Thoughts on Service: Philippians 2

Philippians 2  •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 6
One great object of the Holy Ghost in this epistle is, to make known Christ to us as the servant, and this He does, that He may produce in us true-hearted service. God has his own way of doing this, as He has of doing everything: it must be suited to Himself, and it can only be through His Son. There is not a thought of God's love but what we get in the face of Jesus. He wants to endear His Son to us, and so He associates us with Him in service down here, as He has associated us with Him in the glory above. In this epistle, the Holy Ghost is looking at the path of Christ in service. God does not merely call some special ones servants; there is no such thought with God as confining service to those that receive some splendid gift, or are filling some particular office. There is something much deeper meant by being a servant than the office of bishop, deacon, or the like. It is not the law, nor the appointing to office, that can make servants; but fellowship with Him who calls to service: this puts us in the path and gives us power. It is the Spirit uniting to the Lord Christ that gives us the place and the power.
In this epistle we find a full picture of true Christian experience; there is not another scripture where we get it so prominently brought out. In Rom. 7 it is the experience of a Christian, but not true Christian experience. We find there a soul anxious about its state, but not one thought about Jesus—much about self and the law, but not the Spirit. Christian experience is appropriating Jesus, and in this epistle I see Him come down in the full energy of service, and this is needed. I want more of Christ—more power for service, and I can only get it by looking at Jesus. I want to be carrying Him continually to God, who is in full favor with Him. He is my righteousness and my glory, my alone power. He is God's triumph over sin for me—His resurrection is the triumph out of death and out of all my sins. The 7th of Romans is the experience of a soul not come to the end of itself, but feeling the burden of sin; but what is rightly called Christian experience is that I should realize in my soul what God has given me in His grace. If God has not given me enough in Him to put me in His presence, then He cannot do more. He has not another Son to give. God cannot disparage the work of His Son. The Holy Ghost came down here to witness to me of Jesus, and to show me what is the new covenant of God's grace; and this should remove every cloud. The Lord Jesus has been to the cross: that is the blessed beginning, the ground of my hope. He has been raised up out of the grave, that is my rest, and the character, if not end, of my hope. What a difference it makes to a Christian when passing through trial in service, if he has Jesus for his object —when, in the midst of his difficulties, he sees Him as his standing and his strength, the ground from which he acts! If I am put in a place of service by God, it is to Him I have to look, and on Him I have to trust, and not on man at all. If I am God's servant, it. is not for the glory of the flesh; the flesh I must judge: if I do not, I shall be sure to get humbled by it, for it will lead me to disgrace Christ.
We do not get here a soul anxious about its state, as in Rom. 7, although, as we have seen, that may be the experience of a believer—of most Christians, doubtless, at one time or another; but not true Christian experience. Now, what we have most prominently brought out in this epistle is the experience of the Christian servant, and what it is that qualifies and gives the heart of every true Christian courage for service. It is not Christian affection, love, or humility, though these must be; but it is not that which encourages: what keeps us, as well as what sets us in the path, is, what we have, and what we are, in Christ. We must have bowels of mercy, kindness, and compassion; but that does not give us power. That which strengthens is, what we see in Jesus and get from looking at Him. “If there be therefore,” (Verse 1.) &c. God reveals to me His Son, and that draws me out to serve Him. In this chapter we get a full-length portrait of Jesus, as the servant. He was the Son, and He took the place of the servant; and we must be made sons before we can be servants. We must have the place and affections of sons in order to render true-hearted service. The spirit of a Christian servant is not doing merely what is commanded, but the doing whatsoever delights God: the desire of the servant should be to please the Master. “Fulfill ye my joy, (ver. 20.) The Holy Ghost is here showing us Jesus as the true servant, and Paul His faithful follower. He was the chief of sinners, and followed His Lord more closely in service than any other. He had received much and he loved much. We have seen Jesus as the servant come down from the glory to man. His was no condescending grace. He came down to glorify His Father and to serve sinners. Not to gloss over evil, but to do the will of God in the service. The Holy Ghost is here exhibiting Jesus as the servant, that those who are dear to Him may follow in the activities of love and service. It is not so much what is required from them, as what is good for them in fellowship with Him.
