Uncommon Servants and Unlikely Saints, part 3 (Philippians 1:2)

So far in Philippians we’ve seen that if you want to experience real joy, you have to submit yourself to Christ’s lordship as “slaves” of Christ Jesus, live in the reality of your true status as “saints” in Christ Jesus, and you have to position yourself relationally with others so as to honor them.  Today we get to Philippians 1:2, where Paul blesses the Philippians with a fairly familiar salutation:

1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul is saying here that another foundation for joy is experiencing and remembering the grace and peace that come from God.

This is the most familiar formula of greeting from Paul.  He always places grace before peace and acknowledges that they do not have their source in this world or within ourselves, but in God.

It was common for Greek letter writers, or even in public, to start with the greeting xaipein.  It was almost like our hello.  But Paul infused it with much deeper theological significance.

Grace and peace are more than mere greetings: they are two of God’s greatest gifts through the gospel. Grace (God’s unmerited favor or undeserved lavish blessing) and peace (restored, non-hostile relationship with God) come only through Christ’s self-sacrificing work on the cross and his subsequent resurrection.

Paul was also combining a Greek greeting (“Grace!”) and a Hebrew greeting (“Peace,” shalom).  Perhaps Paul combined the Greek and Hebrew greetings to show that in Christ there is no distinction between Gentile or Jew.  We are all one in Christ.

When Paul begins his greeting with “grace to you” he expressing the idea, “May you experience the great gladness of receiving undeserved favor from God, freely given to us not because we deserve it or could earn it, but simply out of God’s sovereign joy in bestowing it—because He wanted to!”

Grace is, quite simply, God’s unmerited favor, shown to those who actually deserve His judgment.  If you earn it, it’s not grace, but a wage that is due.  God’s grace is extended to the ungodly who know it, not to those who think they’re deserving (Rom. 4:4-5).

God’s grace is the only way to be reconciled to God. If you think you deserve a place in God’s kingdom because you’re a pretty good person, you don’t understand and have not laid hold of God’s grace.  If you think things are right between you and God because you do good things for others and try to live a clean life, you have not grasped God’s grace; you are, in fact, alienated from God.

God resists the proud (those who think they’re deserving), but He gives grace to the humble (James 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5). The only way to receive God’s unmerited favor is to see yourself rightly as an undeserving sinner and call out for His grace. If you don’t know grace, you don’t know God!

Grace is what allows us to come boldly into God’s presence, to the terrifying throne…of grace.

Romans 5:2 says that because we’ve been justified by faith we “have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand…”  This means that believers live in an atmosphere of grace.  We are surrounded by grace in every interaction with our Lord.  He never treats us as if we deserve something—good or bad—but lavishes every interaction with grace.

Peace is the result of experiencing God’s grace.  The order is important: You cannot know God’s peace without first appropriating His grace.  Where God’s grace is lacking, peace will also be in short supply.  Peace points to the inner well-being that comes from being reconciled to God through what He provided in Christ.

Romans 5:1 says

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

There is peace with God (Romans 5:1) and the peace of God (Philippians 4:7).  Justification by faith secures the first and supplies the second.  We do have peace with God and we can have the peace of God.

Peace with God means that although we were formerly enemies of God—rebels against His will, spitting in His face with our sins—through the cross God has been reconciled to us and we are urged to be reconciled to him through faith.

Through the cross once enemies are now made friends.  Ephesians 2:14-16 proclaims:

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

And 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 says…

18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.  We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

So although our sins had hid His face from us, through the cross God is reconciled to us and through faith in the gospel we are reconciled back to God.  Thus, now we are closest friends.

But we can also experience the peace of God—a calmness and wholeness—in our daily lives.  Anxiety can be replaced with that sense of calm and serenity that comes from the heart of a God who is never pacing back and forth, never wringing His hangs wondering what this world is coming to, but is in total control.  We’re not in control; but God is.  When we rest in that truth, we can experience peace.

