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A PLEA FOR UNITY
There was much in the state of the Philippian church which filled Paul’s heart with thankfulness, and nothing which drew forth his censures, but these verses, with their extraordinary energy of pleading, seem to hint that there was some defect in the unity of heart and mind of members of the community. It did not amount to discord, but the concord was not as full as it might have been. There is another hint pointing in the same direction in the appeal to Paul’s true yoke-fellow, in chapter 4:, to help two good women who, though they had laboured much in the gospel, had not managed to keep ‘of the same mind in the Lord,’ and there is perhaps a still further indication that Paul’s sensitive heart was conscious of the beginnings of strife in the air, in the remarkable emphasis with which, at the very outset of the letter, he over and over again pours out his confidence and affection on them ‘all,’ as if aware of some incipient rifts in their brotherhood. There are always forces at work which tend to part the most closely knit unities even when these are consecrated by Christian faith. Where there are no dogmatical grounds of discord, nor any open alienation, there may still be the beginnings of separation, and a chill breeze may be felt even when the sun is shining with summer warmth. Wasps are attracted by the ripest fruit.
The words of our text present no special difficulty, and bring before us a well-worn subject, but it has at least this element of interest, that it grips very tightly the deepest things in Christian life, and that none of us can truly say that we do not need to listen to Paul’s pleading voice. We may notice the general division of his thoughts in these words, in that he puts first the heart-touching motives for listening to his appeal, next describes with the exuberance of earnestness the fair ideal of unity to which he exhorts, and finally touches on the hindrances to its realisation, and the victorious powers which will overcome these.
I. The motives and bonds of Christian unity.
It is not a pedantic dissection and vivisection of the Apostle’s earnest words, if we point out that they fall into four clauses, of which the first and third ‘any comfort in Christ, any fellowship of the Spirit’ urge the objective facts of Christian revelation, and the second and fourth ‘any consolation of love, any tender mercies and compassions’ put emphasis on the subjective emotions of Christian experience. We may lay the warmth of all of these on our own hearts, and shall find that these hearts will be drawn into the blessedness of Christian unity in the precise measure in which they are affected by them.
As to the first of them, it may be suggested that here, as elsewhere in the New Testament, the true idea of the word rendered ‘comfort’ is rather ‘exhortation.’ The Apostle is probably not so much pointing to the consolations for trouble which come from Jesus, as to the stimulus to unity which flows from Him. It would rather weaken the force of Paul’s appeal, if the two former grounds of it were so nearly identical as they are, if the one is based upon ‘comfort’ and the other on ‘consolation.’ The Apostle is true to his dominant belief, that in Jesus Christ there lies, and from Him flows, the sovereign exhortation that rouses men to ‘whatsoever things are lovely and of good report.’ In Him we shall find in the measure in which we are in Him, the most persuasive of all exhortations to unity, and the most omnipotent of all powers to enforce it. Shall we not be glad to be in the flock of the Good Shepherd, and to preserve the oneness which He gave His life to establish? Can we live in Him, and not share His love for His sheep? Surely those who have felt the benediction of His breath on their foreheads when He prayed ‘that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me and I in Thee,’ cannot but do what is in them to fulfil that prayer, and to bring a little nearer the realisation of their Lord’s purpose in it, ‘that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me.’ Surely if we lay to heart, and enter into sympathy with, the whole life and death of Jesus Christ, we shall not fail to feel the dynamic power fusing us together, nor fail to catch the exhortation to unity which comes from the lips that said, ‘I am the vine, ye are the branches.’
The Apostle next bases his appeal for unity on the experiences of the Philippian Christians, and on their memories of the comfort which they have tasted in the exercise of mutual love. Our hearts find it hard to answer the question whether they are more blessed when their love passes out from them in a warm stream to others, or when the love of others pours into them. To love and to be loved equally elevate courage, and brace the weakest for calm endurance and high deeds. The man who loves and knows that he is loved will be a hero. It must always seem strange and inexplicable that a heart which has known the enlargement and joy of love given and received, should ever fall so far beneath itself as to be narrowed and troubled by nourishing feelings of separation and alienation from those whom it might have gathered into its embrace, and thereby communicated, and in communicating acquired, courage and strength. We have all known the comfort of love; should it not impel us to live in ‘the unity of the spirit and the bond of peace’? Men around us are meant to be our helpers, and to be helped by us, and the one way to secure both is to walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us.
But Paul has still further heart-melting motives to urge. He turns the Philippians’ thoughts to their fellowship in the Spirit. All believers have been made to drink into one spirit, and in that common participation in the same supernatural life they partake of a oneness, which renders any clefts or divisions unnatural, and contradictory of the deepest truths of their experience. The branch can no more shiver itself off from the tree, or keep the life sap enclosed within itself, than one possessor of the common gift of the Spirit can separate himself from the others who share it. We are one in Him; let us be one in heart and mind. The final appeal is connected with the preceding, inasmuch as it lays emphasis on the emotions which flow from the one life common to all believers. That participation in the Spirit naturally leads in each participant to ‘tender mercies and compassions’ directed to all sharers in it. The very mark of truly possessing the Spirit’s life is a nature full of tenderness and swift to pity, and they who have experienced the heaven on earth of such emotions should need no other motive than the memory of its blessedness, to send them out among their brethren, and even into a hostile world, as the apostles of love, the bearers of tender mercies, and the messengers of pity.
II. The fair ideal which would complete the Apostle’s joy.
We may gather from the rich abundance of motives which the Apostle suggests before he comes to present his exhortation, that he suspected the existence of some tendencies in the opposite direction in Philippi, and possibly the same conclusion may be drawn from the exuberance of the exhortation itself, and from its preceding the dehortation which follows. He does not scold, he scarcely even rebukes, but he begins by trying to melt away any light frost that had crept over the warmth of the Philippians’ love; and having made that preparation, he sets before them with a fulness which would be tautological but for the earnestness that throbs in it, the ideal of unity, and presses it upon them still more meltingly, by telling them that their realisation of it will be the completion of his joy. The main injunction is ‘that ye be of the same mind,’ and that is followed by three clauses which are all but exactly synonymous with it, ‘having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.’ The resemblance of the latter clause to the main exhortation is still more complete, if we read with Revised Version margin ‘of the same mind,’ but in any case the exhortations are all practically the same. The unity which Paul would fain see, is far deeper and more vital than mere unanimity of opinion, or identity of polity, or co-operation in practice. The clauses which expand it guard us against the mistake of thinking that intellectual or practical oneness is all that is meant by Christian unity. They are ‘of the same mind,’ who have the same wishes, aims, outlooks, the same hopes and fears, and who are one in the depths of their being. They have ‘the same love,’ all similarly loving and being loved, the same emotion filling each heart. They are united in soul, or ‘with accordant souls’ having, and knowing that they have them, akin, allied to one another, moving to a common end, and aware of their oneness. The unity which Christian people have hitherto reached is at its best but a small are of the great circle which the Apostle drew, and none of us can read these fervid words without shame. His joy is not yet fulfilled.
That exhortation to be ‘of the same mind,’ not only points to a deep and vital unity, but suggests that the ground of the unity is to be found without us, in the common direction of our ‘minds,’ which means far more than popular phraseology means by it, to an external object. It is having our hearts directed to Christ that makes us one. He is the bond and centre of unity. We have just said that the object is external, but that has to be taken with a modification, for the true basis of unity is the common possession of ‘Christ in us.’ It is when we have this mind in us ‘which was also in Christ Jesus,’ that we have ‘the same mind’ one with another.
The very keynote of the letter is joy, as may be seen by a glance over it. He joys and rejoices with them all, but his cup is not quite full. One more precious drop is needed to make it run over. Probably the coldness which he had heard of between Euodias and Syntyche had troubled him, and if he could be sure of the Philippians’ mutual love he would rejoice in his prison. We cannot tell whether that loving and careful heart is still aware of the fortunes of the Church, but we know of a more loving and careful heart which is, and we cannot but believe that the alienations and discords of His professed followers bring some shadow over the joy of Christ. Do we not hear His voice again asking, ‘what was it that you disputed among yourselves by the way?’ and must we not, like the disciples, ‘hold our peace’ when that question is asked? May we not hear a voice sweeter in its cadence, and more melting in its tenderness than Paul’s, saying to us ‘Fulfil ye My joy that ye be of the same mind.’
III. The hindrances and helps to being of the same mind.
The original has no verb in front of ‘nothing’ in verse 3, and it seems better to supply the one which has been so frequently used in the preceding exhortation than ‘doing,’ which carries us too abruptly into the outer region of action. Paul indicates two main hindrances to being of the same mind, namely, faction and vainglory on the one hand, and self-absorption on the other, and opposed to each the tone of mind which is its best conqueror. Faction and vainglory are best defeated by humility and unselfishness. As to the former, the love of making or heading little cliques in religion or politics or society, has oftenest its roots in nothing loftier than vanity or pride. Many a man who poses as guided by staunch adherence to conviction is really impelled only by a wish to make himself notorious as a leader, and loves to talk of ‘those with whom I act.’ There is a strong admixture of a too lofty estimate of self in most of the disagreements of Christian people. They expect more deference than they get, or their judgment is not taken as law, or their place is not so high as they think is their due, or in a hundred different ways self-love is wounded, and self-esteem is inflamed. All this is true in reference to the smaller communities of congregations, and with the necessary modifications it is quite as true in reference to the larger aggregations which we call churches or denominations. If all in their work that is directly due to faction and vainglory were struck out there would be great gaps in their activities, and many a flourishing scheme would fall dead.
The cure for all these evils is lowliness of mind. That is a Christian word. Used by Greek thinkers, it meant abjectness; and it is one conspicuous instance of the change effected in morals by Christian teaching that it has become the name of a virtue. We are to dwell not on our gifts but on our imperfections, and if we judge ourselves with constant reference to the standard in Christ’s life, we shall need little more to bring us to our knees in true lowliness of mind. The man who has been forgiven so many talents will not be in a hurry to take his brother by the throat and leave the marks of his fingers for tenpence.
Christian unity is further broken by selfishness. To be absorbed in self is of course to have the heart shut to others. Our own interests, inclinations, possessions, when they assert themselves in our lives, build up impassable barriers between us and our fellows. To live to self is the real root of every sin as it is of all loveless life. The Apostle uses careful language: he admits the necessity for attention to our ‘own things,’ and only requires that we should look ‘also’ on the things of others. His cure for the hindrances to Christian unity is very complete, very practical, and very simple. Each counting other better than himself, and each ‘looking also to the things of others’ seem very homely and pedestrian virtues, but homely as they are we shall find that they grip us tight, if we honestly try to practise them in our daily lives, and we shall find also that the ladder which has its foot on earth has its top in the heavens, and that the practice of humility and unselfishness leads straight to having ‘the mind which was also in Christ Jesus.’
THE DESCENT OF THE WORD
The purpose of the Apostle in this great passage must ever be kept clearly in view. Our Lord’s example is set forth as the pattern of that unselfish disregard of one’s own things, and devotion to the things of others, which has just been urged on the Philippians, and the mind which was in Him is presented as the model on which they are to fashion their minds. This purpose in some measure explains some of the peculiarities of the language here, and may help to guide us through some of the intricacies and doubtful points in the interpretation of the words. It explains why Christ’s death is looked at in them only in its bearing upon Himself, as an act of obedience and of condescension, and why even that death in which Jesus stands most inimitable and unique is presented as capable of being imitated by us. The general drift of these verses is clear, but there are few Scripture passages which have evoked more difference of opinion as to the precise meaning of nearly every phrase. To enter on the subtle discussions involved in the adequate exposition of the words would far exceed our limits, and we must perforce content ourselves with a slight treatment of them, and aim chiefly at bringing out their practical side.
The broad truth which stands sun-clear amid all diverse interpretations is--that the Incarnation, Life, and Death are the great examples of living humility and self-sacrifice. To be born was His supreme act of condescension. It was love which made Him assume the vesture of human flesh. To die was the climax of His voluntary obedience, and of His devotion to us.
I. The height from which Jesus descended.
The whole strange conception of birth as being the voluntary act of the Person born, and as being the most stupendous instance of condescension in the world’s history, necessarily reposes on the clear conviction that He had a prior existence so lofty that it was an all but infinite descent to become man. Hence Paul begins with the most emphatic assertion that he who bore the name of Jesus lived a divine life before He was born. He uses a very strong word which is given in the margin of the Revised Version, and might well have been in its text. ‘Being originally’ as the word accurately means, carries our thoughts back not only to a state which preceded Bethlehem and the cradle, but to that same timeless eternity from which the prologue of the Gospel of John partially draws the veil when it says, ‘In the beginning was the Word,’ and to which Jesus Himself more obscurely pointed when He said, ‘Before Abraham was I am.’
Equally emphatic in another direction is Paul’s next expression, ‘In the form of God,’ for ‘form’ means much more than ‘shape.’ I would point out the careful selection in this passage of three words to express three ideas which are often by hasty thought regarded as identical. We read of ‘the form of God’ verse 6, ‘the likeness of men’ verse 7, and ‘in fashion as a man.’ Careful investigation of these two words ‘form’ and ‘fashion’ has established a broad distinction between them, the former being more fixed, the latter referring to that which is accidental and outward, which may be fleeting and unsubstantial. The possession of the form involves participation in the essence also. Here it implies no corporeal idea as if God had a material form, but it implies also much more than a mere apparent resemblance. He who is in the form of God possesses the essential divine attributes. Only God can be ‘in the form of God’: man is made in the likeness of God, but man is not ‘in the form of God.’ Light is thrown on this lofty phrase by its antithesis with the succeeding expression in the next verse, ‘the form of a servant,’ and as that is immediately explained to refer to Christ’s assumption of human nature, there is no room for candid doubt that ‘being originally in the form of God’ is a deliberately asserted claim of the divinity of Christ in His pre-existent state.
As we have already pointed out, Paul soars here to the same lofty height to which the prologue of John’s Gospel rises, and he echoes our Lord’s own words about ‘the glory which I had with Thee before the foundation of the world.’ Our thoughts are carried back before creatures were, and we become dimly aware of an eternal distinction in the divine nature which only perfects its eternal oneness. Such an eternal participation in the divine nature before all creation and before time is the necessary pre-supposition of the worth of Christ’s life as the pattern of humility and self-sacrifice. That pre-supposition gives all its meaning, its pathos, and its power, to His gentleness, and love, and death. The facts are different in their significance, and different in their power to bless and gladden, to purge and sway the soul, according as we contemplate them with or without the background of His pre-existent divinity. The view which regards Him as simply a man, like all the rest of us, beginning to be when He was born, takes away from His example its mightiest constraining force. Only when we with all our hearts believe ‘that the Word became flesh,’ do we discern the overwhelming depths of condescension manifested in the Birth. If it was not the incarnation of God, it has no claim on the hearts of men.
II. The wondrous act of descent.
The stages in that long descent are marked out with a precision and definiteness which would be intolerable presumption, if Paul were speaking only his own thoughts, or telling what he had seen with his own eyes. They begin with what was in the mind of the eternal Word before He began His descent, and whilst yet He is ‘in the form of God.’ He stands on the lofty level before the descent begins, and in spirit makes the surrender, which, stage by stage, is afterwards to be wrought out in act. Before any of these acts there must have been the disposition of mind and will which Paul describes as ‘counting it not a thing to be grasped to be on an equality with God.’ He did not regard the being equal to God as a prey or treasure to be clutched and retained at all hazards. That sweeps our thoughts into the dim regions far beyond Calvary or Bethlehem, and is a more overwhelming manifestation of love than are the acts of lowly gentleness and patient endurance which followed in time. It included and transcended them all.
It was the supreme example of not ‘looking on one’s own things.’ And what made Him so count? What but infinite love. To rescue men, and win them to Himself and goodness, and finally to lift them to the place from which He came down for them, seemed to Him to be worth the temporary surrender of that glory and majesty. We can but bow and adore the perfect love. We look more deeply into the depths of Deity than unaided eyes could ever penetrate, and what we see is the movement in that abyss of Godhead of purest surrender which, by beholding, we are to assimilate.
Then comes the wonder of wonders, ‘He emptied Himself.’ We cannot enter here on the questions which gather round that phrase, and which give it a factitious importance in regard to present controversies. All that we would point out now is that while the Apostle distinctly treats the Incarnation as being a laying aside of what made the Word to be equal with God, he says nothing, on which an exact determination can be based, of the degree or particulars in which the divine nature of our Lord was limited by His humanity. The fact he asserts, and that is all. The scene in the Upper Chamber was but a feeble picture of what had already been done behind the veil. Unless He had laid aside His garments of divine glory and majesty, He would have had no human flesh from which to strip the robes. Unless He had willed to take the ‘form of a servant,’ He would not have had a body to gird with the slave’s towel. The Incarnation, which made all His acts of lowly love possible, was a greater act of lowly love than those which flowed from it. Looking at it from earth, men say, ‘Jesus was born.’ Looking at it from heaven, Angels say, ‘He emptied Himself.’
But how did He empty Himself? By taking the form of a slave, that is to God. And how did He take the form of a slave? By ‘becoming in the likeness of men.’ Here we are specially to note the remarkable language implying that what is true of none other in all the generations of men is true of Him. That just as ‘emptying Himself’ was His own act, also the taking the form of a slave by His being born was His own act, and was more truly described as a ‘becoming.’ We note, too, the strong contrast between that most remarkable word and the ‘being originally’ which is used to express the mystery of divine pre-existence.
Whilst His becoming in the likeness of men stands in strong contrast with ‘being originally’ and energetically expresses the voluntariness of our Lord’s birth, the ‘likeness of men’ does not cast any doubt on the reality of His manhood, but points to the fact that ‘though certainly perfect man, He was by reason of the divine nature present in Him not simply and merely man.’
Here then the beginning of Christ’s manhood is spoken of in terms which are only explicable, if it was a second form of being, preceded by a pre-existent form, and was assumed by His own act. The language, too, demands that that humanity should have been true essential manhood. It was in ‘the form’ of man and possessed of all essential attributes. It was in ‘the likeness’ of man possessed of all external characteristics, and yet was something more. It summed up human nature, and was its representative.
III. The obedience which attended the descent.
It was not merely an act of humiliation and condescension to become man, but all His life was one long act of lowliness. Just as He ‘emptied Himself’ in the act of becoming in the ‘likeness of men,’ so He ‘humbled Himself,’ and all along the course of His earthly life He chose constant lowliness and to be ‘despised and rejected of men.’ It was the result moment by moment of His own will that to the eyes of men He presented ‘no form nor comeliness,’ and that will was moment by moment steadied in its unmoved humility, because He perpetually looked ‘not on His own things, but on the things of others.’ The guise He presented to the eyes of men was ‘the fashion of a man.’ That word corresponds exactly to Paul’s carefully selected term, and makes emphatic both its superficial and its transitory character.
The lifelong humbling of Himself was further manifested in His becoming ‘obedient.’ That obedience was, of course, to God. And here we cannot but pause to ask the question, How comes it that to the man Jesus obedience to God was an act of humiliation? Surely there is but one explanation of such a statement. For all men but this one to be God’s slaves is their highest honour, and to speak of obedience as humiliation is a sheer absurdity.
Not only was the life of Jesus so perfect an example of unbroken obedience that He could safely front His adversaries with the question, ‘Which of you convinceth Me of sin?’ and with the claim to ‘do always the things that pleased Him,’ but the obedience to the Father was perfected in His death. Consider the extraordinary fact that a man’s death is the crowning instance of his humility, and ask yourselves the question, Who then is this who chose to be born, and stooped in the act of dying? His death was obedience to God, because by it He carried out the Father’s will for the salvation of the world, His death is the greatest instance of unselfish self-sacrifice, and the loftiest example of looking on the ‘things of others’ that the world has ever seen. It dwindles in significance, in pathos, and in power to move us to imitation unless we clearly see the divine glory of the eternal Lord as the background of the gentle lowliness of the Man of Sorrows, and the Cross. No theory of Christ’s life and death but that He was born for us, and died for us, either explains the facts and the apostolic language concerning them, or leaves them invested with their full power to melt our hearts and mould our lives. There is a possibility of imitating Him in the most transcendent of His acts. The mind may be in us which was in Christ Jesus. That it may, His death must first be the ground of our hope, and then we must make it the pattern of our lives, and draw from it the power to shape them after His blessed Example.
THE ASCENT OF JESUS
‘He that humbleth himself shall be exalted,’ said Jesus. He is Himself the great example of that law. The Apostle here goes on to complete his picture of the Lord Jesus as our pattern. In previous verses we had the solemn steps of His descent, and the lifelong humility and obedience of the incarnate Son, the man Christ Jesus. Here we have the wondrous ascent which reverses all the former process. Our text describes the reflex motion by which Jesus is borne back to the same level as that from which the descent began.
I. The act of exaltation which forms the contrast and the parallel to the descent.
‘God highly exalted Him.’ The Apostle coins an emphatic word which doubly expresses elevation, and in its grammatical form shows that it indicates a historical fact. That elevation was a thing once accomplished on this green earth; that is to say it came to pass in the fact of our Lord’s ascension when from some fold of the Mount of Olives He was borne upwards and, with blessing hands, was received into the Shechinah cloud, the glory of which hid Him from the upward-gazing eyes.
It is plain that the ‘Him’ of whom this tremendous assertion is made, must be the same as the ‘He’ of whom the previous verses spoke, that is, the Incarnate Jesus. It is the manhood which is exalted. His humiliation consisted in His becoming man, but His exaltation does not consist in His laying aside His humanity. It is not a transient but an eternal union into which in the Incarnation it entered with divinity. Henceforward we have to think of Him in all the glory of His heavenly state as man, and as truly and completely in the ‘likeness of men’ as when He walked with bleeding feet on the flinty road of earthly life. He now bears for ever the ‘form of God’ and ‘the fashion of a man.’
