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Philippians 2:12-16

12. Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

12. Itaque amici mei, quemadmodum semper obedistis, ne quasi in praesentia mea solum, sed nunc multo magis in absentia mea, cum timore et tremore vestram salutem operamini:

13. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.

13. Deus enim est, qui efficit in vobis et velle et efficere, pro bona voluntate.

14. Do all things without murmurings and disputings:

14. Omnia facite absque murmurationibus et disceptationibus,

15. That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;

15. Ut sitis tales, de quibus nemo conqueratur, et sinceri filii Dei irreprehensibiles, in medio generationis pravae et tortuosae, inter quos lucete, tanquam luminaria in mundo:

16. Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.

16. Sermonem vitae sustinentes, in gloriam meam, in diem Christi, quod non frustra cucurrerim, nec frustra laboraverim.

 

12 Therefore, etc. He concludes the whole of the preceding exhortation with a general statement — that they should humble themselves under the Lord’s hand, for that will very readily secure, that, laying aside all arrogance, they will be gentle and indulgent to each other. This is the only befitting way in which the mind of man may learn gentleness, when one who, while viewing himself apart, pleased himself in his hiding-places, comes to examine himself as compared with God.

As ye have always obeyed. He commends their previous obedience, that he may encourage them the more to persevere. As, however, it is the part of hypocrites to approve themselves before others, but so soon as they have withdrawn from public view, to indulge themselves more freely, as if every occasion of reverence and fear were removed, he admonishes them not to shew themselves obedient in his presence merely, but also, and even much more, in his absence. For if he were present, he could stimulate and urge them on by continued admonitions. Now, therefore, when their monitor is at a distance from them, 118118     “Maintenant donc qu’il est loin d’eux, et qu’il ne les pent plus admonester en presence;” — “Now, therefore, when he is at a distance from them, and can no longer admonish them when present.” there is need that they should stir up themselves.

With fear and trembling. In this way he would have the Philippians testify and approve their obedience — by being submissive and humble. Now the source of humility is this — acknowledging how miserable we are, and devoid of all good. To this he calls them in this statement. For whence comes pride, but from the assurance which blind confidence produces, when we please ourselves, and are more puffed up with confidence in our own virtue, than prepared to rest upon the grace of God. In contrast with this vice is that fear to which he exhorts. Now, although exhortation comes before doctrine, in the connection of the passage, it is in reality after it, in point of arrangement, inasmuch as it is derived from it. I shall begin, accordingly, with doctrine.

13 It is God that worketh. This is the true engine for bringing down all haughtiness — this the sword for putting an end to all pride, when we are taught that we are utterly nothing, and can do nothing, except through the grace of God alone. I mean supernatural grace, which comes forth from the spirit of regeneration. For, considered as men, we already are, and live and move in God. (Acts 17:28.) But Paul reasons here as to a kind of movement different from that universal one. Let us now observe how much he ascribes to God, and how much he leaves to us.

There are, in any action, two principal departments — the inclination, and the power to carry it into effect. Both of these he ascribes wholly to God; what more remains to us as a ground of glorying? Nor is there any reason to doubt that this division has the same force as if Paul had expressed the whole in a single word; for the inclination is the groundwork; the accomplishment of it is the summit of the building brought to a completion. He has also expressed much more than if he had said that God is the Author of the beginning and of the end. For in that case sophists would have alleged, by way of cavil, that something between the two was left to men. But as it is, what will they find that is in any degree peculiar to us? They toil hard in their schools to reconcile with the grace of God free-will — of such a nature, I mean, as they conceive of — which might be capable of turning itself by its own movement, and might have a peculiar and separate power, by which it might co-operate with the grace of God. I do not dispute as to the name, but as to the thing itself. In order, therefore, that free-will may harmonize with grace, they divide in such a manner, that God restores in us a free choice, that we may have it in our power to will aright. Thus they acknowledge to have received from God the power of willing aright, but assign to man a good inclination. Paul, however, declares this to be a work of God, without any reservation. For he does not say that our hearts are simply turned or stirred up, or that the infirmity of a good will is helped, but that a good inclination is wholly the work of God. 119119     See Institutes, vol. 1, pp. 350, 353.

Now, in the calumny brought forward by them against us — that we make men to be like stones, when we teach that they have nothing good, except from pure grace, they act a shameless part. For we acknowledge that we have from nature an inclination, but as it is depraved through the corruption of sin, it begins to be good only when it has been renewed by God. Nor do we say that a man does anything good without willing it, but that it is only when his inclination is regulated by the Spirit of God. Hence, in so far as concerns this department, we see that the entire praise is ascribed to God, and that what sophists teach us is frivolous — that grace is offered to us, and placed, as it were, in the midst of us, that we may embrace it if we choose; for if God did not work in us efficaciously, he could not be said to produce in us a good inclination. As to the second department, we must entertain the same view. “God,” says he, “is ̔Ο ἐνεργῶν το ἐνεργεῖν he that worketh in us to do.” He brings, therefore, to perfection those pious dispositions which he has implanted in us, that they may not be unproductive, as he promises by Ezekiel, —

“I will cause them to walk in my commandments.”
(Ezekiel 11:20.)

From this we infer that perseverance, also, is his free gift.

According to his good pleasure. Some explain this to mean — the good intention of the mind. 120120     “Aucuns exposent le mot Grec, bon propos et bon cœur, le rapportans aux hommes;” — “Some explain the Greek word as meaning, a good purpose and a good heart, making it refer to men.” I, on the other hand, take it rather as referring to God, and understand by it his benevolent disposition, which they commonly call beneplacitum, (good pleasure.) For the Greek word εὐδοκία is very frequently employed in this sense; and the context requires it. For Paul has it in view to ascribe everything to God, and to take everything from us. Accordingly, not satisfied with having assigned to God the production both of willing and of doing aright, he ascribes both to his unmerited mercy. By this means he shuts out the contrivance of the sophists as to subsequent grace, which they imagine to be the reward of merit. Hence he teaches, that the whole course of our life, if we live aright, is regulated by God, and that, too, from his unmerited goodness.

With fear and trembling. From this Paul deduces an exhortation — that they must with fear work out their own salvation. He conjoins, as he is accustomed, fear and trembling, for the sake of greater intensity, to denote — serious and anxious fear. He, accordingly, represses drowsiness as well as confidence. By the term work he reproves our indolence, which is always ingenious in seeking advantages. 121121     “Ingenieuse a cercher ses auantages, et quelques vaines excuses;” — “Ingenious in seeking its advantages, and some vain pretexts.” Now it seems as if it had in the grace of God a sweet occasion of repose; for if He worketh in us, why should we not indulge ourselves at our ease? The Holy Spirit, however, calls us to consider, that he wishes to work upon living organs, but he immediately represses arrogance by recommending fear and trembling

The inference, also, is to be carefully observed: “You have,” says he, “all things from God; therefore be solicitous and humble.” For there is nothing that ought to train us more to modesty and fear, than our being taught, that it is by the grace of God alone that we stand, and will instantly fall down, if he even in the slightest degree withdraw his hand. Confidence in ourselves produces carelessness and arrogance. We know from experience, that all who confide in their own strength, grow insolent through presumption, and at the same time, devoid of care, resign themselves to sleep. The remedy for both evils is, when, distrusting ourselves, we depend entirely on God alone. And assuredly, that man has made decided progress in the knowledge, both of the grace of God, and of his own weakness, who, aroused from carelessness, diligently seeks 122122     “Cerche songneusement et implore;” — “Diligently seeks and implores.” God’s help; while those that are puffed up with confidence in their own strength, must necessarily be at the same time in a state of intoxicated security. Hence it is a shameless calumny that Papists bring against us, — that in extolling the grace of God, and putting down free-will, we make men indolent, shake off the fear of God, and destroy all feeling of concern. It is obvious, however, to every reader, that Paul finds matter of exhortation here — not in the doctrine of Papists, but in what is held by us. “God,” says he, “works all things in us; therefore submit to him with fear.” I do not, indeed, deny that there are many who, on being told that there is in us nothing that is good, indulge themselves the more freely in their vices; but I deny that this is the fault of the doctrine, which, on the contrary, when received as it ought to be, produces in our hearts a feeling of concern.

Papists, however, pervert this passage so as to shake the assurance of faith, for the man that trembles 123123     “Car celuy qui tremble, disent-ils;” — “For he that trembles, say they.” is in uncertainty. They, accordingly, understand Paul’s words as if they meant that we ought, during our whole life, to waver as to assurance of salvation. If, however, we would not have Paul contradict himself, he does not by any means exhort us to hesitation, inasmuch as he everywhere recommends confidence and (πληροφορίαν) full assurance. The solution, however, is easy, if any one is desirous of attaining the true meaning without any spirit of contention. There are two kinds of fear; the one produces anxiety along with humility; the other hesitation. The former is opposed to fleshly confidence and carelessness, equally as to arrogance; the latter, to assurance of faith. Farther, we must take notice, that, as believers repose with assurance upon the grace of God, so, when they direct their views to their own frailty, they do not by any means resign themselves carelessly to sleep, but are by fear of dangers stirred up to prayer. Yet, so far is this fear from disturbing tranquillity of conscience, and shaking confidence, that it rather confirms it. For distrust of ourselves leads us to lean more confidently upon the mercy of God. And this is what Paul’s words import, for he requires nothing from the Philippians, but that they submit themselves to God with true self-renunciation.

