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Uncommon Servants and Unlikely Saints

Tom Pennington • Philippians 1:1-2

  • 2003-11-02 AM
  • Sermons


Well, it's exciting time for me as we begin our look at the book of Philippians this morning. It's been a wonderful week for me, actually several weeks, as I've begun to look at this wonderful epistle. And I can tell you from what I have already enjoyed and learned that you're in for a wonderful treat. My only prayer is that God would give me the ability to communicate it as clearly and as passionately as the Lord has used it in my own heart and life even this week.

Most high school and college yearbooks have a section called "Who's Who?" It lists the academically gifted. It lists those who have excelled in athletics. It usually has a bright and bubbly couple who are identified as "Mr. & Mrs. Personality." And most yearbooks usually have a category that I find extremely interesting and that is "Those Most Likely To Succeed." Those predictions can be true, but sometimes the most popular in school turn out to be life's greatest disappointments.

But I doubt your yearbook had a category for the "Least Likely To Succeed." But if you were to go back in your mind even now, you can probably think of one or two people that you thought would never make it in the real world and you may have been right. However, sometimes we terribly misjudge people. Perhaps you've gone to a high school reunion when you've met someone and been pleasantly surprised or perhaps even shocked at the level of success that they've achieved, at the changes that have happened since you knew them. They turn out, sometimes, nothing like we expect.

That's especially true when God changes a man or a woman. There may be many people sitting around you today that you wouldn't have wanted to know before they came to Christ. If I could take you back in time and I could introduce you to Paul and I could introduce you to Timothy and to the Philippian Christians before they came to faith in Christ, I think you would be shocked by what you met, by the kind of people that they were.

There's Paul, for example, a credentialed Pharisee, a fastidious religious zealot, willing to imprison anyone who disagreed with his own harsh brand of Judaism. A man who authorized the stoning of the first Christian martyr. He was a self-righteous bigot who put up a good front of spirituality. Certainly externally, everything seemed right, but by his own admission in Romans 7, inside he was filled with coveting and lusting of every kind.

Then there's Timothy, from a culturally and ethnically and religiously divided home. His mother was Jewish, devoted to Judaism. His father was a Greek, a Gentile. He was apparently raised by his mother and his grandmother. His father seems to have had little influence on his life. He was a fearful, fragile young man.

And that doesn't account for all of those who were a part of the church in Philippi. As we will see in a few moments, they were a most unlikely group to succeed in the Christian faith. But by God's grace, all of these people, Paul and Timothy and the Philippian Christians, became something that you and I would never have imagined if you had known them before. Paul tells us that they became "bond-servants" of Jesus Christ and they became saints. Forever, they will shine as trophies of God's amazing grace.

This morning, as we begin our study of this rich book of Philippians, we're going to examine Paul's brief introduction in the letter. It comes in verses 1 and 2. And in many ways, these verses are his standard greeting so we're tempted to just sort of run our eyes over them until we get to the meat of the epistle. Perhaps you're tempted to do that when you read it, but these verses are very important because they set the stage for us. We're going to meet these people and we're going to discover the circumstances in which they first received this letter from the great apostle Paul and had it read publicly in a gathering of the church just like this - now almost two thousand years ago.

In Philippians 1:1-2, Paul introduces himself and Timothy as bond-servants of Christ and he introduces the Philippian believers as saints. And then he includes in verse 2 his familiar salutation. Almost all letters from the Greco-Roman world begin with these three distinct elements – the writer, the addressee and some sort of greeting. Although Paul's letters have similar form to these other first century letters, they are also distinct. For one thing, Paul's tend to be longer; but more importantly, Paul uses his introductions with purpose. One writer puts it this way, "In contrast to most of the ancient letters which tend to be stereotyped, Paul tends to elaborate these formal items and, in so doing, everything Paul's hands touch, come under the influence of the gospel and thereby become distinctively Christian." Paul makes these common elements in ancient letters his own.

Let's look at these elements together. The first element of his greeting we'll call "uncommon servants." And this marks the writers of the letter. Notice the beginning of verse 1, "Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus." Uncommon servants - Paul and Timothy. Paul is without question the sole author of the letter. You'll notice the first person singular pronouns used throughout. For example, verse 3, "I thank my God in my remembrance of you." Verse 7, "For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart." Verse 8, "For God is my witness, how I long for you." Verse 9, "And this I pray." Verse 12, "Now I want you to know, brethren," and so forth. And it's so throughout the letter. So Paul is the sole author of this letter, but he includes Timothy. In fact, in six of Paul's letters, he mentions Timothy in the opening – here in Philippians, in 1 and 2 Thessalonians, in 2 Corinthians, Philemon and Colossians. In all of those letters, Timothy is included. This is very rare in the ancient world. Including one's companions in the greeting was almost never done in the letters of that time. The fact that Paul does it so frequently I think highlights the humility of the apostle. He's no prima donna looking to grab all the attention. Instead, he's a humble man eager to share the limelight with those who serve alongside of him.

There are several reasons, I think, Paul may have mentioned Timothy or included him in the opening of this letter. First of all, it's likely that Timothy served as Paul's amanuensis or his secretary. In other words, Paul dictated the letters and Timothy wrote them down. This apparently was Paul's practice. You can see that in 2 Thessalonians 3:17 where he refers to this practice. It's very possible that serving in this capacity was part of Timothy's regular service to Paul.

A second reason for including Timothy in this greeting is that Timothy was very well-known to the Philippians. You'll notice in chapter 2 and verse 19, he mentions Timothy and he says, verse 22, "You know of his proven worth." The Philippians knew of Timothy and respected him for his ministry. Timothy was present when the church was founded as we'll see in a few moments when we go back to Acts 16. Timothy was there. He saw the Lord establish this dear church.

A third reason that I think Paul included Timothy in this greeting, is that Paul is about to send Timothy to them. You'll notice again in chapter 2, verse 19, "But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly." So Paul wants to provide Timothy with some of his own apostolic authority so he includes him in the greeting. In fact, usually Paul will refer to himself as an apostle in his greetings and then he'll mention his companions. Here he puts himself and Timothy on an equal footing and I think, in so doing, reminds the people who are about to receive Timothy shortly that he comes as a fellow servant of the apostle Paul.

But there's another reason Paul may have linked his name with Timothy's in this greeting. I think Paul wanted to teach the Philippians a lesson that they desperately needed to learn and that lesson is humility. Remember that as we'll see as we get into this letter if you're familiar with it at all that there was a lot of infighting, there was disunity, and there was the pursuit of selfish ambition in this church. And Paul, by including himself along with Timothy side by side as brothers in Christ, underscores and models the very humility that he will later teach.

Paul first met Timothy on his second missionary journey in Timothy's hometown of Lystra. His mother was a Jewish believer, but his father was a Gentile; a Greek. But from that time on in the second missionary journey to the end of Paul's ministry, we find Timothy as Paul's almost constant companion. Paul calls Timothy, "his son in the faith," in 1 Corinthians 4. He's his close associate in the gospel – 2 Corinthians 1:19. And he's his trusted emissary. In fact, Paul makes a remarkable statement about Timothy, Philippians 2:20-21. He says, "I'm going to send Timothy [watch this],"

For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus.

What an amazing commendation by the apostle Paul, "There is no one in my entire life and ministry like Timothy. He will represent me as if I were there."

But Timothy, as wonderful a man as he was, as gifted a man as he was, Timothy also struggled. Near the end of his life, Paul writes Timothy two letters that bear Timothy's name – 1 and 2 Timothy. Paul had left Timothy in Ephesus to minister in the church there where Paul had pastored for almost three years. And in 2 Timothy, you can see Paul's concern for this young man begin to come out. Look for a moment at 2 Timothy 1:6. You can see in his admonitions to Timothy some of the concerns that he had for him, "For this reason [verse 6, chapter 1], I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of hands." Timothy had a tendency to allow his gifts to go into disrepair, not to use them as much as he should. Verse 7, "For God has not given us a spirit of timidity [this is something Timothy struggled with] but instead of power and love and discipline." 2 Timothy 2:1, "You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus." Verse 3, "Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier." Timothy was tempted not to do that. Timothy was tempted to capitulate in the face of opposition. He was given to timidity. He was a fragile young man in many ways. Notice verse 3, "Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier." Timothy apparently shrunk away in the face of opposition and perhaps was tempted to give in when he saw persecution looming on the horizon.

But in spite of all of his weaknesses, God's grace and the mentoring of Paul enabled Timothy to end well. I love the passage in the last part of Hebrews, Hebrews 13:23, where the writer of Hebrews says, "Take notice that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom, if he comes soon, I will see you." Timothy stood strong. He didn't capitulate and because of his testimony for the cause of Christ, he was put in prison. God enabled him to stand strong to the end. This is Paul's coworker as he writes these dear people in Philippi - Paul and Timothy.

