Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:
Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is the tenderest of all the Epistles. There is no chiding or rebuke. It is suffused throughout with words of good cheer, of joy and peace, though it was written in bonds to which the Apostle makes frequent reference (i. 7, 13, 14, 16). There is no trace of despondency or gloom, and though sent to a Church which he had not seen for five or six years, there appeared no necessity for those strictures and reproofs with which the other Epistles are filled.
If, as is supposed, this Epistle was written at the beginning of Paul's imprisonment in Rome, we must assign to it the date A.D. 62. It is the beginning of the precious prison literature of the Church which is amongst our greatest treasures. It was a persecuted Apostle writing to a persecuted Church, but his soul was unfettered and unchoked by prison damp. Perhaps his hired house in its discomfort would compare favourably with the gaol at Bedford, which Bunyan describes as 'a den,' but the Apostle was conscious, as Bunyan never was, of the daily clank of the chain which accompanied every movement.
The occasion of the writing of this Epistle is clearly indicated by the references which the Apostle makes. Philippi stood at the head of the Ã†gean Sea, about nine miles from the coast. Its earliest name was the Fountain City, afterwards it was enlarged by Philip, the king of Macedonia, and called after himself. It was the scene of the great battle between Brutus and Cassius on the one side, and Octavius and Antony on the other. In commemoration of the decisive victory of imperialism over republicanism, Augustus gave it the dignity and privilege of a Roman colony. It was, in fact, a miniature Rome, hence its consuls and lictors (Acts 16:20). The great Egnatian Way passed through it; and as a Roman colony situated on this great thoroughfare, it was flourishing and wealthy, though now it is a desolation, trodden only by the traveller and shepherd.
The Apostle had been brought there in answer to the vision of the man of Macedonia, but had met with a poor response. His first sermon was preached to a few devout Jews, especially women, who, unable to erect a synagogue, were wont to gather by the riverside on the Sabbath day. The story of the opening of Lydia's heart, and the subsequent formation of a Christian Church, which was favoured with two visits on the part of the Apostle, is too well-known to need detailed retelling.
Epaphroditus, whom the Philippians had sent with their greeting and pecuniary assistance, had fallen ill during his stay at Rome, and as the tidings of this misfortune caused great anxiety to his fellow-disciples, on his recovery the Apostle hastened his return and entrusted to his care messages of gratitude and affection; hurrying him back, that by his presence he might dissipate the anxiety which had cast a gloom over the entire Christian community.
It is sufficient to say that this Epistle has received unmistakable testimony as to its authenticity and genuineness. It is referred to by Ignatius and Polycarp, quoted by Clement, Irenaeus, and Tertullian, and bears in its texture abundant evidence of having issued from the heart and mind of the great Apostle to the Gentiles.
Years before, when quite a youth, Timothy had been brought to Christ on Paul's first visit to Lystra. Having been well instructed by his mother, Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois, when Christ was presented as the fulfilment of the Old Testament by Paul, he received Him with all the ardour of young manhood. The Apostle ever after considered him as 'his own son in the faith.' During the seven following years he grew in knowledge and love, and on Paul's second visit he was judged capable of accompanying him, and sharing his hardships and labours on behalf of the Gospel.
The two names are associated in 2 Corinthians, Colossians, Philippians, and 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and we can never forget the touching last letter which the Apostle dictated to him from the Mamertine prison on the eve of martyrdom. It is worthy of notice that the Apostle, who will presently refer to the saints at Philippi, classes himself with Timothy as the 'bond-slaves of Christ Jesus.' There is no assumption, no priestly prerogative, no pretentiousness in this simple designation. Though the Apostle had much in which he might glory, when he reviewed the work of his crowded life, he had so great an estimate of his Master, Christ, that in His presence he took the lowliest place;—the bought chattel of Him who had purchased him, not with corruptible things, but with His precious Blood. Men would have little fault to find with the ministers of the Churches, if they breathed the same spirit of simplicity, humility, and abandonment to the will of the great Master.
