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Greeting Every Saint

May 5, 2019 Speaker: Brian Wilbur Series: Philippians

Topic: Love For One Another Passage: Philippians 4:21–22


An Exposition of Philippians 4:21-22

By Pastor Brian Wilbur

Date:   May 5, 2019

Series: Philippians: Gospel Partnership on Mission in the World

Note:   Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard   Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



Holy Scripture says, through the apostle Paul:

“Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.” (Philippians 4:21-22)


Relationships matter a great deal, especially the relationships that we have with our fellow Christians.

As we have journeyed through Philippians these last 15 months, over and over again we have returned to the high calling upon the Philippians to “[be] of the same mind, [have] the same love, [be] in full accord and of one mind” (Philippians 2:2). Christ calls His church to be a closely-knit partnership of believers who are “striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27).

This high calling to be unified in mind, heart, and soul demands that we treat one another a particular way. In the context of this call to unity, Paul instructs the Philippians to honor others (Philippians 2:3) and serve others (Philippians 2:4). While it is good and right to extend honor and service to all people, it nevertheless remains the priority in Philippians and throughout the New Testament that we take special care to extend honor and service to our fellow believers.

In fact, Jesus said that the distinguishing mark of His disciples is their love for each other: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) In another passage, Paul wrote to the church: “Love one another with brotherly affection.” (Romans 12:10)

There Are Many Local Churches, But There Is Only One Church

This mutual love that Jesus calls us to have among ourselves as Christians must not be limited to the confines of our local church family. Certainly we ought to experience the richness of mutual love within our local church family, but we must also take care to extend Christian love to other Christians in other parts of the region, nation, or world.

There are, indeed, many local churches, but there is only one Church. New Testament passages tell us that “Jesus is the head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:18); and that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in all splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27).

In the Nicene Creed, we confess our belief in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. In this context ‘catholic’ doesn’t mean Roman Catholic; instead it means ‘universal’ or ‘global’. There is ‘one’ church. This one church is ‘holy’ – it is set apart by Christ and for Christ; it is the communion of the Holy Spirit. This one church is ‘catholic’ in the sense that it is manifest throughout the world, from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. And this one church is ‘apostolic’ – in other words, it is grounded in the firm foundation of gospel truth that the Lord revealed through the testimony and teaching of the apostles.

Our authority, of course, is not the Nicene Creed, but the Bible. And yet, the Nicene Creed faithfully renders what the Bible teaches. After calling upon the Ephesians to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3), Paul immediately goes on to tell them: “There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call–one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:6)

So even though there ought to be an intensified experience of Christian unity within a local church family like South Paris Baptist Church – because we are meeting together and involved in each other’s lives on a regular basis, and because we have a particular commitment to one another in this time and in this place – nevertheless it is very important to practice Christian unity with our fellow Christians in other local churches in other parts of the world. For though there are many local churches, there is only one Church. There is only one bride of Christ. There is only one household of God.

Now at this point you might be wondering about why I am talking about the unity of the global Church. The answer is that the unity and fellowship of the global Church is part of the big picture reality that stands behind Philippians 4:21-22. The truth that the saints throughout the world share the precious bond of Christian fellowship, is foundational to the practice of the greetings that are on display in our passage.

Snapshots of the Global Fellowship of Christ’s People

We see snapshots of this important truth earlier in Philippians and in other New Testament passages. The fellowship of all the saints is on display in the partnership that the Philippian congregation had with the apostle Paul as Paul preached the gospel throughout the world (Philippians 1:3-7).

The fellowship of all the saints is also on display in Paul’s concerted effort to raise money from other churches for the impoverished believers in Jerusalem (e.g., Romans 15:25-27).

The fellowship of all the saints is on display when Peter refers to the worldwide brotherhood of Christians:

“Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” (1 Peter 5:8-9)

The fellowship of the all the saints is on display when Paul wrote to the Colossians: “And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.” (Colossians 4:16)

And the fellowship of all the saints is on display when Paul instructs the Christians in Rome to “[contribute] to the needs of the saints” (Romans 12:13) and when he instructs the Philippians to “[greet] every saint” (Philippians 4:21).

