The Apostle and his converts one -- The possible isolation of hearts -- Union with and in Christ -- Christ and the personality -- Christ the secret of intimacy -- Is the secret ours? -- Reserve in Christian intercourse
Let us begin our verbal study of the Letter which Epaphroditus carried to Philippi. We attempt first a translation of its first main section, interspersed with an explanatory paraphrase. This will be followed by a brief meditation upon one of the main |Lessons in Faith and Love| suggested by the section.
Ver.1. +Paul and Timotheus, bondservants of Christ Jesus, to all the holy ones+ in union with +Christ Jesus who are living at Philippi, Overseers, Workers, and all+.
Ver.2. +Grace to you, and peace+ -- all the free favour of acceptance and of divine presence, and all the repose which it brings, within you and around you -- from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,
Vers.3, 4. +I give thanks to my God+ (He is mine, as I am His) +over my whole memory of you; always in each request of mine on behalf of you all forming and expressing+ (poioumenos) +that+ (ten) +request with joy+;
Ver.5. +on account of your participation with me in regard of the Gospel+, your active co-operation with me, by prayer, by work, by gifts, in the Gospel work,
Ver.6. +from the first day up to this present. For+ (the thought of your long consistency suggests the assertion) +I am quite sure of just this, that He who inaugurated+ (enarkamenos: the word has solemn, ceremonial connexions) +in you the good work will perfect it+, will evermore put His finishing touches to it (epitelesei), up to +Christ Jesus' Day+, the Day of His promised Return, and of our glorification with Him. But this is by the way; I return to my joy and my
Ver.7. thanksgivings over you: +Even as it is just that I+, I above all men (emoi, emphatic, not moi), +should feel+ (phronein) +like this over you all, on behalf of you all, because of my having you in my heart, as those who, alike in my imprisonment+ (desmois) +and in the vindication and establishment of the Gospel+, the defence of it against its enemies, the developement of its truths and its power in the believing, +are copartners, all of you, of my grace+; my grace, the grace granted me, the glorious privilege of suffering and of doing as a Missionary of Christ. Your loving, working sympathy has inextricably united you and me, alike in my prison and in my apostolate.
Ver.8. Yes, I feel this in my inmost being. +For God is my witness, how I yearn+, as with a homesick affection (epipothia), +for you all, in the heart+ (splagchna) +of Christ Jesus+; for to His members His heart is as it were theirs; our emotions are, by the Spirit, in contact with His.
Ver.9. +And+ what are those |requests| which I make for you with joy? +This is my prayer, that your love+, in the fullest Christian sense, but above all in the sense of your love to one another, +may abound yet more and more+ in the attendant and protective blessing of +spiritual knowledge+ (epignosis) and all needed
Ver.10. +discernment; so that+, amidst life's many temptations to compromises of conviction or inconsistency of spirit, +you may test the things that differ+ (ta diapherona), sifting truth and holiness from their counterfeits; +in order to be singlehearted+ (eilikrineis) +and without a stumbling-block+, such as error and inconsistency so easily lay in our further path, +against+, in view of, +Christ's Day+; so that when that Day dawns you may be found to be not servants whose time has been half lost for their Lord's work and will, but
Ver.11. rather those +who have been filled with the fruit+ (karpon, not karpon) of righteousness -- the result, in witness and service, of your reconciliation and renewal, fruit which is borne +through Jesus Christ+, the Procurer and the Secret of your fruit-bearing life, to +God's praise and glory+, the true goal and end of all our blessings and of all our labours.
