Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: 2Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
We may be tempted to breeze through such greetings in Paul's letters, but his brief introductions are packed with important information and signal broad theological motifs.
Ancient letters usually began with a salutation. Paul always identifies himself at the beginning of his letters and designates his intended audience. He also commonly employs such greetings to remind his readers of some key truths. In these opening two verses of the Epistle to the Philippians, such themes include: the submissive relationship of believers as servants/slaves to their Lord; the sanctifying work of Christ Jesus; and the grace and peace that comes from God the Father, and Lord Jesus the Messiah.
Paul often jointly penned letters with his colleagues in ministry (see 1 Cor. 1:1; also Gal. 1:2), and frequently did so with Timothy (2 Cor. 1:1; Col. 1:1; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1; Philem. 1). On Paul as author, see the introduction to this commentary. Timothy had been with Paul since early in his second missionary journey (Acts 16:1-3), when Timothy was
identified as a disciple of Christ who had a good reputation in the church in Lystra and Iconium (in modern southern Turkey). Timothy was the son of a believing Jewish woman and a Gentile (literally, a 'Greek') father (Acts 16:1). As a result of his Gentile heritage, Timothy had not been circumcised as an infant, and Paul himself performed this rite on Timothy in order to increase his evangelistic effectiveness among the Jewish populace (Acts 16:3).
Elsewhere, Paul highlights the spiritual legacy Timothy had received in the Scriptures from his mother and grandmother (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:15). Timothy is known to have accompanied Paul during many of his travels in Asia Minor, Macedonia and Greece (Acts 16:1-3; 18:5; 19:22; 20:4). During this time, Timothy had been actively involved in the proclamation of the gospel (2 Cor. 1:19). Paul even designated Timothy as his apostolic delegate to nurture the churches of Macedonia and Achaia (Acts 17:14-15; 1 Cor. 16:10; 1 Thess. 3:2, 6) and later to minister within the church at Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:3). Paul also wrote at least two personal letters to Timothy to instruct him in his Christian life and ministry, both of which are in the New Testament canon.
Paul considers Timothy a 'fellow worker' (Rom. 16:21), a 'brother' in Christ (2 Cor. 1:1; Col. 1:1; Philem. 1), and a 'beloved and faithful child in the Lord' (1 Cor. 4:17; cf. Phil. 2:22; 1 Tim. 1:2, 18; 2 Tim. 1:2). Paul's reference to Timothy as a beloved child shows the trust and intimacy in their relationship, and it is illustrative of the way Paul had helped raise up Timothy in the gospel and in his ministry. Later, perhaps after Paul's death, Timothy even appears to have been imprisoned for the sake of the gospel (Heb. 13:23).
Yet despite the joint authorship suggested by this verse, it is clear that Paul remains the principal author of this epistle. Note the frequent first-person singular statements (i.e., I, me, mine) throughout the letter (e.g., 1:3, 7, 8, 9, 12, 16, 18, 19). Paul, as author, even states that he hopes to send Timothy to the Philippians soon (Phil. 2:19). Timothy was already well known to the Philippian church (Phil. 2:22; cf. Acts 16:1-12; 17:14-15). And by 'co-authoring' this letter with Timothy, Paul may have also wished to pave the way for their continued acceptance of Timothy as Paul's apostolic delegate when Timothy arrives in Philippi (see Phil. 2:19-24).
Paul labels Timothy and himself as 'servants.' There was Old Testament precedence for important representatives of God to be called a 'servant/slave of God'. Indeed the whole people of Israel were supposed to act as servants of God, as were any who followed the Lord (e.g., Ps. 34:22). The term 'servant' could also be used as a self-description of one who is in prayer to God (1 Sam. 14:41; 23:10; Dan. 9:17; and repeatedly in the Psalms), or simply to express submission to another in authority, such as to a king (e.g., 1 Sam. 17:34; 19:4; 22:14). Most commonly in the Old Testament, this word simply designates a 'slave.'
The Greek word for 'servants' (douloi) that Paul uses here actually referred in the first century to 'slaves'. Slavery was quite common in the Roman world, with a substantial portion of the populace being held as the property of others. Given that Paul was writing to people in a Roman colony/city, his recipients' first thoughts likely would have been of household slaves, who served within the home. These positions could vary in importance, with some slaves having menial tasks and others being largely responsible for the economic well-being of the household. Despite position and responsibility, however, the universal truth of Roman slavery was that the slave was owned by another.
