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Bible treehuggercomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Philippians 4:21-23

Final Greetings

21 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. 22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.

23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

———————————————————————————

Last week’s post discussed Paul’s gratitude to the Philippians for their gifts to him over the years.

We have now reached the conclusion of Philippians and Paul’s benediction.

John MacArthur sets the scene for us (emphases mine):

So as the dear Apostle Paul watches the candle flicker, probably at night, and realizes that the darkness of night is soon to fall and waits the morning dawn when he hands the scroll, as it were, to Epaphroditus and he says, “Epaphroditus, the letter is done, you can now return to Philippi and give it to the leaders of the church,” as he waits to send off that dictated letter which an amanuensis or secretary has taken down, just before he is finished in the flickering of that last evening, he picks the stylus up himself and with his own hand it is very likely that verses 20, 21, 22 and 23 were written.

You say, “Well what makes you think that? The word of the Apostle Paul to the Thessalonians. The Apostle Paul in writing the final words of 2 Thessalonians said this, “I, Paul,” chapter 3 verse 17, “write this greeting with my own hand and this is a distinguishing mark in every letter, this is the way I write.” You wouldn’t write a letter without signing it to authenticate it, neither would Paul. And he says in that verse, “In all the letters I write, I always take up the pen and authenticate this.” You can understand how important that would be, right? People could be sending all kinds of letters and saying they were from Paul, it was vital that the true Word of God through that instrument be validated by his own inimitable inscription. And we know from Galatians 6:11 that he wrote with large letters. There’s reason to assume a rather large clumsy letters were his common way to sign off which would be very difficult to counterfeit. And so he picks up the stylus from his secretary, or amanuensis, and pens this final word. And as he does he introduces to us this lovely theme of sainthood.

Paul tells the Philippians to greet every saint in Christ Jesus and says that the brothers with him greet them also (verse 21).

The greeting Paul speaks of is more than saying ‘hello’. It suggests affectionate fellowship.

MacArthur says:

The simple verb translated “greet” or “salute,” although that has so many military connotations we don’t use it anymore, the simple verb means to say “hello” but not just in a vacuum, it implies a note of affection and a desire for one’s well being. And here we could assume that Paul is saying affectionately, “I want you to express to all the saints how much I desire their spiritual well being. Share my love and passion for their spiritual development.” That’s really what’s on his heart. It says I care, I care about you.

Would you notice he says “greet every saint.” He doesn’t say greet all the saints in sort of the collective way. Instead of using the collective “all” he uses the individualistic word “every.” And here he is noting for us that every saint is worthy of Paul’s concern, Paul’s care, Paul’s affection and Paul’s wishes for spiritual well being. Now this is a monumental and unique element of the Christian faith that we are to love one another the same. We are to consider others better than ourselves. There is no stratification in the body of Christ. There are to be no favorites. God is not a respecter of…what?…of persons. We are not to elevate some over the other. And what Paul shows us here that is…in his affectionate desire for the spiritual well being of the saints he included everybody. This is his heart. This is what he was after in chapter 2 when he said to them, “If there’s any encouragement in Christ, any comfort of love, any fellowship of the Spirit, any affection and compassion, please make my joy complete.” Why? “By having the same mind, loving everyone the same way, being united in Spirit, having one purpose, not being proud but humble, regarding one another as more important than yourself and not looking on your own things but the things of other,” namely, having the mind of Christ, the mind of humility. That’s fellowship.

That is not always how fellowship works in reality, but that is how it should work and what we should strive for.

MacArthur says that this instruction of greeting is meant for the church leaders:

Now the injunction here in verse 21 is directed at the church leaders who will get the letter. And when he says, “Greet every saint in Christ Jesus,” he is telling the pastors and elders and deacons to go greet the people on his behalf individually, assuring them of his love and his desire for their spiritual well being. This is the way it is with Christ. He had a heart for the individual. I remember Mark 5:31 where out of the midst of the multitude He felt the little lady who touched His garment. He always had that sense of being touchable. So it is in the church. There’s no stratification, there’s no elevation. We’re all commonly saints. None of us is superior to or inferior to the other, we are what we are by the grace of God, 1 Corinthians 15:10 says, and only because of His grace.

