Philippians 1Observe here, 1. The penman of this epistle, St. Paul, joining Timotheus with him in the salutation, because his companion and fellow-labourer, and one that had assisted in the instructing of the Philippians, and was a person much valued and esteemed by them.
Observe, 2. The great modesty of St. Paul, in the character he gives of himself; he doth not style himself here an apostle, but the servant of Jesus Christ; in his other epistles, which he wrote alone, he styles himself an apostle, Rom 1:1; Gal 1:1&c. He doth not say here, Paul an apostle, and Timotheus a servant of Jesus Christ, magnifying himself above Timothy, but sets himself upon a level with him, saying, Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ.
Learn hence, 1. That true humility teaches Christians to speak sparingly of themselves, and of their own authority and credit, except upon a just and necessary occasion, and when weighty reasons do urge and oblige them to it.
Learn, 2. That the ministers and dispensers of the gospel are, in a special manner, the servants of Jesus Christ, wholly devoted to his service, and discharging themselves faithfully in the performance of it.
Observe, 3. The superscription of this epistle, or the persons to whom it was directed: To all the saints in Christ Jesus, in general, which were at Philippi, and to the bishops and deacons. To all the saints at Philippi; so he calls them, because they were all holy by visible profession, and many of them, no doubt, by real sanctification, being inherently, as well as externally, holy; and the denomination is here taken from the better, though not from the greater, part, for whose sake the whole community are here called saints.
But why saints in Christ Jesus?
Because as it is necessary, to make a man internally holy, that he be in Christ Jesus by a real implantation; so, to denominate a man externally and federally holy, requires a visible profession, and an external union with Christ, Joh 15:2.
In particular, this epistle is directed to the bishops and deacons; they were both the church's overseers; the bishops, to oversee and inspect the lives and manners of persons; the deacons, to oversee the necessities of persons, and to serve the church in taking care of the poor.
Note here, The great and special care which our holy Lord has taken of his church, in appointing stated officers to undertake the oversight of his whole family, to rule and govern, to direct and instruct it; yea, not only has he appointed officers for the oversight of the souls of his people, but others to inspect their bodily necessities, that those who are indigent might be supplied by their care, and the charity of the church: To the saints at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.
Grace from God the Father, or grace from God as a Father; intimating, that God bestows not his grace as a Creator, but as a Father, as a Father in Christ. And peace from our Lord Jesus Christ; he being the purchaser of our peace; he, upon whom was laid the chastisement of our peace, and in whom, and for whose sake, God becomes reconciled to us, and at peace with us.
Learn hence, 1. That such as have received most grace from God, do yet stand in need of further measures and fresh supplies of it: grace to pardon sin, and grace to subdue sin.
2. That peace, as well as grace, may and ought to be the subject of a Christian's prayer and care, to obtain peace with God, peace with conscience, peace with one another, and, if it be possible, peace with all men.
Observe, 1. The proper character of a gospel minister: he is his people's constant remembrancer, and the rememberer of his people: I remember you all, says the apostle, I remember you always, and in every prayer. This is a very great part of our ministerial duty, to pray for the people; and not in our public offices only, but in our private addresses also, and this continually, without ceasing; we should never rise off our knees, without bearing our people upon our hearts before the Lord. Did minister and people strive more together in their prayers one for another, there would be less strife and contention between them one with another. Ministers must be their people's remembrancers; St. Paul here remembered the Philippians, all the Philippians always, and in every prayer.
Observe, 2. St. Paul could and did remember the Philippians with joy: though he was in sadness himself in a prison, yet he could think of them, as a people converted by his ministry, with joy; making request with joy. When the ministers of Christ see any success of their labours in the lives of their people, it is a matter of inexpressible joy to them, how sad soever the case is with them as to their outward circumstances; when they sigh in a prison with respect to their personal sufferings, they can sing and rejoice, if they find their people's proficiency in knowledge and growth in grace: I thank my God for you, making request with joy.
