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Philippian Studies: Chapter 6 - The Lord's Power in the Disciple's Life

By H. C. G. Moule

         "O Jesus Christ, grow Thou in me,
            And all things else recede;
         My heart be daily nearer Thee,
            From sin be daily freed.

         "More of Thy glory let me see,
            Thou Holy, Wise, and True;
         I would Thy living image be
            In joy and sorrow too."
                     H. B. SMITH, from the German of C. LAVATER.

      PHILIPPIANS ii. 12-18

      "Your own salvation"--Stars in the midnight sky--Truth and holiness--The atonement and the indwelling--Mystery and need of the indwelling--Indifference in God--Spiritual power shewn in love--Aggression and witness--The witnesses and the martyr

      We have just followed the Apostle as he has followed the Saviour of sinners from the Throne to the Cross, and from the Cross to the Throne. And we have remembered the moral motive of that wonderful paragraph of spiritual revelation.   It was written not to occupy the mind merely, or to elevate it, but to bring the believer's heart into a delightful subjection to Him who "pleased not Himself," till the Lord should be reflected in the self-forgetting life of His follower.

      In the passage now opening before us we find St Paul's thought still working in continuity with this argument.   He has still in his heart the risks of friction at Philippi, and the need of meeting them in the power of the Lord's example.   This will come out particularly in the fourteenth and fifteenth verses, where he deprecates "murmurings and disputings," and pleads for a life of pure, sweet light and love.   But the line of appeal, though continuous, is now somewhat altered in its direction.   The divine greatness of the love of the Incarnation has, during his treatment of it, filled him with an intense and profound recollection of the greatness of the Christian's connexion with his God, and of the sacred awfulness of his responsibility, and of the fulness of his resources.   So the appeal now is not merely to be like-minded, and to be watchful for unity.   He asks them now to use fully for a life of holiness the mighty fact of their possession of an Indwelling God in Christ.   The details of precept are as it were absorbed for the time into the glorious power and principle--only to reappear the more largely and lastingly in the resulting life.

      Ver. 12.   +So, my beloved ones+, (he often introduces his most practical appeals with this term of affection: see for example 1 Cor. x. 14, xv. 58; 2 Cor. vii. 1,) +just as you always obeyed+[1] me, obey me now.   +Not+ (me, the imperative negative) as in my presence only, influenced by that immediate contact and intercourse, +but now much more in my absence+, ("much more," as my absence throws you more directly on your resources in the Lord,) +work out+, develope, +your own salvation+, your own spiritual safety, health, and joy, +with fear and trembling+; not with the tortures of misgiving, not driven by a shrinking dread of your gracious God, but drawn by a tender reverence and solemn watchfulness, lest you should grieve the eternal Love.   Yes, "work out your own salvation"; do not depend upon me; take your own souls in hand, in a faith and love which look, without the least earthly intermediation, straight to GOD and to Him alone.[2]   For indeed He is near to you; far nearer than ever a Paul could be; "a very present help," for

      Ver. 13.   your safety, and for your holiness.   +For God it is who is effecting+ (energos) +in you+, in your very being, in "the first springs of thought and will," +both your+ (to) +willing and your effecting+, your carrying out the willing, +for His+ (tes) +good pleasure's sake+; in order to the accomplishment through you of all His holy purposes.   Here, in this wonderful immanence, this divine indwelling, and in its living, operative power, you will find reason enough alike for the "fear and trembling" of deepest reverence, and for the calm resourceful confidence of those who can, if need be, "walk alone," as regards dependence upon even an apostolic friend beside them.   Live then as those who carry about with them the very life and power of God in Christ.   And what will that life be?   A life of spiritual ostentation?   Nay, the beautiful and

      Ver. 14.   gentle opposite to it.   +Do all things without+, apart from (choris), in a definite isolation from, +murmurings and disputes+, thoughts and utterances of discontent and self-assertion towards one another, grudgings of others' claims, and contentions for your

