J. M. Davies, Canada
The Epistle to the Philippians portrays for us the ideal Christian life, or the Christian life at its summit. We should therefore expect to find in it important references to the ministry of the Holy Spirit, for in every sphere of the Christian’s life, the energy of the Spirit is an absolute essential. The emphasis laid upon the Spirit and His work by the Lord in His final message to His own in the upper room makes this very clear. He is the Comforter, the Advocate dwelling in the believer, enabling him to live and witness for the Lord. There are three references to the Spirit in Philippians and they concern:
- The believer’s personal life, 1. 19.
- The believer’s communal life in fellowship with others, 2. 1.
- The believer’s priestly ministry in worship, 3. 3.
1. The Supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 1. 19
The trials which the apostle relates in this chapter must have been very frustrating. He was a commissioned apostle to preach the Gospel, and he had a tremendous urge to fulfil his stewardship by extending his ministry westward into Spain. But now, in the providential over-ruling of God, he was in bonds. Bound to Roman soldiers, not only was his liberty curtailed, but the constant companionship of the soldiers could not have been congenial to a man of his mental and spiritual calibre. However the enemy over-reached himself, and through the apostle’s imprisonment the Gospel penetrated into Caesar’s household. “God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform”. Thus the brethren waxed confident by his bonds and began preaching the gospel without fear. This was a wonderful triumph. The enemy then planned another attack, this time through those who professed to be brethren. Some began preaching Christ out of contention and strife and not out of genuine love. They wished in some way to stir up the authorities against the apostle so that they might make his chains the heavier, and his prison life more galling than it was. How- ever in this again the enemy’s purpose was thwarted. Christ was being preached, and that in itself was a triumph, even though the motive of the preachers was wrong. This triumph brought great joy to Paul whatever adverse repercussions might fall upon him. By rejoicing in the fact that Christ was being preached he would be saved from harbouring any ill-will or hatred towards those who preached with such despicable motives. For this he needed the prayers of the saints and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Some consider this to refer to the spirit which was manifested in the Lord when He was ill-treated and eventually crucified, namely seeking forgiveness for His enemies. Such a spirit can only be produced in the believer by the Holy Spirit. Elsewhere in the New Testament the Holy Spirit is spoken of as the Spirit of Christ, but the exact phrase “Spirit of Jesus Christ” is only found here. “The Holy Spirit is meant; called the Spirit of Jesus Christ, because through the Spirit Christ communicates Himself to His people” (Vincent).
2. “If any fellowship of the Spirit”, 2. 1
The enemy was evidently seeking to drive a wedge between some of the believers in Philippi and this was seriously endangering their witness in the gospel and their fellowship in the assembly. By the Holy Spirit’s ministry they had been brought into the “fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord”, 1 Cor. i. 9, and this had resulted in their mutual blessing and edification. Hence the apostle uses it as a lever when exhorting them to like-mindedness and being of one accord. They had all known the same comfort in and through Christ, and the same love of God, as well as the fellowship created and maintained by the Spirit. Therefore they were to be careful lest they should mar that fellowship by self-seeking, by strife and vain-glory, by seeking to exalt themselves rather then counting others better than themselves. Such things emanate from the flesh. They are detrimental to the smooth running of assembly life; they are like dirt in the oil. Rather the fellowship of the Spirit in the assembly is Spirit-begotten and Spirit-maintained.
3. Worship by the Spirit of God, 3. 3, R.V.
In this verse the apostle states three essential marks of the true Christian. He has no confidence in the flesh; he rejoices in Christ; he worships by the Spirit of God. This is in marked contrast to the Jews and the Judaizing teachers whom he describes as dogs. In verse 2 he stigmatizes their character their conduct and their creed. They are given the place they considered the Gentile to be in and circumcision was now of no more value than the markings of the nations the cuttings in the flesh against which Moses had warned. The true circumcision spoken of by the apostle here is that of the heart the ears and the lips.
The Christian has learned that man in the flesh is under condemnation to be set aside altogether. Hence his one ground of confidence is Christ and His redemptive work. By virtue of this he is able to worship by the Spirit of God.
When speaking of worship the apostle uses the word which the Jews used for the worship of Jehovah. “A Jew would be scandalised by the application of this term to Christian worship” (Vincent). Christian worship is not the following of some ritual or of some humanly devised form; rather it is the outflow of the heart in praise and thanksgiving in response to the realisation of all that has been accomplished for us by the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. All worship that is by the Spirit of God will be fragrant with the worthiness and the glories of Christ. The doxologies of the Apocalypse illustrate this. They are an ascription of praise unto Him who loves us and loosed us from our sins by His own blood lifting us from the pit and the dunghill to be priests unto our God and Father. In the words of the hymn “The Lamb is all the glory of Immanuel’s land”. The gatherings of the Lord’s people when their hearts and thoughts are occupied with such themes are times of spiritual refreshment. May we know more of the experience of worshipping by the Spirit of God.