For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, rejoicing and beholding your order…
I. OUTWARDLY, AN ORDERLY DISCIPLINED ARMY.
1. Paul was no martinet, anxious about the pedantry of the parade ground, but he knew the need of organization and drill — a place for every man and every man in his place. Order does not merely mean obedience to authority. There may be equal order under widely different forms of polity. The legionaries were drawn up in close ranks, the light armed skirmishers more loosely. In the one case the phalanx was more, and the individual less; in the other, more play was given to the single man; but the difference between them was not that of order and disorder, but that of two systems, each organized but on different principles, and for different purposes.
2. Some Churches give more weight to the principle of authority; others to that of individuality; but the former has no right to reproach the other as necessarily defective in order. Some Churches are all drill; the Churches of looser organization are in danger of making too little of organization. But both need that all their members should be more penetrated with the sense of unity, and should fill each his place in the work of the body. The proportion of idlers in all Churches is a scandal and a weakness. However officered a Church may be, no joy would fill an apostle's heart in beholding it, if the mass of its members had no share in its activities. Every society of professed Christians should be like a man-of-war's crew, each of whom knows the exact inch where he has to stand when the whistle sounds, and the precise thing he has to do in gun drill.
II. INWARDLY, A STEDFAST FAITH.
1. Perfection of discipline is not enough. That may stiffen into routine if there be not something deeper. We want life even more than order. The soldiers who set David on the throne were "men that could keep rank, they were not of a double heart" — discipline and whole-hearted enthusiasm. Both are needed. If there be not courage and devotion, there is nothing worth disciplining. The Church that has the most complete order and not also steadfastness of faith will be like the German armies, all pipe-clay and drill, which ran like hares before the ragged levies which the French revolution flung across the border.
2. If the rendering "steadfastness" be adopted, the phrase will mean "firmness which characterizes your faith." But some propose "foundation," that which is made steadfast, in which case the meaning will either be "the firm foundation (for your lives) which consists of your faith," or, "the firm foundation which your faith has." Paul rejoices, seeing that their faith towards Christ has a basis unshaken by assaults.
3. Such a rock foundation and consequent steadfastness must faith have, if it is to be worthy of the name, and to manifest its true power. A tremulous faith may be a true faith, but the very idea of faith implies solid assurance and fixed confidence. It should not be like a card castle that the light breath of a scornful laugh will throw down, but "a tower of strength that stands foursquare to all the winds that blow." We should seek to make it so, nor let the fluctuations of our hearts cause it to fluctuate. And that we may do so we must keep up a true and close communion with Jesus Christ.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ.