By Christopher VanDusen
The church of the Lord Jesus Christ is God’s family, but we have many differences. Some of these differences come from the way we think, what we believe, and how we act. Sometimes, our differences are the result of living in far away places. Despite all these differences, we are still God’s family, and are to love one another. How do we show one another that we love each other, and what is to be our attitude toward one another? The apostle Paul answers this question in Philippians 4:21-23.
This is the last passage in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, in which Paul is letting the Philippians know how they ought to act toward one another, and what the attitude of the Christians with him is toward them. Paul wrote this letter while he was imprisoned in a house in the city of Rome in the early 60s AD. He was imprisoned because some of his Jewish enemies had accused him of disturbing the Jewish society in Jerusalem, and he had been tried before the Roman authorities. Since he wasn’t able to declared innocent, and released from arrest, he asked for a hearing before the Roman Emperor, who would make the final decision on his fate. Hence, he traveled to Rome to defend himself before the Emperor, in the hopes of being released.
While waiting this hearing, a man named Epaphroditus came to Paul from the Roman city of Philippi, in northern Greece. He was a messenger from the Philippian church, which Paul had founded, and brought Paul material gifts, as well as news of how the Philippians were doing. In response, Paul wrote Philippians.
In this letter, Paul begins by expressing his joyful thankfulness for the Philippians’ partnership with him in his missionary work, which he was still doing while imprisoned. Then, he describes his circumstances, assuring them that he’s confident that he’ll be released from imprisonment. He ends the first chapter by instructing them on how to face persecution. In the second chapter, he explains how they are to be unified and loving; how they are to behave in the sight of their unbelieving neighbors; how he plans to send a representative to them; and why he sent Epaphroditus to them with this letter. In the third chapter, he warns them against false teachers and fake Christians, and instructs them to imitate him and those like him. Finally, in the last chapter, he addresses disharmony between two of their members; urges them to be joyful, gentle, and prayerful; instructs them to think and practice what’s best; and praises them for the material gifts they sent him for his needs.
After praising the Philippians for their gifts, and assuring them that God will meet their needs as well, he ends the letter in 4:21-23 by letting them know how they ought to think about one another, who’s thinking about them besides him, and assuring them of the Lord’s favor:
“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.” (ESV)
In this passage, Paul does five things for the Philippians’ final encouragement:
- He Summons Them to Greet Every Saint (v. 21a)
- He Shares Greetings from Those at His Side (v. 21b)
- He Sends Greetings from All the Saints (v. 22)
- He Assures Them of Grace with Their Spirit (v. 23)
Paul Summons Them to Greet Every Saint
Paul begins his last encouragement by calling the Philippians to greet every Christian in Philippi:
“Greet every saint in Christ Jesus.”
What does Paul mean by the word “greet”? The Greek word that’s translated “greet” literally means “to draw someone to oneself” or “to embrace”. Hence, when Paul tells the Philippians to “greet” others, he’s not merely saying that they should say “hi”, or another common greeting, but that such greeting should be done out of an attitude of acceptance and embrace. In fact, at that time, the way that Christians greeted one another was by kissing one another, much as some European cultures kiss on the cheek. Paul actually commands some churches to do this very thing in the New Testament!
Here, however, Paul is calling the Philippians to embrace the Christians at Philippi. In this case, he calls them “saints in Christ Jesus”. The word “saint” comes from the root Greek word hagios, which literally means “set apart” or “holy”. This term expresses the truth that all Christians are set apart from the world by God, to be His special people. Paul adds that saints are “in Christ Jesus”. When he says this, he means that God has considered the saints to be “united to” or “one with” Christ Jesus, so that God treats them the way that Christ deserves to be treated. But why does Paul call Jesus “Christ”? This is a title that literally means “anointed” or “anointed one”. It alludes to the Old Testament practice of “anointing”, or pouring oil upon, someone who was being made a prophet, priest, or king. Jesus is the Christ because He’s God’s final and perfect Prophet, High Priest, and King. As Prophet He perfectly reveals who God is. As High Priest, He sacrificed Himself to satisfy God’s wrath against His people, and now lives forever to be the Mediator, Intercessor, and Advocate between them and God the Father. As King, He now rules the entire universe, and everything in it, as a human being, though He’s also God. Since saints are “in Christ Jesus”, God treats them as if they were perfectly righteous people, and therefore blesses them with His pardon, presence, and peace.
It’s significant that Paul tells the Philippians to greet every saint in Christ Jesus, since earlier in chapter 4, he addressed a case of disunity and disharmony between two of them. Here, he implies that there’s to be no reason that any of them ignore or attack one another, but they are to embrace and accept one another because they’re holy ones in Christ Jesus.
Paul Shares Greetings from Those at His Side
In Paul’s second sentence, he sends greetings from the Christians who are with him by saying,
“The brothers who are with me greet you.”
The Greek word translated “brothers” is adelphoi, and doesn’t exclude female family members. Thus, “brethren” or “brothers and sisters” are better translations. By “brethren”, Paul means those who are brothers and sisters of Christ’s family, since they’ve been born again by the power of God’s Spirit, and adopted into God’s family.
