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Philippian Studies: Chapter 9 - Christian Standing and Christian Progress

By H. C. G. Moule

         "I want that adorning divine
            Thou only, my God, can'st bestow;
         I want in those beautiful garments to shine
            Which distinguish Thy household below.

         "I want, as a traveller, to haste
            Straight onward, nor pause on my way,
         Nor forethought nor anxious contrivance to waste
            On the tent only pitch'd for a day.

         "I want--and this sums up my prayer--
            To glorify Thee till I die,
         Then calmly to yield up my soul to Thy care,
            And breathe out, in faith, my last sigh."
                     CHARLOTTE ELLIOTT.

      PHILIPPIANS iii. 12-16

      Christian exultation--Christian confidence--"Not in the flesh"--"In Jesus Christ"--The prize in view--No finality in the progress--"Not already perfect"--The recompense of reward--What the prize will be

      In a certain sense we have completed our study of the first section of the third chapter of the Epistle.   But the treatment has been so extremely imperfect, in view of the importance of that section, that a few further remarks must be made.   Let us ponder one weighty verse, left almost unnoticed when we touched it.

      Observe then the brief, pregnant account of the true Christian, given in ver. 3: "We are the circumcision, we who by God's Spirit worship, and who exult in Christ Jesus, and who, not in the flesh, are confident."   This is a far-reaching description of the true member of the true Israel, the man of the Covenant of grace.

      Note first its positive lines.   "We worship," "we exult," "we are confident."   Every affirmation is full of divine principles of truth. "We worship"; ours is a hallowed, dedicated, and reverent life.   It is spent in a sanctuary.   Whatever we have to be, or to do, as to externals; whether to rule a province, a church, a school, a home; whether to keep accounts, or sweep a room; whether to evangelize the slums of a city, or the dark places of heathenism, or to teach language, or science, or music; whether to be active all day long, or to lie down alone to suffer; whatever be our actual place and duty in the world, "we worship."   "We have set the Lord always before us." We have "sanctified Christ as LORD in our hearts" (1 Pet. iii. 15; so read).   We belong to Him everywhere, and we recollect it.   We owe adoring reverence to Him everywhere, and we recollect it.   Let us reiterate the fact; ours is a hallowed life, for it belongs to a divine Master; it is a reverent life, for that Master in His greatness is to us an abiding Presence.   The fact of Him, the thought of Him, has expelled from our lives the secular air and the light and flippant spirit.   We are nothing if not worshippers.

      Then, secondly, "we exult."   Ours is a life of gladness, so far as it is the true Christian life.   Constantly and profoundly chastened by its worshipping character, it is constantly quickened and illuminated by this element of exultation.   The word is strong, kauchomenoi, "exulting."   We observe that the Apostle does not say that we are resigned, that we are at peace, that there is a calm upon us.   This is true; but he says that "we exult."   The "still waters," the mey m'nuchoth of Ps. xxiii. 2, are anything but stagnant.   They are a lake; but it is a lake upon a river, like the fair waters of Galilee, receiving and giving, and therefore alive with pure movement, while yet surrounded by the "rest," m'nuchah, which means repose not from action but underneath it.   "We exult."   Ours is not an autumn of feeling; not a state of the soul in which the characteristics are the sighs and starting tears of memory and apprehension.   It is an everlasting spring, in which the mighty but temperate Sun of Salvation is shining, and will not set; not parching but quickening all day long. "We exult."   It is a happy life, not only with the happiness of a cheerful contentment, beautiful as that is; ours is the happiness of wondering discovery, and rich possession, and ever-opening prospects; it is "quick and lively"; it is "exultation."

      Then, "we are confident."   If I traced the bearing of this clause aright, in the last chapter, we shall feel that the word pepoithotes is meant to carry a positive message.   It is not only that "we do not rely on the flesh"; it is that "we are reliant, though not on the flesh."   Even so, in the true idea of the Christian life.   "We are confident."   We are not wanderers from one peradventure to another; we are reliant, we are assured, we know where we are, and what we are, and whither we are bound.   True, we, are intensely conscious of the limits of our knowledge; it is only here and there that we can absolutely say, "We know."   But then, the points where we can say so are points of supreme importance.   "We know that the Son of God is come."   "We know that our sins are forgiven us for His name's sake."   "We know that all things work together for good to them that love God."   "We know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle is dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens; therefore we are always confident."   And all this is summed up in the thought that "we know WHOM we have believed, and that HE is able to keep what we have committed unto Him."   Our certainty is a confiding certainty. It does not reside in our courage, or our mental insight; it is lodged in a Person, who is such that He claims our entire reliance on His work, His word, Himself.

