Saying goodbye is never easy to do. Whether you’re saying goodbye to someone after spending a few days together or saying goodbye to someone who is being called to a different mission field after years of laboring in the gospel together or saying goodbye to your college age children or saying goodbye to your dying relative; saying goodbye is never easy.
Even when you can see the goodbye on the horizon as was the case for me when my mom died or when some of our kiddos graduated and grew up, and the countless times in pastoral ministry when the Lord moves someone onward; even in those times when you can kind of see the goodbye coming, goodbyes are still never easy.
How do you cope with the pain of goodbyes? Regardless of the circumstances surrounding a goodbye, a goodbye can typically be somewhat painful, and the reality is that we have a variety of pain-reactors embedded deep within us that launch into overdrive the moment we feel the pain of a goodbye. Sometimes these pain-reactors are healthy and sometimes they aren’t. Depending on the circumstances of the goodbye we may look for ways to numb the pain or dismiss the pain or live in the pain or live through the pain.
Whether you numb or dismiss or live in or live through the pain, there are still a myriad of ways that each of us copes with the pain of a goodbye. Some of us try to numb things a little as we look to an addiction or some form of isolation. Others try to dismiss the pain by overworking themselves or downplaying their feelings through guilt or shame filled self-talk. Some of us constantly live stuck in the pain of a goodbye as we listen to the inner voices of regret, loss and despair. Others will try to live through the pain by trying to overcome it as they fight their feelings and oftentimes beat themselves up inside until the feelings of loss, rejection and betrayal hurt less than their feelings of guilt and shame.
The reality here is that all of us have some of these coping mechanisms woven into the fabric of our complex human natures through years of hard experiences in light of our intrinsic individual wiring (temperament, personality, gifting, etc.) and our peculiar weaknesses and shortcomings that are amplified by our sinful brokenness. Saying goodbye is never an easy thing to do. But that’s what Paul is doing in our text today; he’s saying goodbye to the Philippian church.
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.
WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM PAUL’S GOODBYE TO THE PHILIPPIANS?
Looking back over Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we see what has been called Paul’s most intimate letter to any church family.
Throughout this letter Paul has continuously pointed the Philippians back to their fellowship, partnership, relationship and shared friendship in the work of evangelism (1:5); back to their shared experiences of grace-filled salvation and suffering (1:7); back to their shared friendship through the unifying work of the Holy Spirit (2:1); back to their fellowship with the powerful identification in Christ’s life, death and resurrection (3:10); back to the joy-filled labor of facing troubling times while remaining faithful and generous (4:14 – 15); and it seems like the “I hold you in my heart” phrase of 1:7, permeates everything Paul says as he remembers his intimate relationships with Lydia the wealthy Asian woman (Acts 16:11 – 15), the ex-slave demon possessed girl (Acts 16:16 – 18), the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:27 – 34) as well as Epaphroditus and Timothy (2:19 – 30).2 Paul is saying goodbye to people he loves dearly.
The apostle Paul loves the Philippians so much that he has not shrunk back from articulating the central theme, the major issues and the main remedies of this letter. Paul wants what’s best for his beloved Philippian friends. He wants to see them living their lives as citizens of heaven in a manner that is worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ (1:27); he wants them to fight against and overcome any shreds of self-centeredness, pride, complaining, arguing, disagreeing and division among them (2:3 – 4; 14 – 15; 4:2 – 3); he wants to see them fight against and overcome those sinful human issues as they put on the mind of Christ, work out their own salvation in Christ, and stand firm in the joy of Christ (2:5 – 8; 12 – 13; 4:1, 4 – 7).3 Paul loves the Philippians enough to speak the truth and yet he’s saying goodbye to them today.
Paul knows that when a church family wholeheartedly embraces and commits to obeying and living out the themes of this letter, then brothers are gained (vs. 21), enemies become family (vs. 22) and grace becomes a way of life (vs. 23). This is the power of Paul’s goodbye: When grace is your way of life, enemies become brothers forever!
Look at the words “saint (v.21), brothers (v.21), saints (v.22) and grace (v.23)” in our text. These are very powerful words to insert into the goodbye of this letter; they are not earthly kingdom focused words; they are Kingdom of Heaven-focused words. The apostle Paul is not living for the reconstruction or even the tearing down of any earthly kingdom.
He is living his life (giving his life) for the building up of an invisible kingdom (made visible in the church alone) as he lives his life as a citizen of heaven in a manner that is worthy of the gospel of the only king that is worthy of our attention; Jesus Christ who was crucified, risen and is returning in glory to crush every earthly kingdom under his feet.
The words “saint, brothers, saints and grace” bring all of what I just said to bear on his goodbye. It is quite simply one of the most amazing goodbyes I’ve ever read; for in those four words (saint, brothers, saints and grace) we are reminded once again that when grace is your way of life, enemies become brothers forever!
#1 THE WORD “SAINT” (VS. 21)
When the apostle Paul says, “greet every saint in Christ Jesus” he’s referring to the Philippians with an individual term that means holy and set apart or perfect. Even though Paul knows and has addressed some deeply horrific sins of self-centeredness, pride, complaining, arguing, disagreeing and divisiveness, he still refers to them under their heavenly positions as saints in Christ Jesus.
This means that Paul is looking beyond the momentary struggle of sin in this life among the Philippians and he is choosing to relate to them under their spiritual identity in Christ because in Christ, though we struggle with sin here and now, our identity, who we are, is dictated not by what we do or do not do, but is instead dictated by the Father’s declaration of righteousness over us in and through the work of Christ at the cross, the empty tomb and his imminent return in glory.
