Paul's Greeting in Philippians 1:1-2

The Forum at Philippi (Source: Visual Bible Alive)

Philippians Bible Study, Week 2

From Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus.
To all those in Philippi who are God’s people in Christ Jesus, along with your supervisors and servants [or, ministers].[1]
May the grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
Philippians 1:1-2 CEB

Things to Think About

What do you know about Timothy? (See Acts 16:1-3; Phil. 2:19-22; 2 Tim. 1:5-7)

Other than Timothy, can you name some of Paul’s other co-workers. What do you know about them?

How does Paul describe himself and Timothy in this greeting? (Compare this description with other Bible translations.)

What three groups of people is this letter addressed to?  Can you define these three terms?  

Compare Paul’s greeting here with those in other New Testament letters.

Paul and Timothy

Paul never seemed to work alone. There are many names in the New Testament of people, both men and women, who are mentioned as working alongside him in the cause of the Gospel, people such as Silas, Luke, Phoebe, Priscilla and Aquila. Being an apostle was sometimes dangerous, difficult, and often discouraging, so Paul valued the company and support of his fellow ministers. Paul spoke warmly of many of his colleagues. He regarded Timothy with particular affection and thought of him as a son (Phil. 2:22; 1 Tim. 1:2).

This letter is clearly written by Paul in the first person, so why does Paul infer that Timothy is a collaborator on the letter?[2]

Timothy was well known to the church at Philippi. Timothy, along with Silas and Luke, had accompanied Paul on his first visit to Philippi when the church was founded (Acts 16:1-7:15); and Paul was currently planning on sending Timothy to Philippi as his envoy (Phil. 2:19). Paul was effectively mentoring Timothy to be his successor. He wanted the Philippian church to realise that Timothy had his full endorsement and authorisation as an able minister, and so he mentions Timothy in this greeting.

In modern church life, it is important that leaders and ministers build strong, supportive networks of friends and colleagues. Furthermore, it is important that we pray for our leaders, as they are frequently the targets of spiritual attack and personal opposition and criticism. Perhaps you can pray for your leaders now.

Servants of Christ Jesus

Paul describes himself and Timothy as “servants of Christ Jesus”, or more literally, “slaves of Christ Jesus”. In the Old Testament, people such as Moses (Num. 12:7-8), Joshua (Josh. 24:29), David (Psa. 89:20) and other prophets, were referred to in Hebrew as “servants of the Lord”.  It was a title that highlighted their authority and appointment as ministers and spokesmen of God.

Paul frequently referred to himself as a doulos (“slave). To the Greeks and Romans however, the word slave denoted a person with very few rights, someone at the lower end of the social scale. It seems particularly apt that Paul referred to himself and Timothy as slaves in his letter to the Philippians where humility is one of his major concerns (Phil. 2:3, 6-7).

What is absent in this greeting, and in this entire letter, is Paul’s claim of apostleship (cf. 2 Cor. and Gal. where Paul repeatedly asserts his status as an apostle).[3] Paul founded the Philippian church and continued to have strong ties with it. His apostolic role was never questioned by the Philippians and therefore Paul did not need to mention it. However, Paul’s authority is evident in what he writes to the Philippians and in the way he writes to them.

God’s People = Saints

Christians are commonly called by several titles in the New Testament: brothers, believers and saints, etc. “Saints” (Greek: hagioi) is an especially common title for believers. “Saints” refers to people who have been especially set apart from the commonplace and are therefore holy.  In the New Testament, saints are ordinary men and women, people like us, who have been set apart and sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

In 2 Corinthians 1:21b-22 (cf. Eph 1:13-14), Paul writes:

He [God] anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit guaranteeing what is to come.  1 Corinthians 1:21b-22 (NIV)

In Christ Jesus, all followers of Jesus are regarded as saints, but being a “saint” does not necessarily imply exceptional moral behaviour or piety.

[Incidentally, there is no scriptural instruction or precedent to pray to a deceased saint, or even to Mary. We are, however, instructed to pray to God the Father, in Jesus’ name, assisted by the Holy Spirit.]

