Studies in Philippians
PAUL'S service now comes before us, preceded by a three-fold warning which is the least heeded yet most needed portion of God's Word for His slaves in this era. The third chapter of Philippians brings before us Paul's conduct in connection with the present administration, for our emulation, and points out the pitfalls which are spread for our feet, or, rather, it warns us against those who have fallen into them. And, indeed, almost the whole of Christendom, including its most illustrious leaders and its most noble saints, have failed in a measure in finding the way of true service. Even in Paul's own day many were enemies of the cross, though zealous workers and saved believers. Today the apostasy is so general that few think of objecting to it or warning God's slaves against it.
The keynote of true service is rung out once again: "Rejoice in the Lord!" Not in ourselves, in the flesh, or the terrestrial at this time, but in Him, in spirit, among the celestials. To be safe, we should keep this ever before us. Paul apologized for repeating this so often, but it is sorely needed, for it is seldom heeded. Indeed, few realize the precise force of the simple terms used. It is a very different matter to rejoice in Christ in regard to our salvation and glory, and to rejoice in the Lord in relation to our service for His sake. This chapter deals with service, not salvation. It is saved saints who are enemies of the cross (not of Christ), whose consummation is destruction (so far as their service is concerned). This is no chapter for unbelievers, but for saints in their character as slaves, who rejoice in their master, or Lord.
THE TRIPLE WARNING
The threefold warning is given to us in highly figurative language, hence it will be well to identify the figures, and put them into literal language. The warning seems to be a reversal, in which the first item corresponds with the last, so we will set it forth in this way, to help us to connect the corresponding parts.
beware of evil workers,
beware of the maimcision,
for we are the circumcision who are
offering divine service to God in spirit,
and are glorying in Christ Jesus,
and have no confidence in flesh.
From this it seems that "curs" are those of the nations who have confidence in the flesh, and the "maimcision" those who rest on their literal circumcision. The whole is in contrast to the previous eras when circumcision had its place and the nations were to be blessed through the physical seed of Abraham.
BEWARE OF CURS
The dogs of the East, when grown, were half-wild scavengers of the villages, without an owner, existing on the refuse or offal, and universally detested. Hence it became an epithet for those outside the pale of promise, in the same class, almost, with hogs. Our Lord said:
You may not be giving that which is holy to the curs, nor yet should you be casting your pearls in front of hogs lest at some time they be trampling them with their feet, and, turning, they should be tearing you (Matt.7:6).
Peter also speaks of both together in his parables (2 Peter 2:22). In order to convey this feeling of contempt we have not translated the word kuoon by dog, as is usually done, but by the more accurate cur.
Curs are outsiders (Rev.22:15). In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus we find a hint of this (Luke 16:21). But there is more than that in the picture Paul puts before us. They are outsiders who devour the offal of the Circumcision. The key to the correct interpretation lies in the following context. Paul recites a list of what he has as a physical descendant of Israel and then adds that he deems it refuse (3:8), that he may gain Christ. This refuse, this offal, which he has thrown away, is eagerly devoured by the curs, that is, those of the outside nations who seek to appropriate that which belongs to Israel in the flesh. They sometimes call themselves "spiritual Israel," and other euphonious terms, but here they are called "curs." They have confidence in the flesh. Beware of them!
Christendom has many "workers." It seems cruel and heartless to make most of them evil. Indeed, one is tempted to call all "Christian" work good, when the motive seems to be commendable. But one consideration alone shows that, in a very real sense the work of Christendom is evil. Until very recent times, the church had such confidence in itself that it proposed to bring about the conversion of the world without the coming of Christ. And, indeed, that is still the aim of the great majority of "Christian" workers. Yet all such efforts must be evil, despite their commendable object, for they propose to take the glory which belongs to Christ alone, and make it their own. All work which does not glory in Christ Jesus is evil. All which boasts in the flesh is evil. All which is disposed to the terrestrial is evil. Beware!
This is the epithet which reveals what the Circumcision really are in this era when the flesh has lost all standing before God. Circumcision was once a token of covenant relationship with the Deity. It entailed many precious privileges. It will have a great place in the future again, when the physical seed of Abraham will be restored to divine favor. But now circumcision has lost all virtue and has degenerated into a mere mutilation of the flesh. The right to the rite is a physical one. Descent from Abraham is essential, except for proselytes. This term may be applied to all who give it a place in service today, whether they are actual sons of Israel, or take this rite upon themselves in order to share in the blessings which it is supposed to bring.
Circumcision is a cutting off of the flesh, and was intended to set forth its futility. Had the Circumcisionists fully realized what the sign signified, they would have lost all confidence in the flesh. Instead they gave the flesh the highest place, and sought to make it the basis of all blessing. As we, who place no confidence in the flesh whatever, really carry out the true significance of the sign (even if we do not possess it) we are the genuine Circumcision. We have no ritual, no priesthood, no temple in which to go through the outward forms and ceremonies of the divine service, but, in spirit, we offer to God that essential worship which the temple service only shadowed. Too often, alas, the substance was lacking. We need no physical symbol. We dare not be circumcised. It has become a badge of apostasy. Beware of the maimcision!
