The Excellency of the Knowledge of Christ

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 3 - Christ the Dynamic of Fellowship and Service

Reading: Phil. 2.

"I count 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" (Phil. 3:8).

In the second chapter of the letter to the Philippians we have Christ set forth especially as the dynamic of fellowship and service; that which motives fellowship, that which lies behind service; Christ as expressed in certain ways.

It is always good to sit quietly with a letter, such as this one, and to allow its spirit to come upon your own spirit, to open up your own heart and allow the general atmosphere and temper of the letter to spread itself over you, and in that way register the background of the words which are being employed. I think you will agree with me that the simplest form of expression which this letter takes, as we so open our hearts to it, is along the line of the wonderful mutuality between the Apostle and these believers, and between these believers and the Apostle. What he says to them, as from himself, expresses a deep and intense affection, concern, and what he says about them, as representing their attitude to him, indicates a similar spirit and feeling. He yearns over them, and shows that they also are yearning over him. He is anxious for them, and it is clear that they are anxious for him. And when we read more fully into the history of things we have that borne out very clearly. They knew that the Apostle had been apprehended, and taken off to Rome. At least they knew that he had gone Rome-ward, and it seems that for a long time they had heard nothing of him, and were greatly concerned as to why there was no news. In their concern doubtless they were praying for him, and on reaching Rome he was moved, in his concern for them, to send a messenger to tell of what had happened. Learning of his imprisonment, they had immediately sent a messenger to him with some gifts for his temporary good. This letter refers to that solicitude for his comfort.

Epaphroditus had been despatched with the gift. It was the time of autumn, the malarial season in those parts, and on the way Epaphroditus had become terribly sick, Paul says: "Nigh unto death." In an exhausted and brokendown state, he just managed to reach the Apostle, had delivered the gift and told of the anxiety for him of the Philippian saints. Paul, in his turn, had immediately despatched a messenger to them with the news of the arrival of Epaphroditus, and of his sickness, but that he was now better. The letter tells how glad they were to hear the news - for they were greatly concerned - and eventually Paul sends back Epaphroditus himself with this letter in his hand, which tells the whole story.

All that indicates a great mutual concern, and love, and affection, and interest; and looking more closely at it, it is not something commonplace. No doubt these Philippian believers (we do not know how many of them there were) were people with the usual concerns of life. They had their businesses to attend to; they had their domestic duties; they had their various occupations from day to day; but what is made so clear here is this, that, although having to go about their business every day, to attend to their affairs, and be occupied with duties of this life, over and above all that, their chief concern was for the interests of Christ as represented in this vessel of Testimony. It is a great thing to see that people who, having their ordinary daily duties and affairs to attend to, which probably occupied much of their time and attention, were so tremendously and intensely concerned over the Gospel as bound up with its messengers.

I am not sure that does not come to our hearts with some word from the Lord, perhaps of rebuke, at any rate as a word of interrogation. It might say to us something like this: Now we are people who have our businesses to attend to, and our homes, and many duties, but really how much time do we give, how often are we, as the ordinary rank and file of the Christian community, found definitely upon our knees concerning the spread of the Gospel, and concerning the ministry to the saints through the Lord's servants, the Lord's vessels of Testimony? To what degree are we definitely found stretched out in this matter, in a real anxious concern about the Testimony of the Lord in a practical way? That is a very simple word, and a simple question; but very often, I fear, the burden is left with those who are detached enough from the affairs of this life to be able to take it up, and the general company of the Lord's people are not bearing it. I wonder if I may presume to ask about your own position in this matter. You rise in the morning, perhaps hurriedly, and get away to your business, spend your whole day at it, come home in the evening tired, when perhaps you relax a bit before going to bed: and that is your programme week in, week out, year in and year out, and your practical relationship to the interests of the Lord, near and far, perhaps is bound up with gatherings on one day in the week. Or perhaps you go beyond that with a few other gatherings during the week. But the point is, what about bearing this concern continually in prayer before the Lord? What about that which corresponds to the atmosphere of this Philippian letter?

