In his letter to the Philippians Paul introduces himself and Timothy as “servants of Christ Jesus.” That this was a truly apt title is correct, but we will learn in this lesson why it was not one of Paul’s more common ways of designating himself in a greeting. We will also see why he uncharacteristically includes Timothy with himself under the title “servants of Christ Jesus.” Further, most people run right past the greetings in the New Testament letters and it is our hope that after this study that you will see how integral they are to the content of the rest of the letter; they introduce themes that are developed later and, therefore, we ought to diligently reflect upon them. Finally, there simply is not space enough to comment on everything, but we hope that what is said will be helpful to you in understanding the letter to the Philippians and living out the truths you uncover.
1:1 From Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the overseers and deacons. 1:2. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! (NET Bible)
A. The Senders (1:1a)
B. The Recipients (1:1b)
C. The Greeting (1:2)
While the text mentions both Paul and Timothy as the senders of the letter to the Philippians, the authorship is undoubtedly reserved specifically for Paul.10 Paul was born in Tarsus in Cilicia into a family which apparently maintained a large measure of their Jewish faith and way of life despite their Gentile environment. Thus Paul was thoroughly Jewish and a “citizen of no mean (i.e., important) city” as he refers to it (Acts 21:39), possessing on top of that Roman citizenship (Acts 22:25). Though he left Tarsus for Jerusalem where he was brought up, he probably also maintained substantial family contacts with Tarsus and was not unfamiliar with the ways and practices of Gentile people in that town (cf. Acts 9:30). In Jerusalem he received his formal education in Judaism under the famous teacher Gamaliel (Acts 22:3) who himself was the grandson of one named Hillel. Hillel was significant in that he had developed many interpretive rules to govern the Jews’ reading and application of Scripture. Jesus may have been referring to some of these interpretations and rules in the sermon on the Mount when he commented, “You have heard that it was said….”
In any event we can see many of these rules and variations of them in the writings of Paul. This should cause us pause. I remember when I was in college in the early 1980’s. It was a constant refrain, like the monotonous clank of water dripping off an icicle onto a piece of metal flashing, that people would complain about their courses. I remember their grumblings: “Why do I have to study that…I’ll never use it.” But when God calls us to a particular task like studying in university, he calls us to all that that entails—unless of course something is obviously immoral or otherwise. When God called Paul to be a primary spokesman for Christianity in a Gentile context, his background and connections to a pagan city (Tarsus) as well as his Jewish training all came into play. He undoubtedly understood Gentile thinking and had recourse, in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, to use the interpretive skills he had honed during those long and arduous hours with his mentor—when he was not a Christian. God wastes nothing. He uses it all for his purposes. Remember that God refers to Paul as his “chosen” instrument indicating in the least that He had uniquely qualified him for his apostolic role of preaching to Jews and Gentiles. For those of you who feel that you are required, for whatever reason, to do things that just don’t seem to be of any value, just remember that God will use it all to his glory.
In summary, then, Paul was brought up in a religiously observant Jewish home and trained with strictness in the Pharisaic sect (Acts 22:3). When we get to chapter 3 we will learn more about his Jewish heritage, commitment to certain traditions, and zeal for God. By the time he was imprisoned in Rome in 60-62 AD and wrote this letter to the Philippians he was about 60 years old—and still going strong!!!
