WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A SAINT
There is much confusion about what it means to be a saint. Of course, sainthood is misunderstood among the unsaved, unchurched, and uninitiated in biblical truth. But many who claim the name of Jesus do not understand sainthood, either. If given an essay requiring a formal definition of the term “saint,” some of us would fail. But that’s not important. What is important is that some of us do not know the right answer to the simple question: “Are you a saint?” Would you say, “No. I am not a saint. I’m a Christian. I love Jesus. He is my Savior and Lord. But I wouldn’t dare call myself a saint.”? We would not call ourselves saints because we think saints are highly virtuous Christians – like the Apostles of Jesus or the New Testament writers or historic Christian figures. We do not get this view from the Bible. We have Roman Catholicism to thank for this confusion.
Roman Catholicism has a detailed process for conferring sainthood. First of all, you have to die before you become a saint in the Catholic Church. But sainthood makes the dead Christian a living, functioning member of the mystical body of Christ. When someone becomes a saint, the Catholic Church appoints a feast day, dedicates churches and altars and displays statues and pictures in his honor. They even venerate his relics and pray to him publicly. Sure, you have to go through the processes of beatification and canonization in order to become a saint. But if the pope includes you in the canon of saints, the judgments reached in this process are infallible. It is an unbeatable method for honoring virtuous and sacrificial Christian living, except for one small problem. It is not biblical.
I submit that there is more truth about sainthood in these closing verses of Philippians than in the entire Roman Catholic doctrine of sainthood. Paul does not define Christian sainthood in this passage. He assumes it, mentioning it twice in these final remarks to the church at Philippi. But these remarks tell us what it means to be a saint. Verse 21 says, “Greet every saint in Christ Jesus.” You don’t have to be a paradigm of virtue to be a saint. You don’t have to be a historic Christian figure to be a saint. And you don’t have to have supernatural or miraculous events associated with your life to be a saint. You are a saint if you are in Christ Jesus.
Consider the church at Corinth. They were divided over who was going to lead the church. One of the members was in an adulterous relationship with his stepmother. Members were taking one another to court over financial disputes. People were getting drunk during the Lord’s Supper. Prominent teachers were denying the resurrection from the dead. The church at Corinth was the most sinful and worldly church in the New Testament. Yet in 1 Corinthians 1:2, Paul addressed them by saying: “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Every person who has trusted Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is a saint. Saints are not good people. Saints are bad people who have by redeemed by a good God. That is what makes Christianity different from other religions. Christians are not just people who follow the teachings of Jesus. We are in him. No one would dare say that they are in Mohammed or Buddha or Confucius. But we are in Christ. And because we are in him, we are saints. Therefore, to be asked if you are a saint is to be asked, are you saved? And to understand what it means to be a saint is to understand what it means to be saved. So let’s walk through these final verses Philippians and consider the practical implications of Christian sainthood.
I. THE GOAL OF THE SAINTS
Philippians 4:20 is a doxology – a statement of praise in response to the revelation of God. I suppose Paul paused before writing this verse, contemplating all he had written in this letter, culminating with the promise of verse 19: “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” When Paul thought about the fact that God is ready, willing, and able to meet every need the Philippians had, he burst forth into praise. Verse 20 says: “To our God and Father be glory forever and ever.” This is the goal of the saints: THE GLORY OF GOD. Saints are not to be worshipped. They are worshipers. Saints are people who live with the glory of God as their highest priority.
What is the glory of God? The Bible speaks of the glory of God two ways. There is God’s INTRINSIC GLORY. In other words, God’s glory refers to the sum total of all his divine attributes. It is all that he intrinsically is. It is the weightiness of God’s character. It includes all the divine characteristics that are innately his and all the divine perfections that are inherently his – his holiness, righteousness, wrath, truth, love, grace, goodness, sovereignty, and power. “Glory is essential to the Godhead, as light is to the sun,” said THOMAS WATSON. “Glory is the sparkling of the deity.” God and his glory cannot be separated. It is who he is. The second aspect of God’s glory is called ASCRIBED GLORY. Intrinsic glory refers to the character of God. Ascribed glory is the response to the manifestation of his self-revelation to us. We cannot add to God’s intrinsic glory. But we can give him the glory he deserves through our worship, trust, and obedience. This is the goal of the saints.
