Notes on Philippians 1:3-11

Philippians 1:3-11
Before he opens the epistle, the apostle breaks forth in thanksgiving to God. “I thank my God,” an expression often used in this epistle. It also is individual, knowing now the God in whom he trusted, besides being the expression of affection and of nearness. First, says the apostle, “I thank any God upon my whole remembrance of you,” (for such is the true force,) “always in every prayer of mine for you all, making request with joy.” This leads me to make the observation, that nearness to God is always accompanied by the heart overflowing with the joy which His realized presence necessarily produces, as well as by a spirit of intercession for the objects of God's love on earth. There may be at the same time the deepest exercise of spirit, and not without the keenest pain; because in the presence of God every sin, sorrow, and shame, is more truly and fully felt. What God is, is known, and therefore perfect peace; what man is, and therefore the failure is realized and the dishonor brought on Christ is entered into by the Spirit. But here joy is the prevalent and abiding feeling, the great characteristic effect of the presence of God imprinted on the soul, where the conscience is void of offense toward God and man. Not that even Paul could thus speak of every assembly, or every saint of God—far from it. His whole remembrance of the Philippian saints opened the sluices of thanksgiving to God. Yet, from the beginning, there was need of prayer; and he was continually supplicating for them all, and this with joy “for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now.” What a wonderful thing that a man, though he were the great apostle of the Gentiles, could so feel, and that there were here below saints of whom he could so write! Alas! in these selfish days we little know what we have lost, and whence we are fallen. He never prayed for these Philippians but with joy, and yet he was constantly bearing them before God. Had the apostle been here, could he have thought so of us? Yet, wonderful as it was, it was the simple truth; and it is wholesome for our souls to judge ourselves by such a standard.
Another feature of the Epistle to the Philippians is, that the practical condition of the soul is here developed more fully than anywhere else; and this not so much doctrinally as in action and experience. The apostle lays bare his own motives as well as walk; and even Christ's also. Hence it is peculiarly in this epistle that we find displayed the exercise of individual Christian life. Here we have the power of the Spirit of God acting in the soul of the believer, enabling him to realize Christ in the heart and path here below. But what gave rise to this character of instruction? What circumstances brought it out? The absence of the apostle from the Philippians, and from his ordinary ministry, while he was imprisoned at Rome. It was not, as at Corinth, that his absence brought out their ostentatious vanity, and party spirit, and worldly laxity, and quarrellings. It led the Philippians to feel the necessity of living increasingly with, and for, and to Christ. There was nothing for it but each one looking and helping his brother to look, to the Lord Himself. This being the effect produced, the apostle was full of joy in thinking of them. He had been several years away, and externally in the most dismal circumstances himself, but his joy was not dimmed one whit. On the contrary, there is not another epistle so full of actually tasted happiness; and yet there never was an epistle written when all on earth seemed more clouded and filled with sorrow. So thoroughly is Christ the one circumstance that rules all others to the believer. When moving about and seeing both the devotedness of the saints, and sinners everywhere brought to God, one can understand the apostle's continual joy and praise. But think of him in prison for years, chained between two soldiers, debarred from the work that he loved, and others taking advantage of his absence to grieve him, preaching the very gospel out of contention and strife! And yet his heart was so running over with joy that he was filling others with it. Such is the character of the Epistle to the Philippians. If there be a witness of the power of the Spirit of God working through human affections, through the heart of a saint on earth, in the midst of all weakness and trial, it is found here. It is not the picture of a man down under trying circumstances, for under them he never is, but consciously more than conqueror. Not that he never knew what it was to be cast down. He who wrote the Second Epistle to the Corinthians fully experienced all that which God in His grace made to be a kind of moral preparation for bringing out the comfort that was needed by the saints then and at all times. But this epistle shows us that there is not a single symptom of weariness any more than of perturbation of spirit. You could not tell from it that there was any flesh at all, though he was one who fully took the flesh into account elsewhere, as in Romans and Corinthians, where you have a fearful picture of what may be the condition of the Christian and of the Church.
