Philippians 4 v 21-23
Please turn with me in your Bibles to Paul’s letter to the Philippians chapter 4. We’re going to read the final three verses as we conclude our series through the book of Philippians of recent months. “Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesars household. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”
It’s a wonderful greeting, isn’t it? We tend to read our Bibles and when we get to the greetings at the end, we think oh well, okay the letter’s over now, so the greeting’s not important. This greeting is packed with wonderful spiritual truths as I hope to point out to you – and truth very relevant to the time in which we live, because we no longer greet one another – we sort of just elbow one another and we wave at a distance – we can’t even see each other’s faces – you see half of them. And I think that part of the damage that Covid-19 has done to our society is that people no longer know how to acknowledge one another and how to socialize. Let me tell you something about socializing – about fellowshipping and socializing – it does not come naturally to people. It is something that we need to work on very hard. Every single war that’s ever been fought in this world is a proof of that – a proof that it does not come naturally to humanity to socialize in a peaceful and happy and joyful way. It doesn’t come naturally to us – it takes hard work to do that! You know that from within your own family to get through a day – and now I’m speaking probably out of the manse – to get through a day without at least one argument that my wife starts is impossible. You know that I’m just joking – I’m the one who starts them! But what I’m saying is that human relationships are extremely complex things – does everybody agree with me on that? Relationships are complex things, especially when there’s distance between people. It takes greater care even then to sustain those relationships. You’ll see when you go to university you young people and when you go to college, and I hope some of the men will go to Seminary as well. You’ll see that, even with WhatsApp and with Email and with SMS and with Zoom and with video calls, to maintain relationships is a very difficult thing to do. And so I think one of the ways in which our society has been severely damaged is the way in which people have lost their social skills to at least a troubling degree. I wouldn’t say all together, but I do think as a Pastor I observe that it is to a considerable degree. There are a lot of lonely people out there. And this passage is a passage that speaks to us at this time when people cannot be together by government decree – they cannot be together. More than ever, we need to say to one another: ‘Greet every saint in Christ Jesus – greet them!’ You couldn’t even visit your parents or your children during the lock-down – you had to find other ways of doing it by WhatsApp and so on. Who else is sick and tired of WhatsApp here? Let me see – quite a few, wow! Pray for the rest okay?
I want to talk to you this evening about the Greetings and the Grace, because these are the two things that we see in the passage – the Greetings and the Grace. You see these two things: ‘Greet every saint.’ He uses the word again: ‘The brothers who are with me greet you.’ He uses the word greet twice, so there are greetings – plural – in this text. And then there is the grace in verse 23 and these two things are very intimately and intricately interwoven.
- The Greetings
We’re going to look at the greetings first. What is a greeting? The greeting is simply an acknowledgement of another person – you acknowledge their existence and you acknowledge the fact that they’re there, is important to you. That’s what a greeting does. It says ‘I see you, and I acknowledge that you’re here and that you are important – that I’m blessed to have you here. You are here, and I acknowledge that.’ It is also an expression of goodwill – especially on meeting someone for the first time. So an acknowledgement of a person’s personhood and an expression of goodwill towards that person. That’s what greetings are. And I think you would agree with me that that’s a very important thing within a society. Now, we need to notice some aspects of these greetings and I want to show you three things about the greetings themselves: the Exceptions in the greeting, the Embodiment of the greeting and the Exceptional in the greeting. And then we’re going to look at the grace and I’m going to tell you what that is, because there can be no expression of acknowledgement of another person and goodwill towards them without the grace of God, and that’s true even among unbelievers. It’s the grace of God that makes pagans not kill each other in the streets every day to a greater degree than they are doing. It’s the grace of God – it’s not because they’re good people. It’s the grace of God who make unbelievers even greet one another with acknowledgement and expressions of goodwill – even that is the grace of God. But there’s a particular Grace here. These are special people greeting one another and they greet one another in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. We’re going to look at the grace secondly and look at its Provider, its Presence and its Place – who gives it, where it is, and how it is.
