Written From Rome
[This chapter is based on the Epistles to the
Colossians and the Philippians.]
The apostle Paul early in his Christian experience was given special
opportunities to learn the will of God concerning the followers of Jesus.
He was "caught up to the third heaven," "into paradise, and
heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter."
He himself acknowledged that many "visions and revelations" had
been given him "of the Lord." His understanding of the
principles of gospel truth was equal to that of "the very chiefest
apostles." 2 Corinthians 12:2, 4, 1, 11. He had a clear, full
comprehension of "the breadth, and length, and depth, and
height" of "the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge."
Ephesians 3:18, 19.
Paul could not tell all that he had seen in vision; for among his
hearers were some who would have misapplied his words. But that which was
revealed to him enabled him to labour as a leader and a wise teacher, and
also moulded the messages that he in later years sent to the churches. The
impression that he received when in vision was ever with him, enabling him
to give a correct representation of Christian character. By word of mouth
and by letter he bore a message that ever since has brought help and
strength to the church of God. To believers today this message speaks
plainly of the dangers that will threaten the church, and the false
doctrines that they will have to meet.
The apostle's desire for those to whom he addressed his letters of
counsel and admonition was that they should "be no more children,
tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine;"
but that they should all come into "the unity of the faith, and of
the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of
the stature of the fullness of Christ." He entreated those who were
followers of Jesus in heathen communities not to walk "as other
Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding
darkened, being alienated from the life of God . . . because of the
blindness of their heart," but "circumspectly, not as fools, but
as wise, redeeming the time." Ephesians 4:14, 13, 17, 18; 5:15, 16.
He encouraged the believers to look forward to the time when Christ, who
"loved the church, and gave Himself for it," would "present
it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such
thing" --a church "holy and without blemish." Ephesians
These messages, written with a power not of man but of God, contain
lessons which should be studied by all and which may with profit be often
repeated. In them practical godliness is outlined, principles are laid
down that should be followed in every church, and the way that leads to
life eternal is made plain.
In his letter to "the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which
are at Colosse," written while he was a prisoner in Rome, Paul makes
mention of his joy over their steadfastness in the faith, tidings of which
had been brought him by Epaphras, who, the apostle wrote, "declared
unto us your love in the Spirit. For this cause," he continued,
"we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you,
and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of His will in
all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the
Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing
in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His
glorious power, unto all patience and long-suffering with
Thus Paul put into words his desire for the Colossian believers. How
high the ideal that these words hold before the follower of Christ! They
show the wonderful possibilities of the Christian life and make it plain
that there is no limit to the blessings that the children of God may
receive. Constantly increasing in a knowledge of God, they may go on from
strength to strength, from height to height in Christian experience, until
by "His glorious power" they are made "meet to be partakers
of the inheritance of the saints in light."
The apostle exalted Christ before his brethren as the One by whom God
had created all things and by whom He had wrought out their redemption. He
declared that the hand that sustains the worlds in space, and holds in
their orderly arrangements and tireless activity all things throughout the
universe of God, is the hand that was nailed to the cross for them.
"By Him were all things created," Paul wrote, "that are in
heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be
thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were
created by Him, and for Him: and He is before all things, and by Him all
things consist." "And you, that were sometime alienated and
enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled in the
body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and
unreproveable in His sight."
The Son of God stooped to uplift the fallen. For this He left the
sinless worlds on high, the ninety and nine that loved Him, and came to
this earth to be "wounded for our transgressions" and
"bruised for our iniquities." Isaiah 53:5. He was in all things
made like unto His brethren. He became flesh, even as we are. He knew what
it meant to be hungry and thirsty and weary. He was sustained by food and
refreshed by sleep. He was a stranger and a sojourner on the earth--in the
world, but not of the world; tempted and tried as men and women of today
are tempted and tried, yet living a life free from sin. Tender,
compassionate, sympathetic, ever considerate of others, He represented the
character of God. "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, . . .
full of grace and truth." John 1:14.
Surrounded by the practices and influences of heathenism, the Colossian
believers were in danger of being drawn away from the simplicity of the
gospel, and Paul, in warning them against this, pointed them to Christ as
the only safe guide. "I would that ye knew," he wrote,
"what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and
for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh; that their hearts might
be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full
assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God,
and of the Father, and of Christ; in whom are hid all the treasures of
wisdom and knowledge.
