GRACE AND PEACE
Read and pray through Philippians, chapter 1, specifically, Philippians 1:1 – 2.
For the next few weeks, we will be reflecting on Paul’s letter to the Philippians. This is one of Paul’s four “prison letters,” the other three being, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon. Paul wrote these letters during his own experience of being isolated and sheltered in place – his house arrest for two years in Rome (Acts 28:16, 30-31).
The city of Philippi was named after Philip of Macedonia, the father of Alexander the Great.
It was a major city of Macedonia on the road from Rome to Asia known as the Egnatian Way.
This city was also the site of a famous battle in 42 B.C. in which Antony and Octavius defeated Brutus and Cassius. In 30 B.C., Octavian (later to become Emperor Augustus Caesar) made the town a Roman colony where retired soldiers could live and enjoy the full privileges of Roman citizenship.
Paul established the church at Philippi during his 2nd missionary journey in Acts 16. Paul and his traveling companions (Timothy and Silas) ended up in Philippi thanks to a vision of a man of Macedonia pleading for their assistance. A businesswoman named Lydia was one of Paul’s first converts in Philippi. She was one among many women who played a role in the growth of the churches in Macedonia. Paul visited the church at Philippi again on his third missionary journey (Acts 20:3,6).
As was the custom of the time, in these opening verses Paul identifies himself as the writer of this letter and then names to whom he is writing. Paul addresses this letter to “all the saints in Christ Jesus.” If we survey Paul’s other letters, we notice “saints” is the most common term Paul uses to address members of the community of faith in Christ. The word “saint” means “holy one, one who is set apart.” To be a saint is to walk on a distinctive path, to move in a particular direction, to live according to different standard – all of which is oriented in reference to God’s design and purposes for humanity.
Unlike our modern usage of this term, for Paul, every follower of Jesus is a saint. However, there ought to be no arrogance or smugness on our part in being addressed in this way. Notice that for Paul we are all saints not because of anything we have done but because we are “in Christ Jesus” – because of what Jesus has done and continues to do for us. Thanks to the work of the Cross and the victory of the Resurrection, we live now according to a new Way, the only Truth, the very Life of Jesus. We have been set apart by the mercy and the forgiveness, the love and the grace of God in Christ. We are not saints so that we can boast or stand in superiority over others. We are saints so that we can share all that we have received in Christ, so that we can lead others to Jesus by humbling serving them in His name.
Again, answering this specific call of being a saint in Christ is not something we do out of our own power. Paul imparts to the community of Philippi a dual greeting of “Grace and peace.” Paul employs a customary 1st century greeting, something one might say when one walked into another’s home, and transforms it into a blessing by adding “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” In essence, Paul praying for the fullness of God’s presence and power to be upon the Philippians.
His prayer for grace is not for saving grace. The believers in Philippi already have this. No, Paul asks for God’s sustaining grace to uphold the entirety of their walk of faith with Jesus. Being a saint, answering that call and responsibility, can only be fulfilled by the sustaining grace of God. By grace, we have been saved and it is by the grace of God, we become more and more like Christ, as we encounter every opportunity and blessing and as we persevere and endure through every challenge and trial. It is grace that eventually leads us home, through the valley of the shadow of death, and beyond into everlasting life.
Paul’s prayer for grace is balanced with an appeal for peace. This peace is not peace with God; it is peace from God. Again, peace with God is already ours. We have been reconciled in our relationship to God thanks to the work of Christ. The Lord engages us not as enemies or strangers but as friends, as His children whom He is calling back to Him. Peace from God is the confidence He gives us not about our relationship to Him, but of His relationship in terms of all creation. Peace from God is the divine assurance that the Lord is in control, that God is causing all things to work together for our good, that our God, as Paul will write later in this letter, “will meet all our needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (4:19).
Together, as we follow Jesus, we are saints. We are set apart by the grace and peace of God. We are set apart to extend the grace and peace of God to others. We only have this grace and peace of Christ to share as we rely and operate out of this grace and peace in our own lives. The grace of God leads us into the peace that is from God. Abiding in both of these precious gifts is the key to remaining together even as we are apart. Offering both of these sacred resources to one another is how we can be united even when we disagree.
We are isolated from many things these days but the word of God is not one of them. And the Spirit of God is not confined by the physical and geographical restrictions we have imposed upon ourselves right now. Large measures of the grace and peace of God are flowing even in the midst of this season of our lives. Let us be receptive to those divine currents all around us. Let us keep our hearts and minds open so that through the word and the Spirit of God, we will not forget who we are and from whence our strength and perseverance comes. We can’t give away what we don’t ourselves possess. But if we take hold of all that Christ has given us, we have divine resources to offer to others that are inexhaustible and life-changing.
Consider and Discuss | What are some tangible ways you have encountered and experienced the sustaining grace and peace that comes from God?
Prayer | Lord, as we are very worrisome people, prone to anxiety before an unknown and certain future right now, grant us Your grace and peace every moment of every day. Help us to realize and to remember that we experience both in as much as we share them with others. Amen.