Studies in Philippians
PRACTICE is more powerful than precept. Deeds may do more than declarations in directing our lives. In Ephesians, we have already been told how we should walk. In Philippians, we are given examples of such conduct in the careers of others. We are pointed to the kenosis of Christ, the forfeits of Paul, the solicitude of Timothy, and the suffering of Epaphroditus. These are the special characters in Holy Writ who are presented for our emulation within the boundaries of this present secret administration. Hence they should be frequent and foremost in our exhortations. They should be the leading characters in Christendom.
How far have we failed in this matter! More picturesque characters occupy the attention of Christians, and are hailed in their literature and songs. Even the children sing, "Dare to be a Daniel, dare to stand alone." But who does it? He would not be a second Daniel, but a fanatic. It is well to be reminded of the patience of Job. But we must not count on his reward. And it is excellent to consider the heroes of faith in the eleventh of Hebrews. But the object and end of their faith are not the same as ours. All of this is instructive and profitable, but cannot compare with the special examples selected by God for us, to guide our feet in His service in this era which is so different from all that preceded, or that will succeed it. Let us henceforth focus our attention on these models exclusively for a while, and see if we can profit by their example.
This is especially true of the Psalms. In the dim light of the Reformation and even among those more enlightened in later days, the Psalms have been acclaimed as the greatest source of strength for communion and conduct. Good as they are, they never attain, not even in their highest strain, to the grace and glory which should empower our conduct at the present time. In one way, indeed, the Psalms are in antithesis to present truth, and we fear, hinder its full apprehension. Being concerned with Israel and the kingdom, they are disposed to the terrestrial, which we should not be. When we leave them in their own setting, unmarred by mixture with celestial strains, they are even more wonderful and helpful than if we seize them as spoil and appropriate them to ourselves, for whom they never were intended.
This celestial character of our walk is especially clear in connection with the example of Christ. In setting forth a synopsis of His humiliation, no details of His earthly life are given. The earth seems to serve only as a place on which to erect the accursed tree. There is no mention of His ministry to the Circumcision, or of His royal rights. He comes in the form, of a slave, in the likeness of humanity. His life on earth serves as the supreme example for the Circumcision. He was their copy, their "underwriting." They are to follow Him in His footprints (1 Peter 2:21). For them no other example is needed. But with us it is different. Only His relation to the earth as the place of humiliation is put before us. The details must be filled in by others. These are involved in His cross, but they are not apparent until the depth of human infamy has been sounded by the apostasy of Israel.
EXHORTATION TO A MUTUAL DISPOSITION
We now come to the first of the four exhortations which are found in Philippians. It is strikingly like the opening exhortation in Ephesians (Eph.4:1-6). There, humility was coupled with unity. The unity of the spirit is to be kept in the tie of peace. Where pride prevails this unity fails. So also here. Humility is associated with a mutual disposition. The slight difference in viewpoint arises from the character of the epistles. It may be seen in the words used. In Ephesians, it is one. In Philippians, it is same. The spirit's unity consists in one body, one spirit, one expectation, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God. Corresponding to this, in service, there should be in all the same disposition, the same love, souls joined together, disposed to one thing (2:2). This might be called the unity of the soul, for it is the effect of the unity of the spirit, the outward evidence of the inward power.
Unity of spirit and a mutual disposition are the great need for effective service, even among the saints. This is because we are by no means perfected as yet. We are still selfish. We are prone to two sins which should be utterly absent—strife and vainglory. These are products of pride. If we consider ourselves better than others it will lead to contention. If we desire that our superiority be recognized it will be naught but vainglory. No one knows how subtle and widespread these failings are because no one recognizes them as such. They are not condemned, but condoned. We do not expect anyone to allow his pride to be touched. We almost demand that this be resented. Humility—true humility—is considered a weakness unworthy of a man and a Christian.
It is not easy for us to recognize the justice of this. If we really possess superior qualities or have advanced to attainments beyond others, why should we not claim due recognition? The answer is very simple. All true worth will be rewarded in the future. But now is the time of service. It is most likely that, in that day, only that will be found genuine which did not fight for recognition. All other glory will be found without solid contents, an empty shell. It is impossible for us to decide even of ourselves, nor is it necessary. The truth for today is found only in unity, and the service for today should be a mutual effort, unmarred by strife and vainglory.
