Greetings And Blessings

Philippians 4: 21-23

by
Gary Young

The blessings and greetings which are to be found at the beginning and end of most of Paul’s letters, and indeed in several other books of the New Testament as well, are often overlooked in our study of these works. Often, we will simply glance over them and give them but passing consideration as we study. However, we should note that there are often important pieces of information contained in these salutations, as well as some important thoughts which help us to understand the relationship that existed between the brethren in the first century, as well as those that should exist between the brethren united in Christ in our own time.

In the book of Philippians, we find the closing salutations in chapter 4, verses 21 to 23. Unlike in other books, we do not have any brethren specifically named. Nonetheless, we are able to identify two specific groups of brethren whom Paul mentions in these verses. The first consists of the “brethren which are with me”. These Christians were presumably those who were actually gathered in Rome with Paul himself, some of whom are mentioned by name in other Pauline epistles. We know, for example, that Philippians was written about the same time as Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon, so it is likely that the group here referred to included  Tychicus, who carried the letters to the Ephesians and Colossians, along with Onesimus (Eph. 6: 21; Col. 4: 7-9; Philem. 10-12. The group who remained at Rome with Paul at this time seems to have included Epaphras (Col. 4: 12-13; Philem. 23), possibly the same person as Epaphroditus, a member of the church at Philippi (Phil. 2: 25-30); Mark, the writer of the second gospel (Col. 4: 10; Philem. 24); Luke, who was probably even then working on the third Gospel and Acts (Col. 4: 14; Philem. 24); Demas, who would eventually forsake Paul (Col. 4: 14; Philem. 24; II Tim. 4: 10); as well as others such as Jesus called Justus and Aristarchus of whom we know little besides their names.

As we read the names of this group of dedicated workers for the Lord, we cannot help but feel some of the friendship and fellowship that existed between these people. It is hard enough for us to leave one another in these days of e-mail, telephone and airliners, when we can keep in constant touch. We can only imagine what it would have been like for these brethren, who as often as not might never expect to see one another again (Phil. 2: 21). Yet, for all that, we see them rejoicing in their fellowship and in the common labours for the Lord an for His cause. It is immediately apparent what a consolation it would have been for Paul to have had the comfort of these brethren’s presence and help while he was imprisoned for Christ. Equally, we can see the comforting effect it would have had for the Philippian brethren to know that “all the brethren which are with me” were thinking of them and praying for them. We also should not underestimate the effect of a simple greeting in Christ on our fellow brethren. It can be a great help, especially when encountering trials and tribulations, to know that there are brethren many miles away, even some we may never have met, who are thinking of us and praying for us.

We then, as often as we can, should offer our prayers for the work of the Lord all over the world, and if it is possible we should let those brethren know that they are in our thoughts and our prayers. Even brethren who speak different languages, who practice different customs, even in the expedient parts of their worship, have far more in common with us than they have which keeps us apart. I noticed this very much last year when I was privileged to travel to Zambia and to reach the gospel there with a group from Truth for the World. Even though there were vast differences between us in so many areas, even in the way we conducted our worship services (in expedient matters such as song books, order and times of service etc.) I immediately felt that I was among brethren who were working in the same cause I was, and who valued the same things. Especially when faced by things which are ‘different’ to our accustomed practices, we can slip into thinking that they are perhaps “ignorant” or “unlearned”, when in fact they are only different, and their practices are in no way inferior to our own. We can all learn one from another: the most important thing to remember is that we are all brethren, and there is much more that brings us together than tears us apart.

In verse 22 we can also see some evidence of Paul’s evangelistic activity in the city of Rome itself. Having given greetings from the brethren who were actually with Paul, he then gives greetings from “all the saints”, in other words, from all the Christians who were meeting in the city of Rome. There seems to have been a number of congregations within the city of Rome at this time, due no doubt to the large size of the city and its great population, far in advance of the population of any other city in the Roman world. This stands in stark contrast to the usual reason for the proliferation in numbers of congregations today! Paul was sending greetings from all these brethren – even though they met in separate locations on the Lord’s Day and other assemblies, it is clear they were all known to one another and were in fellowship with one another.

One particular group is mentioned in this verse which is worthy of our attention. Paul mentions all the saints but “chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household”. This refers not to the actual family of the Roman emperor, but to the familia Caesaris, the household establishment of the emperor, located in the magnificent palaces and their adjacent offices on the Palatine Hill, overlooking the city. In this complex there would have been hundreds of slaves and freedmen administering the personal and state property of the emperor, who would have been Nero at the time of the writing of Philippians. It appears that among these people there had been several who had heard and believed the preaching of the gospel. It is possible that since it was appeal to Caesar (Acts 25: 11) that had brought him to Rome, Paul had been obliged to deal with many of these freedmen when he arrived in the imperial city. It is clear that he had used this opportunity to preach the gospel to these men, and had converted several.

It is instructive to see how Paul made use of these opportunities to preach the gospel to people in the very heart of the Roman Empire. He was in the midst of a situation which we all would find to be extremely traumatic. He had been imprisoned for preaching the gospel, and had been taken in chains on a Roman ship from Caesarea to Rome, enduring shipwreck on the way, and now he had to await the pleasure of the emperor in the city himself, while having to hire his own house for two years while waiting (Acts 28: 30-31). It would certainly be very easy to become extremely self-absorbed and self pitying in such a circumstance. We might, faced with such difficulties, decide that we would cease preaching the gospel, saying that we would begin preaching it again when the time was more appropriate, or when we had the chance to do so. Paul, however, never made any such excuses. Instead, even though his movements were limited, he still took the opportunity to preach the Word to all that came to him (Acts 28: 31). It is clear that he also took the opportunity to preach to the members of Caesar’s household also.

In this closing lesson it is appropriate to reflect upon the greetings that Paul sent to his brethren in Christ. We can think of the love, friendship and fellowship that existed between these brethren, and the way in which they shared their goals and prayers, even though they may not have seen one another for many years. As we all go our separate ways, we can reflect on the fact that we too share those goals and prayers, even though we are separated by nearly two thousand years from the writing of this letter. The fellowship and friendship which we see shown in the greetings and blessings of Philippians remind us that we too as brethren in Christ should share that friendship and fellowship today, and we should carry it with us as we go our ways to our home congregations. Those who are in Christ, who are in His church, share the same joyous and beautiful fellowship that has existed for two thousand years, and will continue to exist until the end of time.

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