      Then from its other side this wonderful verse gives us the cautions, the negatives, of the Christian life; though even here it speaks the language of the highest positive truth.   "We worship by God's Spirit"; our reverence, our adoration, the hallowing and religiousness of our lives, is not a form imposed from without; it is a power exerting itself from within, having come to our poor hearts from above. Assuredly we do not neglect or slight actions and rites of worship; He who has made each of us soul and body, one man, does not mean us to despise the outward and physical in devotion.   But we watchfully remember that no such actions or rites are, for one moment, the soul of worship, or its formative power.   That soul and power is "God's Spirit" only; the Holy Ghost dwelling in the renewed being, and teaching the man "to cry Abba, Father," and "making intercession for him with groanings which cannot be uttered," and "taking of the things of Christ, and shewing it unto us."   We pray, and it is "in the Holy Ghost."   We worship, and it is "in Spirit, and in truth."

      Again, "we exult in Christ Jesus."   Our glad and animated happiness lies in nothing short of HIM as its cause.   We are thankful for noble religious traditions and institutions, and for holy parentage, and for all which makes Christianity correspond in practice to its name.   But we are watchful not to let even these blessings take the unique place of "Christ Jesus" in our "exultation."   "In all things He must have the pre-eminence."   Piety itself without Him, if it can be found, is not a body but a statue.   All the privileges of the Church of God, without Him, though we reverently cherish every teaching and every ordinance that is Christian indeed, are but the frame without the picture, the casket without the stone.

      Then again, "not in the flesh are we confident."   We have learnt a deep distrust of everything which St Paul classes under that word "flesh."   It is always offering itself to us, in one Protean shape or another, to be our comfort and our repose.   Sometimes it takes the form of our supposed usefulness and diligence; sometimes of our strict and exemplary observances; sometimes, putting on a disguise still more subtle, it sets before the Christian the depth, or the length, of his spiritual experience.   Or it grows bolder, and is content with coarser masks; it tempts us to a miserable reliance on some imagined betterness when we compare ourselves, forsooth, with some one else.   I knew long ago an old shepherd, in my father's parish, who based a hope for eternity on the fact (if such it was) that he was never tipsy on a Sunday.   We are amused, or we are shocked.   But this was only an extreme type of a vast phenomenon, to be found lurking in countless hearts, when God lets in the light; the "reliance" on our being somehow, so we think, "not as other men are."   And from this whole world of delusion, in all its continents and islands, the Lord calls us away here by His Apostle.   He bids us migrate as it were to another planet, laying our whole confidence, not part of it, on HIM; let that other world, our old world, roll along without us.

      Christ presents to us Himself (as we follow out this rich Philippian passage) as all our Righteousness, in His precious justifying Merit, offered for the acceptance of the very simplest faith.   And He presents Himself as all our Power, for deliverance and for service, in His resurrection Life; coming to reveal Himself to us in the divine beauty of His sufferings, His death, through which he has passed for us into "indissoluble life" (Heb. vii. 16).   Our Righteousness--it is HE, "the propitiation for our sins."   Our Sanctification--it is still HE, in "the power of His resurrection, and fellowship with His sufferings, and assimilation to His death."   Our Redemption, from the power of the grave--it is still "this same Jesus," in union with whom alone we "attain unto the resurrection which is out from the dead."

      Even so, Lord Jesus Christ; let us thus be "found in Thee"; worshipping, exulting, confiding; resting on Thee, abiding in Thee, with an accepting faith which only grows more simple and single as the years move on and gather "since we believed."

         "Help us, O Christ, to grasp each truth
            With hand as firm and true
         As when we clasp'd it first to heart
            A treasure fresh and new;

         "To name Thy name, Thyself to own,
            With voice unfaltering,
         And faces bold and unashamed
            As in our Christian spring." [1]

      But St Paul is again dictating, and we must follow.   He has confessed and affirmed, once for all, his standing and fixity in the Lord, and in Him alone.   Now he must emphasize another aspect of the living truth, his progress in the Lord; the non-finality of any given attainment in union with Him.

      Ver. 12.   +Not as though I had already received+ (elabon) the crown of accomplished glory, +or had been already perfected+, with the perfection which shall be when "we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is."   +No, I am pressing on+ (dioko de), as on the racer's course, +if indeed+, if as a fact, in blessed finality, +I may seize+ (katalabo) +that+ promised crown +with a view to which[2] I was actually+ (kai) +seized by Christ Jesus+, when in His mercy He as it were laid violent hands upon me, to pluck me from ruin, and to constrain me into His salvation and His service.   Yes, "I press on" to "seize" that crown, with the animating thought that it was on purpose that I might "seize" it that the Lord "seized" me; and that so every stage in the upward and onward course of faith runs straight in the line of His will whose mighty, gracious grasp is on me as I go. +Brethren+,

