Sunday’s Sermon — Philippians 1:1-2, “Servants, Saints and the Savior”

4 Jun


Philippians 1:1-2

Servants, Saints and the Savior 

Paul was not planning to go to Philippi. He had been preaching in Asia Minor and hadn’t covered all the ground there. His work in Asia Minor had brought blessing and persecution. One of Paul’s converts in Asia Minor, Timothy, joined Paul’s missionary team and began traveling with him. His plan was to head up to Bithynia in the north but the Holy Spirit prevented it. During the night, Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Paul took this as God’s guidance to go to Macedonia and the first major city he arrived at in Macedonia was Philippi. This city would have the privilege of being the first city in Europe that heard the good news of Jesus and His kingdom.

Paul was not only led to Philippi supernaturally but the church in Philippi was also founded through many amazing events. It all began at the river, as Paul spoke the message of the gospel to those gathered there and a wealthy woman named Lydia trusted in Christ as God opened her heart. Then another woman, a slave girl fortune teller, followed Paul around harassing him. Paul by the power of God cast a demon out of this young woman. This angered those who used her to make money and they beat Paul and Silas and dragged them away and put them in prison. But during the night, as Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns, the earth quaked and their chains were loosed. The jailor awoke when the earth quaked and he was ready to kill himself, thinking the soldiers had escaped. But Paul told him, “No, we’re all still here.” The jailor’s heart was opened at that moment for he ran and fell before Paul and asked him, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul called him to trust in Jesus and the jailor did, along with his whole household. Paul and Silas eventually left Philippi but not before meeting with the believers at Lydia’s house and encouraging them.

So this is the supernatural story of the church in Philippi. A church with a businesswoman, possibly the slave girl, and the jailor as charter members. This wonderfully diverse group began to meet for fellowship, worship and ministry. And Paul, though not able to spend as much time with this church as  he was able to spend with some of the other churches he had a hand in founding, had a special place in his heart for the church at Philippi. So, toward the end of his life, perhaps ten years or more after the founding of the church in Philippi, Paul writes them this letter, this letter of joy.  He writes the letter in prison, where he spent many of his final days, and he seems to have written it primarily as a letter of thanks. In the world of Paul’s day, prisoners were not given food by their captors. They were dependent on friends to help them. Paul then was dependent on the generosity of others for his survival in prison. The church in Philippi collected money and brought it to Paul in prison. So Paul thanks them for their support and their partnership with him. And so we begin this great letter, one of the most quotable letters in the New Testament, with many of the most encouraging and memorable passages in the Bible. A letter of joy. The question we are going to begin exploring this morning and trace out through the coming weeks is this: where does this joy come from? After all, Paul is in prison. How can he write such a confident, genuinely happy letter from a prison cell? As we look at the first two verses of Philippians this morning, we will see the answer . . .

 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.

 These first two verses tell us about servants, saints and the Savior, but especially the Savior. Did you notice in just two short verses the words Christ Jesus or Lord Jesus Christ are repeated three times? Paul’s focus and the heart of His joy is the Lord Jesus Christ. So let’s look at these first two verses phrase by phrase today.

 Paul and Timothy

This is really Paul’s letter. Paul didn’t write it with Timothy. Paul uses the word “I” from verse 3 on. So this is his writing, his thoughts. But Paul includes Timothy because throughout Paul’s ministry Timothy had been a trusted co-worker and in particular Timothy had a special place in the hearts of the Philippians. Timothy had been with Paul when he first preached the gospel in Philippi, and he had continued to have a close association with the Philippian Christians as we see in chapter 2:19–23.

Before we leave this I just want to highlight once again the way so often in the New Testament it is “Paul and . . .” The apostle Paul was constantly joining together with other Christians for fellowship and ministry. One of the key themes of Philippians is partnership. So while some may have gifts which put them more often in the place of teaching or the place of leadership, we all need each other. Remember the apostle Paul and don’t go it alone. As I have said many times before, even the Lone Ranger had Tonto.

 We need each other because life and ministry is difficult. Paul and Timothy, just like us, are . . .

