Self-Surrender: Part 1

 •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Philippians 2
It is perfectly delightful to contemplate the moral triumphs of Christianity — the victories which it gains over self and the world, and the marvelous way in which such victories are obtained. The law said, Thou shalt do this, and thou shalt not do that. But Christianity speaks a totally different language. In it, we see life bestowed as a free gift — life flowing down from a risen and glorified Christ. This is something entirely beyond the range of the law. The language of the law was, “The man that doeth them shall live in them” (Gal. 3:1212And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. (Galatians 3:12)). Long life in the land was all the law proposed to the man who could keep it. Eternal life in a risen Christ was something utterly unknown and unthought — of under the legal system.
But Christianity not only gives eternal life, it also gives an Object with which that life can be occupied — a center around which the affections of that life can circulate — a model on which that life can be formed. Thus it gains its mighty moral triumphs. Thus it gains its conquests over a selfish nature and a selfish world. It gives divine life and a divine center; and as the life moves around that center, we are taken out of self.
This is the secret of self-surrender. It cannot be reached in any other way. The unconverted man finds his center in self; and hence, to tell him not to be selfish is to tell him not to be at all. This holds good even in the matter of mere religiousness. A man will attend to his religion in order, as he thinks, to promote his eternal interest; but this is quite a different thing from finding an object and a center outside himself. Christianity alone can supply these. The gospel of the grace of God is the only thing that can effectually meet man’s need and deliver him from the selfishness which belongs to him. The unrenowned man lives for himself. He has no higher object. The life which he possesses is alienated from the life of God. He is away from God. He moves around another center altogether; and until he is born again, until he is renewed, regenerated, born of the Word and Spirit of God, it cannot be otherwise. Self is his object, his center, in all things. He may be moral, amiable, religious, benevolent; but until he is converted, he has not finished with himself as to the ground of his being, or as to the center around which that being revolves.
The foregoing train of thought naturally introduces us to the striking and beautiful illustration of our theme afforded in Philippians 2. In it we have a series of examples of self surrender, commencing with a divinely perfect One, the Lord Himself.
But, ere we proceed to gaze upon this exquisite picture, it may be well to inquire what it was that rendered it needful to present such a picture before the Philippian saints. The attentive reader will doubtless observe, in the course of this most charming epistle, certain delicate touches from the inspired pen, leading to the conclusion that the keen and vigilant eye of the apostle detected a certain root of evil in the bosom of the beloved and cherished assembly gathered at Philippi. To this he addresses himself, not with a sledge hammer or long whip, but with a refinement and delicacy far more powerful than either the one or the other. The mightiest moral results are reached by those delicate touches from the hand of the Holy Spirit.
But what was the root to which we have referred? It was not a splitting into sects and parties, as at Corinth. It was not a return to law and ritualism, as at Galatia. It was not a hankering after philosophy and the rudiments of the world, as at Colosse. What was it then? It was a root of envy and strife. The sprouting of this root is seen very distinctly in the collision between those two sisters, Euodias and Syntyche (Phil. 4:22I beseech Euodias, and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord. (Philippians 4:2)); but it is glanced at in earlier portions of the epistle, and a divine remedy supplied.
It is a great point with a medical man not only to understand what is wrong with his patient but also to understand the true remedy. Some physicians are clever in discovering the root of the disease, but they do not, so well know what remedy to apply. Others, again, are skilled ill the knowledge of medicine, the powers of various drugs; but they do not know how to apply them in individual cases. The divine Physician knows both the disease and its remedy. He knows exactly what is the matter with us, and He knows what will do us good. He sees the root of the matter, and He applies a radical cure. He does not treat cases superficially. He is perfect in diagnosis. He does not guess at our disease from mere surface symptoms. His keen eye penetrates at once to the very bottom of the case, and His skillful hand applies the true remedy.
