William Trew, Cardiff
CHRIST THE PATTERN OF A SELFLESS LIFE
In our outline of the Epistle we suggested that the theme of chapter 2 is Christ the Pattern of a Selfless Life. It is clear that the chapter before us is divided into four paragraphs.
1. The Maintaining of Unity
vv. 1-4 At the close of chapter 1 the apostle had exhorted the saints to ‘stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the Gospel’. Now he shows how that oneness can be secured and maintained. The terms found in verse 1 are terms of spiritual experience, the practical power of which in our hearts and lives makes for unity among the saints in the Christian assembly. It is evident that if we are not in the practical good of these graces we are not spiritual but carnal, and carnality always divides. Unity can be maintained only in lowly service, in selfless love and spiritual power; love ‘seeketh not her own’, 1 Cor. 13. 5. It is utterly selfless, putting us each at the feet of others, to promote their prosperity, to advance their blessing, to seek their enrichment, oblivious of self and asking no recompense but the joy and complete satisfaction of the others’ blessing secured.
2. The Mind of Christ
vv. 5-11 A servant of Christ, enjoying much the companionship of Christ, and intensely devoted to Him, was once asked if he could describe his Master in a word. His reply was, ‘Others’. Such is the wonderful and beautiful description of Him given us in this passage by His greatest servant.
The concord of verses 1-4 can only be served and secured by a moral conformity, on the part of each saint in the assembly, to the condescension of Christ, which now becomes the apostle’s thrilling theme. In verses 6-8, seven expressions are used to describe His amazing stoop from the heights of Godhead glory, eternal majesty and manifested equality with God, to the lowest depths of shame and suffering in the death of the cross. In verses 9-11 seven other expressions are used to tell us of His ascent to the place of supreme glory in the universe of God, where He will be confessed as Lord of all, in every sphere, in the day of the subjugation of all things. But this description of ‘self-emptying’ - of utter, complete abandonment to the serving of the glory of God in the eternal blessing of others - is given us to the end that ‘this mind’ shall be developed in us. We must take account of the fact, and feel in our hearts the power of it until it finds expression in us, that in verses 6-8, when it is a question of self-emptying, relinquishing and humbling Himself that the will of God may be served and the blessing of others secured, everything on the part of the Son of God is voluntary. ‘He emptied himself’ R.V., ‘He humbled himself’, ‘He became obedient’. But in verses 9-11, when it is a question of exaltation to the place of supremacy and to the dignity of absolute sovereignty, nothing is voluntary, but all is left to the appointment of God. ‘Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him ...’.
In these days of position-seeking, this is the lesson we sorely need to learn, and to learn it well, so that ‘his mind’ shall be increasingly developed in us in all our relations with our fellow-saints. Thus alone can be preserved the unity for which Paul pleads in the opening verses of this chapter.
3. Manifested as Light in the Darkness
vv. 12-16 With verse 12 the apostle returns to the exhortations of verses 1-4, and with reference to these he now pleads for their obedience. Now that his personal care and guidance had been removed from them, they must themselves carry the burden of their own responsibility to maintain the testimony in the presence of the many adversaries by whom they were surrounded. It was vital to the testimony that the oneness of the saints be restored and preserved. Strife and disunity more than anything else endanger the interests of Christ committed to the saints. They must, therefore, work out their own salvation. They must do this ‘with fear and trembling’, conscious of their own weakness, and therefore characterized by severe distrust of self, and yet rejoicing that divine power has been allied to human weakness to serve the pleasure of God and triumph over all the power of the enemy. How needful then, both for them and for us, are the words of verse 14. Already he had said, ‘Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory’. Now he says ‘Do all things without murmurings and disputings’. Pride is the root of every evil thing, the sin that contains within itself the seed of every sin. It is indeed satanic. Humility, selflessness and devotion to the highest blessing of others are qualities that manifest Christ. As morally conformed to Him in these ways, we shall be manifested as lights in the darkness, reflecting the rays of His glory into the moral darkness around us, as the moon reflects the light of the absent sun, and ‘holding forth the word of life’, we shall be effectual in our witness in view of the day of Christ and His judgment seat.
4. Ministering Selflessly
vv. 17-30 Here are three men in whom the mind of Christ was very fully developed, and in whose selfless, devoted and costly ministry to others Christ was manifested and magnified.
vv. 17-18 ‘If I be “poured out as a drink offering” upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy and rejoice with you all’. The drink offering of wine was the symbol of joy, and was always the appendage of the burnt offering. To this end Paul laboured and toiled, selflessly, sacrificially and with deepest, purest joy, ‘that the offering up of the Gentiles (as a burnt offering in fragrant consecration to God) might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost’, Rom. 15. 16.
vv. 19-24 ‘I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care (with a heavy burden of loving, anxious, toiling care) for your state’. To Timothy, the saints were the dearly bought property of Christ to be valued by him as by his Lord. To serve their truest interests was to enjoy the sweetest fellowship of the Lord Jesus, and therefore to that happy ministry he devoted all his energies of spirit and soul and body.
vv. 25-30 ‘For the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me’. Was it the work of Christ to convey from Philippi to Rome to Paul in his need the material expression of the love of the saints? To Epaphroditus it was. Was such a service of such value that it was worthwhile driving himself to a point beyond endurance, so that his life was endangered? To this selfless, Christlike man it was well worthwhile. Such are ‘held in reputation’ in heaven, as will be seen in the day of Christ, though described as fools on earth. ‘That day’ will reverse all the judgments of men, for ‘he that is least among you all, the same shall be great’, Luke 9. 48, and the life truly Christian is that selfless life of loving service to others by which is expressed ‘the mind of Christ’.
To be followed by ‘Christ the Pursuit of an Ardent Life’.