GRACE IS ALWAYS THE LAST WORD Philippians 4:20-23 July 9, 2020
Reflection | After expressing his gratitude for the Philippians’ partnership with him in ministry, reflected through their continued financial support, Paul transitions towards his close by praising the Lord. “To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever” (v. 20). Just one verse earlier, Paul evoked “the riches of his [God’s] glory in Christ Jesus.” Although these two verses share, in the mention of “glory,” a common word, the particular usage of this word is different in each case.
When Paul, in verse 19, speaks of God’s glory in reference to meeting all of the Philippians’ needs, he is referring to the outward manifestation of the Lord’s character. In essence, Paul is declaring God will provide for them out of His steadfast love, grace, and truth – the perfect integrity of who God is. In contrast, with verse 20, Paul prays for glory to be given to the Lord.
As part of God’s creation, there is nothing we can give to God that God does not already possess. What we can do, one way to understand the meaning of sin, is to not give to God what rightly belongs to Him. Since all good things come from the Lord and because God is love, grace, and truth, all glory belongs to the Lord. Or to put it another way, all praise and honor should be given to God. This is what Paul is talking about. This is what Paul is anticipating. When our Creator is rightly and universally glorified. When, as it is envisioned in Revelation, every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess in praise the goodness of God as revealed in Jesus Christ.
Paul immediately turns from praying for God to be given glory to addressing those who were answering his prayer – honoring and praising the Lord through how they were following Jesus together. As was the custom of his day, he concludes his correspondence with the Philippians by offering salutations: “Greet all God’s people in Christ Jesus” (v. 21). The phrase “all God’s people” is an unfortunate English translation of what originally in the Greek reads as “every saint in Christ Jesus.”
Unlike the modern use of the term in some parts of the Church, the Greek word for “saint,” “hagios,” does NOT refer to elite or super-Christians, those who have been canonized by religious leaders. No, to be a saint is to be set apart, to be made holy not by what we’ve done or accomplished for God but rather, because of what God has done and accomplished for us in Jesus Christ. Hence, all who follow Jesus are saints. Paul isn’t just extending greetings to some upper tier of leaders within the church at Philippi. He is acknowledging every Christian in Philippi and in so doing, encouraging them to greet and welcome any, and every, other Christian they might meet – all God’s people. Reinforcing this, Paul is quick to add that the warm wishes he extends are not just from himself but also “the brothers and sisters who are with me send greetings” (v. 22). He shares a specific shout out to the Philippians from “especially those who belong to Caesar’s household.”
Paul’s particularity here is interesting to say the least. It parallels Paul’s writing in Romans 16, individual men and women mentioned by him in that letter that biblical scholars believe were part of Caesar’s household. Scholars believe that some of the men and women mentioned in Romans 16 were part of Caesar’s household. Both of these mentions appear to suggest the Gospel already had infiltrated the heart of the Roman government. More than likely, these Christians in Caesar’s household were not blood relations but rather slaves and other servants of the imperial court.
Following Jesus in these positions of influence was a bold and risky proposition. Nero was the emperor of Rome at the time that Paul wrote these words. The fifth emperor of the Roman Empire, Nero was known for his vicious persecution of Christians. Previously in this study it was pointed out how Nero falsely pinned the blame for the Great Fire of Rome in 64 A.D. on the Church. Tacitus, a Roman historian (A.D. 60-120), further documents Nero’s murderous reign against those who confessed Christ: “Besides being put to death they were made to serve as objects of amusement; they were clothed in the hides of beasts and torn to death by dogs; others were crucified, others set on fire to serve to illuminate the night when daylight failed.” (Annals, XV.44). And yet despite the precariousness of their situation, these believers continued to be a silent and secret witness for Jesus in their administration of the day-to-day affairs of the Roman Empire.
Paul ends his letter to the Philippians with a final benediction: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit” (v. 23). This word of blessing is identical to the one with which Paul closes his much more personal letter to a man named Philemon. It also mirrors his concluding line of his letter to the church on Galatia. This single sentence contains Paul’s two favorite and interrelated themes when it comes to sharing the Gospel.
Grace. If we were to choose one word to sum up the message of Christianity, it is this one. From beginning to end, the invitation and the challenge of the Gospel is the revelation of grace. That, even though we have turned from God – rejected and rebelled against God, even murdering the Lord through the Cross – God refuses to turn away and to reject us. The Lord instead extends to us grace – forgiveness and resurrection. Deserving nothing and yet receiving everything, the revelation of God’s grace also puts to rest any assumptions of what we can, of what we need to earn, merit, or achieve in order to be right with the Lord. Thanks to the grace of God, it’s not what we have to do to belong to God. It’s what we get to do, it is what naturally, inevitably flows out of a life devoted to following and being transformed by the Holy Spirt.
The truth and tangibility of God’s grace hinges on the revelation of a person. Paul’s favorite person of which to write about – Jesus Christ. He cannot talk about grace without also talking about Jesus. Grace is not impersonal. Grace has a face and a name. This letter begins with the name of Jesus; it ends with His name. Paul invokes the person of Christ in every conceivable relationship of which he speaks. For it is only through God coming down to us in the person of Christ that we know God’s grace and indeed continue to experience it – yesterday, today and forever.
It is my eager hope that this devotional series has given God glory. I also pray that through this series the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ has been made real to you and that you have encountered the love of God in Jesus Christ in your spirit. Let’s do this again! –Pastor Chris
Consider & Discuss | How do you practically seek to give God glory through your life? Are you living like a saint – not as someone who is perfect or holier than thou, but as one who has been called, set apart, and blessed by God in order to live for God’s purposes? Reflect and meditate on what the Holy Spirit has taught you through this series. What are some practical lessons that the Spirit is leading you to start putting into action?
Prayer Focus | Heavenly Father, there is so much to learn from the letters of Paul and the other apostles. We give You thanks that we have Your words written through them to pour over and study. Even in the simple greetings at the beginning, and the gracious exhortations at the end, there is much for us to gain. Help us to see and to value all our brothers and sisters in Christ as saints. Teach us to delight in giving and receiving encouragement and support to each other through reflecting and repeating the truth and love of Your Gospel back to each other. Season our words with Your grace. Bring each conversation we share and every gathering we experience back to a profound awareness of the abiding presence, the ongoing work, and the eventual return of Your Son, Jesus Christ – and in so doing, let us give You the glory, now and forever. Amen.