R. Govett on Philippians 3
The following is chapter 2 of Robert Govett’s book, “Entrance into the Kingdom, or Reward According to Works,” [Charles J. Thynne, London 1922. https://archive.org/details/entranceintoking00gove. CHAPTER 2, pp. 24-46.]
THE PRIZE OF OUR CALLING. PHILIPPIANS III.
In considering the difference between the conditions on which eternal life, and the kingdom of God respectively are set, the testimony of the Holy Spirit in the third chapter of Philippians is very important. Let us contemplate it then.
I. “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe. 2. Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workmen, beware of the concision. 3. For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh.”
The apostle, by exhorting them to rejoice in Christ, sounds the key note to the topic which instantly succeeds. The Judaizing teachers called them to trust in their own natural powers and merits. The man of the law has confidence in himself. The son of the gospel must trust in the Lord his righteousness, as the prophet had before taught: Isa. xlv, 25.
At Philippi, as elsewhere, there were, as it would seem, Jewish zealots, who sought to introduce circumcision and the keeping of the law, as in part, if not altogether, the ground of their justification. All but the circumcised they regarded as Gentile “dogs” and persecuted the disciples of Jesus, if they refused to comply with their demands. Against such Paul drops the word of caution. He completely turns the tables on them. They, not believers in Jesus, were the “dogs” now. They were, like that animal, unclean, and unaccepted before God.
They were also “evil workmen.” They were not idlers; but they sought to build up the false doctrine, and to pull down the true. Professing themselves Moses’ disciples, they resisted the authority of Messiah, the Lord of Moses.
Thrice he repeats, “Beware!” In a world of evil, danger takes many forms. This repeated admonition refers to the same parties under different aspects. Let the church of Christ beware of the literal circumcision, and of its professors. It was not, indeed, properly to be called “circumcision” now; for God had departed from the form. Its covenant, its standing, and rites, ever since Messiah had appeared, if taken alone, were deadly. God had left the shadow, for the substance had come. The spirit of the law was gone; it was now but the corpse. He could only call therefore its initiatory rite, by the name of “mutilation,” or “mangling.”
Believers are now the true circumcision. They, like Abraham, only in fuller measure, have seen Messiah and His day, and are glad. They have Abraham’s spirit of faith, and Christ is to them the fulfilment of the law; which is better than being sons of Abraham’s flesh, and of the law of Moses, which condemns all. They are the worshippers in spirit and in truth, whom the Father is now seeking. The Jew knew and regarded only the outward act, and despised and railed at the inward reality. Circumcised in flesh, he was uncircumcised in heart. Seeking to establish his own righteousness, he was a despiser of the righteousness sent by God through Jesus Christ.
Against circumcision, then, and the teachers of it, the church of Christ is warned. Its principles are alien to those of Christ. But the advocates of infant baptism are teachers of circumcision. The covenant of circumcision, which is the law, is their main stronghold against the baptism of believers. While they do not plead for the act of circumcision to be added to the gospel ground of justification, as did the Jewish teachers of old they do plead for the laws of circumcision, as a fitting or necessary supplement to those of Christ. But in so doing, they are pleading for the addition of the law and the flesh, to the pure gospel of Christ. Many of them indeed are holy men, and useful in other respects; and they do this in ignorance. They would sooner cut off their hand than hinder the gospel. To such then we lift up the voice of testimony. If the infants of believers be nearer to God than other infants, it must be because the flesh of believers is better than other flesh. And then, just to this extent, “confidence in the flesh” is brought in; a thing against which the Holy Spirit here declares himself. The true circumcision puts “no confidence in the flesh.” In all alike, the flesh is equally worthless and dead,
4. “Although I am in possession of ground of confidence even in the flesh. If any other thinketh of trusting in the flesh, I more. 5. Circumcised the eighth day, of the race of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of Hebrews, concerning the law, a Pharisee. 6. Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning righteousness that is in the law, having been blameless.”
