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Philippian Studies: Chapter 8 - Joy in the Lord and its Preserving Power

By H. C. G. Moule

      O Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life; Grant us perfectly to know Thy Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life; that, following the steps of Thy holy Apostles, we may stedfastly walk in the way that leadeth to eternal life; through the same Thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord.   Amen.

      Collect for St Philip and St James.

      PHILIPPIANS iii. 1-11

      Doctrinal perils at Philippi--"Be glad in the Lord"--The true Israel--An ideal legalist--Position and experience--The spiritual power of holy joy--Acceptance and holiness--Atoning Cross and Risen Life

      With the section just closed the Epistle reaches its middle point and already looks towards its end.   We may lawfully think of St Paul as pausing here in his dictation; he returns to it after some considerable interval, with new topics, or rather with one important new topic, in his mind.   Hitherto, if we have read him aright, we have seen him occupied, from one side or another, with the thought of Christian Unity at Philippi.   That thought has been either explicitly developed, as in the close of the first chapter, and in the opening of the second, and again in the passage embracing ii. 14-16; or it has been rather implied than expounded.   The Apostle's assurances of love and prayer have been often worded so as to suggest it.   The grand passage of doctrine, ii. 5-11, has been occasioned directly by it, and is made to bear immediately upon it; the Lord's wonderful self-abnegation (if the word may be tolerated) is revealed and asserted there, not in an isolated way, but as it speaks to the believer of the spirit which should animate him, and which will preclude jealousies and separations as nothing else can.   And even the paragraph where Timotheus and Epaphroditus are before us is tinged with the same feeling; what the Apostle says about both these dear friends is so said as to unite the sympathies of the Philippians.

      But he has more to speak of than this sacred call to union of spirit and of life in Christ.   We gather that Epaphroditus, talking over the condition of the Mission with his leader, had alluded to the presence there of serious doctrinal perils, which must ultimately affect Christian holiness.   That ubiquitous difficulty, the propaganda of anti-Pauline Christian Judaism, had come on the scene, or was just coming.   The teachers who affirmed, or insinuated, that Jesus Christ could be reached only through the ceremonial law, were now to be reckoned with.   The converts were disturbed, or soon might be disturbed, by being told that proselytism to Moses, sealed by circumcision, was a sine qua non in order to a valid hope of salvation through the Gospel; that the man awakened from his paganism must be at least something of a Jew to be anything of a Christian; that the door was not absolutely open between the sinner's soul and the Saviour, to be passed through by the one step of a living trust in the Promise.

      Let us remember that assertions like these, which to Christians now may seem obviously futile, by no means necessarily seemed so then.   Then, much more than now, pagan enquirers after JESUS would be sure to be conscious that the true salvation offered was, in one sense, emphatically a Jewish salvation.   It was the message which told of the life and death, the person and work, of One who was, "after the flesh," a Jew.   It was the announcement that the long hope of Israel was fulfilled in Him.   Its terminology was full of words and ideas altogether Jewish.   And its messengers--above all, for the Philippians, St Paul--were Jews, of unmistakable nationality, training, and (doubtless) appearance.   On a first view, on a hasty and shallow view certainly, it may have seemed a quite natural incident in such a message when some of its propagandists asserted that to reach this Hebrew Deliverer and King the enquirer must form a connexion in religion which should be definitely Hebrew.

      It is conceivable that even yet, in the history of the Church, this phase of error may in some form assert itself again.   We look in the future, it may be in the near future, for the keeping to the old Israel of promises which have never been revoked.   We believe that Rom. xi. shall yet find its fulfilment, and that the "receiving of them again shall be life from the dead" to the world.   In that great period of blessing, the work of missions may (shall we not say, probably will?) be very largely taken up by Hebrew Christians.   And if any of these, like some of their predecessors of the first age, should have only a distorted view of the Gospel of Christ, their intense national character may tell not a little on the form of their message.   But this is by the way.   All that is really before us here is the fact that--not the open hostility of unconverted Jews but--the sidelong counter-action of Judaistic Christians was threatening Philippi, and must be met by the Apostle.

