One of our presenters in our Advanced Greek Grammar class yesterday walked us beautifully through the Greek text of Philippians, showing how the theme of the letter -- working together to make known the Good News about Christ until he returns -- is seen even in the first two verses of the book.
This is what's often called the letter opening or the "salutation" -- and we often simply gloss over it so that we can move on to more important things. So this morning, in my Bible time, I slowed down and paused to try and digest what these verses are saying. Before Paul launches into his great subject of unity in the cause of the Gospel, he first calls upon God to:
1. Give each of the Philippians his fullest blessings (grace) and
2. Give them harmony (peace) in their hearts and in their relationships.
This is brilliant. There can be no "working together as one team for the Gospel" without God's grace and peace in our lives. How can the Philippians' love for one another overflow more and more (1:9) unless God fills them with his grace? How can they possibly be humble, think of others as better than themselves, and put aside their differences (2:3-4) unless the God of peace is with them? This is the beginning point for Paul, and it should be the beginning point with us. For new life to come forth in my students, I need to pray upon them the grace and peace of God long before I enter the classroom.
Christ grows lovelier to me with each passing day, and so does his Gospel Commission to go everywhere and tell everyone (Mark 16:15). I keep meeting brothers and sisters who will work with me to accomplish this goal in the strangest of places. "Fellow workers" Paul often calls them, and that's because it is who they are. They know they are recipients of God's grace and peace; now they want to become dispensers of both.
I think my discovery of the importance of the letter opening of Philippians -- a discovery, by the way, that shouldn't have been a surprise after all -- has changed the way I read the New Testament epistles. Paul was not in the business of wasting words. "May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ bless you!" he writes as he begins his letter. "May he grant you his grace in all its fullness, and may he give you peace, a peace in your own hearts and a peace between each other, even between those of you who are feuding."
Today, you and I are living out our faith because of God's grace and peace (Paul will add "mercy" in the Pastoral Epistles). I like that thought. God's grace and peace will shape my thoughts and words and deeds if I allow them to. The message of Philippians is simply this: we are called and sent out into this world to proclaim the kingdom of God, and to do this together. If we're not doing this, maybe we are glossing over the first two verses of Philippians.