Here I would pause for a moment to point out that the calm tone of this reference to the ascension indicates that it was part of the recognised Christian beliefs, and implies that it had been familiar long before the date of this Epistle, which itself dates from not more than at the most thirty years from the death of Christ. Surely that lapse of time is far too narrow to allow of such a belief having sprung up, and been universally accepted about a dead man, who all the while was lying in a nameless grave.
The descent is presented as His act, but decorum and truth required that the exaltation should be God’s act. ‘He humbled Himself,’ but ‘God exalted Him.’ True, He sometimes represented Himself as the Agent of His own Resurrection and Ascension, and established a complete parallel between His descent and His ascent, as when He said, ‘I came out from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go unto the Father.’ He was no less obedient to the Father’s will when He ascended up on high, than He was when He came down to earth, and whilst, from one point of view, His Resurrection and Ascension were as truly His own acts as were His birth and His death, from another, He had to pray, ‘And now, O Father, glorify Thou Me with Thine own self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was.’ The Titans presumptuously scaled the heavens, according to the old legend, but the Incarnate Lord returned to ‘His own calm home, His habitation from eternity,’ was exalted thither by God, in token to the universe that the Father approved the Son’s descent, and that the work which the Son had done was indeed, as He declared it to be, ‘finished.’ By exalting Him, the Father not merely reinstated the divine Word in its eternal union with God, but received into the cloud of glory the manhood which the Word had assumed.
II. The glory of the name of Jesus.
What is the name ‘which is above every name’? It is the name Jesus. It is to be noted that Paul scarcely ever uses that simple appellative. There are, roughly speaking, about two hundred instances in which he names our Lord in his Epistles, and there are only four places, besides this, in which he uses this as his own, and two in which he, as it were, puts it into the mouth of an enemy. Probably then, some special reason led to its occurrence here, and it is not difficult, I think, to see what that reason is. The simple personal name was given indeed with reference to His work, but had been borne by many a Jewish child before Mary called her child Jesus, and the fact that it is this common name which is exalted above every name, brings out still more strongly the thought already dwelt upon, that what is thus exalted is the manhood of our Lord. The name which expressed His true humanity, which showed His full identification with us, which was written over His Cross, which perhaps shaped the taunt ‘He saved others, Himself He cannot save,’--that name God has lifted high above all names of council and valour, of wisdom and might, of authority and rule. It is shrined in the hearts of millions who render to it perfect trust, unconditional obedience, absolute loyalty. Its growing power, and the warmth of personal love which it evokes, in centuries and lands so far removed from the theatre of His life, is a unique thing in the world’s history. It reigns in heaven.
But Paul is not content with simply asserting the sovereign glory of the name of Jesus. He goes on to set it forth as being what no other name borne by man can be, the ground and object of worship, when he declares, that ‘in the name of Jesus every knee shall bow.’ The words are quoted from the second Isaiah, and occur in one of the most solemn and majestic utterances of the monotheism of the Old Testament. And Paul takes these words, undeterred by the declaration which precede them, ‘I Am am God and there is none else,’ applies them to Jesus, to the manhood of our Lord. Bowing the knee is of course prayer, and in these great words the issue of the work of Jesus is unmistakably set forth, as not only being that He has declared God to men, who through Him are drawn to worship the Father, but that their emotions of love, reverence, worship, are turned to Him , though as the Apostle is careful immediately to note, they are not thereby intercepted from, but directed to, the glory of God the Father. In the eternities before His descent, there was equality with God, and when He returns, it is to the Father, who in Him has become the object of adoration, and round whose throne gather with bended knees all those who in Jesus see the Father.
The Apostle still further dwells on the glory of the name as that of the acknowledged Lord. And here we have with significant variation in strong contrast to the previous name of Jesus, the full title ‘Jesus Christ Lord.’ That is almost as unusual in its completeness as the other in its simplicity, and it comes in here with tremendous energy, reminding us of the great act to which we owe our redemption, and of all the prophecies and hopes which, from of old, had gathered round the persistent hope of the coming Messiah, while the name of Lord proclaims His absolute dominion. The knee is bowed in reverence, the tongue is vocal in confession. That confession is incomplete if either of these three names is falteringly uttered, and still more so, if either of them is wanting. The Jesus whom Christians confess is not merely the man who was born in Bethlehem and known among men as ‘Jesus the carpenter.’ In these modern days, His manhood has been so emphasised as to obscure His Messiahship and to obliterate His dominion, and alas! there are many who exalt Him by the name that Mary gave Him, who turn away from the name of Jesus as ‘Hebrew old clothes,’ and from the name of Lord as antiquated superstition. But in all the lowliness and gentleness of Jesus there were not wanting lofty claims to be the Christ of whom prophets and righteous men of old spake, and whose coming many a generation desired to see and died without the sight, and still loftier and more absolute claims to be invested with ‘all power in heaven and earth,’ and to sit down with the Father on His throne. It is dangerous work to venture to toss aside two of these three names, and to hope that if we pronounce the third of them, Jesus, with appreciation, it will not matter if we do not name Him either Christ or Lord.
If it is true that the manhood of Jesus is thus exalted, how wondrous must be the kindred between the human and the divine, that it should be capable of this, that it should dwell in the everlasting burnings of the Divine Glory and not be consumed! How blessed for us the belief that our Brother wields all the forces of the universe, that the human love which Jesus had when He bent over the sick and comforted the sorrowful, is at the centre. Jesus is Lord, the Lord is Jesus!
The Psalmist was moved to a rapture of thanksgiving when he thought of man as ‘made a little lower than the angels, and crowned with glory and honour,’ but when we think of the Man Jesus ‘sitting at the right hand of God,’ the Psalmist’s words seem pale and poor, and we can repeat them with a deeper meaning and a fuller emphasis, ‘Thou madest Him to have dominion over the works of Thy hands, Thou hast put all things under His feet.’
III. The universal glory of the name.
By the three classes into which the Apostle divides creation, ‘things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth,’ he simply intends to declare, that Jesus is the object of all worship, and the words are not to be pressed as containing dogmatic assertions as to the different classes mentioned. But guided by other words of Scripture, we may permissibly think that the ‘things in heaven’ tell us that the angels who do not need His mediation learn more of God by His work and bow before His throne. We cannot be wrong in believing that the glory of His work stretches far beyond the limits of humanity, and that His kingdom numbers other subjects than those who draw human breath. Other lips than ours say with a great voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that hath been slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing.’
The things on earth are of course men, and the words encourage us to dim hopes about which we cannot dogmatise of a time when all the wayward self-seeking and self-tormenting children of men shall have learned to know and love their best friend, and ‘there shall be one flock and one shepherd.’
‘Things under the earth’ seems to point to the old thought of ‘Sheol’ or ‘Hades’ or a separate state of the dead. The words certainly suggest that those who have gone from us are not unconscious nor cut off from the true life, but are capable of adoration and confession. We cannot but remember the old belief that Jesus in His death ‘descended into Hell,’ and some of us will not forget Fra Angelico’s picture of the open doorway with a demon crushed beneath the fallen portal, and the crowd of eager faces and outstretched hands swarming up the dark passage, to welcome the entering Christ. Whatever we may think of that ancient representation, we may at least be sure that, wherever they are, the dead in Christ praise and reverence and love.
IV. The glory of the Father in the glory of the name of Jesus.
Knees bent and tongues confessing the absolute dominion of Jesus Christ could only be offence and sin if He were not one with the Father. But the experience of all the thousands since Paul wrote, whose hearts have been drawn in reverent and worshipping trust to the Son, has verified the assertion, that to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord diverts no worship from God, but swells and deepens the ocean of praise that breaks round the throne. If it is true, and only if it is true, that in the life and death of Jesus all previous revelations of the Father’s heart are surpassed, if it is true and only if it is true, as He Himself said, that ‘I and the Father are one,’ can Paul’s words here be anything but an incredible paradox. But unless these great words close and crown the Apostle’s glowing vision, it is maimed and imperfect, and Jesus interposes between loving hearts and God. One could almost venture to believe that at the back of Paul’s mind, when he wrote these words, was some remembrance of the great prayer, ‘I glorified Thee on the earth, having accomplished the work which Thou gavest Me to do.’ When the Son is glorified we glorify the Father, and the words of our text may well be remembered and laid to heart by any who will not recognise the deity of the Son, because it seems to them to dishonour the Father. Their honour is inseparable and their glory one.
There is a sense in which Jesus is our example even in His ascent and exaltation, just as He was in His descent and humiliation. The mind which was in Him is for us the pattern for earthly life, though the deeds in which that mind was expressed, and especially His ‘obedience to the death of the Cross,’ are so far beyond any self-sacrifice of ours, and are inimitable, unique, and needing no repetition while the world lasts. And as we can imitate His unexampled sacrifice, so we may share His divine glory, and, resting on His own faithful word, may follow the calm motion of His Ascension, assured that where He is there we shall be also, and that the manhood which is exalted in Him is the prophecy that all who love Him will share His glory. The question for us all is, have we in us ‘the mind that was in Christ’? and the other question is, what is that name to us? Can we say, ‘Thy mighty name salvation is’? If in our deepest hearts we grasp that name, and with unfaltering lips can say that ‘there is none other name under heaven given amongst men whereby we must be saved but the name of Jesus,’ then we shall know that
‘ To us with Thy dear name are given, Pardon, and holiness, and heaven.’
WORK OUT YOUR OWN SALVATION
‘What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder!’ Here are, joined together, in the compass of one practical exhortation, the truths which, put asunder, have been the war-cries and shibboleths of contending sects ever since. Faith in a finished salvation, and yet work ; God working all in me, and yet I able and bound to work likewise; God upholding and sustaining His child to the very end; ‘perfecting that which concerns him,’ making his salvation certain and sure, and yet the Christian working ‘with fear and trembling,’ lest he should be a castaway and come short of the grace of God;--who does not recognise in these phrases the mottoes that have been written on the opposing banners in many a fierce theological battle, waged with much harm to both sides, and ending in no clear victory for either? Yet here they are blended in the words of one who was no less profound a thinker than any that have come after, and who had the gift of a divine inspiration to boot.
Not less remarkable than the fusion here of apparent antagonisms, the harmonising of apparent opposites, is the intensely practical character of the purpose for which they are adduced at all. Paul has no idea of giving his disciples a lesson in abstract theology, or laying for them a foundation of a philosophy of free will and divine sovereignty; he is not merely communicating to these Philippians truths for their creed, but precepts for their deeds. The Bible knows nothing of an unpractical theology, but, on the other hand, the Bible knows still less of an untheological morality. It digs deep, bottoming the simplest right action upon right thinking, and going down to the mountain bases on which the very pillars of the universe rest, in order to lay there, firm and immovable, the courses of the temple of a holy life. Just as little as Scripture gives countenance to the error that makes religion theology rather than life, just so little does it give countenance to the far more contemptible and shallower error common in our day, which says , Religion is not theology, but life; and means , ‘Therefore, it does not matter what theology you have, you can work a good life out with any creed!’ The Bible never teaches unpractical speculations, and the Bible never gives precepts which do not rest on the profoundest truths. Would God, brethren, that we all had souls as wide as would take in the whole of the many-sided scriptural representation of the truths of the Gospel, and so avoid the narrowness of petty, partial views of God’s infinite counsel; and that we had as close, direct, and as free communication between head, and heart, and hand, as the Scripture has between precept and practice!