PAUL'S PHYSICAL PREROGATIVES
But what of Paul himself? He certainly belonged to the Circumcision. What is his attitude toward these physical prerogatives of his? In seven distinct steps he describes to us the height which he had attained in the divine religion. He could measure himself with the best of them. Narrower and narrower he draws the circle of privilege, until at last he stands almost alone, a solitary example, at the summit of human religious attainment.
CIRCUMCISION THE EIGHTH DAY
The rite of circumcision was not confined to the sons of Jacob or Israel. Abraham received it before Isaac was born, and he circumcised Ishmael and all who were in his house (Gen.17:24-27). After the example of Ishmael, his descendants perform the rite in the thirteenth year. Yet all who were circumcised reckoned themselves a special class, being associated with Abraham. Paul, in his claims, really goes back to Isaac, for he adds "the eighth day." This is a smaller circle of privilege than that of circumcision alone. The striking fact is that this class begins with him who was born of parents as good as dead, when the energy of the flesh was replaced by the power of faith.
OF THE RACE OF ISRAEL
Not all who were circumcised the eighth day belonged to the race of Israel. Esau and his descendants are not reckoned in this more highly favored class. Jehovah repeated his promises to the patriarch Jacob, not to Esau. The nation of God's choice is confined to the descendants of Israel. There was a covenant made with the Circumcision. But there was still another made with Israel when they came out of Egypt. To them belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the legislation, the divine service, and the promises (Psa.9:4).
THE TRIBE OF BENJAMIN
Benjamin was the best beloved of Jacob's sons after Joseph was taken from him. The tribe took a prominent part in the affairs of Israel, and had the honor of having the temple and Jerusalem within its borders. Israel's first king, Saul, came from Benjamin. It was the only tribe which remained true to the house of David, when the ten tribes broke away. It was an additional honor to belong to such a tribe.
A HEBREW OF THE HEBREWS
In Paul's day the nation was divided into two parties, very much as in these days: one could speak of orthodox Jews and liberal Jews. All the Jews had learned to speak Greek, yet some of them had gone much further, and had forsaken the traditional customs to become Helenists, with Greek culture and customs. This was especially the case among the dispersion. Paul had been born in Cilicia, so was especially tempted to leave the "Hebrews," as they were called, for more modern ways. Yet he did not yield to these influences, but clung to the traditions. Indeed, he was a leader among such. He even expresses his position here by a Hebrew idiom. For the superlative they used this form. The holiest division of the tabernacle they called the holy of holies. So, to express the fact that he was most "orthodox," he calls himself "a Hebrew of the Hebrews." Religiously this was a more select class than the mass of the nation.
In relation to the law the Jews of our Lord's day were divide still more. Among the "Hebrews" there was a sect of special sanctity and severely strict in the law's enforcement. Notwithstanding the excesses to which they went in its interpretation, and the fact that they overloaded it with human additions, outwardly, at least, they were recognized as the champions of the law, and opposed all laxness in its observance. No doubt the most of them were hypocrites, as our Lord so clearly showed. But they were pardonably proud in their stand for the Scriptures, and against human reason and philosophy. It was a distinct gain to belong to their ranks rather than to those who gave the divine legislation no such place in their lives.
PERSECUTING THE ECCLESSIA
Paul was no half-hearted, indifferent religionist. Much as we may condemn his misdirected zeal in harassing those who had accepted the Messiah, we must allow that it testified to the earnestness and depth of his convictions. He was a zealous Pharisee, quite above the average in the intensity of his desire to serve the God of his fathers. Among his contemporaries he had a right to expect special recognition for his services on behalf of the Jewish faith, as he saw it.
A blameless reputation in the midst of the strict Pharisees was no light accomplishment. Let us not think here of sin, for the apostle himself confessed that, while, blameless in the sight of men, he was the foremost of sinners in the sight of God. It is clear that he carried out the observance of the law so fully and accurately that the most fault-finding Pharisee could not detect any lapse. A very notable achievement! It is a question whether Saul of Tarsus could do any more, religiously, to better himself or attain a higher standing in the flesh before God. And it is very much to be doubted whether any other man of his day could equal his record.
PAUL FORFEITS ALL
When Paul was on board the ship which was taking him to Italy, it entered a bay called Ideal Harbors. But, as it was not a fit place in which to winter, the navigator and the man who had chartered the ship proposed to go on to Phoenix, in Crete. Paul expostulated, saying, "Men! I behold that sailing is about to be with damage and much forfeit, not only of the jading, and of the ship, but of our souls also" (Acts 27:10). The outcome was that the ship and its cargo were forfeited by their action in pursuing the voyage against the counsel of Paul.
We have brought in this incident in order to give a graphic illustration of the meaning of the word forfeit, which is one of the features of the passage before us (3:7,8,8). Like the ship, Paul was loaded with all sorts of valuable cargo, but he forfeited it all in the great crisis which he had just passed through. Indeed, the ship is a picture of the kingdom as heralded in the book of Acts, especially as it concerns Paul and those with him. At the end of the book it goes to pieces and all that belonged to it was lost; only those who believed were given to Paul, and with him went to Rome.
