A Fond Farewell (Philippians 4:21-23)

Well, today we get to the final portion of Philippians, Paul’s benediction in Philippians 4:21-23.

21 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. 22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household. 23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

In many ways Paul, here in this final passage, recapitulates several of the themes that have been woven through this epistle from the very beginning.  Paul has emphasized fellowship and grace throughout this epistle.

Five times Paul has mentioned the fellowship that he shared with the Philippians and the fellowship they had amongst themselves.  It was a precious thing they were in danger of throwing away through conflict.

Together they were a community of brothers and sisters in Christ bound together by a great quest that was nothing less than the evangelization of the Gentile world—a quest they had pursued from the very first day.  They need to hold that dear.

Someone has written concerning the early church,

What that first century world saw was the phenomenon of people of all walks of life loving one another, serving one another, caring for one another, praying for one another.  Slaves and free men were in that community.  Rich and poor were in the fellowship; Roman citizens and non-Roman citizens were in that community. Members of the establishment and those violently opposed to the establishment were part of that community.  The intelligencia and the illiterate were members of that community.  To the utter amazement of the world outside they were bound together in an inexplanable [sic] love and unity. (Source unknown.)

God’s grace was mentioned in the very beginning (1:2) and forms the backbone for every exhortation Paul gave.  The indicative—what God has done for us—always forms the motivation and power for the imperative—what God calls us to do.  Without grace there would be no ability to be a fellowship.

Paul sends his own greetings, then the greetings of his team mates, and even all the Christians there in Rome.  The “brethren” who were “with” Paul in Rome included Epaphroditus, and probably Timothy.

He doesn’t mention them by name, like he does in Romans 16.  Perhaps, since the church at Philippi was so dear to him, the list would have just been too long.  Coffman says, “If Paul saluted a few friends by name at the end of this epistle, it would have been an insult to a hundred others whom he personally knew in Philippi.”

But even so Paul instructs the leaders of the church to greet each and every one, individually and personally.  Each one is an important partner in his ministry.  Each one has an important part to play.

By the way, by greeting “every saint” it includes Euodia and those who sided with her, as well as Syntyche and those who sided with her.  We don’t know how this conflict turned out, but Paul still considered them worthy of a greeting because they were still “saints in Christ Jesus.”

What he does call them, as well as the believers in Romans is “saints,” in fact, “saints in Christ Jesus.”  That is our most important identity.  If we could just live in that identity, we would find greater joy, security and power to live our daily lives.

So often today people want to identify themselves by their problems (their victim status) or by their rebellion against God.

But if you are a Christian, you are a “saint in Christ Jesus.”

You didn’t achieve that sainthood by living a good life or doing some great deed.  You are a saint precisely because you are “in Christ Jesus.”  You were placed into Christ Jesus—baptized into Christ—by the Holy Spirit the moment you believed the gospel.

Always remember who you are in Christ Jesus.  That is the most important thing about you.

Notice also Paul’s mention of “Caesar’s household.”  Remember that back in chapter 1 Paul had said that his imprisonment in Rome had allowed him to advance the gospel so that “it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.”

These handpicked soldiers, the cream of the crop, had been assigned to guard Paul and throughout the weeks and months of his imprisonment had been exposed to the gospel so that many of them came to faith in Christ.  That word then got out into “Caesar’s household.”

So it was that some soldiers and cooks and housecleaners and civil servants in Caesar’s house had come to Christ.  Here John Calvin cuts to the chase: “it is evidence of divine mercy that the Gospel had penetrated that sink [pit] of all crimes and iniquities.”

Yes!  Though both the Philippians and Paul were under Roman oppression, there were brothers and sisters even within Caesar’s walls who were on their side and praying for them.  Since Philippi as a colony had close ties with Rome, it is likely that some of the Roman Christians had friends in the Philippian church.