Overseers, Supervisors, Leaders (Episkopoi)

The letter to the Philippians is primarily addressed to the whole church: to the saints at Philippi. It almost seems that the leaders and ministers were included as an afterthought. (Paul’s other letters to churches are addressed to the entire church body without mentioning the leaders.)

According to the Pastoral letters, overseers (or supervisors) are church leaders who are able to teach (1 Tim. 3:2d, Tit. 1:9).[4] The leadership position of overseers and elders was one and the same in most New Testament churches, and the terms are often used interchangeably by New Testament writers. For example, Peter appeals to the elders that they be shepherds (pastors) and overseers of God’s flock (1 Pet. 5:1-4; cf. Acts 20:28).

The word “overseer/s” (used 4 times in the New Testament for church leaders) indicates the responsibility of church leaders: watching over and leading a congregation or a network of house churches.[5] The word “elder” (used 14 times for church leaders) indicates the quality of church leaders: mature spiritual experience. Furthermore, “overseer” is a more Greek term, while “elder” is a more Jewish term. (In some Bible versions, such as the KJV and NRSV, episkopos is translated as “bishop”.)

The apostles John (2 John 1; 3 John 1), Peter (1 Pet. 5:1) and perhaps Paul (Philem. 1:9) refer to themselves as elders; however, no other man or woman is specifically named in the New Testament as being an overseer, elder or pastor.[6]

Servants, Ministers, Deacons (Diakonoi)

The Greek word diakonos refers to a servant or agent. In the New Testament, service and ministry are completely synonymous, so diakonos is variously translated as “servant” or “minister” and occasionally as “deacon”.[7]

In modern church usage, the word deacon often refers to stewards of the material and more practical concerns of church life.  In Paul’s letters, however, ministers/deacons (diakonoi) were men and women with spiritual integrity and ability, and they functioned as ministers of the Gospel. In 1 Timothy 4:6, Paul tells Timothy that he will be a good minister (diakonos) of Jesus Christ if he points out truth and good teaching to the brothers and sisters.

Whenever Paul used the term diakonos he typically used it in reference to an agent with a sacred commission. Even the diakonos in Romans 13:4, who is a magistrate or other government minister, is described as an agent with a sacred commission: as a “diakonos of God”. In 1 Corinthians 11, however, Paul refers to false apostles as diakonoi (“agents”) of Satan (1 Cor. 11:13-15). All other diakonoi in Paul’s letters refer to Christian ministers. These include: Paul (Rom. 15:25; 1 Cor. 3:5; Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:23, etc), Epaphras (Col. 1:7), Tychicus (Eph. 6:21-22; Col. 4:7-9), Phoebe (Rom. 16:1-2), Apollos (1 Cor. 3:5) and even Jesus Christ (Mark 10:42-45; Rom. 15:8).

Church Government

Many churches believe that by using the terms elders and deacons, they are following the model of early church government. However, just employing the titles of elders and deacons (and pastor-shepherds), without understanding their function, calls this belief into question. Moreover, the New Testament does not clearly specify a preferred form or pattern of church government, neither does it demonstrate a standardised use of ministry titles.

New Testament teaching on church leadership is amazingly brief.[8] While Paul gives the basic moral qualifications of leaders and ministers in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9, there is almost no teaching on the actual roles of these ministers. It seems that New Testament churches simply adapted and developed their own leadership structures and styles according to their own needs and situation.

Grace and Peace

Practically all letters in the Greco-Roman world contained a blessing after the senders and recipients are identified. The blessing found in Philippians is found in the greeting of Paul’s other letters also.[8] The typical Greek greeting, charein, is slightly modified and “christianised” to charis (“grace”), and this is combined with (the Greek translation of) the Hebrew greeting of shalom (“peace”).[9] God wants to bless us with his grace and peace, mercy and harmony, favour and fullness.  These blessings come from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

I pray that God’s grace and peace are evident in your life.


[1] FF Bruce (1981) translates/paraphrases sun episkopois kai diakonois in Philippians 1:1 as “with their chief pastors and ministers”.

