Conclusion to Philippians
Topic: Expository Passage: Philippians 4:21-23
I like statistics, even though 86.3% percent of them are made up on the spot. So, since we are concluding our study of Philippians today, I wanted to reflect on some numbers from the series. We started this series on July 7, so we’ve been in Philippians for over 8 months, and this will be my 27th sermon in the series. That means we’ve spent around 1,160 minutes or over 19 hours in this book together.
That’s a lot of time, but I believe it’s been worth it. I’ve been so blessed, and I hope you have been also, as we’ve beheld Christ in this letter and seen the Christ-life fleshed out in the examples of Paul, Timothy, Epaphroditus, and the Philippians. It’s been obvious that I have a long way to go, but I want to get there, and I hope you do too.
This morning, we are going to take the first part of our time to study the conclusion to the letter in 4:21–23. And then I’d like to end by pulling the whole series together into 4 takeaways that God wants us to learn from Philippians, that I hope will stay with you long after we are done with this study (read vv. 21–23). I’d like to point out 2 lessons we should learn from the example of this conclusion. The first is…
I. Christians must live out our bond in the gospel (v. 21–22).
Like our text last week, there is nothing particularly complicated about this passage, and Paul is not giving any sort of urgent pastoral exhortation. Rather, he is simply sending greetings from Rome to Philippi. But even in this rather routine greeting, Paul sets an important example that is built on an important principle regarding the relationship that believers share.
Specifically, this greeting is built on the fact that all true believers share a vital union in Christ (Eph 2:19–22). In this passage, Paul describes the universal church as a “holy temple in the Lord” and as “a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” That’s obviously very significant language regarding our relationship with God. But I especially want to emphasize the union all Christians have with each other. It’s not just that I am a temple of the Spirit; we are this temple together.
The primary place where we manifest this unity is in the local church; however, all Christians in every place are bound together in Christ. As Paul says in v. 21, we are all “saint(s) in Christ Jesus” and “brethren,” even if we have never met. And this relationship is very real and very important.
As a result, it is important to Paul that he not only pass along his love but also the love of all the saints in Rome, because, all Christians share in a brotherhood, no matter how much distance and culture separates us. Therefore, our text provides an important model of how we express love across congregational lines. In light of that, let’s just take some time to walk through each of the greetings that Paul sends. First, Paul says,
“Greet every saint in Christ Jesus.” This statement is significant, first, for what it says about who we are as Christians. We are “saints in Christ Jesus.” It’s worth emphasizing, because so many Christian traditions reserve the term saint for an elite class of Christians, but that’s not how the NT uses the term. Rather, every believer is “in Christ Jesus”; therefore, we are all saints.
Specifically, the term means that we are “holy ones.” Of course, that doesn’t mean that Christians are perfect. We are all sinners who are a long way from the perfection of God. Rather, the point is that we’ve been set apart as God’s special possession. 1 Peter 2:9 states, “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
We belong to God, and we are set apart for him, no matter how imperfect we may be. And this is true of every believer on the face of the earth from the most broken down, weak of us to the most mature and spiritually gifted.
Therefore, Paul commands the leaders of the church to give his greetings to “every saint.” Notice, that he doesn’t say “all the saints”; he says “every saint.” It’s Paul’s way of saying that he wants each individual, no matter who they are to know that he loves him or her, and he is with him or her in struggle to live for Christ in this fallen world.
It’s sort of ironic that we are talking about greetings at the same time when our government is telling us to stay away from each other. But the example of Paul stands. A vital aspect of our love in the church is that we must be quick to express love to each other, and not just to our really good friends, but to EVERY saint. Christians should be known for their warmth and love. The 2nd greeting Paul sends is…
“The brethren who are with me greet you.” Paul is speaking here of his coworkers who were with in Rome. We can’t know for certain who was with Paul when he wrote Philippians. Some of them may have had a significant relationship with the Philippians, and some of them may have never met the Philippians.
Regardless, they were “brethren,” not just to Paul but to Philippian congregation, because all Christians are brothers and sisters. Therefore, these brothers sent their greetings also. The third greeting Paul sends is…
“All the saints greet you.” Since Paul wrote Philippians from Rome, “all the saints” refers to the Roman church or churches. And this greeting is significant, because very few of the Christians in Rome had met the ones in Philippi and vice versa. They were complete strangers.