"And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing
words. . . . As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk
yet in Him: rooted and built up in Him, and stablished in the faith, as ye
have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. Beware lest any man
spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men,
after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in Him
dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in
Him, which is the head of all principality and power."
Christ had foretold that deceivers would arise, through whose influence
"iniquity" should "abound," and "the love of
many" should "wax cold." Matthew 24:12. He had warned the
disciples that the church would be in more danger from this evil than from
the persecution of her enemies. Again and again Paul warned the believers
against these false teachers. This peril, above all others, they must
against; for by receiving false teachers, they would open the door to
errors by which the enemy would dim the spiritual perceptions and shake
the confidence of those newly come to the faith of the gospel. Christ was
the standard by which they were to test the doctrines presented. All that
was not in harmony with His teachings they were to reject. Christ
crucified for sin, Christ risen from the dead, Christ ascended on
high--this was the science of salvation that they were to learn and teach.
The warnings of the word of God regarding the perils surrounding the
Christian church belong to us today. As in the days of the apostles men
tried by tradition and philosophy to destroy faith in the Scriptures, so
today, by the pleasing sentiments of higher criticism, evolution,
spiritualism, theosophy, and pantheism, the enemy of righteousness is
seeking to lead souls into forbidden paths. To many the Bible is as a lamp
without oil, because they have turned their minds into channels of
speculative belief that bring misunderstanding and confusion. The work of
higher criticism, in dissecting, conjecturing, reconstructing, is
destroying faith in the Bible as a divine revelation. It is robbing God's
word of power to control, uplift, and inspire human lives. By
spiritualism, multitudes are taught to believe that desire is the highest
law, that license is liberty, and that man is accountable only to himself.
The follower of Christ will meet with the "enticing words"
against which the apostle warned the Colossian believers. He will meet
with spiritualistic interpretations of the Scriptures, but he is not to
accept them. His voice is to be heard in clear affirmation of the eternal
truths of the Scriptures. Keeping his eyes fixed on Christ, he is to move
steadily forward in the path marked out, discarding all ideas that are not
in harmony with His teaching. The truth of God is to be the subject for
his contemplation and meditation. He is to regard the Bible as the voice
of God speaking directly to him. Thus he will find the wisdom which is
The knowledge of God as revealed in Christ is the knowledge that all
who are saved must have. This is the knowledge that works transformation
of character. Received into the life, it will re-create the soul in the
image of Christ. This is the knowledge that God invites His children to
receive, beside which all else is vanity and nothingness.
In every generation and in every land the true foundation for character
building has been the same--the principles contained in the word of God.
The only safe and sure rule is to do what God says. "The statutes of
the Lord are right," and "he that doeth these things shall never
be moved." Psalms 19:8; 15:5. It was with the word of God that the
apostles met the false theories of their day, saying, "Other
foundation can no man lay than that is laid." 1 Corinthians 3:11.
At the time of their conversion and baptism the Colossian believers
pledged themselves to put away beliefs and practices that had hitherto
been a part of their lives, and to be true to their allegiance to Christ.
In his letter, Paul reminded them of this, and entreated them not to
forget that in order to keep their pledge they must put forth constant
effort against the evils that would seek for mastery over them. "If
ye then be risen with Christ," he said, "seek those things which
are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your
affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead,
and your life is hid with Christ in God."
"If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are
passed away; behold, all things are become new." 2 Corinthians 5:17.
Through the power of Christ, men and women have broken the chains of
sinful habit. They have renounced selfishness. The profane have become
reverent, the drunken sober, the profligate pure. Souls that have borne
the likeness of Satan have become transformed into the image of God. This
change is in itself the miracle of miracles. A change wrought by the Word,
it is one of the deepest mysteries of the Word. We cannot understand it;
we can only believe, as declared by the Scriptures, it is "Christ in
you, the hope of glory."