Paul also mentions Timothy in the address of this letter. Timothy had ministered with Paul in Macedonia and helped establish the churches there and in Achaia as well (cf. Acts 16:3; 17:15; 18:5; 20:4). Timothy stuck with Paul through his rocky relationship with the Corinthians and in the mind of the apostle was a good representative of the latter’s way of life and teaching. During a difficult period, Paul sent him to work with the Corinthians, referring to him as his son whom he loved (1 Cor 4:17). Indeed, he was side by side with Paul in the ministry at Corinth (cf. 2 Cor 1:19) and also in the ministry at Philippi (Phil 2:22). It is fairly rare in life that one can find such a good friend and trusted confidant, but Paul had it in Timothy. In keeping with Paul’s relationship with Timothy and indeed the entire spirit of the letter to the Philippians, we ought also to lift up our heads and look around at the people God has placed beside us in the ministry. Let us not take them for granted or despise the work they do. We ought to seek first to uphold them in their burdens as Christ upholds us in ours (cf. Gal 6:2). I once heard a story of a young man who was working with an older man in the ministry. The young man, who incidentally is now fairly old, commented that the only time the older man had anything to say to him was when he (i.e., the young man) had made a mistake—then, and only then, would the old man speak, and then only to criticize! That’s a shame and totally unnecessary (that’s not to say, though, that the younger man didn’t learn anything or grow in Christ during that period). We must remember that Paul was a driven person and focused on a goal, while Timothy appears to have been somewhat more cautious and timid (cf. 2 Tim 1:7).11 The fact that Paul eventually gave Timothy charge over Ephesus, a major center for Gentile outreach and mission, indicates that Paul did not defeat his young disciple, but developed him (1 Tim 1:3). The letters to Timothy are proof of this! Timothy must have “caught on” to ministry because he appears to have acquired the same selfless love for the Philippians that Paul also had (cf. Phil 1:7-8 with 2:20-21). More is caught than taught! So when we are working with others in ministry, let us purposely and regularly invest time thinking about how we can intentionally help them in their walk with Christ. If we did that, we’d have a much lower attrition rate in leadership. We’d also experience more of the joy and unity the letter to the Philippians talks about (cf. Phil 2:2).
Paul refers to both himself and Timothy as servants (douloi) of Christ Jesus. While he calls himself a “servant” in the introduction to two of his other letters, namely, in Romans 1:1 and Titus 1:1 (though in the latter case he calls himself the “servant of God”), his general practice is to refer to himself as an “apostle.” This is true in 1 Cor 1:1; 2 Cor 1:1; Gal 1:1; Eph 1:1; Col 1:1; 1 Tim 1:1; 2 Tim 1:1. We note also that even in Rom 1:1 and Titus 1:1, where he calls himself a “servant” or “slave,” he nonetheless refers to himself as an apostle in those introductions as well.12 The idea of a “servant” is a broader category than “apostle,” that is, all apostles were servants of Christ, but not all servants of Christ were apostles (at least in the technical sense of “apostle”; cf. 1 Cor 9:1-2; see also 2 Tim 2:24). A more significant observation, however, is that the term “servant” connotes humility, while the term “apostle” generally connotes authority and “the right to speak and act” on behalf of another. In the case of Paul it often expresses his authority derived from Christ and his right to speak and act as one so commissioned by the Lord. What is striking in this context, is that in contrast to any other occasion, Paul includes his coworker, i.e., Timothy, in the designation “servant.” The answer as to why this is so is in part dependent on the background of the term “servant.” Is it to be found in the OT concept of the “servant of Yahweh” or in the Greco-Roman idea of “servants” or “slaves”?
The word “servant” (doulos) in the Greek OT13 often times speaks of the “servant” of Yahweh in terms of men appointed by Yahweh for certain special tasks: (1) Moses is referred to as the servant of the Lord (Num 12:7; Joshua 14:7); (2) Joshua (24:29; Judges 2:8); (3) Abraham (Psalm 104:42); (4) David (Ps 88:3) and (5) all the prophets are regarded as Yahweh’s servants (Jer 25:4; Ezek 38:17). Thus there is a sense that the word “servant,” especially in terms of Moses and the prophets, refers to one who speaks on behalf of God and is invested, therefore, with his authority. There is also, then, a sense of dignity and authority associated with the expression “servant of the Lord.” This may have been Paul’s meaning here in Phil 1:1, but it is unlikely. While there are struggles in the church (2:3-4; 4:2), the church on the whole seems receptive to Paul and his coworkers, so that a reference to his “authority from the Lord” or his prestige as a “servant of the Lord” seems somewhat out of place. Also, had this been the case, we would have expected Paul to refer to himself as an “apostle” and to separate himself from Timothy in the introduction.