Though there are many local churches, there is one Church – and all true Christians are members of that one Church, and we ought to feel the goodness of it and we ought to act and speak accordingly.

This rich spiritual fellowship of Christ’s global Church is the beautiful reality that is expressed in the practice of greeting in Philippians 4:21-22.


With this background of fellowship in our minds, let’s go to our passage and walk through it.

A Practice That Must Not Be Neglected

First, the call to “[greet] every saint” is a practice that must not be neglected. It would be so easy to treat the customary greetings that so often occur at the end of Paul’s letters as neglectable, inconsequential, unimportant, just a formality. But that is not a good way to read Scripture.

Earlier this year I started utilizing a children’s catechism-and-story resource with two of our children. One of the questions is: “Who wrote the Bible?” The answer is: “Chosen men who wrote by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.”[1] And the point I want to make is that in terms of Philippians, “the inspiration of the Holy Spirit” didn’t stop at Philippians 4:20 and it didn’t skip over Philippians 4:21-22 only to resume activity in the benediction of Philippians 4:23. The Holy Spirit prompted Paul to tell the membership of the Philippian congregation to “[greet] every saint” and also to greet the Philippian congregation on behalf of other believers. Further, the Holy Spirit preserved this instruction as part of Holy Scripture. It is not a suggestion. It is not like an optional additional topping on the ice cream sundae. It is part of the ice cream sundae. It is a good word of instruction. It is a command to be obeyed. It is a practice to be followed. Remember what Paul said earlier: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9) At the end of the letter, Paul is still teaching and still setting an example. Brothers and sisters: “Greet every saint.”  

To Greet Every Saint Directly or on Paul’s Behalf?

Before we go any further, I need to say that the instruction to “Greet every saint” could mean a couple different things. Paul might be telling the Philippians to greet every saint on his behalf. We are familiar with this dynamic, when – for instance – we tell our friend Bob, who is going to see our other friend George, to say hi to George for us. Bob, be sure to greet George; tell George that all his friends back in South Paris say a warm hello! There can be no doubt that Paul does this sort of thing on multiple occasions, as when he tells the church in Rome to “[greet] Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well” (Romans 16:3-4), or when he tells the Colossian congregation to “[give] my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.” (Colossians 4:15)

On the other hand, it is also possible that Paul is telling the Philippians to greet every saint on their own behalf (so to speak) – not as a conduit of someone else’s greeting, but as a conveyor of their own greeting, as a direct act of Christian love. On multiple occasions Paul instructs Christians to greet each other: “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12; cf. 1 Peter 5:14). If this is what Paul has in mind in Philippians 4:21, then he is telling to the Philippians to warmly greet their fellow believers, not only those in their own local church (as the phrase “one another” would emphasize), but also those believers from other parts of the region with whom they have connection.

I am undecided as to the emphasis of Philippians 4:21, but whether you take it one way or the other, the practical significance remains the same. As Christians, we are caught up into a relational dynamic of warm relations with each other. “All the saints greet” the Philippian congregation (v. 22). “The brothers who are with [Paul] greet” the Philippian congregation (v. 21). And the Philippian congregation is to “[greet] every saint” (v. 21) – either on Paul’s behalf, or on their own behalf. And even if they are to do so on Paul’s behalf, remember that Paul’s conduct sets an example for our own – and if he is in the habit of greeting every saint, then we should follow his example (Philippians 4:9).

The greetings of Philippians 4:21-22 – taken in conjunction with many other greetings that are found throughout the New Testament – are exemplary of the kinds of relationships and relational acknowledgments that we ought to pursue in our own lives.