, servants of Christ Jesus,

We need to think of this word “servants” not so much like butlers or household helpers but as “slaves.” Paul and Timothy were saying they belonged to Christ and they wanted to be subject to His leadership in everything.

In the world of Philippi, slaves were common. It is very likely that some members of the church in Philippi were slaves. A slave had no rights or privileges except those given by his master. So the church in Philippi would not think of the term “servant” as a term of honor. But for Paul, it was an honor. It was an honor for three reasons.

First, Paul and Timothy were servants of Christ Jesus. The order of this name, Christ Jesus, puts the focus on the fact that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior. When we understand this, then it becomes clear that while Paul is a slave, He is slave to a good Master. In fact, his Master is His Savior. When your Master is your Savior you will gladly serve.

Second, Paul from his Jewish background understood the phrase “servant of the Lord” as a title of honor. This is what faithful people were often called in the Old Testament. Moses was called the servant of the Lord. Often one who was given a special calling from God was called “the servant of the Lord.” So this sense of the word fits Paul as well.

Third, Paul had no problem calling himself a servant because His Savior Jesus was a servant. The great passage in chapter 2:5-11 shows us that Jesus in coming to earth took the form of a servant. So if the Lord Jesus was a servant, it only makes sense that His missionaries would be servants.

It is interesting that Paul does not refer to himself here as an apostle but as a servant. Often in his other letters, Paul calls himself an apostle, one sent by God. Only in three letters does he open his letter by calling himself a servant. I think the difference is explained by his need to affirm his authority to those who are receiving his letter. When Paul needs to give his credentials to a group, either because they do not know him well or because they may have issues with trusting him, he uses the word apostle. But when Paul has a familiarity with a people or the assurance that they know and trust him, he uses what I believe would be his preferred word, “servant.”

Isn’t it exciting to be a servant of the Lord? We get to serve the greatest King in His eternal Kingdom. Nothing, not even death, keep us from the King and His Kingdom. Paul will even say in Philippians that death is not only not a hindrance, to die is to gain. I love the thought that every day of our lives for all eternity as Christians we have the opportunity to serve the Lord. If you really want to be like Jesus, serve. One of the themes of the book of Philippians is joy and I have found that the most joyful people are the ones who serve. When we are obsessively focused on how we are feeling or what we are doing or how we compare with others, we are on a pathway to misery. But when we serve, our focus goes upward and outward. And upward and outward people are open people, people who are useful instruments in the hands of God. So don’t let your guilt hold you back. Don’t let past failures keep you from clinging to God’s present mercies. Don’t let the question of how well you are being loved keep you from loving others. Just serve. Just serve. And find a pathway of joy that glorifies God, honors others and blesses you.

 In this passage we find a word not only about servants but also about saints.

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi,

The word saints just means “holy ones,” those set apart for God. There is no special category of saints in this Bible. All believers in Christ are saints. Notice here this letter is to all the saints. There was no spiritual elite in Philippi to whom Paul wrote. Some of the Philippians had conflicts with each other. Paul is saying, all the believers here in Philippi are saints, even the ones you struggle to get along with. All alike are included. And the reason is very simple. What makes a person a saint is not being nice or having a winning personality. What makes a person a saint is not serving the Lord or praying or going to church. What makes a person a saint is not being respectable and living a moral life. What makes a person a saint is being “in Christ Jesus.”

One of the great phrases in the Bible is this phrase “in Christ Jesus.” Paul uses it several times in Philippians. I find it interesting that in our day one of the questions  often asked when the gospel is shared is, “Have you asked Jesus into your heart?” “Is Jesus in you?” But the Bible question seems to be more often, “Are you in Jesus?” I am convinced that many people believe that as long as they have asked Jesus into their heart that they can kind of do what they want the rest of their life. If they made the decision they are good for heaven and if they want to do the whole church thing that might rack up some extra rewards, kind of like frequent flier miles for eternity. But this kind of thinking is worlds apart from the Bible’s teaching. To be sure, when we come to Christ we come by faith. There is an initial trusting in Jesus, a turning away from dependence on self and sin and a turning to Jesus. But when we are saved, we are not left on our own, we are brought into Christ. We are in His kingdom and His kingdom affects our entire life. In other words, the gospel changes everything.  And because of this great gospel, we are saints. We are holy ones, set apart to God’s purposes. My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand. In Christ, every Christian is a saint. Outside of Christ, we are fleshly, selfish, evil and destined for hell. Are you in Christ Jesus this morning?