Observe, 3. The ground and occasion of this his joy, For your fellowship in the gospel; Phil 1:5 that is, for your ready embracing of the gospel at my first preaching of it to you, for the real subjection of some, and the professed subjection of all, to the faith of Christ, whereby you were brought into fellowship with Christ and his church; and also for the continuance of you, in the faith and profession of the gospel, from the first day until now.
Learn hence, That when a people, upon the plain and persuasive preaching of the gospel, do readily receive and obey it, and remain constant in their profession of it, and obedience to it, it is matter of unspeakable thanksgiving and praise to the faithful ministers of Jesus Christ. I thank God for your fellowship in the gospel, from the first day until now, that is, for continuing in the faith, and persevering in your professed subjection to the gospel of Christ, I bless God for this.
Here we have a further cause assigned of St. Paul's joy on the Philippians' behalf: namely, the firm and full assurance which he had of their perseverance in grace unto the end. God, that has begun, will perfect, that is, augment and increase it, till it arrive at perfection in glory.
Note here, 1. The nature of grace described, or the proper title deservedly given to the grace of God; it is called a good work; he that hath begun a good work, &c. Well may regenerating grace be called a good work, because it is the living foundation and vital principle from whence all good works do proceed and flow; the grace of God in the heart is the root of all true holiness in the life; as good works are necessary to salvation, so renewing grace is necessary to good works.
Note, 2. As the nature of grace described, so the author and augmenter of grace declared, and that is, God. He that hath begun a good work in you, will perform it, that is, augment it, and increase it. As the good work of grace in the heart is God's work, and he is the author of it, so he will maintain it, and carry it on to perfection, and be both the increaser and perfecter of it; God never doth his work by halves.
Note, 3. The certainty of grace asserted: Being confident of this very thing.
But what ground had St. Paul for this confidence?
Ans. Because grace is the care of the whole Trinity: all the Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, do concern themselves both in the production, preservation, and perfection of it; the Father decrees it, the Son purchases it, the Spirit infuses it: the Father begets it, the Son excites it, the Holy Spirit conducts: and as they all did concur to its production, so did they all co-operate and work together for the preservation of it.
Learn hence, That such persons, in whose souls Almighty God has begun a good work of grace, may with much assurance expect by the influence of God's care, and the exercise of their own endeavours, that they shall hold out and persevere in a state of grace unto the end; until the day of Christ, that is, the day of judgment.
In these words our apostle assigns a ground and a reason of that confidence which he expressed himself to have of the Philippians' perseverance in grace and holiness, in the foregoing verse, namely, because they were partakers of the same grace with himself, and were ready to suffer for Christ, as he was; we may warrantably be persuaded of their perseverance in grace unto the end, in whom we see both readiness of obedience to the gospel, and also zealous and cheerful suffering for and in defence of the gospel.
Thus did St. Paul here: where observe, the apostle accounted it a grace and favour from God, that he was thought worthy to suffer for the gospel, and the Philippians with him: Ye are partakers of my grace.
Learn hence, That to suffer bonds and imprisonments for the gospel's sake is a special grace and favour of God, not considered in itself, but in the fruits and consequences of it.
A second ground of his confidence was, their respect to him: I have you in my heart, and I find you have me in your hearts; you partake of the misery of my bonds, you suffer with me in my sufferings, and sympathize with me in my sorrows. They relieved and refreshed him in his imprisonment, which he underwent for the sake of Christ and his gospel; and from hence he had a good confidence that they would persevere unto the end. An operative love to the faithful ministers of Jesus Christ, especially when they are under persecution, is a good evidence of the sincerity of their love to Christ, and of their steadfastness and perseverance in grace unto the end.
These words are expressive of that passionate degree of Christian love which St. Paul bore to the Philippians; he durst appeal to God, as to the sincerity and fervency of it: God is my record, I call him to witness, and can appeal to him as the searcher of hearts, how greatly I long after you; that is, how passionately and sincerely I love you, with the most intense and hearty affection, in the bowels of Jesus Christ.
The expression may denote the efficient cause, and the exemplary cause, of his love.