Since he goes on to say that all the saints greet the Philippians, Paul must be referring to those brethren who were with him in the house in which he wrote the letter. In Philippians, he only mentions the names of two other Christians who weren’t in Philippi, but at the end of Colossians he mentions a few others who were in Rome at the time of his imprisonment. In Colossians 4:10-14, he mentions Mark, who wrote the Gospel of Mark; Aristarchus, who was one of his traveling companions; Epaphras, a leader of the Colossian church; Luke, Paul’s physician; and Demas, another one of Paul’s traveling companions. So, the brethren who are “with” Paul most likely include those who traveled with him on missionary journeys. Not only does Paul embrace the Philippians, but his closest friends do as well.
Paul Sends Greetings from All the Saints
In verse 22, Paul makes the Philippians know the attitude that the Roman Christians have toward them:
“All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.”
First, he speaks generally, and says that all the saints who are in Rome greet the Philippians. However, he specifies some of these Romans, and says that they have a more significant greeting than the rest. Why? Because they belong to “Caesar’s household”.
“Caesar” refers to the Roman Emperor, and his “household” refers to his official residence, which included more than any family he lived with. He also had slaves, and probably servants, and other people who worked for him. At the very least, “Caesar’s household” consisted of several people. This would be very similar to the royal courts of other kings, who not only “lived” with family, but slaves, servants, and maybe even government workers.
But why does Paul specifically point out that the saints in Caesar’s household have a special greeting for the Philippians? Because this means that even some of those who are living closest to the Emperor of the Roman Empire have been saved by God through the gospel that Paul has been preaching throughout his missionary journeys. In the first chapter, Paul already mentioned that the Emperor’s personal soldiers had heard the gospel, but here he says that some of the Emperor’s closest servants are Christians. Since the Philippians were supporting Paul in his preaching of the gospel, he wanted to encourage them by letting them know that those who could get closest to the Emperor, besides his own family, were Christians with the gospel of Christ. God’s saving work had reached almost to the top of the Roman Empire.
Paul Assures Them of Grace with Their Spirit
After calling for greeting one another, and sending greetings from the Roman saints, Paul concludes the entire letter by expressing his desire, and its certainty, and that God’s grace would be with the Philippians:
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”
This is not only a wish of Paul, but a declaration of something that’s a reality. However, since Paul’s expressing himself in these words, he frames them in what’s known as a “prayer-wish”. It’s something he wants for the Philippians, since he knows it’s what God wills. And if it’s what God wills, than it’s a reality.
What does Paul want above everything else for the Philippians, and wants them to think about after everything he’s already said in the letter? It’s “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ”. The Greek word translated “grace” is charis, which literally means “benefit” or “favor”. The idea of “favor” is at least the focus of this verse, since it’s Christ’s favor that Paul wants to be with the Philippians. Favor speaks to Christ’s blessing and goodness toward the Philippians, which they don’t deserve as those who have sinned against Him.
But why does Paul call Jesus Christ “the Lord” here? “Lord” comes from the Greek word kyrios, which literally means “supreme authority”. It refers to Christ’s control over everything in the universe, and of His right to be obeyed by everyone. This implies Christ’s divine nature, as One who shares the essence and nature of God the Father. As such, He’s able to bestow God’s own favor and blessing on the Philippians.
However, Paul doesn’t just say that the Philippians have Christ’s grace, but that it’s “with [their] spirit”. The word “with” is used in contrast to the word “against”, so that Paul’s saying that Christ’s grace is for the Philippians, and enables them to live to please God by obeying Christ. Further, it’s not just with them, but with their spirit. Notice that Paul doesn’t say that it’s with their spirits (plural), but with their spirit (singular). The Greek word translated “spirit” literally means “breath” or “air”, and alludes to the fact that all of human life comes originally from God “breathing” into the nostrils of Adam to give him life. Therefore, “spirit” simply refers to one’s life. In this case, Paul says that Christ’s grace is with the “spirit”, or “life”, of the Philippian church. In other words, the living of the Philippians is empowered and enriched by Christ’s grace, so they’re able to do all that Paul’s commanded them to do in this letter.
Greet and Embrace the Saints by Grace
So, if you’re a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, how does this passage apply to you?
First, do you accept every saint in Christ Jesus simply because they’re a saint in Christ Jesus, and recognize them as such? Or do you accept only some because of your own preferences, and reject others because they don’t fit them?
Second, do you share your closest Christian friends with your brothers and sisters in Christ who aren’t as close?
Finally, do you want the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ to be the spirit of all true churches, like Paul did? Do you regularly seek Christ’s grace for yourself by trusting in His Word?
If you don’t love saints in Christ Jesus, or don’t delight in Christ’s grace, then you aren’t a saint, but a sinner, and an enemy of God. The good news is that God sent His Son to earth to become the man, Jesus of Nazareth, to live the perfect life, and to suffer and die on a Roman cross to take God’s punishment for our rebellion against Him. Then, He raised Him from the dead, and made Him the King of the universe. He commands everyone to change their minds and trust in Christ as their Savior from sin and God’s wrath, and their King, to receive His forgiveness, peace, and mercy. The reason He commands this is because He’s going to judge everyone perfectly through Jesus, and punish all His enemies for eternity in a place of torment for their rebellion against Him. Please make sure you’ve changed your mind about God, yourself, your sins, and Christ, and are trusting only in Christ as your Savior and King for God’s acceptance and peace.