The Philippian epistle is a divine commentary on the latter half of Ephesians, and, like it, is especially concerned with the deportment demanded by the transcendent doctrines developed in the first half of the Ephesian letter. This is the key to its contents. It does not deal with doctrines, but with deportment. This will illumine many a difficult passage in it and this has been allowed to color the wording of the version.
As shown in the literary framework, the epistle is a perfect, though complex reversion. Its controlling theme is Participation in the Evangel, not only by its public proclamation, but especially by a conduct consistent with its teachings. Following the introduction and preceding the Conclusion the Philippians' fellowship with Paul by contributions and in sufferings is detailed, interspersed with Paul's own experiences in preaching the evangel.
The main subject, the Living Expression of the Evangel, or, "Having on the Word of Life" (2:16), is illustrated by tour examples: Christ and Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus, Four exhortations are introduced in this division. The entreaty to imitate Christ opens it and Paul places himself before them as a model at its close. So, too, the service of Timothy is preceded by an exhortation, and the sufferings of Epaphroditus are followed by an appeal.
These two themes, suffering and service, pervade the whole epistle, from the introduction, where Paul and Timothy style themselves slaves, rather than apostles, to the end where the grace of the Lord, or Master, rather than Christ, is invoked.
The humility of Christ is presented, in harmony with the transcendent truth of this economy. It did not begin with His birth or result only in His exaltation over the earth. It commenced in glory before His incarnation, which was but a step in His downward path of obedience to God's will. It led from the highest place in the universe to the lowest, under the curse of the cross. It will exalt Him to headship over all creation, which will bow to Him as its Master, for God, the Father's glory.
For Christ to become flesh meant humiliation. Paul's physical connections were his boast. They pledged to him all the privileges and advantages which belonged alone to the Jew. But all of these are flung away once he knows Christ after the spirit, and His heavenly exaltation.
1 This epistle was not written by Paul and Timothy in the character of apostles, but slaves. This is important, as it gives us a key to the character of the whole letter. The mention of the overseers, or supervisors, and servants leads to the same conclusion. The grace also is from the Lord. If we keep this in mind it will greatly simplify the understanding of difficult portions of the epistle.
THE PHILIPPIANS' CONTRIBUTION
A contribution, in its scriptural sense, is a sharing in common. The servant of God shares with the saints what he has received from God, and his hearers share with him the material wealth which they have obtained.
How refreshing it is to see the intimate interest of the Philippians in Paul's welfare and the mutual love which made their intercourse so delightful to read about after all these years! Here we have a picture of the ideal relations between the Lord's saints and those of His slaves who are seeking to defend the evangel. There is greater need now than in Paul's day. The evangel needs to be recovered before it can be confirmed or defended. God still uses such miserable means as an imprisoned apostle to make it known.
12 When Paul was taken to Rome he was permitted to dwell by himself with a soldier who guarded him. He had liberty to speak to the chief Jews and he delivered the final kingdom message to them. And then he lived two whole years in a rented house and received all who came to him. He spoke with all boldness and no one forbade him (Ac.28:16-21). These unusual privileges proved plainly, as the incidents on the voyage had already shown, that he was indeed a "prisoner of the Lord" (Eph. 4:1). His bonds were "in Christ" and, though they were designed to put a stop to the evangel, they aided its progress. Hitherto Paul had worked to support himself, now he was free to give all his time to the Lord's service. He evidently reached some in the very household of Caesar (4:22).
16 Paul was located at Rome, at the very center of government, where his influence, even though he was a prisoner, especially among Caesar's retinue, was doubtless used by God to control the opposition to the evangel. How like Him to station the defender of the faith in the very citadel of His enemies!
PAUL'S INDIFFERENCE TO DEATH
20 The historical record emphasizes the fact that Paul taught the things which concern our Lord Jesus Christ "with all boldness, unforbidden" (Ac.28:31).
21 If Paul lived, his efforts would further the fame of Christ: if he died a martyr's death, even that would be gain for the cause of Christ, for the martyrs proved to be the seed of the church. Paul could not be thinking of his own gain in this connection.
23 A martyr's death would claim a martyr's reward, yet Paul lived at least two years at Rome, writing his letters from thence. Undoubtedly there has been more fruit from this work than from all of his previous service.
23 The solution of Paul's dilemma, life or death (neither of which he would choose because of his longing for another, much better condition) is the resurrection life with Christ. This "solution" might be referred to the dissolution of his body at death (2Tim.4:6) if it were not set in contrast with death. The same term is used in Lu.12:36 of the breaking up of a wedding party. Words used in the physical sense are often used in a metaphysical sense in the epistles. We dissolve material things but solve spiritual problems.
Participation in the Evangel
27 The citizenship or enfranchisement here referred to is celestial, not terrestrial.
THE PHILIPPIANS' SUFFERING
29 It is our privilege to enjoy the sufferings which come to us in seeking to do God's work, for they are not, as we are wont to think, a token of His displeasure, but a favor which is granted to the few who are faithful in the performance of His will.
