Introduction to Philippians: Foundation for Joy
October 6, 2019
Today, we are going to begin what I think should be an important time in our church as we begin to take the time between the sections of Luke as Travis teaches through them, to look at Paul’s letter to the Philippians. So, what’s going to happen is whenever Travis is up here, he’s going to be continuing through exposition of Luke to help us better understand the foundation and essential truths from the person and work of Christ that we need to know as a church. And when I’m up here, I’m going to be working through and expositing this rich epistle from Paul. And I am overjoyed to be able to begin this study with you and for us as a church to take deep look into this book because there is so much in this book that will be so helpful for us as a church to help us to live faithfully in the time I just talked about that we are living in now—and what looks honestly to become an even more increasingly difficult future for us in this church and for us in our country.
In the book of Philippians, we will come to a better understanding of what true humility is. We’ll come to a better understanding of what real unity in the church looks like. We will come to see and understand what our identity in Christ is and what it means to us. We’ll come to understand what true partnership in ministry looks like. We will see in it examples of how we are supposed to live, what our attitudes should be. We’ll see examples of these laid out for us to look and learn from. We will see how to deal with opposition. We will see and understand how we are to reconcile with one another, to understand how we are supposed to suffer well. We will have a better understanding of who Jesus Christ is, what it looks like to think as a Christian, to have the mind of Christ. We’ll see the importance of giving, the necessity of true Christian contentment, what it means and looks like to persevere in the faith. We’ll see how sanctification works, roles and responsibilities there, what it means to be a citizen of heaven while living on earth. And of course, what it’s most famous for, we will learn what true joy is, what it looks like and what it’s rooted in. So I’m very excited to move through this book together. This letter from Paul to the church in Philippi holds great importance for us based on that list I just read, and there’s even more than that.
Historically, the city of Philippi has a lot of importance also. Philippi is named after Philip of Macedon, who really established the city. It was there before, but he’s the one who established it and gave its name to it in 356 B.C. Philip was the first great leader of Macedon, and he’s the one who named it after himself. We don’t know much about him because through history, he’s been overshadowed by his much more famous son, Alexander, whom we know as Alexander the Great. And although the city of Philippi came under Roman control in 168 B.C., the city didn’t come closely associated with any real important Roman history until about 120 years later in 42 B.C., when it was the site of the last great battle of the Republican War. The Republican War was the battle when the forces led by Antony and Octavian defeated the army of Brutus and Cassius, the ones who assassinated Julius Caesar. Antony and Octavian rewarded the city by giving it the status of a Roman colony. They settled many veterans from that battle right there in the city. Then eleven years later after that battle was the Battle of Actium in 31 B.C., where Octavian, who is also better known as Caesar Augustus, defeated Antony and Cleopatra. And Caesar Augustus took even more, then, of Antony’s now defeated forest and he settled them in Philippi also. So Philippi recognized itself even at the time of Paul as a very important historical city and the inhabitants there took great pride in the fact they were a Roman community and at what had taken place there.
However, despite that exciting kind of bit of history, what that city is most known for now—the most important piece of history, the most lasting piece of history—is something that probably seemed completely insignificant at the time—a letter that the relatively small church of Philippi received from a Roman prisoner. Paul, the Apostle, imprisoned in Rome, writing a letter to this church that he helped to establish, has dwarfed the significance of what was at that time one of the most important wars for a kingdom that now no longer exists. Meanwhile, the message of that letter—the letter of the book of Philippians—continues to minister to and strengthen the citizens of the heavenly kingdom that will never pass away. It is, therefore, very hard to exaggerate the importance of what we see going on in Acts 16. And you should actually turn there in your Bibles right now. Turn to the Book of Acts, Chapter 16 because it’s here we see the origin of the church of Philippi with one of the most important milestones in world history. Again, something that probably didn’t seem like a big deal at the time but is now incredibly significant. So we’re going to take just a moment and read most of Acts 16 together. So Acts 16 starting in verse 6:
*And they went through [this is Paul and his companions] the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
*So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatria, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.
*As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who’s had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.
*But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
*About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there as a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that he prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.