Psalm 115:1 says, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!”
1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
Ephesians 3:21 says, “To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
1 Timothy 1:17 says, “To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Revelation 4:11 says, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
Louis XIV became King of France at age fourteen and ruled for seventy-two years. It was the longest reign in modern European history. Consumed with power, he called himself the “Great Monarch.” And declared, “I am the state!” But in 1715, Louis XIV abdicated his throne in death. The great cathedral was packed with mourners for his funeral. To dramatize his greatness, a single candle burned above his solid gold coffin. Thousands waited in hushed silence as they peered at the exquisite casket that held the mortal remains of their monarch. Bishop Massillon presided over this official act of state. When the service began, Massillon stunned the nation by bending down from the pulpit and snuffing out the candle that represented the king’s greatness. Then came four words from behind the open Bible: “Only God is great!’
To be a saint is to trust, confess, and live in a manner that affirms that only God is great. A.W. TOZER said: “God is looking for men in whose hands his glory is safe.” TOZER meant that God uses people who have a high view of him and are jealous for the honor of his holy name. God is searching for men and women who will lay down their glory before his throne and give him the glory he alone deserves. He is looking for those who are absorbed in his surpassing glory and who are jealous for his name, not theirs. Could that be why so little true ministry takes place in many churches? CHARLES SWINDOLL said, “We are often so caught up in our activities that we tent to worship our work, work at our play, and play at our worship.” Think about it. A rowboat in the sand is hard to move. But when the tide comes in, it’s easy. The church is like that. When genuine worship is absent from the church, she struggles to do her work. But when a tide of praise uplifts her heart, everything else goes better. Everything gets better when God is the subject and object of your praise – the infinite center of your life and the life of the church.
II. THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE SAINTS
I believe in the plenary inspiration of Scripture. I am convinced that there is nothing superfluous or unnecessary in Scripture. I agree with 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is breathed out by God.” And I read our text as an affirmation of the full, absolute, and complete inspiration of Scripture. Verses 21-22a record simple words of greetings. In the first sentence of verse 21, Paul sends his personal greetings to the saints at Philippi. In the second sentence of verse 21, the coworkers on Paul’s ministry team send their greetings. In the first clause of verse 22, all the saints in the church at Rome send their greetings. And in the closing clause of verse 22, the saints in Caesar’s house send their greetings. Just simple words of greeting. But this simple greeting is a powerful statement about the fellowship of the saints.
Look at the text again. Verse 21a says, “Greet every saint.” Note that Paul uses the personal term “every,” rather than the collective term “all.” That is not just a greeting. It is a statement about the unity and equality of the church. Whether Jew or Gentile, male or female, bond or free, they were all saints in Christ Jesus. So Paul honors them by addressing each one of them personally. Then verse 21b says, “The brothers who are with me greet you.” We know from Philippians 1:1 and 2:19-30 that the “brothers” included Timothy and Epaphroditus. Scholars tell us that this group probably included many of the people Paul mentioned by name in Romans 16:3-16. This group was made up of men and women of great stature within the church. But Paul does not give them any special titles. He does not even call their names. He just lumps them together as “the brothers.” Then verse 22a says, “All the saints greet you,” a reference to the general membership of the church at Rome. They had never met the saints in Philippi. But when they found out that what Paul was writing the Philippians, they said, “Please send them our regards, as well.”
These are not just mere greetings. These words are meant to remind us that the gospel does not make sense without the church that makes it make sense. Mark it down. It is not accidental or incidental that the New Testament does not teach how to follow Christ on your own. The assumption of scripture is that true faith in God is lived out in partnership with other believers.
