What Paul’s Farewell Message Can Teach Us

Norbert Lieth

Imagine the following scenario: you are in a very miserable and extremely unpleasant situation. You are constrained, severely hampered in your ability to develop, reduced in strength. In this situation, some people oppose you to further increase your burden. Others, however, will assist you in order to support you. But you are not sure whether your situation will really change or whether it will get worse. Additionally, you feel a great burden for the people who have been entrusted to you. You feel a great love for them. You may be able to comfort and encourage them with words, but not with deeds—not by your presence or practical leadership. What’s more, you have to experience that some of them only revolve around themselves, actually seeking that the ones who belong to you depart from the faith, thereby becoming enemies of the cross. Others, in turn, make concrete and determined efforts for the kingdom of Christ. You are weighed down by your cares for the spiritual well-being of your dear ones, and you are preoccupied by a certain fear that they might be lost, that disunity would divide them, or that heresies would be introduced. Moved, you observe how so many of them share in your condition, do their best for you, and support and remain intimately connected to you despite your shortcomings. These people don’t support you out of their abundance, but make real sacrifices for you. Both positives and negatives intrude on you, but you are barely capable of acting. And now, you make this concluding statement about the entire situation: “Now unto God and our Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (Phil 4:20).

This corresponds to the situation of the Apostle Paul. This man went through highs and lows; he was restricted in his freedom; he experienced situations of all kinds; he consoled and was himself consoled; he had joy and sadness; he admonished with care, but was also encouraged; he knew enmity and friendship. Paul experienced victory in the middle of the prison, but attacks from the outside as well. He expected to be saved from his situation (1:19), but was not certain of it (1:20-21; 2:17). He was satisfied with everything, took everything as God gave it, and was anything but despondent. Why?

Because he sees God the Father above everything; because he knows that God has everything, every situation, under control. The negative was also under God’s approval—for his good, as a witness to others, and as an encouragement to believers to testify to the gospel in every situation (1:13-14). And, for the positive, God gave the impetus to encourage Paul and others to bear fruit.

Paul explicitly calls God “God and Father.” The Apostle recognizes the loving Father in Him, who uses and applies everything for the best, who is constantly there and who cares for him, and wouldn’t allow anything that doesn’t correspond to His will and salvation. God would never do him any harm.

The Apostle ends his letter to the Philippians with a praise that I would like to pass on: “Listen, everything God the Father does is wonderful, because he does it as a father. The joys He gives us, and the way He leads us through difficulties; it is so tremendous. Also, because of your striving for me, glory to Him for all of it, because He is the engine!”

Isn’t it wonderful when, decades later—perhaps even at the end of our lives—we can say with confidence over our whole lives, “Now unto God and our Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.” Paul ends this passage with “Amen” before he reaches the actual concluding “Amen” of the letter. Amen means “so be it.” It is certainly so; God makes everything good, He is always there, and He uses every circumstance for the best.

Paul writes in verses 21 and 22, “Salute every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren which are with me greet you. All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household.”

It’s astonishing how much effort Paul puts into his greetings. “Salute every saint in Christ Jesus.” Nobody should be overlooked or ignored. Every member of the body of Christ is a saint. There are no inferiors, no rejects, no insignificant ones. Paul insists that every single person be greeted. The letter is for everyone, and everyone is important to the Apostle. No one should be excluded from unity, love, and remembrance.

“The brethren which are with me greet you.” I would have liked to know who they all were. Which brothers were with him? One was Timothy (Phil 1:1; 2:19). Whoever was there, we can’t know. Certainly also Epaphroditus, who carried the letter (2:25ff.).

Despite imprisonment, Paul was allowed to receive visitors and had spiritual fellowship (1:14). These brothers who were around him specifically gave their greetings. We see and learn about the brothers’ interest in their brethren, what inner fellowship and bond they share. They were informed of and involved in the events in Philippi, and they weren’t left unmoved by them.

“All the saints salute you…” The brothers meant those who were right around him, with all the saints of the church in Rome, whom Paul was also in contact with. Accordingly, that church was spiritually connected with the one in Philippi.

“…Chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household.” “Caesar’s household” was more than just “the palace” (Phil 1:13). It referred to the immediate environment of the emperor: civil servants, court officials, cooks, slaves and freemen, soldiers, perhaps even family members. And even in the sphere of Emperor Nero (56—68AD), who was so terrible and hostile to God. Try to imagine what that may have looked like in the daily life of Paul the prisoner.

God has His people everywhere. In the middle of the lion’s den there were Christians, men and women who gathered around Paul and were spurred on by him to spiritual deeds: “But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (Phil 1:12-14).

It is likely that the gospel has penetrated from the palace into the household of the emperor. It’s always that way. Whether under communism or in areas dominated by Islam, there is hardly any place in the world where there are no Christians, and there is no obstacle that could stop the gospel.

William MacDonald writes, “Here we have a lovely illustration of the truth that Christians, like spiders, find their way into king’s palaces (Prov. 30:28)! The gospel knows no boundaries. It can penetrate the most forbidding walls. It can plant itself in the very midst of those who are seeking to exterminate it. Truly, the gates of Hades shall not prevail against the Church of Jesus Christ!”

The last verse of Philippians says, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.” Grace frames the entire letter. With grace Paul began (Phil 1:2), and with grace he concludes.

Our whole life can be encompassed by grace. We are supported by grace; we can rise to every challenge with grace. No one is exempt from it. It’s impossible to be excluded from it.

It is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that is emphasized here: the grace that has been realized in Him. The grace that came into the world for us; that brought us the message of salvation; that took our guilt, died for us, rose, and will always be with us. Ultimately, the entire church, through all ages, lives only through the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

All things are possible in the grace of Jesus. Through it we can do everything that is covered and reported in this letter. That is why each of the Pauline epistles ends with grace: because it is grace that gives us strength and on which we can build. Grace is not cheap; it is the prerequisite for following Jesus. We owe everything to it, and we are constantly dependent on it. As long as Jesus lives, it is available to us. It is as powerful as the One who gives it, and as intimate as the love He shows us. Therefore, we should always hold it up, thank the Lord, and make use of it.

“Amen.” Finally, we come to the last Amen in the letter: “so be it.” It is the affirmation of all that Paul has set forth. He has completed his letter. His arm is tired of writing. Paul rolls it up and gives it to Epaphroditus; he will immediately carry it to Philippi (Phil 2:25ff.). The Philippians will read this “love letter,” be encouraged, and be joyful. Later, it will be added to Paul’s other letters, and Jesus Christ will ensure that it is preserved for posterity; for reading, heeding, moving, cheering, and progress. So too for us, today and now, and as often as we read these letters.

Midnight Call - 04/2019

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