*But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.” And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens. So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed.*
So we see here—in what is going to be a very long introduction, just so you know—we see in these first few verses in Acts 16 that Paul and Silas are joined by Timothy, and they are making their way through the cities, delivering to the believers in the cities and the churches in the cities decisions that have been made by the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. In verses 6 through 8 of what we just read, we see that the Spirit is guiding them into specific locations. We’re told the Holy Spirit forbids them speaking the word in Asia, and then again in Bythinia. So they go down to Troas. We are not told exactly how the Spirit prevents them or what that looked like, but the point of these verses is not for us to understand that, but for us to understand that God is clearly the one who is taking Paul and his companions where he wants them to go. Paul has this vision of man from Macedonia asking for him to come over and help them. Again, we don’t know exactly what that looked like, but the point is that Paul and his companions are being supernaturally guided by God.
And in verse 10, we see Luke, the author of Acts, begin to refer to Paul’s group with the first person plural nouns, meaning it’s here that Luke joins up with Paul and Silas and Timothy. The group has an understanding, notice, that they need to go to Macedonia to preach the Gospel. That’s how they understand help. “Come and help us,” means preach the Gospel to them. They set sail then from Troas across the Aegean Sea. They go the island of Samothrace and they land on the edge of Macedonia in the port city of Neapolis and from there, they walk inland about 11 miles to get the city of Philippi, and it is here in the city of Philippi where the Gospel is preached on European soil for the first time in history. And it’s shortly after that first preaching of the Gospel that we begin to see the Philippian church emerging. When Paul enters a city—if you read Acts, he generally goes to the synagogue on the first Sabbath day—but it appears that Philippi does not have a large enough population to have a synagogue. Apparently in your city you need ten men, ten Jewish men to have a synagogue.
So instead, they go down to the riverside, which is where Jews and Jewish proselytes would gather on the Sabbath day if there’s not a synagogue. They find some women there, and it’s here we see the name of the first Christian convert in all of Europe—Lydia. We see the same God who supernaturally guides Paul into Philippi also supernaturally open her heart to believe the Gospel. And she’s apparently a wealthy woman. She and her household become believers, and we immediately see the grateful response of one who has truly been born again as she invites them into her house to stay with them.
We see the Gospel then continue to spread and the church continue to grow as Paul gets annoyed by a demon-possessed slave girl and casts out the demon and gets thrown into jail. Because even as Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown into prison unjustly, they pray, they sing hymns. Then when the earthquake happens, and the jailer thinks that they’ve all escaped and they say that they’re there, the jailer is so amazed that they didn’t prize their freedom that much, and he asked them, “What must I do to be saved?” And then he is added to the church in Philippi. When the ruling magistrates find out they are Roman citizens, they apologize and ask them to leave the city. They say goodbye to Lydia and the other brothers, and they leave Luke in Philippi. So the “we” narrative stops there as they leave Luke. Luke stays in Philippi and this is all taking place in the early 50’s sometime before 53 A.D. Luke stays behind in Philippi and he probably is one who helps to establish the church there and to get it going. That means there is a biblical precedent for what I’m doing preaching in Philippians because when Luke stops, it’s for Philippians. That’s why when Travis stops Luke, we go to Philippians. Works perfect! That’s biblical precedent for doing this.
Paul returns for a brief visit in Acts 20 during his third missionary journey. During that time in between, when Paul visits Philippi he has come into contact and much confrontation with the Judaizers. So he most certainly warns the Judaizers in Acts 20 when he comes back through, and that’s going to help explain later what’s going on in Philippians 3. One of the reasons that we know of for Paul’s third missionary journey was to collect money from the Gentile churches to help to aid the poor, mostly the Jewish church in Jerusalem. But it seems from 2 Corinthians 8:1 through 5 that the churches in Macedonia—so the most prominent churches in Macedonia are Philippi and Thessalonica—those churches are pretty poor and Paul wasn’t expecting to receive anything from them for this offering when he comes back through in his third missionary journey. But in 2 Corinthians 8:1 through 5—just write it down, you don’t have to turn there if you don’t want—we see Paul say this:
*We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—and this, not was we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.*
So we can see already some indications of why the relationship between Paul and these Philippians is so strong. So they depart again from Philippi in Acts 20, and this time they bring along Luke, and they’re able to get the offering back to Jerusalem. But shortly after that, Paul is arrested. He spends two years as a prisoner in Caesarea and in the year 59 or 60 Paul appeals to Caesar and heads to Rome under guard—still a prisoner of Rome. Philippians 4:10 seems to indicate the Philippians knew this was happening to Paul, that this is where he was headed, that this is going on with him the whole time, and they’re concerned about it, but they’re not able to do anything about it yet. But according to end of Philippians 4, the church in Philippi was finally able to share in Paul’s trouble by getting a gift to him in Rome through their faithful brother, Epaphroditus. Paul then sends this letter, the Book of Philippians, back to the church in Philippi around 61 or 62 A.D.—so about ten years after he and his companions first walked up to that riverside and started preaching the Gospel to Lydia.