Thus, at the opening of this letter Paul designates himself as the personal property of Christ Jesus. In his epistle to the Romans, Paul expands on this metaphor to speak of the Christian as one who has been transferred from the dominion of sin into the ownership of Christ (Rom. 1:1; 6:1523; cf. Titus 3:3). Much as people of the Old Testament could envision their relationship to God as that of slavery in his divine service, Paul invokes this same humble title 'slave' to depict his service to Christ Jesus. As the result of Christ's work in purchasing him from sin and eternal judgment, Paul considers his own will to be in complete submission to his Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, this same humble title also grants Paul great significance, for he is a slave of Jesus Christ: he serves the Lord of the universe. Oh, that we too could catch a vision for our roles as slaves of our exalted Lord!
Already at this point in the letter, Jesus is identified as the 'Christ'. This should not be passed over as if it were just another name. Rather, the word indicates Paul's firm conviction that Jesus is the Messiah, the promised deliverer who had been anointed by God. Much of the Old Testament story had held out the hope that there would be a king over Israel who, though in the line of David, would be a greater (even eternal) king on the Davidic throne. In the centuries between the close of the Old Testament and the coming of Jesus, messianic belief had increased in many sectors of Second Temple Judaism (evidence of this can be observed especially in the Dead Sea Scrolls). The Messiah would succeed where David and his descendants had failed, and he would establish the reign of God in the kingdom of God. Of course, Jesus had inaugurated the kingdom of God in a most surprising way, through His teaching, and via His humble death and exalted resurrection, rather than through military might. Yet, the eternal reign of the Messiah Jesus at the right hand of God, the Father, has indeed begun and will be consummated in the world to come (see especially Phil. 2:8-11).
The recipients of the letter are identified as 'saints'. Paul commonly employs this term to refer to Christians who receive his letters. This designation 'saints' is the plural of the Greek word 'holy' (hagios). Hence, the word itself deems these people to be 'holy' and set apart for God. In the Old Testament, it could refer to those true followers of God (e.g., Pss. 16:3; 34:9; Dan. 7:18) who had been set apart as holy to their holy God (cf. Exod. 19:6; Lev. 19:2). Paul's use of 'saints' here refers both to the justified status of the believer and to the responsibility
each bears to respond to God's grace by living a holy life before Him. That Paul calls all Christians saints (even in this life) manifests his confidence in the ongoing sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit within all justified followers of the crucified and risen Christ. Paul writes to 'all' such saints in Philippi, emphasizing his inclusion of all members in the church as his recipients (cf. Phil. 1:4, 7-8) and perhaps reminding them of their unity in Christ (even in the midst of strife, see 4:2-3).
This particular group of saints dwells 'in Philippi.' Regarding the city of Philippi, see further the introduction to this commentary. Although founded in the fourth century b.c., Philippi in the first century a.d. was a vibrant city in Macedonia, having been designated as a Roman colony (cf. Acts 16:12) by imperial commission to commemorate the victory of Augustus Caesar (Octavian) at the nearby battle of Philippi in 42 b.c. As a colony (Colonia Augusta Julia Philippensis), the city received special privileges, and many of its inhabitants could be said to be citizens of Rome. Paul and Timothy had first entered the city during Paul's second missionary journey (approximately a.d. 49; see Acts 16:12-40). Philippi served as Paul's first place of outreach in Macedonia. There the Lord opened Lydia's heart during a Sabbath service (Acts 16:14) and her household was converted (16:15). Paul exorcized the demonic spirit within a slave girl (16:16-18) and received, in turn, the wrath of her masters (16:19-23). Due to that incident, Paul was beaten and imprisoned. Although he had the chance to escape, Paul remained in the jail, and the jailer and his family were converted to Christ (16:23-34). Paul was released from prison, and the city officials apologized to him since he was a Roman citizen (16:35-39). Apparently he left the city shortly after this event (16:40). This letter testifies to Paul's ongoing connection to the Philippian church since his departure from the city.
