William Trew, Cardiff
3a. Chapter 3, vv. 1-3
CHRIST THE PURSUIT OF AN ARDENT LIFE
As we read the chapter before us now, we are reminded of that fact that the name 'Philippian' means 'lover of horses' and immediately we think of the 'race-course'. I mention this now, because it serves to illustrate the terms the apostle uses in this passage to describe the ardour of spirit that characterized him in his eager pursuit after Christ. In this connection he uses one Greek word in this passage three times. In verse 6 he says 'concerning zeal, persecuting'; in verse 12 he says 'I follow after'; and in verse 14 he say 'I press toward'. The word translated 'zeal' is one which, when used of liquids, means 'to boil'; and when used of solids, means 'to glow with a fierce, white heat'. The evidence of his 'zeal' as a religious fanatic was that he 'persecuted the church'. The proof of his 'zeal' as a Christian was that he 'followed after', he 'pursued eagerly toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus'. Thus is described the intensity of this man's life; the ardour of his soul; the untiring, unflagging energy of his spirit, as he pursued after the attainment of all that God intended him to be. Like the other chapters of this epistle, the chapter before us may be divided into four paragraphs, namely vv. 1-3, vv. 4-9, vv. 10-16, vv. 17-21.
1. Precautions against the Enemies of True Christian Character
vv. 1-3 The note that rings through the whole of this chapter -'The Magnetism of Christ - Christ the pursuit of an ardent life' - is struck in the opening sentence, 'Rejoice in the Lord'. To define adequately what that means in terms of Christian experience would necessitate a detailed exposition of the whole of the chapter. The salvation of our Christian character and the stability of our Christian experience depend upon learning what it means to 'Rejoice in the Lord'. There-fore the object of every attack of the enemy is to hinder our experience of this.
The aposde had said the same thing to them, and to others, again and again, with a regularity that, to some, might be monotonous, but which 'To me', he says, 'is not irksome, but for you it is safe', R.v. Therefore he warns. The Jewish section -the Judaizing teachers - were the enemies of true Christian experience, and their philosophies and doctrines were just so many attacks upon the distinctive Christian character that Paul desired to see developed in the saints. It had been well for the testimony of the Lord with which we are now associated, by His grace, if the saints had heeded the warnings of the apostle here. But alas! these were disregarded, as the letters to the churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3 make abundantly clear, and the amalgam of Judaism and Paganism that resulted has produced as its harvest the ritualistic and the rationalistic Babylon with which we are surrounded today.
What then is true Christian character? Paul describes it for us in verse 3.
I. A LIFE CIRCUMCISED
If we may be permitted to express the same idea in positive terms, it is a life of superior power in the energy of resurrection life over every working of the flesh in us.
'We are the circumcision': not a physical maiming, with no spiritual significance or moral power, but the application to the flesh of the death of Christ and our death with Him; the judgment of God executed upon all that man is in the flesh. It has been said that typically Romans brings us as far as Jordan. Colossians brings us over Jordan and as far as Gilgal. Ephesians brings us into possesion of the inheritance. Philippians gathers all the power of these to mould and shape Christian character.
'In whom ye were also circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands, in the putting off of the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of Christ', Col. 2; 11, R.v. This implies that nothing belonging to the flesh, whether gross or cultured, repellant or attractive, religious or irreligious, can be sanctified for the service of God.
2. A LIFE CONSECRATED
It is a life of sanctuary communion with God in the fulness of the power of the Holy Spirit: 'Who worship by the Spirit of God', R.v. That this should follow the other is plain, since the flesh can know nothing of sanctuary experience, and must be judged in this way, before we can in the power of the Spirit of God enjoy nearness to God. The word here translated 'worship' is one that touches every detail of life and service, as being the public expression of our sanctuary life, and issuing out of our adoring communion with God in the power of the Spirit. How fragrant such a life would be.
3. A LIFE CHRIST-CENTRED
It is a life of satisfaction found alone in Him: 'And rejoice in Christ Jesus'. True Christian life is not self-centred, but Christ-centred. Here is the undeniable evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in our spirit. Many believers claim to know more than others of the Spirit's power working in them and through them, yet the end of their whole philosophy is introspective. But the Holy Spirit working in us with fulness of power will always glorify Christ and make our life objective, Christ-focussed, Christ-centred.
4. A LIFE OF CONFIDENCE IN THE RESOURCES OF GOD
'And have no confidence in the flesh'. Perhaps the expression here is not altogether negative. There may be the suggestion of a positive reflection, such as is expressed in the translation 'not in the flesh are confident' (Moule). It has been well said that 'self-confidence, even in a Christian, is confidence in the flesh'. It is certain that we can have no confidence in the flesh, in ourselves, or in others, if any result is to be produced for God. Our dependence must be upon divine resources. Only what is produced in us and through us by the Spirit of God will abide in spiritual result, for the pleasure and praise of God. This is a lesson of vital importance in every aspect of Christian life and service.