The Epistle to the Philippians is one of a group, known as the Prison Epistles, comprising, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 2Timothy and Philemon, marked by such statements as “the prisoner of Jesus Christ” (Eph. 3:1) “my bonds in Christ” (Philippians 1:13) “remember my bonds” (Col. 1:13) “His prisoner” (2Timothy 1:8) and “my fellow prisoner” (Philemon 23).
It seems paradoxical that this prison epistle is one of Joy, Joy in Faith (1:25), Joy in Service (2:17), Joy in the Lord (3:1), Joy in Fellowship (4:1). Surely this would emphasise that the Christian in touch with God is triumphant over every circumstance of life. We think of the words of the prophet “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines, the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat, the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls; yet will I rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation!” We find a contrast in Asaph in Psalm 73, was bereft of his joy because he was occupied with the wrong object, (verse 3) “the prosperity of the wicked” when the communion between himself and God was restored he saw clearly (verse 18) “Surely Thou didst set them in slippery places” he then has no doubts as to his destiny and delight (verses 24-25) “Whom have I in heaven but Thee!”
This epistle is also the epistle of the Mind of Christ, this can be seen as follows :
Ch. 1:27 In relation to the preaching of the Gospel.
Ch. 2:5 In relation to the need of others.
Ch. 3:19 In relation to living a heavenly life on earth.
Ch. 4:2 In relation to unity in the local company.
Chapter 4 which is our present study could be divided thus :
EXHORTATION (1-7) “Therefore,” a word expressing result, Paul is assuming that those who are living in the good of the Heavenly Citizenship, outlined at the close of the previous chapter, should be marked by steadfastness, a quality displayed by the early Christians (Acts Ch. 2:42), and without which it is impossible to make progress in Divine things. It would seem that Christian experience is builded upon this very virtue, the manner in which I view my brother or sister, (verse 2), my willingness to surrender the things which are of little consequence, (verse 5), and the earnestness with which I engage in prayer, with the promise of the peace of God keeping as with a garrison your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
MEDITATION (8) The high standard of the thought life of the believer, is made clear and plain :
TRUE—in contrast to liar and deceiver.
HONEST—grave and gravity.
JUST—fair and impartial.
PURE—moral character in view.
LOVELY—friendliness, being agreeable, whatsoever is endearing.
GOOD REPORT—the Greek word “Euphemos” is used here (Vine) “fair sounding” seeming to be connected with the quality of speaking, it is not necessary to compromise truth to have this important, attractive, winning quality of speech.
How many searchers after truth, when having come to the local assembly, have in turn been bitterly disappointed on hearing the bitter and blunt presentation of the truth of God’s Word. The whole counsel of God must be declared “in love” Eph. 4:15. The idea suggested in this verse, is that we look for the qualities listed, and after having recognised and found them we “there let your thoughts dwell” 20th Cent. N.T.
DEMONSTRATION (9) The adage so often quoted “Don’t do as I do, do as I tell you” certainly did not apply to Paul nor to Paul’s Lord. Luke would remind us in Acts 1:1 “of all that Jesus began both to do and to teach.” There must be a link between the truth taught and the life lived, too often the opposite is the case. Precept is invariably connected to Practice, the Pauline epistles certainly bear witness to this truth, firstly Doctrine expounded, secondly, Practice expected. Romans 12 commences the practical section of the epistle, “I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God” these having been expounded in the first eleven chapters of the epistle, now says Paul, our Individual Life (verses 1-5), Assembly Life, (verses 3-8), and our Social Life, (verses 9-21), should all be affected. Again in the first three chapters of the Ephesian letter we are viewed as to our Position, in the final three chapters Practice is emphasised. Paul was prepared to have his life and conduct examined to prove that he practised what he preached.
CONDEMNATION (10) The care of the Philippian saints for the apostle Paul was exemplary, no need to write to Philippi, as he wrote to Corinth. The saints at Philippi gave out of their deep poverty, the Corinthians were asked to gve out of their plenty. So lethargic had they become, that one year had elapsed and apparently no progress had been made in connection with the collection for the poor saints at Jerusalem, Paul, therefore devotes three chapters to elaborate on the grace of giving, focusing attention on the ‘Samaritan’ Who had all and gave all, our Lord Jesus Christ. How rich He was, how poor He became (2Cor. 8:9). There is certainly finance available among the Lord’s people, but is there always the spiritual discernment to dispense this to God’s glory. A solemn responsibility rests upon the companies of God’s people to see that the needs of His servants are met and that without partiality.
