XVII. PEACE AND JOY.
"I exhort Euodia, and I exhort Syntyche, to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yea, I urgently request you also, true yokefellow, help these women, for they laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow-workers whose names are in the book of life.
"Rejoice in the Lord alway: again I will say, Rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus." — Phil. iv. 2-7 (R.V.).
Dr. Lightfoot has observed that the passages in the Acts of the Apostles which record the Macedonian experiences of Paul, have a good deal to say about women (Acts xvi., xvii.). They convey the impression that in Macedonia women had a position and exercised an influence, at least in religious matters, that was not usual in the Greek world. And he has appealed to the remains of ancient Macedonian inscriptions to support the general idea that exceptional respect was accorded to women in that country. Here, at any rate, we have two women of note in the Church at Philippi. They might, very likely, possess social standing and influence. They had been qualified to render, and in point of fact did render, important help in setting forward the cause of Christ in that city. We cannot doubt therefore that they were warm-hearted Christian women, who had deeply felt the power of the gospel, so that, like many of their sisters in later days, they gladly embarked in the service of it. In those days such service on the part of women implied no small effort of faith; and doubtless it had cost them something in the way of cross-bearing. But now, disagreements and estrangement had fallen out between them. Most likely the keen practical energies, which made them serviceable Christians, had brought about collision on some points in which their views differed. And then they had not managed the difference well. Self came in, and coloured and deepened it. Now, one may think, they were in danger of being always ready to differ, and to differ with mutual distrust and dislike.
People cannot always think alike, not even Christians who share the same service. But there is a Christian way of behaving about these inevitable divergences. And, in particular, in such cases we might be expected to show a superiority, in Christ our Lord, to minor differences, not allowing them to trouble the great agreement and the dear affection in which Christ has bound us. Whatever is to be said about a difference, as to its merits, the main thing that has to be said about it often is, "You should not have let it come between you. You should, both of you, have been big enough and strong enough in Christ, to know how to drop it and forget it. In making so much of it, in allowing it to make so much of itself, you have been children, and naughty children."
What this difference was we do not know; and it is of no consequence. Paul does not address himself to it. He holds both parties to be in the wrong now, and, for his purpose, equally in the wrong; and he addresses entreaty to both, in exactly the same terms, to agree in Christ and be done with it: no longer to allow this thing to mar their own edification and hinder the cause of Christ. Yet, while he is sure that this is the right way, he does not conceal from himself how difficult human nature finds it to come happily out of such a complication. So he appeals to some old comrade at Philippi, whom he calls his "genuine yokefellow," to lend a hand. A Christian bystander, a friend of both parties, might help them out of the difficulty. In this connection the Apostle's mind goes back to happy days of cordial effort at Philippi, in which these women, and the "yokefellow," and Clement, and others had all been at work, shoulder to shoulder, all rejoicing in the common salvation and the joint service.
In difficulties between Christians, as between other people, wise and loving friendship may perform the most important services. Selfishness shrinks from rendering these; and on the other hand, meddlesomeness, which is a form of egotism combined with coarseness, rushes in only to do harm. Wisdom is needed, mainly the wisdom which consists in loving thoughtfulness. The love which seeketh not her own, and is not easily provoked, is much called for in this ministry of reconciliation.
These good women had little idea, probably, that their names should come down the ages in connection with this disagreement of theirs; and they might have deprecated it if they had thought of it. But let them be remembered with all honour — two saints of God, who loved and laboured for Christ, who bore the cross, and each of whom was so important to the Church, that it was a matter of public interest to have this difficulty removed out of the way of both. As to it, we of later times have not succeeded in keeping Christian activity so free of personal misunderstandings as to be entitled on this account to assume any attitude of superiority. Let us think only with tenderness and affection of those venerable and beloved, those long-remembered mothers in Christ, Euodia and Syntyche.
The commentators have tried to divine something further about this "true yokefellow"; but with no success. As to Clement, some have been willing to identify him with the Clement known to have laboured in the first age at Rome, and who is reported to have been the writer of a well-known Epistle from the Church at Rome to that at Corinth. He, again, has been by some identified with another Clement, also a Roman, a near relation of the Emperor Domitian, whom we have reason to believe to have been a Christian. Both identifications are probably mistaken; and the Clement now before us was no doubt resident at Philippi, and belonged to a somewhat earlier generation than his Roman namesake. The Roman world was full of Clements, and there is nothing surprising in meeting several Christians who bore the name.
With the "yokefellow" and with Clement, the Apostle recalls other "labourers" who belonged to the fellowship of those gospel days at Philippi. We are not to think that they were all gifted as teachers or preachers; but they were zealous Christians who helped as they could to gather and to confirm the Church. Paul will not give their names; but it must not be thought that the names have ceased to be dear and honourable to him. "They shall not be in my letter," he says, "but they are written in even a better place, in the book of life. They are precious, not to me only, but to my Master." Here, again, if any one had asked Paul how he ventured to speak with so much assurance of the condition of persons whose course was not yet ended, he would no doubt have replied, as in ch. i. 7: "It is meet for me to think thus of them, because I have them in my heart: because both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, they all are partakers with me of grace."
These personal references indicate that the main burden of the Apostle's thought in the Epistle has been disposed of, and that it is drawing to a close. Yet he finds it natural to add some closing admonitions. They are brief and pithy; they do not seem to labour with the weight of thought and feeling which pours through the preceding chapter. Yet they are not quite fragmentary. A definite conception of the case to be provided for underlies them, and also a definite conception of the way in which its necessities are to be met.
He had been pouring out his soul on the subject of the true Christian life — the deep sources from which it springs, the great channels in which it runs, the magnificent conditions of Christ's kingdom under which it becomes possible and is accomplished. But yet, another order of things crosses all this. It is the incessant detail of human life on earth, with its pettiness and superficiality, and yet with its inevitable hold upon us all. How much we are at the mercy of it! How hard to keep quite true to the grand music of the gospel we believe, amid the multifarious patter of the incidents of life, playing on the surface only, but on the sensitive surface of our being. The case of Euodia and Syntyche was itself but an illustration, of the commonest kind, of the liability of believing lives to be swayed and marred in this way. For all these little things claim attention; they assume a magnitude that does not belong to them, and they take a place to which they have no right. Can anything be said to help us to some prevailing mood, in which we shall be likely to take the right attitude towards these elements of life, and, at the same time, to keep due touch with the springs of our spiritual welfare?
The Apostle reverts to the significant "good-bye" which was heard at the beginning of the third chapter. "Rejoice," "Be of good cheer," was the usual farewell salute. He had begun to use it, in the third chapter, with an emphasis on the native signification of the word. Now he resumes it more emphatically still, for here he finds the keynote which he wants: "Rejoice in the Lord alway; again I will say it, Rejoice."
If joy be possible, it would seem to need no great persuasion to induce men to embrace it. But, as a matter of fact, Christians fail greatly here. In the Old Testament there are abundant exhortations to Israel to rejoice in the Lord: the Lord being Jehovah, without further distinction or limitation; and the ground of rejoicing being His revealed character, especially His mercy and His truth, and the fact that He is Israel's God. Here the Lord is our Lord Jesus, in whom the Father is both known and found. Now, to rejoice in Him is, and should be recognised as being, for believers, the most direct inference from their faith. For if this Lord be what the believer holds Him to be, then there is more in Christ to make him glad, than there can be in anything whatever to make him sorry. This applies even to remembered sin; for where sin abounded, grace does much more abound. If indeed the joy be really in the Lord, it will be found to agree well with humility and penitence, as well as with diligence and patience; for all these things, and whatever should accompany them, come naturally from faith in Christ. But not the less, joy should have its place and its exercise.
If one will think of it, it will be plain that rejoicing in the Lord just denotes this, viz., that the influence of the objects of faith has free play through the soul. It is well that faith should bring our intellective powers under its influence — that we should be brought to a vivid sense of the reality of Christ, and that our minds should work in reference to Him as they do in reference to things which are felt to be real, and which claim to be understood. That is well, even if as yet some malign force seems to impede cordial appreciation and personal fellowship. It is well, again, if Christ is felt drawing out personal trust, and with that, genuine affection, so that the heart beats with desire and admiration, even though for the present that can only be under the burden of a perplexed and sorrowful mind. But when the conviction makes way through all the soul, first that Christ is most real, and second that Christ is most good and desirable, and thirdly that Christ is for me, and when the soul surrenders thoroughly to it all, then gladness is the token that faith is playing freely through the human soul, throughout all its provinces. It is the flag hoisted to signify that Christ is believed and loved indeed. On the other hand, wrong is done to the Lord, and an evil report is brought up upon Him, when those who profess to believe in Him, fail to rejoice in Him.