These words indirectly meet an objection likely to occur to the mind. One sometimes finds persons very vehement in condemnation of qualities, stations, or advantages, which they do not possess, and cannot obtain for themselves. The possessors of these things then turn upon their heels with a smile at such condemnation; and say, with the proverb, “The grapes are sour.” Paul therefore, to manifest that such was not the reason of his speaking so strongly against the righteousness of the law, discovers to us that he condemned that ground of hope, though he was himself in possession of it in its fullest extent. There was no one who could exceed him in such boasting, as far as the circumstances of his birth, education, and personal obedience were concerned. He glories in seven points, which again are divided into four and three: he was —
1. “Circumcised the eighth day.”
This was the day demanded by the covenant of circumcision with Abraham, and afterwards reaffirmed by the law of Moses.
2. “Of the race of Israel.”
Circumcision was practised by Ishmael and his race, and by the Edomites, as well as by Israel and his descendants. But Paul was not a proselite, but by birth one of the chosen nation.
3. “Of the tribe of Benjamin.”
Benjamin was one of the two tribes that abode with the house of David, when the other ten severed themselves.
4. “An Hebrew of Hebrews.”
His family had ever kept itself separate from mixture with the Gentiles, when so many had intermarried with the heathen around.
Here the first division ends.
The law sets each individual who would be saved by it, on his own merits singly. “The man that doeth them shall live by them.” Paul therefore, when presenting his hopes from the law, dwells entirely on his individual standing. He boasts in the flesh. His boasts take in his (1) nation, (2) tribe, (3) family, and (4) his own personal initiation as a babe.
The three last boasts all commence with the same word, and regard his choice, and mode of life, when come to years of discretion.
5. “According to the law, a Pharisee.”
He had been educated in the strictest principles of orthodoxy, and had ever retained them. He added to the observances required by the Law, the traditions demanded by the elders.
6. “According to zeal, persecuting the church.” This, which he elsewhere states as his greatest sin, here appears as one of his merits; for he is reckoning now as the Jewish teachers did. His reverence and admiration for the law of Moses were such, that he sought to overthrow whatever stood in opposition thereto.
7. “According to righteousness which is in the law, having been blameless.”
He was not one excommunicated by the Pharisees; not one, who, after expulsion becoming a renegade, turns round with fury upon the party that have disowned, or expelled him. As far as the outward observances which the law required went, the apostle’s life was blameless. His opponents could allege against him no instance of infraction of the Mosaic code.
7. “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for the Christ. 8. Yea, doubtless, and I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and I account them to be dung, that I might win Christ. 9. And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness which is from the law, but that (which is) by faith in Christ the righteousness which is from God upon faith.”
Justification by our own works keeps us alone: but the Spirit takes us out of ourselves, takes away both from our good and evil works, and unites us to the Messiah, making all His fullness our ground of confidence. His obedience to law. His death for sin, become ours. To obtain this, Paul gladly surrenders his own boasts of himself. He casts away his old confidence. “What things were gain to me, those I counted loss in comparison of the Messiah.”
Herein see the wisdom of God! It is not the uncircumcised Gentile who treads underfoot circumcision and the law, but the Pharisee; one who could boast of righteousness by obedience to law. This is the man whom the Spirit of God selects, to teach us the real worthlessness of the greatest merits of the law; and the superiority of that better righteousness which is brought in by the life and death of the Second Adam.
As soon as the apostle discerned the glory of the righteousness provided for sinners in the Son of God, he regarded all his former jewels as dung. The labour of his life was vanity. Justly did he so regard it. Had he seen the way of faith of which the psalms and prophets, and even the law spoke, he would have perceived the impossibility of being justified by his own deeds before a perfectly just and holy God. He would have been looking forward to Messiah, and the complete righteousness promised in him. Being thus justified by faith, like Abraham his father, he would have been accepted by God. But now he saw that all his life was vain, since it had been spent under the guidance of a false principle.
Not only did he think so, under the first discovery of his own guilt before the demands of the law upon the heart; but he thought so still. Everything which either the Jew or Gentile could possess of goodness, power, knowledge, he regarded as dung in comparison of the superior knowledge of the Messiah Jesus, whom he confessed his Master and Lord.
