Date: 2/29/04
Text: Philippians 1:1-2
Title: The Redeemed Community Defined
Theme: Humble equality is the key to maintain unity in the redeemed community of Jesus Christ.

In our study of the Purpose Driven Life, on two occasions we learned the importance of living in a community. This community, the church, is the body of Christ. It is also known as "the redeemed community".
Beginning this morning, we'll be looking at one such community, the church at Philippi. The time is about 50 A.D., 20 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. A group of travelers, led by Paul, arrived here. The group members include, Timothy, Silas and Luke. (Map) They had tried to go into the province of Asia, but in some mysterious manner, were kept from doing it. Later they tried to cross the border between Mysia and Bithynia, and were again stopped. They ended up at Troas where in a vision; they saw a man from Macedonia asking them to go over to help. They went and arrived at Philippi.
Philippi was a major city, like a miniature Rome, ruled by Roman law, reflected Roman life-style, politically and socially. During their brief stay, Lydia and perhaps two other ladies: Euodia and Syntche were converted. And soon a church started meeting in Lydia's home. Later, in Paul's 3rd missionary journey, he was able to revisit the Philippians. After his return to Jerusalem, Paul was arrested, and around A.D.60, he was transferred to Rome and put under house arrest. Upon learning his situation, the Philippians sent Epaphroditus to Paul with a generous gift. Probably through Epaphroditus, Paul learned of some of the problems in the church at Philippi. There was selfishness, dissension, disunity and heresy. Paul wrote a personal letter and had it brought back by Epaphroditus. This is known as the Letter to the Philippians.
Even though it was written while under house arrest, this letter was filled with Joy. It is therefore also called a letter of joy. It is a letter of encouragement, instructing them to be joyous in the midst of difficulties.
Throughout this year, we will be studying this letter, learning the truth spoken 2000 years ago to a church in Philippi and apply it to our 21st century HCC.
This morning, we'll be looking at the first two verses of this letter. It is always a challenge to preach on the first two verses of Paul's letters. It is easy for us to go past it quickly and say, "This is only a greeting, let's move on to the important main text." Or sometimes, we may be dwelling too long in two verses, in danger of over irrigating the text, or trying to find chicken bones in Tofu. In these two sentences, Paul put forth several major themes that he would develop more fully in the rest of the letter. From these themes, we will catch a glimpse of the essential quality of a church.
I. A demonstration of humility in the Redeemed Community.
The first century letter generally followed a very simple format: A three fold salutation, a wish for health or well being, the main body, and ending. The three fold salutation consists of the author, the reader and followed by a simple greeting. Most of Paul's letters in the NT follow this formula.
Here in Philippians, 1:1, the writers were listed as, "Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus基督耶穌的僕人保羅和提摩太". I would like to make some observations. It appears that this letter is from Paul and Timothy, yet beginning with vs.3 it is very clear this is a personal letter from Paul. Moreover, if you compare this with other letters Paul wrote, you will notice that even if there may be other names or co-authors, the terms; apostles, servants are very carefully guarded. Paul, always put it together with his name: Paul the apostle or servant. He shares it with no one else. This is to emphasize his unique position and relationship with Jesus Christ. He was the apostle, the representative of Jesus Christ. What he wrote was, therefore, truth and with authority.
But here the word servant is used for both Paul and Timothy. Only in this letter Paul is sharing the same platform with Timothy, his spiritual son and student of many years his junior. Why? Paul was trying to tell his readers, the believers at Philippi, that the relationship between co-workers in a church is not that of authority, superiority or inferiority, but that of humility. Paul did not claim that because he was the apostle, more experienced than Timothy, he was therefore different. No, he considered that both Timothy and he were servants of Jesus Christ.
This term servant literally means slave. They were both slaves of Jesus Christ, taking orders from and submitting to him. This humility seems to be lacking in the Philippian church. They are proud and for this reason, Paul in chapter 2 would go into great detail to address this issue of humility. But here, at the beginning to his letter, he is setting the tone, that humility must be the hallmark of the redeemed community.
