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, (vv. 1-2)
It is noticeable how, in many of his letters, the apostle links up younger and less experienced fellow laborers with himself, as here, in his salutations. He was an apostle by the Lord’s call, occupying a unique place as His special messenger to the Gentiles. But he never stands aloof in complacent dignity apart from others who are engaged in the same ministry. He had taken Timothy with him when the latter had not long been in the knowledge and path of the truth, and he testifies later, in this same letter, of the truth that was in him. In his care for the development of the younger brethren, Paul becomes a model for older teachers and evangelists to the end of the dispensation. If others are to follow on in the ways that be in Christ, it is well that more experienced men take a personal interest in their less experienced brethren who manifest a measure of gift, and by associating them with themselves in ministry, lead and encourage them in the path of faith. It is often the other way, and the young are disheartened, and permitted to slip back into business pursuits, who, if wisely advised, and helped when needed, might become able ministers of the truth.
Paul and Timothy take no official title here. They are simply servants of Jesus Christ. The word means “bondmen.” They were purchased servants, and as such, belonged entirely to Him whom they gladly owned as their Anointed Master. They were His by right, and they had renounced all title to do the will of the flesh. Nor is it only ministering brethren who are so designated in Scripture. This is the name that is used of all Christians. Though sons and heirs we are also bondmen of love, whose delight it should be to yield ourselves unto Him as those who are alive from the dead.
The saints as a whole at Philippi are greeted, and the elders and deacons specially mentioned. This is unusual. It evidently implies a particular sense of obligation to the elders and deacons on the part of the apostle, probably in connection with ministry of the assembly’s gift of love. There may also be the thought of addressing the leaders, or guides, in a special way, in view of the “rift in the lute”—the unhappiness between Euodia and Syntyche, which he desired to rectify.
Elders may, or may not, be official. In the early church they were definitely appointed by apostolic authority. It may be unwise, and going beyond Scripture, for saints in feebleness today to set up or ordain official elders. On the other hand, those measurably possessing the qualifications indicated in the epistles to Timothy and Titus, should be recognized by fellow believers as God-appointed elders, whose counsel should be sought, and who are responsible to watch for souls and to take oversight in the house of God. To fail to own such would be insubjection to the Word of God, but a true bishop or overseer would be the last man to insist upon obedience to him. He would rather lead by serving the saints and by the force of a godly example.
Deacons are those who minister in temporal things and should be chosen by the saints for this purpose. The word means “servant” but is different to that used above. It is not “bondman” but a servant acting voluntarily, and in response generally to the expressed desire of others.
Notice the little word all. It is used very significantly in this epistle—in a way not found anywhere else in the writings of the apostle Paul.
Observe its use in verses 4,7, 8, and 25 in this chapter, and verse 26 in chapter 2. Is it not plain that Paul desired to bind all together in one bundle of love in this way, refusing to even seem to recognize any incipient division among them? He greeted them all, he thought well of them all, he prayed for them all. He knew it would in the end be well with them all. And so he exhorted them all to stand fast in one spirit. As customary in all his letters, he wished them grace and peace. Grace was the general Grecian salutation. Peace was that of the Hebrew. So he links the two together. Grace in its highest sense, favor against desert, could only be known by the Christian. And true peace rests upon the work of the cross, whether it be that peace with God, which is fundamental, or the peace of God, which the apostle here would have the saints enter into and enjoy from day to day. Both descend from God, now revealed as Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have been brought into this place of favor.