Notice how Paul refers to himself and Timothy in verse 1. He says, "We're bond-servants of Christ Jesus," bond-servants of Christ Jesus. Bond-servants is an acceptable translation, but honestly it really causes us to lose some of the force of what Paul is really saying here. To a predominantly Greek audience in the church in Philippi, this word would have only meant one thing and that is slave. The Greek word translated bond-servants was so common in that day that anyone hearing it would have immediately thought of one thing and that is "someone owned by and in the service of the master of the household." So the word carried the sort of clear connotations of humility and service.

But Paul probably uses this word with a sort of double connotation. The Greek Christians, while they understood the concept of slavery in their culture, had already come to appreciate how this word bond-servants was used in the Greek Old Testament – that is, the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. There, this Greek word was used of true slaves like they knew, but it was also used in the familiar Old Testament expression "the servants of God." That phrase "servants" or "slaves of God" spoke of two realities in the Old Testament when it was used. It was to speak of a man's dependence on God. But it was also used at the same time as a kind of title of honor for those in the special service of God. For example, in Psalm 104, it's used of Moses. In Joshua 24, it's used of Joshua. In Jonah 1, it's used of Jonah the prophet. And in Ezekiel, Ezekiel uses it of the prophet David. This is a wonderful word that speaks of their responsibility; the fact that they are servants of the living God, that they represent God.

But while it's used as a title, it's not just for apostles. In fact, usually Paul uses this expression for all who serve God. It's true of all of us. Every one of us are bond-servants, are slaves, of Jesus Christ. The way Paul uses this word bond-servants, I think brings to mind the image of the Old Testament slave who, when offered his freedom, refused, choosing instead to stay voluntarily for the rest of his life, you remember in Exodus 21. We are willing, determined, devoted slaves of Jesus Christ. That is what it means to be a Christian. We are slaves of Jesus Christ.

Listen to what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7:22, "He who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord's freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ's slave." So for Paul and Timothy and for us, being Christ's slave isn't something negative. It's a free and willing choice. It's a great privilege. It's a decision of the heart. In Philippians chapter 2, Paul sets forth the sort of supreme example of this selfless service in one person and that is our Lord. You remember in Philippians 2:7, we're told that, "Christ emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant." Christ Himself taking the form of a slave. A slave to whom? Well, you remember the words of Christ Himself in Mark 10:45 when He said, "the Son of Man didn't come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." The supreme example of becoming a humble, lowly slave. Christ Himself became that. How much more incumbent is it upon us who know Him and love Him to be His slaves and to give ourselves in service to one another, even as our Lord did? Notice back in Philippians 1:1 that we are not servants or slaves of the church. We're not servants or slaves of any other person or any institution, but of Christ alone. We're bond-servants of Christ Jesus.

In his commentary on this passage, John Macarthur makes an interesting point speaking about pastors. Listen carefully, "If a pastor or teacher's primary devotion is to the church, it will inevitably bring some measure of compromise, disappointment and spiritual failure, but devotion to Christ Jesus can never be disappointing or in vain. If his ministry is concerned with other believer's standards and opinions, a pastor will invariably stray from the gospel to some form of compromise, but devotion and obedience to the Lord and to His Word will just as inevitably and just as invariably keep him on a godly and faithful course." We are bond-servants of Christ Jesus.

There's an important reminder in this expression. It's this, that everyone here without exception is a slave to something. Every person under the sound of my voice this morning is a slave to something or to someone without exception. Let me show you this in John chapter 8. Our Lord drove this home to those who listened to Him who thought they were free, who thought they weren't slaves. John 8:30-31,

As Jesus spoke these things [verse 30 says] many came to believe in Him. So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed in Him, "If you continue in My Word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."

Well, they didn't understand verse 32. "They answered Him, 'We are Abraham's descendants and we've never been enslaved to anyone.'" I think that is one of the funniest statements in all of Scripture because all they had to do was read the Old Testament. All they had to do was trace their history. They'd been slaves to so many different countries and nations, but "we've never been slaves to anyone." Now watch how Jesus responds. "Jesus answered them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you [verse 34], everyone who commits sin [stop there for a moment, who is that? Everyone who commits sin – that's every single person that's ever been alive] is the slave of sin.'" That's why I said [verse 36], "if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed."