But in reference more especially to my text. Keeping in view these two points I have already suggested, namely,--that it is the reconciling of apparent opposites, and that it is intensely practical, I find in it these three thoughts;--First, a Christian has his whole salvation accomplished for him, and yet he is to work it out. Secondly, a Christian has everything done in him by God, and yet he is to work. Lastly, a Christian has his salvation certainly secured, and yet he is to fear and tremble.
I. In the first place, A Christian man has his whole salvation already accomplished for him in Christ, and yet he is to work it out.
There are two points absolutely necessary to be kept in view in order to a right understanding of the words before us, for the want of noticing which it has become the occasion of terrible mistakes. These are--the persons to whom it is addressed, and the force of the scriptural expression ‘salvation.’ As to the first, this exhortation has been misapplied by being addressed to those who have no claim to be Christians, and by having such teaching deduced from it as, You do your part, and God will do His; You work, and God will certainly help you; You co-operate in the great work of your salvation, and you will get grace and pardon through Jesus Christ. Now let us remember the very simple thing, but very important to the right understanding of these words, that none but Christian people have anything to do with them. To all others, to all who are not already resting on the finished salvation of Jesus Christ, this injunction is utterly inapplicable. It is addressed to the ‘beloved, who have always obeyed’; to the ‘saints in Christ Jesus, which are at Philippi.’ The whole Epistle is addressed, and this injunction with the rest, to Christian men. That is the first thing to be remembered. If there be any of you, who have thought that these words of Paul’s to those who had believed on Christ contained a rule of action for you, though you have not rested your souls on Him, and exhorted you to try to win salvation by your own doings, let me remind you of what Christ said when the Jews came to Him in a similar spirit and asked Him, ‘What shall we do that we may work the works of God?’ His answer to them was, and His answer to you, my brother, is, ‘ This is the work of God, that ye should believe in Him whom He hath sent.’ That is the first lesson: Not work , but faith ; unless there be faith, no work. Unless you are a Christian, the passage has nothing to do with you.
But now, if this injunction be addressed to those who are looking for their salvation only to the perfect work of Christ, how can they be exhorted to work it out themselves? Is not the oft-recurring burden of Paul’s teaching ‘not by works of righteousness, which we have done, but by His mercy He saved us’? How does this text harmonise with these constantly repeated assertions that Christ has done all for us, and that we have nothing to do, and can do nothing? To answer this question, we have to remember that that scriptural expression, ‘salvation,’ is used with considerable width and complexity of signification. It sometimes means the whole of the process, from the beginning to the end, by which we are delivered from sin in all its aspects, and are set safe and stable at the right hand of God. It sometimes means one or other of three different parts of that process--either deliverance from the guilt, punishment, condemnation of sin; or secondly, the gradual process of deliverance from its power in our own hearts; or thirdly, the completion of that process by the final and perfect deliverance from sin and sorrow, from death and the body, from earth and all its weariness and troubles, which is achieved when we are landed on the other side of the river. Salvation, in one aspect, is a thing past to the Christian; in another, it is a thing present ; in a third, it is a thing future . But all these three are one; all are elements of the one deliverance--the one mighty and perfect act which includes them all.
These three all come equally from Christ Himself. These three all depend equally on His work and His power. These three are all given to a Christian man in the first act of faith. But the attitude in which he stands in reference to that accomplished salvation which means deliverance from sin as a penalty and a curse, and that in which he stands to the continuing and progressive salvation which means deliverance from the power of evil in his own heart, are somewhat different. In regard to the one, he has only to take the finished blessing. He has to exercise faith and faith alone. He has nothing to do, nothing to add, in order to fit himself for it, but simply to receive the gift of God, and to believe on Him whom He hath sent. But then, though that reception involves what shall come after it, and though every one who has and holds the first thing, the pardon of his transgression, has and holds thereby and therein his growing sanctifying and his final glory, yet the salvation which means our being delivered from the evil that is in our hearts, and having our souls made like unto Christ, is one which--free gift though it be--is not ours on the sole condition of an initial act of faith, but is ours on the condition of continuous faithful reception and daily effort, not in our own strength, but in God’s strength, to become like Him, and to make our own that which God has given us, and which Christ is continually bestowing upon us.
The two things, then, are not inconsistent--an accomplished salvation, a full, free, perfect redemption, with which a man has nothing to do at all, but to take it;--and, on the other hand, the injunction to them who have received this divine gift: ‘Work out your own salvation.’ Work, as well as believe, and in the daily practice of faithful obedience, in the daily subjugation of your own spirits to His divine power, in the daily crucifixion of your flesh with its affections and lusts, in the daily straining after loftier heights of godliness and purer atmospheres of devotion and love--make more thoroughly your own that which you possess. Work into the substance of your souls that which you have . Apprehend that for which you are apprehended of Christ. ‘Give all diligence to make your calling and election sure’; and remember that not a past act of faith, but a present and continuous life of loving, faithful work in Christ, which is His and yet yours, is the ‘holding fast the beginning of your confidence firm unto the end.’
II. In the second place, God works all in us, and yet we have to work.
There can be no mistake about the good faith and firm emphasis--as of a man who knows his own mind, and knows that his word is true--with which the Apostle holds up here the two sides of what I venture to call the one truth; ‘Work out your own salvation--for God works in you.’ Command implies power. Command and power involve duty. The freedom of the Christian’s action, the responsibility of the believer for his Christian growth in grace, the committal to the Christian man’s own hands of the means of sanctifying, lie in that injunction, ‘Work out your own salvation.’ Is there any faltering, any paring down or cautious guarding of the words, in order that they may not seem to clash with the other side of the truth? No: Paul does not say, ‘Work it out; yet it is God that worketh in you’; not ‘Work it out although it is God that worketh in you’; not ‘Work it out, but then it must always be remembered and taken as a caution that it is God that worketh in you!’ He blends the two things together in an altogether different connection, and sees--strangely to some people, no contradiction, nor limitation, nor puzzle, but a ground of encouragement to cheerful obedience. Do you work, ‘ for it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.’ And does the Apostle limit the divine operation? Notice how his words seem picked out on purpose to express most emphatically its all-pervading energy. Look how his words seem picked out on purpose to express with the utmost possible emphasis that all which a good man is, and does, is its fruit. It is God that worketh in you. That expresses more than bringing outward means to bear upon heart and will. It speaks of an inward, real, and efficacious operation of the Indwelling Spirit of all energy on the spirit in which He dwells. ‘Worketh in you to will ‘; this expresses more than the presentation of motives from without, it points to a direct action on the will, by which impulses are originated within. God puts in you the first faint motions of a better will. ‘Worketh in you, doing as well as willing’; this points to all practical obedience, to all external acts as flowing from His grace in us, no less than all inward good thoughts and holy desires.
It is not that God gives men the power, and then leaves them to make the use of it. It is not that the desire and purpose come forth from Him, and that then we are left to ourselves to be faithful or unfaithful stewards in carrying it out. The whole process, from the first sowing of the seed until its last blossoming and fruiting, in the shape of an accomplished act, of which God shall bless the springing--it is all God’s together! There is a thorough-going, absolute attribution of every power, every action, all the thoughts words, and deeds of a Christian soul, to God. No words could be selected which would more thoroughly cut away the ground from every half-and-half system which attempts to deal them out in two portions, part God’s and part mine. With all emphasis Paul attributes all to God.
And none the less strongly does he teach, by the implication contained in his earnest injunction, that human responsibility, that human control over the human will, and that reality of human agency which are often thought to be annihilated by these broad views of God as originating all good in the soul and life. The Apostle thought that this doctrine did not absorb all our individuality in one great divine Cause which made men mere tools and puppets. He did not believe that the inference from it was, ‘Therefore do you sit still, and feel yourselves the cyphers that you are.’ His practical conclusion is the very opposite. It is--God does all, therefore do you work. His belief in the power of God’s grace was the foundation of the most intense conviction of the reality and indispensableness of his own power, and was the motive which stimulated him to vigorous action. Work, for God works in you.
Each of these truths rests firmly on its own appropriate evidence. My own consciousness tells me that I am free, that I have power, that I am therefore responsible and exposed to punishment for neglect of duty. I know what I mean when I speak of the will of God, because I myself am conscious of a will. The power of God is an object of intelligent thought to me, because I myself am conscious of power. And on the other hand, that belief in a God which is one of the deep and universal beliefs of men contains in it, when it comes to be thought about, the belief in Him as the source of all power, as the great cause of all. If I believe in a God at all, I must believe that He whom I so call, worketh all things after the counsel of His own will. These two convictions are both given to us in the primitive beliefs which belong to us all. The one rests on consciousness, and underlies all our moral judgments. The other rests on an original belief, which belongs to man as such. These two mighty pillars on which all morality and all religion repose have their foundations down deep in our nature, and tower up beyond our sight. They seem to stand opposite to each other, but it is only as the strong piers of some tall arch are opposed. Beneath they repose on one foundation, above they join together in the completing keystone and bear the whole steady structure.
Wise and good men have toiled to harmonise them, in vain. The task transcends the limits of human faculties, as exercised here, at all events. Perhaps the time may come when we shall be lifted high enough to see the binding arch, but here on earth we can only behold the shafts on either side. The history of controversy on the matter surely proves abundantly what a hopeless task they undertake who attempt to reconcile these truths. The attempt has usually consisted in speaking the one loudly and the other in a whisper, and then the opposite side has thundered what had been whispered, and has whispered very softly what had been shouted very loudly. One party lays hold of the one pole of the ark, and the other lays hold of that on the other side. The fancied reconciliation consists in paring down one half of the full-orbed truth to nothing, or in admitting it in words while every principle of the reconciler’s system demands its denial. Each antagonist is strong in his assertions, and weak in his denials, victorious when he establishes his half of the whole, easily defeated when he tries to overthrow his opponent’s.
This apparent incompatibility is no reason for rejecting truths each commended to our acceptance on its own proper grounds. It may be a reason for not attempting to dogmatise about them. It may be a warning to us that we are on ground where our limited understandings have no firm footing, but it is no ground for suspecting the evidence which certifies the truths. The Bible admits and enforces them both. It never tones down the emphasis of its statement of the one for fear of clashing against the other, but points to us the true path for thought, in a firm grasp of both, in the abandonment of all attempts to reconcile them, and for practical conduct, in the peaceful trust in God who hath wrought all our works in us, and in strenuous working out of our own salvation. Let us, as we look back on that battlefield where much wiser men than we have fought in vain, doing little but raising up ‘a little dust that is lightly laid again,’ and building trophies that are soon struck down, learn the lesson it teaches, and be contented to say, The short cord of my plummet does not quite go down to the bottom of the bottomless, and I do not profess either to understand God or to understand man, both of which I should want to do before I understood the mystery of their conjoint action. Enough for me to believe that,
‘If any force we have, it is to ill, And all the power is God’s, to do and eke to will.’
