A Word to the Saints about a Word for the Saints (Philippians 1:1–2)

“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).

When believers read that Paul wrote Philippians to “all the saints” it is critical that they realize that they are all—everyone of them reading the letter—saints. The saints are not an elite task force within the church. Every one of God’s elect children is enlisted with this basic rank. The saints are simply those positionally sanctified, that is, those who have been set apart from this world unto God. The saints then are not a select group within the church, they are the church—the assembly of God, a group distinct from this world.

Paul in his greeting also refers to “overseers,” also known as elders or pastors (cf. Titus 1:5–7). “Overseers” is also a word largely alien to church speak today. Too often we are more adept at speaking Christianese than we are Biblese. The consequences of this I’m afraid are often dire. In the instance of overseers/elders, believers can fail often make the connection to pastors. For instance, they never reason, “The church at Philippi had overseers, plural. Why then does my church have only one?” It’s like a person only knowing “cow” and failing to realize that all this talk about Herefords is talk about cows. When we turn to the word “saint,” the problem hits closer to home. If cows were so cognizant, it would be like a cow failing to realize it was a Hereford.

“Saints” is Paul’s most common way of addressing believers. Over sixty times the New Testament speaks of God’s beloved in this way. When you survey older Christian literature—the early church fathers, the reformers, the puritans, even an author as recent as B.B. Warfield—you’ll find this address quite common. We would do well to recover it. If you think it odd, remember, it wasn’t as if the world addressed their letters in this way. It was a uniquely Christian thing to do. If you avoid using it to be less awkward, well, that is very un-saintly. So be a saint, and refer to those who are saints as saints.

And this gets to why we should be so zealous to use the word, not to make much of us, but to make much of Christ. Outside of Christ we are ain’ts. We ain’t holy. We ain’t good. But in Christ we are righteous. In Christ we are holy. In Christ we are children of God. In Christ we are heirs. In Christ we are partakers of the promises. On and on we could go. Every blessing of salvation we enjoy, we enjoy in Christ. This is why John Murray would write, “Union with Christ is really the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation.” So can you see why it is that if you are in Christ, you are so set apart from this world. Why it is that you are so saintly? So dearest saints, make much of Jesus by addressing one another not only as “saints,” but also, sometimes go ahead and tease it out further, and address each other  as “saints in Christ Jesus.”

“As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight” (Psalm 16:3).

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