By professing faith in Jesus as the Messiah, he lost entirely his worldly position among his countrymen; but he was well content. He esteemed these objects of earthly desire, not only as trifles, but as loathsome. His heart was set on Messiah. His choice was the choice of God. He saw that beauty in Jesus, in a measure, which the Father perceives in its fullness. He saw, and the sight deadened him to every other object to admiration. Thus does Paul exhibit himself as the merchantman of the parable, who, after seeing the one perfect pearl, gladly exchanged his former pearls, and all that he had, to obtain that.
He would gain Messiah, and the righteousness which is in him. But in order to be justified by Christ, it is necessary to be one with him. Hence he adds, “And be found in him.” Having once been united to Christ, there must we abide, there be “found” in the great day. As the Israelite was safe only in the blood-sprinkled house, and was commanded to abide there till the morning lest the sword should find him outside, so he who is in Christ, is required to abide in Him.
The above verses contain a formal renunciation of all merits in himself, all claim for reward from any obedience he had rendered to the law. He then chooses the righteousness which is obtained by believing in Jesus as the Messiah, the appointed Righteousness of the people of God. This is very clearly set forth. The righteousness is thrice defined — First, what it is not, “Not having mine own righteousness which is from law.” Secondly, “that which is by faith in Christ.” This teaches us the mode in which it becomes ours. Thirdly, “the righteousness which is from God upon faith.” It is righteousness “from God,” in opposition to the justice of God, the righteousness which is in Him. It is “upon faith.” This may have two meanings; both of which are true. “Upon faith,” in regard to time, so that the moment a man believes, he is justified. So we say, “Upon your laying down a thousand pounds, the house is yours.” Or the reference may be to a vesture cast upon the shoulders. Then this righteousness abides “upon faith,” as its perpetual clothing.
Thus we have the first part of the knowledge of Messiah. “By his knowledge (or the knowledge of him) shall my righteous servant justify many, for he shall bear their iniquities.” Up to this point believers have ever gone.
The knowledge of Messiah as His righteousness was Paul’s first step towards the kingdom of God. His former righteousness, as the Saviour declared, could not win him an entrance there. It was but the righteousness of the Pharisee; and Jesus assured the Jew solemnly, that without some better righteousness than that, none should be admitted thither: Matt, v, 20.
Having now, however, received God’s perfect righteousness, with the hand of faith, he was at peace with God, and dead to the law. But that step was only the beginning of a new life; with a new prize set before him. The object exhibited to the eye of one under the Law, was, to earn eternal life by strict obedience to the whole law. Failure on a single point, and that, tested by rigorous justice, drew down eternal death: Matt, xix, 16, 19. But eternal life is given to the believer at once on faith: Rom. vi, 23. What then is the new prize for which he is to strive? The subsequent verses inform us.
10. ” That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death, if by any means I might attain to the select resurrection from among the dead.”
The verse before us stands connected with verse eight; the intermediate parts being a parenthesis. “I count them all loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ (for whom I suffered the loss of all . . . that I might win Christ . . . the righteousness from God which is upon faith) that I may know him,” etc.
The first knowledge of Christ as His righteousness gave peace with God. But there was a further knowledge, continually unfolding in the future, which the apostle desired. It was an experimental knowledge; of the person, work, and mind, of the acts, prophecies, and promises of Christ. This was communicated in a high and blissful degree then, by immediate inspiration. To this the Christian should pray to attain now; for the promises of the gifts then granted do not belong to those times alone: 1 Cor. xiv, 1.
He wished to know also “the power of his resurrection.” This is attainable, and to be sought by the Christian in the present life. He is to seek fully to realize his position, as one with Christ. As united to Him, he is dead to the earth, and the things of it. He is risen with Christ, and spiritually seated with him on high. In the strength of his new life, he is to overcome the deeds of the flesh. “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” By the power of Jesus in resurrection, we are enabled to live as those dead to sin, and alive to God through Christ; as those who are risen men, passing through earth by the light and principles of heaven.
But this spirit of Christ acted out in life brings us into cohesion with the spirit and ways of the world; and therefore into conflict and suffering. Thus it was with our Lord. Thus it hates us, if we resemble our Master. Sufferings thence arising, and met in the spirit of Christ, are “the fellowship of his sufferings.”
These Paul desired. So great is the joy promised to suffering with Christ, that the apostle welcomed it. Nay, so excellent did the glory of the prize set before him appear, that he even coveted martyrdom, as the way thereto. “If we suffer (with Christ) we shall also reign with him.” “He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” So sure did he reckon this promise, and so blessed its fulfilment, that he desired to lay down his life for Christ’s sake. That way had the Master led: that path would the disciple follow. Herein he was superior, in intelligence and grace, to Peter as we see him in the Gospels. When Jesus had received Peter’s confession of Himself as the Son of the living God, He prophesies His own rejection by the people of Israel even unto death. Peter, staggered at the idea so contrary to his Jewish prepossessions, rebuked the Saviour; and was in turn rebuked, as relishing the things of the flesh alone, and not those of God. Then the Redeemer added, that the path of the disciple all the way to the kingdom was to be, like His own, one of rejection and suffering from an evil world. This Paul perceives and welcomes. He embraced the cross, as at once the ground of his justification, and the symbol of his life. He was ambitious to tread in the steps of his Divine Master. Like some young soldier of old, smitten with the view of David’s faith and prowess against Goliath, and persuaded that he was the anointed heir to the crown, he sought to follow in the steps of Christ, though they led through scenes of trial and danger. Paul saw too — what the sons of Zebedee beheld not — that the places of glory in Messiah’s Kingdom were to be granted to those who had suffered greatly for Christ: Matt, xx, 20-23. “Rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings, that ye may also rejoice with exceeding joy, when his glory shall be revealed”: 1 Pet. iv, 13.
The apostle desired to be conformed, even to the death of Christ. Now, in one view of it, the death of the Lord Jesus was that of a martyr, sacrificed for confessing the obnoxious doctrine, that he was the King of the Jews, and the Son of Man to whom the kingdom was promised. Paul then actually coveted the martyr’s death, as the resemblance of that of the Lord Jesus, and as the certain gate to the resurrection of the just. For the first resurrection is specially exhibited, as the assured portion of those who have given up life in the service of Christ. “He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” Paul knew what he sought; and could with confidence surrender life itself, the most valuable deposit of nature.
“If by any means I might attain to the resurrection from among the dead.” It is evident at a glance, that the resurrection which the apostle so earnestly sought, was not the general resurrection. The wicked shall partake of that, whether they desire it or not. Paul then could not express any doubts of his attaining to that, or speak of it as an object of hope. It remains then, that it be a peculiar resurrection: the resurrection of reward, obtained by the just, while the wicked remain in their graves. Such a resurrection we see in close connection with the kingdom of Christ, and the time of reward: Rev. xi, 1.5-18; xx, 4. The kingdom of Messiah, or that of the thousand years, is entered by the door of “the first resurrection.” All who partake of that are blessed and holy; kings and priests of God and of Christ. So also the Saviour speaks of a resurrection to which the sons of God alone would attain, and of which God must account the partakers worthy: Luke XX, 34-36.
Behold then the new hope, which the knowledge of Jesus as the Messiah set before the eyes of the enlightened apostle! The Anointed One is to have companions in the glory: Heb. i, 9; iii, 14. Paul’s being already righteous by faith in the Lord’s Anointed, entitled him to be a runner for the prize. None can be admitted as a candidate for reward, but he who is already accepted by grace in the Beloved. But faith had brought Paul to the starting-post, and thenceforward his life was to be a pressing on for the crown.
The expression — “If by any means I might attain,” — implies (1) the extreme eagerness of the apostle; (2) his sense of the value of the end he aimed at; and (3) the perception of the need of exertion, in order to realize the object of his pursuit.
Suffering, and the martyr’s death, were as nothing to this divinely-enlightened mind, might he but attain “the first resurrection,” the kingdom of the thousand years: Rev. xx, 4. The hope, then, which spurred on the great apostle through every difficulty and danger, is now before us! Believer, seek to obtain that prize with like earnestness. It is the hope of our calling!
