VI. THE MIND OF CHRIST.
"If there is therefore any comfort in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any tender mercies and compassions, fulfil you my joy, that you be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind; doing nothing through faction or through vainglory, but in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself; not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others." — Phil. ii. 1-4 (R.V.).
In the verses last considered the Apostle had begun to summon his Philippian friends to Christian duty. But so far his words bear the character only of occasional exhortation, which falls naturally in as he dwells upon his own circumstances and on theirs. Associated as they have been and are, let there be no mistake as to the central bond between him and them. Let the Philippian believers partake increasingly in his own glowing apprehensions of the Christian calling. Let them abound in the loving, resolute and enduring, energetic, expectant life in which men are united who have become acquainted with Christ.
But he thinks fit to press the theme in a more set and deliberate way. For it is no light thing to awaken in men's hearts a right impression of what it is to be a Christian; or if it has been awakened, to nurse it to due strength. These Christians possessed some insight into the world of truth which held the mind of Paul; they had some experience of evangelical impression: in these things they had a happy fellowship with one another and with their great teacher. But all this must be affirmed and embodied in the conflict and ministry of Christian life. It must prove strong enough for that. Deeds are the true confession of our faith; they are the verification of our religious experience. And in this practical form we must overcome, not the temptations of other people or other ages, but our own. There is no more dangerous working of unbelief than that in which it never questions the doctrinal theory, but renders our Christianity cold and slack, and leads us to indulge a preference for a religion that goes easy. Could we but see as we are seen, we should find this to be a matter of endless lamentation.
Temptations to rivalry and discord were working at Philippi. We are not obliged to think that they had gone very far; but one could see a risk that they might go further. The Apostle has it in his heart to expel this evil, by promoting the principles and dispositions that are opposed to it. And in this work the Philippians themselves must embark with all their might.
It has been remarked already that causes are easily found to account for rivalries and misunderstandings springing up in those primitive Christian congregations. The truth is, however, that in all ages and conditions of the Church these dangers are nearly at hand. Self-seeking and self-exaltation are forms in which sin works most easily, and out of these come rivalry and discord by the very nature of the case. Eager grasping at our own objects leads to disregard of the rights and interests of others; and from there come wars. Danger in this direction was visible to the Apostle.
It may be asked how this should be, if the Philippians were genuine and hearty Christians, such as the Apostle's commendations bespeak them? Here a principle comes to light which deserves to be considered. Even those who have cordially embraced Christianity, and who have loyally given effect to it in some of its outstanding applications, are wonderfully prone to stop short. They do not perceive, or they do not care to realise, the bearing of the same principles, which they have already embraced, upon whole regions of human life and human character; they do not seriously lay to heart the duties Christianity imposes or the faults it rebukes in those departments. They are pleased to have won so much ground, and do not think about the Canaanites that still hold their ground. So, in whole regions of life, the carnal mind is allowed to work on, undetected and practically unopposed. This tendency is aided by the facility we have in disguising from ourselves the true character of dispositions and actions, when these do not quite plainly affront Christian rules. Self-assertion and bad temper, for example, can put on the character of honest firmness and hearty zeal. More particularly, when religious principles have led us into certain lines of action, we are apt to take for granted that all is right we do in those lines. Religious zeal leads a man to take trouble and incur responsibility in Church work. Under this notion, then, he readily persuades himself that all his Church work is conscientious and disinterested: yet it may be largely and deeply tainted with the impulses of the fleshly mind. In a measure it might be so here. The Philippians might be generally a company of sincerely Christian people. And yet the churchmanship of some of them might disclose sad tokens of selfishness and bitterness. Therefore they must be called to give heed to the principles and to give effect to the motives that expel those sins.
In all this we may feel ourselves in the region of commonplaces; we know it all so well. But the very point in hand is that for the Apostle these are not commonplaces. He is greatly in earnest about the matter, and his heart is full of it. We do not understand him until we begin to sympathise with his sorrow and his anxiety. This is for him no mere matter of expediencies or of appearances. He is striving for the victory of grace in the souls of his beloved friends; for the glory of Christ; for his own comfort and success as Christ's minister. All these are, as it were, at stake upon this question of the life of the Philippian Church proving to be, under the influence of Christ, lowly, loving, and answerable to the gospel.
No one more than Paul appreciates the value of good theological principles; and no one more than he lays stress on the mercy which provides a gracious and a full salvation. But no one more than he is intent upon Christian practice: for if practice is not healed and quickened, then salvation ceases to be real, the promises wither unfulfilled, Christ has failed. We may well feel it to be a great question whether our own sympathy with him on such points is growing and deepening. The Kingdom of God within us must exist in a light and love for which goodness is a necessity, and evil a grief and heart-break. But if it is not so with us, where do we stand?
In four clauses the Apostle appeals to great Christian motives, which are to give strength to his main appeal — "If there be any comfort (or store of cheering counsel) in Christ Jesus, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any tender mercies or compassions"; in a fifth clause he draws a motive from the regard they might have for his own most earnest desires — "fulfill you my joy"; and then comes the exhortation itself, which is to unity of mind and heart — "that you be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind." This, in turn, is followed by clauses that fix the practical sense of the general exhortation.