MacArthur explains who the brothers are in that verse:

Now I want you to know that while he was a prisoner in Rome for this time writing this letter, he had some pretty formidable folks coming to see him. He calls them the brethren who are with me and they send you the same desire for spiritual well being and affection and they’re the ones with me. These are his specific coworkers, as opposed to all the rest that he mentions in verse 22. And doing a little bit of background on this you find out who they were…quite an amazing group of people.

For example, we know that during his imprisonment Timothy was with him because he refers to him in the letter clear back in chapter 1 verse 1, then in chapter 2 verse 19. Timothy was his protege, his son in the faith, a very gifted, great, godly man, thirty years the junior of Paul but nonetheless a very unique and gifted man. There was also Epaphroditus, that godly saint who had come from Philippi, he too was with Paul, and you know the character of that man, it’s mentioned at the end of chapter 2. He was such a devout Christian that he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his own life just to serve Paul. That is a sacrificial man.

So Timothy was there, and Epaphroditus was there. Chapter 1 and verse 14 also indicates to us that there were some other brethren who were courageously preaching the Word of God without fear, so there were a group of other preachers there, evangelizers. In addition to that it’s very likely that Tychicus and Aristarchus were there, well known and noble Christians. There are many who would tell us that Luke was there and Mark was there. If we compare all the data we have, and that’s a formidable duo, namely the two who wrote the two gospels, Mark and Luke. And some have suggested it’s very likely Onesimus was there, the runaway slave who ran into Paul and was converted to Christ, who went back then to serve Philemon. Others would say a man named Jesus Justus was there. And then there are some unnamed brethren who were there with him.

The point that I want you to see is very interesting, it’s this. That as high up the ladders of stratification as they might be, these gentlemen are only described as the brethren. And again we pull them down from any supposed rank and we talk again about the commonality of sainthood. Timothy may have been unusually gifted, and certainly was. Epaphroditus may have been a noble Christian soul, and certainly he was. And among the preachers at Rome, there were unquestionably some extremely gifted men. And no one would argue about the spiritual qualifications of Tychicus and Aristarchus, given that they had spent a lot of time with Paul. And who would question Mark and Luke’s character? But as formidable as they were, they need only be associated with such sort of non-descript and troublesome characters as Onesimus. And they are all pulled together in one term “brethren.” You see, the fellowship of saints is a common bond without strata ... There isn’t any stratification here. This is the common identity, the brethren who are saints, those others who love Christ. The fact that they were gifted in different ways doesn’t make them any superior at all. In fact, Paul when identifying himself said, “I am the least of all Apostles,” and in another epistle he said, “I am the chief of sinners.”

Paul goes on to say that all the saints greet the Philippians, especially those in Caesar’s household (verse 22).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

He sends salutations from those who were at Rome: “The brethren who are with me salute you; the ministers, and all the saints here, send their affectionate remembrances to you. Chiefly those who are of Cæsar’s household; the Christian converts who belonged to the emperor’s court.” Observe, (1.) There were saints in Cæsar’s household. Though Paul was imprisoned at Rome, for preaching the gospel, by the emperor’s command, yet there were some Christians in his own family. The gospel early obtained among some of the rich and great. Perhaps the apostle fared the better, and received some favour, by means of his friends at court. (2.) Chiefly those, etc. Observe, They, being bred at court, were more complaisant than the rest. See what an ornament to religion sanctified civility is.

MacArthur points out the unifying nature of the greeting:

further opening up to us the window on fellowship, in verse 22 he says, “All the saints greet you,” and he just wraps his arms around the whole Roman church, all the people in Rome that were Christians…the wider circle of Christians, they send their love and their affection and their wishes for spiritual well being and growth.

Beloved, that’s the heart of Christian fellowship. We’re all saints, none superior to the other, though differently gifted and at points in our life differently faithful. But we are all one brotherhood, we are all one fellowship, we are all one body in Christ. And the less comely members, Paul says to the Corinthians, are not less significant, but are perhaps in many cases more significant, as the less beautiful members of your body are more significant than those ones which receive all the kudos. And so we find here that the fellowship of saints is a very simple thing, it is the sharing of common love and the desire for spiritual well being. The Christian singer is not a soloist, he’s a member of a choir. The Christian soldier is not solitary figure, he’s a member of an army. The Christian scholar is not a privately tutored leaner, he’s a part of a class and a school. The Christian son is not just a lonely child, he’s a member of a family. The Christian runner is not an individual performer, he is a part of a team. That’s the fellowship.

