The Greeting/Blessing (1:2)

The greeting proper is a marvelous example of Paul's "turning into gospel" everything he sets his hand to. The traditional greeting in the Hellenistic world was chairein—the infinitive of the verb "to rejoice," but in salutations meaning simply "Greetings!" (see Acts 15:23; Jas 1:1). In Paul's hands this now becomes charis (grace), to which he adds the traditional Jewish greeting shalom (peace, in the sense of "wholeness" or "well-being"). Thus instead of offering the familiar "greetings," Paul salutes his sisters and brothers in Christ with "grace to you—and peace," reminiscent of the form of an ancient Jewish blessing.

In a profound sense this greeting nicely represents Paul's larger theological perspective. The sum total of God's activity toward his human creatures is found in the word grace; God has given himself to his people bountifully and mercifully in Christ. Nothing is deserved, nothing can be achieved. The sum total of those benefits as they are experienced by the recipients of God's grace is peace, God's shalom, both now and to come. The latter flows out of the former, and both together flow from God our Father and were made effective in our human history through the Lord Jesus Christ.

The collocation of the Father and Son in such texts as these must not be overlooked. In the theology of Paul, whose central concern is salvation in Christ, God the Father is understood to initiate such salvation, and his glory is its ultimate reason for being. Christ is the One through whom God's salvation has been effected in history. But texts such as this one, where Father and Son are simply joined by the conjunction and as equally the source of grace and peace, and many others as well, make it clear that in Paul's mind the Son is truly God and works in cooperation with the Father and the Spirit for the redemption of the people of God.

Although one hesitates to make too much of such relatively formal matters, the contemporary church fits into this salutation at several key points. Those in roles of primary leadership too easily slip into a self-understanding which pays lip service to their being slaves/servants of Christ Jesus but prefer the more honorable sense of this term found in the Old Testament to the paradigm either of Christ (in 2:6-8) or of Paul (2:17). Not only so, but the emphasis on all of God's holy people, together with the leaders, could use some regular dusting off so as to minimize the distance between clergy and people that too frequently exists in the church. All of us are in Christ Jesus; and all are in Christ Jesus in whatever "Philippi" God has placed us, since contemporary Western and westernized cultures are no more friends to grace than theirs was to these early believers. And finally, as for them, the key to life in Christ in our Philippi lies first of all in our common experience of grace and peace . . . from God our Father provided by Christ our Lord.

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