“Although I have confidence — even in the flesh! If anyone else think that he has confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eight day, a descendent of Israel, a Hebrew of Hebrews, a Pharisee according to the Law, a persecutor of the church as to zeal; as to righteousness under the law, I am faultless! But whatever profit was mine, this I regard as forfeit because of Christ.”
As Paul recounts his Jewish qualifications, what strikes me is how often, as Christian pastors, we fall into arrogance as a result of our qualifications. No, we are usually not worried about bloodline in today’s world (unless we happen to be related to Billy Graham, R.C. Sproul, John Piper, etc…) but we do present ourselves often as having come from the right seminary, having attended the right church, having served on the right Presbytery committees, etc… How quickly we fall into the trap of desiring to be elevated amongst men.
In contrast to our sinfulness, Paul is not using his credentials to point to himself. Instead, he is using the credentials to point to Christ. Paul is essentially saying that if anyone thinks they have impressive credentials, that he can “one-up” them…but further, Paul still counts everything as loss compared to the work of Christ. Jesus is everything; our human works are nothing in and of themselves.
Think of it, as men we make monuments, but God raised the mountains. As men, we struggle to make it off of this rock we call earth, but God created the cosmos. As men, we create art; but God created the flower and the butterfly. As men, we might make sacrifices for one another; Jesus died on the cross as a sacrifice to pay the debt of sin that is owed by all of His elect. Folks, Paul’s point is not only that there is no room for comparison…but it is also, why bother comparing? Everything, Paul says, he counts as loss or forfeit because of Christ.
Does that mean that training, education, seminary, or background is a bad thing? If God is using it for His glory, no, it is not a bad thing at all. If we are using it as a matter of pride and arrogance, it is a bad thing. If we are using it as a measure of personal standing, it is a bad thing as well. If we are not able to say, with the Apostle Paul, that I regard all things as forfeit because of Christ, then even the best credentials can be stumbling blocks. When a mechanic uses tools to repair an engine that is out of tune, one does not praise the tools. One praises the skill of the mechanic. God is the mechanic and we are the tools in his hands. We deserve no praise for he is the one doing the job. We are at his disposal…they key is to be ready for use.
“Beware of the dogs! Beware of those who work evil! Beware of the mutilators!”
Having told the Philippian church to stand on firm ground, he now warns them about predators who will seek to draw them off of that sure ground of scripture. In the larger context, Paul is speaking of the danger of those who would trust in their own works for either glory of salvation. Here, Paul speaks more specifically.
To begin with, Paul warns to beware of the “dogs.” Some commentators understand the reference of “dogs” to be euphemistic for male prostitutes and the sexual activity that would be engaged in during many of the pagan practices of worship. There is some evidence for this, though I would suggest that, given the character of the Philippian church, male prostitution was not a great threat. The term, kuw/n (kuon) in Greek is also used to refer to those who are infamous criminals (again, not a likely threat to the Philippian congregation) and to those who are spiritually unclean. The Didache (an early, second-century manual for the Christian church) refers to those who are unbaptized and not yet ready to commune with the body as kuw/n (kuon). In a young and thriving church, this seems the most likely use of the term as Paul is employing it…essentially to warn them to be cautious and, as new people come into the fellowship, make sure that they are genuine believers before they are embraced entirely into the body.
The second warning is a little more plain. While there are many things that are referred to as evil in the Bible, one seems to be preeminent…that of idolatry. In fact, it can be argued that the other sins that are considered evil also flow out of an idolatrous heart. So, beware, Paul warns the church, of those who would introduce idolatry into the context of worship. One need not examine church history in that much depth to discover that idolatry is a matter that the church struggled with (and still struggles with) through the ages. Early in the life of the church some people started introducing images of Jesus and of the Apostles as “aides” to worship. The images were joined by statues, relics, praying to various saints for blessings, praying to Mary as a co-intercessor with Jesus, teaching that Mary lived as a perpetual virgin and was physically assumed into heaven, and raising up the councils as being of equal authority to scripture. Even in Protestant circles, how often strong personalities are seen to speak with authority not on the basis of content but simply on the basis of popularity. How often pastors take advantage of their congregations, using the people as little more than a stepping stool to achieve their own agendas. We are fallen people; we are prone to fall into idolatrous sin.
