon be bitterness and strife. The secret of harmony amongst the children of God is in each thinking more highly of the other than of himself. The true ground of order amongst Christians is found in submitting one to another. The spring of Christian virtues is in true humility of heart where self finds no place.
If the Philippians found their consolations in Christ, if their fellowship was in the uniting bonds of the 16 Spirit, and if their care for one another was the product of their inmost thoughts having Christ as their centre, their walk should show it. If these bonds caused them to walk with one heart and labour with one mind, then, indeed, the apostle's cup of joy would be full. To gain that which he so desired amongst them he sets before them the highest possible example, Christ Himself, Christ in the moral glories of His humiliation, where sin never entered to mar the moral excellence of perfect man.
We need to be occupied with the same perfect example today so that we may walk for God through a very active but vain world. The path of faith and love that Christ trod through this world is the path He trod and marked out for us. There is no other that is pleasing to God, there is no other in which we can know the joy of the Lord. We not only need strength for the way, we must draw upon grace for the journey, and the apostle sets before these Philippians the source of all grace; it is in Christ for us. Following His path from the glory down through the earth, and up again to the highest glory to which God has exalted Him as the Man of His delight, we see the perfect Man, Adam's absolute contrast, the true Man, the One in whom God could take infinite delight in every step of His way. Every knee shall bow before Him and every tongue confess that He is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Christ made Himself of no reputation, there was no self-seeking in His nature. He took the form of a servant by becoming a man, and then humbled Himself still further, even to death, the death of the cross. He went to these depths to serve us, and this is the mind the apostle looked for in the Philippians, and we can say, it is the mind that should be found in us today. It is the true character of the heavenly man in earthly circumstances. How near to Christ we shall need to keep that we may draw from Him the grace and devotedness to keep us constant. How else will each fulfil his part and the body with its members be seen as a whole? Only through the power of grace will the members shine out those qualities of Christ that the
Spirit of God develops in each by occupation with Christ. Adam was just the opposite from Christ, and Adam's children are as self-willed as their father. As children of Adam we are by nature as self-centred as he. God was not in his mind when he took the forbidden fruit, he acted independently of God. Christ in lowly dependence showed no will to exalt Himself, but humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, a death of shame. Wherefore, the word says, God has highly exalted Him. It was the path of the perfect Man who had taken the form of a servant, and served in love as perfect as His obedience. Here we can see the true foundation of unfeigned joy, and also the basis of true harmony in the assembly-the selflessness of such lowliness and the absence of will shown in submitting to one another.
God delighted in exalting the perfect, obedient One and in making Him Lord over all. God is not displaced by the exaltation of Christ. When man exalts himself God is shut out, but Christ glorified God by abasing Himself, He magnified God at His own expense as man, and gave God cause to honour Him, wherefore, the word says, it is to the glory of God that He should be Lord of all. All the glory of God the Father was at work in the resurrection of Christ, and every tongue will be made to own that God was right in making Him Lord of all.
The glory of God is the end of all His works, so that even the absence of the apostle from the field of operation was not a sign that the work of God was giving way before the enemy, it became the occasion for the hand of God to become more evident in the weakness of believers. If the Philippians had now to fend for themselves and fight their own battles, they were to do it with fear and trembling. There are great powers of evil opposing the Christian's advance. The effect of their evil influence is much in evidence in the world, they act upon the flesh and work through the lusts of men, and they are the authors of superstitions, perverting the truth. The conflict in which believers are hotly engaged is to maintain the truth in purity and 18 love, and in the power of grace to hold fast their own ground as a heavenly people The secret of success lies in the path of obedience to the will of God. They ha4 not lost God, though Paul was no longer at liberty to fight for them, they would learn what was in God to overcome all their difficulties and make the end more glorious than the beginning. We learn by the vicissitudes of the way what is in ourselves, as the wilderness journey discovered Israel's weaknesses; but God has resources which reveal His faithfulness as well as His strength in overcoming obstacles that seem insurmountable. Israel showed more unbelief at the end of the wilderness journey than in their earlier days before they became tired of the manna and had grown weary of the sands of the desert. As soon as the children of Israel neared the border of the land early in the journey, their unbelief broke out and they asked that spies be 5ent to spy out the land. After journeying for thirty-eight years and again coming near the land, God had to set aside all the old means by which He had brought them through the wilderness, for their unbelief of heart was as strong as ever. God had now to raise up a man in whom His Spirit wrought in power, not to lead them by authority, but to carry them into the land by the energy of the Spirit.