a. The Exceptions in the Greetings
There’s a particularity about this greeting from the Apostle Paul. He’s greeting a specific group of people. He’s not greeting the world, he’s greeting every Saint. So he’s not greeting those who are not saints – he’s greeting every Saint. Do you see the exception? Well, it’s a natural thing because he’s writing to particular people. You don’t go out your house every day and greet the whole world – you greet the people you live with and the people you work with and the people you meet on the road – hopefully with a friendly wave and not some other gesture. You greet particular people and the people that the Apostle Paul is greeting here are the Saints in Christ Jesus. And he greets every saint without exception. ‘Greet every saint in Christ Jesus.’ So the exceptions: he’s accepted those who are Saints in Christ Jesus. What does that mean? That means people who are pursuing holiness – people who are saved – people who have been justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, according to the Scriptures alone to the glory of God alone and who are pursuing sanctification in the power of the Holy Spirit and the light of the Word in this world. Those are the people whom Paul is greeting and it makes it a very special kind of greeting – it’s a Spirit driven greeting. In fact, this is not just a Spirit driven greeting – it’s a Spirit written greeting! This is the Word of God! The Lord knew that Paul’s greeting would get into the Bible and He inspired that greeting with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit inspired that greeting. So this is the Apostle Paul greeting us in the power of the Spirit – greeting every saint! And I want to belabor this point. Our greetings to one another should be in that same Spirit. Our greetings have become very kind of – I don’t know – elbowy. We’re going to be responsible in this church I promise you – we’re going to be responsible with regard to the pandemic. I promise you I’ll err on the side of caution. We will proceed with caution. We’ll be cautious, but proceed we will. Amen? But I want to tell you this – as cautious as we’re going to be, I’m telling you boldly from the Pulpit.
I miss the hugs. Do you? Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 13:12 ‘greet one another with a holy kiss.‘ I’ve had a lot of fun looking through my commentaries to see how the commentators try to get past that one so you don’t have to kiss guys with mustaches. I had a lot of fun looking at those, you know. Let the Word speak brother! I’m not saying we should all start kissing one another. The point I’m making is there’s an intimacy to Christians greeting one another. Do you see my point? There’s a holy intimacy to it and he greets every saint – that’s the exceptions that he is greeting – very special people. But these exceptions have an embodiment – they’re embodied in someone.
b. The Embodiment of the Greetings
What is the embodiment of the Saints? In Christ Jesus! Can it get more intimate than that – than God uniting many people – many nations from all over the world through all centuries in one Person? And His Name is Jesus! Brothers and sisters, you and I need to start realizing what it means to be in Christ Jesus! Do you know why we have so many conflicts and so many Church splits and why we’re so grateful in this church that the Lord over the past almost decade has preserved our Church from even a single serious conflict. Do you know what it is that causes people to fight – Christians to fight among another, Churches to split, new denominations to form? It’s a lack of understanding of what it means to be one in Christ Jesus. That’s what it is. Everything else is secondary. That’s the primary cause – is when people do not flock together in Christ Jesus. It’s when they come together and each one is in his own agenda, each one is in his own motive, each one is in his own desire, and we’re not together in Christ Jesus. That’s the embodiment of the greeting: ‘The Saints in Christ Jesus.’ And you and I need to emphasize this as much as we can. What does it mean to be in Jesus, and to be in Him together as one! There’s an intimacy there, can you see? There is no greater intimacy in the entire world. There’s never been – not in any place – not anywhere – nowhere – never has there been greater intimacy between fallen human beings than the intimacy that exists by the Saints together in Christ Jesus. It’s a wonderful thing. There’s a romance to it. It’s God loving His bride! ‘Greet every Saint in Christ Jesus.’ So we’ve seen the exceptions – it’s every saint. You need to be a saint to be greeted like this, you need to be one of the exceptions and that exception should be embodied in the Lord Jesus Christ. Then too, you will come to the exceptional.