Finally, Paul warns to beware of the “mutilators.” In light of the context of verse 3, where Paul speaks of the true circumcision — what he elsewhere calls a circumcision of the heart (Romans 2:29) — it seems that he is speaking of those who would teach a works-based religion founded in the Jewish ritual practices. Those who would insist on physical circumcision (and not spiritual) in the church of Christ would be those who are the mutilators. Does this mean that Paul condemns his own circumcision? Not at all, as you will see (though he does not put weight in it). Circumcision of the flesh was the sign and mark of the people of God, but it was never meant to save. It was simply meant as an outward sign of an inward reality. In Christ, the sign has changed from a bloody sign on the males only to a bloodless sign on males and females both (for their is neither male nor female, but we are one in Christ — Galatians 3:28). If there is no inward reality, the sign avails nothing. And, where the sign has changed (circumcision to baptism), to insist on the physical, bloody sign is simply an act of mutilation (see how Paul speaks of those who so insist in Galatians 5:12).
Thus the warning is offered. The question is whether or not we will apply it, for the same wolves prey about our church doors even today. There is a tendency by many in the church to be broad and shallow in their teaching and, hoping not to offend anyone, no spiritual food of any value is offered. There is a tendency, in the hopes of ministering to everyone, to accept all things as equally valid and to embrace all practices as acceptable in the eyes of God. Beware those who would lead the sheep astray. Flee from the wicked. Flee from those who see ministry as a popularity contest, teaching only those parts of scripture that the people want to hear and not those parts of scripture that the people need to hear. Woe to the shepherd who does not open up the whole counsel of God. Woe to the pastor who is more concerned about his popularity with men than with his popularity with God. And church, beware these wolves, for they are clothed with the fleece of sheep, but exist only to destroy. Flee from them! And if you have been led astray as a shepherd and are guilty of acting this way or of abetting such actions from others; repent for the sake of your soul and for the sake of the souls of those in your charge. Beware those like this, says the Apostle Paul.
“Therefore I urgently send him in order that you might rejoice in seeing him again and also that I might be free from anxiety.”
Now that Epaphroditus has recovered, it is Paul’s desire to return him home…not because Paul no longer wishes this man to minister to him in prison, but because it is clear that he needs to be home and around those who can care for him well in times of sickness. Again, we don’t know exactly the sickness that Epaphroditus had, but we do know that it was grave and that the church “back home” in Philippi was concerned.
Here we find in Paul an illustration of what he was speaking about earlier in this chapter about counting the needs of others as more significant than your own. Though it is clear that he would rejoice to have Epaphroditus stay on, it is better for him and for his church family to return to Philippi and thus he prepares to send Epaphroditus home. How often we fail to intentionally live this way. How often Christians compete with one another for what they want, seeking to take care of “ole number one” first…yet no human is truly “number one.” God and God alone is “number one” and if we will genuinely seek to follow him, making sure his wishes are fulfilled before our own, then selflessly is the way we will live. And I should also note…that when genuinely living selflessly, there is little room for anxiety to raise its ugly head in our lives as well.
“Now, I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and comrade in arms — also your apostle and a minister to my needs — for he was longing and anxious to be with you because you heard that he was seriously ill.”
We are introduced to Epaphroditus; we don’t know much about him apart from what we read here, yet from that we can infer that Epaphroditus was the representative of the Philippian church who brought the love gift and stayed on for a season to help care for Paul. We also see that he had become ill — seriously ill — during that time, and Paul speaks further on that in the verses which follow.
What strikes me is the term that Paul uses to describe Epaphroditus…he is called an “apostle.” Some of our translations use the term “messenger” here, but that isn’t entirely accurate. Were Epaphroditus simply a messenger, we might expect Paul to use the term a¡ggeloß (angelos) or were he more of a courier, we might expect the term specoula/twr (spechoulator). Yet, in ancient times, an apostle was more than just one who brings a message on behalf of others; an apostle also carried with him the authority of the one who sent him — much like the modern notion of a political envoy.