Paul makes this same point in Romans. Turn to Romans 6:16. He says,

Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves to the one whom you obey [and he gives two choices] either [you're a slave] of sin resulting in death or [you're a slave] of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks to be God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.

You see, the bottom line is we live our entire lives as slaves, either slaves to our sin or slaves to Jesus Christ. We, by God's grace, are slaves of Christ. But by His grace, we're more. I love the expression that Christ gives to this in John 15:15. Christ says to His disciples, "No longer do I call you slaves [not slaves only – certainly we are the servants of Christ, but not merely slaves], for the slave doesn't know what his master's doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you." What amazing grace. Servants – yes, slaves – yes, but in God's grace, treated as friends. So Paul and Timothy were the uncommon servants who sent this letter.

That brings us to the second element of Paul's introduction which identifies those to whom the letter is addressed and we'll call it unlikely saints, unlikely saints. Notice verse 1 again, "Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons." Let's look at these people he addresses. First of all, he calls them the people of Philippi. Philippi was located at the far eastern end of a large fertile plain in central Macedonia, that's modern northeastern Greece. It stood by a deep, swift-flowing river called the Gangites. It also was the route through which a major Roman road went. A major east-west turnpike called the Ignatian Way ran through it.

Philip of Macedon – that is, the father of Alexander the Great, was the first to take a special interest in this little area. In 356 B.C., Philip annexed the area and fortified what was then a small village and named it after himself so it became Philippi. It was important to Philip for two reasons. One, it was strategically located as the land route between the areas west and Asia Minor. But there's a second reason it was important to Philip and that is located in the mountains nearby were gold mines. Those were of special interest to him. After all, Philip is the one who said, "That no city was unconquerable if a donkey laden with gold could reach its walls."

The Romans took Macedonia in the second century B.C. from the Greeks, but Philippi remained in relative obscurity for another hundred years. In 42 B.C., one of the most famous battles of Roman history was fought on the plains of Philippi. It's still to this day called the Battle of Philippi. It was there that the armies of Antony and Octavian – Octavian by the way is the one referred to in Luke 2 as Caesar Augustus – the armies of Antony and Octavian defeated the armies of Brutus and Cassius. You'll remember Brutus and Cassius were the ones who assassinated Julius Caesar. They defeated those armies and that battle marked the end of the republic and the beginning of the empire. In fact, about eleven years later, Octavian was declared the emperor of Rome.

After the Battle of Philippi, Antony and Octavian settled many of the veterans of their armies in Philippi. They also made the city a Roman colony. That meant that the citizens of Philippi enjoyed the same legal status as the cities of Italy. They were Roman citizens. They were exempt from certain taxes. They were not subject to the provincial governor but subject to Rome. And they were very proud of this status and Paul will allude to it several times as we go through this epistle. They wore Roman style clothes. They copied Roman architecture. Their coins were made like those from Rome and Latin was spoken very commonly in Philippi, although Greek was as well because it was the trade language of the day. By the time Paul arrived around 50 A.D., Philippi had become the urban political center of life in that region. In fact, Luke calls it in the book of Acts, "the leading city of that district." That's where this thriving church was located.

Let's look at the church itself. He says, "To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi." The humble beginnings of this church are recorded in Acts 16. I want you to turn there with me for a moment. Let's trace the beginning of this church, Acts 16. Back in Acts 15:40-41, Paul and Silas embark on Paul's second missionary journey right after the Jerusalem Council. And as part of their itinerary, Paul planned to go into the area called Asia Minor. But somehow, and we're not told how, the Spirit forbade him from doing that. Notice verse 6 of chapter 16, "They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the Word in Asia." We're not told how the Holy Spirit forbade him. It could've been by circumstances or it may have been even by a prophecy. In Acts 15:32, Silas, his travelling companion, is called a prophet.

But regardless, their plans change. Paul makes other plans. Notice verse 7. He wants to go in, therefore, "to Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them." So again, Paul's plans have to change. So in verse 8, they go down to Troas. Note that sometimes the Spirit's guidance in our lives can be negative. The Spirit can close all the other doors and make it very clear where we need to go. But in verse 9, in the middle of the night, Paul has a vision from God.

A vision appeared to Paul in the night [verse 9 says]: a man of Macedonia [a man from Greece] was standing and appealing to him, and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

Now if you look carefully at verse 10, something important happens. Notice that Luke joins them. Do you see the "we"? Luke is the author of this epistle. Up to this point, he's been recounting it as a third person - Paul did this and Paul did that. And now when you get to verse 10, it's "we" are doing something. Luke joins them. So now Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke set sail to Macedonia. Notice verse 11,

So putting out to sea from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and on the day following to Neapolis [that's about ten miles by land from Philippi]; and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia, a Roman colony; and we were staying in this city for some days.

What happens next gives us the background of the Philippian church and, in many ways, what would be the most trouble-free church in Paul's ministry. On the Sabbath day, Paul doesn't go to the synagogue. That means there wasn't one. That means there were fewer than ten Jewish men in the entire city of Philippi. Remember, it was primarily a Roman colony. A lot of the veterans of the wars resided there. It was not a place that was friendly to Jews so there are very few of them there. But when there was no synagogue, it was common for the Jews to gather outside near a river and in a public spot. So apparently, they chose the place where the main road into town crossed the Gangites and they held a prayer vigil there.

When the missionaries arrived, they find some women have assembled. Did you notice the irony? The man of Macedonia in the vision is in fact a small group of Jewish women. Luke singles out three individuals in the book of Acts in chapter 16 as sort of the charter members of the Philippian church. The first one is in verse 14, a woman by the name of Lydia, originally from Thyatira. She was a very successful business owner, a seller of purple fabrics made from dye produced from the madder root. She was a Jewish proselyte. That's what it means by a devout woman or a God-fearing woman and, depending on your translation. And she became the first convert in Europe. Notice the end of verse 14, "the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken to her by Paul." There's a powerful lesson of the journey of the gospel in that verse. Paul spoke, the woman heard and the Holy Spirit energized her to be able to understand and to respond and she does.

The four missionaries stay at her home, you'll notice, in verse 15, "After she and her household had believed and had been baptized, she urged us, saying, 'If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.' And so she prevailed upon us." Later, eventually, her house would become the first meeting place of this church. So Lydia was the charter member of the Philippian church.

But there's another charter member in this chapter as well. We meet her in verse 16, "And it happened that as we were going to the place of prayer, a slave-girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling." A slave girl who had, literally, the spirit of Python in the original - that was the serpent who guarded the Delphic oracle and was slain by Apollo in Greek mythology. Plutarch calls such people ventriloquists – those whose speech is really, and not just artificially, beyond their conscious control. This is demon possession. And by her soothsaying, by her foretelling of the future, by her predictions, she was a constant source of income for her masters. Verse 17 says she follows them for many days with a sort of free testimonial of who they were. In verse 18, the text says Paul became annoyed - a better translation would be disturbed in his spirit and he exorcises this spirit from this slave girl. Verses 19 and following – her masters are angry because of the financial repercussions and they play upon the anti-Semitic feel of Philippi, sentiments of Philippi, and they have Paul and Silas arrested. You see, there were laws in the Roman Empire for propagating foreign religious material among Roman citizens and so these vagabond Jews needed to be taught a lesson. So verse 22, they ordered them to be stripped and beaten.

Now a question that comes to my mind when I read this is, "Why not Timothy and Luke? Why just Paul and Silas?" Well, Paul and Silas were the obvious leaders and frankly, they probably looked the most like Jews and so they're singled out. They're beaten and they're put in stocks. Sometimes we picture the sort of early American stocks, but the Roman stocks were designed differently. They were designed to create pain. They were designed to spread the legs far enough so that the legs would literally come out of joint, create a great deal of discomfort and pain. And that's the setting in which Paul and Silas are singing praises to God. And of course, chapter 16:23-34 records that familiar, but amazing story of how the local jailer came to faith in Jesus Christ.

After that amazing night of an earthquake, of the loosening of the prisoners, of the salvation of the jailer and his household, their baptism and I'm sure the teaching went on into the wee hours of the morning. After that amazing night, the next morning the two city magistrates conclude that these men have learned their lesson and should be released. So they send word to the jailer. But in verse 37, Paul absolutely refuses to go, "Paul said to them, 'They've beaten us in public without trial, men who are Romans, and they've thrown us into prison; and now they're sending us away secretly? No indeed! But let them come themselves and bring us out.'" Paul is probably here seeking to protect the church because he knows that the people of Philippi and the leaders of Philippi are going to think twice about causing pain and trouble to the Philippian believers knowing that if they do, their mistreatment of Roman citizens will come out in the process. And so he makes a point of it, I think, to protect these dear people.