So given this brief contextual snapshot, we’ll start to understand why the letter to the Philippians is the most personal of any of Paul’s letters to the churches. This is his most personal letter. It’s the one in which he refers to his current circumstance more than any other letter. There are more personal pronouns in this letter than any of his other letters. But just because Paul clearly holds such a high place in his heart for the Philippians does not mean there were no issues in the church. That’s not what that means. It seems there were actually several issues in the church. It seems the Philippian pride that comes from being such an important city is still clinging to them a little bit, possibly leading to some of the issues they seem to be having in understanding their Christian identity, which may also be causing what seems to be some problems with Christian unity and a failure for them to reconcile. There are also more problems. They’re also suffering. They apparently need help responding rightly to opposition. They’re in danger of false teaching. There must also be some sort of pervading sense of discouragement within the church because of how prominent the message to stand fast and contend is throughout the book.
We tend to think about Philippians as the “Epistle of Joy,” and we should. We’re right to do that because it is in this book that Paul uses words for “joy” with greater frequency than he does anywhere else. He uses them 16 times in this letter. Actually, what is even more remarkable is the frequency with which Paul uses the Greek word that is commonly translated as “think”—“phroneo.” He uses that ten times in this book and only 13 times in the rest of his letters combined. So this points to the fact there’s surely something the Philippians need to understand when it comes to their mindset—when it comes to how they’re thinking. There is indeed much to commend in the Philippians church, but there is also much to correct. And the way Paul handles this throughout the letter is going to be a joy for us to unpack as we move through this book together, and you can start to see some of the foundations for these things being laid by Paul, even right here in the two verses we’re looking at today—Philippians 1:1 and 2—just in the greeting and the salutation. In these first verses, we can see a definite theme Paul will refer to and that he will expand on throughout the book. And that theme will kind of be the main, overarching point for our outline for the rest of this morning. A right understanding of this truth is foundational for understanding and experiencing the type of joy that Paul is continually referring throughout the letter, and that understanding is all about who we are.
For the first point under that heading, you can put the word “slave.” So if we look at Philippians 1:1 and 2, Paul says this, “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul identifies himself as the author and the fact that Timothy is with him. Paul and Timothy. Timothy isn’t the co-author—you can immediately tell that because right away in verse 3, Paul switches to first person singular—just him. But remember that Timothy was with Paul when he visited Philippi and when Paul began to establish the church there, so he is well-known and he is loved by him. So Paul here is establishing Timothy as a credible witness with them for everything he is about to share in this letter.
It is also interesting to notice that Paul here does not assert his apostleship. He doesn’t say, “Paul, an apostle.” Other than the letters to the Thessalonians and his letter to Philemon, this is the only letter where he does not do this. There are a probably a few reasons for this, but chief among them is that he has no need to assert his apostolic authority with the Philippians because he has confidence they’re going to listen. And it’s the same thing with the Thessalonians. But in those letters—1 and 2 Thessalonians—Paul simply introduces himself and those who are with him. He gives no title for himself. As we’re comparing it to the rest of Paul’s letters, it draws a lot of attention to the title that he does give himself and Timothy. This very first verse—actually it’s much different from how you would normally expect to see this. Anyone with any type of familiarity with the Bible would probably think the first verse would read something like this: “Saint Paul and Timothy, to the believers in Philippi.” But instead, it essentially says, “Slave Paul and Timothy, to the saints who are in Philippi.” The word translated as “servant” here is the word “doulos.” We talk about it often meaning slave, not servant. It means “slave,” it doesn’t mean “servant.” Paul is using it to refer to himself and to Timothy. In Romans and Titus, Paul also claims the title of “doulos” for himself in his greeting. But there he also clearly identifies himself as an apostle.
