This post is adapted from my newest women’s Bible study, Joy: A Study of Philippians.
I watch for the mailman, and I check my email and text messages a little more often than I’d like to admit, in the hopes that a personal note will be there. I get so excited to receive mail that I might even do a joy dance!
Thanks to the return address on the envelope or the contact name on my screen, I know the identity of the sender before I open my letter with a tear, a touch, or a click. Most letter writers today jump right into a salutation. But Paul is careful to clearly identify himself from the beginning, per the conventional letter format of the time, so there is no misunderstanding concerning authorship. Paul also notes that his associate, Timothy, is by his side; both are servants of their Savior.
Special Delivery: Most scholars believe Paul penned Philippians around AD 60, near the end of his two-year imprisonment in Rome, and approximately ten years after his first visit to Philippi (his second missionary journey), when he founded the first church in Europe (AD 49–51). He visited the believers in Philippi on his third missionary journey too (see Acts 20:6).
Reading the Letter
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
With joy, Paul begins by identifying his beloved recipients, describing to them who they are in Christ and extending a blessing to them. He calls them saints, which means they have been made holy, since they’re united with Christ by faith.
Believers in Christ, we, too, are sanctified (made to be saints). We’re certainly not perfect on our own, but we are united with Christ by faith and covered in His perfection. He took on our sin at His death and conquered both sin and death at His resurrection; He made us right with God (righteous) by faith. We are set apart for God’s purposes as His children, heirs of God and coheirs with Christ (Romans 8:16–17). All this, packed into one little word: saint. What a beautiful opening and an apt description of the Philippian believers and of you and me.
Special Delivery: The word apostle (Greek apostolos) means “one sent forth,” an ambassador or messenger, someone the resurrected Lord commissioned and empowered to proclaim the Gospel to all nations. Paul was called by the risen Christ to be an apostle (see Acts 26:12–18).
- When you write, do you include in your salutation (Dear So-and-So) a heartfelt description of the person to whom you’re writing? Let’s allow this to be a takeaway from Paul’s warm opening words. What word or phrase could you include to remind the recipient of her identity?
They’ve Got Mail
As Paul writes this letter ten years after his first trip to Philippi, it’s poignant to imagine Lydia and her family, the jailer and his family, and perhaps other former prisoners to be among the many recipients who first read or listen as the letter is shared.
Imagine the Philippians’ joy in receiving the letter itself. News from Paul! They know immediately that he is alive and well. And in the first few words, they receive the reminder of their identity in Christ as saints, followed closely with a pronouncement of God’s grace and peace upon them.
There is JOY in receiving. Let me remind you that you, too, have received this letter as your very own, and with it, an immediate reminder of your identity in Christ. You are God’s child, a saint, made holy in your Savior, Jesus, by faith in Him. As the Holy Spirit spoke through Paul, He continues to speak to you and me today through God’s Word. Receive His truth with the expectancy that God has something new for you to learn with joy!
Right away, we receive this blessing: God’s grace and peace for us in Christ. His grace (unmerited, undeserved favor) is what led Him to send His Son to the cross for us. His peace comes from knowing our sins are forgiven and we are reconciled with God for eternity. The two really belong hand-in-glove, if you will: we are covered in grace and filled with peace.
Special Delivery: A quick comparison of Paul’s opening lines in Philippians with some of his other letters (Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, and more) reveals one difference: he omits “an apostle” in Philippians. Perhaps his close relationship with the believers in Philippi means there was no need to identify himself further.
- Read Ephesians 2:8–9 and Romans 3:23–24. Through these verses and by definition, what do you learn about grace? Why could the grace of God be considered the greatest of all gifts?
- Paul also pronounces the peace of God in Christ in his opening words. What’s unique about the blessing of peace God gives, and why is it incomparably greater than the “peace” the world offers? (Read John 14:27, also noting the context.)
- Who are the people of grace and peace in your life—those who pronounce both blessings into your life when you need them most?
Do you receive with a heart of joy? Do you receive well? Consider grace-filled words in a note or letter. Do you believe them as you receive them? When someone speaks truth into your heart, do you listen and let those words bless you or do you dismiss them because you feel undeserving?
A friend told me that the words and Scripture I’d shared during a devotion spoke so specifically to her current struggle that she was certain God had guided her there to hear them. She knew the joy she felt was straight from God, and she praised Him; then she thanked me. I could have dismissed her words, but I didn’t. I embraced her, gave the glory to God, and trusted Him to continue working in her life and situation. Receiving her words gave me joy. I knew that the impact of my words was all God’s doing—I was only the vessel through which He worked—just as I know that all joy ultimately comes from Him. I’m still learning to receive well. How about you?
My sister in Christ, trust that God is working through another person’s gift to you, whether it’s words of blessing reminding you of your identity in Christ (like Paul’s) or a tangible gift of love. And you, likewise, bring joy to the gift-giver when you receive it with a heart of joy.
Adapted from Joy: A Study of Philippians, pages 18–20 © 2019 Deb Burma. Published by Concordia Publishing House.