Philippians 3 - Notes of an Address

Philippians 3  •  17 min. read  •  grade level: 6
I think it is an important thing, in these days, to avoid the natural tendency of the heart, to measure the truth of God by the expression we have of it here on earth; or even to measure the truth by the apprehension we have of it here. We see the truth and know it; we look round at the expression of it, and then the heart fails, when we find how little the expression really answers to the object before it. The truth is presented to us by God Himself; the expression fails, and then the tendency comes in to accept a lower standard, than God has given. The standard remains the same. God does not lower the standard because of our short-coming. It is always the same standard in spite of our failures, and God seeks in His grace to cause that standard to have its effect upon us. The more we are occupied with the standard, the more we shall be conscious of how we fail.
Now one mark of being in the presence of God is consciousness of failure and shortcomings; there is no thought in the presence of God of how far I have attained. There is satisfaction in the Object, but with that, the conscious sense of how far short we come in practice and ways and life here.
Before the soul can really look at the Object, as presented here, it must get the truth, put before it in the beginning of the chapter: " We are the circumcision;,' not of it-we represent it, we are it. He is laying the basis upon which the soul can stand; and be occupied with, can gaze in simplicity and uprightness of heart at, the Object set before it. The Object is Christ in glory, not Christ upon the cross; " That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection." It is not gazing upon Christ on the cross as an offering for sin, but Christ in glory at the right hand of God in heaven. In verse 3 he lays the ground. It is no longer Israel. If we are truly the children of God, and have this Object before us, the sole ground upon which we can stand and gaze upon such an Object, is that given us in this verse. If we think of ourselves, and what we are, we can Only go back to this verse, and the truth therein contained: God has set us before Himself as representing the entire cutting off of the old man; not an effort of the old man to turn over a new leaf; not a cultivating of the old man; not a giving of, the heart to Christ; but a consenting in the bottom of the heart to this—that we represent the entire cutting off of the old man. What takes the place of the old man? The new Man, the Christ of God, and that Christ in heavenly glory. That is the only ground upon which we can stand before God, not looking for feelings, or apprehensions, or anything in ourselves at all; not looking even to see how far we appreciate that Object; but gazing on that Object. The consequence being that you are able to witness to that Object, you reflect that Object. It is, too, the only way in which the soul is really honest with God.
Look at Luke 10 for instance. There we have a man not really honest with God, a man who comes and asks, " What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" Tell me, the Lord says, how do you read the law? What is your version of it? He tells the Lord Jesus, and he had read it rightly. Do that and live, the Lord says. Here the dishonest heart comes out: the man turns to the Lord, and he does not say, Who is my God? He avoids the keen edge of the word, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart," &c. When the Lord applies the word out of His own lips to him, he does not say, Who is my God? It is a heart not prepared to face the truth, and he says, " Who is my neighbor?" The word applied by the Lord Jesus cuts down to the heart and conscience; he cannot stand it, therefore he seeks to " justify himself." He was surrounded by all the marks of who his God was; and what it was to have to do with God; but He seeks to " justify himself." Then the Lord goes on with him and seeks to take him up on that ground. He conies in, in all the wondrous blessedness of divine grace, to the heart that is set to avoid the keen edge of the word. I will tell you who your neighbor is, He says. You have no such neighbor in all the universe of God as God Himself And He has come down to you where you were, half dead, stripped of everything, robbed of everything. Here He presents HIMSELF as come not merely to give forgiveness of 'sins; He takes him to the inn and takes care of him. You remember the blessed story, always so fresh to all of us. He places him at His own cost forever. He makes no bargain with the owner of the inn. He says, Whatever you spend I will repay, he is at My cost forever. On no other ground will He have to say to the man.
Now, before we go back, just look, for a moment, at one who is really fit for the place we have in our chapter. Mary had the divine Object before her soul. The Lord Jesus was in Martha's house—she was occupied about " much serving." There was one there who sat at "Jesus' feet, and heard His word," and the Lord took care that she should not be interrupted. What was it, she heard? Was it anything good about herself? He did not come to flatter, He came "to seek, and to save that which was lost." Do you know what He had come to do? That was part of what she heard. Do you know what He was Himself? That was another part of it. She heard of the goodness of God, of the love of God, we may be sure. It was bringing God Himself before her, in the delight of satisfying His own heart of love, in such a world as this; and He takes care she shall not be interrupted in hearing of it.
Do you say there is no fruit in that occupation? Beloved friends, we must be empty vessels before we can be full ones. The great difficulty is to be an empty vessel. We think we have something, instead of being empty to be filled with Himself and His love. I do not think it is a question of what we can do for. Him; it is the heart so taken up with Him, so kept by Him, that testimony to Himself flows out, because it cannot be kept in. It flows out because the heart is full.
