Searching the Scriptures
“Search the Scriptures…They are they which testify of me.” John 5:38
Author: Bob Moses
Its Standing, Object and Hope
This is a most peculiar subject, unto which, many who claim to be Christians, do not comprehend. In the explanation I desire to illustrate, we will focus on Philippians Chapter 3, with a helpful contribution from C.H. Macintosh in his marvelous book, The Mackintosh Treasury penned in 1898 in six volumes under the title: Miscellaneous Writings and Copyrighted in 1976 by Loizeaux Brothers, Inc. Neptune, New Jersey.
Philippi was the site of Paul’s first missionary activity in Europe. (Acts 16). The church he established there began with Lydia and certain other women, and shortly afterwards included the Philippian jailer and his family (Acts 16). It soon became the church that gave the apostle Paul more personal satisfaction than any of the others, and his epistle reflects his deep love for them. Few if any have ever questioned the authenticity of Philippians, Paul being universally accepted by Biblical scholars, both liberals and conservatives alike as its author. It is probably the most personal of all his church epistles. He does not mention his office as an apostle in his salutation, as he had done in all his other church epistles, except those to Thessalonica. It is only in Philippians that he greets “the bishop and deacons” of the church: which one would suppose, that Paul the founder, is its de facto pastor. The entire letter reflects close friendship and affection for the church some 10 years after its founding. There are many classic passages in this short epistle, especially the marvelous section on the incarnation and future exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ (2: 5-11). One great theme is that of joy, even in suffering. The words “joy” and “rejoicing” occur some 17 times in the four chapters of this book.
Before delving into the heart of our subject we must take a look at what Paul has to say in Phil; 2: 6—11; regarding Christ, “ Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in the earth, and things under the earth. And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”.
Our beloved writer A.W. Pink refers to this as the condescension of Christ. “For the sake of accuracy, a distinction should be drawn between the condescension and the humiliation of Christ, through most writers confound them. This distinction is made by the Holy Spirit in (Phil. 2: 7—8). First, He “made himself of no reputation”; second, He “humbled himself.” The condescension of God the Son consisted in His assuming our nature, the Word becoming flesh. His humiliation lay in the consequent abasement and sufferings He endured in our nature. The assumption of human nature was not, of itself, a part of Christ’s humiliation, for He still retained it in His glorious exaltation. But for God the Son to take into union with Himself a created nature, animated dust, was an act of infinite condescension.”
The occasion of all the above is to bring focus upon the writing of Paul in Chapter 3. Mainly, the fact that he, Paul, occupies the scene with his own experience and unfolds to us the significance of Christianity, its standing, object, and hope. You will better understand as we move further along, and dig a little deeper to find this hidden nugget of our subject. Paul reminds us that the Christian experience is not something going on around the believer, but something which is going on within him.
Men err in their theology and fail in their ethics; but the Bible and Christianity remain unshaken and unshakeable. The Bible is the Bible still, and Christianity is Christianity still. We cannot follow Paul as the apostle, nor Paul, the as one endowed with extraordinary gifts, and privileged to see unspeakable visions, but as Paul the Christian. We could not follow him, in his brilliant career, we could not follow him, in his rapture to Paradise; but we can follow him in his Christian course, in this world; and it seems to us that we have in our chapter a very full view of that course, and not only of the course itself, but also the starting-post and the goal. In other words, we have to consider, first, the Christian’s standing; secondly, the Christian’s object; and thirdly, the Christian’s hope. May God the Holy Ghost be our teacher, while we dwell for a little on these most weighty and most interesting points!
As regards to the Christian’s Standing; the point is unfolded, in a double way. We are not only told what the Christian’s standing is, but also what it is not. If ever there was a man who could boast of having a righteousness of his own in which to stand before God, Paul was the man. ”If”, says he, “any other man thinketh that he hath whereof to trust in the flesh, I more: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” This in its self, is remarkable; no one could excel Saul of Tarsus. He was a Jew, of pure pedigree, in orderly fellowship, of blameless walk, of fervid zeal and unflinching devotedness. He was, on principle, a persecutor of the Church. As a Jew, he could not but see that the very foundations of Judaism were assailed by the new economy of the Church of God. It was utterly impossible that Judaism and Christianity could subsist on the same platform, or hold sway over the same mind. One special feature of the latter was the intimate union of both in one body. Judaism erected and maintained the middle wall of partition; Christianity abolished that wall altogether.
