The Last Word

Philippians 4:20-23

Tom Pennington  •  February 27, 2005
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Well, we turn this morning, to the last time, to the book of Philippians. We end a 16 month journey that brings us to the last four verses. It has been a great journey for me and my own soul has been so enriched and strengthened by this book, and I trust yours has as well as we have sort of traced the heart of the apostle through this wonderful letter. Today, we come to his last words.

A man's last words are often extremely significant. I remember it was six years ago I found myself sitting next to Kathy's bed. Kathy was just a few days from death. She was Sheila's mother, my mother-in-law. I had come to love her deeply and appreciate all that she meant to me and to our family. And I knew that her end was near and I thought for some time about what I might share. I wanted to express to her what was in my heart in terms of appreciation and love for her. And so I had planned and considered what I wanted to say and that day as I sat next to her bed, just the two of us, knowing that she was just hours away from being with the Lord, I poured out my heart. The things that were the deepest in the recesses of my heart came out as I expressed my love to her.

I saw the same thing expressed a few years later, just two years ago, with my father-in-law, my wife's father, as we watched him die of cancer as well. And I remember that the last month or so he began to set things in order. He began to take care of his financial affairs and tell me as the executor some things that needed to be done after his death. We went through all of that together. But another thing he did was he sat down and he crafted a letter to each of his children, a letter that was intended to be his last words to them, to be read after his death as an expression of his heart to them.

And I remember handing those to each of the children after his death and watching them find their own quiet place to read and seeing their hearts burn within them as they read those words and were aware that these words were intended to have incredible depth, because each one was carefully considered, each one carefully weighed as to what should be expressed to that particular person.

We understand the importance of last words. We even understand the importance of last words when you are writing a document. Even if it is not at the end of your life, if you are writing a letter, you sit down and you pen that letter, and when you come to the concluding paragraph your desire is to sort of bring everything that is important, that you wanted to express, together and share that as sort of a summary, a conclusion of the letter.

Paul is no different. Every author wants to do that as he brings his writing to a close. Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit, as he finishes his letter to the Philippians, he brings us to consider those things that mattered most to him. Sadly, since most of Paul's letters conclude with these same themes, I think we have mistakenly concluded that they are really not that important, that in fact they are just so much clutter tacked onto the end of what he really wanted to say, like we throw a closing on our letter. But Paul never ends one of his letters without careful thought. The Holy Spirit never includes a careless word. The fact that Paul often returns at the ends of his letters to these similar themes doesn't make what he says less important. It makes it more important, because it means that these things were never far from his mind and heart.

And that is what we come to today as we look at the last four verses of Philippians 4. Let me read them to you. Philippians 4:20, he says,

Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen. Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar's household. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Those are Paul's last weighty words to the Philippians and to us. And those four verses capture the great themes that drove the apostle's life and ministry. In fact, they are well-suited to be his very last words. And in fact, they were. Turn to 2 Timothy 4, 2 Timothy 4. Of course, 2 Timothy is the last letter Paul ever penned in the New Testament. He knew he would soon die, be executed by the Roman government. And as he wrote to his son in the faith, listen to how he ended his letter, the very last words written by the apostle's pen that we have. Verse 18, he says,

The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. Greet Priscilla and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. Erastus remained at Corinth, but Trophimus I left sick at Miletus. Make every effort to come before winter. Eubulus greets you, also Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brethren. The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.

These were, in fact, the last words of the apostle and they are the very same themes that he ends his letter to the Philippians with. These were the themes that dominated his mind and heart, that summarized his life and ministry, and that he would want to be his last words to us. If the apostle would, as it were, die in our arms, I believe these are the words he would share with us. If we want to think like the Apostle Paul, if we want to begin to have a sense of his great heart, if we want to follow in his steps, if we want to imitate his faith, then we too must embrace these great priorities.

What are these important priorities for which Paul lived and which dominated his life? Well, here in the last words of Philippians, Paul presents the three great priorities of his life. The first one is live to the glory of God, live to the glory of God. Verse 20, "Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen." Notice how Paul refers to God. He refers to Him as "our God and Father." That title, by the way, provides us with two distinctions that we must carefully hold in balance. God is our God and therefore we must fear and respect Him. But He is also our Father. Father speaks of personal relationship and father defines the nature of that relationship, we are His adopted children. So He is our God and Father.

But notice what Paul says about our God. He says, literally, "to Him the glory into the ages of the ages. Amen [or let it be, may it be so]." "To Him the glory into the ages of the ages." This is Paul's constant response to the discovery of God's character and God's actions. Whenever Paul discloses the truth about God, whenever he unfolds some great doctrine, he always breaks out in what theologians call doxology, in giving God glory, in giving God praise. It is because true worship always flows from grasping right doctrine. Listen, anybody can stand in an auditorium and sway back and forth and hold hands, but to really worship, to really break forth in a praise and a giving of glory to God requires an understanding of the truth. That is always the way it was for the Apostle Paul.

