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Imitating Christ’s Humility
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Shining as Lights in the World
12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
14 Do all things without murmuring and arguing, 15so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. 16It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17But even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you— 18and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me.
Timothy and Epaphroditus
19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I may be cheered by news of you. 20I have no one like him who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21All of them are seeking their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22But Timothy’s worth you know, how like a son with a father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. 23I hope therefore to send him as soon as I see how things go with me; 24and I trust in the Lord that I will also come soon.
25 Still, I think it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus—my brother and co-worker and fellow soldier, your messenger and minister to my need; 26for he has been longing for all of you, and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27He was indeed so ill that he nearly died. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, so that I would not have one sorrow after another. 28I am the more eager to send him, therefore, in order that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29Welcome him then in the Lord with all joy, and honor such people, 30because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for those services that you could not give me.
1 If there is therefore any consolation. There is an extraordinary tenderness in this exhortation, 9393 “Ceste exhortation est plene d’affections vehementes;” — “This exhortation is full of intense affections.” in which he entreats by all means the Philippians mutually to cherish harmony among themselves, lest, in the event of their being torn asunder by intestine contentions, they should expose themselves to the impostures of the false apostles. For when there are disagreements, there is invariably a door opened for Satan to disseminate impious doctrines, while agreement is the best bulwark for repelling them.
As the term παρακλήσεως is often taken to mean exhortation, the commencement of the passage might be explained in this manner: “If an exhortation which is delivered in the name and by the authority of Christ, has any weight with you.” The other meaning, however, corresponds better with the context: “If there is among you any consolation of Christ,” by means of which you may alleviate my griefs, and if you would afford me any consolation and relief, which you assuredly owe me in the exercise of love; if you take into view that fellowship of the Spirit, which ought to make us all one; if any feeling of humanity and mercy resides in you, which might stir you up to alleviate my miseries, fulfill ye my joy, etc. From this we may infer, how great a blessing unity in the Church is, and with what eagerness pastors should endeavor to secure it. 9494 “Et que les pasteurs le doyuent procurer d’vne affection vehemente et zele ardent;” — “And that pastors should endeavor to procure it with intense desire and ardent zeal.” We must also at the same time take notice, how he humbles himself by beseechingly imploring their pity, while he might have availed himself of his paternal authority, so as to demand respect from them as his sons. 9595 “Il peust vser d’authorite paternelle, et demander que pour la reuerence qu’ils luy deuoyent comme ses enfans, ils feissent ce qu’il enseigne yci;” — “He might have exercised paternal authority, and have demanded that in consideration of the respect which they owed him as his children, they should do what he here inculcates.” He knew how to exercise authority when it was necessary, but at present he prefers to use entreaties, because he knew that these would be better fitted to gain an entrance into their affections, 9696 “Pour entrer dedans leurs cœurs, et es mouuoir leurs affections;” — “For entering into their hearts, and moving their affections.” and because he was aware that he had to do with persons who were docile and compliant. In this manner the pastor must have no hesitation to assume different aspects for the sake of the Church. 9797 “Ne doit faire difficulte de se transformer selon qu’il cognoistra que ce sera le proufit de l’Eglise;” — “Should have no hesitation in transforming himself according as he may perceive that this will be for the advantage of the Church.”
2 Fulfil ye my joy. Here again we may see how little anxiety he had as to himself, provided only it went well with the Church of Christ. He was kept shut up in prison, and bound with chains; he was reckoned worthy of capital punishment — before his view were tortures — near at hand was the executioner; yet all these things do not prevent his experiencing unmingled joy, provided he sees that the Churches are in a good condition. Now what he reckons the chief indication of a prosperous condition of the Church is — when mutual agreement prevails in it, and brotherly harmony. Thus the 137th Psalm teaches us in like manner, that our crowning joy is the remembrance of Jerusalem. (Psalm 137:6.) But if this were the completion of Paul’s joy, the Philippians would have been worse than cruel if they had tortured the mind of this holy man with a twofold anguish by disagreement among themselves.
That ye think the same thing. The sum is this — that they be joined together in views and inclinations. For he makes mention of agreement in doctrine and mutual love; and afterwards, repeating the same thing, (in my opinion,) he exhorts them to be of one mind, and to have the same views. The expression τὸ αὐτὸ, (the same thing,) implies that they must accommodate themselves to each other. Hence the beginning of love is harmony of views, but that is not sufficient, unless men’s hearts are at the same time joined together in mutual affection. At the same time there were no inconsistency in rendering it thus: — “that ye may be of the same mind — so as to have mutual love, to be one in mind and one in views;” for participles are not unfrequently made use of instead of infinitives. I have adopted, however, the view which seemed to me less forced.
3 Nothing through strife or vain-glory. These are two most dangerous pests for disturbing the peace of the Church. Strife is awakened when every one is prepared to maintain pertinaciously his own opinion; and when it has once begun to rage it rushes headlong 9898 “Sans pouuoir estre arrestee;” — “Without being capable of being arrested.” in the direction from which it has entered. Vain-glory 9999 Κενοδόξοι persons whose object is to acquire power, and who, if they see others superior to themselves, are offended. (Galatians 5:26.) This κενοδοξία vain-glory, produces contentions of all kinds; and it produces this evil besides, that persons who have gone wrong, and who might have been restored to truth and virtue by humble, friendly admonition, are often, by the interference of vain-glorious, ostentatious instructors, confirmed in error and vice.” — Storr. See Biblical Cabinet, vol. 40, p. 132, note. — Ed. tickles men’s minds, so that every one is delighted with his own inventions. Hence the only way of guarding against dissensions is — when we avoid strifes by deliberating and acting peacefully, especially if we are not actuated by ambition. For ambition is a means of fanning all strifes. 100100 “Est le sufflet qui allume toutes contentions;” — “Is the bellows that kindles up all strifes.” Vain-glory means any glorying in the flesh; for what ground of glorying have men in themselves that is not vanity?
