Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE IRONY OF PAUL’S GREETING TO THE PHILIPPIANS”

Philippians 1.2

There are certain things you do not notice unless you are paying attention. Do you pay attention? When you are in a room full of people, are you so caught up in the moment of interacting with your friends that you pay no attention to the individual in the room who seems to be in distress for some reason? How about when you are talking to a person who is giving you all sorts of body language signals that he does not really have time to talk to you, but you do not care because you are talking and you have no plans to stop until you are finished saying what you want to say? The point that I seek to make is that there is a great deal more information available to people than is usually noticed. Some of the information that is available is not sufficient to reach a conclusion, but is sufficient to support a conclusion. For example: You are speaking to someone who is flashing body language signals that he does not want to talk to you. He glances away again and again. He shifts back and forth on his feet. He turns and then turns back, turns again and then turns back. Then he opens his mouth, leans a bit forward, and then raises one of his hands, so he can quickly interject and end the one-sided conversation . . . if you will pause long enough to draw breath.

If you already think the guy does not like you, that is corroborating evidence to support your conclusion. However, it can also be evidence that corroborates your feeling that he may just be pressed for time. Either way, you are guilty of boorishness for refusing to follow the cultural signals that govern our conversations. The text of this evening’s message is somewhat like that. Though it is insufficient to assert a principle, it is supportive of a conclusion you have already reached from your study of God’s Word, and it supports it in an ironical way. Turn to Philippians 1.2, and stand for the reading of God’s Word when you find that verse: “Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”

It is important that we fix our minds firmly on the concept of circumstances this evening. Circumstances are important, and everyone finds himself in circumstances. What are circumstances? Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary defines a circumstance as “conditions surrounding and affecting a person.”[1] So, what are some of the conditions surrounding and affecting you? Your sex, your age, your intelligence, your fitness, your athletic ability, your job, your health, your home, your education, your citizenship, your family, your allergies, your tan, your cavity, your headache, your girl friend, your husband, your savings account, your car, your church, your jail cell, your diabetes, your angina, your cerebral palsy, and your pocket change are just a few of the circumstances I could list in a person’s life that affects him. What are your circumstances? What things, situations, people, or influences affect you? Please do not say that nothing affects you, that you do not care. If nothing affected you, you would not mind riding the bus each day, and would have no concern about who chose to sit right next to you in an otherwise empty bus. If you are the lone rider on a bus that stops, and a big sweaty rider gets on and chooses to sit right next to you, and that does not bother you in the least, then perhaps you can say nothing affects you. Otherwise, circumstances do influence and affect you, as circumstances affect and influence everyone. Admit it. That is why you do not want to be the circumstance that distracts a loved one listening to a gospel sermon. However, I want to ask you, what are your circumstances? Reflect for a moment on your marriage, your family, your job, your health, your fitness, your age, the person sitting next to you, and whatever else comes to mind. Such details are a portion of the circumstances that affect and influence you, even during a gospel sermon.

Now, please, note several things related to our text:

First, NOTE THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE PHILIPPIANS

Of course, Paul’s remarks are directed to the Christians he is writing to who comprise the congregation of the church in the Roman colony city of Philippi, in Macedonia to the North East of Thessalonica and Berea. That was one of their circumstances. Other circumstances are mentioned in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, where he mentions that the Philippians were not only suffering “a great trial of affliction,” but that they were also suffering what he termed “deep poverty.”[2] Therefore, add those to the circumstances I have already suggested.

In view of their difficulties, Paul was only too delighted to report to the Corinthians that, despite their afflictions and poverty, those Philippians, who had so little, still had enough to give. The reason we know that is because they did give, #1, and also because Paul was a stickler that a person should only give what he has and not what he does not have. In Second Corinthians 8.12, he wrote, “It is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.

Next, NOTE THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE APOSTLE PAUL

There can be no doubt that the circumstances surrounding the Apostle Paul were, by any measure, severe. The severity of his circumstances was predicted by the Lord Jesus Christ. Speaking to faithful Ananias before the arrival of Saul of Tarsus to Damascus, Jesus said about the future Apostle Paul, “great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.[3] Suffer he did. Turn to Second Corinthians 11.23, where Paul begins to list some of the things he had suffered:

23     Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft.

