“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.”
The book of Philippians can be summed up in one word: joy! Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, repeatedly called Christians to be joyful and to rejoice. Few could be more qualified to call for relentless joy in the midst of trials than Paul. Writing from a dark and dirty jail cell was a powerful encouragement to believers in his day as well as in our time. In fact, Philippians is one of four prison epistles, along with Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon, all rich in encouragement and firmly grounded in faith.
Would believers today describe life as joyful? It seems many Christians feel joyful only under certain circumstances. When good health is enjoyed, career success is measurable, and children are behaving, we live in joy. Yet, when an ill wind blows, our joy tends to be snuffed out, leaving a vacancy for frustration and disappointment. Paul is writing, in part, to demonstrate that true joy is not dependent upon circumstances. In fact, the joy of which Paul writes is so centered upon Christ that there is nothing of this world that can cause it to waver. It is as the prophet Nehemiah implored his people in the Old Testament, “Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
The recipients of Paul’s letter lived in the city of Philippi which was founded by Philip, the father of Alexander the Great. At one time, Philippi was a commercial center of the ancient world because of the wealth of its gold and silver mines. This city is significant in Scripture due to the church that Paul established there. For the most part, the congregation in Philippi were poor and struggling. This made them prime targets for persecution and attacks by false teachers. Words of encouragement and truth were desperately needed and graciously provided through the inspired words of Paul.
It is often tempting to rush through the introductory verses when reading the letters of the New Testament. However, the opening words of Philippians establishes the very heartbeat of the entire letter. The opening verses can be summarized with four words: servants, saints, grace, and peace.
Paul first identifies himself and his missionary companion, Timothy, as servants of Christ Jesus. This particular word identifies them as bondservants who choose to remain under the leadership of their master. The bondservant had no personal rights as he existed solely for the service of his master. In the first century, Roman servants functioned within a hierarchy. Some in these colonies performed menial tasks, while others carried significant responsibilities. Regardless of circumstance, Paul’s choice of introduction would have conjured to the reader's mind an image of a servant who was owned by the master.
It can make us uncomfortable today to read of such terminology because of the horrific injustices of people of which we are well aware. However, understood within the biblical context, the picture of a servant is an apt illustration of the life of a true child of God. Paul makes it clear that he lives in complete submission to Jesus and considers it to be the highest privilege to be under the Lordship of Christ Himself. Christians live for the pleasure and glory of no one other than the Lord and seek to do His will no matter the cost.
Rarely would modern Christians consider themselves as saints. Typically, the term is associated with the idea of some “super-Christian.” However, to be a saint means to be holy and to be separate from the world. As Paul writes to the Christians that belong to the church in Philippi, he refers to them as saints. This is a helpful reminder that believers are to live with a continual awareness of the presence of God and to live in the world, but never to be of the world. As Christ-followers, we are to live in a way that shows we belong to the Lord. It is never about our own inherent worthiness, for we have none. But, with Christ’s righteousness imputed to us, we can now live in holiness. Because of Jesus, we are worthy to be called saints.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father
What a profound expression of the blessings lavished upon a child of God! Christians have been given grace from the Lord that results in peace. It was customary for Jews to greet each other with a word of peace (shalom) and the traditional greeting of the Greek believers was to mention the grace (charis) of God. With this beautiful expression, Paul blends together the customs of both the Jews and the Greeks to demonstrate that believers are one in Christ.
Note that the grace we have been given and the peace we enjoy are gifts from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. The new life Christians receive is owed to the kindness and mercy of God. Our right standing before Him is due entirely to the work of Jesus. It is for this reason that we rightly see ourselves as servants of God and seek to glorify Him above all else.
Live today as a servant of Christ and seek to live in holiness. As you do, enjoy the grace and peace God has given you and look for ways to display the changes God has made in your life so that others would come to experience the saving redemption of Jesus!