Philippians: A Personal Letter from Paul
© C. O. Bishop 9/15/17 Cornell Estates 9/17/17
Philippians 1:1, 2
When we read the Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the church at Philippi, we can sense the relationship he had with the believers in that church: This is a very personal letter. It is written to people who knew and loved Paul, and were loved by him in return. They were his friends! I believe it was also intended to be a “circular” letter, as all his epistles have been regarded, but the primary recipients were the believers; the church, at Philippi.
The apparent date is around A.D. 64, and it was evidently written from prison. There has been some controversy as to which prison, and even which time he was in prison, but the references to “the palace” in 1:13, and the greeting from “…they of Caesar’s household…”, in 4:22 seem to make it clear that his incarceration was in Rome, which would also agree with Acts 28. Undoubtedly there were other imprisonments, as we know from Paul’s own testimony, and, in fact, one was actually in the city of Philippi (which we can read in Acts 16). But this specific imprisonment was evidently in Rome.
One of the most impressive things about this letter is the lack of correction—these Christians were already living their faith, and Paul had no word of rebuke for them; only words of encouragement. The letters to the church at Corinth were loaded with corrective teaching, as was the letter to the churches of Galatia. But Philippi was a church whose faith had been strengthened by persecution, and which had joined with Paul in the work of evangelism, supporting him, as best they could, as he went from town to town.
1 Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:
2 Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
One of the things we can notice immediately in the opening lines of the letter to the Philippians is that it is not the same opening greeting that he uses elsewhere. In other epistles he begins by identifying his office (“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God…” or something similar). In this book, he just introduces himself and Timothy as fellow-servants: this church already knew who he was; they did not need his credentials.
As we read on in this book, and compare with the other epistles that refer to this church, as well as in the book of Acts (chapter 16), we can perhaps see why this is so. Paul has had a warm relationship with these folks from the very beginning. He had personally led many of them to Christ. They had given regularly, to support his ministry, when he, himself, was far away (Philippians 4:10-18)—evidently not because he asked them to, but simply because they loved him and wanted to share in his work.
So, since they knew Paul and Timothy, and were his partners in the work, he only identified himself as a servant of Jesus Christ, and he addressed himself “to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi,” as well as to the “bishops and deacons.”
It is important to notice that the letter was to the church, along with the leadership, not the other way around. Jesus is still talking to His Flock: He does not require us to go through the hierarchy of a priesthood, or any sort of ecclesiastical “chain of command” to reach the throne of God.
We approach God through the Person of Jesus Christ alone. God approaches us in the same way. We are invited to personally read and study and understand His Word… ourselves! We are not told to submit all thought and understanding to some higher-ranking church authority. We are each called, individually, to do three things, revealed later in this book:
- Know the Shepherd, personally
- Learn His Word, carefully and thoroughly
- Join Him in His Work, joyfully and faithfully.
Note that all three of these things are only done through the power of the Holy Spirit… they cannot be done through self-effort or Human reasoning.
To All the Saints:
Something else to bear in mind is that the word “saint” does not mean “pious” or “goody-goody”, or “self-righteous”. Nor is it in reference to people who have been “beatified” by the pope, or some other religious leader. The word “saint” simply means “holy”, or “set apart for a special purpose”. In adjectival form, “holy” can refer to a person, a place, a building, or an object. But in this case, it points out the fact that God is calling out a people for His name, and that those people, who have responded in faith, belong to Him. They are unchangeably set apart for His purpose.
Any object in the temple was holy because it was set apart for a prescribed use in the temple. If someone misused it, it did not change the fact that it belonged to the temple, and was holy. It simply had to be cleansed before resuming temple use. (There is a good lesson there, for us: how do we apply it to the individual believer? When we sin, we need cleansing, but we have already been permanently set apart for God’s service.)
If you have heard of God’s judgment and Grace, and have recognized that you are a helpless, guilty sinner, and have placed your faith in Jesus’s shed blood at the Cross as full payment for your sin, then God has made you a saint.
You still sin, because He has not taken away your will, nor your sin nature, but: you already belong to Him, and He sees you in Christ, for eternity. He will never fail to see you as holy—a saint, belong to His family and to His service. When you have sinned, He will simply have to cleanse you before using you again in His service. But your position in His family has not changed…and never will!