Now read verse 3. That is what we are; " We are the circumcision," And then He speaks of the flesh. It is not sin now, but the religious nature that the flesh could have to, boast of; the religious man was taken up and disposed a, because displaced by Another. It is not now a religion of God's establishing, but a Person; it is having to do with a Person; being here in this world, simply and heartily and uprightly gazing upon that Person. The consequence is you reflect that Person.
You remember when the Lord comes to the disciples in the boat, He comes to them walking on the water. They all think they have seen a spirit, and are alarmed by the supernatural manifestation before them. He was doing an impossibility for man-walking on the waves! Peter said, " Lord, if it be thou, bid me come to thee on the water." Jesus says, " Come." Peter gets out of the boat and does the same thing, the very same thing that Jesus Himself was doing. The one, who has his eye fixed on Him, does the same thing that He does. The reflection of the Object comes simply from occupation with the Object. He looks neither to the right hand nor to the left, and he walks on the water. There is the reflection of Christ Himself. There is the testimony. There is no testimony when Peter looks at the circumstances around him, and begins to sink. Then he says, " Lord save me." It is not bearing witness to what Christ was Himself, but he cries to Him, for the power that shall uphold him.
There we see plainly, I think, the two powers that are always there: the power of the Object that can produce likeness to the Object, and make the one occupied with it answer to the Object Himself. But there is another power, and that power is always ready, that hand is always stretched out-the power to save. But that is not testimony. Peter, sinking, cries, " Lord save me," and the hand is stretched out immediately; He is near enough to stretch out His hand, and save him from sinking. The 'power is always in the Object, but if we are looking to the right hand or to the left, the power fails us for the time being; but the other power is always there—the power to save. It does not do to look at the effect produced, or what the consequences are—we soon then get back to be occupied with ourselves.
I do not know, whether we have apprehended what it is to be occupied simply with the Lord Jesus Christ Himself; and then, with what corresponds to Him down here. You cannot be rightly occupied with what is dear to Him down here, unless you are occupied with Him first, and what suits Him.
Verses 8, 9, 10. Here is a man with an Object outside Himself altogether. I look forward to that Object " That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection." We know what He has done-we should not be Christians if we did riot.; we must know that before our consciences can have rest but it is Himself here; " That I may know Him "—a Person before me. The very first step, in my introduction to Himself, is the knowledge of what He has done, and when I know that, I seek to know Himself, the One who has done it; and the very motives, not only that actuated Him to come down to seek and to save the lost, but that actuated Him in all His life here. I see One who had the glory of God before Him, in everything He did. I cannot get near Him unless I know the effect of what He has done. It has been to transfer me from the ground, on which I stood as a lost creature, to the ground not only of being forgiven and pardoned, but of being received and established by God Himself, in the very same favor as the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
Have you ever asked yourself that question: How much does God love me? Just as much as He loves the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Surely we speak of it with bated breath. We look at ourselves, we think of ourselves, God loves me as He loves the Lord Jesus Christ! He has accepted me in Him! Received me into that same favor, loves me as much as He loves Christ. You come back again then to the ground of grace, and drink afresh of that blessed stream. It is the sovereignty of divine love and grace that has set us before Him, in order to delight His own heart in us. Poor, needy things we may be, but He has us before Himself, that He may satisfy His own heart, in bestowing all His love upon us, that He may have, always going up to Him the praises of those hearts that have found all in Himself. It is the having to do with God Himself.
As to myself, he says, "1 count all things but loss... that I may win Christ, [or have Christ as my gain.’]" And that is the one Object, he says, I have before me now: " That I may know him." Not, that I may go back and study His wonderful, blessed life on earth; wonderful and blessed it is; wonderful in grace and mercy; but that I may know Him in the power of His resurrection; what it is now to have to do with Him who when here upon earth said: " I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!" To have to do with Him, who is now unstraitened in all His desires He has passed through it, and is now the other side of death and judgment; to know what it is to be taken up by Himself, at His cost, at His charge every moment of our time down here, that He may express out of such a thing as I am what can conduce to His glory.
But how soon a kind of cloud comes over that! Something of self comes in. How soon a cloud or mist comes over it, and we turn away from it, and we look at other things, and we think things ought to be so and so, and like this, or like that. And so they ought to be, perhaps. But He knows a great deal more about it than you and I do, and He looks for subjection to His hand. He looks for us to be in His hand, that in the midst of all these things, He may express from us and through us, what is to His honor and glory.