The Practice of Greeting

So, what does it mean to greet someone? Well, it is not rocket science, and we do not want to complicate something that is so simple and straightforward. So, in this context we should understand ‘greet’ as a warm heartfelt acknowledgement of a person with whom we have a special relationship. It is possible, of course, to greet a stranger or to greet an acquaintance or, through social media, to greet the world. But in Philippians 4:21-22 (and in Romans 16:3-16, 1 Corinthians 16:19-20, 2 Corinthians 13:12-13, Colossians 4:10-15, 1 Thessalonians 5:26, and in 2 Timothy 4:19-21, Titus 3:15 and Philemon 23-24), this practice of greeting is happening back and forth among Christians who share the deepest possible bond – the bond of fellowship and peace in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The practice of greeting carries with it the understanding that other people matter. God did not create me to live in a self-enclosed space that is closed off to an expanding fellowship of warm, loving relationships. Every Christian matters. Every Christian is worthy of being recognized as such. Our attitude ought to be: I greet you because I love you. I greet you because you matter to me. I greet you because our relationship should be kept continually fresh – our relationship cannot run on the fuel of a greeting from five years ago. As opportunities allow, I ought to greet you regularly, thus reminding you that you are still important to me. Isn’t it good to be remembered? To be thought of? To be acknowledged? Isn’t it good when someone says ‘Hello there, it’s good to see you’ or ‘Greetings, my friend, I wish I could see you again’?

When we greet our fellow Christians and when they greet us, we are saying to one another: Remember me even as I remember you, and remember the Lord who brought us together, and remember the eternal bond of fellowship that we share. Isn’t it wonderful to be a Christian? Isn’t it wonderful to be brothers and sisters? Isn’t it wonderful to have the same Holy Spirit indwelling both of our hearts? Isn’t it wonderful to be citizens of the eternal city? Isn’t it wonderful to labor side by side for the cause of our Lord?   

Sixteen-plus years ago I sat in a New Testament class at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and I remember my professor sharing how he had received an email from a Christian friend – and the Christian friend had concluded the letter with the words, forever yours (or yours forever). The professor pondered the words and realized that they were true words. When lovers say ‘forever yours’, it is poetic and sentimental overstatement. But when Christians say ‘forever yours’, it is truth that we speak. And the point of greeting our fellow Christians is to recognize and rejoice in the blessed fellowship that we share in Christ. We greet each other because we belong to each other, now and always. Not only ‘yours’, but ‘forever yours’.      

Greeting is to be Practiced Among Christians

Now the complete word of instruction says, “Greet every saint in Christ Jesus.” Then other greetings are shared: “The brothers who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you.” Notice the words “every saint in Christ Jesus,” “[the] brothers,” and “[all] the saints.”

While we ought to show neighborliness and kindness to all people – and this would certainly include greeting our non-Christian neighbors, friends, co-workers, and family members – we need to understand that the clear emphasis in this instruction is that we take special care to greet our fellow Christians. In other words, the greeting of Philippians 4:21-22 is a greeting that is to be practiced among Christians.

Do we realize how precious and valuable our fellow Christians are? Before we can greet a fellow saint, we must first recognize him or her as a saint – indeed, as a “saint in Christ Jesus.” We should not settle for greeting human beings in a generic ‘one size fits all’ way. Human beings are either unconverted sinners or redeemed saints. And those who are redeemed saints ought to be recognized and greeted as such. In other words, we must see our fellow Christians the right way; we must see our fellow Christian as a saint, as a holy man or holy woman, as a person who belongs to God.

When Paul began writing his letter to the Philippians, he said:

“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi.” (Philippians 1:1)

Contrary to popular misconceptions about saintliness or sainthood, the Bible teaches that every true believer – whether old or young, mature or immature, seasoned disciple or new convert, presently encouraged or presently discouraged – is a saint. As I have said before: “sainthood is not a status that you achieve, but a gift that you receive.”[2] Advancing to a certain level of spiritual maturity, which we all must strive to do, is not what makes you a saint. Devoting a certain amount of time to Bible reading and prayer, which we all must strive to do, is not what makes you a saint. What makes you a saint is that you are the Lord’s – that the Lord Jesus has claimed you as His own. Philippians 1:1 speaks of “saints in Christ Jesus” and Philippians 4:21 speaks of “every saint in Christ Jesus.” A true saint is a saint because he or she has been united to Christ, and therefore belongs to Christ. A true saint is someone who has been set apart by God’s grace and set apart for God’s purpose.