Hence Saul, as an earnest Jew, could not but be a zealous persecutor of the Church of God. It was part of his religion—of that in which he “excelled many of his equals in his own nation—of that in which he was “exceedingly zealous.” Whatever was to be had, in the shape of religiousness, Saul would have it; whatever height was to be attained, he would attain. He would leave no stone unturned in order to build up the superstructure of his own righteousness—righteousness in the flesh—righteousness in the old creation. He was permitted to possess himself of all the attractions of legal righteousness in order that he might fling them from him amid the brighter glories of a righteousness divine, “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea, doubtless, and I counted all things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.”
We should note here that the grand prominent thought, in the above passage, is not that of a guilty sinner betaking himself to the blood of Jesus for pardon, but rather of a legalist casting aside, as dross, his own righteousness, because of having found a better. We need hardly say that Paul was a sinner—“chief of sinners”—and that , as such, he betook himself to the precious blood of Christ, and there found pardon, peace, and acceptance with God.
The leading thought in the chapter before us is not what Paul admits as his sins, but rather of his gains. What we see is Paul a legalist, a strong adherent of the law, casting far away from him his own righteousness, and esteeming it as a worthless and unsightly thing in contrast with a risen and glorified Christ, who is the righteousness of the Christian—the righteousness which belongs to the new creation. Paul has sins to mourn over, and he had a righteousness to boast in. He had guilt on his conscience, and he had laurels on his brow. He had plenty to be ashamed of, and plenty to glory in. But the special point presented in Phil. 3:4—8 is not a sinner getting his sins pardoned, his guilt cleared, his shame covered, but a legalist laying aside his righteousness, a scholar casting away his laurels, and a man abandoning his vain glory, simply because he had found true glory, unfading laurels, and an everlasting righteousness in the Person of a victorious and exalted Christ. It was not merely that Paul, the sinner, needed a righteousness because, in reality, he had none of his own; but that Paul, the Pharisee preferred the righteousness which was revealed to him in Christ, because it was infinitely better and more glorious than any other.
No doubt Paul as a sinner needed, like every other sinner, a righteousness in which to stand before God; but that is not what he is bringing before us in our chapter. We are anxious that the reader should clearly apprehend this point. It is not merely that my sins drive me to Christ; but His excellences draw me to Him. We should “hide” ourselves “in Him”. Like Adam, in the garden of Eden, he was naked, and therefore he made himself an apron; but would it have been a “loss” to him to retain the apron after the Lord God had made him a coat. It was surely far better to have a God-made coat, than a man-made apron. So thought Adam, so thought Paul, and so thought all the saints of God whose names are recorded upon the sacred page. It is better to stand in the righteousness of God, which is by faith, than to stand in the righteousness of man, which is by works. It is not only mercy to get rid of our sins, through the remedy which God has provided, but to get rid of our righteousness, and accept, instead, the righteousness which God has revealed.
Thus, we see that the standing of a Christian is in Christ. “Found in Him.” This is Christian standing. Nothing less, nothing lower, nothing different. It is not partly in Christ, and partly in the law—partly in Christ and partly in ordinances. Note; it is “found in Him.” This is the standing which Christianity furnishes. If this be touched, it is not Christianity at all. It may be some ancient ism, or some mediaeval ism, or some modern ism; but most surely is not the Christianity of the New Testament if it be aught else than this, “found in Him.”
We do therefore earnestly exhort the reader to look well to this our first point, “In Christ it is we stand.” He is our righteousness. He Himself, the crucified, risen, exalted, glorified Christ. Yes; He is our righteousness. To be found in Him is proper Christian standing. It is not Judaism, Catholicism, nor any other ism. It is not the being a member of this church, that church, or the other church. It is to be in Christ. This is the great foundation of true practical Christianity. In a word this is the standing of the Christian.
Let us now in the second place, look at the Christian’s Object.
Here again, Christianity shuts us up to Christ: “That I may know Him,” is the breathing of the true Christian. If to be “found in Him” constitutes the Christian’s standing, then “to know Him” must assuredly be the Christian’s proper object. The ancient philosophy had a motto which repeatedly said; “Know thyself”. Christianity, on the contrary, has a loftier motto, pointing to a nobler object. It tells us to “Know Christ”—to make Him our object—to fix our earnest gaze on Him.