When the Spirit of God controls mind and heart, the converted soul
breaks forth into a new song; for he realises that in his experience the
promise of God has been fulfilled, that his transgression has been
forgiven, his sin covered. He has exercised repentance toward God for the
violation of the divine law, and faith toward Christ, who died for man's
justification. "Being justified by faith," he has "peace
with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Romans 5:1.
But because this experience is his, the Christian is not therefore to
fold his hands, content with that which has been accomplished for him. He
who has determined to enter the spiritual kingdom will find that all the
powers and passions of unregenerate nature, backed by the forces of the
kingdom of darkness, are arrayed against him. Each day he must renew his
consecration, each day do battle with evil. Old habits, hereditary
tendencies to wrong, will strive for the mastery, and against these he is
to be ever on guard, striving in Christ's strength for victory.
"Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth,"
Paul wrote to the Colossians; "in the which ye also walked sometime,
when ye lived in them. But now ye also put off all these: anger, wrath,
malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. . . . Put on
therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies,
kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering; forbearing one
another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any:
even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put
on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God
rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be
The letter to the Colossians is filled with lessons of highest value to
all who are engaged in the service of Christ, lessons that show the
singleness of purpose and the loftiness of aim which will be seen in the
life of him who rightly represents the Saviour. Renouncing all that would
hinder him from making progress in the upward way or that would turn the
feet of another from the narrow path, the believer will reveal in his
daily life mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, forbearance, and the love
The power of a higher, purer, nobler life is our great need. The world
has too much of our thought, and the kingdom of heaven too little.
In his efforts to reach God's ideal for him, the Christian is to
despair of nothing. Moral and spiritual perfection, through the grace and
power of Christ, is promised to all. Jesus is the source of power, the
fountain of life. He brings us to His word, and from the tree of life
presents to us leaves for the healing of sin-sick souls. He leads us to
the throne of God, and puts into our mouth a prayer through which we are
brought into close contact with Himself. In our behalf He sets in
operation the all-powerful agencies of heaven. At every step we touch His
God fixes no limit to the advancement of those who desire to be
"filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual
understanding." Through prayer, through watchfulness, through growth
in knowledge and understanding, they are to be " strengthened with
all might, according to His glorious power." Thus they are prepared
to work for others. It is the Saviour's purpose that human beings,
purified and sanctified, shall be His helping hand. For this great
privilege let us give thanks to Him who "hath made us meet to be
partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: who hath delivered us
from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of His
Paul's letter to the Philippians, like the one to the Colossians, was
written while he was a prisoner at Rome. The church at Philippi had sent
gifts to Paul by the hand of Epaphroditus, whom Paul calls "my
brother, and companion in labour, and fellow soldier, but your messenger,
and he that ministered to my wants." While in Rome, Epaphroditus was
sick, "nigh unto death: but God had mercy on him," Paul wrote,
"and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon
sorrow." Hearing of the sickness of Epaphroditus, the believers at
Philippi were filled with anxiety regarding him, and he decided to return
to them. "He longed after you all," Paul wrote, "and was
full of heaviness, because that ye had heard that he had been sick. . . .
I sent him therefore the more carefully, that, when ye see him again, ye
may rejoice, and that I may be the less sorrowful. Receive him therefore
in the Lord with all gladness; and hold such in reputation: because for
the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to
supply your lack of service toward me."
By Epaphroditus, Paul sent the Philippian believers a letter, in which
he thanked them for their gifts to him. Of all the churches, that of
Philippi had been the most liberal in supplying Paul's wants. "Now ye
Philippians know also," the apostle said in his letter, "that in
the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church
communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. For
even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity. Not because
I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account. But I
have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the
things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice
acceptable, well-pleasing to God."
"Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the
Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in
every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, for your
fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; being confident of
this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform
it until the day of Jesus Christ: even as it is meet for me to think this
of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds,
and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of
my grace. For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all. . . .
And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge
and in all judgement; that ye may approve things that are excellent; that
ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; being filled
with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the
glory and praise of God."
The grace of God sustained Paul in his imprisonment, enabling him to
rejoice in tribulation. With faith and assurance he wrote to his
Philippian brethren that his imprisonment had resulted in the furtherance
of the gospel. "I would ye should understand, brethren," he
declared, "that the things which happened unto me have fallen out
rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; so that my bonds with Christ
are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; and many of the
brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to
speak the word without fear."