RESIGNATION (11) “I have learned” Paul was completely resigned to the Will of God, he accepted without question, every circumstance of life as coming from the hand of God. His learning was not the learning of books, that will not take us very far on the pilgrim journey. Paul’s learning was the learning of experience, there is no substitute for a personal experience with God. The Psalmist would remind us in Psalm 107, verses 23-24 that it is only those who go down to the sea in ships that see the works of the Lord. Paul was not content because of his circumstances, oftentimes we would wish to change ours, Paul was content in spite of them, he accepted them without reasoning, he was living above that which surrounded him, and content to wait God’s time. Contentment is a scarce commodity in the day in which we live, often sung about, but seldom enjoyed.
May the sentiment of the hymn be the prayer of our hearts :
“I would not murmur or repine,
Lord I would clasp Thy hand in mine,
Content whatever lot I see
Since ’tis my God that leadeth me”
RECIPROCATION (19) “Ye sent once and again to my necessity” (verse 16) “A sacrifice, acceptable, well pleasing unto God” (verse 18), “But my God shall supply all your need, according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (verse 19). What encouragement to go in for sacrificial giving, and to know in return the provision of our God. Paul says, “Ye ministered to my necessity” accordingly, “My God shall supply all your need.” God will be no man’s debtor, “them that honour Me, I will honour” (1Sam. 2:30). Again “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, if I will not open the windows of heaven” (Mal. 3:10). The Divine tri-angle of blessing, we receive everything from above, this in turn is distributed, causing thanksgiving and praise to God the Giver.
SALUTATION (21) There is a note of victory in the closing words of the apostle “chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household” the Word of God is not bound, nothing is impossible with God, it is grand to think that such is the transforming power of the Gospel, that those of Caesar's household can be translated into the household of faith. There is one word of difference between the salutation in Galatians and Philippians, namely, the word “Brethren” the Philippian saints needed not to be reminded of this relationship which existed between Paul and them, may we never forget the position to which grace has brought us to the bonds of fellowship in the Church of God.
Jonathan is first referred to in verse 2. He is the eldest son of Saul, Israel’s first King, therefore heir apparent to the throne: youthful but commanding confidence, he was put in charge of 1,000 men at Gibea of Benjamin. Verse 3 shows him to be a valiant man with initiative; he smites the Philistine garrison at Geba; one of many, for Israel the people of God, are now a subject nation, (vv. 6-7), in consequence of their idolatry and godlessness. They are under the tyranny of the Philistines, their inveterate, agelong foes, and Jonathan stands with the full dignity of an Israelite whose trust is in God, and one who has a strong sense of mission in the face of the oppressor nation, enraged by the defeat of v. 3, and who now come out in force to avenge this affront.
King Saul is at Gilgal, a place of hallowed associations, awaiting Samuel’s coming to conduct sacrificial worship; v. 7-8. The situation is tense, many desert Saul in view of the immense, heavily armed might of their enemies. Only 600 out of the 2,000 remain, and still Samuel has not come; Saul now yields to expediency, and presumptuously performs the priestly function of offering a sacrifice. Then “Samuel came” and Saul goes to meet him, and learns from Samuel that because of presumptuous disobedience his kingdom would not continue, God had made choice of another—and this so early in Saul’s reign; therefore Jonathan would never be King. Saul however purposed otherwise, a purpose pursued apparently to the day of his death. V. 5-7 and 19-23 detail both Philistine might and Israel’s plight; the greatness of the disparity should be noted.
Chapter 14 is an epic chapter, both in the life story of Jonathan, who it so finely portrays, and in the deliverance so miraculously brought to pass for grievously impoverished Israel. Jonathan is again active against the enemy, v. 1, but in absolute dependance upon God, and strong confidence in Him, v. 6 is convincing proof of this ... “for there is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by few.” (cf. 2Chron. 14-11). Here is faith of the highest order (see Hebrews 11 v. 33)—God-given faith, in strategy also Jonathan is subject to Him, v. 7-10. Step by step he moves on with God; he is first in the ascent of the rocky height on hands and feet; his armour bearer follows, and it seems that in minutes about 20 men fall to Jonathan’s sword, and his armour bearer slays after him, all in a distance of 40 yards at most (marg. ref.). In this exploit Jonathan stands shoulder to shoulder with men renowned for their faith in
God and their courage. The LORD works in answer to Jonathan’s trust (v. 15) and causes a universal trembling among the Philistine hosts: “the earth quaked, so it was a very great trembling and the host melted away” (v. 16). “Every man’s sword was against his fellow.” The men of Israel now rally to pursue and slay the utterly demoralised Philistines—“So the Lord saved Israel that day” v. 23.