Work out your own salvation. As Pelagians of old, so Papists at this day make a proud boast of this passage, with the view of extolling man’s excellence. Nay more, when the preceding statement is mentioned to them by way of objection, It is God that worketh in us, etc., they immediately by this shield ward it off (so to speak) — Work out your own salvation. Inasmuch, then, as the work is ascribed to God and man in common, they assign the half to each. In short, from the word work they derive free-will; from the term salvation they derive the merit of eternal life. I answer, that salvation is taken to mean the entire course of our calling, and that this term includes all things, by which God accomplishes that perfection, to which he has predestinated us by his gracious choice. This no one will deny, that is not obstinate and impudent. We are said to perfect it, when, under the regulation of the Spirit, we aspire after a life of blessedness. It is God that calls us, and offers to us salvation; it is our part to embrace by faith what he gives, and by obedience act suitably to his calling; but we have neither from ourselves. Hence we act only when he has prepared us for acting.

The word which he employs properly signifies — to continue until the end; but we must keep in mind what I have said, that Paul does not reason here as to how far our ability extends, but simply teaches that God acts in us in such a manner, that he, at the same time, does not allow us to be inactive, 124124     “Deuenir paresseux et oisifs;” — “To become idle and indolent.” but exercises us diligently, after having stirred us up by a secret influence. 125125     “Mais apres nous auoir poussez et incitez par vne inspiration secrete et cachee, nous employe et exerce songneusement;” — “But, after having stimulated and incited us by a secret and hidden inspiration, he diligently employs and exercises us.”

14 Without murmurings. These are fruits of that humility to which he had exhorted them. For every man that has learned carefully to submit himself to God, without claiming anything for himself, will also conduct himself agreeably among men. When every one makes it his care to please himself, two faults prevail: First, they calumniate one another; and secondly, they strive against one another in contentions. In the first place, accordingly, he forbids malignity and secret enmities; and then, secondly, open contentions. He adds, thirdly, that they give no occasion to others to complain of them — a thing which is wont to arise from excessive moroseness. It is true that hatred is not in all cases to be dreaded; but care must be taken, that we do not make ourselves odious through our own fault, so that the saying should be fulfilled in us, They hated me without a cause. (Psalm 35:19.) If, however, any one wishes to extend it farther, I do not object to it. For murmurings and disputations spring up, whenever any one, aiming beyond measure at his own advantage, 126126     “Cerchant outre mesure son proufit et vtilite particuliere;” — “Seeking beyond measure his own particular profit and advantage.” gives to others occasion of complaint. 127127     “Le vice qui est en plusieurs qu’ils sont pleins de complaints contre les autres;” — “The fault that is in very many — that they are full of complaints as to others.” Nay, even this expression may be taken in an active sense, so as to mean — not troublesome or querulous. And this signification will not accord ill with the context, for a querulous temper (μεμψιμοιρία) 128128     The term is used by Aristotle. See Arist. Virt. et. Vit. 7. 6. — Ed. is the seed of almost all quarrels and slanderings. He adds sincere, because these pollutions will never come forth from minds that have been purified.

15 The sons of God, unreprovable. It ought to be rendered — unreprovable, because ye are the sons of God. For God’s adoption of us ought to be a motive to a blameless life, that we may in some degree resemble our Father. Now, although there never has been such perfection in the world as to have nothing worthy of reproof, those are, nevertheless, said to be unreprovable who aim at this with the whole bent of their mind, as has been observed elsewhere. 129129     Our Author most probably refers to what he had stated when commenting on 1 Corinthians 1:8. See Calvin on the Corinthians, vol. 1, pp. 58, 59. — Ed.

In the midst of a wicked generation. Believers, it is true, live on earth, intermingled with the wicked; 130130     “Mesles auec les infideles et meschans;” — “Mingled with the unbelieving and the wicked.” they breathe the same air, they enjoy the same soil, and at that time 131131     “Et lors mesme que S. Paul escriuoit ceci;” — “And even at the time that St. Paul wrote this.” they were even more intermingled, inasmuch as there could scarcely be found a single pious family that was not surrounded on all sides by unbelievers. So much the more does Paul stir up the Philippians to guard carefully against all corruptions. The meaning therefore is this: “You are, it is true, inclosed in the midst of the wicked; but, in the mean time, bear in mind that you are, by God’s adoption, separated from them: let there be, therefore, in your manner of life, conspicuous marks by which you may be distinguished. Nay more, this consideration ought to stir you up the more to aim at a pious and holy life, that we may not also be a part of the crooked generation, 132132     “De la generation peruerse et maudite;” — “Of the perverse and accursed generation.” entangled by their vices and contagion.”