Enough for me to know that I have solemn duties laid upon me, a life’s task to be done, my deliverance from mine own evil to work out, and that I shall only accomplish that work when I can say with the Apostle, ‘I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.’
God is all, but thou canst work! My brother, take this belief, that God worketh all in you, for the ground of your confidence, and feel that unless He do all, you can do nothing. Take this conviction, that thou canst work, for the spur and stimulus of thy life, and think, These desires in my soul come from a far deeper source than the little cistern of my own individual life. They are God’s gift. Let me cherish them with the awful carefulness which their origin requires, lest I should seem to have received the grace of God in vain. These two streams of truth are like the rain-shower that falls upon the watershed of a country. The one half flows down the one side of the everlasting hills, and the other down the other. Falling into rivers that water different continents, they at length find the sea, separated by the distance of half the globe. But the sea into which they fall is one, in every creek and channel. And so, the truth into which these two apparent opposites converge, is ‘the depth of the wisdom and the knowledge of God,’ whose ways are past finding out--the Author of all goodness, who, if we have any holy thought, has given it us; if we have any true desire, has implanted it; has given us the strength to do the right and to live in His fear; and who yet, doing all the willing and the doing, says to us, ‘Because I do everything, therefore let not thy will be paralysed, or thy hand palsied; but because I do everything, therefore will thou according to My will, and do thou according to My commandments!’
III. Lastly: The Christian has his salvation secured, and yet he is to fear and tremble.
‘Fear and trembling.’ ‘But,’ you may say, ‘perfect love casts out fear.’ So it does. The fear which has torment it casts out. But there is another fear in which there is no torment, brethren; a fear and trembling which is but another shape of confidence and calm hope! Scripture does tell us that the believing man’s salvation is certain. Scripture tells us it is certain since he believes. And your faith can be worth nothing unless it have, bedded deep in it, that trembling distrust of your own power which is the pre-requisite and the companion of all thankful and faithful reception of God’s infinite mercy. Your horizon ought to be full of fear, if your gaze be limited to yourself; but oh! above our earthly horizon with its fogs, God’s infinite blue stretches untroubled by the mist and cloud which are earth-born. I, as working, have need to tremble and to fear, but I, as wrought upon, have a right to confidence and hope, a hope that is full of immortality, and an assurance which is the pledge of its own fulfilment. The worker is nothing, the Worker in him is all. Fear and trembling, when the thoughts turn to mine own sins and weaknesses, hope and confidence when they turn to the happier vision of God! ‘Not I’--there is the tremulous self-distrust; ‘the grace of God in me’--there is the calm assurance of victory. Forasmuch, then, as God worketh all things, be you diligent, faithful, prayerful, confident. Forasmuch as Christ has perfected the work for you, do you ‘go on unto perfection.’ Let all fear and trembling be yours, as a man; let all confidence and calm trust be yours as a child of God. Turn your confidence and your fears alike into prayer. ‘Perfect, O Lord, that which concerneth me; forsake not the work of Thine own hands!’--and the prayer will evoke the merciful answer, ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee God is faithful, who hath called you unto the Gospel of His Son; and will keep you unto His everlasting kingdom of glory.’
COPIES OF JESUS
We are told by some superfine modern moralists, that to regard one’s own salvation as the great work of our lives is a kind of selfishness, and no doubt there may be a colour of truth in the charge. At least the meaning of the injunction to work out our own salvation may have been sometimes so misunderstood, and there have been types of Christian character, such as the ascetic and monastic, which have made the representation plausible. I do not think that there is much danger of anybody so misunderstanding the precept now. But it is worthy of notice that there stand here side by side two paragraphs, in the former of which the effort to work out one’s own salvation is urged in the strongest terms, and in the other of which the regard for others is predominant. We shall see that the connection between these two is not accidental, but that one great reason for working out our salvation is here set forth as being the good we may thereby do to others.
I. We note the one great duty of cheerful yielding to God’s will.
It is clear, I think, that the precept to do ‘all things without murmurings and disputings’ stands in the closest connection with what goes before. It is, in fact, the explanation of how salvation is to be wrought out. It presents the human side which corresponds to the divine activity, which has just been so earnestly insisted on. God works in us ‘willing and doing,’ let us on our parts do with ready submission all the things which He so inspires to will and to do.
The ‘murmurings’ are not against men but against God. The ‘disputings’ are not wrangling with others but the division of mind in one’s self-questionings, hesitations, and the like. So the one are more moral, the other more intellectual, and together they represent the ways in which Christian men may resist the action on their spirits of God’s Spirit, ‘willing,’ or the action of God’s providence on their circumstances, ‘doing.’ Have we never known what it was to have some course manifestly prescribed to us as right, from which we have shrunk with reluctance of will? If some course has all at once struck us as wrong which we had been long accustomed to do without hesitation, has there been no ‘murmuring’ before we yielded? A voice has said to us, ‘Give up such and such a habit,’ or ‘such and such a pursuit is becoming too engrossing’: do we not all know what it is not only to feel obedience an effort, but even to cherish reluctance, and to let it stifle the voice?
There are often ‘disputings’ which do not get the length of ‘murmurings.’ The old word which tried to weaken the plain imperative of the first command by the subtle suggestion, ‘Yea, hath God said?’ still is whispered into our ears. We know what it is to answer God’s commands with a ‘But, Lord.’ A reluctant will is clever to drape itself with more or less honest excuses, and the only safety is in cheerful obedience and glad submission. The will of God ought not only to receive obedience, but prompt obedience, and such instantaneous and whole-souled submission is indispensable if we are to ‘work out our own salvation,’ and to present an attitude of true, receptive correspondence to that of God, who ‘works in us both to will and to do of His own good pleasure.’ Our surrender of ourselves into the hands of God, in respect both to inward and outward things, should be complete. As has been profoundly said, that surrender consists ‘in a continual forsaking and losing all self in the will of God, willing only what God from eternity has willed, forgetting what is past, giving up the time present to God, and leaving to His providence that which is to come, making ourselves content in the actual moment seeing it brings along with it the eternal order of God concerning us’ Madame Guyon.
II. The conscious aim in all our activity.
What God works in us for is that for which we too are to yield ourselves to His working, ‘without murmurings and disputings,’ and to co-operate with glad submission and cheerful obedience. We are to have as our distinct aim the building up of a character ‘blameless and harmless, children of God without rebuke.’ The blamelessness is probably in reference to men’s judgment rather than to God’s, and the difficulty of coming untarnished from contact with the actions and criticisms of a crooked and perverse generation is emphasised by the very fact that such blamelessness is the first requirement for Christian conduct. It was a feather in Daniel’s cap that the president and princes were foiled in their attempt to pick holes in his conduct, and had to confess that they would not ‘find any occasion against him, except we find it concerning the laws of his God.’ God is working in us in order that our lives should be such that malice is dumb in their presence. Are we co-operating with Him? We are bound to satisfy the world’s requirements of Christian character. They are sharp critics and sometimes unreasonable, but on the whole it would not be a bad rule for Christian people, ‘Do what irreligious men expect you to do.’ The worst man knows more than the best man practises, and his conscience is quick to decide the course for other people. Our weaknesses and compromises, and love of the world, might receive a salutary rebuke if we would try to meet the expectations which ‘the man in the street’ forms of us.
‘Harmless’ is more correctly pure, all of a piece, homogeneous and entire. It expresses what the Christian life should be in itself, whilst the former designation describes it more as it appears. The piece of cloth is to be so evenly and carefully woven that if held up against the light it will show no flaws nor knots. Many a professing Christian life has a veneer of godliness nailed thinly over a solid bulk of selfishness. There are many goods in the market finely dressed so as to hide that the warp is cotton and only the weft silk. No Christian man who has memory and self-knowledge can for a moment claim to have reached the height of his ideal; the best of us, at the best, are like Nebuchadnezzar’s image, whose feet were iron and clay, but we ought to strain after it and to remember that a stain shows most on the whitest robe. What made David’s sin glaring and memorable was its contradiction of his habitual nobler self. One spot more matters little on a robe already covered with many. The world is fully warranted in pointing gleefully or contemptuously at Christians’ inconsistencies, and we have no right to find fault with their most pointed sarcasms, or their severest judgments. It is those ‘that bear the vessels of the Lord’ whose burden imposes on them the duty ‘be ye clean,’ and makes any uncleanness more foul in them than in any other.
The Apostle sets forth the place and function of Christians in the world, by bringing together in the sharpest contrast the ‘children of God’ and a ‘crooked and perverse generation.’ He is thinking of the old description in Deuteronomy, where the ancient Israel is charged with forgetting ‘Thy Father that hath bought thee,’ and as showing by their corruption that they are a ‘perverse and crooked generation.’ The ancient Israel had been the Son of God, and yet had corrupted itself; the Christian Israel are ‘sons of God’ set among a world all deformed, twisted, perverted. ‘Perverse’ is a stronger word than ‘crooked,’ which latter may be a metaphor for moral obliquity, like our own right and wrong, or perhaps points to personal deformity. Be that as it may, the position which the Apostle takes is plain enough. He regards the two classes as broadly separated in antagonism in the very roots of their being. Because the ‘sons of God’ are set in the midst of that ‘crooked and perverse generation’ constant watchfulness is needed lest they should conform, constant resort to their Father lest they should lose the sense of sonship, and constant effort that they may witness of Him.
III. The solemn reason for this aim.
That is drawn from a consideration of the office and function of Christian men. Their position in the midst of a ‘crooked and perverse generation’ devolves on them a duty in relation to that generation. They are to ‘appear as lights in the world.’ The relation between them and it is not merely one of contrast, but on their parts one of witness and example. The metaphor of light needs no explanation. We need only note that the word, ‘are seen’ or ‘appear,’ is indicative, a statement of fact, not imperative, a command. As the stars lighten the darkness with their myriad lucid points, so in the divine ideal Christian men are to be as twinkling lights in the abyss of darkness. Their light rays forth without effort, being an involuntary efflux. Possibly the old paradox of the Psalmist was in the Apostle’s mind, which speaks of the eloquent silence, in which ‘there is no speech nor language, and their voice is not heard,’ but yet ‘their line has gone out through all the earth, and their words unto the end of the world.’
Christian men appear as lights by ‘holding forth the word of life.’ In themselves they have no brightness but that which comes from raying out the light that is in them. The word of life must live, giving life in us, if we are ever to be seen as ‘lights in the world.’ As surely as the electric light dies out of a lamp when the current is switched off, so surely shall we be light only when we are ‘in the Lord.’ There are many so-called Christians in this day who stand tragically unaware that their ‘lamps are gone out.’ When the sun rises and smites the mountain tops they burn, when its light falls on Memnon’s stony lips they breathe out music, ‘Arise, shine, for thy light has come.’