The California Redwood Trees are some of the largest living organisms in the world. The redwoods are three hundred feet high. Some of them are forty feet around. Some of them have been there for 250 years. Because of the size and strength of the Redwoods, you would think they have deep roots. But not so. They have rather shallow roots. But their roots are intertwined. So when the wind blows and the storm rages, Redwoods Trees stand tall because they hold each other up.
In John 13:34-35, Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” How will the world know that we truly are the church of Jesus Christ?
• Not if we always agree with one another.
• Not if we solve every controversy.
• Not if we are unanimous in every vote.
• Note if we never make a doctrinal error.
• Not if we build great ministries.
They will know that we are disciples of Christ by our love for one another. To be a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ is to be an active part of the communion of the saints. In fact, the Greek word for “saints” (hagios) is used some 229 times in the New Testament – more than any other term used to refer to Christians. Yet the New Testament only uses the singular form of the term here in verse 21. But when Paul says, “Greet every saint,” he was not doing so with our “I-have-Jesus-and-I-don’t-need-nobody-else” attitude. He used it to remind us that every person in the church matters to God. So every person in the church should matter to us. The communion of the saints is meant to remind us that God is in the people business.
III. THE JOY OF THE SAINTS
In verse 22a, Paul sends greetings to the church at Philippi from the church at Rome. But Paul ends the verse by sending greetings from a particular group within the church at Rome: Those in Caesar’s household. This reference to the saints in Caesar’s house highlights the joy of the saints. It is a twofold joy.
A. THE JOY OF BECOMING
This reference to Caesar’s household is most intriguing. Your mind is tempted to run riot when you think about it. Who exactly were the saints in Caesar’s house? Were they soldiers who had been assigned to the apostle Paul and had been saved through his ministry? Were they slaves or freedmen who worked in the palace? Were they officials in the Roman government? Or might this expression dare include members of the Emperor’s family?
We do not know. But do not let the wonderful possibilities cause you to miss the point. The point is not who these saints were but where they were: CAESAR’S HOUSEHOLD! That is the last place one would have expected to find Christians. Do you know who the Caesar was at the time of the text? NERO. Nero the unprincipled. Nero the jealous fiend who murdered his mother, wife, and son to protect his throne. Nero, the archenemy of the church and persecutor of Christians. After Nero died, a legend sprang up that he was not really dead, but had fled beyond the Euphrates and would one day return as the Anti-Christ. Centuries later, people name the sons Paul but name their dogs Nero. Yet Paul tells the Philippians that the good news of Jesus Christ had penetrated the walls of Nero’s own palace. That’s the joy of the saints.
Every Christ follower is called to Christian fellowship. But we cannot celebrate our bond in Christ and forget about those who are not a part of the communion of the saints. We are commissioned to make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
In Luke 15, God is pictured as a shepherd who goes temporarily insane when one of his sheep is lost. God is pictured as a housewife who has a panic-attack when she loses her wedding ring. And God is pictured as a lovesick father who spends his days watching and waiting for his runaway son to come back home. Jesus paints these unorthodox pictures of God to make a graphic point: Lost people matter to God! And if God matters to us, then whatever matters to God will matter to us. And we will be people who rejoice with God and the angels in heaven when lost people come home. I may be talking to someone who is concerned about a lost relative or friend. Don’t give up on them. I don’t care what they’re into. Never underestimate God’s power to change a person’s life.
• God is able to break any habit.
• God is able to demolish any stronghold.
• God is able to overthrow any enemy.
• God is able to penetrate any barrier.
• God is able to repair any breach.
That is what Jesus meant when he said in Matthew 16:18: “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” And that includes Caesar’s household!