These saints at Philippi are said to be 'in Christ Jesus' (also Phil. 4:21). This is a frequent phrase in Paul's writings, occurring in various forms and contexts more than 70 times. It broadly refers to the believers' salvific and sanctifying union with Jesus the Messiah. In this epistle, the phrase is used for the believers' glory/boast in Christ (1:26; 3:3; 4:19), encouragement in Christ (2:1), unity in Christ (2:5), peace that guards hearts and minds in Christ (4:7), and riches in Christ (4:19). Also Paul speaks personally of his chains manifest in Christ (1:13) and of his calling in Christ (3:14). Paul thus reminds the church from the very beginning of this great letter that the identity of its people is to be found in their union with the Messiah Jesus.
In addition to greeting the general populace of the church at Philippi, Paul especially highlights the 'overseers and deacons.' Elsewhere it is clear that 'overseers' and 'deacons' were positions of authority and service within the church.While some translations render episkopois ('overseers') here as 'bishops' (e.g., King James, Revised Standard, New English Bible), others more correctly translate this Greek noun in keeping with its functional meaning, since episkopos in Greek simply signifies 'one who oversees' (e.g., the English Standard, New International, and New American Standard translations). In common parlance, episkopos could be used of people who had the responsibility of 'overseeing' political, military, or religious affairs. After the New Testament era, by the early second century, at least some sectors of the church had transitioned their leadership structures to encompass three offices within a city church, a central bishop (episkopos) with multiple elders/priests (presbyteroi) and deacons (diakonoi). This arrangement is most evident in the writings of Ignatius of Antioch at the beginning of the second century.However, prior to Ignatius one can witness a twofold ecclesial structure (elder/overseer and deacon) in the postApostolic first century. In the New Testament itself the terms for 'overseer' (episkopos) and 'elder' (presbyteros) were used interchangeably (compare Acts 20:17 and 20:28; also Titus 1:5 and 1:7). Moreover, in Paul's letter to the Philippians, rather than there being a single 'bishop', apparently there were many 'overseers' (episkopoi) in the one city of Philippi (the term episkopois is plural in Phil. 1:1). Thus here Paul knows only of two official positions within the church at Philippi, 'overseers' and 'deacons' (compare 1 Tim. 3:1-13).
Paul does not elaborate in this epistle on the respective duties of the 'overseers and deacons'. Yet other passages in the New Testament directly address their roles more fully. Elders/ overseers in Ephesus were responsible for overseeing and caring for the flock in their midst (Acts 20:28). Peter states that elders should 'shepherd' the flock of Christ, exercise oversight without domineering, and be an example (1 Pet. 5:1-4). Peter also indicates that younger people are to be subject to these elders (1 Pet. 5:5). Paul's letters likewise speak of the overseers/elders as caring for the church in a way similar to the 'managing' of their own households (1 Tim. 3:4-5). Such men are to be 'able to teach' (1 Tim. 3:2) and capable of giving instruction in sound doctrine (Titus 1:9). Paul also appears to assume that, while all elders 'rule' (or 'manage', see proistēmi in 1 Tim. 5:17), some in particular are called to labor in preaching and teaching (1 Tim. 5:17). From these various passages it is apparent that overseers/elders were charged with the oversight of the churches in the first century, an oversight they discharged in part by being examples to their congregations and by teaching the Scriptures and doctrine of the church. Some (but apparently not all) focused especially on the teaching/preaching of Scripture.
The exact function of deacons in the first-century church is less certain. In the longest New Testament passage that directly describes the deaconate (1 Tim. 3:8-13), in contrast to the preceding passage on elders, there is a lack of descriptors indicating oversight or teaching responsibilities. Also the Greek word for 'deacon' (diakonos) often simply means 'servant.' Thus it is traditionally assumed that while elders/ overseers were charged with oversight and teaching, deacons had a subsidiary responsibility for caring for the practical daily lives of people in the church (perhaps similar to the role of the seven men set aside for such service in Acts 6:1-7).
It can only be a matter of speculation as to why Paul highlights the overseers and deacons in this epistle but does not do so in most other letters. Perhaps he simply wished to honor their position or to model for the general church membership the honor they should be shown. Or maybe Paul wished these church leaders and servants to pay special heed to the matters he discusses in this letter.