Now, Paul includes no verb here.  In our minds we supply the word “be,” “grace be to you and peace…”

But I like the way Peter puts it.  He begins both his letters, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” Paul would be very happy with this verb.  It’s what he means when he says thirteen times, “Grace to you and peace.”  The verb behind be multiplied is used twelve times in the New Testament and always means increase — move from lesser to greater.

John Piper references seven important implications in these words for our lives, that I just want to quote today.

  1. Grace and peace are experienced.

Grace and peace are not only the objective status we enjoy before God. They are also the experiential enjoyment of that status. It is gloriously true that God made an objective peace between him and us by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:14–15). And he did it by a historical act of divine grace that was firm and unchangeable (Ephesians 2:8).

But Peter says that grace and peace are “multiplied” to us. They are not static. They are not only a status. Peter is offering to us, and praying for us, that we experience an increase of grace and peace.

He does not mean that God is variable, as if he were a gracious God some days and not others. Nor does he mean that the objective status of peace between us and God comes and goes. If we stand in the unshakable grace of God (Romans 5:2), and if we are reconciled to God in unchangeable peace (Romans 5:1), then what is multiplied to us is an increased and deepened experience of grace and peace. This reality is not simply status. It is the overflow of status in serenity, strength, and sweetness.

  1. Grace and peace vary in measure in our lives.

That is what the word “multiply” means. “May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” May there be an increase of grace and peace in your experience. Grace and peace are not static. They go up and down in our lives.

Hour by hour, and day by day, our enjoyment of grace and peace changes. It ebbs and flows. One moment we are carried by a wave of grace into a harbor of peace. An hour later, after a painful phone call, we are storm-tossed out of sight of land again. That is reality. We need to own it and seek continually to receive the gift of these words: “May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” New measures for new moments.

  1. There is always more grace and peace to be enjoyed.

Paul and Peter never assume your present experience of grace and peace cannot or should not be increased. They assume the opposite. They do not say, or imply, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you, unless you have all there is to have.” You never have all there is to have. That’s why this prayer is at the beginning of every letter. You always need more grace, more peace.

Since Paul doesn’t use a verb (“grace to you and peace”), you might try to water down his meaning to something like: “I pray you are now enjoying grace and peace.” No increase implied. You would try in vain. The word “to you” implies movement. Grace and peace are on the way. More is coming.

With Peter, there is no doubt what he means. He assumes we need more grace and peace. And we do. In this life we will never be able to say, “I have arrived. I have all the grace and peace I can use.” No you don’t. If there is more coming, you can have more. And you need more.

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philippians 3:12). The Christian life is not static. It is movement. We are growing in grace and peace, or we are going backward.

Real life in a fallen world is a river. You go upstream with growth, or you go downstream. There’s no standing still. Your anchor is not straight down. It’s in heaven (Hebrews 6:19) — the headwaters. And it is pulling you in.

  1. Grace and peace are multiplied by God.

Peter uses the passive voice, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” The implied actor is God. We are stewards of “God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10). Grace does not just happen, it comes from God. “God gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). Peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Peter’s prayer is that God act. “May God multiply grace to you and peace!”

  1. Grace and peace are multiplied by God through human means.

If God did this multiplication without respect to human means, Peter would not say these words. They would be pointless. He says them because he believes his words are God’s means of multiplying grace and peace.

We need to see this truth because of how common it is today to think of grace only as unconditional. There is unconditional grace and there is conditional grace. Paul speaks of those who are “chosen by grace” (Romans 11:5). That grace is unconditional. God’s election is not a response to conditions we can meet.

But there is grace that is a response to conditions we meet: “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Peter 5:5). God responds to humility with more grace. Humility is a condition of receiving this grace.

Of course, humility itself is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23). But the fact that “God is at work in you to do his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13) does not lessen your responsibility to “work out your own salvation” (Philippians 2:12). In other words, to say that receiving some grace has conditions does not mean we are left to fulfill the conditions by ourselves. “Command what you will, and grant what you command” (St. Augustine).