Isn't this also true with us? When we see ourselves better than others, it will easily lead to discords. We also need to see ourselves as slaves of Jesus Christ. If I am a slave, taking order from Jesus Christ, and you are a slave, also taking orders from Jesus Christ, then there is nothing we can brag about ourselves. In the church, the body of Christ, there is no pulling of ranks. With are all servants, slaves of Christ Jesus.
II. A call to unity in the redeemed community.
Now let's make several observations about the readers. First, 'all the saints in Christ Jesus寫信給所有…..基督耶穌裡的聖徒''. The word 'all' is used only here and in the letter to the Romans as part of the greeting. Throughout this letter, the word 'all' is used repeatedly. "4, for you all making my prayer with joy為你們大家祈求的時候", 7, "…to feel this way about you all..為你們眾人我有這樣的意念是很恰當的" 8, "…how I yearn for you all…你們常常在我的心裡." 25, "…remain and continue with you all…並且要繼續和你們大家在一起.' 2;17, "..glad and rejoice with you all.並且和你們大家一同喜樂" 26,"….longing for you all….他一直在想念你們眾人" 4:21, "great every saint….問候在基督耶穌裡的各位聖徒." Why such emphasis on 'all'?
You see, there have been dissension, division and disunity in the Philippians church. Some may be wondering if they would be included in this letter, if Paul had any preference towards a particular group of people. So here Paul, at the beginning and throughout this letter, assuring them of his love and prayers. Yes, there were those who were his joy (4:1); and also those that brought him pain and tears (4:2,3). In this letter, he assured the believers that they were all in his prayers. He loved them all equally, with no exceptions.
By emphasizing 'all' in this letter, Paul is appealing to them the need for unity. They are already one in Christ. They are members of one body. Their challenge is not to create unity but to maintain this unity.
Isn't this what we too have to learn? It is so easy for us to see ourselves as different factions. We are from China, Taiwan, HK, S. America, SE Asia and other parts of the world. Many of us grew up in this country. It is easy to put label on people. You are the Cantonese or Mandarin speaking group. Plus there are differences in personalities and preferences. Some of us may not be too careful in our choice of words, thus hurting others. The truth is that we are already one in Christ. Our challenge is not to let such differences destroy the unity there is already there. We are all loved by Christ.
A second observation in this verse: "to all the saints in Christ Jesus寫信給所有.......在基督耶穌裡的聖徒". Saints are not those who have achieved superior merit, or performed miracles. In the NT, saints are those who are separated and dedicated to God. Saints are God's people; members of the church; the redeemed community.
In the NT, Paul often describes individuals prior to their conversion as those "in Adam". This means that Adam had sinned and disobeyed God. Therefore those that come after him are all in him; in Adam. We are affected by his sins and disobedience, and we reflect his sinfulness. Thus, it is not that we sin, therefore, we are sinners. Rather, because we are in Adam, we are sinners, therefore we sin. Now, with the coming of Jesus Christ, the second Adam, through his death and resurrection, we are being rescued and delivered from Adam's sinfulness. We are being transferred into God's kingdom. We are now in Jesus Christ. We are saints, not because of our merits or any superior behavior, but because of who we are in Christ. Because we are in Christ, therefore our behavior will also reflect his purity, goodness, justice and love. As we pursue his likeness, we maintain the unity that he has given us. When we pursue our own selfish agenda, this unity is then destroyed.
The third observation: the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi 寫信給所有住在腓立比,在基督耶穌裡的聖徒. The believers were saints in Christ Jesus. Yet, they lived in Philippi. Paul was saying, yes, you lived in Philippi, but don't forget you were also in Christ Jesus. When we forget that we are in Christ Jesus, we will behave like those who live in Philippi. In Philippi, people were separated by their social status, education and ethnic background. But in Christ, we are all the same. There is unity among us. Don't let the forces in Philippi affect you and destroy your unity. On the other hand, we are in Christ Jesus, but don't forget we also live in Philippi. You see, when we forget that we live in Philippi, or for this matter, any city in the present day world, we can be so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good. We ignore the world around us and we are out of touch with what is happening around us. If this is so, then how can we be salt and light in the world? All we do is the salt huddles together, and the lights are all in one corner. We are salt and light to each other. No, Paul wants the believers to remember that they are also in this world. They are the salt and light in a dark and rotten world.