Even the highest gifts are no ground for self-exaltation, for all comes from God and should be a cause of thankfulness, not pride. The best of us have nothing that we did not receive. Nothing has originated in us. We have no more right to it than the most despised of humanity. It is only when we lose sight of God's deity and our creaturehood that we preen our feathers or blow our horn. Then it is that we resent any lack of appreciation of our gifts or interference with our work. And this soon leads to dissension and division, which constitute the most glaring faults of Christendom, and are the conclusive evidence of its apostasy and shame.
Normally, we should look to Christians and Christendom to see the fruit of evangelical truth. That is what the "heathen" are compelled to do, apart from reading the Scriptures. What a consolation to look away from such hypocritical Christianity to Christ! Self-abasement, not self-exaltation—such is His disposition. What a comfort there is to be found in His love, which was fixed on others, not Himself. Here we can have real communion of spirit if our eyes and hearts are open to the truth. With Him, we can have compassion and pity for those beneath us, not disregard or contempt. It is only by meditation on His career that we may realize the shortcomings of our own. His disposition is the test and corrective of our tendency to exalt ourselves.
There is a notable difference between the ecclesias of Corinth and Philippi. In the former, there seems to have been much in the way of gifts and physical endowments. They sneered at the apostle's style of speaking. Yet they were full of factions. They wanted to reign. Yet they were fleshly and immature. Notwithstanding their own estimate of themselves, the apostle could not reveal to them what was on his heart. We do not read of many gifts in Philippians. Instead of criticizing Paul's oratory, they contributed to his support. So that we do not read of any schisms among them. And to them, Paul writes as to those who have received the highest truth.
May every gathering of saints take these things to heart! It is far more important to have the humble disposition of Christ than to have the most perfect spiritual and physical equipment. A good speaker, with an agreeable presence, and equipped with much truth, is not to be despised. But, alas, too often, as in Corinth, he may divide instead of unite. Apollos did not wish to split the saints, but he did so by his good qualities. What should be cultivated by us all is this mutual disposition, for, apart from our own pride, we have the same objects before us. And this can come only in the measure in which we partake of the disposition of Christ Jesus, as summed up in the phrase: He stooped to serve.
THE DESCENT OF CHRIST
As the kenosis, or emptying of Christ, is fully discussed elsewhere, we will confine ourselves here to the lesson which it should bring us. It is the ideal for all creation in relation to God. Christ humbled Himself: God highly exalted Him. With us, alas, the tendency is just the opposite. We exalt ourselves so that God must humble us. In His case, we have true humility exemplified as in no other, for He went from the place supreme to the deepest depth, and God has made Him Lord of all. Leaving the form of God He took that of a slave. Becoming like a man, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Apart from being God Himself, nothing can be higher than having the form of God. God Himself is invisible (1 Tim.1:17; Heb.11:27). To bring Him within the range of human comprehension He must be depicted by an Image, having a Form. The living God cannot be made known by lifeless representations. Hence He has chosen One, His creative Original, in Whom all was created, to represent Him, to be the visible Image of invisible Deity. His shape or form must be that which is suggestive of God, especially of the character which He assumes on any occasion, in order to reveal Himself to His creatures. Christ Jesus was that Form. In Him, God was seen in such a theophany as suited the weakness of the human frame. Yet in visions, He appeared in soul-dismaying splendor, as when Isaiah beheld His glory. This passage, as all else in this epistle, deals with service, not essential being.
As the subject of this passage is the height from which Christ descended, it does not treat of His relationship to God in other respects. The equality here spoken of does not arise from intrinsic identity but extrinsic form. Outwardly, to human gaze, He was God, Elohim, and Jehovah. This it was which He did not deem pillaging. The fact that He could take the place of God without taking anything from Him is here introduced to show His supreme position in the universe. He was the Effulgence of God's glory, the most magnificent and sublime precept to be found. As there was no higher height, He could not be exalted without a previous descent.
Our disposition, and that of the world, is to hold fast to all the wealth and power and dignity to which we are able to attain. Indeed, we are disposed to seek still more, even when that which we possess has become a burden. The motto of the respectable and esteemed is "Excelsior!" It is pressed upon the aspiring youth and preached as gospel in our churches. Ever higher is the aim of the ambitious man. Even in the church, this has found its full expression. It is seldom that a preacher does not desire a larger church, or welcome a higher ecclesiastical position. Alas, the most prominent men in Christendom have gone up and not down, and in most cases, have given an example just the reverse of that which our Lord has set before us.