Grace in the power of the Spirit is needed amongst Christians so that they give no place to the adversary. When trials and the opposition of evil tend to dis-hearten Christians, disputes and strifes amongst them weaken their hands and the enemy gains an easy entrance. But here the apostle speaks of believers, not as in their failings, but as belonging to the family of God, as sincere and bright in their witness of the truth in a dark and evil world.
What better wish could the aged apostle have in mind for his beloved converts than that they should, in their wilderness journey, show before the world, and as an example to all believers, the true character of the nature they bear? Christ, the obedient and dependent One, filled the day of His earthly mission in actively undermining the haughty pride of a sinful world by life of perfect submission to the will of the Father even though it led Him to death. Having witnessed a good confession before Pilate, He went to the cross, making nothing of Himself. He bumbled Himself in total self-abnegation, and in so doing exposed the @ride and ambition of the world. In death He took the place of absolute weakness in man, so that the whole extent of the power of God might be seen in raising man from the place of death and setting Him down in the highest glory. Though it was Christ's own personal right to rise again and take the highest place in glory, yet it was from the cross and the grave He was raised in the glory of the Father. By taking the place in death of absolute weakness, He overcame the power of the enemy whose might was death, and He overcame the world that put Him to death. A Man in the glory was God's blessed answer to the work that had glorified Him in the place where His name had been taken in vain, where His mercies were abused, His grace despised, and His gift to the world, His own beloved Son, was cast out. We are in that world which is, in heart, still the same, and it is here the apostle desired that the Christian should walk blamelessly and sincerely and true to the apostle's gospel. Such a testimony from Christians rejoices the hearts of those who love and serve Christ.
We can only overcome the world by being dead to it, or rather as not being alive in it, and when walking as Christ walked. The world knows nothing of our hopes, nothing of our high and heavenly calling; it can and does recognize the character of Christ. When He came into the world, which was under the domination of Satan in heathen forms of government, the world killed Him, in ignorance as to who He was, it is true, but by casting Him out of its life the world revealed its enmity to Him and told plainly to whom it gave its allegiance, so it is now without excuse. Centuries of Christian teaching have curbed the enmity in certain parts of the world, and in many places Christians are not molested. But the character of Christ as developed in His people is used by God as a public witness against the wickedness of the world and as a testimony to the truth that m has been revealed, there is invariably opposition to such a witness and sometimes it grows violent.
If the world had overcome and silenced the truth at the beginning, then all the labour of the apostles would have been in vain. But Paul was prepared to go the whole length, and pour out his life as an added offering to the sacrifice that the Philippians had made for him. The sacrifice and service prompted by their faith gave him great joy, and if his service led him to ' death they were to rejoice with him. It would be as though a drink-offering had been added to their sacrifice which was well-pleasing to God. They would share a common joy, and the faith and service of the Philippians would be greatly strengthened. The apostle wrote in this way to encourage the Philippians, because the state of the Church had fallen so low that Timothy alone could be sent to carry on the work of the apostle, and to teach his doctrine with the same unswerving faithfulness to the interests of Christ in the assembly. Followers of Christ, though they professed to be, yet every one was seeking a comfortable Christianity in the world without the reproach of Christ. But the apostle thinks of the need of the Philippians and says he is sending Timothy, when he learns how things go with himself at his trial. Timothy would bring them the latest news of the apostle and the way God was ordering his course.
The one who lives in the power of the truth, and who, by the word of truth is brought into the presence of God to realize there what God is in His very nature, turns to His people with the power of His love in his heart and expects to find the same love in their hearts. Epaphroditus had come a thousand miles with a gift from the Philippians to relieve the apostle's need. This messenger of the assembly had undertaken the journey at heavy cost to himself. His health had given way and he had been seriously sick. His heart was so filled with love that he not only loved the saints, but he counted upon their love and interest in him. This attitude of heart speaks of uncommon understanding and ingenuousness, which thinks not of self as a centre, but can interpret the hearts of others as to thoughts about himself in terms of their regard. A self-occupied person thinks of himself as the object of interest to others in terms of his own self-esteem. A divinely awakened love has not self as a centre, but delights to serve others, and is anxious to take every burden from the hearts of those who have made the objects of God's love its care. The one so loved desires to remove every cause for anxiety, and is prepared to sacrifice himself that he may be a joy to the hearts of others. The apostle entered into the spirit of this with Epaphroditus. Paul had been spared the sorrow that the death of Epaphroditus would have caused him, and he thought how heavily the report of the sickness of Epaphroditus would weigh upon the hearts of the Philippians, and he encouraged the selfless and self-sacrificing action of this messenger of the assembly at Philippi who was so anxious to return and report himself well again.