Catholics and Anglicans do not normally refer to each other as saints. That is something we leave to other denominations.

MacArthur defines what a saint is in Paul’s context, one which many Protestant denominations use:

Saints are not some group of people exist in isolation, as cold as the stone that marks them out. They’re common possessors of the eternal life of God who share their love with each other.

So sainthood is characterized then by being separated from sin unto God for holy purposes through faith in Christ. The worship of saints is godward praise in response to truth and blessing. The fellowship of saints is a loving and non-discriminating mutual care.

Number four, the joy of saints. Paul opens a window to that for us in verse 22 and I think he must have had a gleam in his eye as he penned this with his own stylus. He says in verse 22, “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.” And I just think he loved to say that. Why? Well this is the joy of the saints. You say, “What is the joy of the saints?” I’ll tell you what the joy of the saints is. In Luke 15 Jesus told a story about a lady who lost a coin, looked all day, found the coin, called her friends and rejoiced.

Then He told a story about a man who had sheep, lost a sheep, found the sheep, called his friends and they rejoiced. Then He told a story about a man who lost a son, found the son, called his friends, had a feast, they rejoiced. And through that fifteenth chapter of Luke the Scripture says that when a soul is saved there is joy in heaven. The theme of Luke 15 is the joy of heaven over the salvation of a soul. And may I say to you that that’s not the only place where there’s joy when a soul is saved. What is the joy of the saints on earth? The greatest, highest joy we have, isn’t it, is to see someone come to Christ.

We had the first two of those parables in the Gospel from Luke 15 in the Year C readings on September 10, 2022, the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity.

The final element of sainthood is realising, as Paul did, that — even though we still sin — we still live in Christ:

Listen, He’s the theme of this whole letter, did you get that? The name of Christ is mentioned 40 times in these four chapters, one every couple of verses, He’s the heart of the whole thing. He is central to it. Paul began by describing himself as a slave of Jesus Christ. He addresses the Christians as saints in Jesus Christ. When referring to his imprisonment he says my bonds are in Jesus Christ. When he speaks about life he says for to me to live is Christ. When he speaks about death he says for me to die is Christ. When he exhorts people to godly conduct, it is to be like Christ. When he calls for proper attitudes, it is to have the mind of Christ. When he speaks of choices and desires and hopes, he says they are to be built on trust in Christ. When he speaks about joy it is the joy of Christ. When he speaks about strength it is the strength of Christ. When he calls for power and knowledge and fellowship, it is the knowledge of Christ, the power of Christ, the fellowship of His sufferings that he longs for. And when he looks for eternal hope and glory, he says I am looking for Christ. And when it’s spiritual steadfastness he needs, it is in Christ. And when it is sufficiency he wants, it is in Christ. It is Christ, Christ, Christ, Christ

Our whole life is Christ, beloved. If you get nothing else, get that out of Philippians. Called by Christ, saved by Christ, to have the mind of Christ, to serve the way Christ served, to become like Christ. That’s the message. To be like the beloved Redeemer. We are saints, not yet all we should be, but moving to become like the one who called us saints.

MacArthur tells us of Paul’s mention of Caesar’s household in verse 22, which would have included a lot of employees, just as the British Royal Family has. By contrast, the Caesar at that time was the perverse Nero, who hated Christians:

Paul knows what joy this will bring when he says, “Especially those of Caesar’s household.” Why so? Because Nero was the Caesar and everybody knows what Nero thought about Christ and Christians. Nero had fancied himself a god, a competing deity, a competing lord and demanded that the people in the Roman Empire worship him. Now the household of Caesar would not just have been his own family, the household of Caesar is a word to indicate all who were in his direct employ. And if you study history you find it’s a very interesting group. You can do reading on it yourself. You will find it included courtiers, princes and higher ups in his personal court, judges. It included cooks, food preparers, tasters who tasted the food to make sure he didn’t get poisoned. Musicians, custodians, builders, people who attended to his stables, it included soldiers and those who led them, it included people who managed his financial affairs. All of those people who were in any sense a part of the direct system, they would have been by our definition today government workers, a large group of people. And I believe that because Caesar and his whole enterprise was the direct counterpart to Christ, that there was some special exhilaration in the heart of Paul when somebody in Caesar’s household became a Christian…when they turned their backs on emperor worship and embraced the true Christ.