It has been made a question whether the Apostle means to say, "If there be among you, Philippians, influences and experiences such as these," or "If there be anywhere in the Church of God." But surely he means both. He appeals to great practical articles of faith and matters of experience. The Church of God believes them and claims a part in them. So does the Church of Philippi, in its degree. But there may be a great deal more in them than the Philippian believers are aware of, — more in them as truths and promises; more in them as contemplated and realised by riper Christians, like Paul himself. He appeals, certainly, to what existed for the faith of the Philippians; but also to that "much more" which might open to them if their faith was enlarged.
The "comfort" or cheering counsel "in Christ" is the fulness of gospel help and promise. Great need of this is owned by all believers; and, coming as needed succour to them all, it may well bind them all together in the sense of common need and common help. As it comes from the good Shepherd Himself to all and each, so it is conceived to be ever sounding in the Church, passing from one believer to another, addressed by each to each as common succour and common comfort. Hence, in the next place, there comes into view the mutual ministry of "consolation" which Christians owe to one another, since they "receive" one another, and are to do to one another as Christ has done to them. Here the consolation acquires a special character, from the individual affection and friendship breathed into it by the Christian, who carries it to his neighbour to encourage and cheer him on his way. This love of the Christian to his brother, which comes from God, is itself a means of grace; and therefore the "consolation of love" deserves to be distinctly named.
The "fellowship of the Spirit" (see 2 Cor. xiii. 13) is the common participation of the Holy Spirit of God in His gracious presence and working. Without this no one could have a real share in Christian benefits. The Spirit reveals to us the Son and the Father, and enables us to abide in the Son and in the Father. He brings us into communion with the mind of God as revealed in His word. He makes real to us the things of the Kingdom of God; and it is He who opens to us their worth and sweetness, especially the lovingkindness which breathes in them all. Through Him we are enabled to exercise Christian affections, desires, and services. It is He, in a word, through whom we are participant in the life of salvation; and in that life He associates together all who share His indwelling. The Apostle supposes that no Christian could ever contemplate without, shall we say, a pang of gratitude, the condescension, the gentleness, and the patience of this ministration. And as all Christians are recipient together of so immense a benefit, they might well feel it as a bond between them all. But more especially, as the Holy Spirit in this dispensation evinces a most Divine love and kindness — for what but love could be the spring of it? — so also the upshot of all His work is the revelation of God in love. For love is at the heart of all God's promises and benefits: they are never understood until we reach the love that is in them. And God is love. So the love of God is shed abroad in the hearts of believers through the Holy Spirit given to them. Hence this is the leading view of that which the Spirit comes to do: He comes to make us members of a system in which love rules; and He inspires all loving affections and dispositions proper to make us congruous members of so high and good a world.
Therefore, in the fourth place, it is to be supposed that "tender mercies and compassions" in human breasts are abundant where the fellowship of the Spirit is. How abundant they might be: surely also in some measure they must be present; they must abound, amid all human infirmities and mistakes. All kinds of gentle, friendly, faithful, wise and patient dispositions might be expected. They are the fruits of the country in which Christians have come to dwell.
To all these the Apostle appeals. Perhaps a pathos is audible in the form of his appeal. "If there be any." Alas! is there then any? Is there some at least, if not much? For if all these had been duly present to the faith and in the life of the Church, they would have spoken their lesson for themselves, and had not needed Paul to speak for them.
The form of appeal "Fulfil you my joy" brings up one more motive — the earnest desires of one who loved them wisely and well, and whom they, whatever their shortcomings, loved in turn. It is worth observing that the motive power here does not lie merely in the consideration "Would you not like to give me pleasure?" The Philippians knew how Paul had at heart their true welfare and their true dignity. That which, if it came to pass, would so gladden him, must be something great and good for them. If their own judgment of things was cold, might it not take fire from the contagion of his? The loving solicitude of a keener-sighted and a more single-hearted Christian, the solicitude which makes his heart throb and his voice tremble as he speaks, has often startled slumbering brethren into a consciousness of their own insensibility, and awakened them to worthier outlooks.
In regard to all these considerations, the main point is to catch sight of the moral and spiritual scenery as the Apostle saw it. Otherwise the words may leave us as dull as they found us. For him there had come into view a wonderful world of love. Love had come forth preparing at great cost and with great pains a new destiny for men. Love had brought in Paul and the other believers, one by one, into this higher region. And it proved to be a region in which love was the ground on which they stood, and love the heaven over their heads, and love the air they breathed. And here love was coming to be their own new nature, love responsive to the love of Father, Son, and Spirit, and love going out from those who had been so blessed to bless and gladden others. This was the true, the eternal goodness, the true, the eternal blessedness; and it was theirs. This was what faith embraced in Him "who loved me and gave Himself for me." This was what faith claimed right to be and do. If this was not so, Christianity was reduced to nothing. If a man have not love, he is nothing (1 Cor. xiii.). "Is there any truth at all in this glorious faith of ours? Do you believe it at all? Have you felt it at all? Fulfil then my joy." Unity of mind and of heart is the thing inculcated. Under the influence of the great objects of faith and of the motive forces of Christianity this was to be expected. Their ways of thinking and their ways of feeling, however different, should be so moulded in Christ as to reach full mutual understanding and full mutual affection. Nor should they rest contented when either of these failed: for that would be contentment with defeat; but Christ's followers are to aim at victory.