God has called us apart from this world, He has given us our portion with Christ above, and we shall inherit all things together with Him who is the rightful heir of all the Father's wealth. We through infinite grace have been adopted by God the Father, and we have been redeemed from our fallen state. God is not unmindful of our way, but thinks of the weariness, the loneliness, the sorrow and the grief we experience that well-nigh overwhelm us. He is merciful and pitiful and spares us many sorrows. Paul could from the bottom of his heart bless Him for sparing Epaphroditus, the beloved brother who was a link of love between him and the Philippians. The heart can bear only so much, only that for which it has found strength in God, and every sorrow is a weight that adds its burden to those we have already borne. It is true that we have a limitless source of strength in God, but we draw upon it according to our faith, and we need fresh faith for each and every trial. Sometimes it is reproach that breaks a heart, for selfishness cannot measure sacrifice nor appreciate a selfless motive. But God is the refuge and hiding-place for those who sorrow, though nothing disturbs His peace, He never fails to comfort those who are cast down if they seek Him in their sorrow.
In this epistle the apostle is seen as one who is living in the power of the heavenly calling, and as one who is done with the world and is seeking the true Christian portion above, in and with Christ. Nothing is said of the conflict that goes on in a believer between flesh and Spirit, for God had helped to curb the tendencies of the flesh in the man and give him a practical freedom from its dominion. The Spirit was then free to fill him with, not the selfish anxiety of disappointment, but the godly care of the assembly which came upon him daily. The Spirit led his thoughts into the triumphant path of faith that looked to God and not at circumstances. In chapter three we see the apostle looking away to Christ in glory, and there he finds his strength to count all things that were counted as gain to a man, worthless to him as a Christian, and to make his sole aim and object of life and energy the winning of Christ in glory.
Though written so long ago the epistle before us is an apt word for today. Heaven is our home, and our redemption from this present evil world sets us on a journey towards our heavenly rest. Because the Christian is not yet with and wholly like Christ, he needs an incentive to hasten him along, he needs an object, a prize before him. His whole desire now, if he has Christ as the blessed object before him, is to reach Him in the glory. When he does reach Christ it will be the crowning- day of all his hopes and desires, the reward for all his striving. He already stands upon the sure ground of his soul's salvation through the completed work of Christ, which He has done to the perfect satisfaction and glory of God, and his soul can rest in peace with God until the day of glory dawns. Meanwhile the ardent soul runs the race with the prize of the calling on high, Christ in glory, as his great energizer.
The Christian's experiences flow from his new place in Christ before God. He has the Spirit of God given him so that he has the power to run and prevail over all difficulties. The believer is accepted before God in all the value of Christ's redemptive work, and the Spirit of God has been given him as the seal of his faith in Christ and His work, so that he may enter into and realize his acceptance and place before God. Being still in the world where his faith is tried and proof made of his sincerity and zeal for the Lord, he has to pursue in practice that which faith makes real to him; he runs to reach a certain goal. Fellowship with Christ in the pathway of His sufferings which may lead through the valley of death only help him achieve his end, which is likeness to Him in resurrection. The apostle desired that he should be accounted worthy of the resurrection.
As this epistle speaks of Christian experience that is consequent on the anointing of the Spirit, we do not hear of the striving of the soul against sin. The Spirit is given us for power, in the life we have as born of God, and is here seen active in Christian experience successfully overcoming the difficulties that he meets in a world under the domination of the wicked one. The flesh is not active so sin is not in view. We see in the apostle the way God had taken to free a man from nature's activities, so that the Spirit might be free to occupy his soul wholly with Christ, and to set his heart free to joy in the Lord where it continually renews its strength. Chains were upon the apostle and he knew in a real and practical way in himself what the circumcision of Christ meant. Others might make a show of piety in will-worship and mutilate the flesh, stun it, we might say; but the apostle could truly say, I am crucified with Christ, and in his daily life add, "Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body" (2 Corinthians 4:10). Christ has died, and me died with Him, says faith by the Spirit, and this is the way of our deliverance from the bondage of sin in the flesh. To give us the experience of that deliverance, and so that the lusts of the flesh do not dominate our life, the apostle adds, "We which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh" (2 Corinthians 4:11). The apostle knew in a practical way what it was to say that he had put off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ, that is, as having died with Him, in His death when He died to all here. It was real for his own soul and he says, "Not only have I done with the world, I have crucified it, but, what is more trying still, because I live Christ, the world has crucified me". He bore the reproach of Christ in his soul in a very real way.