III. An exhortation to equality in the redeemed community.
After 'to all the saints in Christ Jesus' is, with the overseers and deacons在基督耶穌裡的聖徒、監督和執事。. This is the only letter where these two words appear together in the greeting. What does it mean? It could refer to two specific positions in the Philippians church: overseers or elders and deacons. Because of its uniqueness here, there are also other interpretations. For example, it could mean the overseers who serve; or leaders who serve. These two terms could simply refer to leaders in the church. By mentioning them after the saints, Paul seemed to stress the fact that the leaders were part of the congregation. They were not superior, one head above others, but equal. As leaders they are to serve. Paul is very likely hinting at the 2 leaders: Euodia and Synteche. They were not in good terms and was threatening the church's unity. Later on Paul urged them to reconcile with each other. Leaders are not above the congregation. There must be humble equality.
From time to time I would receive a letter with such title: dear pastor Hsueh and Houston Chinese Church. From this, I know the writer is treating me as the head of the church, that I have a special position. Sure, this is good for my ego, but is it biblical? No, I don't think so. Here, in a very subtle and gentle way, Paul is saying that leaders are no better or superior than the congregation. Instead, their responsibility is to serve the congregation and be their examples. There is total equality among God's people. In God's church, there is humble equality.
IV. An affirmation of the Gospel in the redeemed community
In the 1st century letter, after identifying the writer and the reader of the letter, is a simple greeting, such as peace to you. But Paul used the custom greeting and transformed it into something very different. He added Grace and sometimes Mercy to Peace. Here it is grace. Vs.2, "Grace to you and peace from God our father and the lord Jesus Christ. 願恩惠平安從我們的父 神和主耶穌基督臨到你們"
The word grace links with God's activity. It is God's gift to the undeserved. In spite of our sinfulness and rebellion, Jesus Christ came into the world and died for us. Through his death and resurrection, he rescued us from the wrath of God, and reconciled us to God. This is grace, and not of our merit. And as a result of this grace, salvation, we are at peace with God, self and others. Peace is the total well being because of God's work in us. Therefore, grace and peace, is the gospel in a nutshell. This is from God the father and the lord Jesus Christ.
Other religions and meditations can also give us inner peace at certain times. But only God can give us this total well being, because of being reconciled to him. And do we also notice something about this greeting? In Numbers 6:24 is the Aaron's benediction: "the lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon and give you peace願耶和華賜福你,保護你;願耶和華使他的臉光照你,賜恩給你; 願耶和華敞臉垂顧你,賜你平安。’ ". Notice here: Grace and peace.
Here in the NT, because of Christ redemptive work on the cross, this grace and peace is actually among us. This is the basis for peace with God and with others. This is the basis of unity.
In Jesus' last prayer, he asked the Father to keep his disciples one, just as he and the Father are one. You see, the Triune God consists of the Father, Son and the Spirit. Each of the godhead is unique and yet they are one. There is perfect unity and harmony in the triune God. Therefore as followers of Jesus Christ, as we enter into community of the redeemed, we are also to reflect this unity. And our enemy knows this, and for this reason, it has been his focus in attacking us. For this reason, Jesus' last prayer on earth was to ask the Father to protect his children.
The church at Philippi in the first century experienced dissension, fractions and selfishness. These are the underlying causes of disunity. Churches in the 21st century are also vulnerable in dissension, selfishness and fractions. Many Christians and ministers can tell you how their hearts are broken when they see God's church being split apart by human pride and arrogance.
However, we are not left helpless. In these 2 simple sentences of greetings, Paul provided us with several main themes to protect unity. He gave us a model of his humility, so that we know what it means to look after others interest. He called to our attention that we are all saints in Jesus Christ. Therefore we are to reflect the unity of the Triune God in our community. He also reaffirmed the essence of the gospel among us. It is the gospel that formed the foundation of true peace with God and with others. In the coming months, we'll see how these major themes will continue to unfold in this letter to the Philippians.