Saul’s adjuration (v. 24) was an intrusion of the carnal mind, it was injurious, so Jonathan judged, but it must stand (cf. Judges 11 v. 35 ff), although Jonathan was unwittingly brought under the curse of Saul his father by it, v. 27. “Let us go down to the Philistines by night” says Saul, after the battle; “Let us draw near hither unto God,” says the priest. This was done, but HE answered them not that day” v. 36-37. Saul is frustrated. Does he think of Achan’s sin and its consequences? (Joshua chapter 7). He now made inquisition for sin by casting lots v. 38-42). Jonathan is taken, and he says: “I did but taste a little honey with the end of the rod that is in my hand and lo I must die,” v. 43—surely a sufficient exposure of his father’s folly; but Saul is unrelenting, and solemnly vows: “Thou shalt surely die, Jonathan” v. 44. However, in this he is thwarted, for the word of the people prevailed v. 45. “And the people said unto Saul, Shall Jonathan die (the spiritual man) who hath wrought this great salvation in Israel? God forbid: as the LORD liveth, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground, for he hath wrought with God this day! So the people rescued Jonathan that he died not!” The Philistines escaped further loss, v.46, but Israel’s armoury would be replenished by weapons gleaned from the battlefield.
His Ministry is Efficacious v. 15-22. The ceremonial offerings could expiate for ceremonial guilt, but not moral guilt. They failed to remove the guilt of sin and provide inward cleansing. Finality marked the sacrifice of Christ, “He appeared once,” “entered once,” “bore sins once,” v. 12, v. 26, 28. “How much more”—inconceivably more, its measure is infinite; He is the superlative Christ, He is Mediator and Testator. The Covenant is ratified by death v. 15. The Lord Jesus came for this purpose Mark 10:49 with Isa. 53, the great Atonement chapter. The new Covenant has been established by His death; His full and voluntary surrender gives validity and efficacy to the new Covenant Matt. 26:28, 29; Luke 22:20.
“The ‘Covenant’ of which Christ is Mediator is identified with the ‘Testament’ of which Christ is the Testator, and His death has brought us into the benefits of this Covenant.” —F. W. Grant.
The old covenant was not inaugurated without the shedding of blood Ex. 24:3-8. All the provisions of it were solemnly ratified by Moses when he sprinkled both the people and the book with the blood v. 20, 21. The blood of Christ purifies the conscience, removes the transgression, establishes the new Covenant, and the pledge of it is in His presence at the right hand of the majesty on high. Trace the references of “blood” in this chapter and to “once,” “once for all” in the Epistle.
There cannot be any remission of sins granted through the “unbloody” offering of the Mass. Since admittedly there is no blood in the mass, it cannot be a sacrifice for sin v. 22. The thin red line runs through the Scriptures from Abel’s offering to the song of the redeemed in Rev. 5. Christ has provided the sacrifice that perfectly meets the claims of God and our need.
His Ministry is Effectual v. 23-28. The blood of Christ always refers to His death, laying down His life in death in sacrificial dying. We are redeemed and reconciled by His death, we live by the present, risen, ascended, glorified life of Christ. There is representation before God v. 24; He has entered heaven on our behalf and we appropriate Him as on our side. He is there for us, the Minister of the Sanctuary. In chapter 10 “we” enter in, we have boldness to enter the Holiest.
The purification of the heavens is accomplished by the better sacrifice of Christ v. 23.
He did not enter God’s presence to offer His sacrifice, this He offered at Calvary when He gave Himself. The Levitical priests offered continually, but Christ’s offering was once for all. Here is the completion of His work v. 26. In this act we have the revelation of His amazing grace, to reach us, to redeem us, and make us rich, 2Cor. 8:9.
There is no need for a second offering which would require a second dying, finality and uniqueness mark the sacrifice of Christ v. 26.
He died to put away “sin” not sins. Sin is the evil principle from which sins spring. We rejoice in atonement for our sins and we are delivered from the penalty, pollution and power, and its guilt is forgiven. Sin must be put away and creation will be delivered from its groaning in a coming day, Rom. 8:20-22.
The High Priest even on the Day of Atonement could offer no sacrifice which could put away sin, 10:4, but Christ’s sacrifice was able to annul sin altogether, John 1:29. The examination of all men must take place, for the
Tribunal is set up, v. 27, Acts 17: 31. Death does not go alone; judgment follows after, there is an end of the day of grace, the visible manifestation of the Lord, is for the deliverance of the Jew. As the Israelites waited on the great day of atonement, for the appearance of Aaron at the end of that busy day in his robes of glory and beauty, apart from sin, unto salvation, Lev. 16:23-24. This is not the “Rapture” of saints, which is the Church’s hope, 1Thess. 4:15-18; 1Cor. 15:51-54, this is His coming to reign, Rev. 1:7; Zech. 14. His manifestation in glory.
“In chapter 9 the Tabernacle and all its furniture are brought before us and they all speak of Christ—the gate, of Christ as the Door. The foundation—of His as the only basis; the linen curtains—of His righteousness, the altar of His atoning work; the laver—of the cleansing power of His Word; the five pillars, of Christ in what He is in His fivefold character in Isa. 9:6; the Candlestick—Christ as the Light; the shewbread—of Christ as the Bread of Life; the altar of incense, of Him as our Intercessor; the veil of His flesh; the four pillars of what He is made to us according to 1Cor. 1:30; the ark of His Diety and Humanity; the mercy seat of Him as the Meeting-Place; the manna of Him as the Humbled One; the rod of Him as the Risen One; the law of Him as the Perfect One; the curtains of His variegated glory; and the offerings of His perfect work, Godward and manward.” Author Unknown.
May we rejoice in the Lord, for in His vicarious and atoning death, we find heaven opened, hell defeated, sin answered for, self crucified, the world condemned and God glorified.
We should like now to take a look at the altar and try to gather something of its spiritual import, as it sets forth the work and worth of our Lord Jesus Christ. First of all, we should like to state that, in our judgement, the altar is not the cross and is not the sinner’s approach to God in relation to his sins, but rather the place of communion for the saint. We trust that what we may say in connection with these vital matters may be said with a full consciousness of the awfulness of His sufferings and our own inability to apprehend in any measure of fulness what it must have meant to Him.
We know that these sufferings had limitations, (and we speak very reverently), limitations that only he could fully understand. Did he not say, “the Cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it”; “that bitter cup, love drank it up, now blessings draught for me.” It is, in considering these things, that we have arrived at the conclusions we are about to set forth; to try and distinguish the things that differ, and to appreciate the difference between the process and the product.
The Cup then had limitations—it was a container, with a content limited to the capacity of the container, yet measured to meet the full requirement of a Holy God in relation to our sin. That Cup, with all its bitterness, down to its last dread drop he drank, and then, and only then, he said, “it is finished.”
That then was the process, but what about the product— this is the thing that really matters for us. The cross, with all its agony and shame is past, the claims of God in relation to sin have all been fully met, and now, in all its grandeur and glory, the splendours and excellencies of heaven, with all its eternal and abiding fulness, have been made available for us. The altar then is not the cross, but what the cross has produced; the cross was the process, the altar is the product, and so provides the basis for our access and approach to God, to stand in His presence with the boldness of holiness and to enjoy to the very full all that has been made available for us.
Typically speaking, God provided a shelter for us from the judicial consequences of our sin in Egypt’s paschal lamb. Now, having redeemed us, His desire is that we should provide, not a shelter, but a Sanctuary for Him, a sanctuary in which, not only should He dwell amongst His people, but His people might also have access and approach to Him. This then is the relationship between the Paschal lamb in Egypt and the Brazen Altar in the Court—the one to meet our need as sinners in our sin, the other to meet our need as saints in communion with our God. This is not the first time the altar has been mentioned in the word of God, and we are furnished with quite a number of examples of its import and teaching. The book of Genesis provides us with eight classic examples of altars being built, and every one of them without exception is an expression of communion with God. The first is Gen. 8:20; there we find Noah and almost the first thing he does upon the renewed earth is to build his altar, and from its ascending offering God smelled a savour of rest. The next is Abram’s altar in the land of Canaan, and the Lord appears to Abram there: from Shechem, to the mountain between Bethel and Hai and he builds another altar and calls upon the name of the Lord. Returning from Egypt, he arrives at Hebron and there his third altar is built. Gen. 22:9 provides his next altar, Mount Moriah the place of the vision, in the Mount of the Lord it shall be seen. Gen. 26:25 provides our next altar. This time the builder is Isaac, and the place Beersheba. Jacob is the next builder. He builds in Shalom and calls his altar El Elohe Israel and again in Gen. 35:7 he builds another altar at Bethel and calls it El Beth El.
Thus, we have one altar by Noah, four by Abram, one by Isaac and two by Jacob. With Noah we have an altar, with Abram an altar and a tent, with Isaac an altar, a tent and a well, while with Jacob it is an altar, a tent, a well and a pillar. The places where the altars were built are very significant. While Abram built four altars, none of them were built in Egypt. While there is an eight fold mention of the altar in Genesis, there is never any mention of blood associated with any of them. This to me seems very significant. In Exodus 12, there is much blood shed but no altar, which again is very significant. The first altar that is built in Exodus is built by Moses after the giving of the Law, and a covenant is entered into. The Book of the Law is read in the ears of all the people, then the Book and the People and the Altar are sprinkled with the blood and the covenant is ratified and in the good of this, a communion with God is entered into. They are now able to eat and drink in the presence of God and to see something of His Heavenly Glory.
This state of things did not continue for long, however, as the Golden Calf of Exodus 32 sets forth. The covenant is broken before it has run many days and but for the intercession of Moses would have resulted in the death of all the people. This brings out very aptly what has been written in the New Testament, that “what the Law could not do, in that it was weak because of the flesh.” God now in the light of the weakness of flesh and because of the constant pleadings of Moses, condescends to continue with this people and the altar of our consideration comes into view.