[2] Timothy is referred to as a collaborator on several of Paul’s letters: Colossians, Philemon, 1 & 2 Thessalonians (with Silas) and 1 Corinthians (with Sosthenes).

[3] Paul announces himself as an apostle in Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 1:1; 2 Cor. 1:1; Gal 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Col 1:1; 1 Tim 1:1; 2 Tim. 1:1; and Titus 1:1. In hie letter to Philemon, he describes himself as a prisoner, and in 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Paul gives himself no title at all.

[4] The personal qualities necessary in leaders and ministers are found in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9.

[5] “Overseer/supervisor” (episkopos) literally means “one who looks upon or watches over.”

[6] There is no doubt that many of the early church leaders were men, yet we know that there were some women leaders too. The passages in footnote[4] that speak about the qualities of church leaders are peppered with masculine personal pronouns in many English translations; however, there are none in most of the Greek manuscripts. None! These passages are completely gender neutral except for the one phrase: “a one woman man”. See my article on Paul’s (gender-inclusive) Qualifications for Church Leaders here.

Verse 1 of Timothy chapter 3 is gender non-specific in the Greek. While the KJV, for example, translates 1 Timothy 3:2 as: if a man desires the office of a bishop (KJV), this verse is more accurately translated as: if anyone aspires to overseership, he/she desires a good work. It seems very likely that Priscilla (Rom. 16:3-5), Nympha (Col. 4:15), Apphia (Philem. 1:2), Phoebe (Rom. 16:1-2) the chosen lady (2 John 1) and the chosen sister (2 John 13) were among the elders in their churches. Perhaps Euodia and Syntyche are elders/overseers in Philippi (Phil. 4:2-3); they were certainly ministers.

[7] The translation of diakonos into “deacon” instead of “minister”, has probably been influenced by later developments in church government.  (And as already noted, the modern role of deacon varies from denomination to denomination.)

The seven men in Acts chapter 6 are never referred to as either deacons or ministers (diakonoi) in the Greek text. Calling these seven men the church’s first deacons was a later church tradition.  Moreover, the function of these seven men has been misunderstood. While the Greek does say that they were to serve/minister (diakoneō) on tables so that the apostles were free to serve/minister (diakoneō) in the Word, it’s important to note that these seven men were not waiters. They did not serve hot meals!

The Greek word for a four-legged table and the Greek word for a bank is identical: trapeza (cf. Luke 19:23). Even today, if you are walking down the streets somewhere in Greece, and you see a sign that says “TRAPEZA”, it will belong to a bank. The seven men in Acts chapter 6 who were serving at trapezai (tables) may have been administrators handling the church’s finances to make sure that all the needy people, including the Hellenistic Jewish widows, were not being overlooked in the daily distribution of funds – not food.  Despite the NIV, NASB and NRSV translations which uses the word food, the Greek does not mention food anywhere in Acts 6:1-7. (See Acts 4:34-35 also!) (More on the ministry of the seven men in Acts 6 here.)

[8] In comparison, there is quite a lot more teaching on spiritual gifts. See Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:28-31 and Ephesians 4:11, etc. Apart from the leadership gifts in Ephesians 4:11, these spiritual, ministry gifts are given to all church members (not only leaders), as the Holy Spirit determines (1 Cor. 12:11; Heb. 2:4).

[9] The blessing in Philippians: “Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”, is that same as Paul’s greetings in Romans 1:7b; 1 Corinthians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:3; Ephesians 1:2, Colossians 1:2b; 1 Thessalonians 1:1 (abbreviated); 2 Thessalonians 1:2; and Philemon 1:1 (almost identical). In his blessings to Timothy, Paul includes “mercy”, as in: “Grace, mercy and peace . . .” (1 Tim. 1:1; 2 Tim. 1:2).

[10] “Peace” is not written in Hebrew, but in Greek (like the rest of the letter), yet there is little doubt that Paul, with his Hebrew heritage, is seeking a blessing of Shalom for his beloved church.

© 20th of May, 2010; Margaret Mowczko

< < < Week One: Introduction to Paul’s Letter to the Philippians

> > > Week Three: Paul’s Thanks – Philippians 1:3-6

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