All these physical advantages were a gain to Paul, but they hindered a must greater gain. They seemed excellent in the dimness of human ignorance, but they became intolerable in the light of the knowledge of Christ. So Paul does not part with them reluctantly, but deems them to be no better than refuse, or offal to be thrown to the curs. All his cherished merit, his blameless walk, his proud pedigree, on which he had prided himself in days gone by, the like of which is the chief reliance of the religionist to this very day, were seen to be so many incumbrances to keep him from the complete appropriation of Christ. Away with it! May his example help us all to refuse the refuse which religion offers us, in order to keep us from the full appreciation of Him Who is our All!
Is it not all too true that the religious gains in Christendom today are nothing more than what Saul had in Judaism? Good birth, membership in an accredited denomination, zeal, and an irreproachable life—what more do you wish in a "Christian?" Yet not one of these things is vital, and every one may be a hindrance to the acceptance of Christ, not merely as our Saviour, but as our All. Indeed, the religionism of today is little more than a camouflaged Judaism, in which the flesh seeks to make itself acceptable to God, apart from, or with the aid of Christ.
But how could Paul speak of gaining Christ after all these years of sainthood and faithful service? How can he say "that I may be, found in Him" when He had been "in Christ" for many years? He is "working out" the salvation he had received. He is carrying it into effect. While all believers rely on Christ for salvation, few indeed are wholly dependent on Him for service. To let those things go which seem an advantage to us is quite a different matter from forsaking recognized sin. The Jew must forfeit his most cherished prerogatives, and the gentile all his terrestrial advantages if he wishes to gain Christ in this sense. Christ must become their All in service as He is in salvation.
RIGHTEOUSNESS IN CHRIST
Saul was what he was in himself. His righteousness was his own, based on the law. Blameless as he appeared before his fellow men, at heart he was most unrighteous. This came to the surface in his zeal against Christ and His saints. Nothing could be more unjust than to sympathize with Stephen's murderers, or to persecute those who belonged to the Just One. Away with such self-righteousness! Now Paul wishes to be found in Christ, not having his own righteousness, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is from God for faith (3:9). Since Job's day men hang with death-clutch to their own righteousness (Job 27:6)
To my righteousness I hold fast, and I will not relax.
But God, by His grace, can loosen this grip by a sight of His Christ, and by the gift of His own righteousness in His Anointed.
TO KNOW HIM
The knowledge of Christ is especially extended to His sufferings and death, and to His resurrection. There is no reference whatever to His life and ministry in the land as a Servant of the Circumcision, which is knowing Christ after the flesh, which Paul repudiated (2 Cor.5:16). Our vital connection with God's Anointed does not commence until His crucifixion, and associates us with His resurrection and ascension.
As the succeeding section of this paragraph seems to be another reversal, we will set it forth so as to help our minds to follow the course of thought (3:10-14):
being conformed to His death, if somehow I should be attaining to the resurrection out from among the dead. Not that I already obtained, or have already been perfected, yet I am pursuing, if I may be grasping...
CONFORMED TO HIS DEATH
Righteousness demands the death of the unrighteous. This includes the whole race. Christ alone was righteous, hence He alone could die for the sake of others. His death for us fulfills the demands of justice, yet at the same time involves our death in Him. We should have died on Golgotha rather than He. His sufferings were ours by right, not His. This knowledge puts an end to us and all our pretensions in the flesh. Paul no longer saw himself blameless before men but smitten and slain in the sight of God. He may have been a circumcised Israelite, a Hebrew and a Pharisee, but he was a dead one. The death of Christ put an end to all his physical pretensions, and absolutely settled his unrighteousness. Conformity to the death of Christ is the one absolute essential to acceptable service. So long as we still cling to something of our own, we cannot fully find our place in Christ.
THE FELLOWSHIP OF HIS SUFFERINGS
None of us can actually endure the sufferings which came to Christ when He died on behalf of sinners. Nor can we add our own to His sufferings on behalf of the race for He alone is qualified to save. Had we such sufferings to endure, they would be because of our own sins, and not those of others. How then can we enter into "the fellowship His sufferings?" By the vital recognition that these sufferings, being for us, were really ours, and show God's estimate of what we were in ourselves. This enables us to escape from ourselves and our supposed excellences in the flesh, and to transfer ourselves into Him. There we find all our supposed losses overwhelmingly recompensed.
THE POWER OF HIS RESURRECTION
If we are identified with Christ in His death, then we will be in His resurrection also. Actually, literally, we will be made alive because we are His (1 Cor.15:22). But this is not in view here, for we are concerned with life and service for Him now, not in the future, when these warnings and exhortations will no longer be needed. We are not now concerned with resurrection itself, but with a knowledge of its power in our present service. This is viewed from two different angles, both of which should powerfully affect our course. One is the past resurrection of Christ. The other is our own future resurrection.
There is a tremendous reservoir of potential power in the realization that our Lord has been raised from among the dead. Its implications are limitless. If He has accomplished this, He is able for all else. We have a Lord Whose power knows no limits, and does not even retreat before death, the last of all our enemies. All human effort is circumscribed and impotent in view of death. The work in which we are engaged is not so. It will not fail, because it is in the hands of the Deathless One.
ATTAINING TO THE OUT-RESURRECTION
The word exanastasis, OUT-UP-STANDing, has excited so much interest that it is only just that we pay particular attention to it, and to the doctrines to which it has given rise. This word occurs but once, hence cannot be compared with its other occurrences. We must appeal to aids of a different kind. In this case it is very simple to find help, for words compounded of the element ek, OUT, usually retain the meaning of their parts, so that there we have to do with a resurrection, not of the dead merely, but out from among the dead. There is a strong tendency, however, to limit this phrase still further, so that it might read, "out from among the saints," or "out from among the church." Beyond this the question also arises whether there is such a resurrection in the other Scriptures, to which reference is made, or does this suggest a resurrection elsewhere unrevealed? Is there an "out-resurrection" apart from Paul's highest revelation in Ephesians?
We must not fail to notice, however, that, so far as the actual letters in the manuscripts are concerned, and so far as the sense goes, there are other passages which also speak of OUT-UP-STANDings. In the following citations the Greek is precisely the same as in this passage. A difference arises only when we divide the text into "words" as in English. Each of these is an ex anastasis, while in Philippians it is an exanastasis. The space after the x is the only difference, and this is not in the original.
Besides this, the same sense is conveyed when the connective ek, OUT, follows the word, as in these passages:
The corresponding verb, OUT-UP-STAND, is never applied to the dead (Mark 12:19; Luke 20:28; Acts 15:15).
From this it will be seen that the term out-resurrection is a name for the thought expressed in the phrase raise out or from among (Matt.17:9; Mark 6:14; 9:9,10; 12:25; Luke 16:31; 24:46; John 20:9; Acts 10:41; 13:34; 17:3,31; Eph.5:14).
We avow, as Paul did before Felix, "that there is to be a future resurrection of the just as well as the unjust" (Acts 24:15). "All who are in the tombs will be hearing His voice, and those who do good things shall be going out into a resurrection of life, yet those who commit bad into a resurrection of judgment" (John 5:28,29). These resurrections do not occur at the same time. There is at least a thousand years between them. Therefore it is necessary that the former should be an out-resurrection, for the rest of the dead do not live until the thousand years are finished (Rev.20:5). It is also evident that, should a resurrection occur even before this, it also would be an out-resurrection. It is important to note that Scripture does not distinguish these by a special phrase. We never read of an "out-resurrection from among the saints." All are simply from among the dead.
It is evident from this that out-resurrection is for believers only and leads to eonian glory, in contrast to the latter resurrection, which leads to judgment. In the out-resurrection we will be sinless, and lead a life of perfect conformity to the will of God. This is the ideal to which our present life should conform. What would we not give to be as we will be when vivified! To serve as we will in that glorious time! What is more practical than to seek to attain it now?
Let us keep in mind the context in which this term is used if we wish to correctly interpret its message. Paul is concerned with his service (Phil.3:4-16). His previous course in unbelief led to the persecution of God's saints. Could anything be further from our occupation in resurrection? Now Paul wishes to regulate his actions so as to anticipate his behaviour in the out-resurrection. He puts it, "conformed to His death, if some-how I should be attaining to the resurrection out from among the dead" (Phil. 3:10,11). For this he wishes to know the power of His resurrection.
That he is not referring to his own literal resurrection is evident from what follows. "Not that I already obtained, or have already been perfected..." No one could possibly suppose that he had died and had been raised. There was no need to reassure anyone on that point. But the conduct of the apostle may very well have been so like that which will be ours in resurrection, that his friends might easily suppose that God had already actually bestowed upon him the power which belongs to that day.
Christ Jesus has grasped, or taken hold of Paul in order to conform him to His own likeness. That will be openly manifest in the case of all saints when the out-resurrection actually takes place. But Paul wished to grasp that ahead of time, here and now. He wanted the power of that future life to transform his present career.
The powers of the coming eon were present in our Lord's ministry and in that of the twelve, and even in Paul's earlier course. Now that the kingdom is no longer the subject of testimony, these physical marvels have of necessity vanished. In their place we should seek to anticipate the spiritual powers of the future glory which awaits us. These are in reality far greater than those of the kingdom, though their character is very different.
A semi-literal interpretation of this passage has been proposed. It is asserted that, if we are conformed to His death, then we will also be raised from the dead after three days. But, if we are to take this literally, then we must make it all literal. We have not only died, but have been crucified. To be literally conformed to His death, we must go to Jerusalem, and have ourselves crucified on Golgotha, and be laid in the nearby tomb, and then rise and show ourselves by many infallible signs. We might manage to be crucified and entombed, but no literal resurrection would follow on the third day. Paul did not do this literally. But he sought to do it figuratively. Literal resurrection is no attainment, but conduct like that which will be ours in the resurrection is a goal toward which we all should strive.
Other grave difficulties attend this interpretation. To begin with, all believers of this administration of God's grace are planted in the likeness of His death and shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, for our old humanity has been crucified together with Him (Rom.6:5). This occurs at the time of our baptism. We were entombed together with Him through baptism into death. If this is to be taken literally in regard to the time of the entombment and in regard to the death, then it must be literal throughout, especially as nothing is said here as to the time, but the mode is insisted upon. Consistency demands, then, that each believer be literally crucified and entombed when he is baptized by the spirit, and literally roused after three days, and literally, with the same, uncorrupted body, reveal himself on earth before ascending above.
But, when the Scriptures speak of our literal death, this is denied. In the resurrection this corruptible must put on incorruption (1 Cor.15:53). Our Lord saw no corruption (Acts 2:27). If we are to be conformed to His death in our literal death, then we should not see decay. But we trust that what has been said of the passage as a whole will be sufficient to show that it is not concerned with our future lot but our present service, not with the literal resurrection but with the knowledge of its power.
In order to give our service the proper direction and incentive, our career is compared to a race, yet not in regard to competition with others—that is not here, and would spoil the picture—but in regard to our attitude. The racer pays no attention to that which is behind him. It would be a great hindrance. He does not stand up straight, but stretches far forward in the direction of the goal. He not only wishes to arrive there, but to cover the course in such a way that he will receive a prize, a reward for his efforts.
It is vital that we keep the picture here presented to us well within the bounds of the context. Much misunderstanding would have been avoided if thoughts foreign to the theme had not been worked into it. It is true that, in a race, many run and only one wins the prize. According to that there is no use for us to enter it, for Paul would surely carry off the single prize and the rest of us would have nothing but disappointment for our pains. But this aspect of a race is not at all in view here. The lessons are drawn from altogether different features, and this should not be allowed to intrude.
FORGETTING, NOT REGRETTING
Few, indeed, who have learned what they are in themselves, can look back without regret. Paul might have made much more mention of his past errors in his epistles. But he never brings them up without good cause. There is no power in our past, especially not in the years of self-exaltation before we began to find our all in Christ. Many are tempted to spend much time regretting their own ignorance and selfishness, and thinking how much better it would have been if they had been enlightened at an earlier age. Such regrets weaken and unfit us for our forward striving toward the goal, conformity with Christ, and should be discouraged. Let us forget our past advantages and disadvantages and look ahead. Back of us is ourselves, ahead is Christ.
The prize set before us is God's calling above, which might be rendered the "up calling." Like our Lord before His exaltation, our present career is a "down calling," a descent, a humiliation. He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God highly exalts Him. Exaltation is the prize set before Him and us. The glory awaits us at the goal. God has called us, indeed, but He has not yet called us up. Now we need to be emptied of ourselves and be found in Him, in lowliness seeking conformation to His death, and a realization of the power of His resurrection. Then we will realize it to the full and attain the prize of prizes, transformation into His glorious likeness. It is presented as a prize because it cannot be ours until we reach the goal at the end of the race, not that we alone win it in competition with others.
Among the saints there are many, if not most, who cannot follow what is here set forth. They have many things in the flesh, race, position, attainments, and reputation, which they cannot forfeit for Christ. They would not think of refusing them as refuse in order to gain Christ. Of conformity to His death they known little or nothing, nor of the power of His resurrection. In a word, they are immature. In the language of the race course, they lag behind and cannot see the goal. Those who are mature, whose hearts have been opened to the final revelations through Paul, who are no longer puzzled by the enigmas of previous revelation but see face to face (1 Cor.13:12), should be disposed like Paul (3:15). Eventually all will come to this knowledge (3:15).
There is a tendency to create a gap between the mature and the immature, those who have gone ahead in the race and those who lag behind. We would be inclined to urge the laggards to mend their pace, and to catch up with those ahead of them. But the immature have no clear realization of their backwardness. They sometimes consider minority quite the normal state, and maturity an undue assumption. It seems a settled opinion that, in religion, there must be clouds and mystery. Clearness is only conceit. This comes largely because they are constantly occupied with the Scriptures intended for the immature, and have never followed Paul into perfection. But there is no exhortation to them to hurry, but to the mature to accommodate themselves to them. "In what we outstrip, there is to be a mutual disposition to observe the same fundamental rule" (3:16).
THE IMITATION OF PAUL
Paul occupies a unique place in God's revelation. What other man could calmly put himself before us for imitation? Peter would not do so. He would have his readers follow in the footprints of Christ (1 Peter 2:21). Yet in the section concerning our Lord in this epistle, we are not exhorted to go in His steps, but only to imitate the disposition which sent him from heaven to the death of the cross. All intermediate "steps" between His incarnation and the cross are avoided by including His life's history in one word, "He humbles Himself." In His earthly career He was the great Example for those who will enter the kingdom which He heralded. But His conduct was not in accord with present truth, for this would have clashed with His whole ministry which was to the Circumcision, and confined to the earth.