c. The Exceptional in the Greetings
What is the exceptional? Here they are: they are exceptional people. ‘The brothers who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.’ Exceptional people greeting you. Exceptional people greeting the Philippians and God knowing that this would be part of the Canon of Holy Scripture that we as Evangelicals hold to be the infallible, clear word of God. It’s a greeting to you too. It’s a greeting to ‘the brothers who are with me who greet you’ – that’s the Apostle Paul on his travels facing all kinds of calamities. Somebody said and I think it was Dr. John MacArthur recently when he was threatened with being arrested: ‘You know, I’ve been praying for revivals in prisons for a long time – but, you know, they say when Paul went into a town he didn’t ask what the hotels were like, he asked what the prisons were like because he knew that’s where he was going.’ He landed in prison several times and he had some of the brothers with him. He’s sitting there penning this and he says: ‘the brothers who are with me greet you.’ Those blessed Apostles and their companions who walked by foot and sailed by sea, rode by horse all over to make known to us the Gospel – they greet you – all the saints greet you – that’s everywhere where he goes – all those people who by Faith alone through Grace alone in Christ alone, according to the Scriptures alone to the Glory of God alone are in Christ Jesus – they greet you. There’s an intimacy to it. And notice this now: ‘especially those of Caesars household.’ Now every historical indication is that Caesar himself and his own family, they weren’t Christians back then, but there were those in his household which would include some of his slaves and the people who worked in the palaces and so on, who had heard the Gospel and accepted the Gospel and who became Saints in Christ Jesus. They also greet you. Exceptional people – a motley crew of sinners saved by Grace alone. They greet you. The greetings are important, beloved! It’s an acknowledgement of one another’s personhood and an expression of goodwill. And the person who you need to acknowledge: ‘the saints greet one another’ is that we are exceptions – we are the Saints – we are embodied in the Lord Jesus Christ. And we are also greeted by the exceptional – even by the Apostles and by all the other Saints. But that’s only possible because of the Grace.
- The Grace
‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit’ (verse 23). Notice something about this Grace. It has a provider.
a. Its Provider
Who provides this grace? Who gives it? It’s the Grace – and here’s the possessive – of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now this hit me when I was a student at Seminary. It hit me for the first time, but the thought kind of lingered with me for a while and then it just kind of went and it came back with a bang this week as I was looking at this text again. I read it and it said ‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ’ and the thought came back to me – this Grace that I have belongs to Him. It’s His – He owns it! He is the possessor of Grace. He is the Steward of it – the sole Dispenser of it. And He wraps it in blood and a broken body. That’s what it looks like, and that’s how it’s wrapped, but that’s who possesses it. And He gives us this Grace freely. Let me remind you of this evening. He didn’t have to and He doesn’t have to, but He does! He’s the provider of Grace. Let me tell you what you need in this life – whatever your own calamity or problem or adversity may be at the moment – whatever your problems may be inside of you where the biggest problems are. Let me tell you something as an aside – it’s inside of you! Your biggest problem is inside of you. Did you know that? It’s not the other people. Whatever your problems may be inside of you or outside of you – what you need in this world to deal with that – let me first tell you what you don’t need. You don’t need money. You don’t need a big house. You don’t need a big car. You don’t need a fancy job. You don’t need status. You don’t need a fan club. You don’t need a million followers on YouTube and Facebook. You need Grace to deal with it! Nothing else will deal with it. And you can find that Grace in only one place from only one Provider. There is one Provider. His Name is the Lord Jesus Christ! Young people, if you haven’t made a conscious commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ to avail yourself of His Grace, you need to give it your serious attention! You’re young enough to know that there are a lot of good things in life, but you’ll soon find out that there are a lot of things that you just cannot handle. And as I said before, you’ll find them inside of yourself. If you want to know where to get what you need to deal with it, I point you to this Provider: the Lord Jesus Christ. It is His grace.
