Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Philippians--Joy in Service

One of these days, I am going to do a complete study on just the openings of Paul's letters. An earlier study on Philemon, showed how the very greeting of Paul to Philemon set the tone of the letter and underscored its argument. Now I come upon the letter of Paul to the saints in Philippi and I find the same thing, although not in quite so grand a scale. Paul begins:

Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. (Philippians 1:1-5)

It is Paul the bond-servant who is writing this letter. Paul is not writing as an Apostle; he will claim and use no apostolic authority in this letter. He is not writing as Paul the prisoner, because that would interfere with his message of rejoicing.

Then follows this curious phrase, "To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons." How often have you seen a greeting like this. One would expect, "To all the saints" or "To the overseers and deacons" or "To the overseers and deacons and to all the saints." So what is Paul trying to say with, "To all the saints ... including the overseers and deacons?" It might be that his message is one that church "leadership" might be inclined to ignore, and Paul wants the leadership to pay close attention. And so if you are reading these lessons and you are an elder or deacon or in some leadership capacity in your local congregation, this letter is especially for you. For it is you who must first model a life of joy, unity, and sacrificial leadership. Then you can help others do so as well. One of the lessons in Philippians is that Godly leadership is sacrificial from the top down.

Paul then writes, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." Every one of Paul's letters contains this blessing of grace and peace. 

  • Grace: From the Greek CHARIS which seems to be related to the Greek word CHARISMA, which means gifts. Grace is that which provides everything we need to live a godly life. It is the means by which we develop the fruit of the Spirit. It is God's loving-kindness that flows from His covenantal dealings with us. When I read the word grace, I think of Lamentations 3:22-23 "The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness." I might also think of the Aaronic benediction, "The Lord bless you, and keep you; The Lord make His face shine on you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance on you, And give you peace." (Numbers 6:24-26)
  • Peace: An inner confidence that the sovereign providence of God works all things for the good. It is the foundation by which we endure and persevere. Without peace, there can be no joy in the face of trial.

And so the blessing of grace and peace is all about wishing the best that the life of faith can offer. 

Next, as he does so often, Paul speaks of his prayers for the recipients of his letter. Paul sets the tone of what is to follow by two words. The first word is "joy." In 4 small chapters the words "joy" and "rejoice" occur 15 times, and often with great emphasis. The second word is "participation." It would seem as if the Philippians are strongly motivated by the spread of the good news. In fact, they freely and willingly support Paul's efforts.

Paul has yet to mention that he is a prisoner of Rome. That he can speak of grace, peace, and joy is remarkable considering the perils and ordeals that Paul has lived through. Earlier, he had written:

Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern? (2 Corinthians 11:22-29)

The above was written before his arrest in Jerusalem, a two year confinement, another shipwreck as he traveled to Rome, and his current imprisonment. That Paul can speak of grace, peace, and joy is both a measure of the man and our confidence that a life of faith in Jesus the Messiah can truly endure all things.

Wednesday: Paul's Praise for the Philippian Saints.

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>


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