24     Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one.

25     Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep;

26     In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;

27     In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.

28     Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.

Be mindful that this was written before Paul was almost killed in Jerusalem, before his two-year incarceration in Caesaria, before his perilous voyage and shipwreck on the Mediterranean Sea traveling to Rome, and before his imprisonment in Rome.

What do you think about Paul’s circumstances in Rome, keeping in mind that circumstances are those conditions surrounding and affecting you? Would being shackled to a Roman soldier affect you? Would being in the Mamartine Prison in the city of Rome affect you? Would a complete and total absence of anything resembling privacy affect you? Would a second pair of ears listening to everything you heard and said, and a second pair of eyes observing everything you saw and wrote affect you? Would confinement and a restriction of movement that hindered you from going where you wanted to go to do what you wanted to do affect you? Though we have briefly considered the not very good circumstances of the Philippians and the far worse circumstances of the Apostle Paul, there is something else to consider.

Finally, NOTE WHAT THE APOSTLE PAUL WRITES

“Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Consider what Paul writes in two ways:

First, we step up close to examine what he writes.

The greeting itself has by now become so standard in Paul that the form found in Philippians is precisely that found first in 1 Corinthians and repeated in 2 Corinthians, Romans, Philemon, and Ephesians. Here is a marvelous example of Paul’s “turning into gospel” everything he sets his hand to. The traditional greeting in the Hellenistic world was chairein — the infinitive of the verb “to rejoice,” but in salutations meaning simply “Greetings!” (see Acts 15:23; Jas 1:1). In Paul’s hands this now becomes charis (“grace”), to which he adds the traditional Jewish greeting shalom (“peace,” in the sense of “wholeness” or “well-being”). Thus instead of the familiar “greetings,” Paul salutes his brothers and sisters in Christ with “grace to you — and peace.”

It is worth noting that this is the invariable order of Paul’s words, not “grace and peace to you” as in most translations. Very likely there is significance to this order: the grace of God and Christ is what is given to God’s people; peace is what results from such a gift. Hence, “grace to you — and peace.” In a profound sense this greeting therefore nicely represents Paul’s larger theological perspective. The sum total of God’s activity toward his human creatures is found in the word “grace”; God has given himself to his people bountifully and mercifully in Christ. Nothing is deserved, nothing can be achieved. The sum total of those benefits as they are experienced by the recipients of God’s grace is “peace,” God’s eschatological shalom, both now and to come. The latter flows out of the former, and both together flow from “God our Father” and were made effective in our human history through our “Lord Jesus Christ.”

The collocation of the Father and Son in such texts as these must not be overlooked. In Pauline theology, whose central concern is “salvation in Christ,” God the Father is understood to initiate such salvation, and his glory is its ultimate raison d'être. Indeed, God the Father is the subject of nearly all the Pauline “saving” verbs, whose saving action was effected in our human history through Christ the Son. But texts such as this one, where Father and Son are simply joined by the conjunction “and” as equally the source of “grace and peace,” and many others as well, make it clear that in Paul’s mind the Son is truly God and works in cooperation with the Father and the Spirit for the redemption of the people of God.

Although one hesitates to make too much of a Pauline prescript, the contemporary church fits into this salutation at several key points. Those in roles of primary leadership too easily slip into a self-understanding which pays lip service to their being “slaves of Christ Jesus” but prefers the more honorable sense of this term found in the OT, than in the paradigm either of Christ (in 2:6-8) or of Paul (2:17). Not only so, but the emphasis on all of God’s holy people, together with the leaders, could also use some frequent “dusting off” so as to minimize the frequent distance between clergy and people that otherwise exists in the church. All of us are “in Christ Jesus”; and all are in Christ Jesus in whatever “Philippi” God has placed us, since contemporary Western culture is no more a friend to grace than theirs was to these early believers. And, finally, as with them, the key to life in Christ in our Philippi lies first of all in our common experience of grace and peace from God our Father provided by Christ our Lord.[4]