Undoubtedly one way of ‘holding forth the word of life’ must be to speak the word, but silent living ‘blameless and harmless’ and leaving the secret of the life very much to tell itself is perhaps the best way for most Christian people to bear witness. Such a witness is constant, diffused wherever the witness-bearer is seen, and free from the difficulties that beset speech, and especially from the assumption of superiority which often gives offence. It was the sight of ‘your good deeds’ to which Jesus pointed as the strongest reason for men’s ‘glorifying your Father.’ If we lived such lives there would be less need for preachers. ‘If any will not hear the word they may without the word be won.’ And reasonably so, for Christianity is a life and cannot be all told in words, and the Gospel is the proclamation of freedom from sin, and is best preached and proved by showing that we are free. The Gospel was lived as well as spoken. Christ’s life was Christ’s mightiest preaching.
‘ The word was flesh and wrought With human hands the creed of creeds.’
If we keep near to Him we too shall witness, and if our faces shine like Moses’ as he came down from the mountain, or like Stephen’s in the council chamber, men will ‘take knowledge of us that we have been with Jesus.’
A WILLING SACRIFICE
We come here to another of the passages in which the Apostle pours out all his heart to his beloved Church. Perhaps there never was a Christian teacher always excepting Christ who spoke more about himself than Paul. His own experience was always at hand for illustration. His preaching was but the generalisation of his life. He had felt it all first, before he threw it into the form of doctrine. It is very hard to keep such a style from becoming egotism.
This paragraph is remarkable, especially if we consider that this is introduced as a motive to their faithfulness, that thereby they will contribute to his joy at the last great testing. There must have been a very deep love between Paul and the Philippians to make such words as these true and appropriate. They open the very depths of his heart in a way from which a less noble and fervid nature would have shrunk, and express his absolute consecration in his work, and his eager desire for their spiritual good, with such force as would have been exaggeration in most men.
We have here a wonderful picture of the relation between him and the church at Philippi which may well stand as a pattern for us all. I do not mean to parallel our relations with that between him and them, but it is sufficiently analogous to make these words very weighty and solemn for us.
I. The Philippians’ faithfulness Paul’s glory in the day of Christ.
The Apostle strikes a solemn note, which was always sounding through his life, when he points to that great Day of Christ as the time when his work was to be tested. The thought of that gave earnestness to all his service, and in conjunction with the joyful thought that, however his work might be marred by failures and flaws, he himself was ‘accepted in the beloved,’ was the impulse which carried him on through a life than which none of Christ’s servants have dared, and done, and suffered more for Him. Paul believed that, according to the results of that test, his position would in some sort be determined. Of course he does not here contradict the foundation principle of his whole Gospel, that salvation is not the result of our own works, or virtues, but is the free unmerited gift of Christ’s grace. But while that is true, it is none the less true, that the degree in which believers receive that gift depends on their Christian character, both in their life on earth and in the day of Christ. One element in that character is faithful work for Jesus. Faithful work indeed is not necessarily successful work, and many who are welcomed by Jesus, the judge, will have the memory of many disappointments and few harvested grains. It was not a reaper, ‘bringing his sheaves with him,’ who stayed himself against the experience of failure, by the assurance, ‘Though Israel be not gathered yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the Lord.’ If our want of success, and others’ lapse, and apostasy or coldness has not been occasioned by any fault of ours, there will be no diminution of our reward. But we can so seldom be sure of that, and even then there will be an absence of what might have added to gladness.
We need not do more than note that the text plainly implies, that at that testing time men’s knowledge of all that they did, and the results of it, will be complete. Marvellous as it seems to us, with our fragmentary memories, and the great tracts of our lives through which we have passed mechanically, and which seem to have left no trace on the mirror of our consciousness, we still, all of us, have experiences which make that all-recovering memory credible. Some passing association, a look, a touch, an odour, a sun-set sky, a chord of music will bring before us some trivial long-forgotten incident or emotion, as the chance thrust of a boat-hook will draw to the surface by its hair, a long-drowned corpse. If we are, as assuredly we are, writing with invisible ink our whole life’s history on the pages of our own minds, and if we shall have to read them all over again one day, is it not tragic that most of us scribble the pages so hastily and carelessly, and forget that, ‘what I have written I have written,’ and what I have written I must read.
But there is another way of looking at Paul’s words as being an indication of his warm love for the Philippians. Even among the glories, he would feel his heart filled with new gladness when he found them there. The hunger for the good of others which cannot bear to think even of heaven without their presence has been a master note of all true Christian teachers, and without it there will be little of the toil, of which Paul speaks in the context, ‘running and labouring.’ He that would win men’s hearts for any great cause must give his heart to them.
That Paul should have felt warranted in using such a motive with the Philippians tells how surely he reckoned on their true and deep love. He believes that they care enough for him to feel the power as a motive with them, that their faithfulness will make Paul more blessed amidst the blessings of heaven. Oh! if such love knit together all Christian teachers and their hearers in this time, and if the ‘Day of Christ’ burned before them, as it did before him, and if the vision stirred to such running and labouring as his, teachers and taught would oftener have to say, ‘We are your rejoicing, even as ye are also ours in the Day of our Lord Jesus.’ The voice of the man who is in the true ‘Apostolic Succession’ will dare to make the appeal, knowing that it will call forth an abundant answer, ‘Look to yourselves that we lose not the things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward.’
II. Paul’s death an aid to the Philippians’ faith.
The general meaning of the Apostle’s words is, ‘If I have not only to run and labour, but to die in the discharge of my Apostolic Mission, I joy and rejoice, and I bid you rejoice with me.’ We need only note that the Apostle here casts his language into the forms consecrated for sacrifice. He will not speak of death by its own ugly and threadbare name, but thinks of himself as a devoted victim, and of his death as making the sacrifice complete. In the figure there is a solemn scorn of death, and at the same time a joyful recognition that it is the means of bringing him more nearly to God, with whom he would fain be. It is interesting, as showing the persistence of these thoughts in the Apostle’s mind, that the word rendered in our text ‘offered,’ which fully means ‘poured out as a drink offering,’ occurs again in the same connection in the great words of the swan song in II. Timothy, ‘I am already being offered, and the time of my departure is come.’ Death looked to him, when he looked it in the eyes, and the block was close by him, as it had done when he spoke of it to his Philippian friends.
It is to be noted, in order to bring out more vividly the force of the figure, that Paul here speaks of the libation being poured ‘ on ‘ the sacrifice, as was the practice in heathen ritual. The sacrifice is the victim, ‘service’ is the technical word for priestly ministration, and the general meaning is, ‘If my blood is poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice ministered by you, which is your faith, I joy with you all.’ This man had no fear of death, and no shrinking from ‘leaving the warm precincts of the cheerful day.’ He was equally ready to live or to die as might best serve the name of Jesus, for to him ‘to live was Christ,’ and therefore to him it could be nothing but ‘gain’ to die. Here he seems to be treating his death as a possibility, but as a possibility only, for almost immediately afterwards he says, that he ‘trusts in the Lord that I myself will come shortly.’ It is interesting to notice the contrast between his mood of mind here and that in the previous chapter i. 25 where the ‘desire to depart and to be with Christ’ is deliberately suppressed, because his continuous life is regarded as essential for the Philippians’ ‘progress and joy in faith.’ Here he discerns that perhaps his death would do more for their faith than would his life, and being ready for either alternative he welcomes the possibility. May we not see in the calm heart, which is at leisure to think of death in such a fashion, a pattern for us all? Remember how near and real his danger was. Nero was not in the habit of letting a man, whose head had been in the mouth of the lion, take it out unhurt. Paul is no eloquent writer or poet playing with the idea of death, and trying to say pretty things about it, but a man who did not know when the blow would come, but did know that it would come before long.
We may point here to the two great thoughts in Paul’s words, and notice the priesthood and sacrifice of life, and the sacrifice and libation of death. The Philippians offered as their sacrifice their faith, and all the works which flow therefrom. Is that our idea of life? Is it our idea of faith? We have no gifts to bring, we come empty-handed unless we carry in our hands the offering of our faith, which includes the surrender of our will, and the giving away of our hearts, and is essentially laying hold of Christ’s sacrifice. When we come empty, needy, sinful, but cleaving wholly to that perfect sacrifice of the Great Priest, we too become priests and our poor gift is accepted.
But another possibility than that of a life of running and labour presented itself to Paul, and it is a revelation of the tranquillity of his heart in the midst of impending danger, all the more pathetic because it is entirely unconscious, that he should be free to cast his anticipations into that calm metaphor of being, ‘offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith.’ His heart beats no faster, nor does the faintest shadow of reluctance cross his will, when he thinks of his death. All the repulsive accompaniments of a Roman execution fade away from his imagination. These are but negligible accidents; the substantial reality which obscures them all is that his blood will be poured out as a libation, and that by it his brethren’s faith will be strengthened. To this man death had finally and completely ceased to be a terror, and had become what it should be to all Christians, a voluntary surrender to God, an offering to Him, an act of worship, of trust, and of thankful praise. Seneca, in his death, poured out a libation to Jupiter the Liberator, and if we could only know beforehand what death delivers us from, and admits us to, we should not be so prone to call it ‘the last enemy.’ What Paul’s death was for himself in the process of his perfecting called forth, and warranted, the ‘joy’ with which he anticipated it. It did no more for him than it will do for each of us, and if our vision were as clear, and our faith as firm as his, we should be more ready than, alas! we too often are, to catch up the exulting note with which he hails the possibility of its coming.
But it is not the personal bearing only of his death that gives him joy. He thinks of it mainly as contributing to the furtherance of the faith of others. For that end he was spending the effort and toil of an effortful and toilsome life, and was equally ready to meet a violent and shameful death. He knew that ‘the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,’ and rejoiced, and called upon his brethren also to ‘joy and rejoice’ with him in his shedding of his martyr’s blood.
The Philippians might well have thought, as we all are tempted to think, that the withdrawal of those round whom our hearts desperately cling, and who seem to us to bring love and trust nearer to us, can only be loss, but surely the example in our text may well speak to our hearts of the way in which we should look at death for ourselves, and for our dearest. Their very withdrawal may send us nearer to Christ. The holy memories which linger in the sky, like the radiance of a sunken sun, may clothe familiar truths with unfamiliar power and loveliness. The thought of where the departed have gone may lift our thoughts wistfully thither with a new feeling of home. The path that they have trodden may become less strange to us, and the victory that they have won may prophesy that we too shall be ‘more than conquerors through Him that loveth us.’ So the mirror broken may turn us to the sun, and the passing of the dearest that can die may draw us to the Dearer who lives.
