Philippians 4:21-23 – Greetings and Grace

As we come to the end of our study of the Epistle to the Philippians, we come to three verses which may not seem very important. What Paul says here is similar to what he says at the end of other letters. These verses include Paul’s farewell and prayer for the Philippian believers. What could you learn from these three verses? As we study these verses together, I think that you will see how important these verses are. Keep your eyes open and listen to what God says in this part of the Bible. There just might be more than you expect.

  1. The importance of Christian greetings (21-22)

    What kind of greeting is called for?

    Paul uses the word greet three times in these verses. In his time, the word meant “to give greetings (hello or good-bye) … to salute, greet, welcome, express good wishes, pay respects … to bid farewell … to treat with affection … met. to embrace mentally.”1 All of these definitions give the idea that one person is giving a happy greeting to people he cares about.

    While visiting the Willows yesterday, there were several elderly residents sitting outside. As I passed them, I waved my hand and smiled. My greeting was more polite than anything because I had never met these two ladies. But when I got inside and saw Norman, my greeting to him was much different. We were two Christians greeting one another with a smile based on our mutual experience in the Lord.

    Paul talks about greeting other Christians three times: (1) greet every saint in Christ Jesus, (2) the brethren with him sent their greetings, and (3) all the saints (including those in Caesar’s household) greeted them. With all of that in mind, I don’t think that this was a scripted phrase such as “I greet you in the name of the Lord.” Instead, they were greeting one another as fellow Christians. Because they all knew the Lord and had common experience as Christians, they were sending an affectionate, loving greeting to other believers.

    Who are the saints?

    One of the common misunderstandings taught by the Roman Catholic Church involves the word saint in the New Testament. According to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, “All Christians are called to be saints. Saints are persons in heaven (officially canonized or not), who lived heroically virtuous lives, offered their life for others, or were martyred for the faith, and who are worthy of imitation.”2 The website describes how a deceased Roman Catholic can become a saint. The Roman Catholic Church recognizes a deceased Catholic as a saint if they have lived a virtuous life and two miracles have happened after prayer is made to them. This has led to Roman Catholic followers to pray with the saints3 and to the saints for help.4

    There are many reasons why praying to saints is not good: (1) the Bible never tells us to do this, (2) Jesus is the only mediator between us and God (1 Tim. 2:5), (3) we are told to take our requests to God (Phil. 4:6-7), and (4) the practice of necromancy is an abomination to God (Deut. 18:10-12). For these reasons alone, it should be clear that speaking to a dead person (no matter how heroic or virtuous) is not something prescribed by or accepted by God. Instead, it is a false practice that turns people away from what God truly wants believers to do.

    1 Tim. 2:5 – “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and menthe Man Christ Jesus.”

    Phil. 4:6-7 – “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

    Deut. 18:10-12 – “There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord, and because of these abominations the Lord your God drives them out from before you.”

    If you look at our text carefully, you will see that Paul was talking about people who were living not dead. In verse 21, he tells the Philippians to greet every saint in Christ Jesus. Does that sound like talking to dead people? No, he was telling them to greet other Christians whom they met. In verse 22, he tells them that all the saints were sending their greetings to them especially those who were in Caesar’s household. Does this sound like a bunch of dead people sending greetings to the Philippian church? No, he was talking about Christians who were alive, who lived in Caesar’s house, and who were sending their affectionate greetings to the believers in Philippi.

    So who are the saints? In the New Testament the word saint means someone who is “holy (moral quality), consecrated ([ceremonially] acceptable to God) … separate from common condition and use; dedicated … pure, righteous.”5 In other words, it describes what Christians are called to be.

    Rom. 12:1-2 – “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

    1 Cor. 6:17-18 – “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”

    1 Pet. 1:14-16 – “as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”

    With these verses in mind, we should understand a saint as (1) a living person not a dead one, and (2) a Christian who is trying to live a clean life for the Lord. If you have been born again through repentance and faith, then you are called to be a saint for the Lord. We do this not to earn something from God but because we love Him and want to please Him. Are you one of these saints talked about here?

    Who were those sending their greetings?

    As we go back to the verses, let us take a look at the people who were sending their greetings. First, it is the Philippian believers who were to greet all the saints in Christ Jesus. These saints were other believers who lived in Philippi or in the surrounding area who knew the Lord Jesus Christ. Second, the brethren with Paul sent their greeting. These were Paul’s travel companions. At different times, people like Barnabas, Silas, Luke, John Mark and others chose to travel with Paul. Whoever was with him at the time, sent their greetings to the saints in Philippi. Third, all the saints especially those in Caesar’s household sent their greetings. As you can imagine, Paul was constantly writing letters to the various churches. He often passed along his greetings and a greeting from those with him. At the time, Paul was imprisoned in Rome. At the time he wrote this epistle, there were some Christians who were in Caesar’s household. They “were probably those who had come to Christ as a result of Paul’s house arrest. They probably included soldiers and relatives of Caesar’s household.”6 8 As these Christians heard Paul talking about the Philippian believers, they wanted them to know that they loved and appreciated their Christian brothers who lived so far away from them.

    During the last 28 years, my wife and I have been members of several churches in Michigan and Ohio. We have also ministered in churches in Wisconsin, Iowa, Pennsylvania, and at various camps. Whenever we come into contact with someone from one of these churches or ministries, we pass along our greetings to them. We remember the time we had with them. We remember the work that God did in their hearts. We rejoice with them when God saves a relative or works in someone’s heart that we knew from back then. We weep with those who go through hard times. All that to say that there is a special bond between those who are Christians wherever they may be.