So this is the only opening greeting and salutation where Paul gives himself the primary title of “slave.” This is the only time he does it. That book you received if you came to the conference last Sunday night—Slave, by John MacArthur—that’s addressing this issue—what “slave” means. Translating this word as “servant” or “bondservant” is a bad translation, but we do it in our English Bibles because of the negative connotations that the word “slave” has in our country. Some people make the argument that the Jewish understanding of this word would have been different from “slave,” that there still would be an understanding for “servant”—that they have certain rights and privileges and possessions, but Paul’s completely Gentile audience in Philippi would have no doubt exactly what the word “doulos” was. They’d have no doubt. Slaves—“douloi”—were so common in Philippi and the rest of Roman society that there would be no way that any of the originally readers would have thought for a moment that it meant anything other than a person who was owned by another person—one who is completely subservient with no rights of their own. The slave in the Roman Empire was one who was owned by another, and they would have no doubt this was what Paul was referring to. The slave and the servant are different. They’re different words. Actually the word for “servant” is also in verse 1, and it’s a different word. A servant was more like an employee, someone who owned some of their own stuff. They had certain rights. They were generally hired for some specific task, and they had their home they could return to when their task was completed. But a slave owned nothing. Nothing that passed through his hands actually belonged to him. A slave was completely dependent on his master for a livelihood. The master was the one who provided food and shelter for this life. This life could go nowhere, do nothing apart from the will of his master. And this is how Paul refers to himself and to Timothy. That’s all he refers to himself as.
This helps because we know that humility is a key theme throughout the Book of Philippians. It seems likely Paul has been made aware of some lack of humility on the part of at least some in the church of Philippi, and it is along these lines that Paul brings up examples of himself and other men—in the famous humility of Christ in Philippians 2:5 through 11—all of those things to admonish the church to humility. Paul calls himself and Timothy slaves right off the bat so that everyone listening as the letter is read will know where they must also fall. If Paul and Timothy are slaves, then of course we are also. Everything will change dramatically for you as read and hear this book if you come to it with the understanding that you are a slave. This is the beginning of true humility. It’s not thinking less of yourself. Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself. And it’s not, as many people say, just thinking of yourself less—that’s also not true humility. True humility for the Christian comes when you think rightly of yourself. It comes with your identification of yourself as a slave, which granted, does not sound so humbling. It sounds depressing at first glance, and it might be if it weren’t for the fact of who the master is. “Slaves of Christ Jesus,” is what Paul says. Our master, our owner, is Christ Jesus. The one who is to have final say over everything that we do with our lives is our gracious Savior and Lord and Jesus Christ—the one who knows us better than we know ourselves, who knows and wants what is best for us and can be trusted even when it doesn’t make sense to us. Our master, the one who is in charge of our livelihood, is Jesus. That means it is him who is responsible for meeting our needs. He is the one who dictates where we go and what we do.
We’ve already seen this in Paul in Acts 16. Again, we don’t know exactly what it looked like, but Paul went exactly where he understood Christ wanted him to go, where the Spirit of Jesus led, it says. Sometimes it was more obvious than others, but Paul is confident his life didn’t belong to him anymore, and he was to give himself to sharing the Gospel and strengthening the church. Sometimes it was clear to him that the Spirit of Jesus was guiding him somewhere; sometimes it wasn’t as clear. But as a slave of Christ, he knew he was never going to ask the question, “What do I want to do? Where do I want to go?” We are to be constantly asking questions like, “What does God want me to do with his energy he has given me? What does Christ want me to do with his time that he has generously allowed me to have while I am on this earth? What do I do with his money he has put in my stewardship?” We are to recognize ourselves as slaves. If it were possible to earn your freedom for being a good slave, then Paul would be the first to do so. But once you understand who your master is, only a fool would want freedom rather than being a slave for this good master. So you can see, can’t you, how once you get past the negative connotations associated with the word “slave” today—when you truly understand just how wonderful it is to have Jesus as your master instead of yourself, or anyone else—how this would lead naturally to the ability and the desire to truly rejoice.
So that is point one in who we are. We are slaves. Point two in who we are is that we are saints. Again, this is odd because Paul uses what would seem to be the much less exciting identifying title and gives it to himself, and he reminds the Philippians they are all saints. “Saint” is not a reference to some super high-handed, exalted, special Christian the way the Catholics use it. On the contrary, in fact, “saint” is the most common word Paul uses when he is addressing believers in the early church. This is the word “hagios” or “holy one.” Now, our natural reaction if we really understand humanity, our total depravity—our natural reaction to the term “saint” being so prevalent throughout the New Testament—we should have an understanding, or we should be thinking that term shouldn’t even exist, except in the realm of mythology because the Bible is absolutely clear that there is no one who is holy, except for God alone. No sinful rebellious human should ever be allowed to call himself a saint.