      Ver. 15.   own; +so that you may become+ (genesthe), what in full realization you scarcely yet are, +unblamable and simple+ (akeraioi, "unadulterated"), single-hearted, because self-forgetting; +God's children+ (tekna), shewing what they are by the unmistakable family-likeness of holy love; +blameless+ as such, true to your character; +in the midst of a race+ (geneas) +crooked and distorted+, the members of a world whose will always crosses the will of God who is Love; +among whom you are appearing+, like stars which come out in the gloom, +as luminaries+ (phosteres), light-bearers, kindled by the Lord of Light, +in the world+; in which you dwell; not of it, but in it, walking up and down "before the sons of men" (Ps. xxxi. 19), that they may see, and seek,

      Ver. 16.   your blessed Secret; +holding out+ (epechontes[3]), as those who offer a boon for acceptance, +the word of life+, the Gospel, with its secret of eternal life in Christ; at once telling and commending His message; +to afford me+, even me (emoi), +exultation, in view of+ (eis) +Christ's Day+, in anticipation of what I shall feel then; +because not in vain did I run, nor in vain did I toil+.[4] But let me not speak of "toil" as if I sighed over a hard lot, or wished to suffer less on your behalf.

      Ver. 17.   +Nay, even if I am being poured out as a drink-offering+ (spendomai) +on the sacrifice and ritual+ (leitourgia) +of your faith+--on you, so to speak, as you in faith offer yourselves a living sacrifice to God[5]--+I rejoice, and I congratulate+ (sugchairo) +you all+, on your faith and holiness, for which it was well worth my while to die as your helper and example.   +And in+

      Ver. 18.   +the same way+ (to de auto) +do you too rejoice, and congratulate me+,[6] as true partners with me in the martyr-spirit and its joys.

      Here let us pause in our paraphrasing version, and sit down as it were to gather up and weigh some of the treasures we have found.

      i.   We have had before us, in the whole passage, that ever-recurring lesson, Holiness in the Truth, as Truth--"the Truth as it is in Jesus"--is the living secret of Holiness.   We have still in our ears the celestial music, infinitely sweet and full, of the great paragraph of the Incarnation, the journey of the Lord of Love from glory to glory by the way of the awful Cross.   May we not now give ourselves awhile wholly to reverie, and feast upon the divine poetry at our leisure? Not so; the immediate sequel is--that we are to be holy.   We are to act in the light and wonder of so vast an act of love, in the wealth and resource of "so great salvation."   We are to set spiritually to work.   We are to learn that all-important lesson in religion, the holy and humble energy and independence which come to the man who "knows whom he has believed," and is aware that he possesses "all spiritual blessing" (Eph. i. 3) in Him.   We are to rise up and, if need be, walk alone, alone of human help, in the certainty that Christ has died for us, and reigns for us, and in us.   Our Paul may be far away in some distant Rome, and we may sorely miss him.   But we have at hand Jesus Christ, who "took Bondservant's Form," and obeyed even unto death for us, and who is on the eternal throne for us, and who lives within us by His Spirit.   Looking upon Him in the glory of His Person and His Work, we are not only to wonder, not only even to worship; we are to work; to "work out" our spiritual blessings[7] into a life which shall be full of Him, and in which we shall indeed be "saved" ourselves, and help others around us to their salvation.   In the "fear and trembling" of those who feel the blissful awfulness of an eternal Presence, we are to set ourselves, with the inexhaustible diligence of hope, to the business of the spiritual life.   We are to bring all the treasures of a manifested and possessed Redeemer to bear upon the passing hour, and to let Him be seen in us, "Christ our Life," always formative and empowering.

      ii.   We have here in particular that deep secret of the Gospel, unspeakably precious to the soul which indeed longs to be holy--the Indwelling of God in the believer.   It here appears in close and significant connexion with the revelation of the love and work of the Incarnate and Atoning Lord; as if to remind us without more words that He who gave Himself for us did so not only to release us (blessed be His Name) from an infinite peril, from the eternal prison and death of a violated law, but yet more that He might bring His rescued ones into an unspeakable nearness in Him to God.   His was no mere compassion, which could set a guilty captive free.   It was eternal love, which could not be content without nearness to its object, without union with it, without a dwelling in the very heart by faith.   As if it was a matter of course in the plan of God, St Paul passes from the Cross and the Glory of Jesus to the Indwelling of God in the Christian, and to all the rest and all the power which that Indwelling is to bring.

