Slaves of Grace and Peace
June 14, 2020 Series: Philippians
Topic: Grace Passage: Philippians 1:1–1:2
This message focuses on being a slave of Christ and God’s grace and peace to us. The opening of Paul’s letter to the Philippians contains three parts: the sender, the recipients, and the formal blessing.
The Sender Section - Slaves of Christ
First, the sender section reveals who is writing the letter, Paul and Timothy. Paul is under house arrest in Rome and Timothy is a younger man in the ministry of the word, who the Philippians know and love. Paul calls himself and Timothy slaves of Christ Jesus. He wants to communicate that they are owned by the Lord Jesus Christ, which is true for all Christians (1 Cor. 6:20). Paul uses slave lingo, which would have made sense in the cultural context of the Roman Empire’s culture of slavery.
It is foundational to Christianity that no one can become a slave of Christ until they realize that by nature they are slaves of sin (Eph. 2:1, 3, Rom. 6:17). There were a few ways that slaves could gain their freedom in the Roman Empire, but there is only one way of deliverance from slavery to sin. It must be bought by the only person who could pay the price, namely Christ. When you become a slave of Christ, it’s not just an ordinary transfer from one master to another. For Christians who really understand this slave analogy, they see that it is so good and joyful to be a servant of God. But we need to be careful not to picture serving God as if we serve a human master or employer who pays us to keep the commands he gives us (Cf. Acts 17:25). This would belittle God as needy of our service. But God is all-sufficient and utterly needless. And the great news of the gospel is that Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for our freedom (Mark 10:45). So we serve the Lord with gladness as Christians (Ps. 100:2). We look to Him, not as an employer, but as a medical doctor who gains nothing by prescribing instructions we are to follow. But if we trust our physician, we will obey.
The Addressee Section - to all the Saints
The second section of the opening to the letter is the addressee section: to all the saints. This was written to the church in Philippi, and we see that the church had structure with overseers and deacons. “The saints” to whom this was written were not super Christians the way the saints are portrayed in Roman Catholicism. When Paul says, “to the saints,” he makes it clear that every born again person who has come to faith in Jesus Christ is a saint. The sense of the word “saint” here refers to God setting something apart for Himself for His holy use. Saints in the Bible are those who are being sanctified, but no matter the level of one’s holiness, what makes him or her a saint is because they have been set apart by God.
The Blessing - Grace and Peace
Finally, the third section of the opening is the blessing: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Most letters opened with “grace and peace,” but Paul is transforming what is a standard greeting into something deeply theological. For Paul, “grace” means God’s goodness given to those who could never deserve it or earn it; it is utterly unmerited. Grace means that God is reaching out and bringing unworthy sinners to Himself to experience His joy. That grace is what invaded John Newton’s life as he wrote the words of “Amazing Grace.” Peace comes from God because grace saves the saints. What brought peace was God’s wrath turned away from sinners and fully dispensed on Christ (Rom. 5:1). This peace is the Creator of the universe at peace with every sinner made saint because of grace. This peace is an objective reality for every Christian. But peace is something that we need subjectively to constantly move towards (Phil. 4:6).
One thing to notice about all of Paul’s letters is that they begin with “grace and peace to you” and end with “grace be with you.” Paul knows that this letter and every letter is a channel of God’s grace. As you hear the words of the letter read publicly, grace is coming to you. And as you leave the gathering, may God’s grace continue with you.
The Take Home - Grace through the Word
The take home from this passage this morning: allow God’s grace to go with you. The grace referred to here does not mean just remember back when you became a Christian and were saved by grace. We’re always thankful for that, but we need fresh grace, the power of Grace, God’s grace today. God’s grace is dispensed to us through the Scripture, through God’s word internalized, being applied to the heart by the Spirit. We desperately need this grace, because we constantly tend to grow weak, hardened, cold toward God. So the question is, where are we gonna find strength when we’re weak? The word of God is grace coming to us like food to our body (Heb. 13:9). There is always grace there for our eternal good, and grace for today.