 There is one other group mentioned in verse 1 . . .

with the overseers and deacons:

These are the leaders of the church in Philippi. The overseers are the elders or pastors. These words are all used interchangeably in the Bible. The overseers provide spiritual leadership for the local church, equipping the people of God in their life with God. Then there are the deacons, those who minister to the church with loving care. We have both these offices in our church. Pastor Rob and I have the role of overseers and our deacons fulfill their role. But notice these church leaders are mentioned after the church itself. This is instructive. Ministers, pastors and deacons, exist for the building up of the church. The church doesn’t exist for the benefit of the pastors and deacons. Woe to the pastor or deacon who looks at the position as a place to build a kingdom to self. Woe to the pastor who tries to get rich or become popular through his work in the church. This is a dangerous trend in the American church. It was there in Paul’s day too. He speaks in Philippians of those who speak of Christ out of selfish ambition and elsewhere he tells of how the church in Corinth favored certain teachers over others. So we need to make sure if we are in ministry that our focus is not on building little kingdoms of success. And on the other hand as church members we need to make sure we are following Jesus and not following certain pastors and teachers. Every pastor is wrong about something. Every pastor has areas of his life that are not perfect. So if we make a habit of following people we will always be disappointed. Be “In Christ” not into this or that leader. Love your pastors and deacons, but don’t expect them to do for you what only Jesus can do.      

And pastors and deacons, may we be like Paul in 2 Corinthians, “Not that we lord it over your faith, we work with you for your joy.” “We are your servants for Jesus’ sake.” I pray all our pastors and deacons will find joy in serving and will bring the joy of Jesus to all of you through their faithful ministry.

 We close this morning with one final word about our Savior . . .

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

          Paul’s greeting to the church in Philippi is very similar to many of his other letters. It is a combination of common Greek and Hebrew greetings. The greeting in the Greco-Roman word was charis and the Hebrew greeting was shalom. In both cases, Paul fills both terms with meaning through the work of Christ. This grace is just not a nice wish. It’s not Paul’s way of saying “have a nice day.” Paul greets them with grace because he knows that grace is at the heart of all he will say in this letter and is at the very core of his life.  Without the grace of God, Paul has nothing. Paul had been a persecutor of Christians. But God showed Paul favor in Christ despite his Christ-hating past. And Paul continued to show grace after he was in Christ, giving him joy in the midst of suffering, giving him power to serve, giving him strength in his weakness. The unmerited favor of God through Christ reconciles us to God. And when we have received this grace, then the door is opened to peace. Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of a steady heart. The heart is steady because our hope is in God. And our hope is in God because we are trusting in His grace. And this is the foundation for the 2 Corinthians 5 life. Having experienced Christ’s love, we are given the ministry of reconciliation and we take this message out to the world by our words and our actions.

Grace comes to us through Christ and peace comes with it. So Paul wishes for the church in Philippi that they might experience both. They are in Christ. They are saints. But Paul wants their experience of their standing before God to be real and personal. This is a good and right longing.

This is my wish for you and for myself. This is what I want all my life to be about. I pray that you might experience the joy of living in God’s grace and then out of that life of grace peace might come, even if you are facing very real challenges.

What is the key? Being in Christ. In Christ there is no condemnation. In Christ there is no separation from God’s love. In Christ are all the treasures of wisdom. In Christ. So this morning, are you in Christ? Do you know Him? Are you leaning on His righteousness to make you right with God and to give you life with God or are you leaning on something in you: good behavior, or knowledge or some other hope for life with God. Maybe this morning you are truly a child of God but your experience of God has been very weak recently. Today, come back. God will welcome you. He is ready to receive you.

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