There are those who shamelessly give vent to their natural feelings under the guise of Christianity and call it their liberty to do so; others are openly evil in their ways; lastly there are those who make a show of denying the flesh but are not done with it altogether. The apostle warns us against all these guises of religious flesh. The true deniers of the flesh are those who worship God, not by forms and ritual which excite and please the flesh, even though they seem to deny the flesh, but who worship in spirit and in truth. Spiritual worship cannot flow if the flesh is given any place. He who would rejoice can only do so, or even desire to do so, when he is done with the flesh, it never delights in anything in Christ.
What will make a man count all things loss for Christ's sake, when he has every advantage with which nature can endow him, and that the striving of the flesh can offer him? There are two things which, if they are part of our experience, make earthly things valueless in our eyes. One glimpse of the glory of Christ changes all things for the Christian, and speeds him in the race heavenward. Earthly things no longer hold the heart and mind in their old thraldom, the tawdriness of worldly things is discovered in the light of the heavenly glory which shines for us in Christ. The apostle could say that he had seen the Lord in glory, and to the Philippians he opens his heart and says, "I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord". He then adds the second reason why he counted all things that advantaged him as a man loss for Christ. It is, indeed, part of the first but is the negative side, the knowledge of Christ is the first and positive reason for despising earthly things. In this second reason the child of God is helped against himself, and all that naturally exalts a man and to which we cling so tenaciously, is seen to be a hindrance. God had cut with the sword of rebuke right across the path of Saul of Tarsus to humble him and to prepare him for His service. The heavenly light of the Lord in glory had shone round about him, and all his earthly ambitions were broken up. Now Paul, the apostle, counting wholly on grace could say, "For whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ." It was when he had experienced the loss of his worldly possessions and lost his coveted public status, but had his eye upon Christ in glory, he could so express himself. The loss of all things stripped him of the world, but Christ in heaven was before him and became ever more dear. The world becomes a wilderness to such a soul and he is glad to look away from it to Christ. Everything gave way in the apostle's mind to Christ. He would have nothing to say to anything that made something of Paul. Human righteousness so creditable in the eyes of men, was nothing to him who so desired to be found in Christ; only the righteousness which is of God through faith, gave him a firm foundation. All that gave him an advantage as a man, even his religiousness, had made him an enemy of Christ, it had brought him to the brink of hell under the judgment of God.
The apostle's whole desire was to be in everything like Christ. If death met him in the way, then the power of His resurrection would come in and raise him from the dead. Suffering with Christ and death in His service would only make him more like Christ, and resurrection from such a death would be an attainment by which God would honour the martyred servant of Christ.
Christ had laid hold of him for the richest blessing and for unspeakable glory, and the apostle desired to lay hold of these things that God had given in the fullest measure in Christ. He would not reach them perfectly until he shared them with Christ in the glory, but he was making every effort to know and to grasp all that it was possible for a Spirit-filled heart and mind to attain while the earthly pilgrimage lasted. It is not a case of how many advantages we naturally have that we achieve a place in the race, but rather how much of our natural hindrances we have shed, and, we may say, in how far we have acquired simplicity. Forgetting everything behind, the good as well as the bad, and straining every effort to reach what is before. Everything behind us drags us back in the race; a look cast behind hinders the next step forward. A glance at the wilderness behind should show us the futility of hesitating there a moment longer, even though the way be filled with the mercies of God. But strangely, such a glance only retards our forward progress, unless it be to learn God's grace, to judge the past for our indolence and indifference, and to hasten us onwards to more and greater mercies than we have known. Christ in glory is the prize of the calling on high of God. To reach Him, to be found in Him and with Him, filled the apostle's heart with holy desire and governed his every motive. Prison bars, captive chains, the roaring of the adversary, or the care of the assembly which was ever upon his heart, could not prevent his reaching the heavenly prize, they only helped him to attain his object.
