Text: Philippians 1:1-2
This morning, we’re staring a new series on Paul’s letter to the church that met in Philippi. Philippi
was the first place in Macedonia (modern Greece) where a Christian church was established. Read Acts
16 for the story of how the church was started! Paul wrote this letter while in jail – probably from Rome in the early 60s AD, although some think he might have written from another of his jail-cells elsewhere.
It’s important to remember that what Paul wrote to them was a letter, and not a textbook on
Christian doctrine. Paul was writing to a specific church, in a specific place at a specific time. Today, as we read it, we are like people listening in on a conversation. And a good thing too! Although we live in a
different place and a different time, with different challenges and circumstances, what Paul wrote to the
Philippians still applies to us and our situations today.
The first two verses of Philippians would be easy to skip over. But in them, Paul already hints at
how Jesus is to be the all-encompassing element of life as a Christian. Since he was writing a letter, Paul used the conventions of his day for letter writing. And yet even in the boilerplate, Paul managed to
highlight some of the big ideas that he was going to raise in the letter proper.
For instance, why does Paul identify himself and Timothy as slaves of Christ Jesus? Why doesn’t he
mention here, as he normally did in his letters, something about how he was an apostle of Jesus – a
special messenger, chosen by God to testify to the non-Jewish world that Jesus really is alive and that he is the Son of God, God’s chosen, eternal King?
And what does being a slave of Christ Jesus actually mean? Was Paul boasting about his special
status before God – saying something like: Like Moses, I am God’s chosen servant? What is it that makes someone a slave? How does it affect how they live their life?
Also, why didn’t Paul just say he was writing to the church in Philippi? Why does he insist on
calling them saints in Christ Jesus? Was this a particularly “good” bunch of Christians that he was writing to? What does being a saint actually mean – and how is it related to the fact that God is holy?
How does Paul’s own assertion that he wasn’t yet perfect (3:12f) fit into the fact that Christians are saints? Come to that, does a saint look any different to a non-saint? Should they look different?
And when Paul wrote, “May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace,”
was that intended to be as casual as a “God bless” at the end of a phone conversation? What exactly did
he mean when he asked God to give them grace and peace? Was he asking God to save them? Why
would saints need grace – undeserved kindness – in the first place? And what sort of a master is it who is interested in giving peace to his servants?
Amazingly, there are many questions raised in just two short verses! But for me, the thing that I
most want to remember is how these verses revolve around Jesus the Christ, and God our Father. Paul
and Timothy (like every other Christian) weren’t just slaves: they were slaves of Christ Jesus. The
Christians in Philippi, like all Christians, weren’t just saints: they were saints in Christ Jesus. Grace and
peace can only come to us from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Everything has to do with
Jesus. Sometimes, we can forget that and think that we can live a good, Christian life in our own strength and power. Paul would have none of that. Jesus is our example, our master, our righteousness and our hope. Without him, there’d be no way that we could honestly call ourselves saints, for we would sill be slaves of sin (Romans 6!)
The challenge of the gospel for us is to constantly put our focus back onto Jesus – and to allow all
that he is, as well as all that we are in and through and because of him to dictate how we live our lives.
That was true for Paul, Timothy and the Philippians. And it’s true for us sill.