Again, there’s truth to that—no person in and of themselves can ever rise up and become a saint. The Catholic church essentially says sainthood is earned as exceptional people throughout history prove themselves to be saints through their devoted lives and by performing miracles. But notice what Paul says here. He says your being a saint does not come from who you are or what you have done, but who you are in. It says, “To all the saints in Christ Jesus.” You’re a saint, you’re a holy one because of your position in Christ Jesus. Because of your union with Christ, he makes you holy—his righteousness is imputed to you. You now hold the position of “holy one” because of who you are in Christ. Nothing you have done, only what he has done and what he has made you. This is what that little church in Philippi was made up of. They were not a bunch of—despite how it might have looked—they were not a bunch of poor people suffering and facing opposition. They were saints—those who have been given positional holiness through their union with Christ. That is who they are; that is their identity.
Notice what else it says about them. It says they are “Saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi.” So we call this letter the Letter of Paul to the Philippians. That’s what it says right there at the top of the page in my Bible. That is the way it’s titled in a lot of our Bibles. And that helps us maybe a little bit to distinguish it. But that title in your Bible is not inspired and that is not the way Paul understands his letter. This is Paul’s letter to the saints in Christ—those whose identity is in their union with Christ who just happen to live in Philippi. There is instruction from Paul even in this form. Remember, the city of Philippi was very proud of their Roman status and the privileged role they played in Roman history. That was part of—we saw that in Romans 16—that was part of the owners of the slave girl’s charge against Paul. “These men are Jews, they are disturbing our city. They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” That’s also the reason they were so terrified when they discovered that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, that they had beaten them and thrown them in jail unjustly. They apologized to them and released them. You don’t see governmental apology often.
So Paul slips this fact into his introduction. They are those who have been made holy because they are in Christ Jesus, and they are those who are physically located in the city of Philippi. Their identity is “saint in Christ” and their location is Philippi. The city has nothing to do with who they truly are. It just happens to be the part of the world they have been placed in by a sovereign God. This issue is at the root of a lot of what we talked about at the conference last week. The main issue with social justice is this: Where do you understand your identity to lie? You need to understand that if you are in Christ, then the term “Coloradoan” does not really describe anything important about you at all. It’s merely the specific location in which you exist, the name on your driver’s license, the state that gets your tax money. If you are in Christ, the term “American” also describes nothing of real value about you. It’s actually an even less specific reference to your location. It’s the country your passport has on it. Being an American may mean you have certain privileges others might not have, and it might explain some of the behaviors and the activities you enjoy, but it’s not about who you are.
When you are in Christ, being an American is little more than having an understanding about the location God has placed you, the culture he has put you in to live out your union in Christ. It merely means that America or Colorado is the place that God has put you. It’s the place where I am to demonstrate where my true citizenship actually lies. That’s what should be seen in me. We need to keep this distinction clear. If you are in Christ, then you need to know without a shadow of a doubt that the person living in some other country, the person who doesn’t see what’s so great about democracy, who doesn’t even know what the U.S. Constitution is, the one who, while watching the Olympics on TV roots passionately against the United States, the one who would actually pick up arms if they had to and go to war to defend their county even if it were against the U.S—we need to know that is that person has been made holy by God through regeneration and brought into union with Christ—that is that the person who is just like you. That person is closer to you than a brother. Your neighbor and friend at work who sees eye to eye with you on every political discussion, the one who likes all the same things as you, who votes the same way that you do and seems to hold all of the values, watches the same shows, the guy who really gets what’s wrong with America and how it needs to be fixed, he maybe even has that God-family-country type of motto that he lives by, he’ll even mock atheism, he goes to church maybe even, maybe he’s even active at his church, but he has never really actually come to know Christ, he has never actually submitted himself to the Gospel and turned to Christ and faith and repentance—that person is nothing like you. Nothing.