Few who have considered the matter have not wondered at first how Paul could take so much upon himself. Not only could he make himself a model (1 Cor.4:16), but, quite unlike any other apostle, he could speak of my evangel (Rom.2:16; 16:25; 2 Tim. 2:8), or our evangel (2 Cor.4:3; 1 Thess.1:5; 2 Thess.2:14), without the least attempt to excuse himself. Some have thought it most irreverent for him to couple himself with the evangel after this fashion. And it cannot be condoned on any other ground than the real one, that to him was committed an evangel distinct from all the rest, which can best be described by this fact, rather than by any special side of it, such as grace, or conciliation, or Uncircumcision, all of which have their place, but fail to convey its every aspect.
If Paul lived today Jeremiah would no longer be called the weeping prophet. Paul's lamentations over the saints would far exceed his over Israel. It seems almost incredible that even in Paul's day many were walking so as to cause him so much concern. What are these days compared to those? As lead to gold, as dusk to midday. If there were so many in those days who were enemies of the cross (3:18) how must it be today? Should we not expect to find nearly all in this category? Nothing else can be expected. There is an almost universal insensibility to the teaching of the cross, and its effect on the physical and terrestrial. The saints are like Job; they hold fast to their own, and will not let go. They do not care to be found in Christ.
ENEMIES OF THE CROSS
Paradox though it seems, most of those who are friends of Christ are enemies of His cross (3:18). They are willing to part with their sins and evil and take Him as their Saviour, but they do not wish to part with their goodness or personal advantages and superiorities and be found alone in Him. They do not realize that the manner of Christ's death puts an end to all that man is in himself. They wish to be somebody on their own account. And this makes them antagonistic to the cross. Their attitude is cloaked under various euphemistic terms, which reveal a latent pride in their origin or their character or their attainments in the flesh. All of this clashes with the cross.
WHOSE CONSUMMATION IS DESTRUCTION
This phrase kept me from grasping the tragic meaning of this passage for a long time. It seemed, indeed, that Paul was speaking of believers, for why should he mention any others when speaking of imitating his walk? No others but saints could come into view in this passage. But that the phrase "whose consummation is destruction" (3:19), should refer to them seems quite incredible, until the proper background is furnished by a consideration of the whole epistle, and especially this section of it. This letter deals with service, not with salvation. The disobedient among the saints have already been referred to as "curs," as "evil workers," as the "maimcision," terms whose harshness is excusable only on the ground of truth and necessity. They are intended to be helpful in rescuing the saints from delusive dangers against which they need an alarming admonition.
Here we have such a dire warning. It is a fact that all service done under the influence of the flesh will be destroyed. All self-righteousness must perish. That is its consummation. If it is not forfeited now, it will be burned up at the dais of Christ. At the final consummation God is not only going to be in all, but All in all. What we have here is only the process to this end. The unbeliever will be prepared for it by judgment. The believer should anticipate it now in his service, by gaining Christ in the measure in which he forfeits that which is his own. But if he does not do so, he can look forward to nothing but the destruction of his deeds in that day, when he stands in front of the dais of Christ, to be requited for that which he puts into practice through the body, for it will be reckoned bad (2 Cor.5:10). If anyone's work shall burn up, he will forfeit it, yet he shall be saved (1 Cor.3:15).
WHOSE GOD IS THEIR BOWELS
This strong and striking figure seems to set before us a form of idolatry which puts the satisfaction of the flesh in the place of the Deity, so far as service is concerned. It is abundantly in evidence in most so-called Christian worship. Much more is done to satisfy the soul than to edify the spirit. Beautiful sights and melodious sounds and pleasant scents are used to attract, in place of the love of God and the glories of His Son.
WHOSE GLORY IS IN THEIR SHAME
Blind to the shame in which the cross of Christ has sunk all fleshly religion, it has become the boast of Christendom. An apt expression of this is the form which has been given to the cross itself. In place of the severe and shameful stake, the badge of human depravity, it has been converted into an ornament to adorn church buildings and their ritual and the dress of devotees. Much of the boast of Christendom is in things which are contrary to the cross of Christ, and which, if seen in its light, would cause deep humiliation and shame.
WHO ARE DISPOSED TO THE TERRESTRIAL
A disposition to the terrestrial is the normal attitude of man. Almost all of the Scriptures are concerned with the earth and that which takes place upon its surface. For Peter and the Circumcision to be thus disposed is quite in keeping with the character of their calling. But today it is a sign of immaturity and opposition to the cross, for the terrestrial is still outside of Christ, and, like the flesh, is not subject to Him, neither is it able. If Christ were today engaged in blessing the earth as He will bless it in the future, then, in Him, we also would be concerned with its betterment. But, without Christ, the cross has condemned the world and its works, and we should not seek to do anything outside of Him.
Not that we are to be recluses and hermits, or do nothing to earn a livelihood. We have our duties. We must provide for our own and pay taxes. We must be subject to the authorities. But, in spirit, we are not of it, especially with any of its plans for self-improvement before the presence of Christ. Such efforts are contrary to the cross, and are antichristian in character, for they seek to displace Him, and make His presence unnecessary. We know that as a whole all such movements will end in failure, for the earth will need Him more and more, as time goes by, in spite of all that anyone can do. He alone can heal its mortal wound.