That, despite His supernal dignities, the disposition of Christ was one of love and compassion, and utterly lacking in selfishness and pride, is shown by his self-abasement. He empties Himself. What this means is clearly indicated by the change in form. He was not God and He did not become a slave. But He had God's form, yet He took a slave's form. He did not carry with Him any of the former into the latter. This is clearly shown by the word empties. Only when He was transformed, as on the holy mount (Matt.17:2), then His face shone as the sun and His garments became white as the light. In this vision, He anticipates the form which He will have in the kingdom, after His exaltation. But it was not a permanent form, only a vision. When He descended the glory was gone.
Not only does He empty Himself by taking the form of a slave, but He also humbles Himself, seeing that He came to be in the likeness of humanity. It is humiliating to belong to the human race. Let us take our place among the messengers from other spheres, who have visited the earth, and know something of human history. What a sad, sordid, sinful spectacle do we see as we contemplate man's mistakes and misery! Apart from his future, I question whether any creature outside the earth would care to belong to our sin-cursed, death-doomed race. Normally we should be like our first parents, and hide ourselves for very shame. Were we not blinded to our state, and hardened to our fate, we would humble ourselves because we are not merely like humanity and fashioned as a man, but we actually belong to this base band.
Christ Jesus was not a human being as we are, for God was His Father, yet He bore our likeness. He was not a man like the rest, for He had no sin and had life in such abundance that it would counteract the disease and death which is our portion. Though He had the likeness and the fashion of a man, He did not possess the mortality and the sin which is the cause of our humiliation. He was human in appearance, not in fact. He did not humiliate Himself simply because, like all of us, He shared the general disgrace. So sensitive was He to sin, that His association with it was enough to humble Him. Thus it was that He became the Man of Sorrows, and made close acquaintance with our grief.
We must not think that all this was independent of the will and heart of God. Quite the opposite. It was a path of obedience to God. And it was a revelation of the Deity quite as much as His previous condition. Indeed, the highest service lies in the lowest sphere. His humiliation revealed God's heart as His more glorious condition never could have done. Becoming like a man is only a step in His humiliation. He must stoop lower still, and become like the very worst of men, like the outcast of society, like the very vilest criminal.
It is disgraceful to die, but we do not discern the dire dishonor of it because we all share the shame. But it is far more humiliating to be executed as a criminal, to be deemed unworthy to live even among such sinners as mankind. Even here there are degrees of disgrace. But an agonizing and lingering death, exposed to public scorn, and in the special form on which the curse of God had been pronounced, with every token of human and divine displeasure, such a death is the deepest depth of degradation which can be imagined. Christ did not merely descend to share our common fate of dying and death, but to suffer so as to bring upon Himself the utmost humiliation from man and the deepest abhorrence from the Deity.
The cross of Christ! How little do we realize the abyss to which He sank! As men cover the grave of a corrupting corpse with flowers, so Christendom has sought to obliterate the offense of the cross by giving the rude stake itself an artistic form. No cross-piece gave the crude pole on which He was gibbeted picturesque proportions. It was never intended to beautify the architecture of our churches or to be fabricated of precious metal and costly gems to adorn the vain worship of the flesh. How terribly has this so-called symbol been altered, both in form and in intent! It should be a symbol of shame, to be shunned with shuddering. In its popular form, it has become a symbol of man's utter failure to grasp the deep and dire significance of the manner in which God's Christ was done to death by human hands.
O that the saints could grasp the vast distinction between the death of Christ and the manner of it! Too often, when we speak of the cross, we merely mean His death. Had He died a common death, it would not have revealed the heart of man or the indignation of God. That human beings have brought upon themselves the blood of God's Anointed tells the tale of their alienation as no other act could do. That this was done by those in closest official touch with God, the priests of Israel, is the best evidence of human depravity. Not only was Christ humiliated at the cross, but men were shown to be so low and vile, that naught but divine grace and love could ever give them the right to exist. Indeed, Justice demands that they be crucified for this deed. Not only Christ, in fact, but the world, in truth, was on the shameful tree of Golgotha.
"Wherefore, also, God highly exalts Him..." (2:9). Christ emptied and humbled Himself, but God exalts Him. He did not exalt Himself. Only God can truly exalt His creatures. For them, the way to the heights lies through the depths. They should share the disposition of God's Anointed, and, in due time, God will raise them up. As the result of His descent to the deepest humiliation, He is now on the way to the highest place in God's universe. Already, in countless hearts, His name ranks far above every other name. It is not merely great but gracious. None of the names on earth can compare with it. It does not inspire fear or admiration merely, but love and adoration.