But by humility. For both diseases he brings forward one remedy — humility, and with good reason, for it is the mother of moderation, the effect of which is that, yielding up our own right, we give the preference to others, and are not easily thrown into agitation. He gives a definition of true humility — when every one esteems himself less than others. Now, if anything in our whole life is difficult, this above everything else is so. Hence it is not to be wondered if humility is so rare a virtue. For, as one says, 101101 “Comme quelqu’vn a dit anciennement;” — “As some one has said anciently.” “Every one has in himself the mind of a king, by claiming everything for himself.” See! here is pride. Afterwards from a foolish admiration of ourselves arises contempt of the brethren. And so far are we from what Paul here enjoins, that one can hardly endure that others should be on a level with him, for there is no one that is not eager to have superiority.
But it is asked, how it is possible that one who is in reality distinguished above others can reckon those to be superior to him who he knows are greatly beneath him? I answer, that this altogether depends on a right estimate of God’s gifts, and our own infirmities. For however any one may be distinguished by illustrious endowments, he ought to consider with himself that they have not been conferred upon him that he might be self-complacent, that he might exalt himself, or even that he might hold himself in esteem. Let him, instead of this, employ himself in correcting and detecting his faults, and he will have abundant occasion for humility. In others, on the other hand, he will regard with honor whatever there is of excellences, and will by means of love bury their faults. The man who will observe this rule, will feel no difficulty in preferring others before himself. And this, too, Paul meant when he added, that they ought not to have every one a regard to themselves, but to their neighbors, or that they ought not to be devoted to themselves. Hence it is quite possible that a pious man, even though he should be aware that he is superior, may nevertheless hold others in greater esteem.
5. He now recommends, from the example of Christ, the exercise of humility, to which he had exhorted them in words. There are, however, two departments, in the first of which he invites us to imitate Christ, because this is the rule of life: 102102 “Pourceque l’imitation d’ iceluy est la regle de bien viure;” — “Because imitation of him is the rule of right living.” in the second, he allures us to it, because this is the road by which we attain true glory. Hence he exhorts every one to have the same disposition that was in Christ. He afterwards shews what a pattern of humility has been presented before us in Christ. I have retained the passive form of the verb, though I do not disapprove of the rendering given it by others, because there is no difference as to meaning. I merely wished that the reader should be in possession of the very form of expression which Paul has employed.
6 Inasmuch as he was in the form of God. This is not a comparison between things similar, but in the way of greater and less. Christ’s humility consisted in his abasing himself from the highest pinnacle of glory to the lowest ignominy: our humility consists in refraining from exalting ourselves by a false estimation. He gave up his right: all that is required of us is, that we do not assume to ourselves more than we ought. Hence he sets out with this — that, inasmuch as he was in the form of God, he reckoned it not an unlawful thing for him to shew himself in that form; yet he emptied himself. Since, then, the Son of God descended from so great a height, how unreasonable that we, who are nothing, should be lifted up with pride!
The form of God means here his majesty. For as a man is known by the appearance of his form, so the majesty, which shines forth in God, is his figure. 103103 “Car tout ainsi qu’vn homme est cognu quand on contemple la forme de son visage et sa personne, aussi la maieste, qui reluit en Dieu, est la forme ou figure d’iceluy;” — “For just as a man is known, when we mark the form of his appearance and his person, so the majesty, which shines forth in God, is his form or figure.” Or if you would prefer a more apt similitude, the form of a king is his equipage and magnificence, shewing him to be a king — his scepter, his crown, his mantle, 104104 “Le manteau royal;” — “His royal mantle.” his attendants, 105105 “La garde a l’entour;” — “The guard in attendance.” his judgment-throne, and other emblems of royalty; the form of a consul was — his long robe, bordered with purple, his ivory seat, his lictors with rods and hatchets. Christ, then, before the creation of the world, was in the form of God, because from the beginning he had his glory with the Father, as he says in John 17:5. For in the wisdom of God, prior to his assuming our flesh, there was nothing mean or contemptible, but on the contrary a magnificence worth of God. Being such as he was, he could, without doing wrong to any one, shew himself equal with God; but he did not manifest himself to be what he really was, nor did he openly assume in the view of men what belonged to him by right.
Thought it not robbery. There would have been no wrong done though he had shewn himself to be equal with God. For when he says, he would not have thought, it is as though he had said, “He knew, indeed, that this was lawful and right for him,” that we might know that his abasement was voluntary, not of necessity. Hitherto it has been rendered in the indicative — he thought, but the connection requires the subjunctive. It is also quite a customary thing for Paul to employ the past indicative in the place of the subjunctive, by leaving the potential particle ἄν, as it is called, to be supplied — as, for example, in Romans 9:3, ηὐχόμην, for I would have wished; and in 1 Corinthians 2:8; εἰ γὰρ ἔγνωσαν, if they had known. Every one, however, must perceive that Paul treats hitherto of Christ’s glory, which tends to enhance his abasement. Accordingly he mentions, not what Christ did, but what it was allowable for him to do.