So the Letter opens; with greeting, with benediction, and then with an outpouring, of sympathies full at once of the warmest and tenderest humanity and of the inmost secrets of divine truth and life. It is a preamble beautifully characteristic not only of St Paul but of the Gospel. It illustrates from many sides the happy fact that there is nothing which so effectually opens human hearts to one another as the love of Christ. We are all sadly familiar with the possibilities of isolation between heart and heart. Poets have written with eloquent melancholy of our personalities as islands which lie indeed near together, but in an unfathomable ocean, over whose channels no boat has ever passed. Schools of pessimistic thought have positively affirmed that never really has one ego found its way into another through the hermetic seal of individuality; all that we seem to know of others is but the action of our own mind within itself, occasioned by a blind collision with a something not itself, which we can strike upon but can never really know. Such lucubrations are artificial, not natural; a distortion of mysterious facts, not an exposition of them; the result of an arbitrary selection from the data of our consciousness, and then the treatment of the selection as if it were the whole. Quite apart from the Gospel, the facts of human intercourse are full of evidence to wonderful and beautiful possibilities of insight and intercourse between human spirit and spirit. But if we want to read the best possible negative to the gloomy dream of impenetrable isolation, we must come to the Lord Jesus Christ. We must make experiment of what it is, in Him, to know and love others who are in Him too. Then indeed we shall find that we can, in the common possession of a living Lord who dwells in our hearts by faith, see as it were from heart into heart, in the warm light of His presence. We shall find how wonderful is the friendship with one another to which the friends of Jesus are called, and for which they are enabled in Him.
|IN HIM|: those words are the key to this deep, tender, healthful union, and as it were fusion, of souls. We have the truth which they convey prominent already in the Philippian Letter. It is addressed (ver.1) to |the holy ones in Christ Jesus.| That is to say, it comes to men and women who, taken on their profession, assumed to be in fact what they were denoted to be in baptism, were separated from self and sin to God by their union in covenant and life with their Redeemer. It regards them as personalities so truly annexed by Jesus Christ, in the miracle of converting grace, so articulated spiritually into Him, that no language short of this wonderful |in Him| will worthily express their relation to Him. Later (ver.11), they are regarded as so united to Him that |the fruit of righteousness| which they are to bear in rich abundance is to be borne only |through Him|; He, the Vine, is the one possible secret by which they, the branches, can possibly be productive of the sweet cluster of |the fruit of the Spirit.| And between those two places comes a sentence (ver.8) where, just in passing, in a mere allusion to his own experience, the Apostle takes for granted this profound |continuity with Christ| in a peculiarly impressive way:
|I long after you all in the heart of Jesus Christ.| As we have seen above, he regards himself (not as an Apostle but simply as a believer) as so |joined unto the Lord| that, if I may dare so to expand the phrase, the heart of Jesus Christ is the true organ and vehicle of his own regenerate emotions. The whole Scripture, and particularly the whole Pauline Scripture, assures us what this does not mean. It does not mean the least suspension or distortion of the humanity or of the personality of Paul. It means no absorption of his ego, and nothing whatever un-natural in either the nature or the exercise of his affections. His |homesick longing| to see the dear Philippian people again is quite as simple, natural, personal, as any longing he ever felt in his boyhood for his home at Tarsus when he was absent from it. Yes, but this personality, working so freely and truly in its every faculty, is now, by the Holy Ghost, so put into spiritual contact with the will and heart of Jesus Christ, who now |dwells in it by faith,| that the whole action moves, so to speak, in the sphere, in the atmosphere, of HIM. The love which passes so freely through and out of the believer to his brethren would not be what it is if the believer were not |in Christ.| He is still all himself; nay, he is more than ever himself, being in the Lord; for indeed that blessed union has a genial and developing power upon its happy subject. But such is that power that it deeply qualifies the mental and spiritual action of the being who enters into it; never violates but always qualifies.