The zeal and endeavours of the apostle, conjoined with the implied possibility of loss, prove the solemn truth, that some of the justified will not attain to it. All the justified will receive eternal life, but not all will partake of the antepast of the millennium. For if diligence, earnestness, and careful heed to our words and deeds be necessary to obtain that reward, then the lukewarm and careless, the worldly, covetous, pleasure-loving, inconsistent Christian will not receive it. In the chapters which are to follow, the reader will see further and distincter proofs of this startling proposition.
We have now reached a position very different from that occupied at first. Before, it was justification, as the gift of God without works, possessed already by the simple believer in the merits of another. Here, it is works, effort, suffering, with a view to win something not ours as yet. Justification was Paul’s at once on faith. The work of Jesus was perfect. He could not for a moment think of adding anything to the perfection of Christ. The prize, then, of the text is something quite distinct from eternal life. It is opened to faith in Messiah; it is intimately connected with His second coming. It is His promised kingdom. Faith brings at once eternal life. But, to one rightly instructed, faith is only the beginning of a life-long effort to attain the abundant entrance into the kingdom of God. So had the Saviour spoken of the kingdom. “It was suffering violence, and violent ones were taking it by force.” It was not now the kingdom in its might, as discovered in the Jewish prophets, crushing all other kingdoms before it; but it was the passive object, the beleaguered city, whose walls he that would enter must scale. Jesus also, the King of that future empire, presents the same two-fold aspect. He is now the passive stone, on which we may build; on which the unbeliever falls, and is broken. He will be hereafter the active potent stone, descending from on high, which, if it fall upon his foes, will grind them to powder,
12. “Not that I have already received, or am already perfected; but I press forward, if indeed I may lay hold of that, for which I was also laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13. Brethren, I do not reckon myself to have laid hold of it; but one thing I do, forgetting, on the one hand, the things behind, but stretching forth (on the other) after those in front, I press forward to the goal, for the prize of the heavenly calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
The lesson for the Christian herein is close and solemn. So high were Paul’s ideas of the requisites demanded of those who shall be privileged with entrance into that kingdom, that, in spite of all he had said, written, done, and suffered for the cause of Christ, he did not feel secure of his hope. And at what point of his course was he when he thus wrote. He had passed through the varied labours and endurances mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles; and was now a prisoner at Rome for the faith, in danger of death through the machinations of enemies. But if Paul thus thought of himself, who of us may flatter ourselves that we are safe? Still this is to be our aim. Our life after beginning to believe is either tending towards this, or from it. Each transgression tells against it; till, if provocation is long continued, the patience of God is exhausted, the birthright is lost. Or, on the other hand, if the saint is consistent, and diligent in his course, at length the Most High irrevocably pledges Himself to give him the object of his pursuit. Such have obtained the promise — they are “perfected.” But Paul thought not that it was his as yet. That word “already” implies, that he was on the right track, but that he deemed it enough if, at the close of his life, he should attain that assurance.
But this uncertainty had the right effect upon his mind and conduct. It but made him the more diligent. He represents himself as a racer, before whom a goal is set, the attaining of which would secure him the prize.
But not only was this Paul’s desire, but it was the legitimate and authentic one. It was with a view to his attaining this, that Christ had laid hold of him. He was once wandering far from God. He had opposed himself to the knowledge of Christ. He had set himself to pluck up the faith by the roots. But, in the full enmity and aversion of his heart and of his way, Christ met and arrested him. Such was the fullness of divine grace! But the Lord then set him upon running a race for a prize. Behold the new principle of reward according to works. But was this Jesus’ desire and design in Paul’s case alone? By no means. All believers are the “brethren” of the apostle in this respect, as he plainly declares afterwards. The prize, then, which Jesus proposes to the believer, and which He urges him to seek as the end of his conversion fully attained — is, the being a participator in the millennial reign of the Messiah.