You well may rejoice in the Lord; you ought surely to do it. You ought to give yourselves time to think and feel so as to rejoice; you should be ashamed to fail to rejoice. You do not apprehend correctly your position as a believer, you do not take the attitude that befits you, if the Lord believed in, though perhaps He makes you diligent, and patient, and penitent, and thankful, does not also make you heartily glad. Let the elements of this gladness come warm home to your heart, and do their work. Then you will realise, as, short of this, you never can, how the believer rises above the things that threaten to entangle him, and can do all things through Christ that strengthens him.
And, in particular, how influential this is to preserve men from being unduly moved and swayed by the passing things of time! These sway us by joy and grief, by hope and fear; and what an inordinate measure of those affections they do beget in us! But let the great joy of the Lord have its place, and then those lesser claimants will have to content themselves with smaller room. A great grief shuts out lesser griefs. When a woman has lost her son, will she grieve greatly for the loss of her purse? So a great joy keeps down the excess of lesser joys. A man that has just won the heart and hand of the woman he loves, will not be greatly concerned about winning or losing at some game. He will be about equally glad either way. So he whose heart thrills with the joy of Christ will feel the pleasure and the pain of earthly things; but they will not master him, nor run away with him.
According to the Apostle, a believer in the way of his duty, if he cherishes this joy, may ordinarily have a great deal of it. And, as it were, he urges us: "Now do not be moved away from it. Do not be so foolish. Various things will come, all sorts of things, claiming to preoccupy your mind, so that for the present this joy shall fall into the background. They claim it — and far too often they are allowed to succeed. Do not let them. 'Rejoice in the Lord alway; again I will say, Rejoice.'"
Always: for many believers rejoice in the Lord sometimes; for example, in hours of undisturbed meditation. But when they go out into the stir of life, to meet experiences which either greatly gratify or greatly grieve them, then it seems fit that the new passion should have its turn, and the heart insists on this indulgence. So also when some great hope absorbs the mind, or some great anxiety weighs upon it, the soul seems fascinated with the coming good or ill, and hangs upon the prospect as if nothing else for the present could be minded. Now the Apostle does not say that insensibility is the duty of Christians in these circumstances. Indeed it is because these experiences do interest and impress, that they become an effective instrument of Divine training. But Christ is fit to be rejoiced in, right through all vicissitudes; and common experiences, duly dealt with, ought to throw into relief the reasons why He must still be cause of gladness, whatever may be felt about other things. This maintained joy of the Lord — a rejoicing faith, a rejoicing love, a rejoicing obedience — this is the temper in virtue of which all else of life will fall into its due place, and will assume its just proportion. "Though the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation" (Hab. iii. 17, 18).
So then, "Let your moderation (or forbearance) be known to all men." The word here used expresses a state of mind opposed to the eagerness that overrates the worth of our personal objects, and to the arrogance that insists on our own will about them. Some would render it "considerateness." It is a temper which dictates a gentle and refraining from way of dealing with men. This is the appropriate evidence that the impetuosity of the heart about earthly things has been assuaged by the unseen presence and the influence of Christ. Christ seen, felt, and rejoiced in, is the secret of this moderation. A great vision of faith, and that not a vision which is dreaded, but a vision which is loved, brings the movement of the soul into a happy order. Now, not only so: not only does the love of Christ, unseen and absent, work in this way; but Christ is coming and is near. The hopes connected with Him are soon to be realised, the gladness of fellowship with Him is soon to be complete. The Lord is at hand. "Be patient therefore, brethren, to the coming of the Lord. Stablish your hearts. The coming of the Lord draws nearly" (James v. 7).
