This is one of six letters where Timothy, who was well known in Philippi (see 2:20-22), is included in the greeting. Since the rest of the letter clearly originates from Paul alone (e.g., 1:12-26, 30), Timothy probably served as Paul's secretary. In the other letters where it appears in the greeting, Timothy's name is separated from Paul's, since Paul begins by identifying himself as "an apostle of Christ Jesus," and Timothy is not an apostle. But Timothy is a fellow servant (or slave), so here their names are linked: Paul and Timothy, servants [slaves] of Christ Jesus. Paul's reason for not identifying himself as an apostle in this case is most likely related to the matter of friendship (between "equals") noted in the introduction, which has no place in it for reminders of status.
The word translated servants is actually the Greek word for "slaves" and probably carries a double connotation. Gentile hearers would have instinctively understood the word to refer to those owned by, and subservient to, the master of a household. Although the institution of slavery in antiquity was a far cry from the racial slavery that blighted American society—and the English society that made it possible by the slave trade—the slave in the Roman Empire was still not a free person but "belonged to" another. At the same time, however, in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the LXX), which would have been well known to the Philippians, this word was also used to translate the term "servant of Yahweh [the LORD]." "The slave of the Lord" thus carried a sense of distance from and dependence on God, while at the same time being a kind of honorific title for those in special service to God (e.g., Moses, 2 Kings 18:12; Joshua, Josh 24:29).
This double connotation is probably at work in Paul's present usage. He and Timothy are "slaves" of Christ Jesus, bound to him as slaves to a master, and also servants of the Lord (now Christ Jesus!) whose bond is expressed in loving service on behalf of Christ for the Philippians—and others. This designation anticipates a significant moment later in this letter, where Christ himself is said to have taken the very nature of a servant (2:7). Elsewhere Paul uses this terminology to designate any and all who serve God as free bond-slaves—that is, as those who are free in Christ Jesus but have used that freedom to perform the duties of a slave (Gal 5:13) in the service of God and of his people. This is the closest thing to status one finds in our letter. And this is also the first of at least sixty-one mentions of Christ in the letter. Whatever else is said, everything has Christ as its cause and focus.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.