How much attention do you pay to the “Greeting” of a New Testament letter? Take Philippians 1:1-2 for instance:
“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.”
At first glance, these two verses do not appear to be all that illuminating. They appear to serve one purpose and one purpose only, to give us background information about the letter. We obviously benefit from knowing who wrote this letter and to whom it was written. The formal greeting “grace and peace” or some variation seems polite and affectionate but not very instructive.
I have to admit that for years I neglected the first few verses of many of the New Testament letters. I saw them more like a sidewalk leading up to the content rather than a door that opens up the content of the letter. Philippians 1:1-2 is not sidewalk, it’s a door! A door that opens up this letter to us and makes it immediately applicable.
One theme emerges from the content of these first two verses of Philippians that captures the main purpose of this letter. I wonder if many who have familiarity with Philippians would say that joy is the main theme because it appears so frequently throughout this short letter. The topic of joy is definitely an important part of this letter but it is not the focus of it. Joy is the fruit of what we are called to focus on.
It would be easy to see how mission could be the main theme of this letter. It doesn’t take long to see this theme emerging and developing throughout Philippians. But just like with joy, mission is the fruit of our focus not our point of focus.
Philippians is all about perspective—our perspective on self, God, others and the world. It’s also about the perspective we have of our circumstances (For Paul it was his imprisonment, for the Philippian church, suffering for the sake of Christ). To put it succinctly, the letter of Philippians is about how our perspective on life must be shaped by our identity in Christ.
We see this theme emerge in verse 1 with Paul’s description of himself and Timothy. He refers to them both as bondservants or slaves of Christ Jesus. This is why later he can say of himself, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (1:21). When he speaks of Timothy in 2:20-21 he can say that while others were seeking their own interest, Timothy was concerned with the interest of Christ and the interest of his people. Paul’s own perspective about who he is in Christ shapes his response to persecution, it brings him joy and it drives his mission to see Christ exalted.
Now pay close attention to how Paul describes those who are in the church at Philippi. He calls them saints. No, not like Mother Teresa. To be a saint is about having our status before God radically changed. We who are in Christ have been sanctified or set apart and now our identity is found in him (3:12, 20-21). Our standing with God has nothing to do with what we have done but what Christ has done in our place (3:4-9). We no longer belong to ourselves and we no longer live for ourselves. We live to please Christ and exalt him in everything (1:27, 3:7-11). The fruit of living for Christ brings a sense of mission to our life and a deep joy no matter what we may face.
The anthem over our lives, Paul tells us in verse 2, is one of grace and peace. We have become the recipients of the grace and peace of God through Jesus Christ. If this is true, then grace and peace ought to mark our relationship with God and others because of our identity in Him (1:7, 2:3-11; 4:1-3, 7, 9).
When you decide to walk through the door of Philippians 1:1&2 into this incredible letter, read with this question before you, “What difference does being in Christ make in my daily life?”
If you have never read through Philippians or it has been a while, I would encourage you to read this letter sometime soon. The women of Lifegate Church will be studying Paul’s letter to the Philippian church for the next few months in the Women’s Bible Study that meets on the 4th Wednesday from 7:00- 8:30 pm.
For more information check out our website www.lifegateseguin.com
Grace and Peace
Joshua serves in teaching capacities of the adult Sunday school, college ministry, as well as leading a home group of Lifegate Church. He is also on the preaching rotation for the Sunday morning worship gathering.