The question is, are we then to understand Epaphroditus as an apostle in the same way that Paul was an apostle. The answer to that question is, ‘no.’ The reason for this answer is because we must also ask of whom a person is an apostolic representative. Paul refers to himself as an Apostle of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1, etc…). In turn, Paul refers to Epaphroditus as “your apostle.” Thus, Epaphroditus is serving as an apostle, an authoritative representative, of the church in Philippi. In addition, Epaphroditus is also a believer, a servant of Christ, which makes him Paul’s brother in Christ and a comrade in arms — spiritual soldiers against the powers and principalities of this world.
What is worth noting is that while some people call themselves “Apostles” in our modern times, that office has ceased with the establishment of the church and the close of the Canon. None of these so-called apostles speak with the authority of Jesus Christ and if they claim to, we must be wary. Indeed, they might claim to be apostles of their church if that authority is so given to them, but the Biblical term for those of us who lead churches is that of Shepherd — Pastor. And a Pastor is a servant first…terms like Apostle (at least when used today) only tend to reflect a person’s ego. Better to be called a fellow-worker.
Notice too, how important these people are to Paul. When one is incarcerated, to have contact with others is a gift of God’s grace. I would encourage you that if you know someone who is in prison — write them a letter today or make a plan to go visit them. Be that Epaphroditus to them; it will mean the world to them as they serve their time behind bars…and what a wonderful opportunity to witness the grace of Christ.
“Thus, I therefore hope to send him at once after I determine what will happen to me and I trust in the Lord that I too will come shortly.”
What we don’t know for sure is whether or not Paul ever made it back to Philippi. Some scholars argue that he was released from his chains and given freedom to travel again and later arrested and executed (some even argue that Paul made it to Spain during this time). Others argue that this is later in Paul’s life and that he would remain in chains until the day that he was put to death. We simply do not know for sure.
What we do know is of Paul’s longing for fellowship with these believers. And how important that fellowship is. God has not created us to stand alone as Christians; he has created us to stand and be in fellowship with other like-minded believers. And how often we rob ourselves of those blessings.
Yet, Christian fellowship is not just a matter of mutual encouragement and instruction in God’s word; Christian fellowship is meant, in a small sense, to turn back the effects of the Fall. The Fall brought separation and social strata and isolation. Yet in the church there is no black or white, no rich or poor, no weak or powerful; we are brothers and sisters in Christ. In the church one need not struggle with sin alone, but one has other brothers and sisters who will walk alongside you during times of trial. And, when Truth must be upheld and battled for in the culture and community, one does so not as a single person against the world, but as part of a larger body that will battle alongside of you for what is true and right.
With this in mind, several trends in church life have come to grieve me a great deal. The first is a lack of transparency and genuineness amongst the larger body. The second is the trend of people to “church hop,” bouncing from church to church because one person’s preaching is more interesting (or less offensive!) or because one is frustrated with a decision made by the church leadership. And the third is the tendency of people to “pick and choose” what parts of scripture they wish to submit to. People often say, “yea and amen” to a given text, but often do not apply it to their lives and get mad at the church leadership for holding them accountable to the scriptures and to church membership vows. When these things happen, fellowship and what fellowship is meant to point to is undermined.
Like Paul, may we long to nurture a sense of anticipation of the fellowship we have with one another in the body of Christ. May we look to Sunday mornings with anticipation, for here the whole body gathers to worship our great and glorious King, Jesus. And may we yearn for this fellowship to be sincere, striving to live it out in our own practice.
“he humbled himself, becoming obedient even up to death…even death on a cross.”
It is true, people understood the horrors of crucifixion back in the first century better than we understand the horrors of this form of death today. We certainly know all of the technical details of what happens to the body during the process of death, but the first century Christians witnessed the suffering and many personally knew people who had died in that way. Thus, it is often argued that the reasons that the first century Apostles did not describe the crucifixion in all of its gore is because such did not need to be described to them.
