William Trew, Cardiff
CHRIST THE POWER OF A VICTORIOUS LIFE
We have noticed that one of the outstanding features of this Epistle is that the apostle appeals constantly to his own Christian character, and that of others, as the pattern of what he desires the saints to become. In chapter 1 he tells us that Christ was the absorbing interest and over-mastering passion of his life. In chapter 2 he shows the mind of Christ to have been very fully developed in him, in Timothy and in Epaphroditus. In chapter 3 he speaks of the magnetism of Christ in glory, and illustrates the power of that vision of supreme loveliness to draw the heart away from earth, by his own intensive effort as a runner in the Christian race. Now in chapter 4 he tells us that he had learned the secret of victory and that in him was exemplified the superiority of Christian life over every earthly circumstance. That secret is explained in verse 13 by his words, 'I am strong for all things in Christ who keeps on pouring strength into me' (Dr. A. T. Robertson). Such a man as this can stand before the saints, as every leader ought to be able to do, and say, 'Brethren, be followers together of me', 3. 17. Again the chapter divides into four paragraphs.
1. Our Controller in the Path is the Sovereign Lord of Circumstances
We can well appreciate that this fact brings the assurance of victory in every condition of life, but this depends upon our enjoyment and experience of Christ as brought before us in the previous chapters. We cannot enter into chapter 4 in experience, unless we tread the path traced in the earlier part of the Epistle. Therefore chapter 4 commences with a sort of resume of chapters 1, 2 and 3, verse 1 reminding us of chapter 1. 27; verses 2 and 3 looking back to chapter 2; and verse 4 repeating the exhortation of chapter 3. How very searching this is! If Christ is truly the absorbing interest of my life; if the magnification of Christ is indeed the sole object of my living; if His interests are the overmastering passion of my heart; if His humility and selfless, self-sacrificing devotion to the will of God and the well-being of others is being developed in my character and expressed in my service; if my life is Christ-centred; if He so holds my heart and completely satisfies my every desire, that the world has become for me a vast moral desert; then will He lead me into the joyous experience of victory in every circumstance of life. We must not leave this paragraph without briefly noticing the emphasis upon the Lordship of Christ. 'Stand fast in the Lord'; 'Be of the same mind in the Lord'; 'Rejoice in the Lord'. The believer, whose life has been joyously surrendered to the Lord and whose will is in happy accord with His, is in the enjoyment of an inner harmony of spirit that makes for unity and gives courage and steadfastness in the conflict with the many enemies of the testimony.
2. Our Companion in the Path is the God of Peace
vv. 5-9 The exhortation in verse 5 is alternatively rendered in the Revised Version, 'Let your forbearance be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand'- Dr. Moule has an admirable note, as follows: 'Perhaps "forbearance", though inadequate, is a fair rendering. It means, in effect, "considerateness", the attitude of thought and will which, in remembrance of others, forgets self, and willingly yields up the purely personal claims of self. The "selfless" man is the "moderate" man of this passage; the man who is as yielding as air in respect of personal feeling or interest, though firm as a rock in respect of moral principle'. It is very evident that this implies 'victory over self'.
The exhortation in verse 1 is 'yield nothing'. Here we are told to 'yield everything'. The believer can well afford thus to yield all that has to do with personal interests, since standing by his side, taking account of all and holding Himself responsible for every consequence of so yielding, is the Lord Himself.
The two following verses point the way to 'victory over every earthly circumstance'. We must not be careless, but we can be carefree. In light of the fact that the word translated 'passeth', v. 7, is rendered 'better' in chapter 2. 3, it may be permissible to read these two verses thus: 'In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God which is better than understanding shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus'. Most of us have been called to enter into circumstances in which the ways of God with us have been dark and heavy with mystery, and, under the heavy pressure, the demand to know the reason has been wrung from our hearts; yet no explanation has been given us. But here is a promise that pledges to us something far better than understanding the reason why. Satan usually seeks to increase anxiety in a distracted Christian. Worried and distressed, heart and mind are wide open to his attacks. But only let us use 'Paul's prescription', v. 6, and, like a garrison of soldiers set to repel the enemies' attacks upon the citadel, the peace of God shall garrison our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
The apostle goes on in verses 8 and 9 to speak of 'victory over every fleshly and worldly principle of conduct'. We note especially the present tense of the verbs, 'Be thinking', v. 8, 'Be doing', v. 9, and the promise to be fulfilled to us if the conditions attaching thereto are observed, 'The God of peace shall be with you'. 'As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he'. Much is said in this Epistle about the mind. For Christian life is not so much the developing of an externally blameless life before men, as it is the careful cultivating of an inner life in the sanctuary of God. The mind controls the affections; the affections control the will; and the will controls the life. 'Be thinking' and 'Be doing' the things referred to, and all along the way as we journey towards our heavenly home we shall be given to enjoy the sweet companionship of the God of peace.
3. The Conqueror of every Circumstance of Life vv. 10-13 We come now to the third paragraph, which need not detain us long. The apostle has been exhorting the saints. Now he presents himself as the pattern of all that he has taught them of true Christian experience. In him is exemplified the superiority of Christian life over every earthly circumstance. 'I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content', v.11. Do we desire to live above our circumstances instead of being crushed by them? Do we long for the power that will make us victorious in every condition, superior in every environment? The great secret is Christ - known, loved, enjoyed, worshipped, used. 'I am strong for all things in Him who keeps on pouring strength into me', (Robertson).
4. The Compensations of Faithful Stewardship
vv. 14-23 This is the fourth part of the fourth section of this Epistle of practical experience. Suitably it deals with the faithful use of our material things as stewards of God with particular emphasis upon the fragrance to God of His people's sacrificial giving, and the compensations He will delight to give both now and in the day of Christ.
In verse 19, we have the faithful promise of rich compensation from the hand of God in the present. But in laying hold of the promise we must be careful to lay the emphasis upon the adjective your. Out of their deep poverty, these Philippians had given to the need of the apostle, 2 Cor. 8. 1-5. Again and again they had given. It had hurt them to give. With hearts that responded to the grace of Christ they had given, having first of all given themselves to the Lord. The promise is the pledge of God to such as they were. That promise we also can claim, if we are such as they were.
Verse 17 is the faithful promise of rich compensation from the hand of God in the day of Christ. How very wonderful it is that we can so live now that we shall see our fives again in eternal reward. This is true also of the material things with which He has entrusted us. We can use these in a way that will delight the heart of God now, and cause 'fruit to abound' to our account in the day when 'everyone shall have praise of God'. As he writes, Paul has the judgment seat of Christ much before him (see 1. 6, 10; 2. 16; 4. 1, 17) and all his exhortations receive their point and force from that fact. Let us walk day by day in light of the day when 'we must all be made manifest before the judgment seat of Christ', and seek the experience of true Christian life as it is delineated in the Epistle to the Philippians.