PUTTING ON THE EVANGEL
This division takes up the body of the epistle, setting before us the four models, Christ, Timothy, Epaphroditus and Paul, mingled with exhortations to imitate their example.
EXHORTATION TO IMITATE CHRIST
1 Our conduct should reflect the unselfish humility of Christ, considering others and their honor rather than our own.
THE EXAMPLE OF CHRIST JESUS
6 Form denotes outward appearance, as is shown by Paul's use of it in the contrast, "having a form of devoutness, yet denying its power" (2Ti.3:5). We have found it impossible to sustain the idea that it refers to intrinsic essence. Figure or fashion denotes the form prevailing at any time. Christ was the Image of God, the visible representation of the Deity. Paul himself saw Him on the Damascus road in celestial glory. Yet the form in verse 6 was laid aside for that of a slave, at His incarnation.
Adam and his progeny seek to exalt themselves and will be humbled. But Christ, Who might easily assume the place of equality with God, found His delight in submission and humiliation.
The ending -mos of the word for pillaging denotes the act, not the object of pillage. When He was in the form of God His glory was too bright to be gazed upon by men. The apostle John presents Him as the audible Word, but Paul shows Him as the visible Image of the Deity, too bright for mortal gaze and seen only by our spiritual perception. As such He is seen in this epistle.
7 Empties cannot refer to a partial relinquishment of His previous state, but a total change of form, in which none of God's glory was apparent to the physical sight.
The Example of Christ
The enormous sweep of this synopsis of Christ's service and suffering takes in the whole universe and all the eons, from the beginning to the consummation. Being in the form of God, He was above the heavens, under the curse of the cross He was beneath all. Yet, as He voluntarily descended from the highest to the lowest place, so, too, shall be His exaltation. Every tongue will acclaim Him Lord for God the Father's glory. This cannot be until every heart will have been subdued at the consummation (lCor.15:28). Until then there are enemies who oppose His rule. Ever since His resurrection God has been engaged in His exaltation. Even now, many celestial powers are subordinate to Him (lPe.3:22). When He comes again the earth will be added to His domain, until finally the whole universe will be reconciled to God by the blood of His cross (Col.1:20). This is His reward. It is as Jesus (Jehovah the Saviour), the name of His humiliation, that He will be exalted to the place supreme. He Who was lowest shall become the highest.
EXHORTATION TO OBEDIENCE
12 There is no question here of sinners working for salvation. This is an exhortation to saints to make the salvation they have effective in their daily life and action.
16 The "word of life", or a living expression of the evangel consists in conduct so consistent with it that the life alone will proclaim the spirit of the message apart from its formal announcement. Christ, Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus were living expressions, for their service and sufferings exemplify its message.
17 The priest in Israel, officiating at the altar, poured a libation, usually of wine, upon the sacrifice (Num.15:5). Paul wished to be the libation on their sacrifice.
19 Timothy was the ideal servant. Though himself suffering with infirmities, he was not concerned about himself but took a genuine interest in the saints whom he served.
The Living Examples
19 The word soul has lost its significance in English, especially in its compounds, hence we render idiomatically "good cheer," for "well souled" and "equally sensitive" for "equal souled."
25 This is a most pathetic picture of the suffering which often accompanies the service of the Lord in this economy. In the previous economy Paul could and would have healed Epaphroditus, for his very handkerchief was potent with power. That course was in keeping with the kingdom which he then proclaimed. But now, when all blessing is spiritual (Eph.1:3), Paul does not attempt to heal Epaphroditus and tells Timothy to use a sip of wine for his frequent infirmities (1Tim.5:23). How full of feeling is the statement that he was depressed, not by his own condition, but because the Philippians had heard of it and would be concerned about him!
26 Epaphroditus was commissioned by the Philippian ecclesia to bring their contribution to Paul. He was their apostle. His case aptly illustrates the meaning of the term.
EXHORTATION TO BEWARE
2 Those who are elsewhere called the Circumcision are here termed the "Maimcision," and true believers in Christ Jesus are the genuine Circumcision. Circumcision signified the cutting off of the flesh, but speedily became a badge in which the flesh took great pride. Instead of cutting off the flesh it gave it the place of privilege. Only those circumcised dared to hope for God's blessings. Now a mere mutilation of the flesh is replaced by doing, in spirit, what circumcision typified. We cut off the physical altogether.
3 The divine ritual of Judaism is replaced, in our case, by real spiritual worship, acceptable to God wherever it is offered.
THE EXAMPLE OF PAUL
4 Paul is the most brilliant example of the results of a divine religion in which the flesh is given a place. His birth gave him the most favored place among men. His attainments gave him the highest place among his own race.
But he forfeits all this and flings it from him because it interferes with the superior position accorded to him in Christ. His religion made him the chief of sinners, Christ's bitterest enemy. Now he will have no more of his own, but that which is founded on Christ.