Paul, living, rejoiced in the prospect of death. We may be sure that he rejoiced in it no less dead than living. And we may permissibly think of this text as suggesting how
‘ The saints on earth and all the dead But one communion make ,’
and are to be united in one joy. They rejoice for their own sakes, but their joy is not self-absorbed, and so putting them farther away from us. They look back upon earth, the runnings and labourings of the unforgotten life here; and are glad to bear in their hearts the indubitable token that they have ‘not run in vain neither laboured in vain.’ But surely the depth of their own repose will not make them indifferent to those who are still in the midst of struggle and toil, nor the fulness of their own felicity make them forget those whom they loved of old, and love now with the perfect love of Heaven. It is hard for us to rise to complete sympathy with these serenely blessed spirits, but yet we too should rejoice. Not indeed to the exclusion of sorrow, nor to the neglect of the great purpose to be effected in us by the withdrawal, as by the presence of dear ones, the furtherance of our faith, but having made sure that that purpose has been effected in us, we should then give solemn thanksgivings if it has. It is sad and strange to think of how opposite are the feelings about their departure, of those who have gone and of those who are left. Would it not be better that we should try to share theirs and so bring about a true union? We may be sure that their deepest desire is that we should. If some lips that we shall never hear any more, till we come where they are, could speak, would not they bring to us as their message from Heaven, Do ‘ye also joy and rejoice with me’?
PAUL AND TIMOTHY
Like all great men Paul had a wonderful power of attaching followers to himself. The mass of the planet draws in small aerolites which catch fire as they pass through its atmosphere. There is no more beautiful page in the history of the early Church than the story of Paul and his companions. They gathered round him with such devotion, and followed him with such love. They were not small men. Luke and Aquila were among them, and they would have been prominent in most companies, but gladly took a place second to Paul. He impressed his own personality and his type of teaching on his followers as Luther did on his, and as many another great teacher has done.
Among all these Timothy seems to have held a special place. Paul first found him on his second journey either at Derbe or Lystra. His mother, Eunice, was already a believer, his father a Greek. Timothy seems to have been converted on Paul’s first visit, for on his second he was already a disciple well reported of, and Paul more than once calls him his ‘son in the faith.’ He seems to have come in to take John Mark’s place as the Apostle’s ‘minister,’ and from that time to have been usually Paul’s trusted attendant. We hear of him as with the Apostle on his first visit to Philippi, and to have gone with him to Thessalonica and Beroea, but then to have been parted until Corinth. Thence Paul went quickly up to Jerusalem and back to Antioch, from which he set out again to visit the churches, and made a special stay in Ephesus. While there he planned a visit to Macedonia and Achaia, in preparation for one to Jerusalem, and finally to Rome. So he sent Timothy and Erastus on ahead to Macedonia, which would of course include Philippi. After that visit to Macedonia and Greece Paul returned to Philippi, from which he sailed with Timothy in his company. He was probably with him all the way to Rome, and we find him mentioned as sharer in the imprisonment both here and in Colossians.
The references made to him point to a very sweet, good, pure and gracious character without much strength, needing to be stayed and stiffened by the stronger character, but full of sympathy, unselfish disregard of self, and consecrated love to Christ. He had been surrounded with a hallowed atmosphere from his youth, and ‘from a child had known the holy Scriptures,’ and ‘prophecies’ like fluttering doves had gone before on him. He had ‘often infirmities’ and ‘tears.’ He needed to be roused to ‘stir up the gift that was in him,’ and braced up ‘not to be ashamed,’ but to fight against the disabling ‘spirit of fear,’ and to be ‘strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.’
The bond between these two was evidently very close, and the Apostle felt something of a paternal interest in the very weakness of character which was in such contrast to his own strength, and which obviously dreaded the discouragement which was likely to be produced by his own martyrdom. This favourite companion he will now send to his favourite church. The verses of our text express that intention, and give us a glimpse into the Apostle’s thoughts and feelings in his imprisonment.
I. The prisoner’s longing and hope.
The first point which strikes us in this self-revelation of Paul’s is his conscious uncertainty as to his future. In the previous chapter ver. 25 he is confident that he will live. In the verses immediately preceding our text he faces the possibility of death. Here he recognises the uncertainty but still ‘trusts’ that he will be liberated, but yet he does not know ‘how it may go with’ him. We think of him in his lodging sometimes hoping and sometimes doubting. He had a tyrant’s caprice to depend on, and knew how a moment’s whim might end all. Surely his way of bearing that suspense was very noteworthy and noble. It is difficult to keep a calm heart, and still more difficult to keep on steadily at work, when any moment might bring the victor’s axe. Suspense almost enforces idleness, but Paul crowded these moments of his prison time with letters, and Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon are the fruits for which we are indebted to a period which would have been to many men a reason for throwing aside all work.
How calmly too he speaks of the uncertain issue! Surely never was the possibility of death more quietly spoken of than in ‘so soon as I shall see how it will go with me.’ That means--’as soon as my fate is decided, be it what it may, I will send Timothy to tell you.’ What a calm pulse he must have had! There is no attitudinising here, all is perfectly simple and natural. Can we look, do we habitually look, into the uncertain future with such a temper--accepting all that may be in its grey mists, and feeling that our task is to fill the present with strenuous loving service, leaving tomorrow with all its alternatives, even that tremendous one of life and death, to Him who will shape it to a perfect end?
We note, further, the purpose of Paul’s love. It is beautiful to see how he yearns over these Philippians and feels that his joy will be increased when he hears from them. He is sure, as he believes, to hear good, and news which will be a comfort. Among the souls whom he bore on his heart were many in the Macedonian city, and a word from them would be like ‘cold water to a thirsty soul.’
What a noble suppression of self; how deep and strong the tie that bound him to them must have been! Is there not a lesson here for all Christian workers, for all teachers, preachers, parents, that no good is to be done without loving sympathy? Unless our hearts go out to people we shall never reach their hearts. We may talk to them for ever, but unless we have this loving sympathy we might as well be silent. It is possible to pelt people with the Gospel, and to produce the effect of flinging stones at them. Much Christian work comes to nothing mainly for that reason.
And how deep a love does he show in his depriving himself of Timothy for their sakes, and in his reason for sending him! Those reasons would have been for most of us the strongest reason for keeping him. It is not everybody who will denude himself of the help of one who serves him ‘as a child serveth a father,’ and will part with the only like-minded friend he has, because his loving eye will clearly see the state of others.
Paul’s expression of his purpose to send Timothy is very much more than a piece of emotional piety. He ‘hopes in the Lord’ to accomplish his design, and that hope so rooted and conditioned is but one instance of the all-comprehending law of his life, that, to him, to ‘live is Christ.’ His whole being was so interpenetrated with Christ’s that all his thoughts and feelings were ‘in the Lord Jesus.’ So should our purposes be. Our hopes should be derived from union with Him. They should not be the play of our own fancy or imagination. They should be held in submission to him, and ever with the limitation, ‘Not as I will, but as Thou wilt.’ We should be trusting to Him to fulfil them. If thus we hope, our hopes may lead us nearer to Jesus instead of tempting us away from Him by delusive brightnesses. There is a religious use of hope not only when it is directed to heavenly certainties, and ‘enters within the veil,’ but even when occupied about earthly things. Spenser twice paints for us the figure of Hope, one has always something of dread in her blue eyes, the other, and the other only, leans on the anchor, and ‘maketh not ashamed’; and her name is ‘Hope in the Lord.’
II. The prisoner solitary among self-seeking men.
With wonderful self-surrender the Apostle thinks of his lack of like-minded companions as being a reason for depriving himself of the only like-minded one who was left with him. He felt that Timothy’s sympathetic soul would truly care for the Philippians’ condition, and would minister to it lovingly. He could rely that Timothy would have no selfish by-ends to serve, but would seek the things of Jesus Christ. We know too little of the circumstances of Paul’s imprisonment to know how he came to be thus lonely. In the other Epistles of the Captivity we have mention of a considerable group of friends, many of whom would certainly have been included in a list of the ‘like-minded.’ We hear, for example, of Tychicus, Onesimus, Aristarchus, John Mark, Epaphras, and Luke. What had become of them all we do not know. They were evidently away on Christian service, somewhere or other, or some of them perhaps had not yet arrived. At all events for some reason Paul was for the time left alone but for Timothy. Not that there were no Christian men in Rome, but of those who could have been sent on such an errand there were none in whom love to Christ and care for His cause and flock were strong enough to mark them as fit for it.
So then we have to take account of Paul’s loneliness in addition to his other sorrows, and we may well mark how calmly and uncomplainingly he bears it. We are perpetually hearing complaints of isolation and the difficulty of finding sympathy, or ‘people who understand me.’ That is often the complaint of a morbid nature, or of one which has never given itself the trouble of trying to ‘understand’ others, or of showing the sympathy for which it says that it thirsts. And many of these complaining spirits might take a lesson from the lonely Apostle. There never was a man, except Paul’s Master and ours, who cared more for human sympathy, had his own heart fuller of it, and received less of it from others than Paul. But he had discovered what it would be blessedness for us all to lay to heart, that a man who has Christ for his companion can do without others, and that a heart in which there whispers, ‘Lo, I am with you always,’ can never be utterly solitary.
May we not take the further lesson that the sympathy which we should chiefly desire is sympathy and fellow-service in Christian work? Paul did not want like-minded people in order that he might have the luxury of enjoying their sympathy, but what he wanted was allies in his work for Christ. It was sympathy in his care for the Philippians that he sought for in his messenger. And that is the noblest form of like-mindedness that we can desire--some one to hold the ropes for us.
Note, too, that Paul does not weakly complain because he had no helpers. Good and earnest men are very apt to say much about the half-hearted way in which their brethren take up some cause in which they are eagerly interested, and sometimes to abandon it altogether for that reason. May not such faint hearts learn a lesson from him who had ‘no man like-minded,’ and yet never dreamt of whimpering because of it, or of flinging down his tools because of the indolence of his fellow-workers?
There is another point to be observed in the Apostle’s words here. He felt that their attitude to Christ determined his affinities with men. He could have no deep and true fellowship with others, whatever their name to live, who were daily ‘seeking their own,’ and at the same time leaving unsought ‘the things of Jesus Christ.’ They who are not alike in their deepest aims can have no real kindred. Must we not say that hosts of so-called Christian people do not seem to feel, if one can judge by the company they affect, that the deepest bond uniting men is that which binds them to Jesus Christ? I would press the question, Do we feel that nothing draws us so close to men as common love to Jesus, and that if we are not alike on that cardinal point there is a deep gulf of separation beneath a deceptive surface of union, an unfathomable gorge marked by a quaking film of earth?
It is a solemn estimate of some professing Christians which the Apostle gives here, if he is including the members of the Roman Church in his judgment that they are not ‘like-minded’ with him, and are ‘seeking their own, not the things of Jesus Christ.’ We may rather hope that he is speaking of others around him, and that for some reason unknown to us he was at the time secluded from the Roman Christians. He brings out with unflinching precision the choice which determines a life. There is always that terrible ‘either--or.’ To live for Christ is the antagonist, and only antagonist of life for self. To live for self is death. To live for Jesus is the only life. There are two centres, heliocentric and geocentric as the scientists say. We can choose round which we shall draw our orbit, and everything depends on the choice which we make. To seek ‘the things of Jesus Christ’ is sure to lead to, and is the only basis of, care for men. Religion is the parent of compassion, and if we are looking for a man who will care truly for the state of others, we must do as Paul did, look for him among those who ‘seek the things of Jesus Christ.’