The word here used is full of precious significance, God has graced Him with the name which outranks all others in the universe. The root thought of this family of words is joy. The verb chairoo means rejoice. One of its nouns charis is grace, favor, gratitude, bounty. So this verb charizomai, JOYize, speaks of an act that brings joy. Usually, this is produced by granting an undeserved boon, or bestowing benefits where the opposite is deserved. But here this winsome word tells us of the pleasure which the Name delectable will bring, not only to Him Who bears it, but to those who find it a Shelter and a Satisfaction to their hearts.
The name Jesus is full of precious significance. It is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Joshua. This seems to be shortened from Jehovah-Hoshea, Jehovah-Saviour. Jehovah is the title of the Deity as associated with time, especially the eonian times, that great group of eons in which God is revealing Himself through darkness and light, evil and good, sin and salvation. The cross of Christ stands in the very midst of these eons, and through it, He will transmute all the evil into good. Jehovah is He Who will be and is and was. Hoshea is added to describe His work. Jesus is the appropriate name of the Saviour Whom God has given to rescue the creation from the thralldom of sin and destruction and death, during the eonian times.
The worship and acclamation of the Universe—such is the reward which comes to our blessed Saviour for His descent and humiliation. And this will not wait until the consummation, when all are reconciled to God. During the eons, many shall bow the knee to Him and acclaim Him Lord, for the glory of God, the Father. Even now His saints adore His name, and own His lordship in their feeble way. Already He is at God's right hand, messengers and authorities and powers being made subject to Him (1 Peter 3:22). When He comes the earth will own Him King. Even beings under the earth, of which we know so little, will adore and obey Him. Celestial, terrestrial, and subterranean—all will bow the knee in worship and use their tongues to acclaim the Crucified before the eons end. Low as was His humiliation so high will be His exaltation.
"For the glory of God, the Father." This is the object of it all, as well as the key to our understanding of it. Christ descended in obedience in order to glorify God, His Father. He was exalted for the same reason. And it is for this cause that every knee shall bow and every tongue acclaim Him Lord—because this not only elevates Him to the place supernal, but at the same time brings to God the glory which is His due. But it is not to God, as Creator, or as Judge. The name Jesus sets forth the Saviour; He glorifies the Father. There is no constraint here, except that of love. Those who worship Him as Saviour and acclaim Him as Lord become children of God, and give Him glory.
THE SAINTS' OBEDIENCE
Having meditated upon the obedience of Christ Jesus and its blessed results, Paul exhorts the saints to emulate His disposition in their own small sphere. Hitherto the Philippians had always been obedient to the truth which he had imparted to them when he was present with them. Now that he has still greater and grander grants of glorious grace for them, which he must send to them in his absence, he exhorts them to carry this out also, in their daily life. It is a high salvation indeed, but it calls for a lowly walk in humiliation and suffering. It leads down, not up, so long as we are in these bodies of humiliation. With fear and trembling, bowing ourselves under the mighty hand of God, Whose spirit in us is the effective force, we should seek to work out what is within.
Salvation is not only a future event, but a present power and should be the preponderant influence in our lives. God has a glorious goal for each one of us, just as He has for His Anointed. Let us learn from His example that self-emptying and humiliation, with all their discomfort and distress and agony, are God's will and the only way to attain the future exaltation. Let us not strive against it but be disposed to it, when it lies in the path of obedience, even though it brings fear and trembling with it. Let us be satisfied when our will is not consulted, and our work is not done, realizing that God's will and work are to be carried out through us, for His delectation. It is God Who wills as well as works in us for His delight. So great is the light shed upon the human will by this word that we will devote a later chapter to its discussion.
When we realize that God is the power of our life, it is revolutionized. Nothing enters it by chance, or by any means without the will of God. Why then murmur when it is not to our liking? It is a comfort that He knows our trials and a consolation that He sympathizes with us in our sorrows, but how much better to realize that it comes from Him and is a step, into the depths it may be, which leads to our exaltation? It is not a cause for murmuring, but for thanksgiving. Murmuring had no place in the life of our Lord. Not that He lacked occasion. The wise and intelligent in His day did not receive His message. Was He discontented? Quite the opposite. He said, "I am acclaiming to Thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou hidest these things from the wise and intelligent and Thou dost reveal them to minors. Yea, Father, seeing that thus it became a delight in front of Thee" (Matt.11:25,26).
This is a very practical point with the writer and readers of these lines. We have marvelous things to teach. Humanly speaking, it seems impossible that the intelligent, even scholarly, leaders in Christendom should not grasp them eagerly. But they do not. Their wisdom seems to be useless in the realm of revelation. The fact that they do not receive it seems to reflect on our message, and we are tempted to murmur. Then, again, it is far pleasanter and more respectable to have many men of mental ability and high standing in the world to support and propagate the truth. Would it not have been better to choose priests and scribes as apostles rather than ignorant fishermen? By no means. Let us not murmur at God's ways in choosing the stupid and the weak and the ignoble and the scorned, for only thus can He give the flesh its proper place. Let us rather rejoice.
