Vs. 1: Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus
The Oxford Dictionary defines the word prolific as: “producing much fruit or foliage or many offspring.” If the Apostle Paul was anything, he was prolific. From the earliest days following his Damascus Road experience (Acts 9:1-31), the Resurrected Lord Jesus had His hand upon Saul of Tarsus (Paul’s given name) as His chosen instrument to bear much fruit, carrying His name “before Gentiles and kings and the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15). In the course of time, the premier persecutor of Christ would go on to become the most prolific evangelist, church planter and apologist in the history of the Christian church – not to mention author of approximately one-third of the New Testament.
Paul made many deep and enduring relationships along the course of his itinerant ministry. Among the most prominent, was his relationship with Timothy, whom Paul would refer to as his “son in the faith. (1 Tim. 1:2).” Paul first met this well-spoken of young disciple in Lystra, just inland off the northeastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea (Acts 16:1-5). Timothy’s mother Eunice, and grandmother Lois were Jewish believers in Jesus (2 Timothy 1:5). His father was Greek (Acts 16:1), and it would appear that he was not a believer. Prophecies regarding Timothy’s service to the Lord had been spoken over him (1 Tim. 1:18-19), and Paul himself had laid hands on him (2 Tim. 1:6). Timothy would be a central figure in Paul’s itinerant ministry, and would eventually go on to pastor the church in Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:3). Though not imprisoned themselves, Timothy and Epaphroditus (another of Paul’s missionary team), were alongside Paul as he wrote this letter.
Noticeably absent from his common greeting is the reference to Paul’s Apostleship. This may be an indication of the more personal nature of the letter – written, not for correction (as 1 & 2 Corinthians clearly were), nor specifically for instruction per se (like Romans or Galatians), but rather with the aim of encouragement. Instead, Paul refers to himself and his protege as “servants” (literally: “bond servants”), a term meaning “slave.” With his title “apostle” came an authority anchored in responsibility, but underlying that title was a mindset – that of a bond servant of his Master, Christ Jesus. In more modern times, Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission, often being introduced with many lofty accolades, would defer such praise and simply refer to himself as “the humble servant of an illustrious Master.” Such is the mind of Christ at home within the disciple. Later in this same epistle, Paul would urge believers to “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…” (2:5)
The saints at Philippi, including the overseers and deacons were the recipients of this correspondence – all of whom were “in Christ.” While referring to living believers as “saints” might strike those with certain denominational backgrounds as a little unfamiliar (or even uncomfortable), it is entirely appropriate from a biblical standpoint to attribute the term to believers in Christ. Some, like myself come from church traditions where the label “saint” was reserved for those of an especially high degree of piety; those who lived exemplary lives of devotion – and even may have had a number of miracles attributed to them. However, the term “hagios” (saint) simply means “separation,” and by implication in context – separation to God. A saint is a believer in Jesus Christ who has been set apart to God. This is true, both positionally and practically. Positionally, having been saved by grace through faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9), you are no longer lost, but have been set apart in Christ. As believers in Christ, we are also continually being set apart practically; the way we think and act is being daily made to line up more with the mind and life of Christ, by the power of God’s Holy Spirit living and working within us (John 17:14-19, 2 Peter 3:18).
The roles played by Overseers (“superintendents”) and deacons (servants who comes alongside to help) were designed to lead and serve the local bodies of believers to grow in their shared faith, and for their gatherings to be conducted in an orderly way.
Vs. 2: Grace and Peace
A good way to remember the definition of grace is to think of the term as an acronym: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Grace is the free gift of God to those who have trusted in the Savior. It is free to us because it has been paid for by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. It is getting what we don’t deserve (Mercy is not getting what we do deserve!) It is wholly unmerited, freely given by God, and it is the entire reason why, one day, we will stand in God’s presence unashamed. It is the foundation of our freedom in Christ, and the undercurrent of our daily walk with Him.
Peace can be seen from two points of view: peace with God, and the peace of God. Peace with God speaks of the fact that a believer is no longer walking in rebellion against God (living our own way, never-minding how God would have us live). We have peace with God as the result of our no longer being enemies, but now being reconciled to God by faith (Romans 5:8-11). Peace with God by grace through faith results in the opportunity to experience the peace of God in daily life. The peace of God is experienced more and more as we learn to trust Him while we walk daily with Him (Phil. 4:6-7, Isaiah 26:3). Circumstances may shift and unsettle us, but we have been invited to walk with Jesus by faith (trust in Him) and not only by sight (trusting only in what we see), and as we do, we eventually come to realize that we never walk alone, but rather we walk with the One Who literally has the power to calm the storms (Mark 4:35-41, Mark 6:45-51). Peace is rooted in and rests upon faith in our ever-faithful, ever-present Help in times of trouble – and it is all because of His Grace. It’s no wonder that Paul opens so many of his letters with this greeting, and always in this order.