In Christ Jesus
The Letter to the Philippians
Observe how the opening verse salutes all the saints in Christ Jesus, thus bringing to our view this remarkable phrase in the very salutation of the inspired writer -- the inscription on the letter. Immediately after, in the eleventh verse, we have the characteristic sentence which again, as a key, unlocks the doors of this epistle: "Being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God."
This suggests as a ruling thought that in Christ we are full of all the fruits of such abiding, and that no circumstances can destroy our fruitfulness, and, among other fruits, our peace, and rest, and joy in God. This is the divine idea which we meet at every turn. So soon as the writer completes this initial sentence he proceeds to illustrate its truth in his own experience of trial. He records his adverse surroundings, which, were he not in Christ, would be unbearable. He writes as one who is at that time in bonds for Christ (1:13), a prisoner at Rome, and in danger of martyrdom. And yet all this turns to his fuller salvation, and even to the furtherance of the Gospel. His fetters, instead of a restraint, are made to expand and enlarge his service, as part of his privilege to suffer for His sake (1:29), and even to witness for His truth; for, as he was chained in succession to soldiers who were members of the Praetorian guard, he took opportunity thus to spread through the whole Praetorium the good tidings of grace.
In the second chapter he enjoins the Philippians to have in them the same mind as in Christ who "emptied" Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Then, in chapter 3, the opening exhortation is, "Rejoice in the Lord," while in the third verse one of the three marks of the true circumcision is that we "rejoice in Christ Jesus." This chapter is wholly occupied with the experimental illustration, furnished in Paul's own life, of how a man who is in Christ Jesus finds in Him the sphere of his perfect satisfaction. For Christ's sake he had given up and counted as loss whatever he had previously counted as gain; and had made the sacrifice not grudgingly or of necessity, but cheerfully and of choice, because in Christ he had found such full compensation that all else seemed refuse, to be trodden under foot. The world's most precious jewels, the diadems which carnal men most value, seemed to him utterly contemptible beside what he perceived and received in Christ Jesus.
The epistle we are now examining is like one long song in the night, a kind of prolonged echo of that midnight prayer and praise which marked Paul's first experience in the city of Philippi when, in answer to the vision of the appeal from Macedonia, he had hastened thither, and got, as his reception, a scourging, a thrusting into an inner prison, and a torturing in the stocks. Yes, the man who sang and prayed in that inner jail is the man who in this epistle, a prisoner at Rome, sings, "Rejoice in the Lord, alway! and again I say, Rejoice!" (chapter 4:4).
If this epistle has any special keynote which is the controlling thought, in all these melodies of a holy heart, it is this: in Christ Jesus satisfied.
If the studious reader of the New Testament would test this for himself, let him take the fourth chapter, for example, and give it a thorough examination. It will be found to contain between the fourth and nineteenth verses at least seven applications and illustrations of that sublime injunction, which so marks not only this chapter, but the whole epistle.
Let us keep before us the grand thought that evidently was the dominant one in the writer's mind, that he who is in Christ Jesus, has entered into the sphere of complete joy, where he finds full compensation for all self-denials and sufferings. Without attempting to import any thought into this chapter, but simply to discover what is there, let us note the progress of the Spirit's teaching.
1. Christ and hostile surroundings
If we are in Christ, He is between us and all our hostile surroundings. Perhaps, like Paul, we are encompassed by foes and what men call fears, actually prisoners for the Gospel's sake with martyrdom in prospect. What is the Spirit's word to us? "Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand" (verse 5).
We may be permitted to doubt whether even such English words adequately render the brief but sublime original: "Let your mildness, gentleness, forebearingness, patience, be manifest, evident to all men. The Lord is close by -- very near." This latter expression has been perhaps hastily applied and limited to the Lord's second coming. But may the thought not be even more comforting than this? When, looking at your human environment, you find cause for disquiet, alarm, fear, and are tempted to resistance and self-defense or vindication, God says to you, let your forebearingness be manifest unto all men -- remember that the Lord Himself is nearer you than anyone else, between you and your foes. They cannot come within the sphere of your security, nor come between you and Him. Paul himself found that when all men forsook him, the Lord stood by him and strengthened him. And no man perhaps ever lived, whose peace was more absolutely uninterrupted by hostile surroundings, or whose sense of his Master's close proximity proved more absolutely satisfying and sufficient. Are you in Christ Jesus? Remember He is near, very near, next to you in respect to interposition, between you and all human foes.
2. Christ and anxiety
If you are in Christ Jesus, you have absolutely no cause for anxiety. "Be [anxious about] nothing, but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall [guard (as a garrison)] your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (verses 6-7).
