COMMENTARY ON PHILIPPIANS
T E X T
“Therefore I hope to send him at once, as soon as I see how it goes with me. But I trust in the Lord that I myself shall also come shortly.” (Phil 2:23-24, NKJV)
For the believer, the path of life is not always clear. While the way to glory is marked out with clarity, day-to-day life is not so certain. Just as there are sun-splashed mountains upon which things are plain and clear, there are also misty valleys in which we cannot see very far. Faith, however, can navigate in both realms. It can purpose and anticipate, even when the believer is not sure of the fulfillment of certain personal desires. This is an aspect of faith that is now displayed by the Apostle to the Gentiles. In these few words he reveals the effectiveness of faith. He shows us how we can live in the midst of great hardship, uncertain of immediate future.
TRUST REASONS AND PLANS
“Therefore I hope to send him at once . . . ” (KJV). At the time of writing, Paul knew his own death was imminent, yet did not know when. He confessed he was “hard pressed between” choosing whether to “depart and be with Christ,” or “remain in the flesh” to minister (1:23-24). His words confirm to us that the time of choosing had not yet arrived–i.e., he did not know if his imprisonment would result in his death, or he would be released.
For many, this would have been a disconcerting circumstance. Uncertainty can breed fear and disquietude, causing anxiety to rise in the heart. Many a soul has abandoned the work of the Lord simply because their future was not certain. How different a picture we see in our text.
Paul has already acknowledged Timothy to be like none other with him. When they were together, they did not speak of Paul’s imprisonment and death, but of the need of the brethren–particularly at Philippi.
When Paul says “I HOPE to send . . . ,” he uses a term that reveals an aspect of faith. This is NOT the “one hope” that has been given to us as an anchor for the soul (Eph 4:4; Heb 6:18-19). It is NOT the “hope” by which we are saved (Rom 8:24). A different word is used here, usually translated“trust.” It is used in the same sense as our text 10 times in Apostolic writings (Rom 15:24; 1 Cor 16:7; 2 Cor 1:13; 5:11; 13:6; Phil 2:19,23; Phile 22; 2 John 1:12; 3 John 14). In EVERY case, it has to do with the uncertain aspect of life–human relationships and circumstances. It is never used to describe the expectation of glory, being forever with the Lord, the resurrection, etc. While our eternal destiny has been revealed to us, the course of our life has not. Occasionally, the Lord did reveal to Paul precise things that would occur in his life (Acts 16:9; 18:10; 23:11; 27:23-26).
However, such Divine illumination was not always Paul’s experience. Our text is a case in point. He had determined to send Timothy to the Philippians for their advantage. His desire was noble, being centered in the will of the Lord. The person he had determined to send was worthy of the assignment, and could be trusted to do the will of God. The ones to whom he was sending Timothy were virtuous, and deserving of such consideration. It was a good and Christ-honoring thing that Paul determined to do.
A purpose like this can be committed to the Lord–even if there is no firm guarantee that it will take place. The apostle lays this matter before the Lord, trusting Him to bring it to pass. By this, Paul means He is relying upon the Lord to do His will in the matter. He is NOT saying he is sure Christ will allow him to send Timothy, but that He is putting the whole matter into the hand of the Lord–willing to let Him work it out. Even if it does not come to pass, he will acquiesce with the Lord’s will. That is trusting, or hoping.
Again, this text has to do with relying on the Lord in areas of uncertainty. It is a facet of living by faith. Often we are led through unfamiliar waters, where the course is not certain. Rather than becoming disconcerted by that circumstance, faith purposes and plans anyway. It purposes with the intention of furthering the cause of Christ, and lays the purpose in the hand of the Lord. Such living cannot be facilitated by a routine. Only faith can live like this.
AS SOON AS I KNOW . . .
“ . . . as soon as I see how it goes with me” (KJV). There are church circles in which such language would be forbidden. There is a strain of religious thought that teaches what we say causes the thing to come to pass. Texts used by those embracing and promoting this view are, “The tongue has the power of life and death” (Prov 18:21, NIV), and “if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him” (Mk 11:23, NIV). If they say, they are sick, or healed, these people believe that very word will cause the thing to occur. Solomon’s statement, however, referred to the effects of speaking on the individual doing the speaking. It coincides with Christ’s saying, “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt 12:37). The reference to a mountain being thrown into the sea reveals the potency of faith, not merely of words. It is NOT having doubt “in the heart” that accomplished the deed, not merely speaking to the mountain.