Yet, in light of many pastor’s tendency to immerse their congregation in sermon after sermon of the gore of the cross, it still seems a stark contrast to me as to how little the Gospel writers spoke of the details of crucifixion. Many simply say that he was crucified and they leave it at that. Why? I am not convinced that it was because of the intimacy of their knowledge of the experience…truly, the Gospel writers understood that they were writing for future generations to read…future generations that may be blessed perhaps to see crucifixion outlawed in their lands. Indeed, there were other experiences that were described in great detail in scripture — experiences that would have been just as commonplace in the first century.
So why is so little said about the nature of Jesus’ death on the cross? I think that the answer is found in the spiritual nature of Jesus’ death. While little is said of the physical nature of Jesus’ crucifixion, a great deal is said about the spiritual nature of his facing the wrath of God on our behalf — of the Lord of Life becoming sin for we sinners and bearing the weight of the curse upon his shoulders. As horrific as crucifixion may be in the physical sense, it pales in comparison to the horrific weight that Jesus bore in a spiritual sense. Indeed, he chose to be obedient even unto death — death on the cross — a death that bore the weight of the sin of all the elect throughout the ages. May we, as we meditate on the cross, place emphasis where the scriptures place emphasis and make much of what the scriptures make much of. Let us not forget the horror of a physical death on the cross but let us also not get lost in it.
“For to you it has been given, for Christ, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, having this struggle, one such as you saw in me and now you hear is in me.”
“For to you it has been given…” The term in Greek that we translate as “been given” refers to the granting of a privilege. But wait just one minute…this “privilege” that Paul is speaking about has to do with suffering for one’s faith. In fact, as he writes to thank and encourage the Philippian believers, he is essentially saying that persecution is coming and it is a good thing…a privilege to endure for the sake of Christ.
How radically different that mindset is from our own mindset in the west. For us, blessing is comfort and any form of suffering is met with distaste. We go to lengths to remove any form of discomfort from our lives (we air-condition our homes and our vehicles, we take medicines that remove the discomfort of sickness even if they don’t stop the cause of our sickness, we like easy and shy away from hard, it is not good enough that we have clothing and shoes but instead, people want the most comfortable clothing and shoes to wear…it is all about removing sorts of discomfort from our lives). In contrast, Paul is saying that the church should be excited. They have been faithful and because of their faithfulness, God is granting to them the privilege of suffering for their faith. While we might balk at the idea, the idea is intensely scriptural.
Doesn’t John the Apostle say, that if we are of God, the world will not listen to the things we say (1 John 4:6)? Didn’t Jesus say that the world would hate followers of Jesus (John 15:18)? Should we then not see persecution from the world as a sign that we are doing something right? In turn, should we not see comfort as a sign that we have compromised something that we ought not have compromised? How we have allowed ourselves to get things backwards in this modern age.
So, why does God bless his church with suffering and trial? Because that is the tool that God uses to refine his people (see James 1:2-4). Should that surprise us? It better not. If you want to excel in a specific sport, can you do so by laying back on a comfortable chair? No, you work hard and discipline your body, training it until you have mastered the sport in question. When you want to master a now academic subject, can you do so by ignoring the text book and playing games? Clearly not. Hours of long and intense study are involved. Growth does not come when we are at ease, it comes when we are challenged. The same holds true with faith. May we not shy away from the privilege of suffering for that faith when God so deems we are ready.
“Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and stay on with all of you for your advancement and joy of the faith.”
Here is a significant idea that is often missed in the life of the church and even of believers. We have been impressed so strongly with the call to evangelize (an essential idea) that we often forget that we are also called to disciple (another essential idea). How often we spend all our efforts on evangelism and then forget that evangelism is only the first step of a life-long process. It is interesting, while evangelism should include a relationship, it does not require a relationship to be present (the Holy Spirit is awakening the person to faith and belief anyway!). But for discipleship to happen, relationships are required. I wonder if people don’t engage in discipleship because they are afraid of committing the time or transparency that a genuine relationship requires. It is easy to stay busy and by doing so, keep people at arm’s distance. It is entirely a different thing to engage with people in meaningful ways over a long period of time…yet that is to what we are called.