The fact, the experience, of course transcends our analysis. But it is not beyond our faith, nor beyond our reception and inward verification.
|Thy love, Thy joy, Thy peace,
Unto my heart;
Fresh springs that never cease,
But still increase.|
Our immediate purpose meanwhile is not to discuss the believer's union with his Lord, but to remark on this one precious result of it, the opening of his inmost sympathies to the sharers of the same blessing. We see that result displayed in all its brightness in this first paragraph of the Epistle; and we shall see it to the end. In the particular case of St Paul and the Philippians it was indeed a remarkable phenomenon. Here on the one side was a man who, not very many years before, had been the devotee of the Pharisaic creed, a creed which tended powerfully not to expand but to annihilate every sympathy which could touch |the Gentiles.| Here on the other side were people whose life and thought had been moulded in the proud political and national ideas of a Roman colonia; no kindly atmosphere for the growth of affections which should be at once intense and comprehensive. But these two unlikely parties are now one, in the strongest and most beautiful union of thought and heart. If we may use again a word ventured just above, they are mutually (not confused but) fused together. Their whole beings have come into living touch, not on the surface merely but most of all in their depths. An interchange of idea, of sympathy, of purpose has become possible between them in which, while self-respect is only deepened and secured, reserve is melted away in the common possession of the life and love of Jesus Christ. The Apostle writes to his friends as one whose whole soul is open to them, is at their command. His memory and reflexion are full of them. He not only prays and gives thanks for them but delights in telling them that he is doing so. He says without difficulty exactly what he is sure of about them, and exactly what things he is asking for them as yet more developed blessings. Above all, the name of Him who is everything to himself and to them flows from his heart with a holy freedom which is impossible except where the parties in religious intercourse are indeed |one| in Him. Seven times in these eleven short verses |Christ Jesus| is explicitly named; as the writer's Possessor; as the Philippian saints' Life and Head; as the Giver to them, with His Father, of grace and peace; as the Lord of the longed-for |Day,| that dear goal of hope; as the mighty Sphere of regenerate family-love; as the Cause and Condition of the Christian's fruitfulness for God. His presence, as it were, moves in the whole message, in the whole intercourse of which the message is the expression. Writer and readers perfectly |understand each other,| for they both know Christ, and are found in Him.
The same divine Cause tends always to similar effects. Unhappily it does not always act without obstruction -- obstruction which need not be. There are no doubt obstructions to its action which are inherent in our mortality; things which have to do really with physical temperament, or again with external circumstances which we may be helpless to modify. But the Cause, in itself, tends always to the effects visible in this noble passage of Christian affection. The possession and knowledge of Jesus Christ, in spirit and in truth, tends always, by an eternal law, to warm and open as well as to purify the human heart; to anchor it indeed immoveably to God, but also to suffuse it with a gracious sympathy towards man, and first and most of all towards man who is also, in Christ, cognizant of the |free-masonry| of faith.
Let this be our first main Lesson in Faith and Love in our Philippian studies. The section which we have traversed is full of points of interest and importance otherwise; but this aspect of it is so truly dominant that we may rightly take it for the true message of the whole. Let us welcome it home. Let us question ourselves, in presence of it, and before our Lord, first about our personal possession of the Cause, and then about our personal manifestation of the effects. Let us put to our own hearts some very old-fashioned interrogations: Am I indeed in Jesus Christ? Is He to me indeed Possessor, Lord, Giver of grace and peace? Is my life so lived and my work so done in contact with Him that through Him, and not merely through myself, |my fruit is found|? Is His promised Day the goal and longing of my heart, as I submit myself to Him that He may perfect His work in me by the way, and watch over myself that I may meet Him single-hearted and |without offence| at the end? Is He the pervading and supreme Interest of my life? Is He the inward Power which colours my thought and gives direction and quality to my affections?