This, and this alone, is the Christian’s object. To have any other object is not Christianity at all. Alas! Christians have other objects. And that is precisely the reason why we said, at the opening of this paper, that it is Christianity, and not the ways of Christians, that we desire to hold up to the view of our readers. It matters not in the least what the object is: if it is not Christ, it is not Christianity. The true Christian’s desire will ever be embodied in these words, “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death.” It is not that I may get on in the world—that I may make money—that I might attain a high position—that I may aggrandize my family—that I may make a name—that I may be regarded as a great man, a rich man, a popular man. No: not one of these is a Christian object. It may be very well for a man, who has got nothing better, to make such things his object. But the Christian has got Christ. This makes all the difference. It may be all well enough for a man, who does not know Christ as his righteousness, to do the best he can in the way of working out a righteousness for himself; but to one whose standing is in a risen Christ, the very fairest righteousness that could be produced by human efforts would be an actual loss. So is it exactly in the matter of an object. The questions is not, what harm is there in this or that? But, is it a Christian object?
The true Christian is not of this world at all. He is in it, but not of it. “They,” says our blessed Lord, “are not of the world, even as I am not of the world”(John 17), “Our citizenship is in heaven;” and we should never be satisfied to propose to ourselves any lower object than Christ. It is a man’s object, not his position that gives him his character.
Now Paul’s one object was Christ. Whether he was stationary (in prison), or whether he traveled; whether he preached the gospel, or whether he gathered sticks; whether he planted churches, or made tents, Christ was his object. By night and by day, at home or abroad, by sea or by land, alone or in company, in public or private, he could say, “One thing I do.” And this, be it remembered, was not merely Paul the laborious apostle, or Paul the raptured saint, but Paul the living, acting, walking Christian—the one who addresses us in these words, “Brethren, be ye followers together of me.” Nor should we ever be satisfied with anything less than this. True, we fail sadly; but let us always keep the true object before us, even Christ Himself.
But some will say, “Where will you find this?” If it be meant; where are we to find it amongst the ranks of Christians today, it might be difficult indeed. Nevertheless we have it in the third chapter of the Epistle to the Philippians. We have here a model of true Christianity, and let us ever and only aim thereat. If we find our hearts going after other things let us judge them. In this way, although we may have to weep over constant failure, we shall always be kept occupied with our proper object, and thus have our character formed; for, let it never be forgotten, it is the object which forms the character. If money be my object, my character is covetous; if power, I am ambitious; if books, I am literary; if Christ, I am a Christian. It is not here a question of life and salvation, but only of practical Christianity. If we were asked for a simple definition of a Christian, we should at once say, a Christian is a man who has Christ for his object. This is most simple. May we enter into its power, and thus exhibit a more healthy and vigorous discipleship in this day, when so many, alas; are minding earthly things.
We shall close this hasty and imperfect sketch of a wide and weighty subject, with a line or two on the Christian’s Hope.
This, our third and last point, is presented in our chapter in a manner quite as characteristic as the other two. The standing of the Christian is to be found in Christ; the object of the Christian is to know Christ; and the hope of the Christian is to be like Christ. How beautifully perfect is the connection between these three things. No sooner do I find myself in Christ as my righteousness than I long to know Him as my object, and the more I know Him, the more ardently shall I long to be like Him, which hope can only be realized when I see Him as He is. Having a perfect righteousness, and a perfect object, I just want one thing more, and that is to be done with everything that hinders my enjoyment of that object. “For our conversation (or citizenship) is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the workings whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself.”
Now putting all these things together, we get a very complete view of true Christianity. We cannot attempt to elaborate any one of the three points above referred to; for, it may be truly said, each point would demand a volume to treat it fully. But we would ask the reader to pursue the marvelous theme for himself. Let him rise above all the imperfections and inconsistencies of Christians, and gaze upon the moral grandeur of Christianity as exemplified in the life and character of the model man presented to our view in this chapter. And may the language of his heart be. “Let others do as they will, as for me, nothing short of this lovely model shall ever satisfy my heart. Let me turn away my eye from men altogether, and fix it intently upon Christ Himself, and find all my delight in Him as my righteousness, my object, my hope.” Thus may it be with the writer and the reader, for Jesus’ sake. (Charles Henry Mackintosh).
Amen and Amen!