B. THE JOY OF OVERCOMING
This reference to the saints in Caesar’s house is an object lesson that drives home the point of this letter. Throughout this letter, Paul addresses the internal and external threats to the saint’s devotion to Christ. Some of those threats were internal. Some were external. Yet Paul exhorts the church to live out the life of the teachings of the faith no matter what. As he closes, Paul says, ‘The members here in the church at Rome want me to let you know that they are thinking about you and praying for you, especially those members who are a part of Caesar’s household.” I do not know if Paul intended the strategic nature of that reference. But God did. God is saying to us that we can overcome anything that stands against our commitment to Jesus Christ. Here’s why: There were saints in Caesar’s household.
Let me ask you something.
• Do you need a favorable atmosphere in order to be loyal to Christ?
• Are you a moral chameleon, taking your color from the last environment you crawl across?
• Are you changing your surroundings or are your surroundings changing you?
• Do you create a moral fashion statement or do you merely adopt whatever happens to be in vogue at the moment?
You do not have to keep trying to run with the rabbits and hunt with the hounds at the same time. When things get rough, just remember those saints in Caesar’s house. Take heart. And press on. If they could manage, so can you. ISAAC WATTS asked:
MUST I BE CARRIED TO THE SKIES
ON FLOWERY BEDS OF EASE
WHILE OTHERS FOUGHT TO WIN THE PRIZE
AND SAILED ON BLOODY SEAS
No. You cannot get to heaven on flowery beds of ease. God has only had one child that lived without sin. Jesus. But God has no children who have lived without suffering, including Jesus. You cannot live for Jesus without facing some trouble. But you can live for Jesus, even when you are facing trouble. You don’t need to be in ideal circumstances in order to live out our faith. You can bloom right where you are planted.
IV. THE RESOURCE OF THE SAINTS
Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi ends in verse 23 with a benediction. A benediction is an announcement of God’s favor on his people. Paul affirms God’s blessings on his readers by saying, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” In Paul’s final statement to the church in this letter, he entrusts them to the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. That was his pattern. The Apostle Paul wrote thirteen of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. And in the closing remarks of each of those letters, Paul gives a benediction that affirms the presence and power of God’s grace. Paul closes his letters with a benediction for the same reason we end our services with a benediction: When the message is finished, the faith must be lived. James 1:22 says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” What you learn on Sunday does not mean a thing if we do not live it out on Monday. Biblical truth is not just to be learned. It is to be lived. So Paul closes this letter by commending the saints to Jesus Christ who will provide his grace to abide with them. That is the resource of the saints. We live out the life of the teachings of our faith through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
You have been saved from sin by grace. And you are sustained after salvation by grace. Do not put artificial limits on the grace of God. The same grace that will one day get you into heaven will also keep you day-by-day until you get there.
• You need grace to trust wholeheartedly.
• You need grace to live obedient.
• You need grace to resist temptation.
• You need grace to love sacrificially.
• You need grace to serve faithfully.
• You need grace to endure hardship.
• You need grave to fight victoriously.
You need the grace of the Lord Jesus to be with you every step of the way. In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 Paul says, “In order to keep me from becoming lifted up in pride, I was given a thorn in the flesh. It was like one of Satan’s henchmen beating up on me. I went to God in prayer about it three times. I asked the Lord to take the pain away. Deliver me. Heal me. Restore me. Perform a miracle. Take the pain away.” But the Lord said, “I will not take the thorn away. But my grace is sufficient for you. My power works best in weak people.” The Lord Jesus says the same thing to you today: “My grace is sufficient for you.”
‘TIS SO SWEET TO TRUST IN JESUS
JUST TO TAKE HIM AT HIS WORD
JUST TO REST UPON HIS PROMISE
JUST TO KNOW, “THUS SAITH THE LORD!”
I’M SO GLAD I LEARNED TO TRUST THEE
PRECIOUS JESUS, SAVIOR, FRIEND
AND I KNOW THAT THOU ARE WITH ME
WILL BE WITH ME TO THE END
JESUS, JESUS, HOW I TRUST HIM!
HOW I’VE PROVED HIM O’ER AND O’ER!
JESUS, JESUS, PRECIOUS JESUS!
O FOR GRACE TO TRUST HIM MORE!