Others, it would appear, deemed the great apostle sure of the end he proposed to himself, or rather which was proposed to him. But he says, I do not think so of myself. Thus we are introduced to a glimpse of another truth, more distinctly unfolded to us in another place, that the judgment of the saints about us is a matter of comparatively small moment; the real question being — What does Christ think of us? They will not mete out the recompense, but Jesus alone. They judged, comparing this devoted servant of Christ with themselves, and others: but Paul measured himself by a far higher standard. “He that judgeth me is the Lord.”
Perhaps too in the words, “I do not count myself to have apprehended,” he hints obliquely at the security of some of the Philippian saints, as if they were sure of the prize. For it would seem, from some intimations of the epistle, that too high opinion of themselves was one of the few faults of that bright church.
The pursuit of this grand reward was His single object. “This one thing I do.” Great excellence is to be attained only by directing our entire energies to a single object. Here we have Paul’s. We are mercifully shown the main-spring, which moved his heart, and feet, and tongue. This one object swallowed up all others, and made him ever zealous, ever advancing, in the knowledge and love of Christ; ever diligent in service, ever consistent with himself. Behold the motive which led him perpetually to brave the perils of a life devoted to preaching the Gospel ! Let not then such a discovery be made to us in vain. Let us take Paul’s object — the object designed by the Lord Jesus to fill our hearts as believers; and it cannot but quicken our steps in his ways.
Instead of falling back upon deeds of boldness, and on success already achieved, he forgot the past. Far from reposing on his laurels, he regarded not the things behind. He accounted nothing done, while aught remained to be accomplished. He was pressing onward still. The eager racer tarries not to see how much of the course is accomplished, but his eye is on the goal before him. Till that is reached, he will not pause. Though he bore the scars of many a well-fought field, he would not, if released from his present imprisonment, rest himself as a discharged veteran, from whom no more could be expected. No; he purposes still to go on, spreading the Gospel of the grace of God, a partaker of its afflictions then, that he might be a partaker of the glory of the Saviour hereafter. He was released; according to the hope he expresses in the epistle before us. He exerted himself anew, and was again arrested. We hear his last words in the second epistle to Timothy. But then he says, that he now felt sure of the prize. The goal was just won. He was about to yield up life itself in martyrdom for Christ; and he expresses his conviction at length, that Christ, when He should sit as the righteous judge, would award him the object of his so constant and persevering effort. “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight; I have finished the course; I have kept the faith; henceforth, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me in that day, but not to me only, but unto them also which have loved His appearing”: 2 Tim. iv, 6-8.
Paul pressed onward with a view to the prize. Whence it follows, that it is to be obtained as the result of effort, intelligent pursuit, suffering for Christ, advancement in grace. It is the end to which God has called the believer. It is “the prize of the high calling of God.” By “the high calling” is meant the same as “the heavenly calling” of Heb. iii, 1. It is God’s call from on high up to Himself in heaven. Israel was called on earth to the things of earth. To be partakers then in the millennial kingdom of Christ is the joyful issue of a life of obedience to the heavenly call. “Ye are called in one hope of your calling”; and this is it. But the Holy Spirit saw how soon that end of a heavenly life would be obscured by the want of knowledge and faith in Christians. Paul prays, therefore, for the Ephesian saints, that “the eyes of their understanding being enlightened, they might know what is the hope of his calling”; Eph. i, 18; iv. 1, 4. It is also entitled a “calling” to God’s “kingdom and glory.” Of that the apostle desired, that God would “count them worthy”; 1 Thess. ii, 12; 2 Thess. i, 11; ii 14, The first chapter also of Peter’s second epistle teaches us to endeavour to make sure, by a consistent life and advancing grace, our calling and election to the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour.
It is “the calling of God in Christ Jesus.” That is, the call is addressed to those who are already in Christ Jesus; who have renounced all hope of eternal life from their own works. The calling is to the justified, and to them alone. God leads to the race, and proposes the prize.
15. “Let us then, as many as are adult,* be thus minded; and if in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this to you. 16. Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing. 17. Become imitators unitedly of me, brethren, and regard those who walk so as ye have us for an example.”