      "It is God who is working in you, effecting alike your willing and your working; for the sake of His good pleasure."   These are words of deep mystery.   They contain matter which has exercised the closest thought of some of the greatest thinkers of the Church.   Operatur in nobis velle; "He worketh in us to will."   How is this to be reconciled with the reality, and in that sense the freedom, of the human will?   What relation does it bear to human responsibility, and to the call to watch, and pray, and labour?   Very soon, over such questions, we have, in the phrase of the Rabbis, to "teach our tongue to say, I do not know."   But the words appear in this context with a purpose perfectly simple and practical, whatever be their more remote and hidden indications.   They do indeed intimate to us a reality and energy in the divine sovereignty which may well correct those dreams of self-salvation which man is so ready to dream.   But their more immediate purpose is as simple as it is profound.   It is on the one hand to solemnize the disciple with the remembrance of such an inward Presence, and on the other hand to make him always glad and ready, recollecting that such an inward Power is there, altogether for his highest good, and altogether in the line of the eternal purpose (eudokia).   For the while at least let us drop out of sight all hard questions of theoretical adjustment between the finite will and the Infinite, and rest quite simply in that thought:--God is in me, working the willing and the doing.   The willing is genuine, and is mine.   The working is genuine, and is mine.   My will chooses Him, and my activity labours for Him; both are real, and are personally mine.   But He is at the back; He is at "the pulse of the machine"; I, His personal creature, am held in no less a hold than His, to be moulded and to be employed; His implement, His limb.

      Not very long ago I was in conversation with a young but deeply thoughtful Christian, who, placed on a difficult social height, was seeking with deep desire not only to "follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth" but to lead others similarly circumstanced to do the same.   I was struck with the strong consciousness which possessed that heart, that the religious life must inevitably be a weary and exhausting effort on any other condition than this--"God working in us, to will and to do."   "Ah, they all say that it is so hard; no one can really do it; no one can keep it up.   But we must speak to them about the indwelling Spirit of God, about the Lord's power in us; then they will find that it is possible, and is happy."

      Choris emou--"isolated from Me (John xv. 5)--ye can do nothing"; and what seems our "doing" will, in such isolation, be only too sorely felt to be a weary toil.   But let us accept it as true, at the foot of the atoning Cross, that the Indwelling of God in Christ is as much a fact as our pardon and adoption in Him, and we shall know something of the blessed life.   Only, we must not only accept it as true, but use it.   "Work out--for it is God who is working in you."

      And, let us remember it once more, we shall learn in that quiet School not only a restful energy but also that holy independence (ten heauton soterian) which is, in its place, the priceless gain of the Christian. Our spiritual life is indeed intended to be social in its issues--but not at its root.   We accept and thankfully use every assistance given us by our Lord's care, as we live our life in His Church; yet our life, as to its source, is to be still "hidden with Christ in God."   We are to be so related to Him, in faith, that our soul's health, growth, gladness, shall depend not on the presence of even a St Paul at our side, but on the presence of God in our hearts.   Let us cherish this blessed certainty, and develope it into experience, in these strange days of unrest and drift.   That secret independence will do anything but isolate us from our fellows.   It will make us fit, as nothing else could make us, to be their strength and light, in truest sympathy, in kindest insight, in the fullest sense of loving partnership.   But we must learn independence in God if we would be fully serviceable to man.

