Life-Study of Philippiansby Witness Lee
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
In 4:5 Paul says, “Let your forbearance be known to all men.” Although we are familiar with the word forbearance, it is not easy for us to define it adequately. Many would say that forbearance is patience. However, this term is used at the end of a book which emphasizes the experience of Christ. Philippians is not primarily concerned with morality, behavior, character, or ethics. The subject of this Epistle is the experience of Christ. All four chapters of this book are related to the experience of Christ.
As we read the first several verses of chapter four, we may not have the impression that these verses still have the experience of Christ as their subject. But verse 13 says, “I can do all things in Him who empowers me.” “All things” must include the exercise of forbearance spoken of in verse 5. Paul charged the saints to have forbearance. Certainly he himself lived a life of forbearance. Otherwise, he would have been hypocritical in exhorting others to make their forbearance known when he himself did not practice forbearance. Paul’s word in 4:5 must be based on his own living, experience, and practice. Thus, forbearance must be an experience of Christ. Furthermore, the fact that Paul says that he can do all things in Him who empowers him is an indication that forbearance is Christ.
In 1:20 and 21 Paul speaks of magnifying Christ and of living Him. In chapter two he presents Christ as our unique pattern and then speaks of holding forth the word of life. Holding forth the word of life is equal to expressing Christ. In chapter three we see that Christ should be our goal and prize. We need to pursue toward the goal for the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (3:14). Whether we are young or old, we all should pursue Christ. This was Paul’s concept when he said in 3:16, “Only this, whereunto we have attained, by the same rule let us walk.” We all should live Christ, magnify Christ, express Christ, and pursue Christ. Then in chapter four Paul speaks of standing firm in the Lord, rejoicing in Him, and letting our forbearance be known to all men. If we have a proper understanding of the subject of Philippians, realizing that this book is focused on the experience of Christ, we shall see that to make our forbearance known is actually to make Christ known. I believe that this was Paul’s thought.
The best way to understand the Bible is to get into the thought of the writer and grasp the major points according to which he wrote a particular book. No doubt, by considering the four chapters of Philippians, we shall see that Paul’s basic thought in this Epistle is that Christ was his living, pattern, goal with the prize, and power. In this book Paul is saying that we need to live Christ, take Christ as our pattern, pursue Christ as our goal, and experience Christ as our power. All this should result in a certain kind of living, a living which expresses Christ.
What word would you use to describe a life that expresses Christ? Would you describe it as loving, submissive, patient, humble, kind? None of these words is adequate. Yes, a life that expresses Christ certainly is loving, submissive, patient, humble, and kind; however, it includes much more than this. It is significant that Paul does not use any of these terms in 4:5. Instead, he uses the word forbearance. He does not tell us to make our love or patience known, but to make our forbearance known.
In 4:5 why does Paul tell us to make our forbearance known to all men? Why does he not speak of some other virtue, such as holiness or righteousness? What word would you have used if you were writing this Epistle? Perhaps some would use faithfulness, obedience, or oneness. But none of these words seems to fit. It does not seem adequate to say, “Let your faithfulness be made known,” or, “Let your oneness be made known.” Try as we may, we cannot find an adequate replacement for the word forbearance. Even though we cannot fully define forbearance or explain what it is, we sense as we read this verse that forbearance is the only word which is fitting in this verse.
When Paul says that we should make our forbearance known to all men, he indicates the fullness of our forbearance. A forbearance which can be made known to all is not a limited or partial forbearance; it is the fullness of forbearance.
If we would understand the meaning of forbearance, we should not turn to books of philosophy or ethics. Instead, we need to turn to the Bible and seek to learn from the Scriptures the significance of forbearance in 4:5. As we have seen, this must be an expression of Christ. First Paul charges us to make our forbearance known to all men. Realizing that we are not able to do this, he goes on to say, “I can do all things in the One who empowers me.” This indicates that forbearance is at least part of the expression of Christ.
That forbearance is related to the expression of Christ becomes even more clear when we consider 4:5 in the context of the whole book of Philippians. In 1:20 and 21 Paul speaks of magnifying Christ and living Him. Certainly making our forbearance known must involve living Christ and magnifying Him. This means that our forbearance must be the very Christ we live and magnify. We should not separate chapter four from the rest of the book. In chapter one Paul speaks of magnifying Christ and then, toward the end of the book, of making our forbearance known. The forbearance we make known must be the very Christ we magnify.
In chapter two Paul presents Christ as our unique pattern. Certainly, forbearance must be related to Christ as our pattern. This means that forbearance must involve the experience and the expression of Christ as the pattern revealed in chapter two.
As we have pointed out, in chapter three we have Christ as our goal. With Paul, we must pursue toward this goal. Christ as the goal toward which we pursue must include forbearance. Otherwise, how could Paul encourage us to pursue Christ in chapter three and then in 4:5 charge us to make something other than Christ known to all men? That would not be logical. For Paul to be consistent, what he charges us to make known in 4:5 must be the very goal toward which he encourages us to pursue in chapter three. Since Paul encourages us to pursue Christ, in 4:5 he must not be telling us to make something other than Christ known to all men. Since Paul speaks so much of Christ in the first three chapters of the book, what he says in chapter four must also be related to Christ. Therefore, we believe that the forbearance in 4:5 is Christ.
If the word forbearance in 4:5 can be replaced by any other word, it must be the word Christ. Instead of saying, “Let your forbearance be made known,” we can say, “Let your Christ be made known.” This means to let the Christ whom we live and magnify, whom we take as our pattern and pursue as our goal, be made known to all men.
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