In glorious contrast to our present place of humiliation on the earth is our potential place of exaltation in the heavens. We have no valid rights on earth. It, with its fullness, belongs to Jehovah, and He has not delegated any of its privileges to us. But why should we wish to meddle here, seeing that God has given us a far more glorious sphere? We are citizens of the heavens (3:20). We will not go there as fugitives of earth or as guests dependent on the hospitality of others. We will need no pass, no visa, as though we were foreigners, limited in our rights and restricted in our movements, alien expatriates, despised emigrants of a despicable and death-doomed race. This we would be in ourselves, but in Christ we are entitled to all the rights and privileges which He Himself can claim.
AWAITING A SAVIOUR
Salvation has its tenses, past, present, and future. We were saved, we are being saved, and we shall be saved. It is not finished until our Lord descends from heaven and we ascend to our allotment. We await Him in various characters. He will come as a Saviour with regard to our bodies, for these have not yet felt His touch. Our salvation is still incomplete, and will remain so in the physical sphere as long as we are here.
THE BODY OF OUR HUMILIATION
No one is so keenly sensitive to the degrading corruption and impotence of our bodies as the saint who has caught a glimpse of His glory. But the phrase means more than that. It is not merely a humiliating body, but the body which accompanies and accords with our humiliation (3:21). So long as we are in it we are to humble ourselves, as well as suffer the humiliation it involves. This is not the time for us to be glorified. The Corinthians were sated and rich and reigning, while the apostles were a gazing-stock to the world, but that was due to the Corinthians' carnality (1 Cor.4:8-10). A mortal body is the proper place to display our present humiliation. Undesirable as it is in itself, we should be thankful for it, as it prepares us to appreciate the body that shall be ours in the future.
THE BODY OF HIS GLORY
Paul never met our Lord in His post-resurrection body, as He presented Himself to His disciples. When he saw Him it was enveloped in a glory which the eyes of the disciples never could have borne. To the disciples on the way to Emmaus our Lord presented no outward evidence of His glorified position. This was dimmed, and invisible in His intercourse with the kingdom saints. This was not the body which pertained to His glory. This is not the prototype of our future frame. Even the transformation on the holy mount, though His face shone as the sun, seems to have been bearable to their sight (Matt.17:2). But when Paul saw Him on the Damascus road, the light irradiating Him was above the brightness of the sun (Acts 26:13). Its beams were too bright for Paul's poor eyes, and blinded them, scorching the sclerotic coat into scales (Acts 9:18). Such is the body of His glory.
Contrary to our conceptions, glory and subjection go together. Now our flesh is not subject and is inglorious. Then it will be endued with power and effulgent in its splendor. This is because it is once more connected with the source of life and power and fully under the sway of Christ. Independence and insubjection drag down to degradation and death. Dependence and subjection lead to life and glory. The transfiguration of our bodies will inaugurate a similar operation to include the whole universe, for He is able to subject all to Him. In each case it will involve glorification, so that, at the consummation, when all will be subject, He will hand over to God a universe glorified as well as subject.
Having delivered his warnings, designed to shield us from the special evils which beset our course, Paul proceeds to add positive exhortations equally needed to aid us on our way. We are all liable to waver, to differ in our dispositions, to be depressed, to worry, to be engrossed by the evil rather than by the good (4:1-9). How wonderfully he introduces his words! His readers were beloved and longed for, his joy and wreath (4:1). It seems to me that, in milder measure, this is true of all to whom God's truth comes through Paul. I, for one, feel almost as if I were a Philippian, for I am certainly in his wreath and would like to be his joy, and love him and long to see him, as he would me, were we acquainted. Paul puts the personal touch here, and speaks as to particular friends.
Stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved (4:1). Here is the tone which lifts the favorites of grace. There is no threat of doom in case of disobedience, only the constraint of love. Since that day the slaves of the Lord have been inconstant, unsettled, unsteady, changeable, fluctuating, vacillating, wavering, restless, uneasy, erratic, fickle—anything but firm in the Lord in regard to His service in this era. We do, not speak of Christendom, which has been far more constant in the service of the flesh and the terrestrial than the saints have been of Christ and the celestial. Yet God's patience has not been exhausted. The exhortation still calls to us, stand firm in the Lord—thus. As imitators of Paul, as forfeiting everything of the flesh and finding our all in Christ, there is a vast opportunity for service, such as seldom comes to the sons of Adam.
THE SCROLL OF LIFE
To imitate Paul should be very much easier for the saints among the nations than for one from among the chosen race. I have found, in my own personal intercourse with the sons of Israel, that a sense of superiority, on account of their physical pedigree, is seldom counted as refuse. They are fond of quoting, "To the Jew first." And this is often encouraged, rather than discouraged, by non-Jews who have not gone on to maturity. But there is one point in which those of the favored nation still differ from the rest. They have their names in the book of life. They are not removed when they accept Christ and, like Paul, change over to a celestial allotment. Hence, if we wish to distinguish them from the rest we may use the formula here adopted, "whose names are in the scroll of life" (4:3).