From the above sentiment it is apparent, that the hope before us is to fill the heart of believers generally. It was not Paul alone that was laid hold on by Christ in order to pursue this end. The exhortation is addressed to every one who is spiritually adult, to keep this hope before him.
For, by “the perfect” of our translation, are meant, “the adult in Christ.” Paul had said just before that he did not think himself “perfected.” When then he here speaks of himself and others as “perfect,” it is in another sense, and one not unfrequently found in the New Testament: Heb. v. The youthful believer is occupied generally with the truths that concern his own justification and acceptance with God. But when these are clearly seen and firmly held, our position in regard to the coming kingdom, and the need of dilligence to obtain the prize, ought deeply to engage our attention.
“As many as are adult.” Not all then, even in Philippi, had attained to that stage. The church of that city was indeed one of the most flourishing of that bright day. Yet, even there, there were differences of spiritual knowledge and attainment. The church of Christ is a family, in which there are some of all ages and degrees of grace. But such was the general state of that church, that he could expect to find many of them in a stage of growth to which such an exhortation would be suitable. To these, then, he unveils his heart. He discovers to them the grand motive which actuated himself throughout his christian and apostolic career. All hopes of fulfilling the law in its perfection, and of earning thereby eternal life, were destroyed. Yet that enlightening of his mind did not leave him careless about his works thenceforward, or lead him to think them of no moment in their bearing on eternity. He saw, on the contrary, and would impress on us, the need of incessant and hearty energy, panting for an entrance into the kingdom and glory of our Master. Here lies the great distinction between the present epistle, and the epistles to the Hebrews and to the Corinthians, wherein the same subject is treated. There he uses, indeed, the same motive, but as a threat to those believers who were guilty of immorality, or in danger of falling back to the shadows of Judaism. But, on the present occasion, the first resurrection is exhibited as the object of the believer’s hope and pursuit. While, then, many think that Christians who receive millennial truth make a great deal too much oi it, the passage before us proves, on the contrary, that they have never yet made it sufficiently prominent. “Let us, as many as be adult, be thus minded!”
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.”
But, as there were differences of light and grace among the believers of Philippi, lest these should engender strife and division, a word is added to those who saw not the present truth. “And if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this to you.” The differing from an inspired apostle, of course supposed the dissentients wrong. But if they would apply to the source of light for instruction on those points wherein they differed, either from an apostle, or amongst each other, the truth and the error would be disclosed to them. While, therefore, diversities of view will ever be found among believers, we are hereby taught the way in which they are to be removed, and unity of judgment and of heart to be obtained. “How happens it,” say sometimes those who taunt us, “that in spite of your professions of all being instructed by the same Spirit, you are so divided in opinion and at strife among yourselves? ” The answer is very simple; So far as any are taught of the Holy Ghost, they agree, their differences arise from the remains of ignorance and darkness that are blended with the light possessed by each. But behold the remedy for difference provided by God Himself! It is to ask of Him, with a sincere mind. What is truth? that it may be held by us: and what is error? that we may cast it from us. But many cannot afford to know the truth. They would not leave that which it condemns, even if it were shown them to be error. And many trust to argument and discussion, and freedom of speech, as the means of arriving at the truth. But all who have singleness of eye may pray in faith for God’s enlightenment of them, on whatever subject they differ; assured that unity of judgment and of feeling in the church is an object dear to the heart of our Lord: 1 Cor. i, 10.
While seeking this end, unity is to be maintained still, founded upon agreement in truth already received.
“Whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule.” Where this is the case, God’s gracious further aid to correct mistakes, and to open the mind to His light, may be confidently expected. “He that hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have abundantly.”
The inspired sentiment of the text then stands opposed to the mischievous mistake, which obtained in the church soon after the decease of apostles, that there are two rules of life acknowledged by God: one for the perfect — which soon came to mean, the monks and nuns; and another for the flock in general. But, far from this being true, all, whatever be their measure of attainment, are to walk by the same rule, and to cultivate unity, so that no differences of opinion on subordinate points may effect division among them.