In their way no more striking verses are found in the Word of God. To him who is in Christ Jesus all anxiety is a sin; be anxious for nothing. There is a refuge from all fretting care -- in everything by prayer and supplication. A curious triad! Anxiety for nothing! Thanksgiving for anything! Prayerfulness in everything! And instead of anxious care, peace which passeth understanding -- a deep abyss of perplexity and anxiety exchanged for an unfathomable deep of divine peace -- what an exchange! Christ, the sphere of the peace of God, because within that sphere is the God of peace (verse 9). The sphere of our satisfaction and compensation and consolation is a fortress through which no foe can break -- we are literally garrisoned by the peace of God. Be anxious for nothing! He is between you and all care.
Is this an impracticable ideal? Let a simple illustration help us to see how wholly practical and practicable this divine injunction is. There is a vast difference in the point of view from which circumstances are regarded. If they come between us and God they may hide God from us; if He comes between us and them, He may hide them from us, or even impart to them, when in themselves alone, they are dark and sad, a lustre and a glory. When the moon comes directly between the earth and the sun it may totally eclipse the orb of day; but when the earth and sun are in another relative position, the moon is at the full, and becomes not an obscurer but a reflector of the sun's light. Our blessed Lord would have us so abide in Him that all care should be shut out, or our very anxieties be transfigured into occasions of thanksgiving.
3. Christ and thought
In Christ Jesus you have a perpetual theme of most exalted thought, and a perpetual stimulus to holy living (verses 8-9). Paul puts before us on the one hand whatsoever things are in themselves virtuous, or inherently desirable; and on the other whatsoever things are of good report, or honorable and influential for good; and he bids us think on these things. And where shall we find more abundant food for such thoughts than in Christ Jesus -- the sphere of all excellence? Whatsoever is true, pure, lovely; whatsoever is honest, just, and of good report may be found in Him as nowhere else. And he who is in Christ Jesus, is in the very circle and sphere of such moral and spiritual perfection. All other objects and subjects of thought are shut out by the enamoring vision of His loveliness. When we reflect, moreover, that nothing molds character and conduct like the objects of thought -- that to them we are always assimilated, and that the very source and spring of all conduct and even of motive is found in the thoughts -- it will be readily seen that it is of the highest consequence that we be insphered in Him whose presence makes impossible even the conception of whatever is impure or degrading. Here is the inspiration to exalted and heavenly reflection, meditation, and assimilation. Here we behold as in a glass the glory of the Lord and are changed into the same image from glory to glory.
4. Christ and contentment
In Christ Jesus we find the secret of perfect contentment. In whatsoever external state we are, Christ as our sphere, constitutes our true internal state. Complete in Him, satisfied in Him, all discontent is shut outside such a sphere of life. He is between the believer and all discontent. When tempted to repine and murmur at our lot, we have only to remember that strictly speaking there is no "lot" -- no chance in our lives -- that everything is arranged, prearranged for our perfecting -- we shall be more than content, we shall learn to rejoice and glory in tribulation. We would have our condition just what and only what He wills. Like Pastor Schmolke, with fire sweeping over his parish, death coming into his home, and paralysis and blindness smiting his body, one can still sing, "My Jesus, as Thou Wilt."
5. Christ and strength
In Christ Jesus, the believer finds strength for all things. Christ is between him and all weakness; and he can say, "I can do all things in Christ who strengtheneth me." When Paul confronted the thorn in the flesh and besought the Lord thrice that it might depart from him, he learned that great lesson that His grace was sufficient for him; His strength is made perfect in weakness -- notice made perfect -- not only made manifest. Had God said to him, "I will reveal my strength in your infirmity," it would have been a great assurance; but, far better than this, only in the weakness of man can God display the perfection of His strength. The weaker we are and feel ourselves to be, the stronger He can prove himself to be; so that only when we become perfectly hopeless and helpless in ourselves and absolutely abandon ourselves to Him, can He fully and perfectly glorify His own grace. Omnipotence needs impotence for its sphere of working.
6. Christ and unselfishness
In Christ Jesus we learn also a divine unselfishness, all selfish motives being displaced by a noble benevolence. This thought is more obscure than some others in this chapter, but like a nugget of gold that a pickax dislodges, it is none the less valuable because it needs a little search to detect it. Twice in this triumphant chapter Paul refers to the bounty of the Philippians. Once before, and again, they had sent to minister to his necessity, and now once more through Epaphroditus. Paul was a prisoner of the Lord, and might be supposed keenly to feel all neglect, and correspondingly appreciate all care for his temporal wants. But, although in that position and condition where temporal needs are greatest and temporal bounties most grateful, we see in this prisoner of the Lord not a trace of jealousy for himself and his own comfort. "Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account" (verse 17).