However, they were all brothers in Christ. As a result, Paul wants to make a clear statement that all genuine churches (That word genuine is important, because calling yourself a church doesn’t make you a gathering of the redeemed. It has to consist of true believers.) All genuine churches are bound together in Christ. We ought to love and support each other. That’s a good reminder, because churches can easily view each other as competitors for clients, not as sisters.
Now, I also want to be clear that not all churches are created equal. Some are far more faithful to Scripture than others, and some have a better theology and philosophy of ministry. And when a church rejects what the Scriptures teach, we can’t just pretend those problems aren’t there. So, the fact that we are all brothers does not mean that all of our differences are inconsequential.
But we are all still brothers, and we should rejoice over whatever God does through them (1:14–18). The rivals that Paul mentions here were being very immature and petty, and Paul is calling them out here. But he still rejoiced anytime the gospel went forward.
And so should we. We should rejoice when God works, we should always respond with grace and kindness, and we should pray that God would pour out his blessing and use them marvelously. And when God gives us an opportunity to support and encourage a likeminded church, especially a young or struggling one, we should jump at the opportunity. We’re on the same team; we are not competitors. The 4th greeting Paul sends is…
“Especially those who are of Caesar’s household.” Technically, this statement is an extension of the greeting from the Roman church. In other words, the saints in Caesar’s household are part of the Roman congregation; however, Paul singles them out as sending a special greeting.
In the process he gives us a fascinating window into what God was doing in Rome. Now, I want to be clear that Caesar’s household is not necessarily Nero’s biological family. Rather, this would include everyone who worked in his administration, including government officials, the Praetorian guard, and household servants.
And some of these people had trusted Christ as Savior! That’s pretty remarkable considering the fact that Caesar’s household was also keeping Paul in chains. Not only that, remember that the Romans worshipped Caesar as “Lord” and “Savior.” And the Philippians were probably suffering, largely because they refused to participate in emperor worship.
So, I’m sure they saw Caesar’s palace as the epicenter of evil and resistance to the gospel. But incredibly God was saving people in the devil’s own backyard. And Paul wants the Philippians to know that as powerful and intimidating as Caesar may have appeared, he could not stop the work of the gospel. What a testimony!
Furthermore, their inclusion is another powerful statement regarding the unity we share in the church, because these believers in Caesar’s household could not be any more different from the Philippians. Some of them were social elites, and they lived in the center of wealth and power, while the Philippians are mostly humble no-name slaves.
But the bond that these believers shared in Christ was far more significant than their differences, because all of them were part of God’s holy temple.
Praise the Lord that the gospel is strong! Sometimes we look at certain people as being hopelessly lost. Or we resent them, because of their political views or cultural practices. As a result, we don’t long for their salvation. But this little phrase is a reminder that the gospel can break any heart, and it can break any social barrier that normally divides. The bond that we share in this church and with Christians all over the world is an awesome gift that we should celebrate.
In sum, the first lesson of this passage is that Christians must live out our bond in the gospel. We are all God’s holy temple together. We are brothers, not competitors; therefore, we need to intentionally express love to each other, even if we can’t shake hands. And we must show that bond to the world. John 13:35 states, “By this all will know that you are Mydisciples, if you have love for one another.” The 2nd major lesson of our text is…
II. Christians must experience the grace of Christ (v. 23).
In this verse, Paul closes the letter with a benediction or prayer. He just emphasized in vv. 21–22 our great need to love each and lean on each other. However, with this prayer, Paul brings the focus back to our greatest need, which he has repeatedly emphasized throughout the letter. More than we need anything else in all the world—family, friends, good health, financial security—we need “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
First and foremost, I want to emphasize that grace provides the foundation for my entire relationship with God. That’s because I’m a sinner, and God is holy. I can never earn my way into a relationship with God, and I certainly can’t earn my way into his blessings. That’s why Jesus had to die on the cross. God had to come to me, because I could never get to him. And when Jesus died, he bore my punishment in his body, so that I could receive his grace.
This grace can be yours if you will acknowledge your sin for what it is, and put your faith in Christ alone and in what he did on the cross. So, if you have never believed on Christ for salvation, I would urge you to talk with us today about how Christ can become your Savior, and you can receive the grace that he alone provides.
But in this verse, Paul is speaking to people who are already saved, and he is saying that we still need grace. And praise the Lord, that Jesus provides abundant grace for his children. He gives grace to believe the truth of Scripture. He gives grace to think right thoughts. He gives grace to do battle with sin. He gives grace to live righteously, love our neighbor, and worship him. And when we fall short and break his law, he gives grace to forgive all our sins. Praise the Lord for his abundant grace!