We may know little, but if that little is Christ in any measure, He is everything and God will help us to a deeper understanding and fuller knowledge of that to which He has called us. There will be no hindrances to fellowship if Christ is the blessed object of the soul's desire. Whether we know little or more, if Christ is All, there will be no hindrances and we shall have patience with one another. But there are those who profess Christ and are enemies of His cross. They turn all to personal advantage, they take advantage of grace to satisfy themselves, they indulge their appetites, and lower everything, even heavenly truth, down to the earthly level of human appreciation. The cross of Christ makes nothing of man's pride, it is foolishness to the philosopher, it is truly a death-stroke to the ritualistic, though he may try to make the cross the touchstone of his religion. The cross is death in its most shameful way to the flesh and all its religion, and the religionists of the day put Christ on the cross.
Those who truly know the Saviour and look for Him, will be changed into His likeness and be glorified with Him, even as to their bodies. They will be in bodies like His own body of glory, and will then know the power of His resurrection which they have so desired to know. He who has the power to do it, will keep His own through all their journey, and by the same power with which He will refashion the body of their day of trial; that body in which we have suffered pain and sorrow for His name's sake.
Though we all offend in many things (James 3:2), and have to confess that in many ways we hare grieved the Spirit, yet, in this day of the Spirit's power, there is such power given us we should not fail. That power works collectively amongst the people of God by love in the Spirit. If we quench Him by letting the flesh have its own way, we become a prey to the enemy. But set free in Christ we are free to walk in love towards one another, for Christ loves us. He gave Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour, and with this example of perfect self-sacrifice in mind, the apostle beseeches the brethren to dwell in unity, for he had heard of dissension between certain sisters. These sisters had laboured with the apostle in the gospel, but their eyes had been enticed away from Christ and self-interest had intruded and caused dissension. It is the enemy's way of breaking down unity of heart and mind in the assembly and falsifying the testimony of the saints.
The strength of the apostle's affection, and the power in his appeal to the hearts of the Philippians, were derived from his own knowledge of God whom he had learned through his necessities. He had discovered the 28 very source of His supply from which He met every need of His people. All his own resources were in the Lord, he could not do better than exhort his beloved converts to stand fast in the Lord.
He loved the Philippians and longed to be with them, thoughts of them brought him great joy, their steadfastness in the faith was a crown to his labours. It was their liberty to stand fast in the Lord, it was their strong tower, and it is ours. We need the same exhortation, for it is difficult to stand fast, and know nothing but Christ in a Laodicean day, when human pretension goes hand in hand with lukewarmness, and even human regard that Christians should have for one another is lacking.
In a day when religious and ecclesiastical pretension cloud the truth, the Spirit of God makes Christianity a very practical question; He lays emphasis upon personal behaviour. If the smallest thing comes between us and Christ we get filled with our own importance. Even the doctrines we profess to know may become a means of self-exaltation, we hold the doctrines. But the Spirit of God would have us real and know the liberty we have in Christ. Not seeking to establish a human righteousness, even if there were such a thing. Those who made a great show of will-worship and were mindful of earthly things, rested upon their own righteousness. They had not lost confidence in the flesh, and they were enemies of the cross of Christ; the cross makes nothing of man. If we take up a daily cross for Christ's sake the world only despises us; a useless cross they say. Today amidst Laodicean lukewarmness the overcomer is marked, not by an outward demonstration of power, or show of riches, but, if he is in the secret of God he will know deeply what it is to share the rejection of Christ, for Christ is seen outside the professing body at the end (Revelation 3:20). The apostle exhorted these dearly beloved Christians to hold their ground, for many would seek to drive them off it. Men boast in their knowledge and even in their religiousness, reckoning their righteousness according to the works of the flesh, but the apostle besought the Philippians not to follow dead works and glory in the flesh. A Christian has every right to glory in Christ, it is not presumptuous for him to do so. When the Spirit of God has applied to our souls the work that Christ has done for us, then it can be said that we are in Christ, and in Him we are the righteousness of God. In Christ Paul could glory, though in himself he was nothing. He exhorts these dear saints who were in Christ now that righteousness was accomplished and glorified in the presence of God, to stand fast in this glorious Person, their Lord. In Him they were set in liberty before God, and they enjoyed their place according a5 they understood what it was to be before God even as Christ was before Him. Acknowledging His Lordship, His right over them in everything, gave them the liberty to deny any right of the enemy over them. By owning the Lord in everything in a true practical way, all their activities, their thoughts and their affections would be brought under His government. It would not bring them into bondage of spirit, but by subduing the mere natural thoughts and bringing all into subjection to the Lord, they would be free in the new man to enjoy the happy privileges of the Christian pathway.