Such unselfishness shines with a sublime light when all the dark, dismal surroundings are taken into consideration. Here is a man who in Christ Jesus has learned to be so content that he is equally happy when he abounds and when he suffers need. When, after an interval of seeming forgetfulness and neglect, the Philippian disciples again sent their gifts to relieve his wants, and comfort his confinement, he "rejoiced," but not at any increase of personal ease, or supply of personal want -- no! He rejoiced that now at the last their care of him had again flourished -- the word literally means to burst out into leaf and bloom -- as a tree in spring.
There had been a season during which they seemed barren of unselfish ministries; but now, as in a returning springtime of verdure and blossom, their care of him had burst into beauty; and he rejoiced at their gifts, as signs of healthy and vigorous life, or as he says later (verse 18), because this offering to him was a sacrifice acceptable, well pleasing to God, a sweet savor offering; the tree by bursting again into bloom gave forth an odor, a fragrance of sweet smell, that ascended to God! Paul lost all sight of himself in his holy jealousy for their growth in grace, and especially in the consummate grace of giving! Who could learn such unselfishness and self-oblivion save he who in Christ Jesus constantly communed with the one God-man who even on the cross forgot His agonies in the prayer for His murderers, and who was willing to bear the cross and accept such soul-travail as was never known before nor since, if He might bring many souls unto glory?
7. Christ and need
Last of all, in Christ Jesus we find every need supplied. Christ is the sphere of God's riches in glory. All want is outside of Him; and all supplies are found in Him.
And so Christ is the sevenfold sphere of the believers' satisfaction. He is between us and all hostile threats, and fears, and foes; between us and all anxieties and cares; between us and all unlovely and harmful thoughts; between us and all murmurs of discontent; between us and all weakness and failure; between us and all selfish absorption in our own advantage; between us and all possible need. Within this sphere of our new life, if our faith be but equal to its perception and reception, we shall find a personal and protecting Presence ever at hand; a perfect peace, passing understanding; everything lovely and of good report for contemplation and assimilation; all strength, divine strength perfected; all serenity and contentment; all unselfish jealousy for others' growth in grace, and every supply for every need of spirit, soul, and body. What a sphere of satisfaction and exultation!
This epistle especially unfolds to us, and emphasizes for us, that great truth that in Christ Jesus we have a sphere of perfect peace.
How much we need it and how far we are from it, in our ordinary experience, no one needs to be told. And yet it is perfectly obvious that all anxiety is both foolish and fatal to all health of body or of mind. It cannot avoid or avert any certain evil, while it can crowd the unknown future with imaginary and uncertain calamities and dangers, until we are half insane with the terrors our own imagination has conjured up. Anxiety thus creates false fears, while it makes real calamities doubly hard to bear. Even science and atheistic worldly wisdom says: "Be anxious about nothing."
"Modern science has brought to light the fact that worry will kill, and determines, from recent discoveries, how worry kills. Scores of deaths, set down to other causes, are due to worry alone. Anxiety and care, the fretting and chafing of habitual worry, injure beyond repair certain cells of the brain, which being the nutritive center of the body, other organs become gradually injured; and when some disease of these organs, or ailments arise, death finally ensues. Insidiously, worry creeps upon the brain in the form of a single, constant, never-lost idea; and as the dropping of water over a period of years will wear a groove in a stone, so worry, gradually, imperceptibly, but no less surely, destroys the brain cells that are, so to speak, the commanding officers of mental power, health, and motion.
"Worry is an irritant, at certain points, producing little harm if it comes at intervals or irregularly. But against the iteration and reiteration of one idea of a disquieting sort the cells of the brain are not proof. It is as if the skull were laid bare, and the surface of the brain struck lightly with a hammer every few seconds, with mechanical precision, with never a sign of a let-up or the failure of a stroke. Just in this way does the annoying idea, the maddening thought that will not be done away with, strike or fall upon certain nerve cells, never ceasing, and week by week, diminishing the vitality of these delicate organisms, so minute that they can only be seen under the microscope."
Do not worry. Do not hurry. "Let your moderation be known to all men." Court the fresh air day and night. Sleep and rest abundantly. Sleep is nature's benediction. Spend less nervous energy each day than you make. Be cheerful. "A light heart lives long." Think only healthful thoughts. "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7) . "Seek peace and pursue it" (Psalm 34:14) . Avoid passion and excitement. Associate with healthy people. Health is contagious as well as disease. Don't carry the whole world on your shoulders, far less the universe. "Trust in God and do the right." Never despair. "Lost hope is a fatal disease." "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them" (John 13:17).
If such be the voice of worldly wisdom, let us listen to the wisdom that is from above. And remember the sublime saying of the sainted George Muller. When his helpers were asked how they could account for the fact that his serene calm was undisturbed when, with two thousand orphans to clothe and feed, there was neither food in the larder nor money in the bank, and his one resort was prayer -- the answer was, that it could be accounted for only on his own philosophy:
Where anxiety begins, faith ends;
And where faith begins, anxiety ends.