Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. – Philippians 1:1-2 ESV
Perhaps you’ve been to a convention or other gathering where you’ve seen people wearing nametags. Nametags are supposed to display the name of the wearers, and often give other information about their identity, such as where they are from or the role they play at the event.
Philippians is a letter to a church, written by Paul, the missionary who first took them the good news of Jesus Christ. In the opening greeting, Paul gives vital identity information about himself and Timothy and about the saints and leaders at Philippi. This information is related to their particular roles, their relationships with each other, and their common connection in Christ.
NAMETAGS FOR SERVANTS
Paul and Timothy bear the title of “servants of Christ Jesus” (1:1). Acts 16 chronicles their travels to Philippi where the gospel was shared and people came to faith in Christ about ten years before this letter was written (from around AD 50 to around 60). They were on a mission for Christ Jesus, spread the good news of Christ Jesus, and suffer for Christ Jesus. As the Christ, Jesus is the promised Messiah, the Savior of the world. He is also Lord, as Paul mentions in verse 2, and as he highlights as the exalted name of Jesus in 2:9-11.
Christ Jesus is Lord, but Paul and Timothy are His servants, or slaves. A slave is subject to the will of his master. He does not have his own rights or the right to do his own will, but serves at the pleasure of his Lord. Paul and Timothy, more than anything else, wanted the church at Philippi to remember that they were slaves of Christ Jesus. Paul did not remind them of his apostleship here, as he had to do with other churches. The primary appellation Paul wishes to have is to be Christ’s slave, because He is a perfect and glorious Master, as well as an Example to Whom He will point this conflicted church (2:5-11).
As slaves of Christ, Paul and Timothy are not on their own mission, serving themselves. First and foremost, they serve Christ, doing His will, spreading His message. They do not serve at the whim of a particular church. They do not make their decisions based on whether people will like them or on what will maximize their riches and comfort. They are completely subject to the will of the Lord. Yet this same Lord has the best interests of His people at heart, and as slaves of Christ Jesus, Paul and Timothy will be found helping His church. Though it would be glorious to be with Christ, Paul expects to continue in this life and return to help the Philippians in their progress and joy in the faith (1:21-26).
There are great lessons here for believers in Christ. We have a wonderful, glorious, benevolent Master. To serve Him is an unspeakable honor. We should eagerly and joyfully seek to honor and obey Him. Sometimes our relationship as Christ’s slave will conflict with the plans and desires someone else has for us. Sometimes these people who are at variance with Christ are even in churches and in leadership positions. In these situations, we must remember who we are and who our Master is. At the same time, we cannot say we are truly serving Christ if we are not looking out for the best interests of His people. If we are not helping to spread the good news of Christ in some way, and if we are not serving His church, it is clear that we do not deserve a nametag that identifies us as His slave. If we are slaves, we will go out of our way to do what Christ would have us do. We will be willing to travel, to face inconveniences, to step out of our comfort zones, to meet people we do not know, and even to suffer misunderstanding and mistreatment, all for the sake of accomplishing the desires our Lord has for us and those we serve.