A Cluster of Spiritual Verities
J.F. Peebles, Clarkston
PHILIPPIANS IS THE EPISTLE OF CHRISTIAN LIVING and chapter i shows that it has the person of Christ for its centre and the gospel of Christ for its message. The gospel is presented as the centre of fellowship in verse 5 ; the deposit to be defended in verse 7; and the need for concerted effort and spiritual unity in its propagation is emphasized in verse 27. The saints at Philippi were happy in the Lord and keenly interested in the gospel as evidenced by their generous support of the apostle again and again. Joy in the Lord will lead to the evangelical fervour: the church which goes out will never die out.
In this short study we shall confine ourselves to the opening verses of this epistle, and examine some of the spiritual verities which cluster there. Here we find:
I. AN IDEAL COMBINATION
Paul and Timothy. Things become precious in proportion to their scarcity. How precious then must be the combination of a Paul and a Timothy. The blending of these forces sometimes poses a problem in assembly life. For lack of a solution, progress is often impeded and fellowship impaired. Instead of combination there is competition ; a 'Paul' is envious of a 'Timothy', and 'Timothy' thinks 'Paul' is too old to learn. 'Paul' sighs as he watches the sunset of the great days which he is convinced will never return. 'Timothy' exults at the dawn of what he believes is a new and better day. Efforts are made to decide whether it shall be 'Paul' or 'Timothy'. Yet what a blessed combination a 'Paul' and a 'Timothy' could be. How helpful a Moses can be to a Joshua, a Naomi to a Ruth, an Elijah to an Elisha and a David to a Solomon.
It is a blend of age and youth, of experience and enthusiasm. If 'Paul' would only pass on his knowledge to the youthful 'Timothy', then he would live through 'Timothy' after he had gone. If the Timothies would only consult the Pauls before embarking on their enthusiastic schemes, then their chances of success would be enhanced by the advice of experience. Unity is strength. Let the Pauls and the Timothies of any assembly get together in loving partnership and that assembly will become a hive of spiritual industry. The Lord and the church need both. Then let us strive together for the faith of the gospel.
II. A PRIVILEGED DESIGNATION
Servants of Christ. There is probably no title which Paul uses more often or with greater relish. There are seven different words in the original which are rendered 'servant' in the New Testament. Among them are the following: (a) Attendant, Heb. 3. 5. Moses was faithful as a servant, i.e. as one who waits instructions until received. And how faithfully he filled that role. After a period of waiting on God on the mountain top extending for forty days, he came down with the whole pattern of the tabernacle and God's divine law for His earthly people. Waiting time is never wasted time. It takes time to ascertain God's will for our daily lives and we shall only find the time necessary by taking it. 'My soul wait thou only upon God . . .', Psalm 62. 5. (b) Minister, John 12. 2 '. . . and Martha served (ministered)'. Paul uses the same word when he places Phoebe at the head of his honoured list in Romans 16. 1. Phoebe, our sister, a servant (minister) of the church. Here is a ministry in which we may all have a share. Have you been labouring under the misconception that ministry is confined to the platform? Some of the sweetest ministry is performed behind the scenes or in the home. The Lord used the same word of Himself in Luke 22. 27. 'I am among you as he that serveth.' See Him in John 21 after the disciples had suffered a night of failure followed by a morning of success; they come ashore bringing their record catch with them to find that the Lord had kindled a fire and prepared breakfast for them. In this service there is scope for all. (c) Bondslave. This is the lowest form of service and one in which the servant has no right to choose his service. He was his master's property with no will of his own. And this is the word used in the text. The ambitious Saul of Tarsus had buried his pride in the dust of the Damascus road the day he discovered that the despised Jesus was God's anointed Christ. He is now proud to be called His bondslave. It is no mean task to be the servant of the Lord of the universe. The angels and seraphim haste to do His bidding. It is therefore our highest honour to be His bond¬slave and to yield to Him unquestioning service. The simple tasks of the Christian life take on a new dignity when viewed from such an angle.
III. A SACRED CONGREGATION
All the saints. Here is a company in which we can justly find pleasure. 'Saints' speaks of our dignity; 'all the saints' speaks of our unity. There is no qualification - just 'the saints'. This is a term applying to all members of the body of Christ despite any distinguishing designation which some may, alas, be willing to accept. It is interesting to note the frequency of this phrase 'all the saints'. Occurring first in Deut. 33. 3 -'All his saints are in thy hand' - it appears at least twelve times in the New Testament. Whatever construction we put on the truth of separation in Scripture, it deprecates the separa¬tion of saints from saints. Elijah succumbed to the temptation of thinking that he belonged to a class apart - 'I only remain a prophet of the Lord'. But the Lord reminded him that there were another seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal, What is a saint ? The word is rendered three times 'sanctuary' and 160 times 'holy'. From the divine standpoint we are God's sanctuary, i.e. God's dwelling-place. From the standpoint of the world we are God's holy ones, i.e. the external manifestation of the internal habitation. We read 'it was noised abroad that Jesus was in the house'. So it will be still if He finds His dwelling-place in our hearts. The great woman of Shunem perceived that Elisha was a man of God. May we so impress the world around us by a life which is consistent with our holy calling.
IV. A SPIRITUAL LOCATION
At Philippi - in Christ. Every Christian is called upon to live in two places or in two environments at one time and each must decide for himself which shall dominate his life; whether his chief interests will be in Philippi or in Christ. Paul makes his position clear in chapter 3 where he states the things he had once counted gain he counted loss for Christ. Once it was all 'place'; now it is all Christ. The change of attitude has changed his sense of values; gain has become loss and loss gain. He concludes, 'yea doubtless and I count all but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord'. The last two words provide the secret. Place had receded and Christ had become everything. Do you complain of the place in which you find yourself and wish it were somewhere else ? That is because you have left Christ out of it. It will look different when seen through Christ. Paul is writing his epistle from a prison cell, but his prison has become a palace, for the King is there. His sur¬roundings are grim but his soul has risen to its real abode and it is glorious there. In body he is in Rome, but in spirit he is in Christ. He never forgets, however, that he is there for a purpose. His frequent references to the gospel indicate his consciousness of a mission there. The monks of old resorted to the monastery to escape from earthly contacts mistaking isolation for separation. We too have a responsibility to die world for the Lord has interests there and His interests are ours. He has other sheep to find and other souls to save and for this task He needs our co-operation. Let us then first go in to Christ; then out to 'Philippi'. In with Christ - then out for Christ. Finally it cheers the hearts to recall that we shall one day leave the Philippis of earth behind us and at His call we shall rise to be with Christ forever.
Oh happy day of cloudless light!
Eternal day without a night;
Lord when shall we its dawning see,
And spend it all in praising Thee ?