COMMENTARY ON PHILIPPIANS
T E X T
“Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.”
(Phil 1:1, KJV)
The city of Philippi was in Macedonia, and heard the Gospel as the result of the Macedonian call of Acts 16:9. At that time, the Spirit directed Gospel labors in an unexpected way, as the Apostles and elders had determined to go into Bithynia. Just before that, the Holy Spirit had forbidden them to preach the Word in Asia (Acts 16:6). Following the direction of the Lord, Paul and company came to Philippi. It was there the Lord “opened” the heart of Lydia, that she might “heed the things spoken by Paul” (Acts 16:14). After casting a “spirit of divination” out of a soothsaying woman (Acts 16:16-19), Paul and Silas were beaten and imprisoned in Philippi (Acts 16:20-24). As they sang praise at midnight, God shook the foundations of that prison with an earthquake, loosing His messengers. That very night, the jailor, together with all of his household, believed (Acts 16:25-34). Thus the work of the Lord in Philippi was under way, centering around a cluster of believers in the house of Lydia (Acts 16:40). Now, approximately ten years later, Paul writes to them. We will see significant spiritual advance in this church.
PAUL AND TIMOTHEUS
“Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ . . . ” (NKJV). Simplicity and profundity are blended in Apostolic salutations. There is an uncomplicated view presented of both the writer and those to whom he writes. Yet, there is a depth to this salutation that is worthy of our consideration. Ordinarily, Paul introduced himself as “an Apostle” (Rom 1:1; 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; Tit 1:1). Here, however, he forgoes that reference, classing himself with Timothy as a bondservant. The same type of salutation is given in three other Epistles, each of which includes the name of Timothy (1 Thess 1:1; 2 Thess 1:1; Phile 1). This provides a most remarkable commendation of Timothy.
The spiritual advancement of this young man is seen in the manner in which Paul refers to him. Later, in this Epistle, Paul will say of him, “For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's” (2:20-21). Referring to him as “my beloved son,” Paul trusted him to give accurate reports and strengthen the saints of God (1 Cor 4:17), knowing “he does the work of the Lord” (1 Cor 16:10). The exceeding rarity of this circumstance can be confirmed by any conscientious servant of God. Although I am personally aware of numerous people engaged in Christian work, there are relatively few I know who can be trusted to deliver the mind of the Lord.
So far as we know, Timothy’s only recommendation was his spiritual interests and reliability. His only credentials were that he came to believe at the instruction of his faithful mother and grandmother, and was an ardent follower of, and minister to, Paul (2 Tim 1:5; Acts 19:22). He would have achieved no status at all in religious institutionalism which dominates today.
There is a marvelous Kingdom principle to be seen here. The closer we are to Christ, the less distinction there is between us. It is much like a spiritual pyramid. The further we are from Christ, the more distance and distinction there is between us. In fact, to obtain fleshly status in the church, one must draw back from Christ Jesus.
Something else may be seen here. Those who are close to Christ class themselves with others who are also close. While they may have attained to great Kingdom status, like Paul, yet they hesitate not to identify with other truly spiritual people. This is nothing less than the Spirit of Christ, Who is “not ashamed to call us brethren” because of our mutual identity with the Father (Heb 2:11). That certainly does not mean we are equal with Christ. Nor, indeed, does Paul’s affirmation mean Timothy was equal with him. It does mean there is no schism among those who focus on and labor for Jesus. A harmony exists among such people that cannot be produced by the world, or its sister, religious institutionalism.
TO ALL THE SAINTS IN CHRIST JESUS
“To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi . . . ” Remember, we are going to be exposed to some profound spiritual insights in this book–especially in chapters two and three. Yet, “all the saints” are addressed. Men have compartmentalized believers, but the Holy Spirit did not–and does not! This book is not written to the spiritually advanced alone, nor is it a primer for the spiritual novice. There is a principle to be seen here. The truth of God is for the people of God. Whether it is a sinful woman at the well of Samaria, or the disciple who leaned on Jesus’ bosom, God’s truth is universal in its application. It is necessary that this be so, for truth “sanctifies,” or sets apart for God (John 17:17).