1. That the author of this his love unto them was Christ, he was the spring and procurer of it; and consequently it was no carnal or selfish love, to serve his own ends and designs upon them, but truly spiritual.
2. That Christ's love to him was the pattern and example, according to which he loved them, with no common love, but with an entire and intense affection, from the ground of the heart and the most intimate bowels: no words can be more expressive of that fervent love and earnest longing which St. Paul had for the welfare of the Philippians; a love which very far exceeds the love of all relations. He doth not say I long after you in the bowels of a father, or in the bowels of an husband, but in the bowels of Jesus Christ; humbly comparing his love towards them to the love of Jesus Christ; not for the degrees of it, not for the fruits and advantages of it, but for the truth and sincerity of it: I greatly long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ.
Learn hence, That there is no stronger love, no more endeared affection, between such ministers of Christ and their beloved people, as they have been happily instrumental to convert to God when present with them, they passionately love them; when absent from them they affectionately long after them; imitating, as much as they can, their Lord Jesus Christ, both in reality and sincerity, and also in the measure and degree, of endearing affection: God is my record, how greatly I long after you all, in the bowels of Jesus Christ.
After salutations given by St. Paul to his beloved Philippians, he next pours out his soul in fervent prayer and supplication for them; and the mercy which he prays for is observable, first, namely, growth and proficiency in grace: This I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge,and in all judgment; that their love to God, their love to him, and their love one to another, may yet more and more abound.
Love is the root-grace from which most graces spring; therefore he prays for the strengthening of that grace in particular, and that there may be found with them judgment, as well as affection, in the exercise of it: we ought to love judiciously, as well as affectionately.
The more judicious a saint grows in his Christian course, and the more understanding and judgment is found with him in the way of his duty; the stronger his grace is, and the more glory will he bring to God.
The understanding and judgment being the guiding and leading faculties in man, there can be no more acceptable holiness in the will, than there is knowledge in the understanding.
I can hate sin, and love God, no more than I know of the evil of sin, and of the perfections that are in God: the more judicious then a Christian grows, the more his holiness grows; and accordingly St. Paul's prayer is, that they may grow more and more in knowledge in all judgment.
Observe, 2. The great ends mentioned by the apostle for which he did so earnestly desire their proficiency in knowledge and judgment, and their growth in love, and every other grace; namely,
1. That they might approve things that are excellent, that is, all such things as the gospel requires: implying, that the things prescribed to us in the gospel, are things excellent and good for us, things worthy to be prescribed by God, and things reasonable to be practised by us; and that the approbation of these things, by a steadiness in judgment and practice, is every Christian's duty, and ought to be their great endeavour.
2. That they might be sincere in their holy profession, incorrupt and pure both in doctrine and manners.
3. That they might be without offence, unblameable in conversation, and be kept from being occasions of stumbling unto others, even to the end of their days.
4. He prays that they may not only be inoffensive persons, but fruitful Christians: Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God; that is, that they may abound in good works, undertaken in Christ's strength, and with an eye at God's glory.
Learn hence, 1. That a negative holiness is not sufficient to salvation: it is not enough that Christians be harmless and inoffensive towards others, but they must labour after an holy fruitfulness in good works: they must be filled with all the fruits of righteousness.
Learn, 2. That our works be truly good, and fruits of righteousness, it is necessary that they be done by Christ's strength and assistance, and with an eye at the glory and praise of God, in order to their acceptance: Filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.
Learn, 3. That no shorter time ought to be assigned for our inoffensive walking, and fruitfulness in conversation, than the day of our death: Unto the death of Christ, says our apostle, that is, till the great reckoning-day, when Christ will render to us our complete reward: if we be faithful and fruitful to the death, we shall then receive the crown of life.
Our apostle's design in these words is, to prevent the Philippians' stumbling, and being scandalized at his present sufferings, assuring them that the things which happened to him, through the malice of his persecutors, have fallen out rather to the furtherance of the gospel, than any ways to the hinderance of it, as they feared.
Learn hence, That the sufferings and persecutions which the messengers and ministers of Christ do undergo for the sake of the gospel, are oft-times so overruled by the wisdom of God, that they rather increase than diminish the church, and rather promote than prejudice the interest of the gospel.