      iii.   We have in this passage one of the richest and most beautiful expressions found in the whole New Testament of that great principle, that at the very heart of a true life of holiness there needs to lie the law of holy kindness.   The connexion of thought between ver. 13 and ver. 14 is deeply suggestive here.   In ver. 13 we have the power and wonder of the operative Indwelling of God.   In ver. 14 we have depicted the true conduct of the subjects of the Indwelling; and it shines with the sweet light of humility and gentleness.   It is a life whose hidden power, which is nothing less than divine, comes out first and most in the absence of the grudging, self-asserting spirit; in a watchful consistency and simplicity; in the manifestation of the child-character, as the believer moves about "in the midst of" the hard and most unchildlike conditions of an unregenerate world.   There is to be action as well as patience; this we shall see presently.   The disciple is to be aggressive, in the right way, as well as submissive. But the first and deepest characteristic of his wonderful new life is to be the submission of himself to others, "in the Lord, and in the power of His might."   We have this aspect of practical holiness presented to us often in the general teaching of the New Testament; but seldom is it so explicitly connected as it is here with that other spiritual fact, the presence in us of the divine power.   Perhaps our best parallels come from the two other Epistles of the Roman Captivity, Ephesians and Colossians.   In Ephesians, the third chapter closes with the astonishing prayer that the Christian (the everyday Christian, be it remembered) may be, through the Indwelling of Christ, "filled unto all the fulness of God"; and then the fourth chapter begins at once with the appeal to him to live "therefore" a life of "all lowliness, meekness, longsuffering, and forbearance in love."   In Colossians we have the same sequence of thought in one noble sentence (ver. 11) of the first chapter: "Strengthened with all strength, according to the might of His glory, unto all patience and longsuffering, with joy."[8]   In all three passages comes out the same deep and beautiful suggestion.   "The Lord is not in the wind" so much as in "the still small voice."   Omnipotent Love, in its blessed immanence in the believer's soul, shews its presence and power most of all in a life of love around.   It is to come out not only in self-sacrificing energy but in the open sympathies of an affectionate heart, in the "soft answer," in the generous first thought for the interests of others--in short, in the whole character of 1 Cor. xiii.   The spiritual "power" which runs rather in the direction of harshness and isolation, which expends itself rather in censures than in "longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, and meekness," is not the kind of "power" which most accords with the apostolic idea.   Nothing which violates the plain precepts of the law of love can take a true part in that heavenly harmony.

         "On earth, as in the holy place,
         Nothing is great but charity." [9]

      iv.   Meanwhile the "charity" of the saints is not by any means the mere amiability which makes itself pleasant to every one, and forgets the solemn fact that we who believe are the servants of a Master whom the world knows not, the messengers of a King against whom it is in revolt. The Philippian disciple was to renounce the spirit of unkindness, of self; he was to live isolated from (choris) "murmurings and disputings."   But he was not to hide the sacred Light, for the sake of so-called peace, from the world around.   He was to "hold out the word of life"; confessing his blessed Lord as the life of his own soul, and so commending Him to the souls of his fellows.   He was to make this a part of his very existence and its activities.   As truly as it was to be his habit to live a life of sweet and winning consistency, it was to be his habit to offer (epechein) the water of life to the parched hearts around him, the lamp of glory to the dark and bewildered whom he encountered upon the difficult road.   The truth and beauty of a life possessed by Christ was to be the basis of his witnessing activities. But the witness was to be articulate, not merely implied; he was to "hold out the word (logon) of life"; he was to seize occasion to "give a reason (logon) of the hope that was in him, with meekness and fear" (1 Pet. iii. 15).   To be, in his way, an evangelist was to be one main function of his life.   In benignant and gracious conduct he was to be as a "luminary" (phoster), moving calm and bright in the dark hemisphere of the world.   But he was to be a voice as well as a star.   He was not only to shine; he was to speak.

      Here is one of the passages, by the way, in which the Apostle assumes, and stimulates, the "missionary consciousness" of the converts.   It is remarkable that neither he nor his brethren have much to say in the Epistles about the duty of enterprises of evangelization, as laid upon all believers.   The stress of their appeals is directed above all things on the supreme importance of holiness, at any cost, in common life.   But a passage like this shews us how entirely they take it for granted all the time that the Churches would never concentrate themselves upon merely their own Christian life; they would go out continually, with the beauty of holiness and with "the word of life," to bring the wanderers in, and to extend the knowledge of the blessed Name.   So, and so only, would their Apostle feel, in his prison at Rome, that his "running" (edramon) on the great circuit of his evangelistic journeys, and his pastoral "toil" (ekopiasa) for the souls of his converts, had not been thrown "into the void" (eis to kenon).