The construction of the altar, as to its material and measurement also provides a wealth of teaching, and, to the exercised heart, furnishes us with the basis of our approach and access to God. The altar was composed of shittim wood overlaid with copper, five cubits square, and three cubits high, and stood in the forefront of the court, the first vessel to be touched as we entered through the Gate. The position it occupied and the material of which it was constructed provides us with the meaning it conveyed and the ministry it contained. Something of the inherent Holiness of the Humanity of the Lord Jesus, a combination of human weakness and divine strength, in life and death, that which has met all the requirements of the Holiness of God, in relation to the needs of men and has now the approval of God as the accepted basis of our approach, on the resurrection side of the cross. Our salvation has brought us into a sphere where the things that accompany salvation can be experienced and enjoyed: the newness of life that is now ours, capacitated and endowed, not only to enjoy it, but to enter into, in an active way, the experience and expression of it.
“Unto you therefore which believe He is precious” ( 1Peter 2:7). As we contemplate the “preciousness” of our Lord Jesus Christ, our meditation of Him is sweet, and our hearts are bowed low in adoration.
All other things in the Scriptures are precious because He is precious. “To whom coming as unto (the) Living Stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious” (verse 4).
The Apostle Peter mentions precious things seven times, in his two Epistles. Our Blessed Lord was despised and rejected of men then, and alas, He is disallowed by the world still. But chosen of God and precious.
The Father’s estimate of His well-beloved Son, His choice, the perfect Servant (Matt. 12:18). Where also it is contained in the Scripture. “Behold I lay in Sion a chief comer stone, elect, precious, and He that believeth on Him shall not be confounded” (verse 6) (Isaiah 28:16), a precious quotation from the prophet: God has laid the foundation and our Saviour and Lord is the solid Rock.
“He now the Head of the Comer—a Chief Corner Stone elect and precious”
And we are reminded in 1Peter 1:18-21 the provision and the cost of our redemption—redeemed ... with the precious blood of Christ as a Lamb, without blemish and without spot.
The blood of Christ has precious been,
’Tis precious now to me;
Through it alone my soul has rest
From fear and doubt set free.
That precious blood atoned for all
And swept my sins away.
Even the trial of your faith is much more precious than gold that perisheth. The manifold testings will in that day be found unto praise, and honour and glory at the appearing (unveiling) of our Lord Jesus Christ (1Peter 1:7).
“Whom having not seen ye love; in whom though now ye see Him not, yet believing ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (verse 8).
In the second Epistle we have, firstly, the precious faith in the righteousness of our God and Saviour (2Peter 1:1).
A precious faith obtained and imparted to us, and that it may increase and be strengthened day by day. “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and ‘precious promises;’ that by these ye might be partakers of the Divine Nature” (verse 4).
Many promises our God has given to us to be tried and proved, and they are exceeding great and precious to every child of God, in every time of need.
The Psalmist reminds us that God’s thoughts towards us are precious. “How precious are Thy thoughts unto me, O God; how great is the sum of them” (Psalm 139:17).
We also read the “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Psalm 116:15). And how precious is the redemption of the soul, for “None can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him. For the redemption of the soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever” (Psalm 49:7-8).
May the Lord Himself be increasingly precious to us in the coming days till we see His face.
Paul, in most of his epistles, introduces them with a salutation, and a prayer—either of thanksgiving, or intercession, or both; and so it is here. Thus we find that Paul in this salutation was primarily, and constantly, a man of prayer in all his dealings with the saints. Well might we, brethren, follow his example, as we go about amongst the children of God, in our desire to instruct them in the ways that please God, whether in a public or a private capacity.
1:1-2. PAUL’S SALUTATION
V. 1. Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ. Paul here calls himself an apostle, lit., ‘a sent one,’ to remind them of his authority over them. Three groups of apostles are found in the New Testament, (a) Christ—the Apostle of God (Heb. 3:1), (b) The Apostles of Christ, that is, the Twelve specially chosen by Christ to be with Him, to learn from Him, and be commissioned by Him to preach the Gospel and teach their converts. These apostles were endowed with a special authority on their commission (John 20:21-23). With these also might be included Paul—he had seen the risen Lord, and had been commissioned by Him to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 26:16-17, 1 Cor. 9:1-2). He possessed also the apostolic authority (2 Cor. 10:8), (c) The apostles of the Churches (2 Cor. 8:23, R.Vm.) are those sent on a mission by the churches, by the will of God, Paul would teach that his authority was a stewardship given to him by God, not of his own assumption (1 Cor. 9:17). Thus he impresses on the Colossians his right to question, and correct their doctrine. Let us also accept the scripture, written by the apostle, as a message from God direct to us. and Timotheus our brother, Paul associates Timothy with him in this salutation, as one possibly well-known to the Colossians, but not because he had been to Colosse. Compare v. 4, ‘we heard.’ He joins Timothy with himself only in the introduction to the epistle. Note the ‘we’ in vv. 3, 4, 9, and ‘our’ in v. 7, and ‘us’ in v. 8.