Let me give you my favorite illustration. Turn to Romans, Romans 11. Of course the book of Romans is a favorite of all of us and Paul lays out in those early chapters the great reality of this gift that we read about earlier, this gift of righteousness, the gift of the righteousness of Christ given to believing sinners. And he unfolds all of the reality of that and why Christ died, and he explains our guilt and why we need it. And he explains how God chose us before the foundation of the world and then, in time, drew us to Himself. And he explains the great realities of salvation. And when he is done with that, there is only one thing for Paul left to do. He gets to Romans 11 and he breaks forth in doxology. Verse 33,

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Who has first given to God that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. [In other words, God is the source of all things. God is the sustainer of all things. And He is the end or goal for which all things were made; therefore] To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

Paul is constantly bringing his praise to this issue of giving glory to God. This was the ambition of his life.

It has always been the concern of the saints. I wish I had time to take you through the Old and New Testaments and show you how frequent a theme this is, of giving glory to God. You remember, it is often in the Psalms. You saw it displayed on the screen this morning behind you. Psalm 115:1 says, "Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your name give glory."

This theme permeates the Scripture. And in fact, let me just jump ahead to the very end. In heaven, we will be preoccupied with giving glory to God. I love the glimpse that the Apostle John gives us. You remember in Revelation 4, he was caught up into heaven in this vision that he had on the isle of Patmos. And in chapter 4 of Revelation he sees this scene around the throne of God. In verse 9 he says,

the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders [that represents the church, the redeemed,] they fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and they worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the thrones, [and this is what they say, listen to this, this is what we will say for all eternity],

"Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; [why?] for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created."

We will extend glory to God for all eternity because of His creation.

But there is another reason in chapter 5 of Revelation. He looks again and he sees all the angels and all of the redeemed,

myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, [verse 12 of chapter 5,] saying with a loud voice,

"Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing."

And then every created thing which is in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying,

"To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever."

And the four living creatures kept saying, "Amen." And the elders fell down and worshipped.

Listen folks, giving glory to God was the occupation of the saints of old. It will be our occupation for all eternity. And it should be our occupation right now.

How does Christ teach us to pray? You remember, in Matthew 6:9 He says, this is where our prayers should begin. What do you pray for? Christ said, "'Pray in this way: "Our Father who is in heaven [what?], hallowed be Your name."'" The very first priority that should be ours in prayer is that God's name would be exalted, that He would be glorified. Is that what makes your heart beat? Is that what drives you, is a passion for the glory of God?

Paul says the desire for God to be glorified was the greatest concern of his life. First Corinthians 10:31 says that this passion is to permeate everything we do, down to the most mundane choices of Christian liberty. He says, "Whether we eat or drink, we are to do all to the glory of God."

Now let me ask you a question. Why is bringing glory to God such a constant and controlling theme of Scripture? Why does this recur and why will it be our preoccupation in eternity? There is a simple answer. It is because the ultimate goal behind everything God Himself does is to exalt His glory. We are to live for God's glory because God Himself always acts for His own glory.

Jonathan Edwards, in a little tract he wrote called "The End for Which God Created the World," wrote these words, "All that is ever spoken of in the Scripture as an ultimate end of God's works is included in that one phrase, 'the glory of God.'" Robert Reymond, in his Systematic Theology, puts it this way, "The Christian who will give the Bible its due will learn that just as the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever, so also the impulse that drives God and the thing He pursues in everything He does is His own glory."

You say, now, wait a minute, is that true? I mean, is that really what motivates God? Well, think in terms of God's two greatest acts. What are they? (That are recorded in Scripture.) Creation and redemption. Over and over again, even as we saw in Revelation, those are the two issues that continually come up as God's greatest acts. Look at creation. Psalm 19:1 says that "The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands."

But in Romans 1, you remember, verse 20, Paul writes that,

since the creation of the world God's invisible attributes, [that is,] His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen [in the creation], being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. [Without excuse in what way? Well, listen to what he says next.] For even though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God.

You see, God intended the creation to be that which would bring glory to Him. And the indictment against sinful mankind is that when they saw the glory of God in creation, they refused to give Him glory.

What about salvation? Turn to Ephesians 1. I haven't decided yet, but Ephesians is one of the books I am considering going to next when we finish our study of marriage and family. But Paul begins in Ephesians 1 by describing the incredible spiritual blessings that we enjoy. And he begins by just reciting these. Verse 4, he speaks of divine election, "He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world." Verse 5, "He predestined us to adoption as sons," "according to the kind intention of His will." Why did God do this? Verse 6, "to the praise of the glory of His grace." He goes on in verse 7, "we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of trespasses." He goes on to describe this elaborate plan that God has put together to redeem sinners and lift up His Son. And he says in verse 11, He has done this

after the counsel of His own will, [why?] to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.