And if you are a Christian, it is vital that you recognize just how dependent you are. You need this grace, and you need it, literally, down deep in your spirit, at the very core of your being. This has been a hectic, crazy week. Maybe you’ve been anxious about a lot of things. Frankly, I didn’t always heed my own sermon on anxiety from a couple weeks ago. There’s been a lot of discussion about what we need and what we should be doing.
And all of that is important and very worthwhile, but let’s not forget the greatest need that each of us has and that every person on the face of this earth has. Yes, we desperately want health, safety, and prosperity for all people. But above all else, all people need the grace of God. I need to sink my own roots deeper and deeper into God’s grace, and so do you. Do not let the craziness of our times distract you from living in deep dependence on the Savior.
And then let’s make sure that we take every opportunity to point believers and unbelievers alike to the “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” as the answer to their greatest need. Yes, we should be ready to help in whatever practical ways possible, but we should long that God would use these chaotic times and us as his servants to point people to Christ as the only sure confidence we can have in life and prosperity or in sickness, poverty, and death.
What an appropriate ending to his incredible epistle. To wrap up our time today and our study of Philippians, I’d like to summarize everything we’ve seen in these 27 sermons into 4 major takeaways from the epistle.
Stay rooted in Christ. I’ve come to believe that everything in Philippians turns on 2:5–8. Through his death, Christ set the ultimate example of humble service, and even more importantly, he provided for our salvation. Therefore, Christianity is not fundamentally a lifestyle or culture or set of rules. Instead, notice Paul’s the supreme ambition in 3:7–11.
Christ is our life and our only hope, so my supreme ambition must be that when I stand before God in the judgment, I want to be “found in Him,” and today I want to know him through walking in his grace and through deep dependence on the gospel.
So, Philippians addresses a remarkable number of practical issues in a relatively brief book, but I hope you will never forget that all of this Christian fruit grows in the soil of the gospel and sweet communion with the Savior. Therefore, if you want to experience all the Christian fruits Philippians describes, remember that it all begins with living at the foot of the cross and in active dependence on what Christ has provided. Second…
Find your joy and contentment in Christ. This one is so important, because it’s very easy for us to not see the connection between my conversion and my ongoing Christian life. For some, the rejoice that they are saved by grace, and then they forget about Christ as they try to achieve a standard of holiness. For others, they rejoice in their eternal security, but then they run off to pursue the dreams of this world.
But not Paul. The key verse of Philippians is 1:21. All of Paul’s life—his dreams, his passions, his hopes, and his joys—were centered in Christ. As a result, we’ve seen over the past few weeks in 4:4–20 that Christians can have a joy, grace, peace, contentment, and sincere godliness that most people believe is impossible. But it is possible, because of the hope of 4:13. “I can do all things (i.e., be content) in Christ who strengthens me.”
Therefore, one of the central lessons of Philippians is to “Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in his wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.” Find your joy and contentment in Christ. Third…
Serve Christ with all that you have. One of the most striking features of Philippians is the sacrificial examples of Jesus, Paul, Timothy, Epaphroditus, and the Philippian Church. Jesus gave his life for us, and remember what Paul says in 1:20. Epaphroditus about died delivering the Philippians’ gift, and the church was experiencing heavy persecution for their faith.
As a result, Philippians calls us to follow the example of these men and women, no matter the personal cost, because Christ is worth it, and because people need to hear the gospel. So don’t try to live your life straddling the fence between Christ and the world. No, pursue Christ and his work with all of your strength. Boldly share the gospel, and give sacrificially to the work of the ministry, because you want Christ to be “magnified in your body, whether by life or by death.” Fourth…
Partner together for Christian living and mission. Especially at the end of chapter 1 and into chapter 2, Paul urged the Philippians to live in unity 2:1–4. It’s vital that we live unselfishly, lovingly, and humbly with each other, which again, is an appropriate reminder this week. I need to live for the interests of others, just as Christ lived for me.
But we don’t merely pursue unity merely so that life is happier and less stressful, even though that’s a great benefit. No, we do it, first, so that we can help each other onto Christ. As we’ve seen today, we are a family. It’s so important that we care well for each other and encourage each other as we struggle for godliness.
But not just that, we are partners in the advance of the gospel. We need each other to make Christ known. If we are going to glorify the Lord and take the gospel to the nations, we need to lean on each other.
In conclusion, praise the Lord for the wonderful lessons in this book. May the Lord plant them deep in our hearts, and may we be different as individuals and as a church for our joy, for his glory and for the spread of his name among the lost.