V. 2. To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Four designations are given of those to whom Paul writes, (1) They were ‘saints,’ lit., separated ones. A saint is not a perfected sinner, but the manifestation of a perfect Saviour. When a sinner trusts Christ, God sees in him the perfect work of His Son, and separates him for Himself. The term ‘Saint’ indicates the believer’s relationship with God, (2) ‘Faithful brethren.’ They were brethren in relation to one another, but some were faithful to the truth, and some were not. The letter was addressed to the former particularly, in order that they might keep themselves pure and lead others back to the faith, (3) ‘in Christ.’ This is the believer’s relationship to Christ—those who by reason of the new birth are joined in mystical union with the Lord Jesus Christ—members of the Body, of which Christ is the Head, (4) ‘at Colosse’—their relation to the world—in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, amongst whom it is their duty to display God’s glory (Phil. 2:15).
This fourfold relationship should characterise all believers, showing their dignity, their fellowship, their union and their duty. Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul’s favourite salutation, used in all his epistles. He desires the gracious favour of God, and Christ, to be upon them, in order that peace may be the outcome enjoyed by them.
1:3-8. PAUL’S THANKSGIVING FOR THE COLOSSIANS
V. 3. We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul, before he would reprove the Colossians for their shortcomings, shows his kindly disposition towards them, by giving thanks to God for what he could find to commend in their lives.
praying always for you, Paul’s interest in them was marked by his continual prayer for them. Well might he request their constant prayer for him (4:2). He prayed for all believers, whether his children in the faith, or not (1 Cor. 1:2). Let us enlarge the scope of our prayers—for all saints (Eph. 6:18).
V. 4. Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, Paul’s mention of his hearing of their faith would indicate that he had not seen them face to face (2:1). Three things he had heard about them, (a) Their faith—firmly fixed in Christ Jesus, (b) Their love—towards all saints, the proper relationship to all believers, (c) Their hope—their future prospect.
and of the love which ye have to all the saints, Paul affectionately commended them, as he gave thanks also for their love to all saints—a proof of the reality of their faith in Christ Jesus. All who by faith are begotten of God love all who are begotten of Him (1 John 5:1). The love of one brother for another is the evidence that God dwelleth in him by His Spirit, and His love is perfected in us (1 John 4:12-13).
V. 5. For the hope is laid up for you in heaven,—their inheritance, reserved for them in heaven (1 Peter 1:4), as money is stored in a napkin (Luke 19:20). ‘Because’ (RV) of this hope their faith in Christ was strengthened, and their love to the saints made manifest.
whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel; The promise associated with the hope was part of the proclamation of the gospel, as preached unto them, in contrast to the uncertain, flimsy hopes of the gnostic philosophers—preaching an adulterated gospel (2 Cor. 2:17). It was the message of the true gospel. ‘Truth’ here is lit, what is not hidden, but what is revealed of God’s salvation.
V. 6. Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; What they had received was the true gospel—the good news, preached worldwide—not like the false mysticism, known only to a few.
and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, This gospel was also known by its fruit—the characteristic product of the gospel. Fruit here suggests the graces found in Christ, the source of the gospel; the Christian virtues of Gal. 5:22, energised by the Holy Spirit; the good works that Christ did (Phil. 1:11); and the knowledge of God that He spread abroad (v. 10). The RV adds ‘increasing’ to the bearing of fruit. Possibly Paul is here refuting the teaching of the Gnostics, who suggested that something more must be added to the gospel, but the apostle would teach that the fruit of the gospel contains the seed that produces increase of itself (Gen. 1:11).
since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth: This fruit increases (RV) every day since first the gospel was received. The true gospel is known by, (a) producing well-known characteristics, (b) increasing in its effects, (c) being appreciated in their own lives. Thus the grace of God (v. 2) is truly known by the believer.
V. 7. As ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellow-servant, Epaphras had preached to them the truth of the gospel (v. 5). He was apparently a native of Colosse (4:12). Possibly he was brought to Christ by Paul, to whom he was specially beloved (RV). He was a bondservant of Christ (4:12), and a fellowservant of Paul—the apostle’s way of likening the service of Epaphras to his own.
who is for you a faithful minister of Christ; Paul here confirms the truthfulness and dependability of the message Epaphras brought to them concerning Christ. But it may be that Paul is developing the thought of ‘Beloved fellowship.’ The RV, following some of the earlier MSS, renders this sentence, ‘who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf,’ This portrays Epaphras as having been urged by Paul to preach to the Colossians, a task which he faithfully discharged.