1st John 1:7-9 says, “When we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
(John 13:8-11, and 15:3—notice the context of 13:30—Judas was no longer there.)
When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, he was demonstrating this principle. He told Peter that anyone who was “washed”, was clean all over, and needed only to wash his feet, because of the dirty environment they walked through. He said that not all of them had been washed (referring to Judas Iscariot,) and later, after Judas had left, he reiterated that the other disciples were already clean through the Word they received from Him…they had become believers. Judas had not. They were already saints; Judas was not.
All a believer needs is confession, and fellowship is restored.
What about the Bishops and Deacons?
I find it heart-warming, somehow, to see that the Bishops and Deacons are part of the Church; not the other way around. The only reason shepherds exist is because there is a flock…and, the flock belongs to God, not to the shepherds. The shepherds belong to God as well. They are part of the flock they feed and care for.
It is also interesting to note that the bishops and deacons were always plural. A careful reader will see that this is the normal case throughout the entire New Testament. Paul sent Timothy and Titus, for example, with instructions to ordain elders (plural) in every church (singular). That is a subject for a different sermon. We will not address the relative merits of differing church structures and systems, beyond recognizing that this is definitely the Biblical case.
Grace and Peace
As in all Paul’s epistles, Grace and Peace are offered in that order—Grace, and Peace. It is impossible to experience the Peace of God, or even Peace with God, without first receiving the Grace of God. Both come from the source–God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is one more evidence that this book is strictly to believers: In John 8:44, Jesus said, to the Pharisees, “Ye are of your Father the Devil…” (So much for the “universal Fatherhood of God!”). In all his epistles Paul only addressed believers as his brothers. (There was at least one occasion in the book of Acts where he did address his fellow Jews as “brethren.”) But he only refers to God as being the “Father” of believers: he makes no exceptions!
God does not claim the whole human race as his children, though He is certainly their Creator. It is only by birth that we enter into a human family as offspring. And it is only by the second birth that we became the offspring of God—his children. Jesus told Nicodemus that only via the second birth could he enter the kingdom of God. (John 3:3, ff) In John 1:12, we are told that to those who received Him (specifically, those who believed in His name) was given the right to become (genesthai—be generated as) children (tekna, meaning, literally, “born ones”—offspring) of God.
So, it is not a light thing that Paul refers to God as “our Father”—nor is it simply a title, or a term of convenience. It is a fact: he has become our real Father. And so is the fact that he calls Jesus “Lord”—it is a fact, that every child of God is under the lordship of Jesus Christ…owing Him full obedience, loyalty and love. (Do we consistently live that way? Hardly….)
The names here, too, are loaded with meaning: “Jesus” means, “Jehovah saves”—God said in Isaiah 43:11 that beside himself there is no savior, and confirms it in the name of His son. When the angel Gabriel spoke with Joseph, in Mathew 1:21, he said “…thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save His people from their sins.” Do you see the implication? God said, that other than himself there was no savior. Then he said “call him Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins…” Jesus is the savior, and his name means “Jehovah is savior.” The deity of Jesus Christ is in view, here. Jesus truly is God in the Flesh.
By the way, the name “Christ” is not Jesus’s “last name”…it is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah”—meaning “the Anointed One”. So, we are greeted in the name of the Lord (master, owner, leader and teacher) Jesus (Jehovah, the savior) Christ (the anointed one). It would be a serious mistake to simply “brush over” these words of the first two verses as if they were only a polite greeting. The longer I study God’s Word, the more convinced I become that there is nothing accidental or casual about it. We need to read carefully, and consider what He is telling us, in every passage.
We have been addressed as the holy ones (the saints) of God, in the name of our real Father, the Creator God, and specifically, the Name of our Master and Savior, The Anointed one, Jesus, the Messiah. In the coming weeks we will go on to read what the Lord has to say to us.
Lord Jesus, help us to see ourselves as you see us, holy and blameless before you. Help us to learn to walk in that reality, and to be the Men and Women of God that you have called us to be.