Here is a company of believers, we know not how large, concerning whom it is made very clear, that they bear on their hearts a great burden about the spiritual interests of the Lord as bound up with the lives of His servants as they moved out. It was not just local; for Rome was 700 miles from Philippi; but here they are, reaching out over these 700 miles, with this great concern for the Lord's interests.

I think it is a factor in this whole question of Christ occupying a large place in our hearts. Here is one of those sidelights which show just how much Christ and His interests occupy of the space in our hearts. It shows very clearly that these people, whatever else their lives held, had a large place for the Lord, a larger place than for anything else.

Three Features of Fellowship and Service

There are three things which are shown by this second chapter to be the features of fellowship and service when Christ is occupying a large place - love, humility, and obedience.

1. Love.

You cannot read this second chapter thoughtfully without recognising that love is one of the outstanding features. The chapter, with one or two other fragments in the letter, has to do with fellowship in the first place. There is a great appeal in relation to the fellowship of the Lord's people. There is fellowship there at Philippi; there is no doubt about that! Paul opens the letter with a very clear indication of that. When he prays his prayer, of which he tells them, he thanks the Lord on all remembrance of them. He does not say on every remembrance. That is a wrong translation. It is not that Paul is going over so many things in memory, and thanking the Lord for those things. If he were to do that, probably he would be leaving a lot of things out; but it is on all remembrance, whenever they come to mind - and they are always in his mind. Whenever they are uppermost in his mind he thanks the Lord for them. There is fellowship.

But, as in every place, so at Philippi, there is that effort of the adversary to insinuate something by which the fellowship will be destroyed. Paul detects that even there the enemy is at work. In certain directions, the great spiritual value of this company is threatened along the line of destroyed or disturbed fellowship, and the peril, which has perhaps already commenced to work in their midst, of not being of the same mind. So you see how he opens this letter:

"If there is therefore any comfort in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any tender mercies and compassions, fulfil ye my joy, that ye be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind...." There are two things there:

Union with Christ. The little phrase "in Christ" - everything is in Christ. Union with Christ is basic to it all. That is the basis of the appeal. He says, in effect, Now we are in Christ! But then he insists there is to be a spiritual result, an active outworking of that. If being in Christ means so-and-so, then you see to it that what being in Christ means obtains in your case!

Communion of Saints. Being in Christ there is comfort, consolation. That word "consolation" really means encouragement. In Christ there ought to be mutual encouragement. It is all very well to speak about being in Christ, but being in Christ means that in Christ there is encouragement. It is the practical value of being in Christ that Paul is stressing. Here I am, he is saying in effect, alone here in Rome; here in this prison with a great deal to discourage! Were I to take the situation as the final thing, I could be greatly discouraged, cast down and disconcerted; all they in Asia turning away, this one and that one leaving me, and the work seeming to break down! Now, brethren in Christ, I need encouragement! The practical value of your being in Christ means that there must be some encouragement, and I need encouragement from you at this time! "If there is therefore any comfort in Christ," encouragement, consolation.

"...Comfort of love...." That means that deep, thankful sense of comfort in His love. Do you know what the comfort of His love is? If you reflect upon the love of Christ; if only you allow yourself to believe in His love; if you will but turn away from all your sour feelings and doubting thoughts, and believe that He loves you, and allow that fact to spread itself over you, it will be a deep comfort, a deep thankfulness.

"...Fellowship of the Spirit...." The "communion of the Holy Ghost" is the expression used in the second letter to the Corinthians. What is that? You see from this passage what the communion of the Holy Ghost is. It is the fellowship of the saints. "If there is any fellowship of the Spirit," any communion of the Spirit.

"...If any tender mercies and compassions...." These are strong words in the Greek: If any strong affection which is toward the suffering. Strong affection, directed toward those who are in suffering.

If there are these things in Christ among you; if being in Christ really means that these things are true of you; if these are the real spiritual values in Christ, then "fulfil ye my joy" by showing them. That is what he says. "Fulfil ye my joy," make my joy full, fill my cup to overflowing at this time; I need it, and if you really want to serve me, to show your solicitude for me; if you really want to be a help to me in this day of need, give a practical expression of what being in Christ means! Let these things obtain between you in Philippi; "be of the same mind."