In Christ, every one of us, in this very moment, is simultaneously a sinner and a saint awaiting the perfection of sainthood in heaven. How do you think your relationships on this earth could be transformed if we all began to relate to one another under our heavenly identity as saints? This is why I say that when grace is your way of life, enemies become brothers forever!
#2: THE WORD “BROTHERS” (VS. 21)
When the apostle Paul says, “The brothers who are with me greet you” he is simply reminding the Philippians that they are not alone; they are not the only believers on the face of the planet; and despite Paul’s circumstances (being in chains for the gospel) there are brothers in every corner of the earth who have become family members by the grace of God.
The consensus here is that the term “brothers” is meant to remind the Philippians that they have family members in Christ all around the known globe at the time. Sometimes it’s easy for Christians to get so entrenched in what’s happening in our own little corner of the world that we begin to worry about our problems, complain about our issues, argue about silly things like politics or get divided over little things like pieces of cloth.
We do this when we forget that this kingdom is not our home and that the church, like a family, has been united by the shed blood and the broken body and promised return of a Savior who laid down his rights and gave his life as a ransom for his enemies so that the family of God would be established here on this earth as a visible/verbal witness of the gospel.
How refreshing would it be if the church in America began to behave like spiritual brothers and sisters despite our diverse opinions on matters of secondary importance? This is why I say that when grace is your way of life, enemies become brothers forever!
#3: THE WORD “SAINTS” (VS. 22)
When the apostle Paul says, “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household” he’s taking the concepts of sainthood and brotherhood in Christ Jesus to the next level; he’s boldly reminding the Philippians that even though he is in chains for preaching the gospel and has absolutely no influence or political power, that the power of the gospel alone is enough to transform the lives of even some of the Roman guards whom he’s been chained to.
If ever there was someone who could have incited a major revolt against the powers-that-be it could have been the apostle Paul. He could have spent his days strategizing ways to get the Philippian jailer through the right political hoops to get him in a position of power to get Paul released from his chains. Or he could have incited an all-out civil disobedience riot to break him out of jail. But the reality is that Paul saw his chains as an opportunity to share the gospel with men who were chained to him day and night and the result is that there were Christian brothers and sisters (saints) working in the sinful household of the Roman Emperor.
Paul’s goal wasn’t government takeover; his goal was the establishment of a spiritual kingdom that was rooted in the soil of hearts that had been regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit through the message of the gospel. How crazy would it be if we in America could look across the aisle at our quote-un-quote political enemies and see that some of them are saints; brothers and sisters in Christ, doing the best they can to live out the gospel in a hostile environment? Wouldn’t it be more God-honoring and refreshing and redeeming in this politicized and polarized world we live in to see that when grace is your way of life, enemies become brothers forever!
#4: THE WORD “GRACE” (VS. 23)
When the apostle Paul says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit” he’s hanging the final note of his letter on the gospel of grace because he knows that the spirits of the Philippian believers will only be transformed and sustained by God’s grace alone, through the gift of faith alone, in Christ alone, according to the Scriptures alone, for the glory of God alone.
There’s a lot of things that the apostle Paul could have chosen as his final word to the Philippians but by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit he chose to leave all of the spiritual vitality and future hope of their souls hanging on the sure and steadfast coat hook of God’s overwhelming grace in the person and work of Christ Jesus at the cross of Calvary.
A grace-less Christian is an oxymoron at best and an anti-Christ to be more exact. The believer who can’t see past the tip of his or her nose; who is puffed up with insecure or arrogant pride; whose heart complains at every difficulty; who revels in petty arguments; who agrees with no one except the latest conspiracy theorist; who sows division with every other word; this person is living in a grace-less existence and lacks a true and transforming encounter with Jesus.
Can you imagine what kind of shock waves would be sent around the world by a church family who encounters the grace of God in the person and work and promises of Christ Jesus in the cross, empty tomb and promised return? This why I say that when grace is your way of life, enemies become brothers forever!
APPLICATION AND CONCLUSION…
So, saying goodbye is typically a hard thing to do, it’s oftentimes a thing that can cause a lot of pain, and pain can sometimes cause us to respond or to react in sinful ways. It’s hard for me to say goodbye to our study of Philippians. It has been a deeply enriching study over the last few months; especially throughout this tumultuous 2020 year.
In a year where much of our existence has been tested and tried by everything from major political upheaval to racial unrest and injustice to the pain and fear of a global pandemic, it has been good to have our hearts realigned with the message of the gospel through an imprisoned apostle to a beloved church that he had planted twelve years earlier, eight-hundred miles away.
His instructions to inoculate the poisonous diseases, of self-centeredness, pride, complaining, arguing, disagreeing and divisiveness, by putting on the mind of Christ, working out our salvation in Christ and standing firm in the joy of Christ, as we live our lives as citizens of heaven in a manner that is worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ; these instructions will forever be etched on the song sheets of my heart.
To hang all of these instructions on the coat hook of God’s grace made visible in the crucified, risen and returning Savior, reminds me that the kingdoms of this world are not all they’re cracked up to be. At some point, the kingdoms of this earth will be crumpled up in the corner of eternity past just like every other manmade institution.
But heaven will remain, and the saints of Christ Jesus, will enjoy the consummation of eternity, in perfect and unhindered relationship with the lover of our souls. The foot of the bloody cross, the doorway of the empty tomb, the promise of eternity in heaven… the message of the gospel; this is what reminds us that when grace is your way of life, enemies become brothers forever! This is the power of Paul’s goodbye. – Amen!!!
1 Unless otherwise specified, all Bible references in this paper are to the English Standard Version Bible, The New Classic Reference Edition (ESV) (Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, 2001).
2 R. Kent Hughes, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon: The Fellowship of the Gospel and the Supremacy of Christ (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, ESV Edition, 2013), 199 – 200.
3 Ibid., 203.