Our passage begins by telling us Paul and Timothy are the authors of this letter, though it seems that Paul is the main author. And in verse 1 they identify themselves as, “servants of Christ Jesus.” And for us, as we see that we might not think much about it… But, given that this letter is to the saints in Philippi, which was a Roman colony, full of people who prided themselves on being Roman citizens… And given that the Romans prided themselves on being wise and civilized, for Paul and Timothy to first and foremost identify themselves as servants of Christ, or more bluntly put, as slaves of Christ Jesus, is remarkable. A slave in that time and culture was not only looked down on, but they basically had no rights, and every aspect of their existence was informed by and focused on serving… And that’s exactly what Paul means to communicate. That the most important thing about he and Timothy, and really everything about he and Timothy is informed by and focused on serving Jesus. And this is exactly as it should be.
Paul is an apostle, and Timothy is a pastor, but they are slaves of Christ simply because they are Christians. Just as with Paul and Timothy, if we are Christians, everything about us, everything we think, say, and do should be informed by and focused on our service to Christ. Beloved, “[we] are not [our] own, for [we] were bought with a price. So [we are to] glorify God in [our] body” (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20). Do you believe that? Do you understand that? Are you living in light of that? It’s incredibly important that we live this way given what’s going on in this world right now. In the Roman world no one would have celebrated being a slave, but Christians delighted to identify themselves a servants of Christ, and they delighted to live as such as well. To give of their time, talent, and treasure to devote their lives to loving God and loving people for the glory of Christ. And that’s exactly what we should do as well. And that’s exactly what this world needs right now: Christians that will love and serve and give sacrificially for the good of people and the glory of Christ. That’s how every Christian, every servant of Christ should live…
All of this is at the core of what it means to be a Christian, but that’s not all. Look at what else verse 1 says. Paul and Timothy are writing, “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.” To be a Christian is indeed to be a servant of Christ, and that makes sense given that 1) He is the God who created the universe, and 2) He bought us with His own blood; but, here we see that foundationally what it means to be a Christian is to be a saint in Christ Jesus. And I think verse 2 helps explain what is meant here. In verse 2 Paul says, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” We become saints in Christ Jesus when the grace of God the Father comes to us in the person and work of Christ Jesus, making peace between us and God, peace between sinners like us and a perfectly holy and infinitely glorious God.
Because Jesus, who is God the Son, perfectly holy and infinitely glorious Himself, came to earth, took on flesh, lived the perfect sinless life we have failed to live, died the wrath absorbing death that we deserve to die, and rose from the grave in victory, now all who turn from their sin, trust in, and follow Him are therefore united to Him by faith and everything they are is accredited to Him and everything He is as the God-man is accredited to them. By faith in Christ we are united to Christ, and therefore we are now saints in Christ. To be a saint is to be holy and set apart by God, for God. And because Christ is holy, all in Christ, all who have true faith, are holy in Christ, are saints in Christ.
So, while I want you understand that as a Christian you are a slave to Christ, even more so I want you to understand that as a Christian, you are a saint in Christ. Because of who Jesus is and what He’s done you are justified, you are covered in Jesus’ righteousness, you are holy and set apart for God because you are so united to the Son of God that He is in you and you are in Him. Every true Christian is a child of God with whom the Father is well pleased, because we are united to the perfect Son of God with whom the Father is well pleased. And this is crucial for us church; this is everything for us… This is why we have peace; this is why we can continue to have peace even in such chaotic times: because in Christ we have grace, and peace has been made… God and sinner have been reconciled, and we are not merely forgiven, but we are redeemed and counted as holy. Friend, if you are a Christian you are a saint, all because of the person and work of Jesus Christ. What good news! What a great God! What amazing grace! And notice that the letter is addressed to all the saints, along with the overseers (elders) and deacons… In other words, regardless of our status, office, or position, the ground is level at the foot of the cross, and we are all counted as saints in Christ. And no saint is higher than another. We are united by Christ and in Christ. He is our unity. And He is our all in all…
After laying out this greeting Paul shares how encouraged he is by the Philippians and seeks to encourage them as well. Verses 3-6 are one sentence in the Greek, so I want us to think about these verses together. So, starting in verse 3 Paul says, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
Notice the language Paul uses to stress how frequently he prays, and how frequently he prays for the Philippians: he says all, always, and every… And why shouldn’t Paul pray frequently: for 1) it is a great privilege to be able to boldly approach the throne of grace… Indeed it is only because we are saints in Christ that we have such access to God. 2) God delights to hear from His children, and delights to answer His children. Indeed, God has ordained that the prayers of the saints would be the means by which His kingdom will come and His will be done on earth as it is done in heaven. And 3) the relationship that we have with God and the promises that we have in Christ and the promises that come to us in and through prayer are glorious and cause for much thankfulness and joy. And that’s exactly what Paul says…
Paul’s frequent prayers are filled with gratitude and joy. Part of the reason Paul is so thankful and joyful, and no doubt why he is so frequent in his prayers is because of the partnership he has with the Philippians in the gospel, one he says that he has had from the first day until now, meaning since the day they became Christians until now. The word partnership here is the word κοινωνία in Greek, meaning, not only partnership but fellowship and communion. And with this idea next to the gospel, which is what Paul says their κοινωνία is in, we can see why he has so much gratitude and joy.
