Philippians 1:1 - Sowing Seeds of Humility and Unity

It has often been noted that Paul contains little seeds within the opening sections of his letters which he brings to full bloom further into the letter itself. Try reading verse 1 with this in mind. What do you see?

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: (Philippians 1:1) 

What strikes me in this opening verse are the dual themes of humility and unity that are sown between the lines.

Listen to these words from chapter 2 for a sneak peak of where he is going in this letter.

Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. [There’s a call to unity]. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. [There’s a call to humility]. (Philippians 2:2-4)

Paul is no General who sits back at army HQ giving orders. He is a Commander on the battlefield with his troops, living out his commands before them. This is exactly what we see Paul do here. Before he tells the Philippians what he wants them to do, he models it to them in himself. Look with me again at verse 1.

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: (Philippians 1:1)

Paul is an Apostle of Jesus Christ. You don’t get a higher qualification than this. But notice how he chooses to introduce himself?

‘Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus.’

First of all, he makes himself equal with Timothy. He doesn’t feel the need to elevate himself by pointing out his superior rank. It wouldn't have been wrong of Paul to do so. He did it in other letters. But here it is just Paul and Timothy on equal footing. This also expresses their unity. While this letter is written by Paul and carries his authority as an apostle, Paul is saying, “Timothy and I are together in this. We are of one mind and are in agreement about what I’m writing.”

Paul continues by identifying himself with a title. Again, he could have used the title Apostle. But he doesn't. He picks a title loaded with humility. He says, “we’re servants (slaves) of Christ Jesus.” For Paul this title meant, “My life is not about me. I have a master. His name is Jesus Christ. My life is about Him. I live for His service and His name’s sake.”

Notice the unity in this title. Timothy and Paul are both servants of the same master. How can they not be united and have the same mind when they both serve Jesus?

Paul moves on to mention the recipients of his letter. In so doing he continues to sow the seeds of unity and humility by carefully chosen words.

‘To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:’

Paul gives them a title too to remind them of who they are. He could have said, “to the Christians, or to the church, or to the believers in Philippi.” But he doesn’t. He says, “I'm writing to the saints.”

What in the world is a saint? The word simply means a 'holy one'. In the Old Testament, something is holy when it has been set apart from common use for God and His service. So to be saints means we are God’s people and our whole life exists for Him and for His glory. This is a title that defines our purpose.

Do you think of yourself in that way? If you are a Christian, you too are a saint. God has set you apart for Himself. Your life is not to be about you. It is to be about Him. Consider your life for a moment (actions, thoughts, values, ambitions, dreams). Does it reflect the fact that you are a saint?

The little word ‘all’ hints once again at the unity/humility theme Paul is sowing.

All Christians are saints. And because of that, we should be united. How can we not be united when we are all set apart for the same purpose?

And because all are saints, there should be humility towards one another. No one is greater than anyone else. All Christians are saints.

This is not to say there aren’t leaders in the church. Paul purposely tags on mention of them at the end. ‘I’m writing to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.’ In so doing Paul probably has two goals in mind.

  • To the church: the equality of all as saints doesn't rule out the place of leaders. Humble submission is still required. 
  • To the leaders themselves, these words should bring humility. Leaders are not greater than the congregation they serve. They are part of the congregation. Paul is not writing to the leaders alone, but to all the saints of which they are but a part. 

I hope, through this quick meditation, the little seeds of unity and humility that Paul has begun to sow will take root in your heart and produce much fruit.

Questions to consider:
  • How can I imitate Paul's apostolic example of unity and humility in my life today?
  • All Christians are saints. What changes to my thinking should that truth bring about?

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