For believers, as we have already seen, the coming of the Lord is, according to the New Testament, the great hope. Then the joy in the Lord is to be complete and crowned. Those who apprehend that glad day as near are not supposed to be capable of yielding up their hearts to the uncontrolled sway of mere earthly interests.
Here, however, a question arises. Paul speaks of the day as near, and calls on his disciples to live under the influence of that belief. He does not merely say that it may be near, but that it is. Yet we now know that the day was then more than eighteen hundred years away. In the light of this fact, one asks what we are to make of the statement before us, and what we are to make of the view of Christian life which the statement implies.
Our Lord expressly withheld from His disciples all definite statement of times and seasons in this connection. Yet the Early Church with one consent expected the Lord to come within comparatively few years (what are commonly called few), and language shaped itself in accordance with that impression. We have here, however, more than a mere mode of phrasing. The nearness of Christ is emphasised as the ground on which Christian experience ought to build. Was not this a mistake?
But one may ask in reply, Was it after all untrue that Christ's coming was near then, or that it is near now? Even if anticipations in our own day which bring it within a generation are to fail again, as they have always done before, shall we think that the Lord is not near?
There is a nearness which pertains to all future events which are at once very great and important, and also are absolutely certain. Being so great, involving interests so great, and being contemplated in their inevitable certainty, such events can loom large upon the eye, and they can make their influence felt in the present, whatever tale of days may interpose before they actually arrive. If, for instance, one were told of a friend, whom he supposed he might meet at any time, "You shall certainly see him six months hence," the reply might be, "Six months! That is a long time to wait." But if he were told with infallible authority, "Six months hence you shall die," would he then say, "It is a long time"? Would he not feel that it was near? Would not an event so momentous as death, so inclusive of all interests and all issues, prove able to stretch, as it were, across six months, and to come into each day, as part of that day's concern? So of the coming of Christ. It is the great event for the individual, the Church, the world. All issues run up to it; all developments are broken off by it; all earthly histories await its decision. To it all earthly movement tends; from it all that lies beyond is dated. It is the great gate of the world to come. Let us think what it means: and suppose we could be assured that it is still ten thousand years away, shall we say, "How far off it is"? Not if we believe in its certainty, and realise what it means. If we do so, our hearts will stir and thrill as we listen carefully how the surges of the eternal world are beating on the thin barrier of ten thousand years. Come when it may, it comes hasting to us, pressing before it all that lies between, big with the decisions and the fulfilments of Eternity. If we truly believe and rightly estimate it, we shall feel that it is near — even at the door. We shall be aware whenever we look forward that beyond all possible events of earthly history it rises high, catching and holding our gaze, and hurrying toward our individual selves not one whit the less because it aims at others too.
We are apt to ask why the words of warning and encouragement in reference to the future are not connected with the prospect of death, rather than with that of the Lord's return; for death certainly is the topic generally selected for such purposes by moralists and preachers of more recent days. The answer may partly be, that the possibility and likelihood of the Lord's return, even in the lifetime of themselves and their contemporaries, might render it more natural for the Apostles to fix all but exclusively on that. Yet this will not suffice. For nobody could overlook the fact that some believers were dying, and that death before the Lord's return might well be the portion of more. Besides, in particular circumstances, death does come into view in a perfectly easy and natural way, as at ch. i. 23; and the bearing of it on what lies nearer is considered. The true answer is that death is not the great expectation of the believer — not death, but victory over death, consummated and conclusively manifested when the Lord comes. This expectation certainly is associated with the solemn prospect of judgment; but not so as to quench the gladness of the hope for those who love the Lord and have trusted in Him. This is our expectation — "the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our hope" (1 Tim. i. 1). Death is a great event; but it is negative, privative, and, after all, provisional. True, it seals us up for the coming of the Lord, and so, in many respects, it may be, for many purposes, practically identified with that coming. The sermons which are preached upon it, commonly from Old Testament texts, are, no doubt, well grounded and edifying. But the New Testament, speaking to believers, all but constantly passes on to the day of the Lord as the true focus of the future; and it will be well for us to conform our thinking and our feeling to this model. No one can estimate, who has not made it a matter of personal study, how large and how influential a place this topic takes in New Testament teaching.