Verse 39, the magistrates begged them to leave. They begged them because under Roman law, a Roman who'd committed no crime couldn't be forced to leave a Roman city. So Paul, Silas and Timothy do. They leave the city. But Luke remains there to minister to these people until Paul returns on his third missionary journey. The use of "we" stops here and it doesn't pick up again until Acts 20:6 when Luke is picked up in Philippi after his ministry there and rejoins the apostle Paul on his journeys.

So the charter members of this great Philippian church were a Gentile female business owner, a slave-girl who was known to be demon-possessed and a low level government official, a jailer – most unlikely saints. But that's what they're called. Notice again how Paul begins Philippians, "To all the saints in Christ Jesus." The word "saints" unfortunately has been abused over the last two thousand years and that abuse has clouded its original meaning. It often carries in church history a sort of elitism. It's used to denote special people such as Saint Paul or Saint Augustine. But throughout the New Testament, it's not used of the special few, but of everyone in Jesus Christ. It means to be set apart by the Holy Spirit for God's purposes. It means to be distinguished as those who manifest God's character in the world. It could be translated "God's holy people."

This expression or this idea is woven into the fabric of the Old Testament. In fact, its roots are found in Exodus 19:6. There, Moses used it as an adjective. He referred to Israel as a "holy nation", a nation set apart to God. It continues to be used in its adjective form throughout the book of Leviticus. You remember that familiar phrase that recurs over and over again through Leviticus – "You shall be holy for I the Lord your God am holy." Once you reach the Psalms and the later writings of the Old Testament, it begins to be used not simply as an adjective, but as a noun – "the holy ones" describing God's true people. And there are a number of references I could give you throughout the Psalms and the rest of the Old Testament. It means consecrated, set apart from a common to a sacred use, set apart for God's service. It's used in various forms to describe things such as places and vessels, furniture. It's used to speak of Christ and it's used often of Christians in general.

One writer says it this way, "With this word 'saints,' Paul regularly addresses the Christians to whom he is writing not to draw attention primarily to the ethical character of their lives, that is, that they're saintly or pious, but to their special relationship to God - not here to their moral qualities as if there were no longer any sinners at Philippi, but to the new ground of their existence – their position." You see, positionally, we are regarded as holy at salvation, as set apart to God. We have been separated from the world and wholly devoted to God's use. That's true of every Christian. That's where we stand positionally before God. This is the position of every true Christian.

You know, even in Corinth with all of the myriad of sin issues that overtook the church in Corinth, Paul still refers to the Corinthian believers with the verb form of this word. In 1 Corinthians 1:2, he says, "to those who have been sanctified," to those who've been set apart for God's use, those who've been made God's holy people. You see, that's our position. This word doesn't demand that we meet certain moral qualifications to be called saints or God's holy people, but it does imply - this is very important - it does imply that we will pursue those moral virtues as our duty. We can be called saints without being personally and really holy, but if we are saints, we will pursue that personal holiness.

Because of that, throughout the letter of Philippians, Paul is concerned that the Philippians manifest this reality in their character. You see this over and over again and I'll just show you one example in Philippians 1:10. He says, listen,

I'm praying that your love may abound still more and more in all real knowledge and all discernment, [verse 10] so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order that you be sincere and blameless till the day of Christ; having being filled with the fruit of righteousness.

You see, he calls them saints and he wants them to become what they are positionally really. He says, that they're "saints, [notice verse 1 again], in Christ Jesus." Notice that their standing as those set apart for God, as God's holy people, isn't the result of their own personal holiness or their own personal righteousness. It is made possible only through union with Jesus Christ. We are in Christ Jesus. We can rightly be called God's holy people because we are one with the holy Son of God. This implies justification because the only way an ungodly sinner can rightly be called holy is if the holiness of another is put to his account.

"To all the saints." Notice how he ends the verse, "to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons." This is the only place in the New Testament where Paul greets these two groups of church leaders at the opening of the letter perhaps because they were instrumental in sending them the gift that he's going to thank them for later in the epistle. But notice how he introduces the leaders, "all the saints including," The implication is that the people and the leaders sit alike under the authority of the apostle and under the authority of the Word of God. This verse also makes it clear that by 60 A.D., about the time Paul is writing this letter, that there were two basic offices in the church. We find the same thing true when we get to 1 Timothy 3 – elders and deacons. Both of these words are plural, but there was only one church in Philippi. So that means that there were two offices and in this one church in Philippi, there were two or more men in each of those offices. It's interesting that fifty years later, Polycarp writes to the church (singular) in Philippi and tells them to submit to their elders and deacons (plural).