To help converted Jews realize that their physical advantages must all be forfeited if they are to gain Christ, is a special service to which Paul first devotes himself and then asks the help of his, genuine yoke-fellow. He entreats two who serve, Euodia and Syntyche, to a mutual disposition. Nothing is said as to the nature of their difference, unless the meaning of their names contains a hint. Euodia (WELL-WAY) probably corresponds to our "Luck," while Syntyche (TOGETHER-HAPPEN) may be rendered "Fortuity," or "Coincidence." But it is far more likely that both of them, as well as Clement, and the rest whose names are in the scroll of life were not easily disposed to forfeit all that they had in the flesh, hence were in special need of assistance in this matter.
REJOICING IN THE LORD
"Be rejoicing in the Lord always! Again will I declare, Be rejoicing!" (4:4). If we look at ourselves, we are sad. If we consider our work, we are despondent. But if we view all in the Lord, we have every cause to be glad. And this is just what we will do if we imitate Paul. In our flesh, on earth, the scene is very somber, indeed. In Him in the celestials it is full of joyful expectation. Our weaknesses and our failures should not hinder our rejoicing, for even they will contribute to the glory of His achievements. He is not weak! He makes no mistakes! He will accomplish more than our hearts can wish, and satisfy every desire which God has implanted in us. Let us ever rejoice in Him, and all the more when disappointed in ourselves and in our fellows.
THE LORD IS NEAR
"Let your lenience be known to all men: the Lord is near" (4:5). What a help it is to realize the nearness of the Lord! Paul himself, at his first defense, was abandoned by all. Yet the Lord stood beside him and invigorated him (2 Tim.4: 16,17). True humility will lead to lenience. But moderation and mildness are almost sure to be misunderstood and will invite their opposites. When foes and friends take advantage of us there may be a strong temptation to teach them a salutary lesson by using such severity as the occasion seems to demand. It is in us to wish to put things right ourselves. At such times we need to remind ourselves hat we are not alone. Severity is not necessary. The Lord is near, and will not only invigorate us, but see that others are put in their places.
THE PEACE OF GOD
Those who are justified by faith may be enjoying peace toward God (Rom.5:1) with reference to themselves. Through Christ, we may be on terms of close friendship with Him. Yet there is much outside of ourselves which may disturb us and ruin our service for him. Life may be full of perplexing and harassing situations, which produce fear and dejection, unless we enjoy the peace of God, and are able to view them from this point of vantage. God is not disturbed by anything, seeing that all is out of Him, and though Him, and for Him (Rom.11:36). He is its Source, and He controls its course. He is using it all to effect His purpose. So He cannot be uneasy or fearful about it. Neither should we. That is why Paul wishes us to combine thanksgiving with all our prayers and petitions.
Let us not pray and wait fearfully to see if God will comply with our requests, and hold it against Him if there is no immediate response, or if things go contrary to our wishes, nor let us thank Him only when He does what we demand. The thanksgiving should always accompany the prayers and come before its fulfillment. In fact we should be thankful when God does not fulfill our petitions, for we do not know what to pray for, and the most spiritual petition is that which recognizes our inability, and pleads with inarticulate groanings (Rom.8:26). Peace based on answered prayer may be turned into worry over unfulfilled requests.
Thanksgiving is the incense which will make our petitions agreeable to God. At the same time it is the only power which will preserve our peace. It is like a military garrison that keeps all worry away from our hearts and apprehensions. And indeed, why worry, when we know that all is in the hands and hearts of God and His Christ? All about us loom danger and distress and strife, and we are forced to speak to God about it, and He would have our hearts exercised by it. But faith in Him and confidence in His Christ rejoices in the storm, knowing that He will rise and speak His, "Peace! Be still!" The calm that will surely follow has already found a place in our hearts. We need not be timid. Let us be thankful for both the storm and the calm, for these reveal to us the peace that presides in the heart of God, which may be ours by faith in Him.
THE GOD OF PEACE
Essentially, God is a God of peace. The strife and enmity which now seem to deny this fact, are only means to make it manifest. Moreover, in the midst of all the turmoil there is much which is in accord with the Deity. This we should not forget. Let us not confine our contemplations to the false, the fanatical, the unjust, the impure, the disagreeable, and the disreputable, for there is much that is virtuous and commendable. Especially should we consider the deeds of faith, the fruit of God's own spirit. And first among these is Paul himself. "What you learned also, and accepted, and hear and perceived in me, these be putting into practice, and the God of peace shall be with you" (4:9).
Everything that we can learn about Paul at this period of his life is of particular importance to us, for he is a living epistle, a practical exposition of his own precepts. Apparently, all his affairs are going wrong. Actually they are all going right. His work seems to be hindered in every way. In fact it is being forwarded. He has much reason to be downcast. But he rejoices as never before. He not only has peace with God, and enjoys the peace of God, but is in fellowship with the God of peace.
May our meditations on this epistle enable us to serve Him more acceptably, with some flavor of the disposition which led our Lord down to the death of the cross, with a taste of the service of Timothy and the sufferings of Epaphroditus, and in tune with Paul, that we also may forfeit all to gain Christ!
A. E. Knoch
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