Our text for today comes from Philippians 1:1-2. If you are using one of the Bibles in the pew rack the text can be found on page 980. These are the words of God:
10 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:
2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The letters of the New Testament give us an inside look into the various churches to whom they were written. For instance: the church at Corinth had to learn faithfulness to Christ in a sexualized city. The Galatians were confused about Judaism and circumcision. In nearly every letter written to a church, the Apostle Paul is correcting either a doctrinal or a behavioral error.
His letter to the church at Philippi stands out because it is one of the few times Paul isn’t writing for the purpose of correction. The letter is written to update the church at Philippi about the physical health of a man named Epaphroditus and to encourage the church to unity and joy in spite of various challenges. More on that in a moment, but for now let’s take a crash course in the life of Paul which you may want to come back to this week.
Paul, known also by his Hebrew name, Saul, first appears as the man who held the coats of those who murdered Stephen (Acts 7/8). As a zealous Pharisee, Saul ravages the church in and around Jerusalem until he is confronted by the resurrected Christ on the Damascus road. Christ calls him to preach the gospel and establish churches throughout the world. For the rest of his life, Paul has one goal: to get the gospel to the ends of the earth. (Acts 9)
Using Jerusalem as a home base, Paul along with other missionaries took larger and larger missionary trips throughout the Mediterranean and Adriatic seas. During his second missionary journey around AD 51, Paul, along with Timothy, Luke, and Silas, leaves Asia Minor and enters Macedonia (northern Greece) and the first converts in Europe come at Philippi. (Acts 16) Paul converts a woman named Lydia and they plant a church in her home. As the ministry progresses Paul, as usual, begins to upset folks in town and ends up arrested. He converts the jailer but is asked to leave the city. Luke remains to care for the new church.
When Paul concludes his second missionary journey and begins his third, the primary purpose of which is to raise funds among the churches he’s planted to aid Christians in Jerusalem—and although the Philippians are in financial straits and Paul has decided not to ask them to contribute, they hear about the need of the Jerusalem Christians and proceed to give anyway. (2 Corinthians 8:1-2)
At the end of the third missionary journey, Paul’s Jewish enemies finally get him arrested in Jerusalem. He’s sent to a prison in Caesarea and finally makes an appeal to Rome. (Acts 23-25) As he’s traveling to Rome, the Philippian church learns about his imprisonment, and they send a man name Epaphroditus with financial assistance to Paul. While he’s with Paul, Epaphroditus gets sick and nearly dies. So, Paul writes this letter to the Philippians and sends it with Epaphroditus to let them know he’s ok and to update them on the state of his ministry. Philippians is thus known as one of Paul’s “Prison Epistles.” (Philippians)
Now, as I said, Paul primarily wrote this letter to update the church on the health of Epaphroditus, but he also knows the church well so he addresses several pertinent topics:
First, because they love Paul deeply and are heavy financial supporters of his work, what’s going to happen now that he’s in prison? Paul may be bound, but the gospel isn’t. (Chapter 1)
Second, Paul will not pass up an opportunity to explain the gospel, that Christ humbled himself and died for sinners. This is the message we believe in order to be put right with God, AND it also becomes the model for our own life. (Chapter 2)
Third, unity is critical to the success of the church’s mission. This isn’t blind unity. It isn’t unity at the cost of principle and truth. But, disunity is the great church killer. (Chapters 3, 4)
SERVANTS OF CHRIST
Notice, in verse 1 how Paul introduces himself:
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
Paul often introduced himself as an “Apostle” of Jesus Christ. Philippians is one of 4 occasions in which he only introduces himself as “servant,” Literally: “a slave of Christ Jesus.” This isn’t faux humility. Paul understands the teaching of Christ that “many who are first are last (Matt. 19:30) and “whoever would be great must become the servant of all.” (Matt. 20:26) Paul is only following the model of Christ who being the greatest, had stooped to serve us.
The name Christian means “little Christ.” We’re to outdo one another in showing honor. (Rom. 12:10) We don’t get our feathers ruffled because no one noticed us. We aren’t serving one another as a way to serve ourselves.
TO ALL THE SAINTS
To whom is this servant of Christ writing? “To all the saints at Philippi.” This isn’t “
Saint Paul, to the Christians at Philippi.” No, it’s “Servant Paul, to the saints.” A saint means a “holy one,” or a “set apart” one. Likewise, you are the saints at Lake Wylie Baptist—the ones God has set apart in this corner of the city for his purposes.
How does someone become a saint? “In Christ.” You are set apart in Christ. Saint isn’t a title you earn. It’s a title that is placed on you. You don’t achieve it, you receive it. If you have put your faith in Christ as both Savior and Lord, then you are a saint. Being a saint isn’t a reward for your good behavior. It’s a reward for Christ’s righteous life.
DEACONS & OVERSEERS
Among the saints at Philippi, Paul also recognizes the two offices of the church: deacons and overseers. Deacons are servants of the church. They help meet the physical and logistical needs of the congregation. Overseers are pastors or elders.
In every church Paul planted, he affirmed and installed Elders to shepherd the flock spiritually, and deacons were appointed to give administrative care for the church.
It’s important to note that neither these deacons nor the overseers/elders are priests. They don’t stand between you and God. They don’t mediate for you. Christ is the Great High Priest. (Heb. 4:14-16)
Your deacons are here to serve you. As your pastor, I am here to pray for you and exhort you and counsel you with the Word of God. But only Christ can bring you to the Father. Only Christ can forgive your sins. I can’t pardon you.
GRACE & PEACE
These first two verses end with a salutation: “Grace to you and peace…” Grace is God’s being gracious to us; that is, God showing us favor we do not deserve. And how can God be gracious to us? Grace isn’t God cutting us some slack. It isn’t God turning a blind eye to our sins. God shows unmerited favor to us because his just anger at sin was poured out on Christ on
The result of God’s grace is peace. We are no longer God’s enemies. There’s been a cessation of hostilities between us and God.