Philippians: The Joy and Suffering of the Furtherance of the Gospel - Part 17
Keith R. Keyser, Gilbertsville, Pa., USA [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
Chapter 4, verses 21-23: Closing Blessings and Salutations
Paul was a worshipper, and his frequent ascriptions of praise towards the Lord flowed from his Christocentric way of thinking. As he closes this joyful letter, he concentrates on God and His grace afresh, leaving the reader a delightful savour to contemplate with relish. To the apostle every problem in the Epistle to the Philippians is soluble by looking to Christ. Martin notes the positional significance of the doxology in the letter, saying:
‘”The doxology flows from the joy of the whole Epistle”, says Bengel, i.e. it is Paul’s fitting response to all the things which cause him joy in his prison experience. The liturgical Amen, lit. “confirmed”, derived from a Hebrew verb “to be firm”, underlies the truth of the doxology, as the writer and reader associate themselves with the confession and own it as valid and true for themselves’.1
As we close this book in holy scripture, we add our Amen as well.
Greetings to all
After a brief doxology, in keeping with ancient style, Paul closes his letter to the Philippians with salutations towards every saint in that assembly. Noted commentator Charles Erdman points out the slight ambiguity of the Greek syntax in verse 21, ‘The phrase “in Christ” appears to be united here with the word “salute” rather than with the word “saint”. Either connection would give a satisfactory meaning. The latter would make the salutation equivalent to, “Remember me to all my fellow Christians”. The former would imply, “Extend my greetings in Christ to every believer”’.2 Either way, his words are in keeping with his viewpoint from one’s position in Christ, as well as the high calling of His people; they are the saints – set apart ones who belong to the Lord Himself. Speaking of this Christ-centred thinking, Motyer points out:
‘But the key to it all is in Christ Jesus. He mediates to us all the benefits and blessings of God. More than that, he is himself the sum of all the blessings, for the preposition is not “through” but “in”. He is not a channel along which they flow, but a place in which they are deposited. It is finally because of Christ that Paul is contented, and it is Christ whom he offers to us as the means and guarantee of our contentment. For Paul, the person who possesses Christ possesses all’.3
A band of brothers
Paul was no lone wolf, as is borne out in verse 21, ‘The brethren which are with me greet you’. He customarily worked with others. Throughout his ministry he mentored younger men like Timothy, Titus, Luke, and others, Acts 20. 4. Even the Philippians’ own messenger, Epaphroditus, had tarried in Rome to assist the imprisoned apostle, Phil. 2. 25.
In chapter 1 Paul spoke of the multiple evangelistic opportunities that his incarceration provided, 1. 12-13. Truly, his bonds brought more people into the church, for he says next, ‘All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household’, 4. 22. Although this probably refers to servants or soldiers assigned to work in the emperor’s home, it still shows the astonishing spread of the glad tidings. At the beginning of the book of Acts there was a comparatively small number of Christians in the world. Now just a few decades later there were believers in the presence of Caesar himself! Such is the power and wisdom of the omnipotent and loving God. He can penetrate any stronghold in this world with His good news.
Amazing, ever-present grace
It is appropriate that the epistle closes with renewed reference to the Lord’s grace, v. 23. His goodness and divine generosity will continue with the Philippian saints. Every section of this letter is permeated by grace. Rather than rail against his preaching rivals, he chose to rejoice in their subject; ‘Christ is preached’, he exulted, 1. 18! When he could have berated them for their developing disunity, he instead lifted their minds to think of Christ’s unparalleled attitude that resulted in unequalled humility and subsequent glorification, 2. 5-11. Even his attack on serious false teaching breathes forth grace rather than bitterness – he says in effect, ‘Reject the error and strive for Christ and His upward calling’, 3. 10-14. Finally, in chapter 4, his rebuke and correction for the disagreeing servants is ever so brief; much more space is devoted to joy, peace and the other graces that believers enjoy in Christ. The climactic final section offers gratitude to the saints, but puts the real thankfulness and attention squarely where it belongs, upon the living God Himself.
- Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1987, pg. 189.
- C. R. Erdman, Philippians. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1977, pg. 152.
- J. A. Motyer, The Message of Philippians. Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1984, pg. 221.
AUTHOR PROFILE: KEITH KEYSER is a commended full-time worker, married with a young family, and is in fellowship in the assembly meeting at Gilbertsville, Pennsylvania. He ministers throughout North America and spent some time in Spain. He also regularly writes material for assembly magazines.