There is another context for the term other than the Greek OT. It is the culture in which Paul lived. The term “servant” (doulos) in Paul’s Greco-Roman context referred to a class of people who were at the bottom of the social order. They became slaves, for example, through war, debt, capital convictions, and simply being born from a slave mother. In any case there were slave dealers who acquired them and sold them as property. Slaves had no rights, privileges, or freedoms in any sphere of society outside the family to which they belonged, though some of them, including doctors and accountants, were more educated than their owners. With this background in mind, Paul’s use of the term in Phil 1:1 could indicate that he and Timothy are servants of Christ Jesus in the sense that both he and Timothy are owned by Christ and have been bound over to him to do his will—and his will only. It could be a comment about the Christ owning them and their humble service to him. In speaking about a Christian’s salvation, Paul says a similar thing in 1 Corinthians 6:19, 20:
6:19 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 6:20 For you were bought with a price. Therefore glorify God with your body.
We originally asked the question of why Paul included Timothy with himself under the title “servants of Christ Jesus.” This seems evident now. The term “servant” conveys not the sense found in its Jewish background concerning one’s authority and special place in a task commanded by God, but its Greco-Roman sense of humble servitude. The latter is much more in keeping with the letter’s theme of humility (cf. 2:1-11). Paul’s inclusion of Timothy beside himself in the introduction, then, is to provide a model for the Philippians of true Christian humility, that even though he was a great apostle and invested with authority directly from the Lord, he was first and foremost a servant of Christ Jesus, just like any other Christian, including Timothy (Phil 4:9). Both of them worked shoulder-to-shoulder for the Philippians and Paul regarded his relationship to Timothy as equal under the Lord.14 Many pastors and Christian leaders intent on building their own kingdom could take a lesson from Paul and Timothy here. So also the rest of us. As someone once said, “We’re just a bunch of nobody’s running around trying to exalt a somebody!” We would do well to balance our agendas with such a thought.
Paul’s service to the Lord was expressed in terms of helping others come to know Christ and grow in that faith. Specifically in the book of Philippians his service included praying for the church (1:3-11), providing a model for them (1:20-21; 3:1-21; 4:9), teaching them, providing people to help and instruct them (2:19-30), etc. Paul also provides an excellent model for us today regarding the training and encouragement of young believers.
Having introduced both himself and Timothy together as servants of Christ Jesus, Paul now addresses the recipients of the letter. The letter is addressed not to a select few brilliant people in the church, but to all the saints (hagiois) in Philippi15 and Paul intentionally includes with them those who are leaders in the church, i.e., the overseers (episkopois) and deacons (diakonois).
The reference to the Christians in Philippi as saints is not a reference to their conduct or way of life per se (though conduct is often logically associated with such a term), but rather to their definitive salvation accomplished by Christ Jesus (cf. Rom 8:30). They are saints by virtue of being in Christ Jesus.
What is important to note in this introduction is that when Paul refers to the church, he refers to all of them, not some or most, but all. Since such a focus on all the believers is rare in other Pauline introductions (cf. the only other place is in Rom 1:7), yet occurs here in Philippians 1:1 and throughout the letter, it is perhaps significant and ought to be explored momentarily. Let’s look at some of the “all” passages in Philippians:
1:4 Always in my every prayer for all of you I pray with joy
1:7 For it is right for me to think this about all of you, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel all of you became partners together with me in the grace of God.
1:8 For God is my witness that I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
1:25 And since I am sure of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for the sake of your progress and joy in the faith,
2:17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink-offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I have joy and rejoice together with all of you.
2:26 Indeed, he greatly missed all of you and was distressed because you heard that he had been ill.
4:21 Give greetings to all the saints in Christ Jesus.
Paul affirms that he prays for all of them and that all of them share in the gospel. He considers his life and ministry to be directed toward all of them and their progress in the faith. He rejoices with all of them, even with the ones who had caused some of the strife. Thus we can now see that the inclusion of the words “all of you” in the introduction are significant and reflect Paul’s attempt to unite the church together around Christ and their common bond in Him. So concerned is he about this issue of unity in the church at Philippi that he opens the letter with an anticipation of dealing with it. This kind of preliminary glance at a theme to come later in the letter is not at all uncommon in Paul (e.g., 1 Cor 1:6-9 with chapters 12-14; Col 1:3-14 and the rest of the letter).