Robertson seems amazed at the ending here.  He remarks how, “…this obscure prisoner who has planted the gospel in Caesar’s household has won more eternal fame and power than all the Caesars combined.  Nero will commit suicide shortly after Paul had been executed. Nero’s star went down and Paul’s rose and rises still.”

Thus this innocuous final greeting trumpets the grand reality that one day the very seat of imperial power will bow its knee and “confess that Jesus Christ [Messiah]) is Lord [Yahweh], to the glory of God the Father” (2:11).

The mention of Caesar’s household must have been a huge encouragement to the church at Philippi.  Barclay enlightens us on this saying:

It is important to understand this phrase rightly.  It does not mean those who are of Caesar’s kith and kin.  Caesar’s household was the regular phrase for what we would call the Imperial Civil Service; it had members all over the world. The palace officials, the secretaries, the people who had charge of the imperial revenues, those who were responsible for the day-to-day administration of the empire, all these were Caesar’s household.  It is of the greatest interest to note that even as early as this Christianity had penetrated into the very center of the Roman government.

Thus, the very words of Acts 28:30-31 are in play here:

30 He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

And we can be thankful that God’s Word is not bound.  Almost a year ago we thought it would be.  Churches had closed due to COVID, treated as “non-essential.”  But the Word of God was never bound.

Paul later wrote a letter to Timothy from prison.  Locked up in Rome again, expecting to die, Paul senses his preaching days are over.  What can he do while locked up in prison?

But Paul knows something about Scripture and it fills him with confidence, even as he’s lost his freedom. “The word of God is not bound!” he writes (2 Timothy 2:9).

But even when the preacher is silenced, God’s Word continues to spread.  The more you try to stop it, the more it seems to do its work.  Centuries later, after many attempts to stop it, it still continues to take new ground and capture new hearts.

You can lock up the preacher, whether by prison or by social distancing.  But you can never lock up God’s Word.  It always runs free.  It always accomplishes what God wants it to do.

“God’s Word can no more be chained than God himself,” says Kent Hughes.

The Word of God isn’t bound.  It can never be quarantined.  It’s still doing its work no matter what happens to the rest of us.  Nothing can stop it: not prison, not persecution, and certainly not a virus.

God’s Word will accomplish its purpose.  It always has; it always will.  In Isaiah 55 we read:

10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. 12 “For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. 13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the LORD, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

God’s Word is performative.  It will accomplish God’s purpose.  It can bring radical transformation.  Whoever heard of a cypress growing up out of a thornbush, or a myrtle out of briers?  It doesn’t normally happen.  It is not natural, but supernatural.

But that is what God’s Word can do.  It changes lives.

Finally Paul says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”

Paul did not say this to simply fill up space at the end of his letter.  To him, the Christian life begins and ends and is filled throughout with the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, so it was appropriate that his letters began and ended with grace also.

I like what MacArthur wrote concerning this, “Believers are not only saved by grace, but also sustained by grace.  They are governed by grace, guided by grace, kept by grace, strengthened by grace, sanctified by grace and enabled by grace.  They are constantly dependent on the forgiveness, comfort, peace, joy, boldness, and instruction that comes through God’s grace.”

Grace not only saves us but empowers us.  It justifies and it transforms.  Grace is at the center of our lives.  It is the unearnable, undeserved favor of God.  Grace is the very opposite of merit… Grace is not only undeserved favor, but it is favor shown to the one who has deserved the very opposite.

Martin Luther explains how this gift, which we couldn’t possibly purchase, was paid for at great price:

Although out of pure grace God does not impute our sins to us, He nonetheless did not want to do this until complete and ample satisfaction of His law and His righteousness had been made.  Since this was impossible for us, God ordained for us, in our place, One who took upon Himself all the punishment we deserve.  He fulfilled the law for us.  He averted the judgment of God from us and appeased God’s wrath.  Grace, therefore, costs us nothing, but is cost Another much to get it for us.  Grace was purchased with an incalculable, infinite treasure, the Son of God Himself.”

Jerry Bridges notes:

Grace is God’s free and unmerited favor shown to guilty sinners who deserve only judgment.  It is the love of God shown to the unlovely. It is God reaching downward to people who are in rebellion against Him.

Or, as Sam Storms puts it:

The first and possibly most fundamental characteristic of divine grace is that it presupposes sin and guilt.  Grace has meaning only when men are seen as fallen, unworthy of salvation, and liable to eternal wrath… Grace does not contemplate sinners merely as undeserving but as ill-deserving… It is not simply that we do not deserve grace; we do deserve hell.

Grace is receiving God’s absolute best when we deserve the absolute worst!

Without grace, we could not receive the gospel, because none of us can ever earn or deserve it.  Without grace, we could not grow in holiness, because we are so selfish and sinful that if God gave us what we deserve, we all would have been wiped out long ago.  We stand daily, constantly in need of God’s grace.  Without it, we would be quickly consumed.

William Farley, in his book Gospel Parenting, writes:

Grace is reward, or favor, given to those who deserve judgment.  If a judge found a serial rapist guilty, and then stepped down from his bench, agreed to take the death penalty in the criminal’s place, and sent the rapist on an all-expense-paid vacation to Hawaii for thirty years, that would be grace.  The severity of the criminal’s crimes would be the measure of the judge’s grace.  In the same way, the knowledge of what we deserve, and what it cost God to be gracious, is the measure of His fatherly grace.  When it is said and done, the cross is the tape that measures the length and breadth of God’s grace.

Grace is what builds fellowship as well.  It was at the center of the Philippians fellowship with one another.

God’s grace is something we all want for ourselves, but we don’t want to extend it to others, especially to those who have offended or wronged us.  But grace motivates us to forgive others and bless others.  It is when we understand and appreciate the grace shown to us that we will be more quick to forgive others.

Charles Spurgeon and Joseph Parker both had churches in London in the 19th century.  On one occasion, Parker commented on the poor condition of children admitted to Spurgeon’s orphanage.  It was reported to Spurgeon however, that Parker had criticized the orphanage itself.

Spurgeon blasted Parker the next week from the pulpit.  The attack was printed in the newspapers and became the talk of the town.  People flocked to Parker’s church the next Sunday to hear his rebuttal.  “I understand Dr. Spurgeon is not in his pulpit today, and this is the Sunday they use to take an offering for the orphanage.  I suggest we take a love offering here instead.”  The crowd was delighted.  The ushers had to empty the collection plates 3 times.

Later that week there was a knock at Parker’s study. It was Spurgeon. “You know Parker, you have practiced grace on me.  You have given me not what I deserved, you have given me what I needed.

Moody Monthly, December, 1983, p. 81.

We owe everything to the grace of God.

I hope this series on Philippians has encouraged you.  It is an epistle of joy and I hope that your joy in Jesus Christ and His good gifts has grown.

This is a book that calls us to a magnificent vision of life, to live for Christ and to want to know Christ, to pursue Him with all our strength as one leaning towards the finish line.

We are also called here to imitate Christ, to humble ourselves and put others ahead of ourselves.  That isn’t easy and that is why we continue to need the grace of God throughout our lives for every thought, affection, word and deed.

Paul ends this letter with a word of grace, because that is what the gospel is all about: the grace of our Lord Jesus who gave himself for you and for me.

Thus, Paul ends his short but joyous epistle to the first church in Europe, the church of the Philippians.  Barclay says, “It was to be another three hundred years before Christianity became the religion of the empire, but already the first signs of the ultimate triumph of Christ were to be seen.  The crucified Galilean carpenter had already begun to rule those who ruled the greatest empire in the world.”

I hope you will join me again next week as we tackle that difficult book called Ecclesiastes.

Until then, soak yourselves in the amazing grace of Jesus Christ.

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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