And this is how we ought to see our fellow Christians. Yes, we see the charming or not so charming personality, the obvious or not so obvious gifts, the fashionable or not so fashionable dress; and we might see the socio-economic status, the family history, the present successes or the present struggles (as the case may be). But so what? This kind of information may be useful in terms of being sensitive to people and ministering to them in helpful ways. But these personality or social or circumstantial factors must not be the lens through which we discern our brother’s or sister’s fundamental identity. Our Christian brother or sisters is, fundamentally, a blood-bought saint who now exists and lives in holy union with the Lord Jesus Christ. As Christians we have reverence for the Lord Jesus Christ, and we must be faithful to have profound respect for every member of Christ’s holy spiritual body, the church.    

Greet Every Saint

So far, so good, But we need to press further into this instruction. Consider the significance of the phrase “every saint” in the instruction to “[greet] every saint in Christ Jesus” (italics added). Let’s think about the implications of this call to warmly acknowledge “every saint.”

First, the call to greet every saint means that we should be ready and eager to greet every saint, regardless of their geographic location or local church affiliation. Sometimes Paul called upon a church to “[greet] one another” (Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20). But the instruction in Philippians 4:21 is broader: “Greet every saint.” Now the call to greet every saint certainly includes within its scope the meaning that we should greet each other as members of the same local church. But the call to greet every saint expands far beyond the borders of the Philippian congregation or the South Paris Baptist Church congregation and includes all Christians everywhere. Greet the brother or sister who attends another congregation across town. Greet the missionary who serves the Lord in another part of the world. Greet the Christian that you happen to meet in a restaurant down in Portland or in the midst of your travels. Greet the Christians that you see at the regional Bible conference or training event.  

Second, the call to greet every saint should not be limited in any way, except for the built-in limitation that a person actually be a saint. This built-in limitation that a person actually be a saint, calls for discernment on our part. We should not extend a warm Christian greeting to heretics, apostates, members of cults, and pseudo-Christians who clearly and consistently deny Christ by the way that they live. There are, in fact, certain congregations and entire denominations as well as cults that are way off the rails, and we cannot regard those who follow these errors as fellow saints. When I say that we should not extend a warm Christian greeting to them, I mean that we shouldn’t warmly embrace them as a fellow Christian, because they are not within the purview of Philippians 4:21 – they do not appear to be a “saint in Christ Jesus,” and therefore we cannot greet them as such. But we should still treat them courteously, as elsewhere Paul instructs us “to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” (Titus 3:2)

But after we have cleared the brush of heretics, apostates, cult members, and fake Christians, the call to greet every saint should not be limited in any other way. Philippians 4:21 doesn’t say: greet every saint  1) whom you happen to like or 2) with whom you have a natural affinity or 3) who shares your tastes or 4) who thinks just like you on every issue or 5) who agrees with all of your theological distinctives or 6) who belongs to your social class or age group or 7) who has blessed you in tangible ways or 8) who doesn’t cause you any grief. Brothers and sisters, no such lines should be drawn. If you have good reason to think that a person is a fellow saint, then Philippians 4:21 applies: greet that person, because we are to “[greet] every saint in Christ Jesus.”

Third, the call to greet every saint doesn’t mean that you should become the heroic greeter of every individual Christian alive in the world today. When Paul says “[greet] every saint” and “[all] the saints greet you,” he is speaking in reference to existing connections and relationships. The saints who know one another or are known to one another, directly or indirectly, are the ones who ought to be greeting one another. While you should certainly be ready and willing to develop new relationships with saints who are currently unknown to you – because, say, they are in southern California and you are in western Maine, and you’re paths have never crossed – nevertheless Paul’s instruction speaks pointedly into the context of existing relationships. Here’s the point: where relational connections exist among fellow believers, those relational connections ought to be characterized by an appreciation and eagerness and warmth that expresses itself in mutual greetings.  

So, as relational connections exist and expand, as we know or know about our brothers and sisters close to home or far away, and as opportunities allow, greet the saints. In our passage, as Paul’s letter comes to a close, other believers are taking the opportunity to greet the saints in Philippi.