Not only in Philippians is there no trace of this, but neither is there the dwelling upon our privileges and blessings, as in Eph. 1. What we have is the enjoyed power of the Spirit of God, that lifts a man day by day above the earth, even when he is walking upon it; and this by making Christ everything to the soul, so that the trials are but occasions of deeper enjoyment, let them be ever so many and grave. This is what we specially want as Christians in order to glorify God; and this is what the Holy Ghost urges on us when we have entered into our proper Christian birthright, individually, as in Romans, and our membership of the Church, as in Corinthians, and our blessing in heavenly places in Christ as in Ephesians. Then comes the question, How am I enjoying and carrying out these wondrous privileges, as a saint of God upon earth? To suppose that this is a hard question, and gendering bondage, would be to impeach the perfect goodness of God, as well as to fall into a snare of the devil. What God desires is that we should be blest yet more than we are. He would thus make us more happy. The Epistle to the Philippians is one to fill the heart with joy, if there be an eye for Christ. He thanks his God for them for their “fellowship with the gospel from the first day until now.” What going out of heart, and sustained vigor! It is not now “the fellowship of His Son,” as in 1 Corinthians, which indeed would be true of a Christian under any circumstances. So that, if Satan had contrived to turn a saint again to folly and sin, the Holy Ghost could remind him that God is faithful by whom he was called unto the fellowship of His Son. And can He have fellowship with unfruitful works of darkness? This is the reason why we should cry to God that if He has called any to the fellowship of His Son He would not allow the enemy to drag them into the dirt, but rouse their conscience to their grievous inconsistency.
But there is more. Here it is their fellowship with the gospel, not merely as a blessed message they had received themselves, but in its progress, conflicts, dangers, difficulties, &c. It does not necessarily mean preaching it, but what was as good, or in itself even better—their hearts thoroughly in and with it. Need I hesitate to say that whatever may be tire honor put upon those called to spread the gospel, to have a heart in unison with the gospel is a portion superior to any services as such? Most simply and heartily were the Philippians' affections thus bound up with the gospel: they identified themselves first and last with its career. This was really fellowship with God in the spread of His own glad tidings through the world. The apostle valued such hearts especially. Nothing less than the sustaining power of the Spirit of God had so wrought in these dear Philippians. The way in which the gospel had reached them we hear in the Acts. It began with Paul in prison, when his feet were in the stocks, yet withal, in the midst of shame and pain, he and his companion singing praises to God at midnight! And here we have him, if alone, again a prisoner, and the praises of God are again heard—unwontedly in the great city of Rome. The Philippians were far away; but he could hear them, as it were none the less, singing praises to God, even as he was singing praises to God for them. It was the same blessed fellowship with the gospel that had characterized not him only, but them too, from the very first day until now.
But he goes further, and says, “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you, will complete it against the day of Jesus Christ.” Remark the ground of his confidence. In Corinthians it is because God was faithful. In Galatians, where there was a still more serious trial, the apostle says he was in doubt of them, till he thinks of the Lord; and then he has his heart lit up with a comforting hope that they were Christians after all. People that were practically slighting (little as they thought or intended it, yet virtually slighting) Christ for worldly elements—he could hardly understand how such could be Christians. To turn from a crucified and risen Christ to the rites of an earthly religion, is worse than bare earthliness, destructive as this is. Here it is another thing. His confidence is grounded not merely on what God is in character and counsel, but on what he saw of Christ, by the Holy Ghost, in them. Thinking of what they had been and were then, could he hesitate to recognize the evident handiwork of God through His Son? He saw such an unequivocal enjoyment of Christ, and such an identification of interests with Him upon earth, that his confidence was not only in a general way that he would see them with Christ by and by, but in the solidity of the work of God in them all the way through. He who had begun in them a good work, he was sure, would complete it unto (or, against) the day of Jesus Christ.
“Even as it is meet” (or,” just") “for me to think thus of you all, because ye have me in your heart.” Such is the version given in the margin, which here presents the right force of the verse. It was due to them, he means, not merely because he loved them, but he felt and had proof that they had him in their hearts. A blessed bond for hearts at all times, is the name of Christ, and His gospel. How continually, too, one finds the state of the saints very often measured, and set in evidence by the state of their affections toward any one that is identified with the work of God on the earth. There will be the strongest possible attempt of Satan to bring in alienation of feeling and a turning of the saints against all such, whether absent or present. It was so in the days of the Apostle Paul: those who were simply cleaving to the Lord slave to him also. It was the very reverse of a mere fleshly feeling, which was sought by his adversaries, who, flattering others, were flattered in turn. Paul was perfectly sensible that the more abundantly he loved, the less he was loved, and what a handle this gave to Satan to turn away the saints from the truth. False teachers and men who may be really converted, but whose flesh is little judged, and whose worldliness is great, always seek to win persons as a party round themselves, by sparing the flesh and humoring the natural character, so as at last to have their own way without question. (2 Cor. 11:19, 2019For ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise. 20For ye suffer, if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take of you, if a man exalt himself, if a man smite you on the face. (2 Corinthians 11:19‑20).) The apostle's object was to win to Christ. But faithfulness called him often to tread on what was painful to one and another. As long as love flows freely and Christ is looked to, it is well; but when mortified feeling wrought, because they did not mortify their members on the earth, the tendency was constantly toward making parties, divisions, offenses, the forerunners of yet worse evil. But if the apostle was one who scorned such a thought A gathering a party round himself, these saints had him in their hearts.