As to his calling them a wicked and crooked generation, this corresponds with the connection of the passage. For he teaches us that we must so much the more carefully take heed on this account — that many occasions of offense are stirred up by unbelievers, which disturb their right course; and the whole life of unbelievers is, as it were, a labyrinth of various windings, that draw us off from the right way. They are, however, notwithstanding, epithets of perpetual application, that are descriptive of unbelievers of all nations and in all ages. For if the heart of man is wicked and unsearchable, (Jeremiah 17:9,) what will be the fruits springing from such a root? Hence we are taught in these words, that in the life of man there is nothing pure, nothing right, until he has been renewed by the Spirit of God.

Among whom shine ye. The termination of the Greek word is doubtful, for it might be taken as the indicativeye shine; but the imperative suits better with the exhortation. He would have believers be as lamps, which shine amidst the darkness of the world, as though he had said, “Believers, it is true, are children of the night, and there is in the world nothing but darkness; but God has enlightened you for this end, that the purity of your life may shine forth amidst that darkness, that his grace may appear the more illustrious.” Thus, also, it is said by the Prophet,

“The Lord will arise upon thee,
and his glory will be seen upon thee.”(Isaiah 60:2.)

He adds immediately afterwards, “The Gentiles shall walk in thy light, and kings in the brightness of thy countenance.” Though Isaiah speaks there rather of doctrine, while Paul speaks here of an exemplary life, yet, even in relation to doctrine, Christ in another passage specially designates the Apostles the light of the world. (Matthew 5:14.)

16 Holding forth the word of life The reason why they ought to be luminaries is, that they carry the word of life, by which they are enlightened, that they may give light also to others. Now he alludes to lamps, in which wicks are placed that they may burn, and he makes us resemble the lamps; while he compares the word of God to the wick, from which the light comes. If you prefer another figure — we are candlesticks: the doctrine of the gospel is the candle, which, being placed in us, diffuses light on all sides. Now he intimates, that we do injustice to the word of God, if it does not shine forth in us in respect of purity of life. This is the import of Christ’s saying,

“No man lighteth a candle,
and putteth it under a bushel,” etc. (Matthew 5:15.)

We are said, however, to carry the word of life in such a way as to be, in the mean time, carried by it, 133133     “Soustenus ou portez d’elle;” — “Sustained or carried by it.” inasmuch as we are founded upon it. The manner, however, of carrying it, of which Paul speaks, is, that God has intrusted his doctrine with us on condition, not that we should keep the light of it under restraint, as it were, and inactive, but that we should hold it forth to others. The sum is this: that all that are enlightened with heavenly doctrine carry about with them a light, which detects and discovers their crimes, 134134     “Leur turpitude et vilenie;” — “Their disgrace and villany.” if they do not walk in holiness and chastity; but that this light has been kindled up, not merely that they may themselves be guided in the right way, but that they may also shew it to others.

That I may have glory. That he may encourage them the more, he declares that it will turn out to his glory, if he has not labored among them in vain. Not as if those who labored faithfully, but unsuccessfully, lost their pains, and had no reward of their labor. As, however, success in our ministry is a singular blessing from God, let us not feel surprised, if God, among his other gifts, makes this the crowning one. Hence, as Paul’s Apostleship is now rendered illustrious by so many Churches, gained over to Christ through his instrumentality, so there can be no question that such trophies 135135     “Telles conquestes et marques de triomphe;” — “Such conquests and tokens of triumph.” The term tropaea made use of by our Author, (corresponding to the Greek term πρόπαια,) properly signifies, monuments of the enemy’s defeat, (προπή.) — Ed. will have a place in Christ’s kingdom, as we will find him saying a little afterwards, You are my crown. (Philippians 4:1.) Nor can it be doubted, that the greater the exploits, the triumph will be the more splendid. 136136     “Tant plus qu’il y aura de faits cheualeureux, que le triomphe aussi n’en soit d’autant plus magnifique et honorable;” — “The more there are of illustrious deeds, the triumph also will be so much the more magnificent and honorable.”

Should any one inquire how it is that Paul now glories in his labors, while he elsewhere forbids us to glory in any but in the Lord, (1 Corinthians 1:31; 2 Corinthians 10:17,) the answer is easy — that, when we have prostrated ourselves, and all that we have before God, and have placed in Christ all our ground of glorying, it is, at the same time, allowable for us to glory through Christ in God’s benefits, as we have seen in the First Epistle to the Corinthians. 137137     See Calvin on the Corinthians, vol. 1, pp. 94, 95. The expression, at the day of the Lord, is intended to stimulate the Philippians to perseverance, while the tribunal of Christ is set before their view, from which the reward of faith is to be expected.


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