And for Paul, as he contemplates God’s design for him, he recognizes that the growth of the people of Philippi in their faith is far more important than his personal comfort and satisfaction of leaving life in this fallen world and being present with Christ eternally. Thus, convinced of their need for him, he is convinced that God’s design is that he stay on to serve as a “discipler” for their good. Were we only to take a similar mindset toward one another. Were our churches, even, to emphasize discipleship as we ought and were our church members to value being discipled as we all ought, how different a culture we would live in today! Yet, culture is transient and thus can be changed if we begin at home and change how we approach the idea of “being disciples” and discipling others. May Paul’s mindset here be our own…and all to the glory of Christ.
“Now, I want you to know, brothers, that which has happened to me is rather for the advancement of the Gospel, so that it became known to the whole of the Praetorium and to all the rest that my chains are in Christ and many of the brethren, being persuaded in the Lord through my chains, are even more bold to speak the Word without fear.”
And this is the end of Paul’s attitude that all experiences are opportunities to glorify God. It is not that Paul gets noticed or honored. It is so that Christ gets noticed and honored and it is lived out in such a way that should encourage other believers to live boldly as well. Thus even in the Praetorium (the Praetorium was the term applied to Roman governmental bodies and thus the Praetorian Guard were those soldiers charged with protecting the government and its officials). Because of the boldness of Paul there are some who are coming to faith even within the ranks of the Roman government and becoming bold in their own testimonies as to the saving work of Jesus Christ.
Thus, O Christian, I set these words in front of you once again. Will you strive to be like the Apostle Paul? Will you speak boldly of Christ in whatever context you find God placing you in? Will your testimony be such that it encourages other “closet Christians” to come out of the closets and proclaim the good news that there is salvation from sins in Jesus Christ. Will your testimony of “Repent and believe!” be such that the Holy Spirit will use you in the glorious redemptive work of our Lord? So, Christian, will you do just that? The job of the pastor is not to fill the seats of the sanctuary…if that were the case, we best be entertainers and not preachers, teachers, and exhorters…the job of the Christian is to go out and to witness in such a way that people are receptive to the invitation to come. Ultimately, the Holy Spirit brings regeneration, repentance, and conversion, but will you be such a tool in the Spirit’s hands that he can use you in this glorious task? Paul bids you to follow his model.
“I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, always and every prayer of mine for all of you, making prayer with gladness because of your fellowship in the Gospel from the first day until now.”
In the military, there is something that they refer to as a “Tooth-to-Tail Ratio (T3R).” This is a measurement of the ratio between combat troops who are fighting on the front lines and the support personnel. While this ratio has varied between different wars and at different points in history, the idea that if someone is going to be on the front lines that they need people who can support them, is a practical one that dates even back to Roman times.
As Christians in the west, we often struggle to think of the church according to military terms. Things seem to be at peace and we have relative freedom to worship in the way we wish. At the same time, our real enemy is not flesh and blood. Our enemy is found in the spiritual forces of evil that are at work in this world and if we are going to tell ourselves that such forces are not at work in the west, we are deceiving ourselves and hiding our heads from reality. Indeed, those forces may be more visible in the oppression that Christians face elsewhere, but Satan is indeed at work in our lives, tempting us with sin and placing stumbling blocks in our midst while at the same time, twisting and warping the culture in such a way that people around us celebrate death and Satan rather than celebrating life and God. Whether we like it or not, the church is a church at war.
And since we are at war, it is useful to remember once again that soldiers on the front lines need teams to support them. How then does this apply? First of all, in many cases our missionaries are on the front lines…and not just our missionaries on other continents, but local missionaries in our communities that focus on reaching the poor, addicts, or perhaps a hard-to-reach group of people. Yet, let’s not stop there. The primary task of church leadership is to equip the saints for the work of ministry. That means the saints (all the saints) are given a job to do. Those who are still at work or in the community are again on the front lines in a sense and the job of the church leadership is to make sure that they have the tools they need to lead Bible Studies or evangelize co-workers, family members, and people in the community. Many of our older members may not feel that they are engaged on the front lines any longer (though often a nursing home is a great field for evangelism!), but here they are given the wonderfully blessed task of committing time to prayer for specific believers and teams of people who are on the front lines as it were — not to mention for the wisdom and equipping work of the church leadership. Our children, who are being prepared for the front lines can also be taught to pray for those in the church as well. Done well, in a multi-generational church, this creates a huge pool of “support personnel” for those on the front lines.