Paul also refers to the leaders in the church as overseers (episkopois) and deacons (diakonois). These terms need some explaining though it is difficult to be certain about their precise origin and meaning. Basically the plural noun overseers refers to a group of individuals who were given the responsibility to care for the people, perhaps as Gordon Fee suggests, through “administration, hospitality, and pastoral care.”16 In this case it carries the same basic function as its use in Acts 20:28 where Paul exhorted the Ephesian elders to tend to the flock among whom God had made them episkopoi. People in these positions (probably official offices of the church in Philippi) were expected to maintain a certain kind of lifestyle outlined in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. This included the ability to teach and refute false doctrine. On the other hand, the plural noun deacons refers to another accompanying group of leaders in the church at Philippi (1 Tim 3:8-13). The specifics of their functions are very difficult to say with any degree of certainty but the term generally has a background referring to more menial tasks done in service to others (cf. Mark 10:43-45; Acts 6:2).17
Thus it is reasonably clear that there was an established, visible leadership in Philippi and according to the pastoral letters (1 Tim 3:1-13; Tit 1:5-9), such was to be the case in other Pauline churches as well (cf. Acts 14:23). The question is asked, then, since this leadership was established in other Pauline churches, why is this the only time in which Paul explicitly mentions them in a letter to a church? Some commentators argue that these leaders were responsible for organizing the gifts sent to Paul and he thus wished to give attention to them for their fine work in the Lord (cf. 4:14-18). But they are not mentioned in 4:10-20, though the congregation may have understood them to be those primarily responsible for sending aid to Paul. Other scholars, in light of the probability that there was some measure of disunity in the church, have argued that Paul mentions these leaders so as to remind them of their duty to carry out his injunctions to promote unity and peace. Certainly this would have been a responsibility of theirs, but Paul gives his injunctions directly to the church (e.g., 3:1ff). Others have argued that the reason Paul mentions these leaders is to endorse their authority to deal with those whom the apostle refers to as “dogs,” “mutilators of the flesh” and “enemies of the cross of Christ” (3:2-3, 18). This too lacks for any positive proof since the warning is given to the members as a whole (3:1). Finally, some suggest that there was friction among the leaders themselves, of which Euodia and Syntyche were a part (4:2-3), and the mention of the leaders in a greeting which focuses on servanthood and humility (see comments above) suggests that Paul wants to remind them of their need to be unified. All these suggestions have at least some merit in the text of the epistle, but the last is more in keeping with the overall focus in the letter on humility and unity among the Christians in Philippi.
The greeting itself is identical to that found in 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans, Ephesians and Philemon and has thus become a standard for Paul. The interesting point in the salutation is to see how Paul has transformed Greek and Hebrew traditions according to the work of Christ and God’s attitude toward his church. Paul always expressed a Christo-centric attitude and perspective on life.
The common salutation in Greek letter writing was “Greetings” but they tended to use the Greek verb chairein not the noun grace (charis) as Paul does. An example of contemporary Greek usage can be found in the NT in Acts 15:23 and James 1:1. In both of these cases the writers have used chairein. But Paul uses the noun charis.
This was a favorite word of Paul’s which he uses approximately 100 times most of which express the unmerited favor of God toward undeserving sinners like the Philippians, and by extension you and me as Christian believers. It is the term he uses in Ephesians 2:8-9 to express that salvation is totally the work of God on behalf of the believer and comes not through any human effort (i.e., “not by works”). Grace was at the heart of Paul’s gospel. For Paul, the grace of God is a primary motivator toward a holy life, for it his God’s unmerited favor that teaches believers to say “no to ungodliness and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:11-12). It was the grace of God that turned Paul—the greatest legalist of his day—into the greatest exponent of the love and mercy of God (cf. 1 Cor 15:10). Paul was confident that all the Philippians shared in the saving grace of God (1:7) and as a result he prayed in 4:23 that the grace of Christ might rest on them.
Though most translations render this verse as “Grace and peace to you…” in all the salutations of the apostle except 1 Timothy-Titus, the Greek text invariably reads “grace to you, and peace…” which indicates that the peace that follows is as a result of the grace just mentioned. That is, for Paul, there is no peace in the heart, no sense of well-being and wholeness, no tranquillity before God and in the storms of life, until a person has entered into the grace of God by faith. Then, and only then, can he/she have the peace of God in his/her heart. A person enters that peace by personally trusting in Christ as savior (Rom 3:21-31).