There is a lesson for us in this experience of Paul's, for it reveals
God's way of working. The Lord can bring victory out of that which may
seem to us discomfiture and defeat. We are in danger of forgetting God, of
looking at the things which are seen, instead of beholding by the eye of
faith the things which are unseen. When misfortune or calamity comes, we
are ready to charge God with neglect or cruelty. If He sees fit to cut off
our usefulness in some line, we mourn, not stopping to think that thus God
may be working for our good. We need to learn that chastisement is a part
of His great plan and that under the rod of affliction the Christian may
sometimes do more for the Master than when engaged in active service.
As their example in the Christian life, Paul pointed the Philippians to
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
a fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death,
even the death of the cross."
"Wherefore, my beloved," he continued, "as ye have
always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my
absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is
God which worketh in you both to will and to do His good pleasure. Do all
things without murmurings and disputings: that ye may be blameless and
harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and
perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; holding forth
the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not
run in vain, neither laboured in vain."
These words were recorded for the help of every striving soul. Paul
holds up the standard of perfection and shows how it may be reached.
"Work out your own salvation," he says, "for it is God
which worketh in you."
The work of gaining salvation is one of copartnership, a joint
operation. There is to be co-operation between God and the repentant
sinner. This is necessary for the formation of right principles in the
character. Man is to make earnest efforts to overcome that which hinders
him from attaining to perfection. But he is wholly dependent upon God for
success. Human effort of itself is not sufficient. Without the aid of
divine power it avails nothing. God works and man works. Resistance of
temptation must come from man, who must draw his power from God. On the
one side there is infinite wisdom, compassion, and power; on the other,
weakness, sinfulness, absolute helplessness.
God wishes us to have the mastery over ourselves. But He cannot help us
without our consent and co-operation. The divine Spirit works through the
powers and faculties given to man. Of ourselves, we are not able to bring
the purposes and desires and inclinations into harmony with the will of
God; but if we are "willing to be made willing," the Saviour
will accomplish this for us, "Casting down imaginations, and every
high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing
into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ." 2
He who would build up a strong, symmetrical character, he who would be
a well-balanced Christian, must give all and do all for Christ; for the
Redeemer will not accept divided service. Daily he must learn the meaning
of self-surrender. He must study the word of God, learning its meaning and
obeying its precepts. Thus he may reach the standard of Christian
excellence. Day by day God works with him, perfecting the character that
is to stand in the time of final test. And day by day the believer is
working out before men and angels a sublime experiment, showing what the
gospel can do for fallen human beings.
"I count not myself to have apprehended," Paul wrote;
"but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind,
and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the
mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
Paul did many things. From the time that he gave his allegiance to
Christ, his life was filled with untiring service. From city to city, from
country to country, he journeyed, telling the story of the cross, winning
converts to the gospel, and establishing churches. For these churches he
had a constant care, and he wrote many letters of instruction to them. At
times he worked at his trade to earn his daily bread. But in all the busy
activities of his life, Paul never lost sight of one great purpose--to
press toward the prize of his calling. One aim he kept steadfastly before
him --to be faithful to the One who at the gate of Damascus had revealed
Himself to him. From this aim nothing had power to turn him aside. To
exalt the cross of Calvary-- this was the all-absorbing motive that
inspired his words and acts.
The great purpose that constrained Paul to press forward in the face of
hardship and difficulty should lead every Christian worker to consecrate
himself wholly to God's service. Worldly attractions will be presented to
draw his attentions from the Saviour, but he is to press on toward the
goal, showing to the world, to angels, and to men that the hope of seeing
the face of God is worth all the effort and sacrifice that the attainment
of this hope demands.
Though he was a prisoner, Paul was not discouraged. Instead, a note of
triumph rings through the letters that he wrote from Rome to the churches.
"Rejoice in the Lord alway," he wrote to the Philippians,
"and again I say, Rejoice. . . . Be careful for nothing; but in
everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests
be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all
understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are
honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever
things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any
virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."
"My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in
glory by Christ Jesus. . . . The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with