He repeats the same thing in verse 14, we have been sealed by the Spirit "with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory."

Listen, God created this world to manifest His glory. And He saved you to manifest His glory as well. That is what God is about. That is what God is doing. And Paul understood that this lies behind everything God does and it became the passion of his life. If we want to imitate the faith of Paul, then we too must be consumed with the desire to exalt the glory of God in everything we do.

Listen to what D.A. Carson writes in his commentary on this passage in Philippians 4. He, in that phrase "glory to God," he says, "This is not simply a formula that Paul feels constrained to drop into the text once in a while without giving words much thought. Rather, the apostle wants to remind his readers that even at this stage, it is possible to pursue all the excellent advice he has provided in this book, resolving to be obedient to the apostle's imperatives and yet somehow prostitute them all. The deciding factor is this: do these believers see that all of Christian discipleship, all of Christian virtue, all of Christian resolution, all of Christian perseverance must be offered to the glory of God? Or do they think that these virtues are ultimate ends in themselves? For it is a sad fact that some Christians will hear the injunctions of this letter and they will treasure these virtues as God's to be coveted."

T.S. Eliot wrote these immortal words, "The last temptation is the greatest treason, to do the right deed for the wrong reason." You and I are to do what we do, we are to obey the commands of this book, we are to live as Christians, not because it makes us more comfortable, not because it makes our lives more enjoyable, not because it earns something for us before God. No, we are to do it for the glory of God.

Let me ask you, do you live for God's glory? Do you read your Bible for the glory of God? Do you pray for God's glory? Do you come to church to get something out of it for yourself or to give glory to God? Do you work for God's glory? Do you use your gifts in the church for the glory of God? Do you even eat and drink and do the mundane issues of life to give God glory? Paul did. That was the passion of his life.

You say, well how can I live to God's glory? Well, let me give it to you as simply as I know how. To live to the glory of God means that everything you do should be done either, number one, as a personal act of worship or, number two, so that others will be brought to worship and to exalt God. Everything you and I do should be done as a personal act of worship to God or done so that others will come to worship the God we worship, or a combination.

If you want to imitate the priorities of Paul, then you must live to the glory of God. And secondly, back to Philippians 4, his second priority is this: live for the good of the saints, live for the good of the saints. Verses 21 and 22,

Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar's household.

Now, these expressions are common at the end of Paul's letters. And because of that, again, we tend to overlook them. But in reality, these comments tell us something else about the heart of the apostle. His life was inextricably woven together with the lives of other Christians and the Christians in Philippi. Notice he calls them saints. Unfortunately, this word has been abused over the last two thousand years so it kind of carries an elitism with it now, you know, Saint so and so. But in reality, this word was used throughout the New Testament not of a special few, but of every Christian. If you are a believer, you are a saint. It simply means to be set apart by the Holy Spirit for God's purposes. It could be translated "God's holy people," "God's set apart people."

Notice what Paul says to do to these people, he says to greet them. This is the standard New Testament word that is used for greeting, but it is not a common word in Greek usage. In fact, Paul was the first to use this expression in his letters. The Greeks and Romans didn't use this until later, after 70 A.D. Because this is not a word that simply means a passing hello. Instead, its basic meaning is to embrace. This word literally means to embrace. It is a connection of two hearts, two lives. You see, we live in a shallow world. Most of the relationships that we are involved in are defined by trivial conversations about trivial things, about the weather or sports or politics. There is no deep, personal commitment or conversation. Paul says, it is not to be that way with us, and it certainly wasn't that way with him. Paul established deep abiding relationships with people. So he tells the Philippian church, and specifically the leadership who would have received this letter first, he says, "Greet every saint in Christ Jesus." That is like our saying, "give everyone a warm embrace on my behalf."

By the way, he does say "greet every" here. Normally, he says "greet all the saints." The NIV messes up the translation here if you have an NIV. Literally in the Greek text he says, very specifically, "Greet every individual saint." Remember, there was an issue of disunity in this church and Paul wants them to know that he is not playing favorites; he loves them all. He has a genuine connection to and concern for every member of the church. And Paul wasn't even a member of that church.

Let me ask you, do you have a connection to, a relationship with the people who are a part of this church? John Macarthur, in his commentary on this passage, writes this, "All those accepted in God's beloved Son must be accepted by God's beloved children."