 

Now, we take a step back to consider what he is doing. Excuse me, but the Apostle Paul is the one who is in prison. His circumstances are far more severe than those he is writing to. Yet it is Paul who is ministering grace to the Philippians. Not that they were not seeking to look after his welfare, since we will learn as we get deeper into Philippians that they had sent Epaphroditus to look after him. However, we will pick up evidence along the way that Paul is far more concerned for their welfare than he is about his own situation. Do you see the irony of the situation? Paul is the one who is imprisoned. Paul is the one who completed the harrowing journey after two years of incarceration for something he did not do. Paul is the one whose entire life of service to Christ has been one crushing experience after the other. Yet he is extending to them the greeting of “Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” My friends, if circumstances have anything to do with Paul’s conduct and the Philippian’s conduct, then this greeting to them, and this letter to them, is inexplicable. Paul seems to be on the downside looking up, yet he is wishing them well, in the form of grace and peace from the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. How can this be? What occurs here, that defies all explanation from a consideration only of circumstances in the natural realm, is understood only in light of the supernatural, is understood only in light of a real God and a real Savior doing real things in the life of a real Christian. It is real grace, with grace understood to be God’s unmerited favor bestowed upon the undeserving through His Son Jesus Christ, first to bring about his initial salvation from sins, and then to sustain the Christian’s life in service to his God. God, Who has dealt very graciously with the Apostle Paul through his initial encounter with the glorified Savior, and continuing with his ongoing relationship with Christ, has given to him grace that is unaffected and uninfluenced by any visible circumstances in Paul’s life. God’s grace in Paul’s life, the unseen circumstance of Paul’s life, far outweighed whatever influence his visible circumstances had on him. That enabled Paul, while his visible circumstances seemed so contrary, to nevertheless minister grace to the Philippian Christians. By the way, the Apostle Paul is not the only Christian for whom this is true. This principle applies in every believer’s life, where God’s grace enables the child of God to overcome the circumstances that are visible, to in some way glorify God and give evidence of His wonderful grace. Did we not see it in this morning’s message, where the child of God is directed to count it all joy when he falls into divers temptations? Only God’s grace enables the Christian to do that, just as God’s grace goes even further by enabling someone suffering worse circumstances to minister grace to someone whose circumstances visibly seem to be better. How many of you here tonight remember our beloved sister Rosa ministering great grace to so many different people despite her profoundly adverse circumstances? My goodness, that wonderful young Christian woman was an even better Christian by God’s grace the closer she approached to eternity. Is that not precisely what we observe Paul doing in our text?

What does that leave us with this evening? It leaves us with Paul’s commendation of grace to us, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. God’s grace, His unmerited favor mediated to us through His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, with the result of salvation obtained by grace being peace with God, as well as the peace of God. Life without Christ is not real life at all, not meaningful life, not guiltless life, and it is certainly not eternal life.

However, when by God’s grace the sinner comes to faith in Christ, the war with God ends, peace with God breaks out, and the peace of God in one’s heart and mind becomes the order of the day. That being true, understand that it does not end there, but only begins there. Thereafter, God’s grace is both abundant and available to empower and enable the child of God both to testify and to serve. Additionally, what we observed when we addressed the irony of Paul’s greeting to the Philippians was additional evidence to support our belief that the circumstances which are seen to influence and affect us should not dominate us. What cannot be seen, God’s grace in the life of His child, is more telling on the Christian’s life and service than the circumstances that can be seen. When circumstances suggest to the lost to save money, the Philippians gave money to the poor saints in Jerusalem. When circumstances suggest to the lost to be quiet, Paul would testify and minister grace to others.

If a person’s life can be fully explained by his circumstances and the responses to those circumstances that he displays, that person is not a Christian. The Christian’s life has a bit of the supernatural in it, and that supernatural influence, that evidence of his life in Christ which alters his conduct, is God’s grace that evidences he is at peace with God.



[1] Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1996), page 329.

[2] 2 Corinthians 9.2

[3] Acts 9.16

[4] Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter To The Philippians - NICNT, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), pages 70-71.



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pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org