But the time of active service is often the time of greatest danger. At such seasons, Satan is specially vigilant; and Christians should be very watchful lest they bring a reproach on the name they wish to honor. “Let nothing be done through strife or vain-glory,” &c., (ver. 3.) There can be no question as to there being different places as to service; it would be folly to say or suppose there is not: but there is a sense in which we should be esteeming others better than ourselves. We should be seeing them as they are in Christ. It is what they are in Him that is the spring of all true Christian glory, and the alone ground on which we render true honor to saints. It is apprehending them as they are apprehended in Christ Jesus. It is valuing them in measure as valued by Him. “Who, being in the form of God,” &c., (ver. 6, 7.) It is from coming to God as sons that we become servants—not servants and then sons. He who was equal with God “took upon him the form of a servant.” The Holy Ghost shows us this in order to cut off the thought that Jesus worked Himself up to be a Son by being a servant. He was the Son, and He took the place of the servant; He had the high one, and He took the low one. He was the Son—that was His own by right; or surely He who was so very jealous over the very least of God's glory, would not have associated Himself with Him in the highest, if it had been to rob God. There was nothing the Lord Jesus was more sensitive to than what belonged to God; as indeed it is the prime element of all true righteousness that, first of all, God should have His rights.
We must be sons before we can be servants; and the only thing that can enable us to discharge any service acceptably is the power we get in looking at Jesus—in knowing what we are and what we have in Him. All other energies lift up after a fitful sort, but they do not fit us for service.
There is one thing God would always have us remember, that is, what we are in His grace. The world and the flesh would make us forget we are in Christ. The devil ever aims to keep us off the consciousness of our ground of standing. If I am thinking of my home as God's word speaks of it, and of Jesus as the Holy Ghost makes Him known, I am attracted by His love and sheltered by His power. I am raised above the world's vanity by the glory I see in Him, and kept out of temptation by the beauty of the place He has brought me to. Is it that I am brought down so low that none of these things affect me? Am I so fallen that the thought of this glory cannot lift me up? I do not take a place of service to get dignity. I cannot be higher than God has made me in Christ— “bone of His bone, flesh of His flesh” —bound up with Him in life and glory—made to sit together in Him in heavenly places. This is my positive position; and it is not humility to take a lower place than God has given me—and no higher could He bestow. I belong to the risen Jesus, and with Him and in Him I share all given glory. I have a place at God's right hand, and I am down here to do His will—to be His servant. And nothing fits me for serving, or gives me power to walk in obedience, like the apprehending my association with a glorified Christ. Nothing gives me power to abstain from evil as the realizing my union with Him once dead, but now exalted in heaven. “Wherefore God hath highly exalted him,” &c., (ver. 9-11.) I do not the least doubt the cross is the foundation of every blessing; but it is the risen Christ I belong to—the One who has died and is now in glory, having established a righteousness for me. God's righteousness was declared for man when He raised up the Man, Christ Jesus, from the grave. Paul, in the third chapter, says he would not have the righteousness which was of the law, now that he had the righteousness which far surpassed. it in Christ. He did not desire the righteousness of man, now be had, through faith, the righteousness of God. Our highest blessing, as well as our perfect righteousness, flows from belonging to the risen Jesus, and the knowledge of this is Christian experience. And this is fully brought out in the Philippians. It shows us what was so largely true in Jesus, and what God would have to be true in all His people.
Now, what is the effect of seeing Jesus? “We are changed as by the same image from glory to glory.” “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have obeyed in my presence,” &c. The true victory God has gained for us. He has provided the great things, and will He not care for the little ones? He has made us new creatures in Christ Jesus by His Spirit, and will He not keep us by His power? Power does not depend upon prophets or apostles. When they were here, they were made by Him channels to convey blessing; but now they are gone, God can, and will work otherwise. Strength never depended on man. Paul and Peter, and others, were the vessels through which the heavenly grace reached the people; but they were not the source of it. Servants God had before the apostles appeared, and He has them now they have disappeared. He will, at all times, provide for His own people. In the millennium, it will be blessing come down from heaven to the earth; Christ over the people, and Satan not there. But what keeps me now, is the power of God in grace who has united me to a living Christ above by His Spirit; and my strength depends upon Him, and not upon man at all. It is by looking at Jesus, and not Paul, I am strengthened. Man is very often the thing that charms, but he cannot give strength. Paul says, “as ye have obeyed not only in my presence, but much more in my absence.” They were feeding on Jesus, and that gave them power to obey, and it delighted Paul; he did not want to set himself up, he wanted Jesus to be glorified in them; and the more sensibly the Holy Ghost keeps us in the love of Christ, the stronger shall we become. That is the energy to lift us up; all other power is unavailing. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” and do not give a false expression of the grave conflict you have entered on. You, not Paul only, must fight. That is your business, “for it is God that worketh you to will and to do of His good pleasure.”
As a Christian is occupied with Christ before God, the more will he walk according to the pattern of the true servant, and the more perfectly will he exhibit the character of the heavenly man. (Ver. 16, 17.) What a faithful follower of the Lord Jesus Paul was! It is beautiful to see the sympathy of his heart and the forgetfulness of himself: he lost sight altogether of his apostleship, if I may so say, in the delight he had in getting upon common ground with the Lord's people. To the Corinthians and Galatians he could say, an apostle of Jesus Christ; but to the Philippians he says, “the servant.” He was so filled with what he had in common with them, in a risen Jesus, that he did not want a place of honor down here; and it was this joy that he wished to see in the Philippians: “I joy and rejoice with you all: for the same cause also do ye joy,” &c. It delighted Paul to get the people with himself, in a place above the world's temptations, and their only safety was to be kept in nearness to Jesus. The rejoicing in Him dulls every other joy.
Ver. 19-24. There is something very lovely to see how regardless of self Paul was. He could give up Timothy, who was to him as a son of his own heart; he was above himself, and so he could let go the one who was most clear to him, if he could but get good news of those he was so anxious to serve; and he was ready to go and help them himself when the Lord made the way. “Yet I supposed it necessary,” &c. (Ver. 25-30.) Of Epaphroditus we do not hear save in this epistle; but Paul was rejoiced to put himself upon a common level with him. “My brother, companion in labor, and fellow-soldier; but your messenger, and him that ministers to my wants.” How pleasant it was to Paul to have fellowship with those who were true-hearted to Christ, and how ready always to acknowledge any service done unto Him, as done unto himself! What I see in this is—we ought to cultivate a spirit of fellowship with all those who are in heart servants of Christ, and to rise above the little marks that distinguish them in either station or gift. If I am seeing them as they are in Christ, I am looking at them in the living power, of the true servant. If my eye is fixed on Jesus, I shall learn not only what He came down from, but what He is gone up to, and it is for me. God grant that our ways down here may yield some little fragrance of Him!
It is now no question of acquiring dignity. I cannot rise higher than I am; and, in a way, I cannot think too highly of what I am. I belong to the risen Jesus at God's right hand. I am united to the glorified One in heaven, a member of His body: this settles every question of honor; and the more I am occupied with my place and portion in Christ, the more I shall be guarded against seeking honor for self; the more I am entering into the glory given me in my risen Lord, the more I shall be lifted above self-exaltation. The Lord grant our hearts may be kept above self-seeking, resting in Jesus, and may our ways be to His glory. God will keep a register of all our works, but not of our sins: blessed be His name, He has promised not to remember them. He will keep no record to the shame or hurt of His people.