Lectures on Philippians: Philippians 2:14-30

Philippians 2:14‑30  •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Chapter 2:14-30
If the Apostle was not there, but in prison far away, God, he says, is there. It is God who worketh in you. That would give solemnity of feeling, but it would also infuse confidence. There would be fear and trembling in their hearts, feeling that it is a bitter, painful thing to compromise God in any way by want of jealous self-judgment in their walk—fear and trembling because of the seriousness of the conflict. They had to do with Satan in his efforts against them. But on the other hand, God was with them, working in them. It was not the idea of anxiety and dread lest they should break down and be lost, but because of the struggle in which they were engaged with the enemy, without the presence of an apostle to render them his invaluable succor.
But now he turns to those things in which they might be to blame and certainly about which they had to be on their guard. "Do all things without murmurings and disputings [or reasonings]: that ye may be blameless and harmless [simple, or sincere], irreproachable children of God, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world." He calls them to that which would be manifestly a blameless walk and spirit in the eyes of the crooked and perverse around them. But besides this, he looks for that which would direct in them, and show men clearly the way to be delivered from their wretchedness and sin; lights in the world, "holding forth the word of life"; and this with the motive to their affections, "that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain, nor labored in vain."
But now he puts another consideration before them. What if he, Paul, should be called to die in the career of the gospel? Up to this point he had been communicating his mind and feelings to them with the thought that he was going to live; he had stated his own conviction that God meant him to continue a little longer here below for the good of the Church. But he suggests the supposition of his death. Granting that he might suffer unto death, what then? "But if also I be poured out upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all." To him it was the very reverse of a pain or trouble, the thought of being thus a libation upon what he sweetly calls the sacrifice and service of their faith. Nay, more, he calls on them to share his feelings. "For the same cause also do ye joy and rejoice with me." Thus the Apostle triumphs, turning not only his imprisonment into a question of joy, but also the anticipation, were it God's will, of his laying down his life in the work. He is even congratulating them upon the joyful news. How mighty and unselfish is the power of faith! He calls upon them that there should be this perfect reciprocity of joy through faith, that they might take it as a personal honor, and feel a common interest in his joy, as much as if it were for themselves. This is just what lave does produce. As the Apostle identified himself with them, so they, in their measure, would identify themselves with him. May the Lord grant us to know it better through His grace.
"But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timotheus shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state." What a beautiful sample of the same self-denying love which the Apostle had pointed out in Christ and was seeking to form in the hearts of the Philippians! We know what Timothy was to the Apostle, but though to lose him, especially then, might be the greatest privation to himself, still he says, "I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timotheus shortly unto you."
Divine love thinks of the good of others, and grace had wrought this in the Apostle. It was to furnish nothing of its own. He desired to know their state that his own heart might be comforted. Is not this the mind which was also in Christ Jesus? The imprisoned Apostle sent Timotheus from himself to them in the hope of getting good tidings of these saints that were so dear to his heart. "For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state"—no one with such genuine affection and care, not merely for me, but for you. "For all seek their own, not the things that are Jesus Christ's. But ye know the proof of him, that, as a son the father, he hath served with me in the gospel." There was at once what was the common bond. The love of Christ filled both and made them both serve. They were doing the same thing. There was mutual confidence for the same reason; for Christ and stumbling blocks are incompatible. "Him therefore I hope to send presently, so soon as I shall see how it will go with me. But I trust in the Lord that I also myself shall come shortly."
What then does he add? He could not come as yet himself; he was delaying Timothy till the result of his trial should be known, that the Philippians might have the latest intelligence about that which he was sure would be near to their hearts. But would he leave them without a word meanwhile? Far from it. He says, "Yet I supposed it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labor." We see how love delights to share all things with others. He chooses terms which would link Epaphroditus with himself—"my brother, and companion in labor, and fellow-soldier." There was everything that could clothe him with honor and endear him to the saints, "but your messenger and he that ministered to my wants." He had all these insignia of honor in the cause of Christ. Nothing can be sweeter than this unfolding of affection; but it could only be, because the state of the Philippians had been thoroughly sound with God. We see nothing of this when he writes to the Galatians or Corinthians. So far from being sound in state, they were not even sound in the faith. The Galatians, we know, were letting slip justification; the consequence is, there is not an epistle so reserved and distant, as we may see in the marked absence of personal salutation. He wrote to them as a duty, as an urgent service springing from his love that desired their deliverance; but he had no kind of liberty in letting out his affections in the way we find here. God Himself led him to act thus differently.
"For he longed after you all, and was full of heaviness, because that ye had heard that he had been sick. For indeed he was sick, night unto death; but God had mercy on him; and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow." I cannot conceive a more admirable picture of divine affections flowing out without hindrance to these saints. He descants upon what Timothy was to him, whom he hoped to send to them, and now upon Epaphroditus who had come from them as their messenger. His heart glows, and he opened out all his feelings about this link between himself and them. "He longed after you all and was full of heaviness," not because he was sick himself or was nigh unto death, but "because that ye had heard that he had been sick."
Such was the heart of Epaphroditus; such was Paul's to see and record it. Both were desirous that they should be relieved, by knowing how the Lord had shown Himself on their behalf. "But God had mercy on him, and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. See how the Apostle loves to trace the goodness of God, not merely toward the person who was the immediate object of God's dealings, but toward himself also. Scripture nowhere intimates such a thing in the mind of God as looking coldly upon the sickness or death of His children. Too often this is the case with us, as if it did not much matter, or it were a point of spirituality to be like a stone.
There is such a thing as the Spirit of God identifying Himself with human affections, as well as with divine ones. We find divine affections in chapter 1, and human affections here in chapter 2. The Holy Spirit has been pleased not only to bring down divine affections, so to speak, and put them into us, but also to animate the human affections of the saints. Christ Himself had them in His heart, for He was truly man. And now the Spirit of God gives another and higher value to these affections in the saints of God. This is as plain as it is important. The Holy Ghost mingles Himself, so to speak, with all. "I sent him therefore the more carefully, that, when ye see him again, ye may rejoice, and that I may be the less sorrowful." The Apostle does not say, And that I may rejoice too. There is no unreality, nothing but transparent truthfulness here, as well as the most blessed love. It is "that ye may rejoice, and that I may be the less sorrowful." He did feel the pang of parting with Epaphroditus, but he could rejoice that such a help went to them, because they would rejoice; and he himself would be the less sorrowful. It was his loss, but assuredly it would be their gain.
"Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such in reputation." Remark how careful he is to commend his fellow laborer to the esteem of the saints. Epaphroditus does not seem to have been a man of much outward mark. But men highly gifted ought to be tenacious on behalf of those of lesser gift. Certainly in the case of the Apostle, instead of being jealous as to others, there is the greatest desire to keep up their value in the eyes of the saints. "Hold such in reputation." Others might have feared for Epaphroditus or others like him, lest they might be puffed up. "Receive him," he says, "with all gladness, and hold such in reputation; because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me." We do not find any great account of what he had done in preaching or teaching; but there was the earnest, unselfish service of love in this blessed man of God, and that was enough for the Apostle Paul and ought to be also for God's children.
The Lord grant that we may be thus quick to discern and thus hearty in our appreciation of what is of Christ in others, whoever they may be, cultivating not so much keenness of eye for that which is painful and inconsistent in the saints, as steady desire for whatever brings Christ before the soul, whatever gives the ring of true metal, whatever bears the stamp of the Spirit of God.