      So, and so only, would his life and death of sacrifice for them be crowned with its perfect joy.   Let him see his beloved converts living and speaking as indeed the Lord's witnesses, and then with what inward "gladness" (chairein), with what a call for "congratulation" (sugchairein) on their part, would he go out to death as the Lord's martyr!

      [1] Upekousate: the aorist.   It gathers into one thought the whole recollection of his work at Philippi.

      [2] "There is not the slightest contradiction here to the profound truth of the Justification by Faith only; that is to say, only for the merit's sake of the Redeemer, appropriated by submissive trust; that justification whose sure issue is glorification (Rom. viii. 30).   It is an instance of independent lines converging on one goal.   From one point of view, that of justifying merit, man is glorified because of Christ's work alone, applied to his case through faith alone.   From another point, that of qualifying capacity, and of preparation for the Lord's individual welcome (Matt. xxv. 21; Rom. ii. 7), man is glorified as the issue of a process of work and training, in which in a true sense he is himself operant, though grace lies below the whole operation."   (Note on this verse in The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges).

      [3] It is possible to render logon xoee epechontes, "serving as life (to the world)."   But it is unlikely.   See Philippians in The Cambridge Greek Testament, Appendix.

      [4] The aorists obviously are anticipatory; giving the review of the past as he will then make it.   Cp. e.g. kathos epegnosthen, 1 Cor. xiii. 12.

      [5] "He views the Philippians, in their character of consecrated believers (cp. Rom. xii. 1), as a holocaust to God; and upon that sacrifice the drink-offering, the outpoured wine, is his own life-blood, his martyrdom for the Gospel which he has preached to them. Cp. Num. xv. 5 for the Mosaic libation, oinon eis sponden . . . poisete epi tes holokautoseos.   Lightfoot thinks that a reference to pagan libations is more likely in a letter to a Gentile mission.   But surely St Paul familiarized all his converts with Old Testament symbolism.   And his own mind was of course full of it (Note here in The Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools).--This and Rom. xv. 16 are the only two passages where St Paul connects the language of "sacerdotalism" with the distinctive work of the Christian ministry; and both passages speak obviously in the tone of figure and, so to say, poetry.

      [6] Chairete: sugchairete.   The form leaves us free to render either indicative or imperative.   But the latter is most likely in the context.

      [7] Soteria must here include not only final glory but the whole blessing possessed now and always in the Soter.

      [8] "Observe the holy paradox of the thought here.   The fulness of divine power in the saints is to result primarily not in 'doing some great thing' but in enduring and forbearing, with heavenly joy of heart.   The paradox points to one deep characteristic of the Gospel, which prepares the Christian for service by the way of a true abnegation of himself as his own strength and his own aim." (Note on Col. i. 11 in The Cambridge Bible).

      [9] A. Vinet, Hymn on the Crucifixion, translated by C. W. Moule.

         "O thou who makest souls to shine
            With light from brighter worlds above,
         And droppest glistening dew divine
            On all who seek a Saviour's love,

         "Do Thou Thy benediction give
            On all who teach, on all who learn,
         That all Thy Church may holier live,
            And every lamp more brightly burn.

               *         *         *         *         *

         "If thus, good Lord, Thy grace be giv'n
            Our glory meets us ere we die;
         Before we upward pass to heav'n
            We taste our immortality."
                        J. ARMSTRONG.

Back to H. C. G. Moule index.

See Also:
   Preface and Introduction
   Chapter 1 - Introductory
   Chapter 2 - The Intimacy of Human Hearts in Christ
   Chapter 3 - The Apostle's Position and Circumstances
   Chapter 4 - The Christian's Peace and the Christian's Consistency
   Chapter 5 - Unity in Self-Forgetfulness: The Example of the Lord
   Chapter 6 - The Lord's Power in the Disciple's Life
   Chapter 7 - Timotheus And Epaphroditus
   Chapter 8 - Joy in the Lord and its Preserving Power
   Chapter 9 - Christian Standing and Christian Progress
   Chapter 10 - The Blessed Hope and its Power
   Chapter 11 - Purity and Peace in the Present Lord
   Chapter 12 - The Collection for St Paul: The Farewell


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