How many of us are prone to reason that, if this had only been so, that could not have happened. But all such reasoning is vain and a delusion. So intricate are the complex interrelations of human life and conduct that no rational reasoning is possible. It is almost invariably the product of unbelief. God's ways are not to be the subject of our syllogisms, for we are not at all equipped for logical deduction. Once we believe and realize that God's hand is operating all things in our lives, as well as in the universe, all desire to reason will leave us. Faith will replace reason, and dissatisfaction and perplexity will be replaced by contentment and understanding.
Should we come to be in complete concord with the control of God, it will make us "blameless and artless, children of God, flawless in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation..." (2:15). The world, and the saints who have not yet given God His place in their lives, do not fall in line with His will (even if they fulfill His intention), hence they lie athwart His way and are perverse, or they vary their course, and are crooked. So long as we parallel His course, and do not plot and scheme to improve or evade His plans for us, we will be like His children, in Whom no flaw can be found. Such is the conduct which should come from the contemplation of the course of Christ. It should be the glad obedience of those who make God all in their lives and cheerfully acquiesce in His way for them, seeing that the suffering must precede the glory.
LUMINARIES IN THE WORLD
Such saints are not only a delight to God, but the light of the world. This world is a very dark and dismal dungeon. In their day, the disciples of our Lord were the light of the world (Matt. 5:14). Since then the light has left Israel, as figured in the olive tree, some of whose boughs were broken off (Rom.11:17). Now the oil is found among the nations, some of whom have been grafted in. But the real luminaries are only those among them who live the evangel, "having on the word of life." They are clothed, as it were, with the luminous garments of God's revelation, and shine in a manner like our Lord when He was on the holy mount.
It is a glorious privilege to give expression to God's truth by verbal utterance or the written pages, by means of the words He has given us to make Him known. But here we have a different method, and, perhaps, a more effective mode of shedding the light of God. Not words for the ears, but works which can be heard by the hearts of our hearers, are the means brought before us in Philippians. These deeds will appear again in the day of Christ, to receive the reward which is their due. In these is Paul's boast, for they show, as nothing else could do, that his efforts had not been empty of results (2:16).
That the path of the Philippians had been a painful one, yet pleasing to God, is apparent from Paul's description of it. It was a sacrifice. The sacrifice of "burnt offering" or ascent offering, which was wholly God's and ascended to Him as a savor of rest, was accompanied by a libation of wine, to express the joyful character of the sacrifice. How well this fits the circumstances here! Paul also suffers in his service, yet rejoices in it. The sacrifice is a joyous one. They rejoice, and he rejoices with them, and, to make it mutual, he would have them rejoice with him.
Notwithstanding its strong strain of humiliation and suffering, our service is one of joy and rejoicing. Short as it is, no other book contains the word rejoice as often as Philippians. Paul made his petitions with joy (1:4). He rejoices and will rejoice in the announcement of the evangel (1:18,18). He will abide for their joy of faith (1:25). He would have them fill his joy full (2:2). He joys and rejoices with the Philippians and asks them to joy and rejoice with him (2:17,17,18,18). He sends Epaphroditus that they may rejoice and receive him with all joy (2:28,29). He exhorts them to be rejoicing in the Lord (3:1). He calls them his joy (4:1). Again he exhorts them to be rejoicing in the Lord always, and repeats it (4:4,4). He rejoiced that their disposition toward him found expression in their contribution (4:10). What other book can match this overflow of happiness?
Let us note also that this joy is not in their salvation but in their service. Undoubtedly they enjoyed the grace which had come to them in Christ. But this is a different matter. This joy is in the Lord. They were happy in serving and suffering in the midst of weakness, poverty, and distress. This is the joy which accompanies our present path of hardship and humiliation. Indeed, it is the first fruit of our downward disposition in obedience to the will of God.
Let us, then, cultivate the disposition which was in Christ Jesus, which is the very reverse of that which inspires the world and the flesh and the Adversary. Let us not strive to rise high, but to become low, not to rule but to serve, not ourselves but others. Let us leave all exaltation in the hands of God, Who will raise us up and give us glory in His own good time, as He did with Christ Jesus. He that exalts himself shall be abased. But he whom God exalts shall share with Christ the glories which are His because He emptied and humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
A. E. Knoch
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