It is true, we are in the school, but it is a blessed school. I think, it was said, if we are not good at school, we are not good at home. Had we not better put it the other way? The one who is good at home, will be good at school; we must begin with home first. Here is the secret of all good conduct. In the school we are tested, the heart is tested, and failure appears, and this is the reason—we are not, in our inmost souls, right with Himself, not walking in simplicity and uprightness, not walking as the Apostle says here of himself, really clear of everything but this one blessed Object before him: " That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection," and here in this world " the fellowship of his sufferings." It is not possible for you to enter into the sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ here, unless you "know Him, and the power of His resurrection."
Let me ask, What answers to a glorified Christ? A suffering, dependent people down here And we are content to be a suffering people here in this world. Why? Because it conduces to Christ's glory. It conduces to His glory that His people should be a suffering people in the place where He was crucified—God forbid they should be anything else! It was the ruin of the testimony always, when people began looking for something here, something that the heart could rest upon, and that the eye could see, instead of just the fellowship of His sufferings; " That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made comformable unto His death." Not, that I may lay hold of something, but that I may, by the grace of God, understand what He is, in His greatness, in His goodness, in His infinite love, What has He apprehended you for? To save you from hell? That is the poorest thing! It is a blessed mercy, surely, but is that all Christ died for? No! It is to have you for Himself, that He may be glorified thereby. He has laid hold of me for a purpose. We cannot perhaps always express what that purpose is We must know Himself, before we can know it; we must get near enough to Himself to know what that is, for which He has apprehended us'; (just as Mary could sit at His feet, and hear His word, and He would take care she should not be interrupted) letting Him pour into our souls what His blessed mind is. About us, and our ways down here? No! About Himself and His ways. Not about yourself; He has cut you off, and now He has taken you up, and set you before Him, that He may talk to you of Himself and His ways. There is no such blessed occupation as that.
If you look at 1 Thessalonians 1:3, 43Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father; 4Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. (1 Thessalonians 1:3‑4), you see the same Spirit producing the same thought, the same desire. They are waiting for His Son from heaven. That is the one Object I have before me, he says, Christ Himself, and that I may know the power of His resurrection. The first effect of the Gospel is that you become a waiting people; the effect of occupation with Christ is that you are content to be a suffering people for His sake. Waiting for His Son and suffering for His sake. Whatever the past history may have been, that is the place we can always take through God's grace, where we can always find ourselves at home. We shall never be disappointed if we are only content to be a waiting and a suffering people with Christ; the Object before us there—Himself, and the power of His resurrection, and waiting for Himself from heaven. If we are just content with that, we shall have no blighted hopes; no short-comings there, no expectations unfulfilled there, nothing to mar nor to soil. Paul was not satisfied with his own sufferings, but with the Object that led him to suffer—satisfied with Himself for whom we wait. That is the ground He sets before us; a narrow path it may be, but a path that goes on changelessly. The difficulty is, people try to make out another pathway, and so sorrow comes in, and trial. People get distrustful and cast down because they look for something else. God sets before us the consequence of having to do with Christ, and waiting for His coming. If I have Christ in glory before me, I am a suffering person here, and I am content to be it, because He is glorified by it, and I am in a world which crucified Him, and I am waiting for that blessed One who is coming.
Look at the end of this chapter. It is not isolation. " Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded," &c. That is the great healer of divisions, where there is singleness of heart and eye to Himself; a causer of divisions where there is not. If we are going to walk for Him and His glory, it must be simply as subject, dependent, suffering, waiting people. You say, l t is a difficult path? It is more than difficult; it is impossible, unless you go back to verse 3. I must know HIM and accept that ground. And if we are going to walk as dependent, subject, suffering, waiting people, that will be the great healer of all strifes and divisions, but it will be a great means of manifesting those who will not walk that way. Only, through grace, let me look straight forward. (Cf. Prov. 4:2525Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee. (Proverbs 4:25).)
You will find one prayer that seems to me to be always a prayer in the sanctuary: " Hold up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not." (Psa. 17:55Hold up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not. (Psalm 17:5); cf. Psa. 119:117117Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe: and I will have respect unto thy statutes continually. (Psalm 119:117).) On that pathway there is no foothold for the flesh; and thus he expresses dependence upon Him who alone can hold up, but who is ever ready to do so, blessed be His name! "We are the circumcision." That is what God, in His wondrous grace, has revealed in these days; His people represent the cutting off of the flesh, and the setting up and upholding in this world, by the power, and at the cost of Another, of a people to be maintained for His glory. If we are content to be that, there is no disappointment. Disappointment comes in where the heart is looking for, and seeking something, which does not conduce to His glory.