To the degree that you don’t understand this, that we don’t understand this, that this sounds off to us is the degree to which we have become far too comfortable in our temporary earthly home. It’s the degree to which we have a deficient understanding of who we are in Christ, of how little we truly think of your identity. Who would ever say, “I’m a saint, I have been made holy before God, the Creator of the universe through the blood of Jesus Christ. He has taken all my sin upon himself and he has made me clean. He has imputed unto me the righteousness of Jesus Christ, the perfect righteousness of Christ that should do nothing but stand as a symbol of how truly wretched and deserving of wrath I am, but he has taken that righteousness and given it to me. Now I stand justified before him. I have been adopted as his son. I’m a co-heir with Christ. He has redeemed and kept a people for himself and I am blessed beyond measure, a recipient of nothing but grace upon grace because he has included me among those people.” Who could ever say that and then tack onto the end, “Plus, I’m an American.” How could he possibly have any type of understanding that adds anything to that at all? How can we become so deceived that we would ever think that is something actually important to who we truly are? You are in Christ. Where you live, what race you are, what family you’ve been born into, job you have—all that’s just the setting in which you live out the unspeakable blessing of your union with Christ. Our union with Christ is the magnificent reality that defines our lives. Don’t let the setting of where and how you are to live out this unbelievable reality have any type of controlling influence on you at all—ever.
So that’s point two—we are saints. Who we are—we are saints. Point three: We are part of a local church. So continuing with the thought our union with Christ is a shared union with the body of believers. It manifests itself as a body of believers moving together in unison, each part doing its work with Christ as our head. Despite everything we’ve seen already, most commentators agree that the most unique feature in Paul’s salutation in Philippians is the fact that he mentions overseers and deacons in it. They’re the ones who are with the all saints. “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.” This is the only time Paul ever does this in any of his epistles. So it needs to be looked at. Why does he do it? Paul’s not saying that there are saints there in Philippi and that there are also overseers and deacons and that they’re not the same group. The understanding of the word “with,” the Greek word “syn,” means togetherness or fellowship or harmony. The overseers and deacons are not being singled out as other than the church, but are within the church, yet are a distinguishable part of the whole.
Overseers and deacons are the two offices of church leadership. The word “episkopos,” which is translated as “overseer,” is the same church office as “elder.” It’s also often used interchangeably with that term. It is a compound word that comes from two words that mean “over” and “watchful,” “watchman,” or “observer.” The word for “deacon” simply means “servant”—“diakonos.” But in this case, when it is used alongside one of the words used for the office of pastor and elder, it is clearly in reference to the church office of deacon. So the name implies that this is the office that comes alongside of the elders and serves in a unique way with the elders. There are a number of different reasons why Paul has done this—has put these two offices here in his greeting. But clearly, he wanted the church at Philippi to be thinking about the offices of the church. Most commentators also agree that Paul is recognizing the special role that elders and deacons of the church must have played in organizing and planning and moving the church and getting Paul whatever gift they were able to get to him that he’s thanking them for at the end of Chapter 4.
But Paul was also most certainly thinking of the good of both the church as a whole and the leadership when including these two titles in his salutation. They need to know—these people, the Philippians—need to know the structure of the church, and the leaders need to be encouraged to do their job. There’s an issue in Chapter 4 coming up that we’ll get to eventually that required specific shepherding care, leadership and authority. And there’s also the fact that in order to deal with the opposition and the threat of false teaching addressed in this letter, a strong church structure needs to be in place. Paul is drawing attention to these men—the overseers and the deacons—because he wants to elevate them. He wants the church to look to them for direction, to know what they are watching out for, to know they are watching out for them. He wants them to know he has confidence in them. This is another possible reason why he didn’t identify himself as the “apostle” at the beginning. He wanted to remind them they had overseers who are watching over them. He wants to elevate their ministry in the church. The church in Philippi has been around for about ten years now by the time they are receiving this letter, and Paul has confidence in this structure of this church, as probably he and Luke had put together some of those men who are in those places, those position.
We also have to point out there are a plurality of overseers, a plurality of elders. Even here. This is always the understood structure of the church, and that’s why we have a plurality of elders here at Grace. But I also want to point that from just this one word “overseer,” local church membership is implied. Because to be an overseer means that you have a responsibility to keep watch over someone. Implicit in the job description is the understanding that he must know he has a responsibility to keep watch over someone and who that person is. We were going to go to Ezekiel 33, but there is not time for that. But write that down. You can go to Ezekiel 33, get an understanding of the seriousness of which God expects his watchman to take their role. It’s sobering if you’re in a position of leadership. There’s a responsibility they have—they are held accountable for those who are under their care, under their watch—they’re held accountable if they fail to warn you about anything.