Knowing how much man is a being influenced by example, the Holy Ghost next touches upon the two-fold force of it, exhibiting one class as fit subjects of imitation, the other of reprobation. Paul offers to them, therefore, as living examples of the mode of life fitted to attain the prize, himself and others like-minded with himself. Thus again a frequent mistake, most pernicious to the well-being of believers, is corrected by the word of truth. Many Christians copy the slothful, covetous, worldly professor, and think themselves safe. ” Are they not equal to, or even above, such?” But that is no security. We are to take as our pattern, the highest style of Christian attainment.
In the early part of the chapter, where the church had to be cautioned against unsound views on the great question of acceptance before God, the snare was false doctrine. But we have travelled beyond those limits. A new snare awaited the believers of that day. False example might lead them into a mode of life, which would end in their exclusion from the kingdom. And those examples, too, might be found, where there was no denial of the truth, that Jesus was coming to reign. Thus it is also now.
Earthly conduct unsuited to the heavenly calling is a very frequent pit-fall of the enemy in our day,
18. ” For many are walking, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of the Christ; whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.”
As the apostle is dissuading Christians from following evil example to their future loss, it would seem to be in the strain of his argument, to exhibit the case of inconsistent believers. And there is much in the nature of their conduct as here painted, which finds an answer in living originals around us. But, as the perseverance of the saints supposes that none of the truly faithful in Christ will finally be lost, this passage must, I suppose, be understood of mere professors of the faith.
Those now aimed at by the apostle were perhaps the parties of whom he spoke, in general terms, in the early part of the epistle, as troubling him by speaking of Christ not with pure intention, for God’s glory; but in order to endanger his life.
They were enemies of Messiah’s cross. They would not refuse His kingdom; but suffering, as the way to the crown, they rejected wholly. They “mind earthly things.” This is increasingly the character of the nominal Christians of the present day. They covet riches; they seek pleasure; they study philosophy, and obey its teachings rather than scripture; they would gladly receive the honours of the world. They are trying to mend the world, and to make themselves a downy nest in it. But the Christian’s eye must be on things heavenly. He is to be dead to the things of the world; alive to those above. Of that, his immersion in water into the name of Christ is a sign.
20. “For our city is in heaven, from whence also we are looking for the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour. 21. Who shall change the body of our humiliation, that it may become conformed to the body of his glory, according to the energy of his ability to subject even all things to himself.”
How the twentieth verse stands connected with the subject, is not apparent. It may be designed, as a contrast to the seekers of earthly things just before named. Or it may be joined with verse 17, as completing the description of the adult Christian. “Imitate us; for our city is in heaven, and there are our hopes and thoughts.” The 18th and 19th verses will then come in as a parenthesis. This seems to be the best mode of viewing it.
The Christian, in the above words, is set to look for the return of the Lord Jesus. That is the time of the resurrection of the just, and of the kingdom. Thus the close of the chapter bears out the subject introduced in the centre. Heaven is the place where Jesus now is: and His return is the time of the change of our body, to fit it for immortal blessedness. Thus is the questioned answered — “If our city is on high, how shall we get thither? “By the return of Jesus the Saviour. “How shall our bodies bear the glory of the heavenly places?” They shall be changed by His mighty power whose sway all things shall obey.
The body which we now wear is beautifully called, “the body of our humiliation.” Ever since sin entered, the body has been subjected to various indignities, aches, infirmities; humbled by the necessities of infancy and old age, and the changes of the seasons, and at length it becomes the prey of worms, mingling with the earth. But it is destined to become like the body of Jesus’ glory. “Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Not death, then, but the return of Christ, and the change of our bodies to immortal glory, is the true hope of the believer. Let then the very necessities of our bodies, in place of dragging us down to earth and its shadows, as is the case with the men of the world, teach us to look for that Saviour, whose sudden and promised advent shall instantly remove them!
These are the heavenly hopes, this the divine knowledge of Jesus, which is to supersede in our minds the science of men; and to teach us to live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present evil age.
May we move on in obedience to it!