1 Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. [NASB ‘77]
Paul begins the letter with a familiar greeting of grace and peace. Here, however, he includes not just his own name as the sender but Timothy’s as well. Timothy was with Paul when he visited Philippi, so the readers of this letter know him well (Paul will later tell them he’s sending Timothy to check on their situation – 2:19). That Paul mentions him in verse 1 doesn’t mean Timothy is a coauthor; Paul just wants the Philippians to know Timothy is with him (similar to writing in a postcard, “Bob’s with me and sends his love”). Paul’s use of first person pronouns and personal testimonials throughout the letter show that he alone is the author. Timothy may act as secretary, writing Paul’s dictation.
Paul makes three statements in these two verses that have much to say about how we should see ourselves as believers. The first statement describes himself and Timothy. The second describes the Philippians. And the third is a blessing that he pronounces on his readers. The three together form a basis for every believer’s identity.
Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus
Remember where Paul is as he writes this. He’s imprisoned. He may even be chained to a Roman soldier. He is completely under Rome’s authority. He also has no idea if he’ll live to see freedom again as execution is a very real possibility. Rome literally has the power of life and death over him. Yet whose bondage does he say he’s under? Christ’s. He’s not beholden to Rome; he’s under the authority of his Savior.
This is how Paul sees everything. In 1:13 he’ll say that he’s in prison for the cause of Christ. In his mind he’s not the prisoner of Rome – he’s the prisoner of Jesus (Philemon 1). And because he has the view that everything is what it is because of Christ, he’s truly free though he’s in bonds. He doesn’t have to complain about the injustice that’s put him in chains. He doesn’t have to regret his actions or worry about being forgotten by those on the outside. He also doesn’t have to worry about his future or become bitter at his captors. Because his Master, God, and Savior put him where he is. And if God put him in prison, then it must be for the ultimate good of God’s glory and God’s gospel. And that’s what drives Paul.
He’ll later state explicitly that his imprisonment is actually helping the gospel spread, and that causes him to rejoice (1:18). His view of being Christ’s bond-servant is what informs that reaction. If he’s simply the prisoner of Rome, there’s no way he rises above his circumstances and rejoices at the spread of the gospel at his own expense. But since he sees everything as coming from Christ, his welfare and comfort are secondary. The welfare of the gospel and the glory of God are preeminent.
This is what freedom looks like. This is what joy looks like. Seeing all of life – people, circumstances, world events – through the lens of God’s sovereignty and the gospel’s well-being. If we are where we are for the cause of Christ and it’s His authority and pleasure we’re most concerned about, then we’re free. We’re not ruled by the conditions around us. We no longer have expectations or demands. We no longer obsess over what we deserve or our rights. We’re bond-servants of Christ Jesus. And bond-servants know their rights and comfort and happiness and general welfare are in the hands of their Master. He decides their fate and they live for Him. And when we live like that we can live joyously and freely because our Master loves us and controls all things.
Listen to this. In chapter 1, he says, “People have disappointed me, but I’m rejoicing.” In chapter 2, he says, “The plans have sort of disappointed me. I’m sending Epaphroditus, I’m going to send Timothy, I’m going to be all alone, I’m still rejoicing.” Chapter 3: “I’ve lost all of my possessions, I’m still rejoicing.” Chapter 4: “I’m in very, very trying circumstances, I’m still rejoicing.” That’s his message. And we’re going to learn in these four chapters that people are going to fail you, plans are going to fail you, possessions are going to fail you, and circumstances are going to fail you, but it doesn’t ever need to touch your joy. (John MacArthur, The Epistle of Joy [sermon on Philippians 1:1-2]; 04/10/88.)
To all the saints in Christ Jesus
Notice that he identifies his readers as being in Christ Jesus before he identifies them as being in Philippi. They are first and foremost Christ’s holy people (saints set apart by Him) who exist IN Him. As believers they have Christ’s Spirit in them but they are so unified with Christ that they live in Him too.
Paul expresses this perfectly in Galatians 2:20 – I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me. Jesus talks about this also in John 15:5 – Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I live with Christ, I live in Christ, and Christ lives in me. I have been crucified with Him and I abide in Him. I therefore no longer live for myself; I so live for Christ that I effectively stop living at all and Christ lives instead. In every way possible I live as one with Him.
If we are in Christ, then Christ lives in our place. He took our place on the cross and He fulfills our place today. He breathes life, purity, and redemption into our relationships, our communities, and our futures. Less of me. More of Him. In Christ, I am no longer a slave to self, sin, and selfishness. In Christ, I am no longer alone. (Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, Openness Unhindered; 2.)
This living in Christ and Christ living in me causes me to be united with others in the same state. I am not only one with Christ; I am one with others Christ lives in. We have much in common because all of us stopped living for and as ourselves when we believed. Christ now lives in all of us and we are bound together as a result (and as we become more and more conformed to His image we develop many of the same family characteristics).
Do you see how this goes along with the first statement? If we’ve given complete authority over our lives to Christ – our Master – it makes sense that we also say we no longer live but He lives in us. I am a bond-servant of Christ living in Christ, united with other bond-servants living in Him. And since it’s no longer I who live, once again I can live freely and joyously knowing that someone else is in charge and someone else gives meaning to my life.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ
This is not an identifying statement but rather a blessing Paul passes along to the Philippians. But in so doing he makes another statement about believers. Believers are those who live in God’s grace and peace.
Because Christ took the punishment for our sin, we live with and for God in a state of grace and peace. We are not at war with Him as are those who don’t believe. We are not awaiting His judgment. We live in peace with Him. And His grace – His unmerited favor – covers our lives. His grace enabled us to believe. His grace enables us to live for Him. His grace ministers to all of our lives now. And His peace is extended to us in the name of Christ.
Not only do we have peace with God but we have peace with each other and in the midst of the trials of life. Once again, this goes along with the first two statements. We are able to rise above our circumstances and live in God’s peace when we serve and please only Him and give our lives wholly to Him. And we live peacefully with those who have done the same. As we experience His grace and mercy we extend grace and mercy to those around us living in His grace and mercy.
All because of Christ
What words occur the most in these two verses? 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. Paul makes it pretty clear where our identity should be, doesn’t he? It’s all about Christ.
As believers we are:
- Bond-servants of Christ.
- Saints in Christ.
- Those who live under God’s grace and peace because of Christ.
That’s who we are. We are what we are because of Christ. And apart from Christ we have no meaning and no identity. If we place our identity anywhere other than Him we miss the joy and freedom that only He can give. Ultimately we either live in and for Him or in and for ourselves. And when we live for ourselves we can’t be united with others because that would require others to live for us too. The path to true joy and freedom and unity with others is to become one with Christ and give ourselves wholly to Him. For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. (Rom 11:36).