    Why is this important? It is important because (1) the Bible tells us to do it, (2) we need encouragement, and (3) we need to encourage others. Just as regular church attendance helps a believer to grow, so does a warm Christian greeting help those who give and receive it. Every day, we fight a battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil. We often come into conflict with those who resist or fight against the truths in the Bible. This can lead to discouragement and sometimes depression. One of the means by which we can be encouraged is this simple and helpful Christian greeting. So make good use of this and try to be an encouragement to someone this week.

  2. The importance of Christian grace (23)

    What is grace?

    Over the years, the word grace has been used to describe a prayer before a meal and many other things. In Paul’s day, the word meant “grace, favor, kindness.” In other words, grace is a kindness done for another person that is helpful. When received from people, it is called being gracious. It is the kind thought, word, or action done to help someone who needs help. However, this is not what Paul is talking about. He is talking about the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    What does Jesus have to do with it?

    While a kind word or a Christian greeting from another person can be helpful, Paul was wanting these Philippian believers to have the grace that comes from the Lord Jesus Christ. Notice that he uses the full title here. He is the Lord showing His deity. He is Jesus our Savior. He is Christ, the anointed One of God. If grace from another Christian is helpful, how would grace from the Divine, Saving, Anointed Son of God be?

    A couple of thoughts:

    (1) We need the grace of God for our salvation (Eph. 2:8-9). Without His kindness toward us, we would still be wallowing in our sin on our way to the final judgment. But because of His kindness, we heard the truth, were convinced to turn from our sin, and believed in Jesus who died for our sins and rose again.

    (2) We need the grace of Jesus for our daily Christian lives.

    Gen. 6:8 – “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.”

    Acts 4:33 – “And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all.”

    1 Cor. 15:10 – “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”

    Eph. 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

    2 Tim. 2:1 – “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”

    Heb. 4:16 – “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

    James 4:6 – “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

    1 Pet. 5:10 – “But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.

    2 Pet. 3:18 – “but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.”

    As you can see, the Bible is filled with the grace of Jesus which helps and strengthens believers. As Hendriksen says, “In the final analysis our entire salvation from start to finish depends on God’s sovereign favor in Jesus Christ.”7 This is why Paul prays that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ would be given to them. We need His power for our everyday lives. Without it, we would not be able to handle the pressures of life. But with His grace, we can endure and smile through the good and bad times.

    This is what I want for each of you. First, I would like you to know the grace of Jesus for salvation. God was kind to send Him and Jesus was kind to willingly give His life to pay for your sins. His kindness is available to all who believe. Have you received His kindness and been saved from the punishment you deserve for your sin? Second, I would like each believer to know the grace of Jesus daily. Instead of trying to drum up the ability to endure, why not rely on the grace, the kindness, the favor that Jesus offers to each believer. With his help, you can have the power to do what He has called you to do and the ability to enjoy your life with Him.

Conclusion

In today’s message, we have covered only three verses. At first, they may have seemed insignificant and unworthy of a Sunday morning message. But after looking at them more closely, we have learned two important things.

First, we have seen the importance of a Christian greeting. It isn’t the words that are said but the meaning and reality behind them. When a Christian greets another Christian there is something between them that the world can’t understand. The comradery and brotherhood of believers is something that is special. And it is all because of what God has done in our lives. We Christians have something that others don’t have. We have been washed clean from our sins, forgiven by God, changed by God into a new person, made a part of God’s family, and given a task to complete. Those who are going in the same direction are happy to greet another member of their family with joy. Are you a part of this family?

Second, we have seen the importance of the grace of Jesus in our lives. While His grace was active in our salvation, it is also active in our daily lives. He kindly gives us the strength we need. He encourages us, teaches us, and helps us to become what we need to be. Without Him we would be nothing. But with His grace, we are able to do what we need to with a smile on our faces. Are you taking advantage of His grace today?

Footnotes

1 ἀσπάζομαι as defined by Mounce
2 “Roman Catholic Saints & Heroes!”
3 Dohlen
4 “Praying to the Saints”
5 ἅγιος as defined by Mounce
6 Lightner 665.
7 Hendriksen 214.
8 Hendriksen 214, “If among the early Christians there were those who belonged to Nero’s ‘household,’ today’s government-employees in far more favorable circumstances will have great difficulty when they try to find an excuse for failing to bear witness for Christ (verse 22).”

Bibliography

Dohlen, Cate Von, “How to Pray With Saints” as viewed at https://hallow.com/blog/how-to-pray-with-saints on 7/1/2023. [I do not condone the teaching in this article.]

Hendriksen, William, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994, pp. 212-13.

Lightner, Robert P., “Philippians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983, p. 665.

Moule, H. C. G., The Epistle to the Philippians, Cambridge; The University Press, 1889, pp. 122-24.

Mounce, Bill, “Greek Dictionary” as viewed at https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary on 7/1/2023.

“Praying to the Saints” as viewed at https://www.catholic.com/tract/praying-to-the-saints on 7/1/2023. [I do not condone the teaching in this article.]

“Roman Catholic Saints & Heroes!” as viewed at https://www.roman-catholic-saints.com on 7/1/2023. [I do not condone the teaching in this article.]

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