      Nor was this, if we explain rightly the close of ch. iii., the only such danger in the air.   The antinomian traitor was also within the gates.   There were those who could assert that the Gospel, the Pauline Gospel, the wonderful message of Justification by Faith only, and of a life lived in the Spirit as its sequel, was the very truth they held and rejoiced in; but they taught it so as to reason from it that practical holiness did not matter; the justified, the accepted, the man of the Spirit, lived in a transcendental religious region; he was not to be bound in conduct by common rules.   Was he not in grace?   And was not grace the antithesis of works?   Was not grace, before everything else, the condonation of sin?   And the more it did that work, was it not the more glorious?   "Shall we not continue in sin then, that grace may abound?"   What does it signify, though the perishable and burthensome body defiles itself?   The emancipated spirit of the "spiritual" man lives on another plane; the sensual and the mystical elements may approach, may run parallel, but can never meet.   The body may sin; the spirit must be pure--if only the man is in grace.

      Such assuredly were some of the conditions of error and evil to be considered when on that far-off day, in his Roman chamber, St Paul turned his soul again to Philippi, and asked his scribe to write. There is a solemn comfort in the thought.   In our days of trial, when again and again it is as it "the foundations were destroyed," it is something to remember the awful mental and moral trials of the apostolic age.   It was indeed an "age of faith"; but, as the other side of that very fact, it was an age of clouds and darkness, from the point not of "faith" but of "sight."   It had a glorious answer to the tremendous questions that beset it.   But that answer was not human reasoning, or material successes; it was the Lord Jesus Christ.   And so it is for us to-day.

      But now St Paul is at work; let us listen, and we shall hear how promptly he brings that answer to bear in his letter to Philippi.[1]

      Ver. 1.   For the rest (to loipon), my brethren, to turn now to another topic, as I draw towards an end, let me give you this comprehensive watchword +Be glad in the Lord+.[2]   +To write the same things to you+, to reiterate that one thought, that CHRIST is our glory and our joy, "+to me not irksome, it is safe for you+."[3]   Safe, because there are spiritual dangers around you from which this will be the best preservative; false teachings which can only be fully met with the gladness of the truth of Christ.   +Beware of+,

      Ver. 2.   keep your eyes open upon (blepete), +the "dogs,"+ the men who would excommunicate all who hold not with their half-Christian Pharisaism and its legal burthens, but who are themselves thus self-excluded from the covenant blessing.   +Beware of the evil workmen+, the teachers whose watchword is "works, works, works," a weary round of observances and would-be merits, but who are sorry work-men indeed, spoiling the whole structure of "Heaven's easy, artless, unencumber'd plan."   +Beware of the concision+, the apostles of a mere physical wounding, which, as enjoined according to their principles, is nothing better than a mutilation (katatome), a parody of what circumcision was meant to be, as the sacrament of a preparatory dispensation now terminated in its

      Ver. 3.   fulfilment.   +For+ not they but +we are the circumcision+, the true Israel of the true covenant, sealed and purified by our God; +we who by God's Spirit worship+,[4] doing priestly service in a spiritual temple[5] in a life, love, and power, which is ours by the presence in us of the Holy Ghost, the promise of the Father; +and who exult+, not in tribal, national, ceremonial prerogatives, but +in Christ Jesus+, our refuge and our crown, our righteousness and glory, with an exultation infinitely warmer than the legalist's can be, and meanwhile pure, for its source is altogether not ourselves; +and who+, in Him, +not in the flesh+,[6] not in self and its workings, +are confident+ (for confident we are, but it is a "confidence in self-despair," the confidence of those who have been driven by self-discovery to Christ alone).[7]   I speak with a general reference, of all true disciples; but let me instance myself as a case peculiarly in point.   I speak thus,

      Ver. 4.   +though having+ (echon), I, myself (ego), from their view-point, +confidence even in flesh+.   +Whoever else thinks of confiding in flesh+, of building a legal standing-place on his privilege and merit, +I+ may do so +more+ than he; for I have reached the ne plus ultra in that

      Ver. 5.   direction.   +As for circumcision+,[8] I was an +eight-day+ child; no proselyte, operated upon in later life, but a son of the Covenant; descended +from Israel's race+, one of the progeny of him who was a prince with God (Gen. xxxii. 28); +of Benjamin's tribe+, the tribe which gave the first God-chosen king to the nation, and which remained "faithful among the faithless" to the house of David at a later day; +Hebrew+ offspring +of Hebrew ancestors+,[9] child of a home in which, immemorially, the old manners and the old speech were cherished; in respect of the law,[10] a Pharisee--the votary of religious precision, elaborate devotion, exclusive privilege, and energetic prose-