“Saints” are “holy,” “blameless,” or “righteous” ones. While their effort is involved in this matter, the status of “saints” is wholly owing to the work of God Almighty, through Jesus Christ, and by the Holy Spirit. Paul does not address the men and woman, young and old, or masters and servants. Those are all fleshly distinctions. He speaks to them as the “workmanship” of God–“saints” (Eph 2:10). Among institutionalists, the use of the word“saint” usually elicits some humorous remark. There is a incredible preference for fleshly distinctions in the professed church that is of great concern to many of us.
The status of “saints” is not a human achievement, but the result of being“in Christ Jesus.” It is God Himself that placed us in Christ, causing Him to become “the Lord our righteousness” (1 Cor 1:30; Jer 33:16). This is common to all the people of God, and qualifies them to receive, and profit from, the Word of the Lord.
By way of comparison, we read of “saints” sixty times in Acts through Revelation. The word “Christian,” in all of its forms, is mentioned three times in the entire Bible (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Pet 4:16). It is interesting that even the name “Christian” (“of Christ”) has become divisive, like it did at Corinth (1 Cor 1:12). God’s people are to be recognized by their true distinction–what God Almighty has made of them!
Thus a message is written to “all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi.” None of them are excluded. There are no deep things from which the novice is to shrink back, and no shallow things which are to be disdained by the mature. These things are said to those with “ears,” not with credentials–to those with a “love of the truth,” not who have achieved notable things in the world. No “baby boomers” or “X-generation” here! Those are distinctions in the flesh, and no man is to be known by God’s people in that manner (2 Cor 5:16).
At the root of this salutation is the assumption that people KNOW they are in Christ Jesus. If they do not know this, the salutation itself challenges them to come into that awareness (2 Cor 13:5). There is a decided handicap, to say the least, in being ignorant of who we are in Christ Jesus. But if we do know our status in Him, Scripture takes on a whole new perspective.
THE BISHOPS AND DEACONS
“ . . . with the bishops and deacons.” This is the only book in the Bible where the body of Christ is addressed in this fashion. Only the Epistle to the Ephesians mentions “pastors and teachers,” a term we assume refers to elders, or bishops (Eph 4:11). There, however, it does not have reference to the church in Ephesus, but to Christ’s provision for “the body of Christ” in general. Peter refers to “elders” when he writes to those who are “scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Pet 1:1; 5:1). I mention this because of religious folklore that was crystalized around the idea of “elders” – particularly viewing them as rulers, or bosses, in the local assembly. Were this view reflective of Divine priorities, it seems to me the Epistles would have been written to the elders–but this is not the case.
Observe the “bishops and deacons” are mentioned in association with“the saints in Christ Jesus.” Were it not for the presence of “saints,” there would be no need for “bishops.” Paul reminded Timothy of the “work” of the“bishop,” affirming it was “good” (1 Tim 3:1). The role of a bishop is to“take care of the house of God” (1 Tim 3:5). This is done by feeding the flock, nurturing the saints in the most holy faith (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet 5:2). Their’s is not an dictatorial office, but a spiritual work!
“Deacons” also were an “office,” or working role, within the church. There were strong requirements associated with their work as well (1 Tim 3:10-12). The work of a deacon was a sort of spiritual proving ground, in which spiritual stability and consistency were confirmed. It is said of that role,“For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a good standing and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 3:13). We have two notable examples of such achievement in Stephen and Philip, among the first deacons, or servants, in the body of Christ (Acts 6:5,8,9; 8:5-40). In them we see the benefit of serving. Godly service is spiritual soil in which the grace of God produces growth and aptitude.
The fact that believers in Philippi were addressed as “saints in Christ Jesus with the bishops and deacons,” reveals their advancement in the faith. This was not simply a religious group, or organization. From Lydia and the Philippian jailor, together with their respective households, significant spiritual advance had been realized. Their faith had brought them into the heart of God’s will, even though they were Gentiles.
There is a general acceptance among churches with whom I have been identified, that every church MUST have elders and deacons. This is not supported by Scripture. The presence of these functions is evidence of growth. Where true “bishops and deacons” are found, the people have come close enough to the Lord to enjoy His direction. But even then, “saints in Christ Jesus” are addressed, not those under the leadership of the bishops! There is room in Christ for a wide range of ministry, and a multiplicity of benefits. Let every soul be challenged to draw close enough to the Lord to enjoy these benefits. More of our Lord will be seen in such a case.