Paul adds, in verse 21, "The brethren who are with me greet you." This, of course, is a reference to his ministry partners, to his coworkers, certainly to Timothy, whom he mentioned in chapter 1 and chapter 2, to Epaphroditus, who is soon to deliver the letter, mentioned in chapter 2 as well, maybe to Luke, and there may have been others to whom he referred. But the point is this, there was a fond connection, there was a relationship between these leaders and the people of the church of Philippi.

But Paul adds one more group, verse 22, he says, "All the saints greet you." By that he means all the saints who are in Rome. All the saints connected to the church in Rome add their greetings. They too wanted to greet the Philippian church even though they may have never met them. There was a bond because they were brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.

Do you see the point here? Do you see what this reveals about Paul and his priorities? Paul lived for the good of the saints. He lived his life for people. He was into relationships, not into things. I wish we had time to read Romans 16. Romans 16, Paul details all of the relationships he enjoyed with the people in the Roman church. And it is all about relationship.

I was reminded of this in my trip to Russia. You know, I spent eight days with people, most of whom spoke very little English and I speak less Russian. Our cultures are totally different. Our backgrounds are different. And our churches, while similar in some ways, are also different in the way certain things are done. But I left part of my heart with those people and with those men because we are all saints in Jesus Christ. We are brethren together. You have had that experience if you have ever travelled internationally, even where there was a barrier of language. There was a common bond because your hearts were bound in Christ.

Let me ask you, are your closest friends Christians? Are they people in this church? Determine to connect with people, to care more about people in this life than things or even activities. That is where the heart of the apostle was.

Notice he adds some words that would have been shocking there in verse 22, to the Philippians. He says, "All the saints [here in Rome] greet you, especially those of Caesar's household." Now remember, the Caesar at this point, the emperor, was Nero, a godless man if there ever was one. And yet, Paul says, "the members of his household greet you." Now this expression "Caesar's household" includes more than the members of his immediate family. It includes all of those directly in his employment from the lowest slave to the highest ranking official. We don't know who these people were. Although it is interesting, Lightfoot, the renowned scholar and commentator, did a study of the names listed in Romans 16, of all of those in the Roman church, with secular lists of those who were involved in the court and in the employ of Nero. And he discovered some striking similarities and parallels. He believes that there were a number of those people that were in Caesar's household that are listed there in Romans 16.

But by God's grace, whether it was the praetorian guard members that Paul mentions in chapter 1 verse 13 that came to faith under his ministry or whether it was those who were already believers and a part of Caesar's household, by God's grace there were Christians even in Nero's household and they too were brethren, fellow saints. Paul had a special affection and a commitment to Christians of all kinds in all places. And that is to be our priority as well.

Like Paul, we need to commit ourselves to the same priorities, to live to the glory of God, to live for the good of the saints, and finally and briefly, to live in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Verse 23, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit." This is where Paul always begins every letter of his and where he always ends every letter, check it out for yourself, and that is with grace. We studied this topic a few Sunday nights ago. It is commonly defined, of course, grace is, as unmerited favor. But it is not just unmerited favor; it is unmerited favor to those who deserve exactly the opposite.

But what is favor? Well, often in human relationships, the question rises about one person's attitude toward another and if that person has a positive attitude, it is called favor. It means to approve, to kindly regard, to show kindness toward. So grace means that God has a positive disposition and attitude toward those who have deserved eternal wrath. This is what Paul says later in Romans 8 when he says, "God is for us." That is grace. God is for us.

But the reference here isn't to the grace we have already been shown in salvation and justification. The Philippians are already believers. And Paul says, I want you to continue to enjoy grace. That is because we need grace today and we need it tomorrow and we need it for the rest of our lives here and we need it even for eternity. You remember Romans 5:2? Paul says now that we have been justified, "we stand in grace." What does that mean? It means we live in the sphere of God's favor and that is so important. Listen folks, what you and I do doesn't compel God to withdraw His grace or to give it. Grace by definition means God pays no attention to what we deserve. There will never be a moment, listen carefully to this, there will never be a moment for the rest of your life here or for eternity that you and I will not need the grace of God, because we will never stop deserving eternal wrath. We will need God's grace. God never gives us what we deserve. Instead, He overwhelms us with undeserved kindness.

You know, we quote Ephesians 2:8-9, "by grace you have been saved through faith" and that is a wonderful verse. But I love verse 7. Ephesians 2:7 says this, "in the ages to come God is going to show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." That is what we have to look forward to, grace. Eternal, unending, unmitigated grace, shown to us in kindness in Christ Jesus. Notice, Paul says in 4:23, this grace comes to us only through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul's life revolved around Christ and the grace he had found in Christ. Listen, if you want to follow in the footsteps of Paul, then listen to his last words. Imitate his priorities. Live to the glory of God. Live for the good of the saints. And live in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.