"...Having the same love...." That means, not some doing all the loving, and the others doing all the receiving of the love, but love being the same, all loving. It is very nice to be loved, but be sure you do your bit. Let love be evenly distributed amongst you, "...of the same mind the same love" - mind and heart, you see.

"...Being of one accord...." Literally that means: Let there be a true union of soul! What is an "accord"? It is an absolute blending. We speak of a "chord" in music, and we mean that everything is harmonised and flowing, is without a jar, without an irritation, together. "One accord" in the Greek literally means this: Living in one another. That is what it means to be in Christ.

"...Doing nothing through strife..." or faction. That is, with personal ends and interests in view.

"...Or through vainglory...." That is set over against each one seeking his own. No! not for any personal ends, and not for any personal glory. Let nothing be done as motived by such things, that individuals might have individual influence, and place, and glory.

"...Each esteem the other better than himself." "Esteem" here means simply to give honour to the other before oneself.

"...Look not every man on his own things, but on the things of others." Here again, getting behind the actual translation, it simply means that there must be an insight into the things of others, the thoughts of others. It means that you must seek to understand what they are thinking. "The things of others," the ideas, the feelings, the interests of others; looking into them and trying to appreciate them.

All that leads up to that great passage about Christ coming from glory and descending to the deepest depths.

Now you can see what the basis of fellowship is. That is the nature of fellowship. If these things obtain then fellowship is secured. But Paul illustrates, and he says, in effect, that the three great governing laws of fellowship after this kind are:

Love! That sets things in motion.

Self-Abnegation! That is what governs the thing as it moves.

Obedience! That is the object which is in view.

Christ - the Pattern

Then the Apostle illustrates this from the life of the Lord Jesus. "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God," did not vaingloriously snatch at that equality, did not lay hold of the position as something for Himself, to be held for Himself and not let go, but, motived by a great love, with the dynamic of a mighty, Divine love in His heart, emptied Himself, "made himself of no reputation." If those things are objectives in view, then fellowship will not last very long. So step by step He is seen as coming down, ever downward, until He has reached the very bottom. And it is love which has led to that, and the mind in Christ is seen to be the mind that comes down. At Philippi, and in every other place where fellowship is threatened, you will always find it is the other way; some people trying to get up. Somehow it is a matter of personal exaltation, standing, will, of having position, having influence, having reputation, having interests of their own. The Lord Jesus is shown here as One Who, because governed by this great dynamic of Divine love, takes the way of self-abasement.

The Lord had illustrated this with His disciples in the Upper Room. How often they had said: Who shall be greatest in the Kingdom? They so often quarrelled about position; there were rivalries in their midst, and factions. "Grant that these... may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left...." The desire was for reputation, position, influence, standing, personal fulness. And He, in the presence of all that, laid aside His garment, and took a towel, and girded Himself, and poured water into a basin, and came to wash their feet. It is the downward way of the true Priest, the true Levite.

Here, then, is fellowship and service, which is constituted by love first of all, which does not mind how low it stoops or how much it loses of its own. It is true. We know so well, that when a matter of broken or strained fellowship, has to be dealt with, it can only be by someone putting something personal out of the way. You will always find it to be a case of letting go somewhere. Is it not? You never get far until the last bit of personal claim has been let go, be it only the sense of a just demand for an apology. You very often have to let go even that. It is coming down. This does not imply you may be in the wrong. It may be quite clear that the other person is in the wrong, but you are wanting and demanding that that one should apologise to you, and are not prepared to have things put right until it is done. It may be that you will have to let go even the demand for an apology, and come right down to be almost, if not altogether, put in the place of the wrong, to give the Lord an open way. Fellowship is based upon this spirit of self-emptying.

It is difficult to safeguard that, but we see the peril. There is a difference between self, and righteousness. The Lord does not want us to sweep away any consideration of righteousness. If the Lord's interests are struck at, you cannot put that aside, and make nothing of that. That is where repentance is necessary. But repentance is not to us, beloved, repentance is to the Lord. There is all the difference between what is personal, and what is a matter of some great Divine interest.