The overseers in the church in Philippi are held to the same high standard. So the combination of words—in fact just using the term, just calling them “overseers,” is almost an imperative to the elders to take their job seriously because they will give an account for those under their watch, and so are the elders at this church in Philippi, the elders at our church, the elders at every church, hopefully. They understand this responsibility. They should. That’s how serious that we as elders are supposed to take this responsibility—the same seriousness as the watchman has in Ezekiel 33. There is an appropriate weight—and you might say a godly type of terror—that causes us as elders to look out over our members, to listen to the kinds of things they are saying and then to adjust our own lives and our plans and our own time and our own schedule based on what we see in here. Because we know that we have a stake in your sanctification and protecting you from false teaching.
Now, is type of responsibility even possible apart from meaningful church membership? The kind of thing that might make some of you uncomfortable—we take some time to find out about you and hear your testimony, get to know you better, involve you in the church more, get you into a position where you’re experiencing mutual accountability within the church, truly living where you’re working out your union in Christ the way it’s supposed to be, in which it’s your sole identity. Surely the one who is an overseer cannot be held to account to the person who just slips in and out of the church every week, only taking what they want from the service—really kind of letting it be about them and what they want, what’s best for them, kind of shying away from interaction with the elders or anyone whom they don’t see personal advantage in getting to know. That is not being a part of the church. That is just using the church for yourself. You’ve taken God’s good gift of the church—where his people come together and disciple one another and help each other grow into Christ-likeness—and he’s done that for his own praise and his own glory—you’ve taken that and made it about you. The New Testament is clear that you are to have overseers keeping watch over you if you are a Christian. That’s what defines these men as holding a particular church office, and you have no way to submit to God’s design for you to be under the care and watch of qualified men who hold the office seriously if you are not a member of a church. You have no way to take that seriously.
So point three—who we are—we are part of a local church. And when we say “part,” we mean member. Part of a local church—elders, deacons, members—this is what the body of Christ looks like. All the parts of the body coming tougher, fulfilling their role within the church with Christ as our head. If you’re content to just show up and try and take what you want from church, disseminate the teaching for yourself, pick out the stuff you like, leave the rest, don’t really do anything to help serve the body in any way—that is not the definition of being part of the body. That is the definition of a parasite on the body.
So what we are, who we are—we are slaves of Christ, we are saints in Christ and because we are both of those things, we also are and must be a part of a local church. And what was going to be a final long point is now just going to be a conclusion. The final point will just really serve as the conclusion to the sermon, and so I might go into a little more detail with it next week. But the common greeting in a letter in Paul’s time was the word “chario,” which means “greetings.” And Paul would change that word to the similar sounding word “chara,” which is means “grace.” So in verse 2 when he says, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” he’s taking that normal greeting, something that sounds like it, and he’s putting his theology into it. This is a reminder about what is amazingly true about every single Christian—“Grace to you and peace.” The grace of God has come in the person of Christ, providing a way of salvation, and it has appeared also again to us by opening our eyes to the truth of the Gospel, opening our hearts to receive it the same way it did with Lydia. And appeared again to us to regenerate our hearts so that we can believe the Gospel.
And the order of those two is significant. “Grace to you and peace.” It is because of this grace of God that has been given to us—because of that, we are actually able to know and understand what peace is. Peace with God. No longer his enemy but his son. This greeting is a summation of Paul’s theology and the Gospel. And that is an appropriate way to close our sermon. Notice once again this grace and peace comes from both God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace and peace do not exist apart from them, and they are an ever-present reality in those who are in Christ. So just notice here in these two verses, Jesus Christ is mentioned three times. That’s no accident. It’s to remind us of the fact that everything we are—everything important about us—is completely wrapped up in Jesus Christ. Everything about who we are is in, of, by, for, or from the Lord Jesus Christ.
So, Christian, make every effort to make sure you do not lose sight of this glorious truth—who you are, who you truly are. Every sin, every worry, every problem can only cause concern in you to the degree that you have lost sight of who you really are as a slave of Christ, who is simultaneously the saint in Christ, saved to be an active part of the body of Christ, whose been given grace and peace in Christ.
Let’s pray. Father, we thank you so much for your Word—just the unbelievable amount of truth, conviction that can come from just a couple of verses that are quickly skipped over by us so many times. Father, I pray that we will be a church who sees our identity only in our union with Jesus Christ, that you would help us be discerning as all of the stuff in the world— even this afternoon—comes in to start clouding that and causing us to think of things that are really of no importance, no value, that really have nothing to do with us. We pray that we would live in this truth and that we would be a church that models it, and that it would be obvious to each of us in here as we hold each other accountable, and to those who visit and to see it also. In Jesus’ name, Amen.