Next, he declares the special and particular advantages which had redounded to the gospel, by those sufferings which he had patiently endured for the gospel's sake.
1. His bonds in Christ, that is, his imprisonment for the gospel of Christ, were manifest in the palace; that is, were manifestly taken notice of in Nero's court, and elsewhere in the city; so that people enquiring into the cause of his sufferings, found that it was not any misdemeanor, but that his preaching and practising the doctrine of Christianity was the only reason of his sufferings.
2. Another advantage which accrued to the church by his bonds, was this, namely, that many ministers of Christ, who preached the word of God far and near, hearing of his constancy under suffering, were both encouraged and emboldened thereby; encouraged to shake off fear, and emboldened to preach Christ with greater resolution. Many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
Note here, The title given by this great apostle to the inferior ministers of the gospel: he calls them brethren, and brethren in the Lord, putting himself and them in mind of their mutual and respective duties, which was to live and love as brethren: to admonish, exhort, and encourage one another, to stand up in defence of the just credit and reputation of one another, and jointly to set their shoulder to the work of Christ together.
Note, 2. That the ministers of Christ, observing how God upholds some of their brethren under sufferings and persecutions, should encourage themselves to go on with resolution in the work of the Lord, not fearing their own personal sufferings, knowing that the same assistance which supported one, stands ready to succour others: The brethern in the Lord waxed confident by my bonds.
Our apostle had declared in the foregoing verses, that several of his brethren in the work of the ministry, through his constancy in suffering, were emboldened to preach Jesus Christ with more resolution than before. But here he discovers, that there was a vast difference between those preachers: all did not preach Christ alike, with the same mind, from the same motives, for the same sincere ends.
Some, alas! preach Christ out of envy and strife; that is, envying the success of the apostle's ministry, and endeavouring to draw people off from approving him, to applaud them, hoping to grieve and gall him thereby: but others preached the gospel of Christ of good-will, with a purity of intention, and sincerity of affection, both towards Christ and towards himself, who, for the defence of the gospel, now lay in prison. However, seeing Christ was preached and made known by both, by some in pretence, by others in truth, the apostle rejoiced at it, and took comfort in it.
Learn hence, 1. That such ministers of the gospel are gladly and joyfully to be heard, who preach Christ and his pure word soundly and truly, with what mind soever, from what motive soever, and for what end soever, they preach Christ and his holy gospel. The word is his which they bring, how vicious soever the person, and how bad soever the intention be of him that brings it; and, if the message be his, it is our duty to receive it without prejudice, be the principle what it will in him that delivers it. Many preach in Christ's name, who perish in his wrath; for Christ takes notice of the inward intention, as well as of the outward action, and observes not only the matter which ministers preach, but the end for which, and the motives from which, they preach, whether from love and good will, or from envy and strife.
Learn, 2. That such Christians who find their hearts inflamed with zeal for the glory of Christ, and the salvation of souls, do and will rejoice exceedingly that Christ is preached, whoever the person is, or whatever the principle may be in him that preaches: If Christ be preached, says St. Paul, I therein rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.
Still our apostle pursues and prosecutes his former design, namely, to prevent the Philippians being offended at his sufferings; and accordingly, he shows that as the gospel of Christ had gained much already, it should gain yet more, by his imprisonment and afflictions, which he was very confident would tend to the furtherance of his salvation, through the help of their prayers, and the supplies of grace from the Spirit of Christ; where, by salvation is meant deliverance out of his present sufferings, which he fully expected by the help and benefit of the church's prayers.
Great are the expectations of the saints, even as to temporal salvation and outward mercies, from the joint prayers and intercessions of the church of Christ. This shall turn to my salvation through your prayer. But if by salvation be meant eternal happiness, then his confident persuasion was this, That all the designs of his adversaries against him should be so overruled and ordered by God, that through the influences and supplies of the Holy Spirit, all should work together for good, and his eternal salvation be advanced thereby, through the concurrence and assistance of their prayers.
In the 20th verse he tells them, that according to his former expectation and hope, he was resolved that no terror should ever make him ashamed to own the truth of Christ, but that, with a convincing boldness, he would now, as heretofore appear in the defence of it, and that Christ should be magnified by him in the body, whether by life or death; that is, whether my life be further prolonged, or be now by martyrdom ended, Christ will be magnified: if I live, the power of Christ will be magnified in my deliverance from death: if I die, his power will be magnified in enabling me to undergo death for his name and sake: so that I am at a point, either to love or die, as the wisdom of Christ shall determine; I am, as to myself, indifferent for either, well knowing that Christ will be glorified in me, and by me, both by life and death.
Learn hence, That nothing lies so near the heart of a saint as the honour and glory of Christ; this he resolves shall be promoted by him, living and dying; by his great services, supposing his life, and by his extraordinary sufferings and martyrdom, in case of his death.
Our apostle had declared, in the foregoing verse, his firm expectation that Christ would be magnified and glorified by him, both in life and death; in this verse he discovers what reason he had to think so; for, says he, To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain; that is, If I live, Christ shall be the scope of my life, and the end of my living; I resolve to live to his service; if I die, death will be a real gain and advantage to me; intimating, that both life and death are gain to a good man, and that it is Christ that makes both life and death gainful and advantgeous. To me to live is Christ, to die is gain. Words both short and sweet, few in expression, but large in extension: in them we are taught both how to live, and how to die.
Observe, 1. The scope and end of a Christian's life, To me to live is Christ.
2. The hope and fruit of a Christian's death, To die is gain.
Learn, That Christ is the believer's life, and death the believer's gain. The life of a real Christian is resolved into Christ, and his death is resolved into gain.
Note, 1. Christ is the believer's life; both his life of grace, and his life of glory, is resolved into Christ.
As to his life of grace, Christ is the life of this life; he is the efficient or principal cause of this life; he is the exemplar, cause, or pattern, of it; he is the final cause or scope of it; and he is the conserving cause, or preserver and maintainer of it.
So for the life of glory, which believers have in reversion, Christ is also the life of that life; thus he has purchased it for them, he has given it to them, he has taken and keeps possession of it in their names, he has prepared it for them,and them for it, and will put them into the full and actual possession of it, in his own time.
Note, 2. That death is the believer's gain; death in general, violent as well as natural death; it is not only not injurious, but advantageous: no hurt, but profit; no loss, but benefit; not only to die for Christ, but to die in Christ is gain. Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord, as well as those that die for the Lord.
Death appears gain to the believer, if we consider the private evils it frees and delivers him from, namely, from sin, from all temptations to sin, from all inclinations to offend, from all temporal afflictions, from all sufferings for God, from all sufferings from man for God's sake; especially if we consider the positive good that the believer gains by death, namely, perfection in grace, fulness of joy, the blessed vision, the society of glorified saints and angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect. So then, if a state of perfect holiness and purity be better than a state of corruption and temptation, if a state of rest and peace be better than a state of labour and sorrow, if it be better to be triumphing above, than sighing and groaning below, then dead saints are better where they are, than where they were, and death to them is gain, and infinitely advantageous.
Note, 3. That the gain which comes by death to the believer, is procured by Christ, namely, by his meritorious satisfaction, by his glorious ascension and possession, by his prevailing intercession; To live is Christ, to die is gain:
But if I live in the flesh, that is, if I shall continue to live longer in this mortal body, this is the fruit of my labour; that is, I foresee what will be the blessed fruit of my labour, namely, the conversion and gaining of more souls unto God and Christ; at least, as it is worthy labour, so shall it be my endeavour, to glorify Christ, by my continuance in the world.
Learn hence, That as it is the end if a minister's life, so he makes it the end of his living, to glorify Christ, by gaining souls unto him; and in order to the obtaining this great end, he is willing for the present to deny himself the advantage of being with Christ.
Observe next, St. Paul's strait which he was now in, which to choose, either life or death, if God should leave it to his choice; I am in a strait betwixt two: that is, I am divided in my thoughts and desires, whether to wish for life or death; his ardent love to Christ and himself inclined him to desire a dissolution, I desire to be dissolved, and to be with Christ; but his affectionate regard to his beloved Philippians inclined him to desire a continuation of his time and talents; nevertheless to abide still in the flesh is more needful for you.
Learn hence, That the life of pious ministers is far more profitable for their people than death.
2. That their death, being a departure unto Christ, is far better, and more desirable to themselves, than life: their life is profitable to civilize some, to convert others, to convince the erroneous, to confirm the weak; the world wants them, the church wants them, their flocks want them, their families want them, and they want them most that think they could spare them best. But their death being a departure, an immediate departure unto Christ, is far better, and more desirable to themselves, than life. Having a desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is far better: better in point of honour; for as they here laboured in the work of the ministry for him, they shall there sit down upon the throne with him, Rev 3:21.
Better in point of profit: he is heir and possessor of all things, and they shall be joint heirs, and joint possessors with him.
Thus may the words be considered, with relation to St. Paul, as a minister of the gospel: but they may be further considered with reference to him as a private Christian; I desire to depart.
Hence learn, That it is not only warrantable, but highly commendable, for a Christian to be not only fearless but desirous of death.
There are, 1. Unwarrantable and sinful desires of death; as when they are rash and hasty, when they are positive and peremptory, when they are directing and prescribing to God, either as to the time, or kind, or manner, of our dissolution, and when our desires are purely selfish, desiring death only as a freedom from present evils, and as a prevention of future sufferings.
2. There are warrantable and justifiable desires of death and dissolution; namely, when we desire it, to free us from the indwelling presence of sin, to put us into a state of perfect holiness, to bring us to the sight of Christ, to give us the possession of that happiness, which was contrived by infinite wisdom, purchased by infinite merit, prepared by infinite power, and bestowed by infinite love.
3. There are also commendable desires, or, the last-mentioned desires are highly commendable: they commend our faith, and proclaim our certain belief of a future state; they commend our love to God, to Christ; they commend our obedience, &c.
Learn, 2. That the souls of believers, at their departure from the body, are with Christ.
Quest. What is it to be with Christ?
Ans. It implies intuition; we shall see him, and see him as he is, not as once he was in a state of abasement:
it implies fruition; we shall enjoy him, as well as see him, and enjoy him to satisfaction, Ps 18:1-50 ult. and
it implies duration: we shall for ever be with the Lord.
Quest. But how doth it appear that the souls of good men, upon their departure from the body, are with Christ?
Ans. Thus: they are immediately capable of his presence and enjoyment upon their departure, and they are fully prepared for it.
If we be not fit for heaven when we die, we shall never be fit; all is done upon us that was ever intended to be done; and neither Christ's ardent desires to have his children with him, nor the vehement longings of their souls for the fruition and enjoyment of him, can or shall be delayed; such delays would make their hearts sick: no, they expect satisfaction, and God will not disappoint their expectation.
St. Paul having in the foregoing verses told the Philippians how needful it was for him to abide in the flesh, with respect to them, he here gives them a sort of confident assurance (which was given him by immediate revelation) that his life should at this time be preserved for the benefit of the church, and he set at liberty; and that he should come and spend a part of his time amongst them for the furtherance of their faith, and the increase of their joy, that so they might have more abundant matter of rejoicing in Christ, having received a new proof of his power and good-will towards them, in delivering him their apostles from death, and sending him to them again.
Learn hence, 1. That God always can, and sometimes will, so calm the rage of persecutors, that they cannot execute the evil by them intended and resolved against his faithful ministers and servants.
Notwithstanding Nero's cruelty, St. Paul had a confident persuasion that he should come out of prison and once more visit the churches.
Learn, 2. That Almighty God in great mercy to his church, doth sometimes prolong the lives of his faithful ministers, and most useful servants, and keep them longer out of heaven, that his people may reap the greater advantage by their labours here on earth.
Learn, 3. That the more unexpectedly the life of a laborious minister, or a pious and extraordinary Christian, is given him by God, the more abundant ought the church to be in their expressions of joy and thanksgiving to God for such an invaluable blessing: That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me, by my coming to you.
Observe here, 1. The general charge given by the apostle to his beloved Philippians, their lives should answer their light, and their practices correspond with their profession: Let your conversation be such as it becometh the gospel. A gospel profession requires and calls for a gospel conversation: as the gospel is a gospel of truth and faithfulness, of sincerity and plainness, so our conversation should be sincere and upright, without deceit or fraud; as the gospel is a gospel of peace, so a Christian conversation is a quiet, calm, and peaceable conversation; Christians should be men of peace, peace-makers, peace preservers, lovers of peace, and livers in peace.
The gospel is a gospel of love and mercy, of grace and goodness; the badge and cognizance of Christ's disciples, the mark and brand of Christ's sheep, is love unfeigned: thus a gospel conversation is an amicable, loving, and charitable conversation.
Again, the gospel of Christ is a gospel of meekness and humility, and its chief lesson is humility: Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, Matt 11:29 and, Be ye clothed with humility, 1Pe 5:5.
In a word, the gospel of Christ is a gospel of holiness and purity; a Christian conversation must be a pure, and holy, and spotless conversation. Saints by profession should be saints indeed; and there is a comeliness in a gospel-conversation, both as to the inward and outward man.
Walk as becometh the gospel of Christ; that is answerable to the precepts and commands of the gospel, and answerable to the promises and encouragements of the gospel, answerable to the helps and supplies of grace which the gospel affords, answerable to that grand pattern of holiness which the gospel sets before us, and answerable to that high and glorious hope which the gospel raises us up to the joyful expectation of; this is to walk as becometh the gospel of Christ.
Observe, 2. The apostle having given a general injunction to walk as becometh the gospel of Christ, next gives a particular injunction for concord and unity amongst themselves: That ye stand fast in one Spirit, with one mind.
Learn hence, that all those who would walk worthy of the gospel, should endeavour after a close, holy, and lasting, union amongst themselves. We can never expect to thrive in grace, if we do not live in peace; let us prize unity and peace as the beauty and strength of the body, and let us pursue peace and union with the utmost strength of our soul.
Observe, 3. Another duty exhorted to, and that is, an united contention: Striving together for the faith of the gospel. Before he exhorted them to an holy union; now, to an united contention: unite, but strive; yet let your striving be in communion, not in contention; strive together in all holy and united endeavours to comfort and confirm one another in the faith of the gospel.
Observe, 4. He exhorts them as to an holy union, and an united contention, so to an humble boldness: In nothing terrified by your adversaries; in nothing, that is, terrified in no degree at any thing they shall do. Be not afraid to be holy; for your adversaries can never hurt you, if they do not hinder you in your duty; the less they fear God, the less you need to fear them.
Observe, 5. A double argument to persuade them to the foregoing duty: In nothing terrified by their adversaries.
1. This will be to them an evident token of perdition: that is, an united, humble, peaceable boldness, in your holy course, whereby you walk in the spirit and power of the gospel, without fright or fear, will be to your persecutors an evident token of perdition. Persecution is a black mark of a son of perdition, and a very evident token to a man's own conscience that he is in the way of destruction.
2. But to you of salvation: that is, such as suffer patiently, yet resolutely, for the gospel are in the way of salvation; and their sufferings shall promote their eternal salvation: it is added,--
Salvation, and that of God: now this implies two things;
1. That the salvation of suffering Christians shall be sure, they shall certainly be saved, for God has undertaken for it. Now, if it be God that saves, Who shall destroy? Satan will say, "Serve me, and I will save you;" but he is feeble and cannot; false, and will not save. The world will say, "Cast in your lot among us, and we will save you harmless;" but there is no more trust to be given to the children than to the father of lies. But if the God of truth and power says, "I will save;" who will say nay?
2. That their salvation shall be great, as well as sure: he will save them with a mighty salvation, from their mighty sufferings and mighty fears. Suffer for Christ, and then fear none of those things which you shall suffer.