Farther, that man is utterly blind who does not perceive that his eternal divinity is clearly set forth in these words. Nor does Erasmus act with sufficient modesty in attempting, by his cavils, to explain away this passage, as well as other similar passages. 106106 “Comme s’ils ne faisoyent rien a ce propos-la;” — “As if they had no bearing on that point.” He acknowledges, indeed, everywhere that Christ is God; but what am I the better for his orthodox confession, if my faith is not supported by any Scripture authority? I acknowledge, certainly, that Paul does not make mention here of Christ’s divine essence; but it does not follow from this, that the passage is not sufficient for repelling the impiety of the Arians, who pretended that Christ was a created God, and inferior to the Father, and denied that he was consubstantial. 107107 “C’est à dire d’vne mesme substance auec le Pere;” — “That is to say, of the same substance as the Father.” For where can there be equality with God without robbery, excepting only where there is the essence of God; for God always remains the same, who cries by Isaiah, I live; I will not give my glory to another. (Isaiah 48:11.) Form means figure or appearance, as they commonly speak. This, too, I readily grant; but will there be found, apart from God, such a form, so as to be neither false nor forged? As, then, God is known by means of his excellences, and his works are evidences of his eternal Godhead, (Romans 1:20,) so Christ’s divine essence is rightly proved from Christ’s majesty, which he possessed equally with the Father before he humbled himself. As to myself, at least, not even all devils would wrest this passage from me — inasmuch as there is in God a most solid argument, from his glory to his essence, which are two things that are inseparable.
7 Emptied himself. This emptying is the same as the abasement, as to which we shall see afterwards. The expression, however, is used, ευμφατικωτέρως, (more emphatically,) to mean, — being brought to nothing. Christ, indeed, could not divest himself of Godhead; but he kept it concealed for a time, that it might not be seen, under the weakness of the flesh. Hence he laid aside his glory in the view of men, not by lessening it, but by concealing it.
It is asked, whether he did this as man? Erasmus answers in the affirmative. But where was the form of God before he became man? Hence we must reply, that Paul speaks of Christ wholly, as he was God manifested in the flesh, (1 Timothy 3:16;) but, nevertheless, this emptying is applicable exclusive to his humanity, as if I should say of man, “Man being mortal, he is exceedingly senseless if he thinks of nothing but the world,” I refer indeed to man wholly; but at the same time I ascribe mortality only to a part of him, namely, to the body. As, then, Christ has one person, consisting of two natures, it is with propriety that Paul says, that he who was the Son of God, — in reality equal to God, did nevertheless lay aside his glory, when he in the flesh manifested himself in the appearance of a servant.
It is also asked, secondly, how he can be said to be emptied, while he, nevertheless, invariably proved himself, by miracles and excellences, to be the Son of God, and in whom, as John testifies, there was always to be seen a glory worthy of the Son of God? (John 1:14.) I answer, that the abasement of the flesh was, notwithstanding, like a vail, by which his divine majesty was concealed. On this account he did not wish that his transfiguration should be made public until after his resurrection; and when he perceives that the hour of his death is approaching, he then says, Father, glorify thy Son. (John 17:1.) Hence, too, Paul teaches elsewhere, that he was declared to be the Son of God by means of his resurrection. (Romans 1:4.) He also declares in another place, (2 Corinthians 13:4,) that he suffered through the weakness of the flesh. In fine, the image of God shone forth in Christ in such a manner, that he was, at the same time, abased in his outward appearance, and brought down to nothing in the estimation of men; for he carried about with him the form of a servant, and had assumed our nature, expressly with the view of his being a servant of the Father, nay, even of men. Paul, too, calls him the Minister of the Circumcision, (Romans 15:8;) and he himself testifies of himself, that he came to minister, (Matthew 20:28;) and that same thing had long before been foretold by Isaiah — Behold my servant, etc. 108108 Isaiah 42:1 cf. Matthew 12:18, — fj.
In the likeness of men Γενόμενος is equivalent here to constitutus — (having been appointed.) For Paul means that he had been brought down to the level of mankind, so that there was in appearance nothing that differed from the common condition of mankind. The Marcionites perverted this declaration for the purpose of establishing the phantasm of which they dreamed. They can, however, be refuted without any great difficulty, inasmuch as Paul is treating here simply of the manner in which Christ manifested himself, and the condition with which he was conversant when in the world. Let one be truly man, he will nevertheless be reckoned unlike others, if he conducts himself as if he were exempt from the condition of others. Paul declares that it was not so as to Christ, but that he lived in such a manner, that he seemed as though he were on a level with mankind, and yet he was very different from a mere man, although he was truly man. The Marcionites therefore shewed excessive childishness, in drawing an argument from similarity of condition for the purpose of denying reality of nature. 109109 See Calvin’s Institutes, vol. 2:13-15.
Found means here, known or seen. For he treats, as has been observed, of estimation. In other words, as he had affirmed previously that he was truly God, the equal of the Father, so he here states, that he was reckoned, as it were, abject, and in the common condition of mankind. We must always keep in view what I said a little ago, that such abasement was voluntary.
8 He became obedient. Even this was great humility — that from being Lord he became a servant; but he says that he went farther than this, because, while he was not only immortal, but the Lord of life and death, he nevertheless became obedient to his Father, even so far as to endure death. This was extreme abasement, especially when we take into view the kind of death, which he immediately adds, with the view of enhancing it. 110110 “Pour amplifier et exaggerer la chose;” — “For the sake of amplifying and enhancing the thing.” For by dying in this manner he was not only covered with ignominy in the sight of God, but was also accursed in the sight of God. It is assuredly such a pattern of humility as ought to absorb the attention of all mankind; so far is it from being possible to unfold it in words in a manner suitable to its dignity.