Paul always invokes 'grace and peace' on the recipients of his letters (cf. Phil. 4:23), especially at the beginning of each of his epistles. In this, Paul is followed by other New Testament authors. These opening invocations follow a fairly set pattern in Paul (with only slight variations found in Col. 1:2; 1 Thess. 1:1; 1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2; Titus 1:4). However, one should not conclude from his consistency of expression that this invocation was without particular import to Paul. Rather, as we reflect on Paul's opening blessing of 'grace to you and peace', we observe that this Pauline expression indicates a distinctly Christian way of invoking God's grace and peace on others in lieu of more typical pagan Greek and Jewish expressions.
In everyday correspondence, Greek letters often began with the salutation chairein ('greetings,' or more literally 'rejoice'; see Acts 15:23; 23:26; James 1:1). Paul and other early Christians altered this standard salutation slightly to read charis ('grace') This alteration is theologically important, God is the gracious God who gives all good gifts to His children, especially the gift of salvation in Christ Jesus apart from any works-based merit on the part of those saved. So this distinctively Christian opening salutation serves as an invocation of God's gracious blessing.
It is likely that Paul's mention of 'peace' follows the Jewish greeting shalom ('peace'; cf. Ezra 4:17; 5:7), which itself recognizes the blessings of peace that come from God. Old Testament benedictions invoke 'peace' on Israel (e.g., Num. 6:26), and this practice continues in benedictions in the New Testament. Elsewhere, Paul asserts that the 'God of peace'has established such peace between Christian believers and God through the salvific work of Christ (Rom. 5:1).
Thus we observe that this opening, which in most ancient letters would be a simple salutation, has become, in Paul's hands, a benediction invoking grace and peace on the church. Moreover, Paul expresses the origins of such grace and peace. They come 'from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ'. This phrase, with its single preposition, expresses confidence that both these members of the Trinity are united in blessing the believer with grace and peace.
Paul's mention of the fatherhood of God (cf. Phil. 2:11; 4:20) is in keeping with the teaching of Jesus and with the 'fatherhood' language found in Paul as well. The fatherhood of God can refer to God as the creator of the world. More importantly, this speaks of a familial intimacy between Christians and God Himself. In a way analogous to God's adoption of Israel (Rom. 9:4, 8), Paul considers believers to have been given redemption and a promised adoption into the very family of God. Yet beyond connotations of family intimacy, in a first-century context a father was also owed honor and obedience. Therefore, calling God 'Father' encapsulates the Christian's relationship with God as creator, savior, and sovereign.
Jesus is esteemed here as the 'Lord Jesus Christ'. Earlier in verse 1, we discussed the messianic meaning of the word 'Christ' (i.e., 'anointed one') Here Jesus is also designated 'Lord.' In this letter, Paul often uses this word (kurios) in reference to Jesus (see 2:19; 3:8, 20; 4:23). To focus on one example, Paul declares that everyone in heaven and on earth will bow the knee to this risen Christ Jesus and confess him to be Lord (2:11). Certainly one cannot declare the crucified Jesus to be Lord without first asserting that he has also risen from the dead and now reigns at the right hand of God the Father as Lord and Master. The term kurios is also employed by Paul to speak of God, and this follows the practice of the Greek Old Testament Septuagint (e.g., Gen. 2:8; Exod. 3:4; and hundreds of other times). Thus the very label kurios applied to Jesus expresses His exalted, deific status. It also indicates the Christian's response of allegiance to our crucified and risen Lord!
This brief two-verse introduction to the epistle thus does much more than simply tell us who the author and recipients are. Rather, it serves as a subtle indication to the reader of so much of Paul's theology and purpose in writing. It designates Paul and Timothy as the willing slaves of their Lord. It reminds the readers of Timothy's relationship with Paul before they are asked to receive him as Paul's apostolic delegate. It calls the recipients 'sanctified ones', whose very essence is defined in their union with Christ Jesus. It indicates particular leadership and service roles within the Christian community. It depicts God as the Father, who has created, saved, and adopted us into His family. It identifies Jesus as the messianic heir, who rightly is worshipped as Lord. And this introduction reminds the readers that the source of all true spiritual blessing comes from the wondrous unity of Father and Son. That very blessing of grace and peace has now been invoked on his hearers, so Paul next turns to praying in thankfulness for them.
A few of the Study Questions in the following chapters intentionally overlap with some of the Questions for Personal Reflection. This invites Bible study participants to share the fruit of their personal reflections with the broader group.