2. But to you of salvation: that is, such as suffer patiently, yet resolutely, for the gospel are in the way of salvation; and their sufferings shall promote their eternal salvation: it is added,-- Salvation, and that of God: now this implies two things; 1. That the salvation of suffering Christians shall be sure, they shall certainly be saved, for God has undertaken for it. Now, if it be God that saves, Who shall destroy? Satan will say, "Serve me, and I will save you;" but he is feeble and cannot; false, and will not save. The world will say, "Cast in your lot among us, and we will save you harmless;" but there is no more trust to be given to the children than to the father of lies. But if the God of truth and power says, "I will save;" who will say nay? 2. That their salvation shall be great, as well as sure: he will save them with a mighty salvation, from their mighty sufferings and mighty fears. Suffer for Christ, and then fear none of those things which you shall suffer.
These words come in by the way of encouragement to the practice of the fore-mentioned duty, namely, of courageous suffering for the gospel of Christ; he tells them, that as ability to believe on Christ, so likewise power to suffer for Christ, were both the gift of God, and as such purchased by Christ for them, and freely bestowed upon them.
Learn hence, 1. That it is the duty of all the disciples and followers of Jesus, not only to believe in him, but cheerfully to suffer for him, when he calls them to it;--not only to believe, but to suffer.
Learn, 2. That suffering for Christ is the gift of God, as well as faith in Christ: Unto you it is given, not only to believe but to suffer.
1. Ability to suffer is his gift; it is the purchase of his merits, it is the fruit of his mediation. Preparation for suffering, and patience under suffering, are the gift of Christ.
2. As abilities for suffering, so the comforts of suffering, are the gift of Christ; through him it is that his saints glory in tribulation, and their trials are not only tolerable, but joyous.
In short, to suffer for Christ, is,
1. A free gift; and,
2. An honourable gift; and,
3. A special and peculiar gift; it is a gift peculiar to saints; yea, peculiar only to some saints.
It is only peculiar to saints; the angels glorify Christ by doing, but not by suffering. I doubt not, but had the angels bodies of flesh, as saints have, they would be glad to lay their necks on the block for Christ, as saints do. But this is the peculiar privilege of believers; unto you it is given, and not to them. And although a suffering disposition, a readiness and preparation of mind to glorify Christ by suffering, is given to all believers; yet the honour of actually suffering death for Christ is given but to a few.
Learn, 3. That faith in Christ must go before suffering for Christ; it must first be given to us to believe on him, before we can suffer for his sake; then only are sufferings truly Christian, and an evidence of salvation, when the sufferer is first a believer: without the shield of faith, we can no more resist the fury of the persecutors, than we can repel the fiery darts of the destroyer; Unto you it is given, on the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but, &c.
Here is the last argument made use of by the apostle to encourage them unto patient suffering for the gospel of Christ, as it would render them comfortable to Christ their head, so to him their apostle, who suffered many hard things when he was at Philippi, as they had seen, and stood ready to suffer, not only bonds, but death itself, now he was at Rome, which they heard of: Having the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.
Here observe, 1. The title given by St. Paul to his sufferings for the gospel; he calls them a conflict.
Learn, That Christian courage under sufferings cannot be kept up without a mighty conflict; we must conflict with our enemies, with the rage of persecutors; we must conflict with ourselves, and with our own spirits, to keep them from fainting under persecution; and we must even conflict with God himself, wrestle with him, by prayers, for extraordinary measures of strength to support us under sufferings, and to enable us to glorify God in and by them: well might the apostle then call his sufferings a conflict.
Observe, 2. St. Paul encourages the Philippians to conflict with sufferings, from his own example before them: Having the same conflict which you saw in me.
Learn, That the prudent and patient sufferings of the ministers of Christ for the truth of the gospel are, and ought to be, a powerful encouragement to all their people to conflict with the like difficulties and trials for the testimony of Christ: the Captain goes first, leads the van, his ministers follow, and their people bring up the rear; and, having suffered together, they shall also be glorified together; a suffering head, and suffering members, shall never be separated.
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