V. 8.Who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit. Epaphras reported to Paul the spiritual progress of the Colossians. Possibly the use of the word ‘love’ here is intended to include the faith and hope of vv. 4-5 above. All had been declared to Paul by Epaphras. Love was the first-mentioned ingredient of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). So here love is that which was shed abroad in the heart of the believer by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5).
A marginal reference in Newberry’s Bible on Ezekiel ch. 1 suggests an interesting line of inquiry.
The prophet, by the river Chebar, sees the vision of the throne of God, borne by the four living creatures, whom he later, in ch. 10:15, identifies as the Cherubim. Out of a whirlwind, which would speak of confusing external circumstances, and out of the fire infolding itself, reminding us that God is not yet in full revelation: there is no unfolding; His ways are unsearchable; out of the midst comes brightness like amber, which we may, perhaps, identify with smooth brass, and, by linking with Rev. 1:15, see as speaking of God present in judgment. Out of the midst of all this, which suggests the terrible, awesome character of God, comes the “likeness of four living creatures” v. 5.
The cherubim, for we may so call them, have each the likeness of a man. That tells us that God always has His standard before Him—a man, and that He keeps man before Him, even when He moves to perform judgment, His strange work. In wrath He will remember mercy. The feet of these creatures are all there for judgement—compare v. 7 with Micah 4:13. They use their wings for movement. But it is the faces that we want to study. “As for the likeness of their faces; they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side: they four also had the face of an eagle,” v. 10.
The face of the man is put first. Intelligence is the first characteristic of there creatures. The vision comes from the north, v. 4, and it is the face of a man that is seen first. Then we look from the right, to left, and finally get the face mentioned that, naturally speaking, is away from Ezekiel. Thus we may say :
On the south—the man
On the east - the lion
On the west—the ox
On the north—the eagle
Now all this serves only to bear, and uphold the glory of the man upon the throne, Who is brought before us in verse 26. In chs. 10, 11, the prophet will see the glory depart from the Temple in Jerusalem. Israel were the original custodians of the glory, and failed in what they had to uphold. The throne and the glory belong together, and what we find is that the failure of men to maintain this glory means that the throne is here moving in the earth, set for judgement, and its custodians are these cherubims.
Where was this glory originally seen? In Ex. 40, the Tabernacle is reared up, and the glory descends then, v. 34. And then, in the early chapters of Numbers we find that the tribes are marshalled around the Tabernacle.
Looking at Numbers 2, we see that the order is thus:
On the east—Judah, Issachar, Zebulun
On the south—Reuben, Simeon, Gad
On the west—Ephraim, Manasseh, Benjamin
On the north—Dan, Asher, Naphtali
But we may go further than this. For if we think of Judah, we may remember that Genesis and Revelation tell us of the lion in connection with that tribe; if we think of Reuben, we may think that his name means “See! A Son,” and therefore brings before us the character of man; man, that is, as created by God; while if we go to Ephraim on the west, and consider his name as meaning “fruitful,” we may reflect that the Hebrew for “ox” comes from the same root, “par” from “parah.” Finally, taking the tribe of Dan, we may think from Luke 17:37, that the eagle has some association with judgement, that being the meaning of his name.
Thus we can perhaps see a relationship between the heads of the Cherubim, and the tribes themselves, which we will set out for ease of reference thus :
the south—the man: Reuben, Simeon, Gad
the east—the lion: Judah, Issachar, Zebulun
the west—the ox: Ephraim, Manasseh, Benjamin
the north—the eagle: Dan, Asher, Naphtali
What conclusion do we draw from this? That Israel were set to guard the glory that dwelt in their midst—as the local assembly is to do today; maintaining the rights of the Lord, and recognising His character in a fourfold way— His kingship—as suggested by the tribes on the east; His character of bearing fruit for God (for “much increase is by labour of the ox,” Prov. 14:4) as indicated by the tribes on the west; and appreciating His character as perfect man, as set out in the tribes towards the south; finally coming north to see as intimation of Him as supreme judge, with eagle-like vision.
That is the character of the Lord Jesus that we hold dear in our local assemblies today—though, we fear, saints all too rarely rise to their privileges in considering Him, on the occasions when they meet to remember Him. However, Israel had the type of all these things, if we the reality. In battle array, guarding the glory, they camped around. But alas, that glory departed from Israel, to go up Mount Olivet, as we read in Ezek. 11, suggestive of the time when the Lord Jesus Christ, the Glory Himself, as James so suggestively calls Him in his second chapter, would leave the Temple at the end of Matthew 23, saying “Ye shall not see me again until the time that ye say, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.” Ezekiel tells of a day, in his 43rd chapter, when the glory returns by way of the east. Yes, Israel WILL see Him again, with the language of Psalm 118:26 on their lips, when the millenial house is filled with glory. But that is not our present subject, though one absorbing enough.