2. Self-Abnegation.

Having said that to safeguard against a weakness which might be thought to be love, we can quite safely go on, and point out that here the basis of fellowship is self-emptying. That is where the magnificance, and the enormous power of humility is seen. "He humbled himself." It is that which is set over against pride, vainglory, and all those things which are parts of pride. What a tremendous power there is in humility! What a terrible curse pride is! and it is more a curse to the possessor of it than it is to anybody else! People have had their lives made the most miserable thing possible, because of their own pride. Pride, in any heart, is calculated to make a hell in that individual. Their pride will not let them do some things, the doing of which would simply clear away all the difficulties, and make life a very much happier thing. Humility is a great thing, a mighty thing in the Lord's interests, and it is certainly basic to fellowship.

3. Obedience.

He became obedient unto death. The Apostle immediately fastens upon that, and says: "Wherefore... as ye have always obeyed not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence...." Not obedience to the Apostle as the Apostle, but obedience to the vital things which the Apostle is constantly showing as essential to the glory of the Lord. Here you see the exhortation is: "Be of the same mind." Well, be obedient in that matter. "Having the same love." Be obedient in that matter. In all these things it is a matter of obedience. It means, Give yourself definitely to this business of showing what it means to be in Christ.

That is all very simple. It may sound very elementary, but it is tremendously important. Now a situation may arise, a strain between you and some other believer. This whole thing, with all these many elements in it, will come up. What are you going to do about it? It all resolves itself into a question of obedience; obedience to such entreaty as we find in the first two verses of the second chapter of the letter to the Philippians. If you will only be obedient in that, the whole thing is settled. While the thing drags on it shows that somewhere there is disobedience; perhaps because of pride and lack of humility. Why pride and lack of humility? Because of the absence of an adequate love. This love begins with love for the Lord, Divine love in our hearts; leading to humility, which is always prepared to take the downward course, and puts into our hearts a spirit of obedience, that, instead of standing up for our rights, we shall make it our business to show compassion, tender mercy, encouragement, applying ourselves to all these things. Love, humility and obedience are the great laws of fellowship and of service.

Christ is seen here in the service of the Father, and in that service He is governed by these three things, this great love, this deep humility, this utter obedience even unto death, the death of the Cross. He is the true Levite. The spirit of the Levite represented a great concern for the Lord's interests in the Lord's people, and their service was a continuous course. They served in the court of the Lord's House in the interests of the Lord's people, and of the Lord in His people, and it meant that theirs was to be the spirit of obedient, selfless service all the time. Christ was the true Levite, and you have a reflection of Christ in the three men especially mentioned in this letter to the Philippians.

Paul! Was he a true Levite? Had he concern for the Lord's people? Did they lie heavily upon his heart? Did he bear them day and night as a real spiritual burden? Surely he did.

Timothy! Read what Paul says about Timothy in this letter. Timothy is a true Levite here.

Epaphroditus! He, says Paul, gambled with his life, hazarded his life in these Divine interests of the Lord's people. A true Levite! And we are all called into Levitical ministry.

One of the vessels of priestly ministry was the altar of incense. That altar of incense was a meeting place between God and His people in Levitical ministry; that is, the priest at the altar of incense brought God and His people together. You will remember that altar of incense was a square, one cubit; and "one" is the number of unity; and inasmuch as it was a cubit, with four equal sides, it speaks of all-embracingness. Take the number "four," and you find you have the creation, universality, and the great city at the end lying four-square, and the gates at every side. It speaks of the all-embracingness of Christ. This unity in the one cubit, and the all-embracingness, are found in an altar, the place where God and man meet. Priestly ministry has to do with that; the one-ness of the Lord's people, and the all-embracingness of Christ.

The Lord write in our hearts His own mind very deeply, and show us that this is Christ, the dynamic, the motive of fellowship, and of our service. In this way you and I, like the Philippians, and like Paul, will come into the knowledge of that super-eminence of Christ.

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