No answer which a heart fully wakeful to God can give to such deliberate inward questionings can possibly be an easy or |light-hearted| answer. The gladdest and most thankful utterance of such a heart will carry along with it always the prayer, |Search me, O God, and try my heart|; |Enter not into judgment with Thy servant.| Yet we are assuredly meant, if we are in Christ, so to know the fact as to rejoice in it, and to be strong in it; we are invited, without a doubt, so to know Him as to know we know Him, and to find in Him |all our salvation, and all our desire.| Let us not rest till, in great humility but with perfect simplicity, we so see Him as to leave behind our doubts about our part and lot in Him, and, |believing, to rejoice.|
And then let us covet the developement of those results of possession of Christ, of union with Christ, which we have specially studied in the opening section of our Epistle. Let us welcome the Lord in to |the springs of thought and will,| with the conscious aim that He should so warm and enrich them with His presence that they shall overflow for blessing around us, in the life of Christian love. I do not mean for a moment that we should set ourselves to construct a spiritual mannerism of speech or of habit. The matter is one not of manufacture but of culture; it is a call to |nourish and cherish| the gift of God which is in us, and to give to it the humble co-operation of our definite wish and will that it may be manifested in the ways commended in His Word. It is a call to desire and intend to |adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour,| in the outcoming of His presence in us in our tone, temper, and converse, towards those around us, and especially where we know that a common faith and common love do subsist.
If I mistake not, there is far too little of this at present, even in true Christian circles. A certain dread of |phraseology,| of |pietism,| of what is foolishly called |goody-goody,| has long been abroad; a grievously exaggerated dread; a mere parody of rightful jealousy for sincerity in religion. Under the baneful spell of this dread it is only too common for really earnest Christians to keep each other's company, and even to take part in united religious work, and to be constantly together as worshippers, aye, perhaps as ministers of the Word and Ordinances of Christ, and yet never, or hardly ever, to exchange a word about HIM, heart to heart; still less to |speak often one to another,| and share fully together their treasures of experience of what He is and what He has done for them. The very dialect of the Christian life has greatly lost in holy depth and tenderness, so it seems to me, since a former generation in which this over-drawn fear (it is a mere fashion) of |phraseology| was less prevalent. It ought not so to be.
Let us each for himself come closer to our eternal FRIEND, converse more fully with Him, |consider HIM| much more than many of us do. And then we too shall discover that |our mouth is opened, our heart enlarged,| for holy converse with our fellow-servants, in that wonderful interchange of souls which is possible |in the heart of Jesus Christ.|
|Oh days of heaven, and nights of equal praise,
Serene and peaceful as those heavenly days,
When souls, drawn upwards in communion sweet,
Enjoy the stillness of some close retreat;
Discourse, as if releas'd and safe at home,
Of dangers past and wonders yet to come,
And spread the sacred treasures of the breast
Upon the lap of covenanted rest.|
Sun episcopois kai diakonois. I render the words as literally as possible, not to discredit the distinctive functions of the Christian ministry, but to remind the reader of the natural origin of the titles by which Christian ministers are designated. And it is important here to remember that our word bishop, while derived from episkopos, cannot properly translate it as it is used in the New Testament. For episkopos is not used there as the special title of a superintendent pastor set over other pastors. Such superintendents, however the office originated, are found in the New Testament, and early in the second century are called distinctively episkopoi: but the term so used is later, on any theory, than the origin of the office. But I do not purpose in these devotional chapters to discuss at length such a question as that raised here. The reader should by all means consult Bishop Lightfoot's Excursus in his Commentary on this Epistle, The Christian Ministry. The views advanced in that essay were, as I personally know, held by the writer to the last.
The middle suggests a certain fulness of action.
I think the definite article should be supplied in English; the reference is to the work of works.
I give both the possible renderings of huper. Both would certainly be in place, as he thought of them and prayed and gave thanks for them.
The derivation is doubtful, but the idea of the word in usage is clearness, freedom from complication.
With some hesitation I assign to dikaiosune here the meaning of the righteousness of justification, as in iii.9.
F. R. Havergal.
THE APOSTLE'S POSITION AND CIRCUMSTANCES
|Yield to the Lord, with simple heart,
All that thou hast and all thou art,
Renounce all strength but strength divine,
And peace shall be for ever thine.|
MME DE LA MOTHE GUYON, translated by COWPER.