Studies in Philippians
PHILIPPIANS has been on my heart for many long years, and, at various times, I have jotted down notes as certain passages were pressed upon my attention. One lengthy article, that on "The Kenosis," or emptying of Christ, has already been published. In the last few years particularly, the need of a fuller exposition has made itself felt. Even noble and devoted men, full of zeal for God and His Word, seemed to have hardly an inkling of its message. The gracious revival of Pauline teaching seems to be suffering a reaction, and to be taking false and fantastic forms because this epistle is not studied as a whole.
Philippians, almost more than any other epistle, must be considered as a unit. Its truth is so little known or practiced, and so distinctive in character, that a passage outside its context, or severed from the main theme, may suggest a thought quite contradictory to its message. "Work out your own salvation" is only one of such statements which may be used to give the truth an entirely false twist. Unless the theme of the epistle is seen to be service, even those who are well aware of their transcendent blessings in Christ will be stumbled by passages which seem to call in question the precious truths already taught.
As Ephesians is the great exposition of the truth of this secret administration so Philippians opens up new vistas of service. The tendency observable in Paul's earlier epistles, in contrast with the book of Acts, is carried on to its consummation. Not only is Israel set aside, but all that pertains to the flesh and the earth is forfeited in order to gain Christ and conform to our celestial citizenship. The cross finds its full expression first in this epistle. This is sorely needed today, for without a due appreciation of its meaning we will be sure to fail in our walk and service.
I would especially urge those who seek to serve the saints to take Philippians to heart. The more I have meditated upon it, the more I have been appalled at our great lack in living up to it. The conflict between flesh and spirit is seldom so evident as in the attitude of Christendom and even evangelical teaching toward the truth of Philippians. I have just seen an article in one of the leading fundamentalist journals which opposes the "extreme" views of those who follow Philippians. Even in Paul's day, many walked at enmity with the cross. Surely most of God's dear people do so now. It is a fearful thought that we also may be caught in this current of apostasy. I do not see how anything except a heart acquaintance with this epistle can keep us out of it.
The article referred to opposed the teaching of this epistle by citing the conduct of our Lord when on earth. I mention this to call attention to such practices and to warn against them. What our Lord did was perfectly fitting in that administration, but it is no standard for us, under different, or rather opposite, conditions. It is astonishing how many of the clear cut statements concerned with the present are modified or nullified by "comparing scripture with scripture." Our reference Bibles seem to have obliterated all the vital boundaries in the realm of truth.
Another thought has impressed me. In these perfection epistles there is no enigmatic teaching. We do not observe as in a mirror, but face to face (1 Cor.13:12). This should make it clear and easy, but, not being mature, most of us find it difficult. For instance, the statement "it is God Who is operating in you to will as well as to work" goes right to the root of the matter, and leaves no haziness whatever, as was the case in almost all previous revelation, which leaves us with the impression that we are the operating force in willing as well as in working. Let us never seek to modify or annul such clear declarations, which give us the final analysis and take us back to first causes, by bringing in others which deal with apparent processes, as used by God in testing men.
On the contrary, we should take Philippians as final, and God's previous unfoldings as more or less superficial and partial and obscure. It can be explained by the latest revelation, but not the latest by it. Of course, Philippians is "extreme," for the cross is extreme and God is extreme in His desire to become All in His creatures. So let us not allow this word to frighten us and keep us from obeying the truth.
And let us not fail to note the joyous, yes, jubilant character of our service. True, it may be done in weakness and suffering, amid failure and envy and strife, yet beneath all is the promise and purpose of God, and in all, we have the nearness of our Lord. Although this is the time of our humiliation, we anticipate the glory. While looking our afflictions in the face, we shout to all our fellow slaves (Phil.4:4): "Be rejoicing in the Lord always! Again will I declare, Be rejoicing!"
A. E. Knoch
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