Now to whom is he referring? Who are these who got saved? Well, two groups. First of all, those who had come to Christ in Caesar’s household since Paul had become a prisoner. Paul being the instrument of God that he was, you can be sure that the Roman soldiers who had been chained to him heard the gospel. In fact, if you have any question about it, I remind you of chapter 1 verse 13 which says that since his imprisonment, the gospel of Christ had become known throughout the whole Praetorian Guard and to everybody else. The Praetorian Guard or the Roman soldiers were exposed to Paul…it’s one thing to be chained to Paul, to guard him, it’s something else to have Paul chained to you. Talk about not being able to get away. And the result was people were coming to Christ in the Praetorian Guard. So some of those in Caesar’s household that you can rejoice over are converted soldiers and others who heard the Word, too, who were part of serving the Caesar.

But there’s something else here as well. There’s no reason to assume that it doesn’t also include people who were Christians before Paul’s imprisonment. The gospel had already come to Rome and many had come to know Christ.

MacArthur gives us a list of names we have already seen in our studies of Paul’s letters. These come thanks to the Victorian New Testament scholar, the Revd J B Lightfoot, not to be confused with the Revd Dr John Lightfoot whom Matthew Henry cites. I have not read that they were related:

J.B. Lightfoot, that great New Testament scholar, has a marvelous treatment of this whole idea of the Christians in Caesar’s household. And studying all kinds of lists that have been discovered archaeologically that give us names of Caesar’s household, and they’ve found them in archaeological digs, he has taken all the names on all those lists that have been discovered, gone over those names to see if he can recognize any of them, and found amazingly many parallels on the list of government workers with the list of names in Romans chapter 16. You remember when Paul was writing the epistle to the Romans and the sixteenth chapter he commends many, many people who helped him. Many of those names appear on the lists of Caesar’s household. In fact, Lightfoot concludes that Romans 16 should studied that way and that it’s pretty clear that people like Ampliatus, Apelles, Stachys, Rufus, Hermes, Tryphaena and Tryphosa, at least, and maybe others, were very, very much a part of Caesar’s household. So you have some people being converted out of Caesar’s household while Paul was a prisoner. You have some who were already Christians before that. And now Paul just loves to say, gathering up both groups, all the Christians in Caesar’s house send their love. How wonderful, how thrilling that the household of Caesar, the enemy of Christ had yielded up many souls to the conquering Christ. The crucified Galilean had already begun to rule the governments of the world spiritually. Surprising joy, surprising joy.

You can read more about them and others in my posts on Romans 16:

Romans 16:7-10 – Andronicus and Junia (Junias), Ampliatus, Urbanus, Stachys, Apelles, those of the household of Aristobulus

Romans 16:11-13 – Herodion, those ‘in the Lord’ in the household of Narcissus, Tryphaena and Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus and Rufus’s mother

Romans 16:14-16Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, Philologus, and the brothers who are with them; also, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas

Paul concludes by commending the grace of Jesus Christ to the Philippians’ spirit (verse 23).

We need divine grace daily, the way we need water and food. We cannot live in Christ without His grace.

MacArthur elaborates:

You want to hear something, you didn’t deserve to be saved and you don’t deserve to be kept saved. Do you understand that? You are no more worthy of your salvation now than you were then. And so you are sustained by grace just as you were saved by grace. It is grace by which our whole life exists. That’s why Paul says in Romans 5:2, “This grace in which we stand.” We live in it. Our life is governed by grace, guided by grace, kept by grace, strengthened by grace, sanctified by grace, enabled by grace. Listen, if God only gave us now that we’re Christians what we deserve, we’d still be damned to hell. It is the constant grace of forgiveness, the grace of enabling strength, the grace of comfort, the grace of peace, the grace of joy, the grace of boldness, the grace of revelation and instruction. We are dependent on all of it all the time.

He started out in chapter 1 verse 2 wishing them grace. He ends up wishing them grace and again comes full circle. He says the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. What do you mean by that? Your spirit, your person, your inner man, the real you…may you know the fullness of grace, that purifying, beautifying, sanctifying grace.

What an uplifting note on which to end this study of Philippians.

Next week, I will introduce Paul’s letter to the Colossians. It, too, is a short letter, and most of it is in the Lectionary. We will see some familiar themes and names over the next few weeks.

Next time — Colossians 2:1-5

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