But when men prove unable to hold the glory, Ezekiel sees that there are heavenly beings who will preserve the throne from anything of man’s impious hand. That throne moves like a flash of lightning through this scene of earth and it supports—nay, it is characterised by—the Man Who is upon it, Who, though He is spoken of in guarded tones, we will recognise to be the Lord Jesus, as assuredly as Isaiah saw His glory as described in his sixth chapter. God will ever have His ministers, if man fails. But if we turn over to the New Testament, we see God’s original thought expressed. He HAS a man—well we know Who this is! He is not just GUARDING the glory—He IS the glory. And we do not recognise Him below in the faces of the Cherubim? John, in his Revelation, ch. 4:7, tells us about the faces of the living creatures about the throne— the lion, the calf (NOT the ox: this emphasises youthfulness in a chapter that is replete with the thought of the energy of life), the man, and the FLYING eagle—again emphasising vigour (cp. Isa. 40:31). That is the order of our Gospels. Thus :
The lion—the king—Matthew
The ox—the servant—Mark
The man—the perfect man, qualified for priesthood—Luke
The eagle—the judge, Who is God over all—John
Thus much is fairly clear. The one Who moved down here is the theme of the four Gospels, which as we know, trace Him in His differing aspects. All the wealth of life that the Cherubim represent—suggesting, at the least, all that God designs to preserve in the earth—is found in Him, of whom it could be said, “In Him was life.” And all that the tribes represent in making up the complete nation, Israel, is found in Him, Who embodies the nation Himself, Isa. 49:3.
And this suggests a line of study: to relate the tribes, not only to the Cherubim, but to the Gospels themselves:
Matthew: the lion, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun; the east
Mark: the ox, Ephraim, Manasseh, Benjamin; the west
Luke: the man, Reuben, Simeon, Gad; the south
John: the eagle, Dan, Asher, Naphtali; the north
But we may still go further, and remember that each of the tribes was marked out, in Ex. 28:15-21, on one of the twelve stones of the breastplate of the high priest of Israel. In that chapter, they are not called tribes, but “children,” the thought being a more intimate one indicating the affection with which they are regarded by God. The names were on the onyx stones on the High Priest’s shoulders in order of birth (v. 10): so we begin with Reuben (“See, a Son”) and end with Benjamin (“Son of my right hand”). Now the Lord Jesus comes before us in both these names! All that He is in the Book of Psalms from Ps. 2:7 to Ps. 110:1 is enshrined in those names. But the names of the tribes on the breastplate are, apparently, not in order of birth, but in the order that God has before Him, and when we come to Numbers and the order given for the tribes to march and find that this is the order adhered to in the gathering around the Tabernacle, and remember the words of Gen. 49:8 “Judah, thou art he whom the brethren shall praise,” and then see that Judah always is mentioned first, then we may see the fittingness of linking the first stone of the breastplate with Judah. Adhering then to the order of Numbers 1 and 2, we have :
Now the stones on the breastplate of the High Priest ought to engage the attention of each believer, assured that nothing that is in the Word can be without profit, and the more so as we find the Throne-sitter in Revelation 4:3 is described as being, to look upon, like a jasper and a sardius stone. Here the stones of the breastplate, the twelfth and the first are mentioned together. The jasper stone is described in Rev. 21:11 in terms that speak of the Glory of God, while the sardius, the sixth stone mentioned in Rev. 21:20, is connected both by its numerical status— six always being the number of man in Scripture—and by its colour—red—with Adam, whose very name means “red earth.” May we not have a suggestion that the Throne-sitter—God in His very essence—combines in Himself the characteristics of God and the glory that belongs to manhood? (cp. Col. 2:10). And then if we link the sardius with Judah, as I have suggested, then we see the point of the reference to the “Lion of the Tribe of Judah” in Rev. 5:5. And if that is Matthew’s Gospel, and the jasper, answering to Naphtali, belongs to John, the Gospel above all others, where the glory of God is seen, then we have a suggestion that the Throne-sitter of Rev. 4 embodies all the characteristics of the four Gospels—from Matthew to John—that our glorious Lord, in whom all the fullness of the Godhead was pleased to dwell, embodies all the features that He looks for in the people of Israel, in their variegated aspects as twelve tribes, embodies the features of the living creatures seen by the river Chebar, and is both the preserver of the glory, and the glory itself, that is now upon the throne of God. No wonder Ezekiel could say that the heavens were opened and he saw visions of God!
We will seek to compare the tribes with the four Gospels along the lines already suggested, in succeeding issues.