'To all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops (R.V. marg. overseers) and deacons.' The word 'saint' is frequently used by the Apostle, in the opening words of the Epistles. In that to the Romans, he describes believers as 'called to be saints.' So in 1 Cor. 1:2, see also Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:2. We are not to infer from this that they were perfect in character, but that they were set apart from the world, by the cross of Christ and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, for high and holy service in the world. Men use this term of the departed, and canonise their fellow-believers only after many years have elapsed since they passed to the service of the eternal world. But the Apostle did not hesitate to describe very imperfect men and women, who needed a large amount of tuition and admonition, as saints; thus imputing to them God's great ideal, as perhaps the likeliest means of inspiring them to deserve the title.
Is not this a true way of dealing with men? Do not be content with rebuking them when they do wrong, but lay your hand upon their shoulder, and tell them that you are sure that they are capable of better things, that the angel lies hidden in the marble, that the possibility of saintship is deep down in the soul, in virtue of the regenerating grace of the Spirit, who is forming Christ within. Thus you will inspire hope, resolve, high purpose, and the resolute intention that the character and walk shall not fall beneath this great word with which God does not hesitate to designate all who are incorporated in a living union with His Son.
Would you be a saint indeed? Then live 'in Christ Jesus' as your King (Christ), and in Jesus in all the human relationship of daily life (Jesus). Let Him be your atmosphere and environment, your protection from the assaults of evil from without, and the sweet fragrance which will exhale through the inner sanctuary of your nature, in speech and act.
As to the 'bishops and deacons' : 'There is now no question,' and this is endorsed by Bishop Ellicott, 'that in the Holy Scriptures, the two titles of "bishop" and "presbyter" are applied to the same person.' For this see Acts 20:17, 28. Bishop Lightfoot affirms, 'It is a fact now generally recognised by theologians of all shades of opinion, that in the language of the New Testament the same officer in the Church is called indifferently "bishop," or "elder," or "presbyter." He goes on to say: "The opinion hazarded by Theodoret, and adopted by many later writers, that the same officers in the Church who were first called apostles came afterwards to be designated bishops, is baseless." According to this dictum 'a New Testament bishop is a New Testament presbyter, and New Testament bishops and presbyters are simply ministers of Jesus Christ and pastors of churches.'
Dr Moule in his valuable book, Philippian Studies, says: 'It is important to remember that our word bishop cannot properly translate the Greek word as it is used in the New Testament, for it is not used there as the special title of a superintendent pastor set over other pastors.' For the office of deacon we have simply to refer to Acts vi. In the early Church there were evident ranks of gift, but not of grace. As believers gathered at the Lord's Table, or Love Feast, there was no distinction but that of humility and service. All were redeemed by the same Bloody stood on the same level; and each strove to be the lowliest and humblest of all.
'Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.' Grace was the western, and Peace the eastern salutation. The Apostle combines them. He desired that his absent friends might know more and more of the free favour of God, of forgiveness and acceptance, and of the enjoyment of help and comfort. He would also have them know that peace which filled his own heart, amid trials of no ordinary description, and which was bequeathed by the Master,—'My peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you.'
Notice how closely he conjoins the Father and the Redeemer. He did not think that he was robbing God of His unity or supremacy when he included our Lord in the same sentence. Though all his early training had recognised the Oneness of the Divine Nature, he had no scruple in adding to God the Father the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is remarkable to notice also the number of times in which he mentions the Saviour's name. It occurs forty times in this Epistle, that is, on an average, in every two or three verses, but this is characteristic of the New Testament, and especially of the writings of this Apostle. He was a slave of Jesus Christ; he viewed all saints as living, with himself, in Christ; his life was full of Christ; Christ was his life; to die was to depart to be with Him; his rejoicing was in Christ Jesus; and steadfastness was only possible, as he and his converts stood fast 'in the Lord.' The Lord was always at hand to him, and because all believers were in Christ, they could count on God to supply all their need.
Let us rejoice to know that 'grace and peace' are not exhausted, but that they flow down to us still in this remote century, and amid the altered circumstances of modern life. Christ was, and is, and is to come. In Him the Church still exists, through Him she is still supplied with grace upon grace, and unto Him she will be gathered without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing.