Summary: Philippians 4:21-23 teaches us the characteristics of the communion of saints.
Last time in our Sunday Seconds we examined “Encouragements for Prayer.” Today, I would like to examine “Encouragements for Fellowship.”
Paul’s letter to the Philippians overflows with joy and thanksgiving. It is a wonderful letter in which he urged the Christians in Philippi to demonstrate in a visible way their unity in Christ. Paul closed his letter to the Philippians with a few words of final greeting and a benediction. Though he had written about Christ “emptying” himself by taking on humanity as an exhortation to believers to live in humility and selflessness toward one another, he closed with a marvelously practical final greeting.
Let’s read about encouragements for fellowship in Philippians 4:21-23:
21 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. 22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.
23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. (Philippians 4:21-23)
The Westminster Confession of Faith has a chapter that is titled, “Of the Communion of Saints.” Paragraph 1 states: “All saints, that are united to Jesus Christ their Head, by his Spirit, and by faith, have fellowship with him in his grace, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory: and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other’s gifts and graces, and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as do conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man.”
One Bible dictionary defines fellowship as, “The essence of the Christian life—fellowship with God and fellowship with other believers in Christ.” Another Bible dictionary puts it this way, “Communion with God, which results in common participation with other believers in the Spirit of God and God’s blessings.”
The focus of today’s study is going to be on our fellowship with other believers in Christ, also known as the communion of saints.
Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians from a prison cell in Rome. He had planted the church in Philippi many years earlier. He wrote to them because the Philippians had expressed their concern for him regarding his imprisonment and possible martyrdom.
Paul reassured the Philippian Christians that everything that had happened to him were not random acts of fate but, as he said in Philippians 1:12, “that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” Paul’s rock-solid faith in the sovereignty of God, together with his concern for others, runs like a golden thread through this beautiful letter.
The word “fellowship” appears in Philippians 1:5, where it is translated as “partnership.” Paul wrote in Philippians 1:3–5, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership [i.e., fellowship] in the gospel from the first day until now.” The church that Paul had planted had grown and matured in a wonderful way. It now had officers (overseers and deacons, 1:1), and the church was active in proclaiming the gospel. There was a partnership, a fellowship, a communion of saints who, “being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other’s gifts and graces, and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as do conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man.”
Humanly speaking, the believers who made up the communion of saints in Philippi had very little in common. One was a wealthy businesswoman from Asia Minor, another was a slave girl delivered from spirit-possession, and a third was a local prison official (who was perhaps a retired Roman soldier). What could possibly unite such a diverse group of people? Only their relationship to Jesus Christ which bound them together in the communion of saints.
Philippians 4:21-23 teaches us the characteristics of the communion of saints. The communion of saints is:
1. An Inclusive Communion (4:21a)
2. A Holy Communion (4:21b)
3. A Christ-Centered Communion (4:21c)
4. A Family Communion (4:21d, f)
5. A Supportive Communion (4:21e)
6. A Growing Communion (4:22)
7. A Grace-Oriented Communion (4:23)
I. An Inclusive Communion (4:21a)
First, the communion of saints is an inclusive communion.
Paul said in verse 21a, “Greet every saint….” Paul wanted every Christian in the Philippian Church to be greeted. Not just some saints, but every saint. He did not want a generic greeting to go out to the congregation, as a visiting pastor might say that he brings greetings to our church from his church. No, Paul knew most of the believers there at the church in Philippi, and he wanted them to know of his own love and affection for them. He wanted to greet Euodia and those who might have sided with her. But he also wanted to greet Syntyche and those who might have sided with her. He wanted to greet Clement and the rest of his fellow workers for the sake of advancing the gospel (4:2-3). He wanted to greet the overseers as well as the deacons. He wanted to greet the slaves who had come to know Christ. He wanted to greet the Philippian jailor who had once kept Paul in prison. None were to be excluded from Paul’s greetings. All were to be included in his greetings.