It is obvious to say here that cases might arise in which turbulent or contentious persons might make it impossible for the rest of the Church, however well disposed, to secure either one accord or one mind. But the Apostle does not suppose that case to have arisen. Nothing had occurred at Philippi which Christian sense and Christian feeling might not arrange. When the case supposed does occur, there are Christian ways of dealing with it. Still more obviously one might say that conscientious differences of opinion, and that even on matters of moment, must inevitably occur sooner or later; and a general admonition to be of one mind does not meet such a case. Perhaps it may be said in reply that the Church and the Christians have hardly conceived how much might be attained in the way of agreement if our Christianity were sincere enough, thorough enough, and affectionate enough. In that case there might be wonderful attainment in finding agreement, and in dismissing questions on which it is not needful to agree. But, if we are not to soar so high as this, it may at least be said that, while conscientious diversities of judgment are not to be disguised, they may be dealt with, among believers, in a Christian way, with due emphasising of the truth agreed upon, and with a prevailing determination to speak truth in love. Here again, however, the Apostle recognises no serious difficulty of this kind at Philippi. The difficulties were such as could be got over. There was no good reason why the Philippians should not in their Church life exhibit harmony: it would be so, if Christian influences were cordially admitted into minds and hearts, and if they made a fit estimate of the supreme importance of unity in Christ. The same thing may be said of innumerable cases in later times in which Christians have divided and contended. It is right to say, however, that these considerations are not to be applied without qualification to all kinds and degrees of separation between Christians. It is a cause for sorrow that denominational divisions are so many; and they have often been both cause and consequence of unchristian feeling. Yet when men part peaceably to follow out their deliberate convictions, to which they cannot give effect together, and when in doing so they do not unchurch or condemn one another, there may be less offence against Christian charity than in cases where a communion, professedly one, is the scene of bitterness and strife. In either case indeed there is something to regret and probably something to blame; but the former of the two cases is by no means necessarily the worse.
In following out the line of duty and privilege set before them by the Apostle, Christians have to get the better of arrogance and selfishness (vv. 3, 4).
In the Church of Christ no man has a right to do anything from a spirit of strife or vainglory. Strife is the disposition to oppose and thwart our neighbour's will, either from mere delight in contest, or in order to assert for our own will a prevalence which will gratify our pride; and this is the animating principle of "faction." "Vainglory" is the disposition to think highly of ourselves, to claim for ourselves a great place, and to assert it as against the claims of others. In the jostle of the world it may perhaps be admitted that forces acting on these lines are not without their use. They compensate one another, and some measure of good emerges from their unlovely energies. But such things are out of place among Christians, for they are right against the spirit of Christianity; and Christianity relies for its equipoise and working progress on principles of quite another kind. Among Christians each is to be lowly-minded, conscious of his own defects and of his ill-desert. And this is to work in the way of our esteeming others to be better than ourselves. For we are conscious of our own inward and deep defect as we cannot be of any other person's. And it is abundantly possible that others may be better than we are, and safe for us to give full effect to that possibility. It is said, indeed, that we may possibly have conclusive reason to believe that certain other persons, even in Christ's Church, are worse than we are. But, apart from the precariousness of such judgments, it is enough to say it is not for us to proceed on such a judgment or to give effect to it. We all await a higher judgment; until then it becomes us to listen and pay attention to our own spirit and walk in lowliness of mind.
Selfishness ("looking to its own things," ver. 4), as well as arrogance, needs to be resisted; and this is an even more pervading and inward evil. In dealing with it we are not required to have no eye at all to our own things; for indeed they are our providential charge, and they must be cared for; but we are required to look not only on our own, but every man on the things of others. We have to learn to put ourselves in another's place, to recognise how things affect him, to sympathise with his natural feelings in reference to them, and to give effect in speech and conduct to the impressions hence arising. So a Christian man is to "love his neighbour as himself" — only with a tenderer sense of obligation and a consciousness of more constraining motive than could be attained by the Israelite of old. Lovingly to do right to a brother's claims and to his welfare should be as cogent a principle of action with us as to care for our own.
Arrogance and selfishness — perhaps disguised in fairer forms — had bred the disturbance at Philippi. The same baleful forces are present everywhere in all the Churches to this day, and have often run riot in the House of God. How shall the ugliness and the hatefulness of the every-day selfishness, the every-day self-assertion, the every-day strifes of Christians, be impressed upon our minds? How are we to be awakened to our true calling in lowliness and in love?
From the Epistle to the Philippians by Robert Rainy, D.D., Principal of New College. Edinburgh. Published by FUNK & WAGNALLS COMPANY in 1990. Digitally produced by Colin Bell, Julia Neufeld and the Online
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To the Philippians - R. Rainy
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