Having set them before the Lord, the apostle could now speak freely of two 5isters in the Lord who were in danger of causing dissension in the assembly and robbing both themselves and others of their joy in the Lord. A joyless Christian is a weak Christian, he is taken up with something less than the Lord, and he leaves openings in his armour for the fiery darts of the enemy that reach vulnerable parts and so cast him down into despondency. But, says the apostle, "Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice." Let your joy, he says, have its root and branch in the Lord, there all is secure. Nothing that is for our blessing in Christ can be lost, but all that is merely of man will pass away and cannot be a true foundation for joy. Though troubles may assail and burdens weigh heavily on the spirit; though there be in the assembly cause for weeping, yet if the heart finds its strong tower in the Lord and there strengthens itself in communion with Him, nothing can disturb the deep stream of joy which flows through the heart from the Rock of our salvation. The joy that springs from finding every resource and every pleasure in the unchangeable Lord, rests, not on the shifting sands of human circumstances, but upon the unshakeable stability of His throne. A Christian need not be disturbed by the clamorous claims of the world, these need not be the cause of anxiety to him, and others may see and wonder at the gentleness of spirit that does not strive against a restless and godless world. We can wait with patience when the Lord is known to be near and His coming imminent. Occupation with Him, and bringing all to Him, unburdens the heart and takes away the consuming care that the Spirit of God couples with the deceitfulness of riches and lusts. Pouring out the heart to God, making every request known to Him with that thankfulness, which faith prompts because it rests in God and counts upon His goodness, leads the heart into the grace of God. Nothing disturbs His throne, He never acts hastily or with that character of restlessness which so marks the behaviour of those who seek their rest in a changing scene, but can never find it. He rests in the calmness of the unchangeable nature of His own serenity. No circumstance can shake His throne, nothing that is contrary to His nature and can rise above Him; He is above all that troubles us or that convulses the works of creation. Occupation with Christ is God's answer in grace to all disturbances, and He leads us, by His grace, to be occupied with the same One who fills His heart with perfect delight.
Not only may we in faith make every request known to God, and be assured that He hears us, but, when walking in all purity and minding the things in which the very nature of God can take positive delight, we may have the conciousness of His presence as the God of peace. Who then can trouble us? Our God, whose desire is that we should be peaceful and happy in His presence, delights to enter into communion with those who have found His grace in Christ, and as a result fill their lives with the savour of Christ, a savour in which God takes infinite pleasure. The apostle writes to the
Romans of things that are true, to Titus of things that rare honest, to the Galatians of things that are just, to the Corinthians of things that are pure, of things that are lovely to Philemon, of things that are good to Timothy; and all things that we have learned, and received, and heard, and seen in the apostle we are exhorted to do; then God will make us realize His presence and rest in His peace. He can have no fellowship with darkness, but He has brought us into the light.
For a people who once gave him lashes, to think again and again of his need when a prisoner of the Lord and suffering for the sake of the gospel, was evident proof that the hand of the Lord was at work. The apostle finds it another occasion for rejoicing, for he was confident that these Philippians were fellow-heirs of the grace of life. It was not merely because his need had been supplied that the apostle was pleased. He well knew the ups and downs of the wilderness way, and had learned to trust in the Lord at all times for all things, but he could see that the ears of these dear Christians were open to the voice of the Lord speaking in terms of His rich grace. Having learned the true source of grace and strength, and having often drawn from it, he could say, "I (not we) can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." But here was the Philippians' opportunity and they made use of it in love. So full was the heart of the apostle with Christ and with service for Him, that he delighted in finding any response to the grace which is in Christ for all who believe, and the Philippians, had risen to the occasion. It was not only that the apostle rejoiced in their gift and had been relieved by it, but he knew that God took account of their action and it was a sweet savour to Him. To see the truth working in their hearts by love was well-pleasing to God. "My God", says the apostle, speaking of the God whom he had learned so well in his necessities, "shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus." He knew the manner of God's giving; He gives as only God can. "He that spared not His own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" The apostle had tasted for himself the goodness of God. The unfailing faithfulness of God had been his daily portion, even when others had forgotten him, and he had been neglected. But if he found earth closing to him heaven opened wider before him. If he were not getting earthly gifts, heaven showered its blessings upon him, and he could more than repay mere temporal gifts, sweet as they were, by drawing upon God and His exhaustless riches for his children in the faith. He had learned to be content whatever his earthly lot. To be abased or to abound, to be full or to suffer hunger were not to him the measure of God's care, he always abounded in Christ. The kindnesses of God as known in Christ were the measure in the apostle's mind, of His care of His people even for their daily circumstances. If God withheld His hand today it was but to give double on the morrow, and by a way in which it was evident that all flowed from His grace. Love and grace were at work in the hearts of these Philippians, who were moved by grace to give proof of their love; the love of God in which they dwelt by faith wrought in their hearts.