      Ver. 13.   (I speak the word of pause and of appeal, as if I could stand by you, and lay my hand upon your arm,) +I+ (ego), whatever others may think and do about themselves, +do not account myself+ (emauton, emphatic like ego) +to have seized+ the crown as yet; no, one thing (en de)--my thoughts, my purposes, are all concentrated on this one thing--+the things behind forgetting+, as one experience after another falls behind me into the past, +and towards the things in front stretching out and onward+ (epekteinomenos), like the eager racer, with head thrown forward and body bent towards his object, seeking for more and yet more, in the grace and power of my unchangeable

      Ver. 14.   Saviour, +goal-ward I press on+ (kata skopon dioko), "not uncertainly," with no faltering or divided aim, +unto+ (eis), till I actually touch, +the prize+ (brabeion, 1 Cor. ix. 24), the victor's wreath,[3] the prize +of+, offered by, made possible through, +the high call of God+, the voice of His prevailing grace[2] coming from the heights (ano) of glory and leading the believer at length up thither, +in Christ Jesus+; for through Him comes the "call," and its blessed effect is to unite the "called," the converted, sinner to Him, so that he lives here and hereafter in Him.   +So let all+

      Ver. 15.   +us perfect ones+ (hosoi oun teleioi), with the perfection not of ideal attainment but of Christian maturity and entirety of experience, +be of this mind+; the "mind" of those who rest in Christ immoveably for their acceptance, and press forward in Christ unrestingly in their obedience, ever discovering fresh causes for humility and for progress, as they keep close to Him.   +And if you are diversely+ (eteros) +minded in any thing+, if in any detail of theory or statement you cannot yet see with me, +this also God shall unveil to you+.   Sure I am that "the Spirit of God speaketh by me," and that ultimately therefore you will, in submission to Him, see as I have taught you.   But I am not therefore commissioned in this matter to denounce and excommunicate; I lay the truth before you, and in love leave it upon your reverent thoughts.   +Only, as to+

      Ver. 16.   +what we have succeeded in reaching+,[5] so far as our insight into Christ has actually gone, up to our full present light in the Gospel, +let us step in the same path+ (to auto stoichein[6]), on the unchanging principles of faith, love, and holiness, and with a watchful desire to cherish to the utmost a holy harmony of spirit and conduct.

      Here, in suggestive contrast or complement to the section we studied last, the Christian appears in full and energetic movement, animated with a sacred discontent, repudiating all thought of finality in his conformity to his Lord, and in his actual spiritual condition; running, pressing on, remembering at every step that, although grace is present in power, and glory is in view, still this is the journey, not the home; the race, not the goal;

         Nil actum reputans dum quid sibi restat agendum.

      The passage contains of course much divine teaching in detail.   But two
      main points come up conspicuously "for our learning."

      i.   We have here a strong, and at the same time a most tender, warning against all approaches to a theoretical "perfectionism."   Under that word, as I am well aware, many varieties of opinion in detail may be found.   And again, few who hold opinions commonly called perfectionist like the word "perfectionism."   But I speak with practical accuracy when I give that title to such views as on the whole affirm the attainableness here below of a spiritual condition in which man needs no longer confess himself as now a sinner, and in which his attention tends to be drawn more to his perfectness than to his imperfections of condition.   That such views are held, and strongly held, by many earnest Christians, is a familiar fact.   As far as my own observation goes, such views are not uncommonly attended, in those who hold them, by a certain oblivion to personal shortcomings and inconsistencies; by an obscuration of consciousness, and of conscience, more or less marked, towards the sinfulness of ordinary, everyday violations of the law of holiness in respect of "meekness, humbleness of mind, longsuffering," sympathy, and other quiet graces.

      In the present passage the Apostle's whole spirit moves in just the opposite direction.   His complete repose in Christ as the Righteousness of God for him, and then his deep nearness to his Lord as the Power of God in him, alike seem not so much to banish as utterly to preclude any thought about himself but that of his own imperfection.   He writes as one whose very last feeling is that of complacency in his spiritual condition.   I deliberately do not say "self-complacency"; for all Christians would repudiate that word; I say, complacency in his spiritual condition.   His spiritual position, in Christ, as he is "found in Him," fills him with much more than complacency; it is his glory and his boast.   But when he comes to speak of his spiritual condition, the possessing thought is that all is imperfect and progressive.   He has a perfect blessing; but he is an imperfect recipient of it; he has "not attained."   He is deeply happy.   But he is thoroughly humble.   As we read the passage, we feel very sure that the man who wrote it would lie very tenderly and candidly open to reproofs, and to painful truths told him about himself.   For his Lord, he is ready to bear rejoicing witness to the whole world.   For himself, even as in Christ, he holds no brief; nay, he takes the other part.

      He has had a vision of absolute holiness which has completely guarded him from the delusion of thinking that he is himself absolutely holy, even in the fullest state of grace.   He is so genuinely "perfect" in the sense of mature knowledge of his Lord that he is incapable of thinking himself "perfected."