Those in the grip of this teaching believe words spoken in faith have creative power–i.e., they will make things happen. They base this view on Hebrews 11:3: “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God . . . ” This is represented as saying God, through faith, spoke the worlds into existence. The true meaning is that we, through faith, believe that He created the worlds from nothing by His word--even though we have no evidence of it. It is not God that had faith, but those who believe.
All of this may appear to have little to do with our text, but that is not the case. Paul writes of a plan and declares his purpose. It has not been hastily conceived or spoken. Yet, Paul does not imagine it will be fulfilled because he said it–and said it trusting, or hoping. Were the teaching to which I have referred true, Paul’s adjoining statement would have been an evidence of unbelief: “as soon as I see how it goes with me.” This man of faith could not prolong his life or send Timothy simply by declaring it would be done!
In this sense, uncertainty and faith can cohabit with each other. Mind you, unbelief and faith cannot live together, but that is not what we have here. Paul is acknowledging that everything has not been revealed to him. Like the mighty prophet Elisha, there were some things that were hidden from him (2 Kgs 4:27). Remember, that was not always the case with Elisha. The Lord even revealed to that prophet what the king said in his bedchamber (2 Kgs 6:12). But he did not reveal everything to that choice prophet, and neither He do so to Paul, who “labored more abundantly than they all.”
Some things are on a wait-and-see basis. “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that” (James 4:15). We must not allow this circumstance to cause personal agitation or restlessness. It is one of the ways God teaches us to trust and purpose at the same time. It also removes the danger of tender hearts being dashed on the rocks of despair when what they truly desire does not come to pass. If you are willing to “see how it goes” with you, you will not be disappointed. Neither, indeed, will you be idle. The desire to benefit the people of God, and plans to do the same, need not be attended with clear evidence that all of it will come to pass. I find this to be a great liberty.
HOPE DOES NOT GIVE UP EASILY
“But I trust in the Lord that I myself shall also come shortly” (NKJV). See with what resolution Paul speaks! On the one hand, he is waiting to see how it will go with him. Yet, he does not idly sit, awaiting that knowledge. He is trusting that he himself will be able to come to the Philippians in the immediate future. It is generally understood that Philippians was written around 61-62 A.D., and that no further missionary travels occurred after that. While there is not agreement on this matter, it appears he remained as a prisoner of the emperor in Rome until his death (although early church fathers believed he was released). Even so, you find the faith of Paul alive and vibrant. He is thinking of the churches, and purposing to advantage them.
When Paul says “I trust in the Lord . . . ,” he uses a different word than he did in reference to Timothy (“hope”). It is a stronger word, used in Galatians 5:10 and 2 Thessalonians 3:4). In these texts, as well as the one we are viewing, the trust is expressly said to be “in the Lord.” “I have confidence in you, in the Lord” (Gal 5:10), “we have confidence in the Lord concerning you” (2 Thess 3:4).
Paul placed his plans in the Lord’s hands, having reconciled Himself to the reign of Jesus. He only desired what was harmonious with the will of His King. He left the government of the Kingdom to the King, making himself and his thoughts subject to Him. The purposes Paul has made known are conditional. They are NOT, however, conditional upon the whims of a Roman governor. Nor, indeed, are they conditioned upon some form of fate; i.e., “whatever will be, will be.” He knew God had a purpose, and that His purpose was being meticulously executed by the Lord Jesus Christ. His faith had confirmed to him that everything had been placed in Christ’s hand, and that He would bring the purpose of God to a glorifying conclusion. What he did NOT know is precisely how this would impact his own life. He did not know if his role involved a soon-release or continued imprisonment and death. Rather than spending his time trying to discover the answer, he made plans that were in keeping with that purpose, entrusting them to the Lord.
Here is an aspect of faith that is not well known in our day. It involves reasoning after a godly manner, even if our thinking is not precisely correct. We have another example of this in our father Abraham. When commanded to offer up Isaac as a burnt offering, Abraham proceeded to do that very thing, even though it appeared to contradict God’s promise. He reasoned “that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead” (Heb 11:17-19). Technically, Abraham was wrong–God stopped him from sacrificing Isaac. However, our father reasoned after a godly manner, thereby bringing glory to God. His thinking had been molded by the promises of God.
This is exactly the manner in which Paul thought. In fact, this reflects the manner in which faith constrains any believer to think. Confident that “the Judge of all the earth will do right” (Gen 18:25), noble plans are made and subjected to the will of the Lord. No melancholy here, but joyful trust!
So make your plans! Do so in the interest of the Lord’s purpose and His people. Be ready to fulfill those purposes if the Lord wills. Do not wait until the way is clearly laid out before you, but live and plan for the Lord now!