The Inspiration of the Scriptures: Philippians

Philippians  •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Chap. 5 Divine Design.—39. the Epistle to the Philippians
No where is special aim more evident than in this Epistle. In saluting the Philippian saints the apostle associates Timothy with himself as “bond-men of Christ Jesus,” and them “all,” with overseers and deacons (1:1, 2). For the assembly there was not immature like that in Corinth; it possessed those local charges for which experience provided such as apostolic authority set over the saints in due time. But the absence of the apostle, a prisoner in Rome and object of their loving remembrance, gave occasion to much that is characteristic in it for the Christians soon to lack that care altogether. No Epistle breathes so distinctively of confidence in God and joy in all his remembrance of them; and this, not founded on the enriching powers of the Spirit as to the Corinthians, nor on the heavenly counsels of God as to the Ephesians, nor on the fullness of the Head as to the Colossians, nor yet on the broad and deep foundations of the gospel as to the Romans. This letter surveys and reciprocates what Christ is for every day's communion, conduct, worship, and service. It is therefore in reality, and in all forms, and in the highest sense, Christian experience from first to last. Their state warranted, as it called forth, the full opening of his heart to them.
In verses 3-11 he thanks his God because of their uninterrupted fellowship with the gospel, that He Who began a good work in them will complete it till Jesus Christ's day. It was right for him to think thus as to them all because they had him in their hearts. Both in his bonds and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, were they not all partakers in his grace? For God was his witness how he longed after them all in the bowels of Christ Jesus. And he prayed that their love might abound yet more and more in knowledge and all discernment, unto their proving the things that are excellent, that they might be pure and without a stumble for Christ's day, being filled with fruit of righteousness that is through Jesus Christ unto God's glory and praise. He looked for the due result of Christ and His work in them, not merely that they should be kept from inconsistency and failure, Then from verse 12 to the end of the chapter he speaks of his bonds and how God had thereon wrought in His good way, as man in his evil. He would have them know that his matters, sad as they looked, had come rather for furtherance of the gospel; so that his bonds became manifest in Christ in the whole praetorium and to all the rest. Nor was this all. For the most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord by his bonds, dared more abundantly to speak the word without fear. It was not without alloy. Some indeed also preached Christ for envy and strife, and some too for goodwill: these of love, knowing that he was set for the defense of the gospel; but those out of faction announced the Christ, not purely, thinking to arouse affliction for his bonds. But grace prevails, and his heart had joy in Christ.
“What then? Notwithstanding [or, Only that], in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is announced, and in this I rejoice, yea and will rejoice. For I know that this will turn to me for salvation through your supplication and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but in all boldness, as always, now also, Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live [is] Christ, and to die gain; but if to live in flesh [is mine], this [is] to me worth while. And what I shall choose I know not. But I am pressed by the two, having a desire for departure and being with Christ, for [it is] very much better; but to remain in the flesh [is] more necessary for your sake. And having this confidence I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for furtherance and joy of faith, that your boasting may abound in Christ Jesus in me through my presence again with you” (vers. 18-26).
How clearly faith by grace made him, bondman though he was, master of the situation! His desire drew him away to Christ: the need of the saints detained him. God gave him, as it were, the decision for their sake. “Only behave worthily of the gospel of Christ, that, whether coming and seeing you or absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand in one spirit, with one soul striving together with the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by the adversaries; which is to them evidence of destruction but to you of salvation, and this from God; because to you was granted on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him but also to suffer for him, having the same conflict as ye saw in me and now hear of in me.” Living the gospel, living worthily of it, was his earnest desire for them, yea, suffering for Christ.
Chapter 2. Zeal was not wanting in Philippi, yet does it not endanger difference, lowliness, and love? Where is the corrective but in Christ? “If then any comfort [be] in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, fulfill ye my joy, that ye have the same mind, having the same love, joined in soul, thinking one thing, nothing in faction or vainglory, but in lowliness of mind esteeming one another better than themselves, regarding not each his own things, but each those of others” (vers. 1-4). This brings in the image of Christ. “For let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who subsisting in God's form did not count it an object for seizing to be on equality with God, but emptied himself, taking a bondman's form, having come in likeness of men; and, when found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even death of the cross. Wherefore also God highly exalted him and granted him the name which is above every name, that in the name of Jesus should bow every knee of [beings] heavenly and earthly and infernal, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ [is] Lord to God the Father's glory” (vers. 5-11).
For the Philippians were in contrast with the Galatians (Gal. 4:1818But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing, and not only when I am present with you. (Galatians 4:18)), and obeyed not as in his presence only, but now much more in his absence. They are exhorted accordingly to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling, now that they had not the apostle's care; for it is God that was working in them both the willing and the working for His good pleasure. What source of confidence so great, along with distrust of self! Murmurs and disputes were to be far from them, that they might be blameless and simple, God's children irreproachable in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom they appeared as lights in the world, holding forth life's word for a boast to the apostle against Christ's day that he ran not nor labored in vain. Again he refers to death before him, but here as a libation poured on the sacrifice and ministration of their faith to his joy, and theirs also. Yet he hoped in the Lord to send Timothy to them, as he graciously felt for his refreshment by knowing how they got on; for only he shared Paul's care genuinely. Alas! even then all were seeking their own things, not those of Jesus Christ. They knew Timothy's service with Paul in the gospel work. Whatever the cost to himself, he would send one so dear to him and them, when he could report matters. Meanwhile he sent Epaphroditus, his tried fellow-worker and fellow-soldier (what links of honor!), but their messenger and minister to his need (what communion!), not only as longing after them all, but distressed at their hearing of his sickness, So he was, adds the apostle, nigh to death; but God had mercy not on him only but on Paul also, that he might not have sorrow on sorrow. Yet him he had sent, that they seeing him might rejoice, and he himself be the less sorrowful. What unselfish love all round, the mind that was in Christ Jesus! Him therefore they were to receive in the Lord with all joy, and to hold such in honor; because for the work's sake (whether Christ the Lord, or God, were in question) he came nigh to death, risking his life to supply what lacked in their service toward Paul (vers. 12-30). Truly this is Christian experience.