9 Therefore God hath highly exalted. By adding consolation, he shews that abasement, to which the human mind is averse, is in the highest degree desirable. There is no one, it is true, but will acknowledge that it is a reasonable thing that is required from us, when we are exhorted to imitate Christ. This consideration, however, stirs us up to imitate him the more cheerfully, when we learn that nothing is more advantageous for us than to be conformed to his image. Now, that all are happy who, along with Christ, voluntarily abase themselves, he shews by his example; for from the most abject condition he was exalted to the highest elevation. Every one therefore that humbles himself will in like manner be exalted. Who would now be reluctant to exercise humility, by means of which the glory of the heavenly kingdom is attained?
This passage has given occasion to sophists, or rather they have seized hold of it, to allege that Christ merited first for himself, and afterwards for others. Now, in the first place, even though there were nothing false alleged, it would nevertheless be proper to avoid such profane speculations as obscure the grace of Christ — in imagining that he came for any other reason than with a view to our salvation. Who does not see that this is a suggestion of Satan — that Christ suffered upon the cross, that he might acquire for himself, by the merit of his work, what he did not possess? For it is the design of the Holy Spirit, that we should, in the death of Christ, see, and taste, and ponder, and feel, and recognize nothing but God’s unmixed goodness, and the love of Christ toward us, which was great and inestimable, that, regardless of himself, he devoted himself and his life for our sakes. In every instance in which the Scriptures speak of the death of Christ, they assign to us its advantage and price; — that by means of it we are redeemed — reconciled to God — restored to righteousness — cleansed from our pollutions — life is procured for us, and the gate of life opened. Who, then, would deny that it is at the instigation of Satan that the persons referred to maintain, on the other hand, that the chief part of the advantage is in Christ himself — that a regard to himself had the precedence of that which he had to us — that he merited glory for himself before he merited salvation for us?
Farther, I deny the truth of what they allege, and I maintain that Paul’s words are impiously perverted to the establishment of their falsehood; for that the expression, for this cause, denotes here a consequence rather than a reason, is manifest from this, that it would otherwise follow, that a man could merit Divine honors, and acquire the very throne of God — which is not merely absurd, but even dreadful to make mention of. For of what exaltation of Christ does the Apostle here speak? It is, that everything may be accomplished in him that God, by the prophet Isaiah, exclusively claims to himself. Hence the glory of God, and the majesty, which is so peculiar to him, that it cannot be transferred to any other, will be the reward of man’s work!
Again, if they should urge the mode of expression, without any regard to the absurdity that will follow, the reply will be easy — that he has been given us by the Father in such a manner, that his whole life is as a mirror that is set before us. As, then, a mirror, though it has splendor, has it not for itself, but with the view of its being advantageous and profitable to others, so Christ did not seek or receive anything for himself, but everything for us. For what need, I ask, had he, who was the equal of the Father, of a new exaltation? Let, then, pious readers learn to detest the Sorbonnic sophists with their perverted speculations.
Hath given him a name Name here is employed to mean dignity — a manner of expression which is abundantly common in all languages — “Jacet sine nomine truncus; He lies a headless nameless carcass.” 111111 Virg. Æn. 2:557, 558. The mode of expression, however, is more especially common in Scripture. The meaning therefore is, that supreme power was given to Christ, and that he was placed in the highest rank of honor, so that there is no dignity found either in heaven or in earth that is equal to his. Hence it follows that it is a Divine name. 112112 “Et de cela il s’en ensuit, que c’est vn nom ou dignite propre a Dieu seul;” —”And from this it follows, that it is a name or dignity that belongs to God alone.” This, too, he explains by quoting the words of Isaiah, where the Prophet, when treating of the propagation of the worship of God throughout the whole world, introduces God as speaking thus: —
“I live: every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will swear to me,” etc. (Isaiah 45:23.)
Now, it is certain that adoration is here meant, which belongs peculiarly to God alone. I am aware that some philosophise with subtlety as to the name Jesus, as though it were derived from the ineffable name Jehovah. 113113 “Comme s’il estoit deduit du nom Jehouah, lequel les Juifs par superstition disent qu’il n’est licite de proferer;” — “As if it were derived from the name Jehovah, which the Jews superstitiously say that it is not lawful to utter.” In the reason, however, which they advance, I find no solidity. As for me, I feel no pleasure in empty subtleties; 114114 “En ces subtilitez vaines et frivoles;” —”In these empty and frivolous subtleties.” and it is dangerous to trifle in a matter of such importance. Besides, who does not see that it is a forced, and anything rather than a genuine, exposition, when Paul speaks of Christ’s whole dignity, to restrict his meaning to two syllables, as if any one were to examine attentively the letters of the word Alexander, in order to find in them the greatness of the name that Alexander acquired for himself. Their subtlety, therefore, is not solid, and the contrivance is foreign to Paul’s intention. But worse than ridiculous is the conduct of the Sorbonnic sophists, who infer from the passage before us that we ought to bow the knee whenever the name of Jesus is pronounced, as though it were a magic word which had all virtue included in the sound of it. 115115 ”Duquel toute la vertu consistast au son et en la prononciation;” —”The whole virtue of which consisted in the sound and the pronunciation.” Paul, on the other hand, speaks of the honor that is to be rendered to the Son of God—not to mere syllables.
10 Every knee might bow. Though respect is shewn to men also be means of this rite, there can nevertheless be no doubt that what is here meant is that adoration which belongs exclusively to God, of which the bending of the knee is a token. 116116 “Vn signe et ceremonie externe;” —”An outward sign and rite.” As to this, it is proper to notice, that God is to be worshipped, not merely with the inward affection of the heart, but also by outward profession, if we would render to him what is his due. Hence, on the other hand, when he would describe his genuine worshippers, he says that they
have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.
(1 Kings 19:18.)