As Paul is reflecting on the Philippians, he recognizes how significant their support has been to his ministry and that recognition causes him to celebrate and to thank God for the gift of those who have assisted him in ministry through their financial gifts, through their presence, and through their prayers. That said, I wonder how often, when we face trials on the front lines of spiritual battle, we recognize that we have a large group behind us, strengthening and supporting us with their prayers and sometimes even, with their resources. As a pastor, I am truly grateful not only for the commitment of my people to supporting my family so that I can focus my attention on equipping the body for ministry as a full-time vocation. Having been bi-vocational before and having many pastor-friends who are bi-vocational, this is a privilege I do not take for granted. In addition, I am thankful that the leadership of my congregation also recognizes that while my ministry begins on the hill here in New Sewickley Township, PA, it does not end on the hill here, but through technology, can extend to other places in the world through blogs, books, and other forms of communication. And indeed, I make my prayers with gladness for the support personnel that stand behind me in prayer and provision. Let us all not think of ourselves as lone-believers on the battlefield, but as members of a larger body — a network of believers brought together as a church to do a task: make disciples and tear down the powers of Satan in our world. We are a people at war, let us not forget that.
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
When you greet others who are Christians, how do you greet them? Do you have a sincere wish for them that God would give them grace and peace or do you greet them begrudgingly, perhaps because of something that has happened between the two of you in the past? Or, do you even think about these things at all? Do you just say, “Hello, how are you?” and then just keep on walking satisfied in the pleasantries but not really caring about the answer to your question. Isn’t it interesting, so often, that we want people to be genuinely concerned about our welfare or about what we happen to be doing but don’t have the same concern about our neighbor…even that neighbor who happens to be a believer in Jesus Christ.
Paul sets for us a model that would serve us well to follow. May God give you grace and peace. The idea expressed by Grace as Paul presents it is that of God having a disposition of goodwill toward you, that he might bless your steps and your actions and that the world indeed would see God’s hand in your life. This is not a health-wealth or prosperity Gospel, though. For the evidence of God’s grace is not seen in money or physical well-being, Paul presents the evidence of God’s grace as peace in your life. Peace denotes a resting in God’s hand of mercy. It is a deliverance from the Evil One and his power. And later in this letter, Paul will refer to this peace as that which “passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7), because it is a peace that can be had despite the fact that you are facing trials in this life. Such peace, such resting in God’s mercy, is the result of God’s gracious hand upon your life (and while not always, often abundant wealth is a sign of God’s judgment…).
Yet, Paul also makes it clear where this grace and peace come from…God. Grace and peace are not found in wealth, careers, politics, sports teams, fancy cars, electronics, entertainment, computers, movies, status, fame, or anything else we might think of that captures our attention (and sadly also, our hearts). True grace and peace come from the hand of God and thus we should seek it in no other place but in God alone. How often we fall into the trap of looking elsewhere. John the Apostle closed his first letter with the words, “protect yourself from idols.” Indeed, how we need to here those words over and over again. And while we do that, may we train ourselves to take a genuine interest in one another’s welfare and the condition of their soul. Such is the heart behind the command to love your neighbor as yourself.
“Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to all the holy ones in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.”
Finally, we see that Paul not only addresses this letter to the people of the church, but to its leadership — the overseers and the deacons. It is certainly true that Paul speaks of other sorts of servants in the church…administrators, teachers, evangelists, etc… (1 Corinthians 12:27-30; Ephesians 4:11), but it would seem that these two offices serve as broader categories within which the other offices find their definition and qualification. Thus, however many offices in the church that a particular group happens to hold to, offices fall under the broad category of oversight or service.