III. The prisoner’s joy in loving co-operation.
The Apostle’s eulogium on Timothy points to his long and intimate association with Paul and to the Philippians’ knowledge of him as well as to the Apostle’s clinging to him. There is a piece of delicate beauty in the words which we may pause for a moment to point out. Paul writes as ‘a child serveth a father,’ and the natural sequence would have been ‘so he served me,’ but he remembers that the service was not to him, Paul, but to another, and so he changes the words and says he ‘served with me in furtherance of the Gospel.’ We are both servants alike--Christ’s servants for the Gospel.
Paul’s joy in Timothy’s loving co-operation was so deep because Paul’s whole heart was set on ‘the furtherance of the Gospel.’ Help towards that end was help indeed. We may measure the ardour and intensity of Paul’s devotion to his apostolic work by the warmth of gratitude which he shows to his helper. They who contribute to our reaching our chief desire win our warmest love, and the catalogue of our helpers follows the order of the list of our aims. Timothy brought to Paul no assistance to procure any of the common objects of human desires. Wealth, reputation, success in any of the pursuits which attract most men might have been held out to the Apostle and not been thought worth stooping to take, nor would the offerer have been thanked, but any proffered service that had the smallest bearing on that great work to which Paul’s life was given, and which his conscience told him there would be a curse on himself if he did not fulfil, was welcomed as a priceless gift. Do we arrange the lists of our helpers on the same fashion, and count that they serve us best who help us to serve Christ? It should be as much the purpose of every Christian life as it was that of Paul to spread the salvation and glory of the ‘name that is above every name.’ If we lived as continually under the influence of that truth as he did, we should construe the circumstances of our lives, whether helpful or hindering, very differently, and we could shake the world.
Christian unity is very good and infinitely to be desired, but the true field on which it should display itself is that of united work for the common Lord. The men who have marched side by side through a campaign are knit together as nothing else would bind them. Even two horses drawing one carriage will have ways and feelings and a common understanding, which they would never have attained in any other way. There is nothing like common work for clearing away mists. Much so-called Christian sympathy and like-mindedness are something like the penal cranks that used to be in jails, which generated immense power on this side of the wall but ground out nothing on the other.
Let us not forget that in the field of Christian service there is room for all manner of workers, and that they are associated, however different their work. Paul often calls Timothy his ‘fellow-labourer,’ and once gives him the eulogium, ‘he worketh the work of the Lord as I also do.’ Think of the difference between the two men in age, endowment, and sphere! Apparently Timothy at first had very subordinate work taking John Mark’s place, and is described as being one of those who ‘ministered’ to Paul. It is the cup of cold water over again. All work done for the same Lord, and with the same motive is the same; ‘he that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward.’ When Paul associates Timothy with himself he is copying from afar off his Lord, who lets us think of even our poor deeds as done by those whom He does not disdain to call His fellow-workers. It would be worth living for if, at the last, He should acknowledge us, and say even of us, ‘he hath served with Me in the Gospel.’
PAUL AND EPAPHRODITUS
Epaphroditus is one of the less known of Paul’s friends. All our information about him is contained in this context, and in a brief reference in Chapter 4: His was a singular fate--to cross Paul’s path, and for one short period of his life to be known to all the world, and for all the rest before and after to be utterly unknown. The ship sails across the track of the moonlight, and then vanishes ghost-like into darkness. Of all the inhabitants of Philippi at that time we know the names of but three, Euodias, Syntiche, and Epaphroditus, and we owe them all to Paul. The context gives us an interesting miniature of the last, and pathetic glimpses into the private life of the Apostle in his imprisonment, and it is worth our while to try to bring our historic imagination to bear on Epaphroditus, and to make him a living man.
The first fact about him is, that he was one of the Philippian Christians, and sent by them to Rome, with some pecuniary or material help, such as comforts for Paul’s prison-house, food, clothing, or money. There was no reliable way of getting these to Paul but to take them, and so Epaphroditus faced the long journey across Greece to Brindisi and Rome, and when arrived there threw himself with ardour into serving Paul. The Apostle’s heartfelt eulogium upon him shows two phases of his work. He was in the first place Paul’s helper in the Gospel, and his faithfulness there is set forth in a glowing climax, ‘My brother and fellow-worker and fellow-soldier.’ He was in the second place the minister to Paul’s needs. There would be many ways of serving the captive, looking after his comfort, doing his errands, procuring daily necessaries, managing affairs, perhaps writing his letters, easing his chain, chafing his aching wrists, and ministering in a thousand ways which we cannot and need not specify. At all events he gladly undertook even servile work for love of Paul.
He had an illness which was probably the consequence of his toil. Perhaps over-exertion in travel, or perhaps his Macedonian constitution could not bear the enervating air of Rome, or perhaps Paul’s prison was unhealthy. At any rate he worked till he made himself ill. The news reached Philippi in some round-about way, and, as it appears, the news of his illness only, not of his recovery. The difficulty of communication would sufficiently account for the partial intelligence. Then the report found its way back to Rome, and Epaphroditus got home-sick and was restless, uneasy, ‘sore troubled,’ as the Apostle says, because they had heard he had been sick. In his low, nervous state, barely convalescent, the thought of home and of his brethren’s anxiety about him was too much for him. It is a pathetic little picture of the Macedonian stranger in the great city--pallid looks, recent illness, and pining for home and a breath of pure mountain air, and for the friends he had left. So Paul with rare abnegation sent him away at once, though Timothy was to follow shortly, and accompanied him with this outpouring of love and praise in his long homeward journey. Let us hope he got safe back to his friends, and as Paul bade them, they received him in the Lord with all joy, the echoes of which we almost hear as he passes out of our knowledge.
In the remainder of this sermon we shall simply deal with the two figures which the text sets before us, and we may look first at the glimpses of Paul’s character which we get here.
We may note the generous heartiness of his praise in his associating Epaphroditus with himself as on full terms of equality, as worker and soldier, and the warm generosity of the recognition of all that he had done for the Apostle’s comfort. Paul’s first burst of gratitude and praise does not exhaust all that he has to say about Epaphroditus. He comes back to the theme in the last words of the context, where he says that the Philippian messenger had ‘hazarded’ his life, or, as we might put it with equal accuracy and more force, had ‘gambled’ his life, or ‘staked it on the die’ for Paul’s sake. No wonder that men were eager to risk their lives for a leader who lavished such praise and such love upon them. A man who never opens his lips but to censure or criticise, who fastens on faults as wasps do on blemished fruit, will never be surrounded by loyal love. Faithful service is most surely bought by hearty praise. A caressing hand on a horse’s neck is better than a whip.
We may further note the intensity of Paul’s sympathy. He speaks of Epaphroditus’ recovery as a mercy to himself ‘lest he should have the sorrow of imprisonment increased by the sorrow of his friend’s death.’ That attitude of mind stands in striking contrast to the heroism which said, ‘To me, to live is Christ and to die is gain,’ but the two are perfectly consistent, and it was a great soul which had room for them both.
We must not leave unnoticed the beautiful self-abnegation which sends off Epaphroditus as soon as he was well enough to travel, as a gift of the Apostle’s love, in order to repay them for what they had done for him. He says nothing of his own loss or of how much more lonely he would be when the brother whom he had praised so warmly had left him alone. But he suns himself in the thought of the Philippians’ joy, and in the hope that some reflection of it will travel across the seas to him, and make him, if not wholly glad, at any rate ‘the less sorrowful.’
We have also to notice Paul’s delicate recognition of all friendly help. He says that Epaphroditus risked his life to ‘supply that which was lacking in your service toward me.’ That implies that all which the Philippians’ ministration lacked was their personal presence, and that Epaphroditus, in supplying that, made his work in a real sense theirs. All the loving thoughts, and all the material expressions of them which Epaphroditus brought to Paul were fragrant with the perfume of the Philippians’ love, ‘an odour of a sweet smell, acceptable’ to Paul as to Paul’s Lord.
We briefly note some general lessons which may be suggested by the picture of Epaphroditus as he stands by the side of Paul.
The first one suggested is the very familiar one of the great uniting principle which a common faith in Christ brought into action. Think of the profound clefts of separation between the Macedonian and the Jew, the antipathies of race, the differences of language, the dissimilarities of manner, and then think of what an unheard-of new thing it must have been that a Macedonian should ‘serve’ a Jew! We but feebly echo Paul’s rapture when he thought that there was ‘neither Barbarian or Scythian, bond or free, but all were one in Christ Jesus,’ and for all our talk about the unity of humanity and the like, we permit the old gulfs of separation to gape as deeply as ever. Dreadnoughts are a peculiar expression of the brotherhood of men after nineteen centuries of so-called Christianity.
The terms in which the work of Epaphroditus is spoken of by Paul are very significant. He has no hesitation in describing the work done for himself as ‘the work of Christ,’ nor in using, as the name for it, the word ‘service’, which properly refers to the service rendered by priestly hands. Work done for Paul was done for Jesus, and that, not because of any special apostolic closeness of relation of Paul to Jesus, but because, like all other Christians, he was one with his Lord. ‘The cup of cold water’ given ‘in the name of a disciple’ is grateful to the lips of the Master. We have no reason to suppose that Epaphroditus took part with Paul in his more properly apostolic work, and the fact that the purely material help, and pecuniary service which most probably comprised all his ‘ministering,’ is honoured by Paul with these lofty designations, carries with it large lessons as to the sanctity of common life. All deeds done from the same motive are the same, however different they may be in regard to the material on which they are wrought. If our hearts are set to ‘hallow all we find,’ the most secular duties will be acts of worship. It is possible for us in the ordering of our own lives to fulfil the great prophecy with which Zechariah crowned his vision of the Future, ‘In that day shall there be on the bells of the horses Holiness unto the Lord’; and the ‘pots in the Lord’s house shall be like the bowls before the altar.’
May we not further draw from Paul’s words here a lesson as to the honour due to Christian workers? It was his brethren who were exhorted to receive their own messenger back again ‘in the Lord with all joy, and to hold him in honour.’ Possibly there were in Philippi some sharp tongues and envious spirits, who needed the exhortation. Whether there were so or no, the exhortation itself traces lightly but surely the lines on which Christians should render, and their fellow-Christians can rightly receive, even praise from men. If Epaphroditus were ‘received in the Lord,’ there would be no foolish and hurtful adulation of him, nor prostration before him, but he would be recognised as but the instrument through which the true Helper worked, and not he, but the Grace of Christ in him would finally receive the praise. There are very many Christian workers who never get their due of recognition and welcome from their brethren, and there are many who get far more of both than belongs to them, and both they and the crowds who bring them adulation would be freed from dangers, which can scarcely be over-stated, if the spirit of Paul’s warm-hearted praise of Epaphroditus were kept in view.
Epaphroditus but passes across the illuminated disc of the lantern for a moment, and we have scarcely time to catch a glimpse of his face before it is lost to us. He and all his brethren are gone, but his name lives for ever, and Paul’s praise of him and of his work outshines all else remembered of the city, where conquerors once reigned, and outside whose walls was fought a battle that decided for a time the fate of the world.
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MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on Philippians 2". MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19