      Ver. 6, lytism; +in respect of zeal+, intense and perfectly sincere, +persecuting the Church; in respect of the righteousness which+ resides +in the Law+, as its terms are understood by the Pharisee, +found+ (genomenos) +blameless+.[11]   Such was my position.   I possessed an ideal pedigree; full sacramental position from the first; domestic traditions pure and strict; an absolute personal devotion to the cause of my creed; the most rigorous observance of its rules; the most energetic

      Ver. 7.   efforts to maintain and extend its power.   +But the kind of things which+ (hatina) +I felt+ (moi en) so many gains,[12] these things I have come to consider (hegemai, perfect), +because of our+ (ton) +Christ+ (discovered at last in His glory, as the slain and risen Jesus), just one +loss+, one +deprivation+; not merely a worthless thing, but a ruinous one; a robbery of the true Blessing

      Ver. 8.   from my soul.   +Aye more, I actually+ (kai) now +consider all things+, from all points of view, all possessions, all ambitions, +to be+ similarly +loss+, deprivation, +because of the surpassingness of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord+, because of the immeasurable betterness of a spirit-sight of what HE is, in Himself, and as my own; +because of whom+--on account of what He now was to me--+I suffered deprivation+ (exemiothen) +of my all+ (ta panta), in the crisis of my change; +and I consider it+ only +refuse+,[13] rubbish, that +I may gain+[14] (in a blessed exchange of profit against loss, the loss of what I thought my "gains") +Christ+, nothing less than HIM, my boundless Wealth (ploutos

      Ver. 9.   anexichniaston, Eph. iii. 8), +and be found+, at any and every "time of finding" (Ps. xxxii. 7, Heb.) by the Holy One, +in Him+, one with Him, in His precious merits and in His risen life, but now especially in His merits; +not having a righteousness of my own, that derived from the Law+, a title to acceptance drawn from my own supposed perfect correspondence to the Law, +but that which+ comes +through faith in[15] Christ+, through reliance wholly reposed in Him, +the righteousness which is derived+ not from the Law but +from God+, coming wholly out of His uncaused and sacred mercy, +on terms of our (te) faith+, conditioned[15]

      Ver. 10.   to us by simply our accepting reliance; +in order to know Him+, HIM, my Lord, with an intuition possible only to the soul which accepts Him for its All; +and the power of His Resurrection+, as that Resurrection assures His people of their justification (Rom. iv. 24, 25), and of their coming glory (1 Cor. xv. 20), and yet more as He, by His life-giving Spirit, shed forth from Him the risen Head, lives His "indissoluble life" (Heb. vii. 16) in His members; and +the partnership of His sufferings+, that deep experience of union with Him which comes through daily "taking up the cross," in His steps, for His sake, and in His strength; growing into conformity (summorthi-xomenos, a present participle) +with His Death+, drawn evermore into spiritual harmony with Him who wrought my salvation out by an ineffable surrender

      Ver. 11.   of Himself to suffer; if +somehow I may arrive+, along the appointed path of the believer's obedience, +at the resurrection which is out from the dead+ (ten exanastasin ten ex nekron: so read); "that blessed hope" for all who sleep in Him, when their whole existence, redeemed and perfected, shall leave the world of "the dead" behind for ever.

      Here is a piece of consecutive rendering and paraphrase longer than usual.   And meanwhile the passage before us is one of extraordinary fulness and richness, alike in its record of experience and its teaching of eternal truths.   But it seemed impossible to break into fragments the glorious wholeness of the Apostle's thought and utterance.   And then, the utterance is so rich, so detailed, so explanatory of itself, that I could not but feel that, for very much of it at least, my best commentary was the closest rendering I could offer, with a few brief suggestions by the way.