What should also be noted — and is arguably more significant — is the reminder that the church itself does not exist as a broad and extended group of individuals. Believers are not autonomous, to put it another way. God has brought us together as one body — a larger institution — under the leadership and direction of officers. Like the Roman Centurion (Matthew 8:9), we are all men and women under authority…one of which is the godly leadership of the church that God the Father has raised up to honor his Son. True, there has been much wicked leadership through the generations — the unfaithful shepherds that God condemns (Ezekiel 34:1-6) — and while these wicked shepherds are often the ones that sear themselves into our memories, history has been filled with many, many faithful shepherds who labor in quiet obscurity amongst their flock. Though we like our independence, when we wander independently, we wander astray.
Thus, Paul addresses the entire church, a unified body of Christ, called and purposed to tear down the strongholds of the devil in this world (2 Corinthians 10:4-6) and making disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:19-20), all that the Father draws to the Son (John 6:44). This is a body made up of believers in covenant with one another under the leadership of Elders and Deacons, all to God’s glory. Were more of our congregations to think this way, I imagine that we would not have as many struggles within our churches and we would be quicker to weed out false shepherds from our midst.
“Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to all the holy ones in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.”
Paul addresses this letter to the Christians in the church in Philippi and in doing so, refers to them as “holy ones,” or as many of our Bible’s word it, “saints.” The word “saint” comes from the Latin word, sanctus, which means, “holy.” Holiness itself is a word that we use in the church great deal, but also don’t always understand. Biblically, holiness is not so much a state of being that is generated within you — often the society thinks of “holy people” as those who set themselves apart as gurus or in a kind of aloof manner. Yet, you don’t ever make yourself holy. We are made holy by another who is greater than us and who has set us apart for his own use — that would be God himself.
Thus the term “saint” or “holy one” or even “one being sanctified” is a term that has little to do with us and much to do with Jesus Christ who sets us apart to be saints. The question with which we are faced is whether we will be faithful to that calling or not. God has set us aside for his use in our salvation…he has done that work from beginning to end, drawing us effectually to himself. Yet, how will we respond to that drawing? Will we be sharp tools, ready for the master’s hand? Or will we allow those old sins to dull us and leave us dull. To preserve the analogy, tools are sharpened with a stone or a file and when put on a grinder to be sharpened, sparks fly — not the most comfortable process for the tool, but a needful one if it is going to be useful to the master. Which will you be?
“Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to all the holy ones in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.”
Philippians is one of Paul’s later letters, written while in Prison in Rome (c.f. 4:22), and towards the end of his life. This places the letter as having been written in the early 60s, AD. The Church in Philippi had sent him a gift (4:16,18). It was not uncommon, in ancient times, that those in house prison were to pay for their own lodging essentially, forcing them to rely on the generosity of friends and family. Such is the context of this letter where Paul is responding back and saying, “thank you,” to these generous Christians.
Though this first verse is little more than an introductory greeting, it contains a great deal of depth and ought not be overlooked. To begin with, we find Timothy with Paul. This is earlier in his imprisonment as Paul is speaking of sending Timothy to the church in Philippi with his greetings and for their aide (2:9). Yet, this is taking place before Paul writes for Timothy to return (2 Timothy 4:9) which is closer to his death. Again, this helps us to discern the timeline of Paul’s letters.
More importantly is the title that Paul applies both to himself and to Timothy. He says that they are slaves or (as is sometimes translated) bondservants of Christ Jesus. The term that is used here is douvloß (doulos), which is one of the terms that Paul quite regularly uses to describe his service to Jesus Christ. This term refers not to a mere hired servant, but to a servant who is bound (as a slave would be) to his master. As Christians, we serve Christ Jesus and Christ alone. We given permission to have two masters (Luke 16:13) and we do not serve Christ for a season and then serve another (as hired servants might do). We are bound to serve Christ until the very day we die.
This is a mindset that the modern church has largely forgotten. People are quick to live lives and expend energies for the things that they want, but when they get tired, weary, or frustrated at the direction that things are going, they bail out and do something different. Such is not the calling of a Christian. No matter what the cost, not matter where he leads us, we must follow for we are not our own. We, if we will be faithful, must grasp this notion and serve Christ, not self.