But it is a serious mistake to bring in the doctrine of justification at this point in a way that says, “Christ fulfilled the conditions of God’s blessing, so we don’t have to.” Christ performed some conditions in our place — namely, the ones necessary for God to be 100 percent for us in spite of our sin. But when he died, he also obtained for us the gift of the Spirit by which we fulfill other conditions for multiplied grace and peace. That is what Peter and Paul are praying for.

  1. One means of multiplied grace and peace is prayer.

The unique thing about a spoken blessing is that it is bi-directional. It is addressed both to man and God. When we say, “The Lord bless you and keep you” (Numbers 6:24), we are asking the Lord (vertically) to bless you (horizontally). So it is with Peter’s words, “May grace and peace be multiplied (by God) to you.” God is being addressed. And the church is being addressed.

And these words are not spoken in vain. Peter speaks them because he believes they matter. They are a means of bringing about what they aim at. They aim at more grace and more peace. So Peter believes that asking God to do this work will in fact be an instrument in bringing it about. God answers prayer. We should believe that too when we say these words over ourselves or others.

  1. Another means of multiplied grace and peace is the epistle these words introduce.

It is astonishing that Paul begins every letter with some form of “grace be to you,” and ends every letter with some form of “grace be with you.” To you at the beginning. With you at the end. This pattern is unvarying. Why?

My suggestion is that at the beginning the letter is about to be read. And in being read, grace and peace will come to us. The letter itself — the word of God — will be the means of multiplying grace and peace to us. Then, at the end of the letter, Paul sees us leaving our encounter with the word and going out into the world, and he prays that grace go with us.

Peter confirms this understanding. In 2 Peter 1:2, he says explicitly that grace and peace are going to come “in the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ.” “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (2 Peter 1:2). In other words, not only am I praying for grace and peace to increase, I am writing a letter to give knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ as kindling for the fire of this increase.

God always has more grace and more peace for you to experience. He has appointed that you experience it “in the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ.” He has inspired Scripture to bring you this multiplied grace and peace. Therefore, to experience these overflowing increases of grace and peace in your life, give yourself to this book. And as you listen to him, pray.

Now, it is important for us to realize that Paul was not thinking merely individually about this experience of grace and peace, but that it was a corporate outpouring of grace and peace that would meld them together.

Paul writes that the grace and peace are not from him, not from the world, and not from themselves, but from God our father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Now, it would have been pleasantly startling for Paul’s readers to have received a greeting like this from God.

It is even more startling for us today, in light of what we know about Paul’s monotheistic Jewish heritage, to see Jesus functioning in the same capacity as the father.  Both of them, according to Paul here, are the authors of the grace and peace for the Christian.  Thus there is at least the implication, in light of the ease with which Paul allows the statement to flow from his monotheistic pen—unencumbered—that he regarded Christ as deity as well.

O, that we would celebrate and honor and praise one another like the three persons of the Trinity, never worrying about whether we “get ours” because we trust one another and know that it really doesn’t matter.

Grace and peace are such powerful theological truths that they give us the confidence we need to relax and allow others to get the credit or get their way.  They allow us not to have to cling to titles or rush promotions, not to need applause or demand our way.  Rather, they allow us to experience the joy of having settled confidence that God will fulfill His promises and purposes and rewards in our lives.

When we experience grace and peace from God, we can express grace and peace to others.

Through the New Covenant, we now have God as our Father and Jesus as our Lord, and they are continually multiplying grace and peace to us.  That is good news!

End Notes



Published by

Lamar Austin

I've graduated from Citadel Bible College in Ozark, Arkansas, with a B. A. Then got my M. Div. and Th. M. at Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD. I finished with a D. Min. degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, but keep on learning. I pastored at Chinese Christian Church of Greater Washington, D. C., was on staff at East Evangelical Free Church in Wichita, KS, tried to plant an EFC in Little Rock, before moving back home to Mena, where I now pastor my home church, Grace Bible Church

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