The apostle closes his letter with praise unto God. "Now unto God and our Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen." It came as the expression and outpouring of a heart that, though passing on to win Christ in glory, was bowed in humility before His grace and glory. It was such grace that had reached him who had been a persecutor of the humble followers of the Lord Jesus, and a glory that had stricken him down when pursuing his way of rebellion against God, but that filled him with power for his work when he was sent out on his service for Christ.
The apostle made his supplications in prayer for the Philippians with joy because of their fellowship with the gospel. They were as lights rising up to shine in a dark world, and he hoped that they would continue to shine ever brighter, so that, in the day of Christ, the apostle would have them as a reason for his rejoicing. The trials and sorrows of the wilderness were not to rob their hearts of their joy in the Lord. The wilderness journey would only prove the resources of God in Christ Jesus for those who were cast upon Him for everything. The manna was Israel's daily food in the wilderness, it kept them alive and well in a place where nothing would grow out of the ground. Christ is the believer's manna, his food from heaven, and he can no more do without eating Christ for his daily needs down here, and thrive in soul, than Israel could do without the manna in the desert.
The apostle in prison fed on Christ and found Him more than sufficient for his need. The more he thought on Christ and the more he shared Christ in ministering to others, so much the more did he find occasion for joy, and he could confidently exhort others to taste and see how good was the Lord, it would give them great cause to rejoice always.
The whole epistle breathes an air of joy that is too deep for words. The apostle speaks of weeping because of those who were enemies of the cross of Christ. He speaks of those who falsify the doctrine of Christ through their conduct; yet nothing touches the seat of his joy which was in the Lord. The moment the soul gets out of touch and loses the sense of His presence, if anything, even sorrow occupies the soul more than Christ, the foundation of true joy is gone, and the soul has lost its joy and begins to wander in search of something that will restore the joy or take its place. We can thank God the soul can find no joy out of Christ. Once we know Christ we cannot find reason to rejoice where the world finds its happiness. A Christian is soon miserable in worldly company and he makes others miserable. If the heart is full of heavenly gladness the mind is free to follow where the Holy Spirit would lead the thoughts, but if the sunshine of joy is gone then the thoughts are full of contradictions.
In their early missionary days Paul and Silas sang in the gaol at Philippi, and now from a Roman prison, in the same spirit of joy that had no earthly foundation, Paul reminds the Philippians of his introduction to them. He was as triumphant over circumstances at the end 34 as at the beginning. He had been released from prison in the past, to serve, now he was bound again to serve, yet even more free in his chains than in his days of liberty. The joy of the Holy Ghost was in him and he cannot do less than show the Philippians that the same Spirit sustained him in undiminished vigour of joy at the end in spite of circumstances. The mission of the Holy Spirit was to take of the things of Christ and to show them to us, He was fulfilling His mission and keeping the apostle in the power of grace with the same blessed energy at the end as at the beginning. Has His mission changed? Even when the Church left its first love and coldness had set in, the Spirit continued His ministry and presented the Son Himself before the declining Church. To awaken the heart of a forgetful bride, the bright and Morning-star presents Himself to her affections and the Spirit leads her cry: "The Spirit and the Bride say, Come." The Lord is at hand.
Drawing to the close of his days the apostle was still pressing on to win Christ in glory with unflagging energy, and this letter reveals the spirit of humility and dependence in which he was running. A true sense of our nothingness, which may be proved to us through our circumstances, might tend to make us feel weak for the race, but the consciousness of our weakness is the way that leads to strength. The moment Christ is brought in, we are strengthened to do all things, for He has triumphed through weakness and is now seated in the glory, soon to come forth and exercise His right and power. Meanwhile the Spirit's mission here is to testify to the power of Christ in glory, and by this means He strengthens those who are Christ's to surmount all obstacles in the way upward to Christ.