‘For Me to Live is Christ’
E W Rogers, Oxford
Perhaps no-one is more apt to be misunderstood, and his statements more liable to be misconstrued, than the servant of God. It was so both in the cast of the Lord Jesus Himself and His apostle Paul. Because of this Paul wrote his letter of self-defence to the Corinthians, in which he admits having become a fool but assorts that he had been driven to it because of the hostile attitude of some at Corinth towards him. He had used the phrase 'I am of Paul' mid that had been misconstrued to imply that Paul was conscious of haying some desire for ecclesiastical power. He had said, ' They that preach the gospel shouldlive of the gospel,' and that had been misconstrued to show that Paul was prompted by mercenary motives. He spoke of 'fighting wild beasts at Ephesus,' and this had but drawn forth the cruel comment that he was mad. All the servants of God run a like risk. Being before the public eye they are more scrutinized than others: their public utterances are subject to severe criticism: and whatever they write is liable to be misrepresented by the corrupt heart of man. In Paul's second letter to the Corinthians he categorically repudiates these insinuations and affirms that "the love of Christ constrains us" and shows why he should "no longer live to himself but unto Him who died for him and rose again."
Of course, one may say this, but unless one's record endorses it, it is no more than empty words. Paul, however, was able to detail his experiences of suffering and deprivation incurred in the pursuit of preaching Christ, which proved that he was not self-interested but that his whole life had Christ for its centre.
Perhaps it was for a similar cause that Paul speaks so much of himself in his letter to the Philippians. Note the frequent occurrences of the pronouns 'I,' 'my' and 'me' in it. Possibly there were at Philippi (as in other places where Paul had laboured), Judaizers who sought to undo his work and to discredit him and centre the believers around themselves. They are those spoken of by Paul as 'dogs, evil workers, the concision,' and undoubtedly they could have misconstrued Paul's motives, and even taken advantage of his letter to prove their case. They might have asserted that although Paul was writing to thank the Philippians for their loving gift, sent by Epaphroditus, it was but an oblique hint that further favours would not be amiss. Paul was able to neutralize the effect of such a mean charge by showing in chapter 1, the main object of his life: in chapter 2 his devotion to the saints: in chapter 3 his ambition: and in chapter 4 his contentment no matter what his circumstances or the lack of practical fellowship on the part of saints.
Paul's Object in Life. "For me to live is Christ." "For me," says one translator, "life means Christ."His whole being was absorbed in Him. Note the word Christ: he does not use the name Jesus, but designedly he employs that which once was a title 'the Messiah,' and had then, in view of the world's rejection of His claims, become a personal name - "Christ." For me to live, says Paul, is to devote all my time and every energy to the propagation of the fame of Christ: to preach Him; to serve Him: to gain adherents to Him: to glorify Him. Paul had become an eccentric in the world's eyes because his life did not revolve around its centre. His life was Christocentric: from Him all his activities radiated.
Paul had a 'single eye' and, therefore, his whole body was full of light. He did not have a plurality of objects. His hand was not on the plough and his eye looking back, so that the work was improperly done. He had but one object. Others might say he was governed by mixed motives, but let Paul speak for himself. His bonds are manifest to be 'in Christ': all the praetorian guard knew this to be the case. Paul was not in prison because of a breach of the civil law: he was there because of Christ, The soldiers knew it: Paul had taken advantage of the situation as each guard of soldiers was changed to declare the gospel to them in such apparently adverse circumstances. The soldiers heard the glad tidings from his lips, and the purpose of his divine call was achieved: he was set for the 'defence and confirmation of the gospel,' and these circumstances resulted in the 'furtherance' of that end. Saints were in Caesar's household. He suffered for Christ.
At the same time the re-action among the brethren was remarkable. Satan had succeeded in closing Paul's mouth, but this had resulted in the opening of many mouths of the believers. The itinerary work of the apostle had been forcibly stopped, but this had stirred up 'most of the brethren in the Lord' to boldness and they courageously spake the word of God. With some of them there were mixed motives: Paul knew that some were prompted by "envy and strife": some were governed by "good will" and "love": others by "faction" (that is, the desire to form a party around themselves) and not by sincerity,supposing that they would thereby add mental distress to Paul's physical bonds. But, despite all this, and despite the fact that had Paul been free he could have had no fellowship with such preachers, he rejoiced that Christ was preached. That was the thing which gave him joy: "For me to live is Christ," and if his bonds are "in Christ, if he is called to suffer for Him, he rejoices that "Christ, is being preached," although by faulty men and with faulty motives.
"For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your supplication and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ." It will ever be a difficulty with commentators to decide whether the word "Spirit" should have a small or capital initial letter: whether it denotes a disposition or the Person. But it is certain that, if it denotes the Person, it will result in the manifestation of the disposition. A man of Paul's character would have been naturally prone to rebel against his imprisonment. His attitude in his three defences while under arrest, recorded in the book of the Acts, reveals the man. "I appeal to Caesar": "I do not take this lying down, meekly and unresistingly: I have national rights and I will use them." But here, Paul is in Rome, condemned, imprisoned, having been falsely charged and unrighteously punished as guilty. How his spirit must have chafed in such circumstances? What liability to mental rebellion, and anger at the apparent silence and indifference of God I But for him to live, whether in or out of prison, was Christ, and he was desirous that there in prison, as the result of the prayers of the saints, he might enjoy the supply which conies from the Spirit of Jesus Christ, a supply which would enable him to display Christ under such conditions.
Paul could say 'I have set the Lord always before me": his life was wrapt up in Him. Indeed, his earnest expectation and hope were that, whether by life or by death, Christ should Lit: magnified in his body. Paul regarded his body as we should a lens, and desired that men through him might see the beauties, excellencies and glories of Christ. The natural heart desires the eyes of men to be focussed on self: the limelight appeals to the carnal man. But Paul had learned differently: he wasbut the lens: Christ was the object: and he wanted men to be occupied with Him, not with the magnifying glass.
In the Colossian letter he writes "Christ is everything." or as translated in the A.V. "Christ is all and in all." This was not an impersonal remark: he was that to Paul. His bonds were "in Christ": he rejoiced that "Christ is being preached": he was desirous of displaying, in the midst of his prison experiences, the moral excellencies of Christ: and whatever the issue, be it prolonged life or a violent death, he wanted Christ to be magnified in his body. It was Christ who regulated his feelings throughout.
But his heart went on and he thought of what it would be "to be with Christ." Ah! that is 'very far better' than anything on earth, be it even serving Christ with freedom among the saints. "To be with Him," how the thought thrilled his heart! He knew of no such thing as the sleep of the soul after death: death would be but the transfer of his spirit from one place to another: from the "body" to be "at home with the Lord." Yet, he had the inborne conviction that the needs of the saints required his presence still further, and therefore he was assured of his release and restoration to the Philippian church. That, however, should not be an occasion for them to boast in him and his return to them. Carnal saints boast in men: this the Corinthians did. Rut Paul desired that his restoration to them might result in their "boasting in Christ Jesus" (v. 26). He was concerned with Him: he wanted the Philippians to be of that same mind also. He would not have them boast in Paul. That would have been altogether contrary to his own teaching, and in particular to that which he had urged on the Corinthians, Christ should be first and Christ should be all: other necessary things will automatically fall into their right place.
Paul's Devotion to the Saints. "Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with yon all" (ch, 2. v. 17). The picture here is that of priests offering to God a sacrifice, upon which a drink-offering is poured. The offering priests are the Philippian saints: they are rendering "service" to God:to Him they are offering "a sacrifice" and upon it Paul says he is ready to poor out, not an external drink-offering, but his own life-blood as a drink-offering upon their sacrifice. He was happy so to do, and they in their turn should rejoice with him that such was the case. To have such a devoted pastor and teacher, was no small occasion for thanksgiving. This should for ever silence Paul's detractors. Who, prompted by such mean motives as they asserted, would have been able to have spoken thus?
It reminds one of his remarks to the Corinthians. The less they loved him the more he would love them. In their interests he was ready not only "to spend" all that he possessed, but, having expended that, was willing "to be spent out" himself. For their sakes lie was prepared to part with all that he had and all that he was. These were no idle words. What he had suffered when first coming to Corinth and what he had suffered since, proved that his whole being was given over to the welfare of the saints. He was no self-centred apostle. The "false apostles" to whom be refers were self-centred: they wanted a party ranged around themselves. They were hirelings and, when danger showed itself, they left the sheep and fled. Not so with Paul: he was prepared to "abide with them" to the end and, if need be, pour out his life-blood for them.
The key verse of this chapter 2 is v. 4. "Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others." This does not imply that we are to be neglectful of our own duties: the word 'also' would preclude such a thought. Nor does it imply that we are to be 'busybodies' into other men's affairs. This is forbidden elsewhere in Scripture (1 Pet. 4. 15). It means that we are not to think of our own interests and pleasures first, but of those of others. We are to seek ways and means of furthering their welfare. In illustration of this, Paul cites four cases.
The Lord Jesus Christ is first cited as being the perfect example of one 'who pleased not Himself,' but "gave Himself for us." Then Paul speaks of himself as being ready to forfeit even life itself to promote the Philippians' good. Then he cites Timothy who, although "all in the seek their own, not the things of Christ Jesus," anxiously cared lor the believers at Philippi and worked with Paul in the spread of the gospel, as a son with a father. He further cited their own fellow-saint Epaphroditus, who had gambled with his life, nearly losing it, in rendering a hazardous service both to the saints and to Paul.
Such devotion is not common. The writer saw it in the Leprosy work in India and in other heroic work rendered by the Lord's servants in most unpleasant surroundings, and handling cases of a most dangerous nature. If "devotion to duty" merits a reward in earthly wars, how much more shall such devotion as that we have been considering gain a reward at the judgment Seat. Nothing will be overlooked, and nothing will be underestimated.
Paul's Ambition. Paul's conversion was sudden, and sometimes sudden conversions prove to be spurious, mid decisions made at the time are, as weeks and months pass, reversed. It was not so with Paul. "I counted," years after his conversion becomes, "I count." "What things" (enumerated in ch. 3. vv. 5 and 6), become "all things." He has advanced. "Loss" was his original estimate: it now becomes "dung": he sees the utter worthlessness of these things more clearly now than ever, "Loss for Christ," becomes "loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord." All this denotes spiritual growth on the part of Paul from the time of his conversion to the date of his imprisonment.
He was ambitious in a right way. His former position gave him no sound, legal standing. That only could be found "in Christ." Therefore he abandoned his former boast in moral rectitude, he recognized the defectiveness of the flesh, and was thankful that it met its end in the death of Christ. In Christ risen he had found a righteousness that was valid in the courts of heaven. But that was only the commencement: he wanted to advance, "That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection." A personal acquaintance with Christ in resurrection was his aim. How was it to be achieved? By treading a well-defined path:
(a) "The fellowship of His sufferings." He was trailing to suffer with the One who was greater than the rejected David, in a larger wilderness than that in which the latter was hunted. "I am ready not only to be bound but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." He was prepared to "fill up the afflictions of Christ." This accounts for his determination to go to Jerusalem and to suffer there. He was anxious to go, step by step, in the same path that his Lord had once trodden.
(b) "Being made conformable lo His death," This does not necessarily mean that lie was desirous of dying physic ally, but it means that lie was desirous of so behaving that it conformed to the notion of 'dying with Jesus.' Like Ruth said to Naomi, "where thou diest I will die, and there will I be buried." This is the teaching of baptism. Like Ittai, Paul was willing to be with Christ "whether in death or in life,"
(c) "If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection out from among the dead." Paul is not here thinking of physical and bodily resurrection; that was not uncertain. All would be raised ultimately, and all believers would be raised out from among the dead prior to the mass; of that there was no doubt. Hut the living of a life, on earth and in time, which was the life of one who had died, been buried, and been raised from the dead, was a rare experience. It was not an impossible one. It was Paul's aim. He did not claim to have reached it. It was a matter of spiritual attainment, but his eye was on that goal, and he kept it there. He did not engage his attention with "things that are behind," be they successes or failures, achievements or reverses, but he "pressed forward toward the mark."
It was the "rule" (v. 16) of his life, in which he encouraged others also. May it be ours!
Paul's Contentment. Now Paid comes down to material matters. The letter was designed to express gratitude to the Philippian saints for their liberality and fellowship. He rejoices in the Lord greatly that, now at last, their care of him had burst out into flower again. "At last" was this apt to be misconstrued? He therefore immediately adds, "wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity." The delay was not their fault: if was due to circumstances. This affords Paul the opportunity to speak on the matter of his experiences in respect of material things. "Not that I am in the habit of speaking concerning lack" (4. 11); he disclosed that to the Lord, never to the saints. He had learned, having been in the school of God, what once he did not know, namely, in whatsoever state he was to be independent of all circumstances and ail people. He had a healthy spirit of independence. He knew the Lord would never fail him, though the saints might. Knowledge had been gained in that school: "I know," he says, "both how to be abased, and f know how to abound." Note the word "abased." Did he mean that he knew what it was to have to go on short rations and to have to wear shabby clothing? One translation gives "I know how to face humble circumstances, I know how to face prosperity." Another "I am schooled to bear the depths of poverty." What an experience and what a blessing to have learned the lesson! He had discovered the secret, he had been initiated into this mysterious ability, both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. He was equal to every lot. He could do all things, this, that or the other, through Him who enabled him.
Yet, did it not reflect adversely on the churches that Paul should ever have been in want? "When, I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only." Why was that? Had Antioch forgotten their commendation of him and the concurrent responsibility that ever goes with such commendations? Did the "right hand of fellowship" on the part of the Jerusalem saints mean nothing more than words or handshake? And what of the churches at Lystra, Derbe and Iconium, which owed their very existence to the apostle? Were they so forgetful, or ungrateful? Oh, what a loss, both of honour and reward, to fail in supporting the servants of God who, according to the scriptural pattern, are serving Him?
Paid uses the terms of the ledger: the debit and credit sides, represent giving and receiving. "Your account" refers to the records kept in heaven, which "in that day" will be computed and will be settled with more than adequate interest. But what of the present? These offerings are now "an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice; acceptable, well-pleasing to Clod." May we all abound in them!
Whichever view the reader takes of the drinking of the cup by the Lord, he will be able to appreciate this refreshing presentation of one aspect of the Lord's moral glory and its practical lesson for us.