But here a question arises — whether this relates to the divinity of Christ or to his humanity, for either of the two is not without some inconsistency, inasmuch as nothing new could be given to his divinity; and his humanity in itself, viewed separately, has by no means such exaltation belonging to it that it should be adored as God? I answer, that this, like many things else, is affirmed in reference to Christ’s entire person, viewed as God manifested in the flesh. (1 Timothy 3:16.) For he did not abase himself either as to his humanity alone, or as to his divinity alone, but inasmuch as, clothed in our flesh, he concealed himself under its infirmity. So again God exalted his own Son in the same flesh, in which he had lived in the world abject and despised, to the highest rank of honor, that he may sit at his right hand.
Paul, however, appears to be inconsistent with himself; for in Romans 14:11, he quotes this same passage, when he has it in view to prove that Christ will one day be the judge of the living and the dead. Now, it would not be applicable to that subject, if it were already accomplished, as he here declares. I answer, that the kingdom of Christ is on such a footing, that it is every day growing and making improvement, while at the same time perfection is not yet attained, nor will be until the final day of reckoning. Thus both things hold true — that all things are now subject to Christ, and that this subjection will, nevertheless, not be complete until the day of the resurrection, because that which is now only begun will then be completed. Hence, it is not without reason that this prophecy is applied in different ways at different times, as also all the other prophecies, which speak of the reign of Christ, do not restrict it to one particular time, but describe it in its entire course. From this, however, we infer that Christ is that eternal God who spoke by Isaiah.
Things in heaven, things on earth, things under the earth. Since Paul represents all things from heaven to hell as subject to Christ, Papists trifle childishly when they draw purgatory from his words. Their reasoning, however, is this — that devils are so far from bowing the knee to Christ, that they are in every way rebellious against him, and stir up others to rebellion, as if it were not at the same time written that they tremble at the simple mention of God. (James 2:19.) How will it be, then, when they shall come before the tribunal of Christ? I confess, indeed, that they are not, and never will be, subject of their own accord and by cheerful submission; but Paul is not speaking here of voluntary obedience; nay more, we may, on the contrary, turn back upon them an argument, by way of retortion, (αντιστρέφον,) in this manner: — “The fire of purgatory, according to them, is temporary, and will be done away at the day of judgment: hence this passage cannot be understood as to purgatory, because Paul elsewhere declares that this prophecy will not be fulfilled until Christ shall manifest himself for judgment.” Who does not see that they are twice children in respect of these disgusting frivolities? 117117 “Qui ne voit qu’ils sont plus qu’ enfans en telles subtilitez friuoles et niaiseries qu’ils affectent?” — “Who does not see that they are worse than children in such frivolous subtleties and fooleries which they affect?”
11 Is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. It might also be read, In the glory, because the particle εἰς (to) is often used in place of ἐν (in.) I prefer, however, to retain its proper signification, as meaning, that as the majesty of God has been manifested to men through Christ, so it shines forth in Christ, and the Father is glorified in the Son. See John 5:17, and you will find an exposition of this passage.
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.”
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 indicative — ye 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.
17 If I should be offered. 138138 Paul’s statement here is interpreted by Dr. John Brown as equivalent to the following: — “If my life be poured out as a libation over your conversion to Christ, ‘I joy and rejoice with you all.’ It could not be better sacrificed than in the cause of his glory and your salvation.” — Brown’s Discourses and Sayings of our Lord illustrated, vol. 3 p. 379. — Ed. The Greek word is σπένδομαι, and accordingly there appears to be an allusion to those animals, by the slaughter of which agreements and treaties were confirmed among the ancients. For the Greeks specially employ the term σπονδὰς to denote the victims by which treaties are confirmed. In this way, he calls his death the confirmation of their faith, which it certainly would be. That, however, the whole passage may be more clearly understood, he says that he offered sacrifice to God, when he consecrated them by the gospel. There is a similar expression in Romans 15:16; for in that passage he represents himself as a priest, who offers up the Gentiles to God by the gospel. Now, as the gospel is a spiritual sword for slaying victims, 139139 “Pour tuer les bestes qu’on doit sacrifier;” — “For killing the animals that ought to be sacrificed.” so faith is, as it were, the oblation; for there is no faith without mortification, by means of which we are consecrated to God.
He makes use of the terms, καὶ λειτουργίαν — sacrifice and service, the former of which refers to the Philippians, who had been offered up to God; and the latter to Paul, for it is the very act of sacrificing. The term, it is true, is equivalent to administration, and thus it includes functions and offices of every kind; but here it relates properly to the service of God — corresponding to the phrase made use of by the Latins — operari sacris — (to be employed in sacred rites 140140 See Liv. 50:1, c. 31, ad fin. — Ed. ) Now Paul says that he will rejoice, if he shall be offered up upon a sacrifice of this nature — that it may be the more ratified and confirmed. This is to teach the gospel from the heart — when we are prepared to confirm with our own blood what we teach.
From this, however, a useful lesson is to be gathered as to the nature of faith — that it is not a vain thing, but of such a nature as to consecrate man to God. The ministers of the gospel have, also, here a singular consolation in being called priests of God, to present victims to him; 141141 “Pour luy offrir en sacrifice les ames des fideles;” — “To offer to him in sacrifice the souls of the believers.” for with what ardor ought that man to apply himself to the pursuit of preaching, who knows that this is an acceptable sacrifice to God! The wretched Papists, having no knowledge of this kind of sacrifice, contrive another, which is utter sacrilege.
I rejoice with you, says he — so that if it should happen that he died, they would know that this took place for their profit, and would receive advantage from his death.
