Philippians 1.1-2: What’s in a Greeting?

1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: 2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (TNIV).

Note the threefold repetition of “Christ”.  All of life is to be oriented around the Lord Jesus Christ.  This will prove to be a key theme throughout the letter.

Paul and Timothy identify themselves as servants/slaves (douloi) of Christ Jesus, as opposed to Paul’s usual self-designation as an apostle (cf. Gal 1.1).  But this is fitting for a letter that seeks to foster humility among its readers.  Plus, Paul considers it an honor to follow Jesus’ example who “made himself nothing by taking the very nature a servant (doulos), being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross” (Phil 2.7-9)!  This is the very posture that we and the Philippians ought to carry into all of our relationships.

The letter is written to “all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus as Philippi”.  The word “holy” indicates not that they are exceptionally good Christians but that the Philippians have been “set apart” by God and belong to him.  They receive this designation not because of anything they’ve done but because of their union or incorporation into Christ, which was made possible through his redemptive work on the cross.  And note that Paul calls all of the believers at Philippi holy.  This language is most likely intended to help foster a spirit of unity: all members of the community have a special place in God’s grace and belong together in Christ.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  When reading Scripture, I tend to gloss right over the opening greeting.  G. Walter Hansen rightly encourages us to be a little more thoughtful: “this phrase of greeting is anything but an empty cliché for Paul.  In fact, it expresses in condensed form the essence of his theology.  His message is one of grace and peace: grace, the unmerited, undeserved saving work of God in Christ Jesus brings believers into peace, harmonious relationships with God and with each other” (Hansen, Philippians, 43).

Grace and peace to you!



2 Responses to Philippians 1.1-2: What’s in a Greeting?

  1. Scott Mabee says:

    Interesting that all of the other translations I have translate “holy people” as “saints.” Not that there is necessarily a significant difference but I like “holy people” better. The idea of being set apart as God’s own seems more evident.

    • Nic says:

      Yes, good observation. I think the King James version first translated hagioi as saints and the rest followed suit. The problem is that in modern English we tend to think of a saint as someone who is morally virtuous, when the intent of the term hagios here is to focus upon the special relationship that believers have with God–not their state of righteousness.

      Though I guess the same misunderstanding could happen with the translation “holy people.”

      Bottom line, the term is about what God has done through Jesus and not what the Philippians or we have done. We are a holy people, those set apart by God in Jesus Christ.

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