Meanwhile, no doubt, the vicissitudes and the possibilities of earthly life press upon us. Now the Apostle provides a special additional relief for that. We are not merely prepossessed with a joy that should fortify us against undue disturbance from this source, but we have access in all things to the mind and heart of our Father. We can bring our thoughts and wishes about them all into contact with the deep, true thoughts and with the fatherly love of God. The incidents and the possibilities of life exercise us: they tend to become anxieties, keen and wearing; and anxieties are the materials of disturbance and temptation. "Be anxious about nothing; but in all things by prayer and supplication, with thankfulness, let your requests be made known to God."
This is the practical way of getting continually to those springs of joy which comfort and establish the heart. The way to be anxious about nothing is to be prayerful about everything.
It is promised that when we pray in faith God hears us, and that he that asks receives. However, this does not mean that whatever appears to us desirable shall certainly be brought to pass in answer to prayer. That would be to sacrifice our own welfare, and also the order of God's world, to our shortsightedness and vanity. There is great reason to believe indeed that those who live by prayer find many a desire granted, and many a burden lifted, in token of God's loving interest in them, and the heed He gives to their prayers. But we are not to start from a general principle that we are to get all our own way by praying. Two things we may fix upon. First, the absolute promises of the gospel, the blessings which pertain to eternal life, are given to us through prayer. "This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him." Secondly, concerning all other things, we have access to God in prayer, as to One who grudges us no good thing; we are to express our anxieties and our desires, and to receive the assurance that they are lovingly considered by One who knows our frame and understands our troubles. Often the answer comes, even in small things. But, generally, we may in this point have an absolute assurance that we shall either have what we ask, or else something which God sees to be better for us than that.
It is this second article of the doctrine of prayer that is chiefly in view here. The prayer of faith must be a prayer of thanksgiving, because faith knows how much it owes to God. "You have not dealt with us after our sins." At the same time it has supplications and requests, over and above the great petition for life eternal. For our daily human experience is God's providence to us. It exercises our thoughts and feelings, and sets agoing contemplations and desires, which may be shortsighted and erring, but, so far, they are the best that we can make of it; or, if not the best, they have the more need to be corrected. Here, then, we are encouraged to pour out our hearts to God. We are to do it with submission: that is one of the best parts of the privilege, for our Father knows best. At the same time, we are to do it with supplication; we not only may, but we should. Our desires should all be made known in this quarter; nowhere will they have a kindlier hearing. So, last of all, we come, not only touching eternal life, but touching each day's concerns, into a blessed agreement with God our Father through Christ. It is agreed, that He takes loving charge of our anxieties and desires, as One who would withhold no good from us; and it is agreed, that we put unreserved confidence in Him, — in which confidence we say, "Abba, Father; not our will, but Your be done."
The confidence we have that all this is most real and solid, and not merely a deceptive piece of religious acting, comes to us in the channel of the faith and experience which have been fulfilled in God's children from the first; but it is most emphatically confirmed and made sure to us by Christ. He has taught us to pray. His is the religion in which men pray. Under His influence we come away from ceremonial utterances, and also from the despairing experiments of supplication with which, in other religions, men assail the heavens; and, hand in hand with that loving Mediator, we pray. Prayer, when it is real, when it is "in the Holy Spirit," is a wonderfully simple and a wonderfully great thing.
So it transpires that the peace of God which passes all understanding is found. For this great and deep agreement with God in Christ, about all things great and small, is the very entrance into the peace of God Himself, and is the participation of it. In this, as in other aspects, things are daily realised in the history of believers, that pass all understanding, because God in Christ is in the matter. The infinite and eternal life is wedding itself to us and our affairs. It may be understood, finally, that this peace, arising to Christians at the throne of grace, guards their minds and hearts. It guards them against being overcharged, outworn, surprised; it guards them against being carried captive by earthly care. Yet this peace does not disable them for earthly business. Rather, because their main interests are so secure, it gives them calmness and clearness; it supplies them a moral vantage ground from which to dispose of all earthly affairs.
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
Insights of the past for the present
To the Philippians - R. Rainy
ON THE BOOK SHELF
May your insights be worthy.