Chapter 3 presents our Lord in a way quite different from that of chapter 2. It is not the uttermost humiliation in obedience of the Son's Person become man, emptying Himself and humbling Himself to the death of the cross: that service of love beyond compare, which creates, fashions, and maintains Christian devotedness in the saints. Here the central truth is Christ glorified, as the object set before the believer to detach him from every idol, to shine on the path with sure and heavenly light, to fill the heart with His own excellency, and to keep the glorious goal before him, whatever the trials of the way.
The apostle exhorts his brethren for the rest to rejoice in the Lord. He deserves and desires it; and well may we. Did any complain of sameness? To write so was not irksome to this wondrously endowed soul; for them it was safe. Yet he finds room with energetic contempt to denounce the Judaisers, as the dogs, the evil workers, and the concision, of whom they had to beware. He declares that the circumcision are we who worship by the Spirit of God, and who boast in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh, though if any had such ground of confidence, the apostle had more. It is of fleshly religion he speaks here and throughout, not of fleshly license (vers. 1-5).
Next, he states his own case. Was he not circumcised the eighth day, of Israel's race, of Benjamin's tribe, a Hebrew of Hebrews? as to law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, persecuting the church; as to righteousness that is in or of law, found irreproachable? But the Christ he had seen in glory made him regard this gain as a loss. Nor was it a hasty estimate, but so he counted all things because of the excellence of the knowledge of Him, his Lord, for Whom he suffered the loss of all things. He was still counting them dung, that he might win Christ and be found in Him, not having his own righteousness which is of law, but that which is by faith in Christ, the righteousness of God on condition of faith. The same Paul in Rom. 9 would have the Jews know that, far from disparaging, he exalted the privileges of Israel beyond their estimate; here he shows that the Christian has in Christ far better things than Israel's hopes (vers. 5-9). And so he continues, “that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformed to His death, if by any means I might attain to the resurrection from out of the dead” (vers. 10, 11).
Nothing then satisfied him short of that portion. Flesh and earth are quite left behind. Therefore he adds, “Not that I already attained, or have been already perfected, but I pursue, if I may apprehend (or, get possession of) that for which also I was apprehended by Christ.” We shall then be like Him and in the same glory. Yet he carefully tells his brethren that, as this was not true of him yet, “one thing” (he does); “forgetting the things behind [not past evils, but present progress], and stretching forth toward those before, I press unto the mark for the prize of the calling upward of God in Christ Jesus” (12-14). All the full grown should have this mind; and, if in anything they were otherwise minded, God would reveal this also to them; but whereto they were arrived, let them walk alike. How wholesome even for saints in good estate! Nor does the apostle hesitate to bid them imitate him and mark those that followed his example. Others, alas! did very differently, enemies of Christ's cross, and earthly-minded, whose god is the belly, whose glory is in their shame. For our citizenship subsists in the heavens, whence also we await the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, Who shall change the body of our humiliation and conform it to the body of His glory, according to the working of the power He has to subject even all things to Himself (vers. 15-21). Salvation here looks on to that final change.
Chapter 4 opens with strongly expressed affection, and the call to stand fast in the Lord. Two sisters he exhorts severally by name to the same mind in Him; and he beseeches his true yoke-fellow, Epaphroditus probably, to help those women in that they shared his own conflicts in the gospel, with Clement too and the rest of his fellow-workers whose names are in the book of life. How sad their lot whose names were not there! They did not love the Lord, whatever their labors (vers. 1-3).
The saints in general here again he calls on to rejoice in the Lord “always,” and again would say, “Rejoice.” How blessed from Paul the prisoner in Rome under Nero to saints at Philippi suffering in Christ's behalf! Yet he would have their gentleness known to all (in view of the Lord at hand), their anxiety in nothing, their requests to God in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving; and he assures them that the peace of God (and it is constant), which surpasses all understanding, should guard their hearts and their thoughts in Christ Jesus (vers. 4-7). For the rest, he urges brethren to think, not on the dark side but on whatsoever things are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and of good report, if any virtue or any praise: what they both learned and received and heard and saw in him, let them do; and the God of peace, which is yet more than the peace of God, blessed though it be, should be with them. This indeed would be Christian experience—to live Christ (8, 9).
Then, as we easily see from verses 10 to 20, he speaks of his joy in the Lord at their renewed thought for him, though he spoke not of want, having learned to be content in whatsoever state he was. For he knew both to abound and to be in want, and declares he can do all things through Him that empowers him. But he appreciated their fellowship with his affliction, which they only had shown him thus in the early days of the gospel: not that he sought the gift, but the fruit that increased to their account. He could say that he had all things, and abounded, that he was filled, having received from Epaphroditus their things, which he does not hesitate to call “an odor of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God.” On their part or on his, it was to live Christ. “And my God,” he adds, “shall fill up your every need according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Now to our God and Father [be] the glory unto the ages of the ages, Amen,” Then he salutes “every saint” in Christ Jesus, as he unites withal that of the brethren who were with him, and indeed of all the saints there, specially those of Caesar's household; for so did Christ work in His own. “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit” is the suited close.