John Calvin Complete Commentary - Philippians 2:21 - 2:21

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John Calvin Complete Commentary - Philippians 2:21 - 2:21


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21For all seek their own things. He does not speak of those who had openly abandoned the pursuit of piety, but of those very persons whom he reckoned brethren, nay, even those whom he admitted to familiar intercourse with him. These persons, he nevertheless says, were so warm in the pursuit of their own interests, that they were unbecomingly cold in the work of the Lord. It may seem at first view as if it were no great fault to seek one’ own profit; but how insufferable it is in the servants of Christ, appears from this, that it renders those that give way to it utterly useless. For it is impossible that the man who is devoted to self, should apply himself to the interests of the Church. Did then, you will say, Paul cultivate the society of men that were worthless and mere pretenders? I answer, that it is not to be understood, as if they had been intent exclusively on their own interests, and bestowed no care whatever upon the Church, but that, taken up with their own individual interests, they were to some extent negligent to the promotion of the public advantage of the Church. For it must necessarily be, that one or other of two dispositions prevails over us — either that, overlooking ourselves, we are devoted to Christ, and those things that are Christ’ or that, unduly intent on our own advantage, we serve Christ in a superficial manner.

From this it appears, how great a hinderance it is to Christ’ ministers to seek their own interests. Nor is there any force in these excuses: “ do harm to no one“ — “ must have a regard, also, to my own advantage” — “ am not so devoid of feeling as not to be prompted by a regard to my own advantage.” For you must give up your own right if you would discharge your duty: a regard to your own interests must not be put in preference to Christ’ glory, or even placed upon a level with it. Whithersoever Christ calls you, you must go promptly, leaving off all other things. Your calling ought to be regarded by you in such a way, that you shall turn away all your powers of perception from everything that would impede you. It might be in your power to live elsewhere in greater opulence, but God has bound you to the Church, which affords you but a very moderate sustenance: you might elsewhere have more honor, but God has assigned you a situation, in which you live in a humble style: (145) you might have elsewhere a more salubrious sky, or a more delightful region, but it is here that your station is appointed. You might wish to have to do with a more humane people: you feel offended with their ingratitude, or barbarity, or pride; in short, you have no sympathy with the disposition or the manners of the nation in which you are, but you must struggle with yourself, and do violence in a manner to opposing inclinations, that you may (146) keep by the trade you have got; (147) for you are not free, or at your own disposal. In fine, forget yourself, if you would serve God.

If, however, Paul reproves so severely those who were influenced by a greater concern for themselves than for the Church, what judgment may be looked for by those who, while altogether devoted to their own affairs, make no account of the edification of the Church? However they may now flatter themselves, God will not spare them. An allowance must be given to the ministers of the Church to seek their own interests, so as not to be prevented from seeking the kingdom of Christ; but in that case they will not be represented as seeking their own interests, as a man’ life is estimated according to its chief aim. When he says all, we are not to understand the term denoting universality, as though it implied that there was no exception, for there were others also, such as Epaphroditus, (148) but there were few of these, and he ascribes to all what was very generally prevalent.

When, however, we hear Paul complaining, that in that golden age, in which all excellences flourished, that there were so few that were rightly affected, (149) let us not be disheartened, if such is our condition in the present day: only let every one take heed to himself, that he be not justly reckoned to belong to that catalogue. I should wish, however, that Papists would answer me one question — where Peter was at that time, for he must have been at Rome, if what they say is true. O the sad and vile description that Paul gave of him! They utter, therefore, mere fables, when they pretend that he at that time presided over the Church of Rome. Observe, that the edification of the Church is termed the things of Christ, because we are truly engaged in his work, when we labor in the cultivation of his vineyard.



(145) “Sans estre en plus grande reputation;” — “ being in very great reputation.”

(146) “En sorte que tu to contentes du lieu qui t’ ordonné et que t’ a ta charge;” — “ as to content yourself with the place that is appointed for you, and employ yourself in your own department.”

(147) See Calvin on the Corinthians, vol. 1, p. 249.

(148) “Car il y en auoit d’ qui auoyent plus grand soin de l’ de Dieu, que d’ comme Epaphrodite;” — “ there were others of them that had greater concern as to the Church of God, than as to themselves, such as Epaphroditus.”

(149) “Qu’ y auoit si peu de gens sages et qui eussent vn cœ entier a nostre Seigneur;” — “ there were so few persons that were wise, and had devotedness of heart to our Lord.”