Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
– Philippians 1:1-2
Most of us have found ourselves guilty of rushing through these introductory parts of the epistles, or skipping them altogether. It’s like we view it as unnecessary fluff on our way to the real content of the letter. I would like to encourage you to break that habit. Every word in Scripture is necessary and life-giving, even the greetings (2 Timothy 3:16; Matthew 4:4).
In these two verses we have more than just an introduction. We have an example of the countercultural way believers are called to live toward one another. Though we do not receive a direct exhortation to this end we have an example of Paul’s attitude toward the Philippian believers. And Paul did say,
Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.
– 1 Corinthians 11:1
So we can consider this instruction by way of example. There are two main attitudes I see exemplified here. And I can’t help but wonder, “What if all of us believers treated one another with these attitudes?” What a sweet fellowship that would be!
1. View yourself with humility and other believers with honor.
The way Paul refers to himself and his companion, Timothy, is radical in the eyes of the world. The idea of being subservient is repulsive to our culture. Yet Paul identifies himself and Timothy as “bond-servants of Christ Jesus.” Don’t just breeze over those words. Read them slow. Now recognize that Paul was identifying himself in the same way all Christians must. Paul was not referring to himself this way because he was an apostle, but simply because he was a Christian.
The Christian life is a life of servitude. We are not freed from slavery to sin in order to do whatever we want. We are freed from slavery to sin in order to become slaves of Christ:
But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.
ROMANS 6:22 NASB
The wording of this verse shows us that freedom from sin and enslavement to Christ is the same thing! The truth is you and I are always going to be mastered by something. The only question is what. That is a hard pill to swallow because our sinful nature desires to be self-sufficient and self-governing. But unlike the slavery we had in our sins, being slaves to Christ leads to our joy. He is the only master who leads us with our eternal good in mind.
So Paul views himself with humility, as a servant of Jesus. But how does Paul view the Philippian believers he is writing to? As saints. The word “saints” refers to one who is set apart by God for special purpose. Indeed, all Christians are slaves to Christ, but this is an honorable service (1 Peter 2:9-10). So as Christians, we are both slaves to Christ and saints in Christ.
What is interesting to me is Paul chooses to refer to himself in terms of slavery, but address these believers in terms of sainthood. Essentially he is viewing himself with humility and other believers with honor. What a picture of Christian relationships! It should not surprise us to see this from Paul. After all, he is the one who said that the Christian should not “think more highly of himself than he ought to think”, but should “give preference to one another in honor.” (Romans 12:3,10). Oh, what sweet fellowship we would have if we viewed ourselves as slaves of Christ and each other as saints!
2. Extend grace and desire peace for other believers.
If you get the first point down this one follows pretty easily. When you lower yourself down to the status of a servant and lift your brothers and sisters in Christ up as saints you will tend toward this point automatically. Paul extends grace and peace to the Philippian believers. The kind of grace and peace that can only come from from our Lord. We ought to be quick to extend grace and desire peace for fellow believers.
Grace – Extended grace is possible because we have experienced the unimaginable grace of God ourselves. So often we are unwilling to give grace to our brothers and sisters, but we expect grace from them. Let us treat one another with the level of grace we would hope to receive ourselves.
Peace – The way of the world is to fulfill your own desires even if it means causing trouble for others. A good example of this is James 4:1-3. As Christians we are not called to fulfill our own desires at others’ expense, but to pursue the peace of others at our expense. Jesus pursued our peace at the cost of His own life.
These three ideas of humility, grace, and peace only take up two introductory verses, but they would make an endless difference in the Church if we would commit to them.