18 Rejoice ye. By the alacrity which he thus discovers, he encourages the Philippians, and enkindles in them a desire to meet death with firmness, 142142 “Les enflambe a mourir constamment, et receuoir la mort d’vn cœur magnanime;” — “Enkindles them to die with firmness, and meet death with magnanimity.” inasmuch as believers suffer no harm from it. For he has formerly taught them that death would be gain to himself, (Philippians 1:21;) here, on the other hand, he is chiefly concerned that his death may not disconcert the Philippians. 143143 “Que sa mort ne trouble et estonne les Philippians;” — “That his death may not distress and alarm the Philippians.” He, accordingly, declares that it is no ground of sorrow; nay, that they have occasion of joy, inasmuch as they will find it to be productive of advantage. For, although it was in itself a serious loss to be deprived of such a teacher, it was no slight compensation that the gospel was confirmed by his blood. In the mean time, he lets them know that to himself personally death would be matter of joy. The rendering of Erasmus, taking it in the present tense, Ye rejoice, is altogether unsuitable.
19 But I hope. He promises them the coming of Timothy, that, from their expecting him, they may bear up more courageously, and not give way to impostors. For as in war an expectation of help animates soldiers, so as to keep them from giving way, so this consideration, too, was fitted to encourage greatly the Philippians: “There will one come very shortly, who will set himself in opposition to the contrivances of our enemies.” But if the mere expectation of him had so much influence, his presence would exert a much more powerful effect. We must take notice of the condition 144144 “En ces mots, au Seigneur Jesus, il faut noter la condition;” — “In these words, in the Lord Jesus, we must notice the condition.” — in respect of which he submits himself to the providence of God, forming no purpose, but with that leading the way, as assuredly it is not allowable to determine anything as to the future, except, so to speak, under the Lord’s hand. When he adds, that I may be in tranquillity, he declares his affection towards them, inasmuch as he was so much concerned as to their dangers, that he was not at ease until he received accounts of their prosperity.
20 I have no man like-minded. While some draw another meaning from the passage, I interpret it thus: “I have no one equally well-affected for attending to your interests.” For Paul, in my opinion, compares Timothy with others, rather than with himself, and he pronounces this eulogium upon him, with the express design that he may be the more highly esteemed by them for his rare excellence.
21 For all seek their own things. He does not speak of those who had openly abandoned the pursuit of piety, but of those very persons whom he reckoned brethren, nay, even those whom he admitted to familiar intercourse with him. These persons, he nevertheless says, were so warm in the pursuit of their own interests, that they were unbecomingly cold in the work of the Lord. It may seem at first view as if it were no great fault to seek one’s own profit; but how insufferable it is in the servants of Christ, appears from this, that it renders those that give way to it utterly useless. For it is impossible that the man who is devoted to self, should apply himself to the interests of the Church. Did then, you will say, Paul cultivate the society of men that were worthless and mere pretenders? I answer, that it is not to be understood, as if they had been intent exclusively on their own interests, and bestowed no care whatever upon the Church, but that, taken up with their own individual interests, they were to some extent negligent to the promotion of the public advantage of the Church. For it must necessarily be, that one or other of two dispositions prevails over us — either that, overlooking ourselves, we are devoted to Christ, and those things that are Christ’s, or that, unduly intent on our own advantage, we serve Christ in a superficial manner.
From this it appears, how great a hinderance it is to Christ’s ministers to seek their own interests. Nor is there any force in these excuses: “I do harm to no one“ — “I must have a regard, also, to my own advantage” — “I am not so devoid of feeling as not to be prompted by a regard to my own advantage.” For you must give up your own right if you would discharge your duty: a regard to your own interests must not be put in preference to Christ’s glory, or even placed upon a level with it. Whithersoever Christ calls you, you must go promptly, leaving off all other things. Your calling ought to be regarded by you in such a way, that you shall turn away all your powers of perception from everything that would impede you. It might be in your power to live elsewhere in greater opulence, but God has bound you to the Church, which affords you but a very moderate sustenance: you might elsewhere have more honor, but God has assigned you a situation, in which you live in a humble style: 145145 “Sans estre en plus grande reputation;” — “Without being in very great reputation.” you might have elsewhere a more salubrious sky, or a more delightful region, but it is here that your station is appointed. You might wish to have to do with a more humane people: you feel offended with their ingratitude, or barbarity, or pride; in short, you have no sympathy with the disposition or the manners of the nation in which you are, but you must struggle with yourself, and do violence in a manner to opposing inclinations, that you may 146146 “En sorte que tu to contentes du lieu qui t’est ordonné, et que t’employes a ta charge;” — “So as to content yourself with the place that is appointed for you, and employ yourself in your own department.” keep by the trade you have got; 147147 See Calvin on the Corinthians, vol. 1, p. 249. for you are not free, or at your own disposal. In fine, forget yourself, if you would serve God.
If, however, Paul reproves so severely those who were influenced by a greater concern for themselves than for the Church, what judgment may be looked for by those who, while altogether devoted to their own affairs, make no account of the edification of the Church? However they may now flatter themselves, God will not spare them. An allowance must be given to the ministers of the Church to seek their own interests, so as not to be prevented from seeking the kingdom of Christ; but in that case they will not be represented as seeking their own interests, as a man’s life is estimated according to its chief aim. When he says all, we are not to understand the term denoting universality, as though it implied that there was no exception, for there were others also, such as Epaphroditus, 148148 “Car il y en auoit d’autres qui auoyent plus grand soin de l’Eglise de Dieu, que d’eux-mesmes, comme Epaphrodite;” — “For there were others of them that had greater concern as to the Church of God, than as to themselves, such as Epaphroditus.” but there were few of these, and he ascribes to all what was very generally prevalent.