Thus it is in the epistle to the Philippians. These saints held a very large place in the large heart of the apostle. He loved them much, and they loved him. Again and again he speaks, in grateful accents, of their fellowship with him in the gospel from the very first. But all this did not and could not shut his eyes to what was wrong among them. It is said that “love is blind.” In one sense we look upon this saying as a libel upon love. If it were said that “love is superior to faults,” it would be nearer the truth. What would anyone give for blind love? of what use would it be to be loved by one who only loved us because he was ignorant of our blots and blemishes? If it be meant that love will not see our blots, it is blessedly true (Numb. 23:2121He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel: the Lord his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them. (Numbers 23:21)); but no one would care for a love that was not at once aware of, and superior to, our failures and infirmities.
Paul loved the saints at Philippi, and rejoiced in their love to him, and tasted the fragrant fruit of that love again and again. But then he saw that it was one thing to love and be kind to a distant apostle, and quite another thing to agree among themselves. Doubless Euodias and Syntyche both contributed to send a present to Paul, though they were not pulling harmoniously together in the wear and tear of daily life and service. This is, alas! no uncommon case. Many sisters and brothers too are ready to contribute of their substance to help some distant servant of Christ, and yet they do not walk pleasantly together. How is this? There is a lack of self-surrender. This, we may rest assured, is the real secret of much of the “strife” and “vainglory” so painfully manifest in the very midst of the people of God.
It is one thing to walk alone, and it is another thing to walk in company with our brethren in the practical recognition of that great truth of the unity of the body, and in the remembrance that “we are members one of another.” Christians are not to regard themselves as mere individuals, as isolated atoms, as independent persons. This cannot be, seeing that Scripture declares, “There is one body,” and we are members thereof. This is a divine truth — a grand fact — a positive reality. We are not to be like the hairs of an electrified broom, each standing out in lonely individuality. We are living members of a living body, each one having to do with other members with whom we are connected by a bond which no power of earth or hell can sever. In a word, there is a relationship formed by the presence of the Holy Spirit, who not only dwells in each individual member, but is the power of the unity of the one body. It is the presence of God the Spirit in the Church that constitutes that Church the one living body of the living Head.
Now, it is when we are called to walk in the actual acknowledgment of this great truth that there is a demand for self surrender. If we were merely solitary individuals, treading each in his own self-chosen path, carrying out his own peculiar thoughts, walking in the sparks of his own kindling, pursuing his own peculiar line of things, indulging his own will, then, indeed, a quantity of self might be retained. If Euodias and Syntyche could have walked alone, there would have been no collision — no strife. But they were called to walk together, and here was the demand for self-surrender.
And be it ever remembered, that Christians are not members of a club, of a sect, or of an association; they are members of a body, each connected with all, and all connected by the fact of the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, with the risen and glorified Head in heaven.
This is an immense truth, and the practical carrying out of it will cost us not only all we have, but all we are. There is no place in all the universe where self will be so pulled to pieces, as in the assembly of God. And is it not well? Is it not a powerful proof of the divine ground on which that assembly is gathered? Are we not — should we not be — glad to have our hateful self thus pulled to pieces? Shall we — ought we to — run away from those who do it for us? Are we not glad — do we not often pray — to get rid of self? And shall we quarrel with those who are God’s instruments in answering our prayers? True, they may do the work roughly and clumsily, but no matter for that. Whoever helps me to crush and sink self, does me a kind turn, however awkwardly he may do it. One thing is certain, no man can ever rob us of that which, after all, is the only thing worth having; namely, Christ. This is a precious consolation. Let self go; we shall have the more of Christ. Euodias might lay the blame on Syntyche, and Syntyche on Euoclias; the Apostle does not raise the question of which was right or of which was wrong, but he beseeches both to be “of the same mind in the Lord.”
Here lies the divine secret. It is self-surrender. But this must be a real thing. There is no use in talking about sinking self while, at the same time, self is fed and patted on the back. We sometimes pray with marvelous fervor to be enabled to trample self in the dust, and the very next moment, if anyone seems to cross our path, self is like a porcupine with all its quills up. This will never do. God will have us real, and surely we can say, with all our weakness and folly, we want to be real — real in everything, and therefore real when we pray for the power of self-surrender. But, most assuredly, there is no place where there is more urgent demand for this lovely grace than in the bosom of the assembly of God.