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If you ask someone for identification these days, he most likely will show you his driver’s license. That document will tell you his age, address, gender, and the sort of vehicle he is trained to drive. Interesting how folks tell you about themselves by giving you information about their marital status, schooling, or nationality.
Consider how the apostle Paul introduced himself in the first verse in the letter of Philippians. This introduction is called the salutation of the letter. Its purpose is to explain to the reader both who the letter is from and to whom it was written.
A Unique Person
“This letter is from Paul…” he begins. His true name in Hebrew is Saul, but someone had nicknamed him Paul, and in Latin Paulus means “small.” Saul, a Turk and a Jew, was a convert to Jesus Christ, an evangelist to the gentiles, and the holder of a prison record. He was also the bearer of many scars due to violent confrontations with other religious people. In the church he was known as a long-winded preacher, author of obtuse theology. Paul knew who he was—positives and negatives—and he affirmed himself. “I, Paul…”
“Paul and Timothy…” he writes. His was no Lone Ranger religion. The letter was written by Paul and Timothy, the later being Paul’s protege. Indeed, his letters are filled with people… Lydia, Barnabas, Apollos, Silas, Philemon… a veritable community of the faithful. Paul is admitting his is a life networked among many helpful friends.
Next Paul calls himself a “servant.” The Greek word is bond servant, a slave who is freed by his master but chooses to remain and serve out of love. A slave has to serve, but, ah, a bond servant gets to serve. Paul is confessing he does not have to serve God, but he wants to . And in Christ, he gets to …joyously so.
Now Paul calls himself and others in church “a saint.” In Greek it is one who is separated from all else for God’s purposes. My wife has two sets of dishes. She feeds me and the stray cat off her everyday dishes. But when company comes, she’ll use her fine china. Paul is saying he is God’s servant. He is separated out from the world to fulfill God’s special purposes in Christ Jesus. His mouth is not for profanity or gossip. It is for truth, the Gospel.
A Geographic Focus
Finally, Paul identifies himself with Philippi, a city in northern Greece. It was named for Alexander the Great’s father, and it was a Roman garrison town. Paul had started a church there ten years earlier, and he was writing to encourage the people.
In my home there are many lamps. Some are for decoration. Some are night lights, beauty spots. Still others are for reading. I placed them each where I wanted them and to service my purpose. And God gives us each a specific purpose in His plans. Paul’s here was in Philippi.
Oh, the riches and depths of Paul’s identity “in Jesus Christ.” He uses this phrase “in Christ Jesus” twice. He is Christ’s unique man, a set of relationships, a servant saint, and a geographic focus. And he is “in Christ Jesus.”
And you? Who are you?
The Reverend Stephen Crotts is pastor of Village Presbyterian Church in Charlotte Court House, VA. He is also the director of the Carolina Study Center, Inc., a campus ministry, located in Chapel Hill, NC. Pastor Crotts may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.