When, however, we hear Paul complaining, that in that golden age, in which all excellences flourished, that there were so few that were rightly affected, 149149 “Qu’il y auoit si peu de gens sages et qui eussent vn cœur entier a nostre Seigneur;” — “That there were so few persons that were wise, and had devotedness of heart to our Lord.” let us not be disheartened, if such is our condition in the present day: only let every one take heed to himself, that he be not justly reckoned to belong to that catalogue. I should wish, however, that Papists would answer me one question — where Peter was at that time, for he must have been at Rome, if what they say is true. O the sad and vile description that Paul gave of him! They utter, therefore, mere fables, when they pretend that he at that time presided over the Church of Rome. Observe, that the edification of the Church is termed the things of Christ, because we are truly engaged in his work, when we labor in the cultivation of his vineyard.
22 But the proof. It is literally, ye know the proof of him, unless you prefer to understand it in the imperative mood, know ye; (for there had scarcely been opportunity during that short time to make trial,) but this is not of great moment. What is chiefly to be noticed is, that he furnishes Timothy with an attestation of fidelity and modesty. In evidence of his fidelity, he declares, that he had served with him in the gospel, for such a connection was a token of true sincerity. In evidence of his modesty, he states, that he had submitted to him as to a father. It is not to be wondered, that this virtue is expressly commended by Paul, for it has in all ages been rare. At the present day, where will you find one among the young that will give way to his seniors, even in the smallest thing? to such an extent does impertinence triumph and prevail in the present age! In this passage, as in many others, we see how diligently Paul makes it his aim to put honor upon pious ministers, and that not so much for their own sakes, as on the ground of its being for the advantage of the whole Church, that such persons should be loved and honored, and possess the highest authority.
24 I trust that I myself. He adds this, too, lest they should imagine that anything had happened to change his intention as to the journey of which he had previously made mention. At the same time, he always speaks conditionally — If it shall please the Lord. For although he expected deliverance from the Lord, yet there having been, as we have observed, no express promise, this expectation was by no means settled, but was, as it were, suspended upon the secret purpose of God.
25 I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus. After having encouraged them by the promise of his own coming and that of Timothy, he fortifies them also for the present, by sending previously Epaphroditus, that in the mean time, while he waited the issue of his own affairs, (for this was the cause of his delay,) they might not be in want of a pastor who should take care that matters were properly managed. Now, he recommends Epaphroditus by many distinctions — that he is his brother, and helper in the affairs of the gospel — that he is his fellow-soldier, by which term he intimates what is the condition of the ministers of the gospel; that they are engaged in an incessant warfare, for Satan will not allow them to promote the gospel without maintaining a conflict. Let those, then, who prepare themselves for edifying the Church, know that war is denounced against them, and prepared. This, indeed, is common to all Christians — to be soldiers in the camp of Christ, 150150 “De batailler sous l’enseigne de Christ;” — “To fight under Christ’s banner.” for Satan is the enemy of all. It is, however, more particularly applicable to the ministers of the word, who go before the army and bear the standard. Paul, however, more especially might boast of his military service, 151151 “S. Paul pouuoit se vanter plus que pas on des autres, que sa condition estoit semblable a celle d’vn gendarme;” — “St. Paul might boast more than any other that his condition resembled that of a soldier.” inasmuch as he was exercised to a very miracle in every kind of contest. He accordingly commends Epaphroditus, because he had been a companion to him in his conflicts.
The term Apostle here, as in many other passages, is taken generally to mean any evangelist, 152152 “Pour tous prescheurs de l’euangile;” — “For all preachers of the gospel.” unless any one prefers to understand it as meaning an ambassador sent by the Philippians, so that it may be understood as conjoining these two things — an ambassador to afford service to Paul. 153153 “Ambassade pour administrer a Sainct Paul en sa necessite;” — “An ambassador to minister to St. Paul in his necessity.” The former signification, however, is in my opinion more suitable. He mentions also, among other things, to his praise, that he had ministered to him in prison — a matter which will be treated of more fully ere long.
26. He longed after you. It is a sign of a true pastor, that while he was at a great distance, and was willingly detained by a pious engagement, he was nevertheless affected with concern for his flock, and a longing after them; and on learning that his sheep were distressed on his account, 154154 “Pour l’amour de luy;” — “From love to him.” he was concerned as to their grief. On the other hand, the anxiety of the Philippians for their pastor is here discovered.
27 But God had mercy on him. He had expressed the severity of the disease — that Epaphroditus had been sick, so that life was despaired of, in order that the goodness of God might shine forth more clearly in his restored health. It is, however, surprising that he should ascribe it to the mercy of God that Epaphroditus had had his period of life prolonged, while he had previously declared that he desired death in preference to life. (Philippians 1:23.) And what were better for us than that we should remove hence to the kingdom of God, delivered from the many miseries of this world, and more especially, rescued from that bondage of sin in which he elsewhere exclaims that he is wretched, (Romans 7:24,) to attain the full enjoyment of that liberty of the Spirit, by which we become connected with the Son of God? 155155 “Par laquelle nous soyons parfaitement conioints auec le Fils de Dieu;” — “By which we are perfectly united with the Son of God.” It were tedious to enumerate all the things which tend to make death better than life to believers, and more to be desired. Where, then, is there any token of the mercy of God, when it does nothing but lengthen out our miseries? I answer, that all these things do not prevent this life from being, nevertheless, considered in itself, an excellent gift of God. More especially those who live to Christ are happily exercised here in hope of heavenly glory; and accordingly, as we have had occasion to see a little ago, life is gain to them. 156156 Calvin seems to refer here to what he had said when commenting on Philippians 1:21. — Ed. Besides, there is another thing, too, that is to be considered — that it is no small honor that is conferred upon us, when God glorifies himself in us; for it becomes us to look not so much to life itself, as to the end for which we live.