      Drawing now to a close, I can only indicate, under one or two headings, some main messages to the mind and soul.

      i.   I gather from the connexion of the passage, as we have traced it, the supreme importance of a true joy in the Lord, a true personal sight of "the King in His beauty," in order to our spiritual orthodoxy.   Let me quote again from the Prayer Book of the Moravians, from which I gave one short extract in the last chapter.   In their "Church Litany," among the first suffrages, occur these petitions: "From coldness to Thy merits and death.   From error and misunderstanding, From the loss of our glory in Thee, Preserve us, gracious Lord and God."   The words are the very soul of St Paul, as it conveys the Spirit's oracle to us here. St Paul dreads exceedingly for the Philippians the incursion of "error and misunderstanding"; the advent of a mechanical rigorism of rule and ordinance, and (as we shall see in later pages) the subtle poison also of the specious antinomian lie.   How does he apply the antidote?   In the form of an appeal to them to be sure to not to "lose their glory in the Lord"; and then he writes a record of his own experience in which he shews them how his own Pharisaic treasures had all been cast away, or willingly given up to the spoiler; and why?   Not for abstract reasons, but "because of the surpassingness of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord"; because of the irresistible and infinite betterness of His discovered glory, seen in the atoning Cross and the Resurrection power.

      Let us "arm ourselves likewise with the same mind."   We have countless perils about us in our modern Christendom, things which only too easily can trouble the reason and sway the will away from the one "hope set before us."   Let us meet them, whatever else we do, with the Moravians' prayer.   Let us meet them with obedience to the Apostle's positive injunction, "Rejoice in the Lord."

      ii.   The passage bids us remember the profound connexion between a true "knowledge" of the Lord Jesus as our Atonement and a true "knowledge" of Him as our Life and Power.   Both are here.   In ver. 9, so it seems to me, any unprejudiced reader of St Paul's writings must see language akin to those great passages of Romans and Galatians which put before us the supreme question of our Justification, and which send us for our whole hope of Acceptance before the eternal Judge, whose law we have broken, to the Atoning Death of our Lord Jesus Christ.   In those passages, demonstrably as I venture to think, the word "Righteousness" is largely used as a short term for the Holy One's righteous way of accepting us sinners for the sake of the Sinless One, who, in our nature, was "made a curse for us," "made sin for us," "delivered for our offences," "set forth for a propitiation," that we might be "justified from all things" in our union with Him by faith.   If so, this is the purport of similar phrases here also.   St Paul is thinking here first of the discovered glory of Christ as the propitiation for his sins, his peace with God, his refuge and his rest for ever against the accuser and the curse.   That comes first, profoundly first.

      But then we have also here the sequel truth, the glorious complement. Here is Acceptance, wholly for Jesus Christ's most blessed sake.   But this is but the divine condition to another divine and transcendent blessing; it is revealed as the way in to a knowledge of this Lord of Peace, a deep and unspeakable knowledge of Him, such as shall infuse into His disciple the power of His Risen Life, and the secret of an inward assimilation of the soul to the very principle of His Death, and shall be the path whose end shall be His glory.

      St Paul here bids us never put asunder what God hath joined together. "Never further than the Cross, never higher than Thy feet"; there may we be "found," "in Him"; unshaken by surrounding mysteries, and meekly resolute against fashions of opinion.   Let us be recognized for those who truly know for themselves, and truly commend to others, that blessed "Justification by Faith" which is still, as ever, the Beautiful Gate of the Gospel.

         "'Tis joy enough, my All in All,
            Before Thy feet to lie;
         Thou wilt not let me lower fall,
            And who can higher fly?"

      But then let us be known as those who, accepting Christ Jesus as our All for peace, (whatever we may have to "consider to be loss" that we may do so,) have clasped Him also as our Hidden Life, our Risen Power, our King within.

         "O Jesus Christ, grow Thou in me,
            And all things else recede;
         My heart be daily nearer Thee,
            From sin be daily freed." [17]

      Always at the atoning Cross;--yes, every day and hour; "knowing no other stand" before the face of the Holy One.   Always receiving there the Risen Life, the presence inwardly of the Risen One, the secret power to suffer and to serve in peace;--yes, for ever yes; "to the praise of the glory of His grace."

      So, and only so, shall we live the life of real sinners really saved; "worshipping by the Spirit of God, exulting in Christ Jesus, and confident, but not in the flesh."