He valued this love. How was it shown? “Inasmuch as both in my bonds and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, ye are all partakers of my grace.” They were casting themselves, heart and soul, into the activities and sufferings of the grace of God in the apostle. Did his bonds make them ashamed or suspicious? To have a friend in jail never was of good report. Did they begin to say in themselves, he must have been doing something wrong because he was a prisoner? On the contrary, seeing that the Apostle Paul had come into the deepest suffering, they looked upon it as the highest honor. If he had gone up to Jerusalem, it was not to spare himself; and though this visit may have been a mistake, certainly it was one of which no person ought to speak lightly. It was a thorough self-sacrifice every step of the way. The apostle, though he was now, as a consequence, a prisoner in Rome, never yields to a spirit of regret, still less of repining, but regards all in the good hand of God as furthering the cause of Christ. Did not, for example, his own bonds turn to the praise of God? There he was perfectly happy, perhaps never so happy as thus bound. The Philippian saints understood what it was to draw from the Divine spring; and consequently their hearts were with him in joy as well as sympathy. Did it weaken the apostle's love for them personally? “God is my record how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ.” Happiness as the Lord's prisoner dulled none of his warmest feelings of love toward them.
But besides all this, his love for them made him intensely solicitous about their real wants, and he turns to the Lord for them accordingly. “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more, in knowledge and all judgment.” He wished that they should love (not less, but) with a fuller knowledge and an exercised intelligence. Love, or charity, is the basis, else there would be no building up: this being laid and abounding, full knowledge, instead of puffing up, guides and guards. The more the intelligence is, if it be real and spiritual, the greater the desire to grow in it. Those who do not see anything in Scripture as an object for constant search, and growth, and desire after more, are those, it is to be feared, who see scarce anything in it that is divine. Directly it is discerned that there is infinite light in it, desire to know more and more is a necessary consequence. But it is for practice. And this Epistle shows us spiritual progress in the apostle and in the saints more fully than any other, while it is the Epistle that shows us the strongest desire after going on. This is what we know from experience. Whenever we begin to be satisfied with what we have got, there is an end of progress; but when we make a little real advance, we want to make more. Such was the case with these saints, who are prayed for therefore, “That ye may approve things that are excellent,” &c. They needed to grow in intelligence, in order that they might be able to judge of things, and so lay hold of what was more excellent.
“That ye may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ.” Wonderful thought! The apostle actually prays for these believers as if he conceived it possible that, growing in love and intelligence, they might walk the path of faith till the day of Christ without a single false step: Paul's marvel, perhaps, would have been that we should count it wonderful. Alas! we know we fail day by day, because we are unspiritual. Why do we let out a vain word or show a wrong feeling? Because we are not realizing the presence and the grace of God. No progress in the things of God will ever keep a person—nothing but actual nearness to Him and dependence on Him. What is a Christian, and what the condition and experience which Scripture recognizes for him here below? He is by grace brought, in virtue of Christ's blood, into the presence of God; who has a power within him, the Holy Ghost, and a power without him to lean upon, even the Lord Jesus Christ, and this uninterruptedly and always. Such is the theory: but what is the practice? As far as it is realized, the path is without a single stumble. And let us remember that such is the only sanctioned path for all saints. It belongs not of right to some advanced souls. It is what every Christian has to desire. We can, therefore, readily understand how souls, hearing such thoughts as these, should embrace the idea of a state of perfection. But though the scheme is erroneous and utterly short of our true standard in the second Man, the last Adam, a Christian ought never contentedly to settle down in the thought that he must fail and sin day by day. What is this but calm acquiescence with dishonoring Christ? If we do fail, let us, at least, always say, It was our own fault, our own unwatchfulness, through not making use of the grace and strength we have in Christ. The treasure there is open for us, and we have only to draw upon it, and the effect is a staid, calm, spiritual progress, the flesh judged, the heart overflowing with happiness in Christ, the path without a stumble till the day of Christ.
More than this, let it be remarked, he prays that they might be filled with the fruit of righteousness, not merely such and such righteous acts in detail, but the blessed product of righteousness by Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God. There is no thought of, nor room for, imposing the law here, which is rather shut out from being the proper standard for the Christian. There is another, who is both our new object and our rule, even Christ Himself, the image of God, the life and power of fruit-bearing for the believer. What a rule for our practical, every-day walk!