Now what are these two offices briefly? I'm not going to take all the time this morning to look at them in detail, but let's just identify what they are. Overseers, as we learned a couple of weeks ago - the terms elder, pastor and overseer are used interchangeably in the New Testament to refer to the same office. You can see that in 1 Peter 5:1-2. You can see it in Acts 20:17 and Acts 20:28. This office that's referred to by these titles – elder, overseer, and pastor –these persons are responsible for everything that happens in the life of the church and they give their attention to the spiritual matters of the church.

The second word, deacons, is a word that simply means to serve. The Greeks used it to describe one who was responsible for certain duties within the city or a messenger or an attendant in the temple. When the New Testament uses this word, it refers to an office in the church and it refers to those who assist the elders, those who are responsible for various tasks in the church that are not in and of themselves spiritual duties – for example, setting tables and caring for widows.

Those are the leaders of the church. So in the word "saints," Paul introduces us to everyone in the church in Philippi including the leaders of that church. And as I said before, they were most unlikely saints.

So we've seen the first two elements of Paul's introduction. Uncommon servants, they were the writers, and unlikely saints, they are the ones receiving the letter. Let's call the third an underrated salutation, an underrated salutation. Notice verse 2, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." Again, I think because this is so common in the New Testament, we tend to underrate it. We tend to overlook it as if it's unimportant. The form of the first two verses of Philippians was the typical form of a friendly letter in the first century as I mentioned before. But as with everything he touched, Paul uses this familiar form and he sanctifies it for his own spiritual purposes. Most ancient Greek letters began with the verb "rejoice," the infinitive of the verb rejoice, which really read to them "greetings." Paul begins his with "grace." He does this in a number of his epistles. Literally, he says, "Grace to you." That's an abbreviated way of saying "May God extend His grace to you." Paul turns everything he touches into the gospel.

Two New Testament words are similar, but also have very distinct emphases. And they're the words "mercy" and "grace." They're a pair really that you need to learn. Mercy refers to the reality that God withholds what we deserve – that is, immediate wrath, immediate destruction, instant banishment to eternal hell. God's mercy is that He withholds that from us the very instant we sin the first time. God's grace, on the other hand, refers to God's giving us what we don't deserve. It's God's unmerited favor and this word is incredibly rich. At some point, I'm sure we'll have opportunity to study it. But basically, it is essential for everything in our Christian life and experience. It's essential for salvation, but it doesn't stop there. Grace continues to sustain us in our spiritual growth every day. "God's grace is," Paul says in Romans 5, "the very air we breathe." We stand in grace.

Paul adds to grace the traditional Hebrew greeting "shalom" or peace. It refers not to the objective peace of Romans 5, but to a subjective peace, a part that results. He says, "May you have God's grace and may you experience his peace." Notice these wonderful gifts come to us at the end of the verse, "from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." God has become our Father and Christ has become our master.

I want you to notice how believers in Christ are described in these two very brief verses. Notice how you're described if you're in Christ. You're a slave of Jesus Christ, verse 1. That is, you're willingly devoted to Him, to serve Him. You're a saint. That is, you're God's holy people set aside for God for His use. You're in Christ Jesus. That is, you're united with Jesus Christ. You're a son of God. And you are obedient to your master, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Does that describe you? If not, then you will never know God's grace and His peace, but you can. If you're willing to bow the knee or as Paul says in Philippians chapter 3, "If you're willing to leave everything you've ever thought was of any value to you and embrace Christ and Christ alone." For the rest of us, as we study this epistle, we who are unlikely saints have the privilege of sitting at the feet and learning from one of God's most uncommon servants, the apostle Paul. Next week, Lord willing, we'll look at the reasons Paul wrote this book and the chief spiritual message for us.

Let's pray together. Father, we thank You for the grace You've shown us in Christ. We thank You for this wonderful epistle. Lord, we rejoice that we too are saints because of what You've done for us in Christ. And Lord, if there's someone here this morning who is not, I pray that You would awaken their heart to the truth. Bring repentance and faith, even today. We ask in Jesus' name. Amen.