      [1] The reader may be aware that Bishop Lightfoot's theory of the connexion of thought at the beginning of ch. iii. is different from that advocated here.   He thinks that St Paul dictated on continuously till the close of iii. 1, and was interrupted there, and then began de novo with iii. 2, entirely on another line.   In this view, the words about "writing the same things unto you" refer still to Christian unity, on which St Paul was going to dilate further, but a sudden pause occurred, and the theme was dropped.   With reverence for the great expositor, I cannot but think this unlikely.   It assumes that St Paul was curiously indifferent to the sequence of thought in an important apostolic message, which assuredly he would read over again before it was actually sent.   A theory which fairly explains the passage, and meanwhile avoids the thought of such indifference, seems to me far preferable.

      [2] The words obviously may be rendered, "Farewell in the Lord"; and so some take them, explaining that St Paul was intending to close immediately, and so wrote his "Adieu" here; but then changed his plan. This is very unlikely however.   See below, iv. 4: Chairete en Kurio pantote.   The "always" there scarcely suits a formula of farewell, while it perfectly suits an injunction to be glad.   And that passage is the obvious echo of this.--A.V. and R.V. both render "rejoice," though R.V. writes "or, farewell" in the margin.   St Chrysostom in his comments here explains the passage as referring to the Christian's joy (chara).   The ancient Latin versions render Gaudete (not valete) in Domino.

      [3] I thus render rhythmically the rhythmical Greek (it is an iambic trimeter): emoi men ouk okneron, humin d asphales.   It is probable that the words are a quotation from a Greek poet, perhaps a "comic" poet; the "comedies" being full of neatly expressed reflexions.   For such a quotation, probably from the "comedian" Menander, see 1 Cor. xv. 33: phtheirousin ethe chresth homiliai kakai: "Ill converse cankers fair morality."

      [4] The reading pneumati Theou (not Theo) latreuontes is to be preferred.

      [5] Datreuien means first to do servants' work, then to do religious "service" (so almost always in LXX. and N.T.) and sometimes specially priestly duty (see e.g. Heb. xiii. 10).   This latter may be in view here: we Christians, born anew of the Spirit, are the true priests, and we little need to be made Jewish proselytes first.

      [6] The sarx in St Paul is very fairly represented by the word "self" as used popularly in religious language.   It is man taken as apart from God, and so man versus God; then by transition it may mean, as here, the products of such a source, the labours of the self-life to construct a self-righteousness.   It is hardly necessary to say that, in such contexts as this, where it stands more or less distinguished from the pneuma, it is not a synonym for "the body."   Sins of "the flesh" may be sins purely of the mind, as e.g. "emulation" (Gal. v. 20).

      [7] I thus attempt to convey the emphasis of the words ouk en sarki pepoithotes, which is not precisely as if he had written en sarki.

      [8] Peritoue: a dative of reference, a frequent construction with St Paul.   See Rom. xii. 10-12 for several examples together.

      [9] See Trench, Synonyms, Sec. xxxix., for the special meanings of Israelites, the member of the Covenant-people; Ebraios, the Jew who was true to his inmost national traditions; and Ioudaios, the Jew merely as other than the Gentile.

      [10] The article is absent; but context leaves no doubt of the special reference here.

      [11] In solemn contrast but with perfect consistency, from another point of view--that not of the Pharisee but of GOD--he can point out elsewhere that "no flesh" can possibly claim "righteousness" on the ground of fulfilment of code and precept.   See especially Rom. iii. 19, 20.   But his business here is to meet the legalist on the legalist's own ground.

      [12] Notice the plural; as if, miser-like, he had counted his bags of treasure.   And then see the contrasted singular, Xemian: he finds them all one mass of loss.

      [13] Skubala: the Greek etymologists derived the word from kusi balein, "to cast to dogs."   Otherwise it is traced to a connexion with skor, "excrement."

      [14] Practically, he means "that I might gain," in the past transaction of conversion and surrender.   He thinks the past over again.

      [15] Lit., "faith of," pisteos Christou.   This use of the genitive with pistis, to denote its object, is frequent.   Cp. e.g. Mark xi. 22; Gal. ii. 16, 20.

      [16] Even as the benefit of food is conditioned to us by our (not buying but) eating it.

      [17] See the whole hymn (rendered from Lavater's O Jesu Christe, wachs in mir) in Hymns of Consecration, 295.

         "We will dwell on Calvary's mountain
            Where the flocks of Zion feed,
         Oft resorting to that fountain
            Open'd when our Lord did bleed;
                     Thence deriving
            Grace, and life, and holiness."
                     From the Moravian Hymn-book.

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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