But on me also, lest I should have sorrow. Paul acknowledges that the death of Epaphroditus would have been bitterly painful to him, and he recognises it as an instance of God’s sparing mercy toward himself, that he had been restored to health. He does not, therefore, make it his boast that he has the apathy (ἀπάθειαν) of the Stoics, as if he were a man of iron, and exempt from human affections. 157157 Calvin, in the French version, makes reference to what he has said on the subject in the Institutes. See Institutes, vol. 2, p. 281. — Ed. “What then!” some one will say, “where is that unconquerable magnanimity?—where is that indefatigable perseverance?” I answer, that Christian patience differs widely from philosophical obstinacy, and still more from the stubborn and fierce sterness of the Stoics. For what excellence were there in patiently enduring the cross, if there were in it no feeling of pain and bitterness? But when the consolation of God overcomes that feeling, so that we do not resist, but, on the contrary, give our back to the endurance of the rod, (Isaiah 50:5,) we in that case present to God a sacrifice of obedience that is acceptable to him. Thus Paul acknowledges that he felt some uneasiness and pain from his bonds, but that he nevertheless cheerfully endured these same bonds for the sake of Christ. 158158 “Pour l’amour de Christ;” — “From love to Christ.” He acknowledges that he would have felt the death of Epaphroditus an event hard to be endured, but he would at length have brought his temper of mind into accordance with the will of God, although all reluctance was not yet fully removed; for we give proof of our obedience, only when we bridle our depraved affections, and do not give way to the infirmity of the flesh. 159159 “Ne nous laissons point vaincre par l’infirmite de nostre chair;” — “Do not allow ourselves to be overcome by the infirmity of our flesh.”
Two things, therefore, are to be observed: in the first place, that the dispositions which God originally implanted in our nature are not evil in themselves, because they do not arise from the fault of corrupt nature, but come forth from God as their Author; of this nature is the grief that is felt on occasion of the death of friends: in the second place, that Paul had many other reasons for regret in connection with the death of Epaphroditus, and that these were not merely excusable, but altogether necessary. This, in the first place, is invariable in the case of all believers, that, on occasion of the death of any one, they are reminded of the anger of God against sin; but Paul was the more affected with the loss sustained by the Church, which he saw would be deprived of a singularly good pastor at a time when the good were so few in number. Those who would have dispositions of this kind altogether subdued and eradicated, do not picture to themselves merely men of flint, but men that are fierce and savage. In the depravity of our nature, however, everything in us is so perverted, that in whatever direction our minds are bent, they always go beyond bounds. Hence it is that there is nothing that is so pure or right in itself, as not to bring with it some contagion. Nay more, Paul, as being a man, would, I do not deny, have experienced in his grief something of human error, 160160 “Mesme ie ne nie pas que sainct Paul (comme il estoit homme) ne se trouué surprins de quelque exces vicieux en sa douleur;” — “Nay more, I do not deny that St. Paul (inasmuch as he was a man) might find himself overtaken with some faulty excess in his grief.” for he was subject to infirmity, and required to be tried with temptations, in order that he might have occasion of victory by striving and resisting.
28 I have sent him the more carefully. The presence of Epaphroditus was no small consolation to him; yet to such a degree did he prefer the welfare of the Philippians to his own advantage, that he says that he rejoices on occasion of his departure, because it grieved him that, on his account, he was taken away from the flock that was intrusted to him, and was reluctant to avail himself of his services, though otherwise agreeable to him, when it was at the expense of loss to them. Hence he says, that he will feel more happiness in the joy of the Philippians.
29 Receive him with all joy. He employs the word all to mean sincere and abundant. He also recommends him again to the Philippians; so intent is he upon this, that all that approve themselves as good and faithful pastors may be held in the highest estimation: for he does not speak merely of one, but exhorts that all such should be held in estimation; for they are precious pearls from God’s treasuries, and the rarer they are, they are so much the more worthy of esteem. Nor can it be doubted that God often punishes our ingratitude and proud disdain, by depriving us of good pastors, when he sees that the most eminent that are given by him are ordinarily despised. Let every one, then, who is desirous that the Church should be fortified against the stratagems and assaults of wolves, make it his care, after the example of Paul, that the authority of good pastors be established; 161161 “Soit establie et demeure entiere;” — “Be established, and remain entire.” as, on the other hand, there is nothing upon which the instruments of the devil are more intent, than on undermining it by every means in their power.
30 Because for the work of Christ. I consider this as referring to that infirmity, which he had drawn down upon himself by incessant assiduity. Hence he reckons the distemper of Epaphroditus among his excellences, as it certainly was a signal token of his ardent zeal. Sickness, indeed, is not an excellence, but it is an excellence not to spare yourself that you may serve Christ. Epaphroditus felt that his health would be in danger if he applied himself beyond measure; yet he would rather be negligent as to health than be deficient in duty; and that he may commend this conduct the more to the Philippians, he says that it was a filling up of their deficiency, 162162 “Vn accomplissement, ou moyen de suppleer ce qui defailloit de leur seruice;” — “A filling up, or a means of supplying what was defective in their service.” because, being situated at a distance, they could not furnish aid to Paul at Rome. Hence Epaphroditus, having been sent for this purpose, acted in their stead. 163163 “Faisoit en cest endroit ce qu’ils deuoyent faire;” — “Did in this matter what they ought to have done He speaks of the services rendered to him as the work of the Lord, as assuredly there is nothing in which we can better serve God, than when we help his servants who labor for the truth of the gospel.