Paul’s letter to the Philippians starts out with the standard greeting, identifying himself (and often who he’s with), who the letter is intended for, followed by thanksgiving and prayer.
1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons:
2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Notice Paul is directing this message to all of God’s people, not just the overseers (those who oversaw the spiritual needs of the body) and the deacons (those who took care of the practical needs of the body). This means all, my friends, and that includes you and me.
He then proceeds to give the standard, ‘Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.’ I was about to gloss over this as it’s a common greeting of the time, and indeed we see it often enough even today. I and many others use this phrase as the closing to our own letters. But I wondered if we’ve lost a bit of meaning in our usage of these words.
Now I’ve said it before and I’ll probably continue to use the disclaimer; I’m not a scholar. I know there are subtleties to the original languages of the Bible that are far above my pay grade, but I am able to use apps and websites that enable me to look up the original wording and see the different usages and definitions to get the general gist of things. So I decided to look up the terms grace and peace used here and something wonderful emerged.
The term grace here refers to God’s (undeserved) favor, his lavish blessing. Peace refers to being restored in relationship, no longer at odds with God. So what we see here is a mini-gospel message, a beautiful reminder that we are restored to our Father and receive his extravagant blessing, not through our own merit, but rather, through ‘God and the Lord Jesus Christ.’
How cool is that?! It made me think of something Peter (my favorite Apostle!) said:
“So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have.” (2 Peter 1:12, NIV)
These guys understood the value of reminding each other of the good news of our salvation and of the promises we’re given as children of the King. It’s what kept these early believers standing firm in the face of ofttimes intense persecution. Wouldn’t we do well to habitually remind ourselves and each other of these very things too?
Paul then goes on to give us an example of what true Christian fellowship looks like:
In verses 3-6, he tells them how thankful he is for their partnership, letting them know that they are on his mind.
In verses 7-8, he lets them know they are in his heart.
In verses 9-11, Paul tells them they are in his prayers.
What a lovely picture of the fullness of Christian love, yes? But I find it rather convicting as well. It’s easy to have someone on my mind, and there are some I would even say are in my heart. And yes, I tend to pray for the needs of my nearest and dearest. Who doesn’t? But this is a bigger calling. This is a call to extend a Christ-sized love to the body as a whole, including the obnoxious guy in your small group or the teen with the eye-watering B.O. It’s a call to a sacrificial sort of love that is uncomfortable and, if I’m being brutally honest, is at times downright unappealing when I’m seeing through fleshly eyes.
However, the beauty of this, of the Christian community at its best, is that we don’t have to try to drum this love up on our own. It’s the lavish blessing of our God, that spills out and overflows to those he puts in our path, in our minds, and yes, even in our hearts. Indeed, this is the very thing Paul prays for the Philippian believers, that their ‘…love may abound more and more…”
His prayer in verses 9-11 is incredibly beautiful, and I may just dig a bit more on that in another post later this week, but since I’m already running a little long in this post, I’ll wrap it up here for now.
This section sets the tone for the epistle and it’s no wonder Philippians is called ‘The Epistle of Joy’. The circumstances the apostle finds himself in are anything but joyful. Indeed, I’d wager most of us would be hard pressed to write such a loving and encouraging letter while on house arrest, chained to a Roman guard, at the mercy of those who would offer the financial support required for his most basic human needs. Yet this is what we see Paul doing. What an excellent model for us as we go about our week, yes?
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!
Each week my favorite question is to look at the text and ask, what does this tell me about God? So I’ll be adding that to the end of each section, followed by the verses we’re studying for next week. Feel free to add anything you see that I missed in the comments!
What this section tells us about God:
Grace and peace are gifts from God. (vs. 2)
He will complete the good work he has started in us. (vs. 6)
The fruit of righteousness that fills us comes through Jesus. (vs. 11)
Next week’s passage is Philippians 1:12-18a.
Photo by Paul Klm, courtesy of Pixabay.