8 Refuse is defined (Syr.274) ''as when one sifts with a sieve, the refuse remains." "What is thrown to the dogs." (Suid.)
10 It is notable that Paul never engages our attention with the life of Christ while on earth. Then, he tells us, He was a Servant of the Circumcision (Rom.15:8). All His practices and precepts were directly connected with the proclamation of the kingdom, which is now in abeyance. We have no vital relation with Him until His resurrection. We, too, are accounted as alive in resurrection. We, too, are ascended and seated among the celestials in Him (Eph.2:5-6). Let us conduct ourselves, then, in harmony with this. This is our goal. Let us approximate it as nearly as we can in anticipation. The apostle has no doubts about attaining the actual resurrection. He is not so sure that he realizes its power in his present experience. All will be raised then. Not all realize it now. We should, however, accommodate ourselves to those who are still observing the rudiments.
14 We have here the ideal experience of a believer in Christ Jesus. The shortcomings and sins, the aims and ambitions of the past are all forgotten, lest they hinder us in our race to the goal, which is conformity to Christ Jesus in His glory. Though we cannot fully attain this until resurrection, we should aim to come as near it as possible in our present experience. He who comes nearest this ideal will obtain the prize.
EXHORTATION TO IMITATE PAUL
17 The imitation of Christ, when He was concerned with an economy which was, in some ways, the opposite of the present, has led to endless failure and confusion. The reason for Paul's exhortation that he be made a model for their imitation arises from the
Exhortation to Imitate Paul
fact that in him alone do we see the resurrection life of Christ interpreted in terms of present conduct. Christ's earthly life needs no such interpretation, so none of the other apostles are models in this sense even for the Circumcision.
18 The enemies of the cross of Christ are those who, failing to apprehend the significance of His shameful death, still cling to the terrestrial and the physical. The cross of Christ brings before us the manner of His death. It was an ignominious, shameful, malefactor's death, to which God's curse was attached. Hence we may avail ourselves of the efficacy of His blood, and yet, by clinging to the world and the flesh, become enemies of His cross.
20 Our citizenship, or enfranchisement, in contrast to that of Israel, is in the heavens. We have no political privileges where the sovereignty of our Lord has been rejected. But we have high hopes both politically and physically. We shall reign with Christ in the celestial spheres. And this body of humiliation will be transfigured to conform to His glorious body. He is coming as a Saviour.
21 Here we have the definite assurance of His ability to subordinate the entire universe. This will not be accomplished until the consummation (lCor.15:24-28) .
5 The Lord is always near when men are high handed with us. It is not our place to retaliate but to be lenient and considerate, for He is near and will take care of our interests.
6 Worry kills more men than war. To get beyond its reach is one of the most precious privileges of all who belong to Christ. There is no promise here that our prayers will be answered, or that, if several agree, they shall have their request. It goes far deeper than that. The knowledge that God is guiding all things to the goal He has set before Him, unhindered by the stress and storm which so distresses us, leads us to wonder whether our own petitions are in line with His will, and whether it is better to leave all with Him, confident that He will grant that only good which we crave but do not apprehend. We enter into His peace and acquiesce in His will whether our prayer be answered or not.
THE PHILIPPIANS' CARE OF PAUL
10 The Philippians seem to have had Paul constantly on their hearts though circumstances, at times, kept them from contributing to his needs.
PAUL'S COMPLACENCY IN WANT
11 It is blessed for the believer to recognize the fact that his environment and his condition are all of God, Who is using them for his welfare. Wealth or want, opulence or poverty are alike means for our blessing. There is no real contentment apart from this.
PAUL'S STRENGTH IN CHRIST
13 What encouragement there is in this brief word! Nothing is too great for those who know their own weakness and the invigorating power of Christ.
THE PHILIPPIANS' CONTRIBUTION
14 The gift of the Philippian ecclesia is especially precious because of the memories it awakens in Paul's mind. They alone came to his aid at the first, and then helped him even in Thessalonica, among his friends. Their contribution, being a token of their heartfelt appreciation and love, not only meets his need, but ascends, like the sacrifice of old, redolent with the perfume which speaks of the sacrifice of Christ. In return he reminds them of the glory that Christ has brought to God and that they, in Him, shall have all their needs supplied according to God's estimate of His work.
19 While God does not fill all our wants, He supplies all our needs. Nor does He do this in accord with our service or deserts, but in harmony with the glory which has come to be His in Christ Jesus. Thus He ever deals with us, not as we are in ourselves, but as He sees us in Christ. This should assure our hearts of His continual care and provision notwithstanding appearances to the contrary. Paul was humbled at times, and hungry, yet this to him was an evidence of His care as well as the times of superabundance.
21 Every saint "in Christ Jesus" limits this greeting to those who know Christ, not after the flesh, but after the spirit.
Philippians 4:22, 23
22 Grace finds its trophies in the very household of that infamous monster, Nero!
23 The epistle closes as it began, with the emphasis on conduct, by the use of the title Lord.