Thursday, August 9, 2012

No Second Class Saints

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons. (Philippians 1:1)
Paul addresses his letter to “all the saints in Christ Jesus” at Philippi, by which he means every believer in Jesus who is at Philippi. The Greek word for “saint” is hagios, which speaks of what is holy and consecrated, set apart for God. In this case, it is about being set apart by God, as His own. They are holy because they are in Jesus the Messiah, who is holy — set apart and anointed by God . Through their faith in the Lord Jesus, God sees them as in Jesus, every one of them. There are no levels of distinction in this, no division of saints into First Class, Second Class, etc. All who belong to God through faith in Jesus the Messiah are equal before God.

Yet Paul does recognize that there are various roles among the saints, so he addresses those among the saints who are bishops and deacons. These are positions of oversight and service. The Greek word for “bishop” is episkopos and is often translated as “overseer,” one who watches over.

When we speak of the church at Philippi, or anywhere else for that matter, we are not talking about a building but a people. In the early days, the church did not meet in public structures but in private homes. The church at Philippi probably first met in Lydia’s home. As more people came to faith in Jesus the Messiah and the church grew, there would be additional homes for them to meet together in for worship. Overseers would be established to direct the affairs of the church. In his letters to Timothy and Titus, Paul lists the qualifications for those who would watch over the house churches (1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9).

The Greek word for “deacon” is diakonos . Like doulos, “bondservant,” it speaks of one who serves. The distinction is that doulos refers to one’s relationship to his master while diakonos speaks in regard to the work or service one performs. As with the qualifications of overseer, Paul also lists the qualities of a good deacon (1 Timothy 3:8-13).

It is unusual that Paul includes specific greetings to the overseers and deacons in his opening — he does not do that in any of his other letters to the churches. Some have suggested that Paul’s earlier letters were to churches not yet developed enough as to require overseers and deacons, while the church at Philippi was now established. But that hardly seems likely, since deacons were introduced fairly early in the church at Jerusalem (Acts 6:1-7), and Paul recognized overseers of the church at Ephesus (Acts 20:28), which was after the church at Philippi was established.

Perhaps the reason Paul especially greets the overseers and deacons here is the same reason he identifies himself as a doulos. Though the church at Philippi was well established by now, it was not without problems. There was some tension and a lack of humility among some of the believers, and this may have included overseers and deacons. The example of Jesus the doulos in Philippians 2 would then be a word intended for all the saints, including the leaders.

Focus Questions
  1. Do you think of holiness as more about what one does, or about what one is?
  2. How does one become holy?
  3. If there is equality among all believers in Jesus, where does pride come from and how does it come in?

There is Always Joy!
There is Always Joy!
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Philippi
Bite-Size Studies Through the Book of Philippians
by Jeff Doles

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