As you know, the gospel is the good news about the person and work of Jesus Christ, it’s His life, death, resurrection, and ascension; the very thing that makes us saints, the very reason we can serve Christ, and it’s the very reason we can boldly approach the throne of grace, because Jesus is at the right hand of the Father ever interceding for us until He returns to rid this world of sin, Satan, death, and all their effects. It is because of Jesus that we have received the grace of forgiveness, redemption, regeneration, conversion, adoption, and we are receiving the grace of sanctification, preservation, and will one day receive the grace of glorification in the new heaven-new earth where Christ will make all things new. So past grace, present grace, and future grace are all ours in and through the gospel of Jesus Christ. And by this grace in this gospel we have peace and fellowship with God and peace and fellowship with God’s people. We have true κοινωνία in Christ. In and through our union with Christ we are brought into communion with the triune God and the people of God.
And what a cause for gratitude, and what a cause for joy. God, in His Word promises every true believer that He is with us, He will be with us until the end of the age, and we will be with Him for all eternity thereafter. As Joshua 1:9 says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” And Jesus Himself said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3). Jesus even prayed to the Father in John 17:24, saying, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” God’s love for us is so great in Christ, and Christ so desires to have us with Himself, that here we see a promise that in Christ we not only have fellowship with God now, but we will have perfect fellowship with God in glory with Christ and His people forevermore. As I said earlier, God delights to answer the prayers of His children; and if that’s true for us, how much more so for the His perfect Son, Jesus Christ?… This is a prayer that will be answered. This is a promise that we can take to the bank. We will have perfect fellowship in glory; we will be with Jesus and enjoy Jesus forevermore…
And God in His kindness has given us a foretaste of that glorious day now in and through the fellowship we have with God spiritually, and the fellowship we have in everyway with God’s people. And in saying that I can’t help but feel a little bittersweet, as we are currently providentially hindered from gathering together. But, even though we can’t gather and fellowship this Lord’s Day, we can still care for one another, serve one another, love one another, and especially pray for one another. And like Paul, our prayers should be filled with joy and gratitude as we marvel at the glory of what we have in our partnership, in our fellowship, in our communion with God and His people. And so I challenge you there: commit yourself to pray desperately for God’s people… Yet even as you pray for your brothers and sisters in this time of separation and isolation, do so with joy and gratitude… The joy and gratitude that are ours in the gospel.
And understand that we should truly be thankful because eternal joy is really, absolutely ours in the gospel. As verse 6 says, we can be absolutely sure, “that he who began a good work in [us] will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Friends, do you see what this means? We have every reason to be thankful, every reason to be joyful, and to have unshakable peace and unshakable hope… And oh, what a great need there is for all of those things in such trying times.
Here we see that if we have true faith in Christ: which means if we believe, trust, love, and treasure Christ… if we bank everything on the gospel of Jesus Christ… then grace, eternal joy, eternal peace, and eternal unshakable hope are all ours, not because of the strength of our faith, or because of our will power, but because of God’s sovereign grace. It is He, our great God, who began the great work of creation, is now sustaining and ruling over His creation, and is working all things to His new creation. And it is He who began this great work of Christianity in us, and it is He who will bring it to completion. This world is all of grace, and likewise, our salvation from first to last is all of grace and first and foremost all a work of God. God is in control and is sovereignly ruling over and orchestrating everything, from the smallest molecule and atom to the largest star and planet; from the life and movement of every virus—even the Coronavirus—to the life and death of every man and woman… God is in control and is driving everything to the Day of Christ.
The Day of Jesus Christ is the Day we see in Revelation 21:3-4. The Day when, “the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with [us], and [we] will be his people, and God himself will be with [us] as [our] God. He will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things [will] have passed away.” And here we are promised that all who have trusted in Christ will make it to that Day… God will get us there.
Friends, what we see in this passage is such a needed word for this world, and such a needed word for us. Here we see that our identity is not wrapped up in what we have or the things of this world, but in whose we are. We are servants of Christ, we are saints in Christ, we are children of God covered in the righteousness of Christ… We are all these things if we truly have faith in Christ. So I ask you, have you forsaken sin, and do you believe, trust, love, and treasure Christ? If not, right now, cry out to God to save you, and repent and believe in the gospel. And whether you’ve just trusted in Christ, or whether you’ve been a Christian for some time, understand that now, everything you are and everything you do is informed by and focused on your identity in Christ.
And along with our identity, what we see here that is truly such a timely word is that all who are in Christ are not alone: we are in fellowship with God and His people… And even in a time of social distancing and isolation we see that God will never leave us nor forsake us… indeed He will be with us always, and He has done and will do everything necessary to make sure we are with Him always… He will complete the work He began in us and He will bring us to Himself to be with Him in perfect joy and glory forevermore… His nail-scarred hands will wipe our tear-stained eyes dry and we will weep no more… What a cause for joy! What a cause for hope! And that’s exactly what we all need right now.
So, be encouraged church. God is sovereign, He is gracious, and He has promised us great things! Let not your hearts be troubled, but instead let them be filled with hope and joy… For that is exactly what we have in Christ. Indeed in Christ we have more than we could ever imagine. That’s why Christ is our all in all. So, may we all, as servants and saints, especially in these troubling times, live and speak in such a way that points everyone around us to the eternal hope and joy that are found in Christ alone.