Paul writes that the grace and peace are not from him but from God our father and the Lord Jesus Christ. It would have been pleasantly startling for Paul’s readers to have received a greeting from God. It is even more startling for us today, in light of what we know about Paul’s monotheistic Jewish heritage, to see Jesus functioning in the same capacity as the father. Both of them, according to Paul here, are the authors of the grace and peace for the Christian. Thus there is at least the implication, in light of the ease with which Paul allows the statement to flow from his monotheistic pen—unencumbered—that he regarded Christ as deity as well. In this interpretation the term our is not to be taken with anything other than father (cf. Matt 6:9) and Christ is seen as another agent in the giving of grace and peace.18 Thus Paul is not saying, as he has done on other occasions: “the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 15:6; 2 Cor 1:3; 11:31 Eph 1:3; Col 1:3), but instead implying that Christ is equal to the Father in the dispensing of salvation benefits. Further, the issue of the deity (and humanity) of Christ will come up again in the letter in 2:6ff. Thus once again the apostle has anticipated another important theme in the introduction to his letter.
1. Recognize and appreciate that in the church we are all servants no matter what how “high” or “low” our profile in the body of Christ may be.
2. Learn to appreciate other Christians by thanking God for their ministries and contribution to the body.
3. Accept God’s grace and enjoy the peace he has provided for you.
4. Meditate (as you look up other passages in your Bible) on the person of God the father in terms of his relationship to you and the person of Christ as Lord (cf. John 14:23). Remember we have One God who has revealed himself in three persons. There are three distinct persons, yet all are equally deity.
10 The letter describes Paul’s imprisonment (1:12-26), his being with the Philippians (2:12), his plans for Timothy and Epaphroditus (2:19-30) and the values and goals of his own life (3:1-21). He also uses the first person on several occasions referring to himself. This would indicate that Timothy was not involved in the actual authorship of the work.
11 It seems that Timothy avoided the conflict in Philippi since only Paul and Silas are mentioned as those thrown into prison (Acts 16:19, 25, 29). This may have been due to his unobtruvsiveness. The fact that Paul has to reaffirm his qualifications in Phil 2:19-22 also suggests that he was perceived as somewhat unimpressive. So Gerald P. Hawthorne, Philippians, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 43, ed. Ralph P. Martin (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983), 4.
12 The fact that he most often refers to himself as an apostle when his authority is or could be an issue, and the fact that he does not refer to himself as such in 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon, may be due to the strong bond of friendship he had with the former (see 1 Thess 2:7-8, 17-20; 3:1-10) and the delicate situation of the latter. See Moiss Silva, Philippians, Baker Exegetical Commentary, ed. Moiss Silva (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), 39-40.
13 You may remember that many Jews lived outside Palestine because of the deportations by Assyria and Babylon in the 8th and 6th centuries before Christ. Many of them were still there centuries later. In the fourth century the Greeks, led by Alexander the Great, conquered much of the territory in which the Jews found themselves and the latter were soon obliged to learn the Greek language. There arose, then, the need to translate the Hebrew Bible into Greek. This was begun sometime in the third century BCE and completed sometime around the end of the second century BCE. For certain (apparently unlikely) reasons it became known as the Septuagint (LXX). It had a profound effect on the writers of the NT—including the apostle Paul; they regard it as authoritative, alluding and/or quoting from it extensively.
14 Though the term indicates Paul’s humble service (and Timothy’s) it is not the denigrating sense often seen in Greco-Roman culture. This is so since, while outsiders to the Christian faith may have found the concept of “slavery” quite repugnant, Paul undoubtedly regarded it as a privilege to be a slave of Christ Jesus.
15 For a discussion of the city and background information see the introductory lesson.
16 Gordon D. Fee, Philippians, NICNT, ed. Gordon D. Fee (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 68-69.
17 Hawthorne, Philippians, 9.
18 Cf. Hawthorne, Philippians, 11-12; Fee, Philippians, 70-71; Peter T. O’Brien, Philippians, NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 50-52.