This letter is from Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus. I am writing to all of God’s holy people in Philippi who belong to Christ Jesus, including the elders and deacons. May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. (Paul’s Letter to the Philippians 1:1,2)
Paul begins this letter as he does so many, with a greeting that invokes grace and peace from the God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. The grace and peace is not from Paul, but from the triune God. Nevertheless, Paul is the one extending this grace and peace from God. Paul was in many ways the father of this church and its de facto leader. The blessing he pronounced on this church was granted by God. The words he was writing were going to be heard at a high decible level. His leadership made all the difference to this church.
But Paul was not content to leave a church to occasional letters for its leadership. He always appointed elders in every church (Titus 1:5). What might seem a bit odd is this particular letter out of all we have of Paul’s letters in the New Testament, mentions these elders in his greeting. Why here and not in any of his other letters? And Paul also includes the deacons in his greeting.
Well one thing that might explain why Paul chooses to mention these leaders here is that this is a church going through conflict. Paul mentions this conflict in chapter 4:
Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement. And I ask you, my true partner, to help these two women, for they worked hard with me in telling others the Good News. They worked along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are written in the Book of Life. (verses 1,2)
And here in this mention of the conflict is also an appeal to leaders in the church to help resolve this conflict. Paul could have sought to resolve this conflict himself, but either he felt that his efforts would not be as potent alone, or he preferred to have the church see their own local leadership as crucial to this process, or both.
Human leaders are a big part of God’s plan to accomplish His purposes for His people. In fact, He rarely does anything apart from a leader. From Noah, to Abraham, to Joseph, David, Daniel and the apostles, God has been in the business of developing leaders. He has relied on them to deliver His message, to protect His people, to model what it means to be His follower, and many other ways of getting His people from “here” to “there.”
The “here” facing the Philippian congregation is, I believe, an argument over a leader, Paul. With Paul’s imprisonment has come a division between those who believe the church must do all it can financially to take care of him and, as they see it, the gospel, and those who believe they must take care of themselves in a financially difficult time. Paul will inject his leadership and that of the elders and deacons into this mix to move them to “there,” a unity befitting the church of Jesus Christ.
What is your leadership role? Is it mediating the conflict between your children? Is it helping your co-workers get from here to there, or your Sunday school class, your workout group, or your spouse. You are a leader in some sphere whom God has put there to accomplish His purposes. How seriously you take this responsibility is probably measured by how seriously you are appealing to God for help. You might take it very seriously but believe you have all you need in yourself to accomplish the task.
This is the great divide among leaders. John the Baptist’s words are pertinent here in a paradoxical way: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). The more seriously we take our responsibility as leaders the more we look to God to increase and ourselves to decrease. In so doing we become at once more important to the process of leading and more expendable. We are following God’s Spirit and that makes our leadership more valuable. But we are equipping others at the same time who can take our place.
God wants to use leaders. Will you let Him use you?