b. Its Presence
Where is this Grace? Where does the greeting of the Apostle want this grace to be? ‘Be with your spirit.’ He wants this Grace to be with you – not just to be a general thing out there like a little sauce that you put over a pudding or something, but to be with you – up close and personal. That’s where this Grace is – it comes from the Lord Jesus Christ – it’s with you. You say to me: ‘I don’t deserve that!’ You understand Grace when you say that. There’s another error that people can make when they say: ‘Well the Lord has blessed me; the Lord is so gracious to me. You know, we just got a new car and that bond was approved and I got a new job.’ Now that’s all the Lord’s grace. It’s only God’s grace if He provides you with that, but it’s not the kind of Grace that Paul is speaking about here. This Grace is a powerful thing that emanates from the heart of God Himself – that on the cross of Calvary, because of the Cross of Calvary – that we’re going to celebrate – frees you from the penalty of sin (its guilt), frees you from the power of sin and frees you eventually from the very presence of it. You – it’s with you! It’s with every sinner who acknowledges that they are in need of Grace. The Provider is the Lord Jesus Christ – its presence is with you.
c. Its Place
Where is its place, very particularly? Your spirit – that’s as intimate as it gets – your spirit! Everything that drives you. What is this thing called spirit? You can look in any Bible dictionary and you’ll find it, but it’s a wonderful thing! He’s the Father of our spirits and in the Old Testament the Hebrew word for spirit is Ruach – about 389 times we find it. Its basic meaning is wind – 113 times the Old Testament uses it for wind. The trees of the forest sway before a wind, before a spirit. A wind sweeps over the waters and the Lord walked in the Garden at the breezy time of the day. Breath is also a basic meaning of this term – just your breath that you breathe. It’s the Lord who gives breath to people, but by extension in the Old Testament when applied to a person, Ruach comes to mean all your vital powers – all your vital strength – everything that you are – your personality, your motives, your emotions, your attitudes – all of that are embodied in your spirit. And it is the spirit that sustains a person through illness Proverbs tells us, but ‘the spirit of the troubled person can be crushed’ the Psalms tell us. This dynamic force that we call the spirit can be impaired or diminished as well as renewed and it can be increased. And you ought to let God want to do that for you. The Spirit of the Lord – if you want to understand your spirit better – the Spirit of the Lord is the creative power of Life – the same phenomenon that made God create life is the same power in you that this called the spirit. It’ll determine what you do and how you do it – how you feel – how you don’t feel – where you go – where you don’t go. That’s the spirit. And the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ needs to lodge nowhere more securely than in your spirit. That is its place, and you need to ask the Lord that it can be there.
In the New Testament it is Pneuma. That’s the counterpart to the Old Testament Ruach. It occasionally means wind and breath, but it almost always translates Spirit which is an unembodied feeling – an intelligent being. It was Mary’s spirit that rejoiced. Jesus grew and became strong. He was filled with wisdom. He was deeply moved in Spirit when he saw Mary weeping over the death of Lazarus. Apollos was characterized as speaking with great fervor in the Spirit, and Paul had no peace of mind (no spirit) when it says there he had no peace of mind, he had no spirit when Titus did not meet him at Troas. Jesus pronounced a blessing on the poor in spirit. In the New Testament spirit is also seen as that dimension of human personality whereby – and this is important – relationship with God is possible. It’s only by your spirit that a relationship with God is at all possible. And that’s why the Grace of God ought to lodge nowhere more securely and more fully than in your spirit – in your heart – another word they used for it. I think you get the point.
Can you see it’s not just a greeting that makes us walk away from a letter that we enjoyed? It’s almost a summary of everything Paul has said, in a world where we walk around with fleeting little scary elbow taps. In a world where people are constantly dissed and never greeted, you and I need to notice the Greetings – the exceptions (every saint), the embodiment (the Lord Jesus Christ) the exceptional (the brothers and all the saints), the Grace – its Provider (the Lord Jesus Christ), its presence (it be with you), its place (very deep inside of you) – everywhere, always – in your spirit.