      All the while, this does not for a moment leave him in the miserable plight of acquiescing in sin because he knows he is still a sinner.   If he were merely going by a theory, it might be so.   But he is going by the Lord Jesus Christ; he is using HIM, daily and hourly, as not only his always abasing standard, but as "all his salvation, and all his desire"; as the infinitely blissful Object of his affections and of his knowledge; as his Summum Bonum.   While Christ is fully this to the Christian, he will be little likely on the one hand to say, "I am perfect" (Job ix. 20); on the other he will be always seeking, in the most practical of all ways, watching, praying, believing, for a closer conformity and yet closer (summorphixomenos) to his Lord's bright image.

      And at the back of all his thoughts about defect and progress will lie the restful certainties to which no ideas of defect attach, and from which the idea of progress is absent, because it is out of place--the certainties of the Righteousness of God, "of peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ"; the being "found in Him."

      ii.   The passage puts very distinctly before us the thought of the Reward of Grace.   The writer is living, loving, working, in view of a "prize," brabeion: he looks forward to the Master's hand as it will extend the wreath of victory, and to His voice as it will utter the longed-for words, "Well done, good and faithful Servant."   This same man has laboured, in many an hour of public and private teaching, and in many an inspired page, to emphasize the magnificent truth that grace is grace; that God owes man nothing; that "all things are of God"; that "to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness."   He well knows that there is a side of truth from which the one possible message is the Lord's own solemn question and answer (Luke xvii. 9), "Doth he thank that servant?   I trow not."   The most complete and laborious service cannot possibly outrun the obligation of the rescued bondservant to the Possessor, of the limb to the blessed Head.   But then, this absolute servitude is to One who is, as a fact, eternal Love.   The work is done for a Master who, while His claims are absolute, is such that He personally delights in every response of love to His love, of will to His will.   His servant cannot serve Him with a grateful heart without thereby pleasing the heart of his Lord.   And so, at the close of the day's work, while, from the side of law and claims, the Lord "doth not thank that servant," from the side of love and of moral sympathy He will welcome him in with "Well done, good and faithful servant; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."   And that holy "prize" does, and must, prove a magnet to the Christian's will and hopes.   What is he looking for?   Not an accession of personal dignity in heaven, but a word from his beloved Master's heart.   There is nothing mercenary in this.   True, it "has respect unto the recompense of reward."   But the "reward" is what only love can give, and only love can take.   It is love's approval of the service of love.

      Much discussion has been spent upon the theory of reward, in the matter of our service rendered to "our King who has saved us."   The theme no doubt is one which admits of much interesting and important enquiry; and it has many sides.   But after all the true philosophy of it lies in "the truth as it is in Jesus."   Let the Christian be seeking the reward of personal aggrandizement in heaven, "to sit on His right hand, or on His left, in His glory"; and the motive is as earthly as if the scene of its fulfilment were to be an earthly palace.   Let him be seeking the "well done" of Jesus Christ, because Jesus Christ has redeemed him, and is dear to him; and he is in the line of the will, and of the love, of God.

      [1] Dr H. Bonar.

      [2] Heth o katelephthen: grammatically we may render, "inasmuch as I was seized"; cp. the Greek of Rom. v. 12; 1 Cor. v. 4.   But the connexion of thought seems to be best met by the above rendering, which is practically that of A.V. and R.V.

      [3] Stephanos, as in 1 Cor. ix. 25, Rev. iii. 11, and often. Stephanos is properly the victor's wreath, diadema the king's crown (Rev. xix. 12).--For a short essay on St Paul's use of athletic metaphors see this Epistle in The Cambridge Greek Testament, Appendix.

      [4] Klesis, kalein, kletoi, in the Epistles will be found regularly to refer not to the general invitations of the Gospel, but to the actually prevailing power of God over the wills of His people. See particularly 1 Cor. i. 23, 24, where the "call" is clearly distinguished from the general proclamation, which alas so many "Greeks" and "Jews" heard, but only to reject it.

      [5] Hephthasamen: the verb seems always to indicate not merely reaching, but reaching with some difficulty.   I attempt to express this in the translation.

      [6] There is good evidence for omitting the words kanoni, to auto phronein.--Stoichein is more in detail than peripatein: "to step," not only "to walk."   See the Greek of Rom. iv. 12.

         "Sovereign Lord and gracious Master,
            Thou didst freely choose Thine own,
         Thou hast call'd with holy calling,
         Thou wilt save, and keep from falling;
            Thine the glory, Thine alone!
         Yet Thy hand shall crown in heaven
         All the grace Thy love hath given;
         Just, though undeserv'd, reward
         From our glorious, gracious Lord."
                     F. R. HAVERGAL.

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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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