Notice how, in the second half of verse 21, Paul specifically conveys greetings from “[the] brothers who are with me.” G. Walter Hansen rightly says that these brothers “are people like Timothy and Epaphroditus (2:19-30) who live and work in close association with Paul.”[3] These were Paul’s colleagues and co-laborers, and they certainly would have heard about and appreciated God’s good work in and through the Philippian congregation.

Then in verse 22 Paul conveys greetings from “[all] the saints…, especially those of Caesar’s household.” Paul hereby testifies to the fruit of gospel ministry, namely, that the gospel had reached ‘the White House’ of pagan Rome. Perhaps these saints had been converted directly through Paul’s ministry and, indirectly, through the prayers and financial support of the Philippian congregation. D. A. Carson writes, “Paul may be in prison at Caesar’s pleasure, but the gospel has penetrated Caesar’s household. It is important to remember who is finally in charge and how he works.”[4] Brothers and sisters, you have fellow believers all over the world geographically, and you have fellow believers in all kinds of social and vocational situations.


What difference should Philippians 4:21-22 make in our lives?

The biggest difference it should make involves our attitude. The lesson rings loud and clear: appreciate your fellow Christians. Hold Christ’s people in high regard. Place great value on the relational connections that exist among Christians. Love the capital-C Church, which is the Holy-Spirit-generated fellowship of saints from all over the world. Get outside of your own little individual box, or your own little family box, or your own little South Paris Baptist Church box, or your own little Western Maine box, and take notice of God’s gracious work in and through His people in other places, and be ready to express your fellowship with them.

If this attitude is being cultivated in your heart, then it ought to be expressed in concrete actions – and in terms of Philippians 4:21-22, it ought to be expressed in warm greetings.

Greet your fellow believers with the warmth that befits Christian love. Greet one another within your local church family. Greet other believers whom you have the privilege to know, whatever their geographic location may be. While it is great to greet your brothers and sisters in person, Paul used the medium of a letter to convey greetings. You can do likewise – and you even have the advantage of instantaneous electronic communication and social media. Take advantage of it! Simple, sincere, spiritual-minded greetings might go a long way in keeping our connections strong as we journey through this life together as fellow Christians.

So greet the saints, or send greetings through someone else. Which means that we must be willing to gladly pass along greetings from one Christian person to another, or from one group of Christians to another. Be a good steward of some other Christian’s desire to extend a greeting. Paul told the Colossians to give his greetings to the Laodiceans and to “the church in [Nympha’s] house” (Colossins 4:15). In our passage, Paul conveys greetings from his colleagues and from “[all] the saints.”  

Finally, be willing to gladly receive greetings from your fellow Christians. Don’t think it strange when other Christians enthusiastically greet you – they are doing what they are supposed to be doing! Maybe you are a bit stuck in your own little box, and maybe God’s way of unsticking you will be to have another believer come over and greet you. And while you’re tempted to think and feel, ‘Just leave me alone!’, I encourage you to resist the temptation, and open up your heart to the back and forth of Christian love. “Greet every saint…. All the saints greet you.” Or in 2 Corinthians 13: “Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.” (2 Corinthians 13:12-13) Let yourself be greeted warmly, and learn to do likewise.

Commenting on that 2 Corinthians 13 passage, Mark Seifrid writes, “Paul thereby reminds them that “the saints” … are bound to one another, not only in their local assembly, but in all places.”[5]

In Christ, we are indeed bound to one another. So then, let us live accordingly with warm expressions of brotherly affection.

Let us pray.



[1] From Big Truths for Little Kids: Teaching Your Children to Live for God by Susan Hunt and Richie Hunt. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1999.

[2] From my sermon “Paul Greets His Gospel Partners: An Exposition of Philippians 1:1-2.” February 11, 2018.

[3] G. Walter Hansen, The Letter to the Philippians (The Pillar New Testament Commentary). Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009: p. 330.

[4] D. A. Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996: p. 123.

[5] Mark A. Seifrid, The Second Letter to the Corinthians (The Pillar New Testament Commentary). Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014: p. 493.