“I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare…. I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon. But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier…. so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor men like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me” (Phil 2:19-30).
Paul wraps up this theologically rich and spiritually challenging chapter in Philippians with some more practical, personal words to the community at Philippi. (Remember this is a personal letter that had no chapter divisions originally.) Paul personally commends two fellow ministers he plans to send to the Philippian church to encourage them and bring a more detailed report of Paul’s current situation.
We could draw a number of lessons and insights from the strong bond he shares with these two guys. We could talk about mentor relationships (Paul and Timothy), loyalty and service to one another in Christ, taking genuine interest in those whom we minister to and so on. However, I want to highlight a more subtle but important characteristic of the Apostle Paul.
Have you ever noticed how many times Paul adds his signature qualifier phrase “in Christ” or “in the Lord” in his letters?
We have grown so used to this subtle linguistic touch that it has crept into common usage in Christian circles and for many has lost any particular meaning. It is classic “Christianese.” Yet, why did Paul so naturally add this little qualifier to his letters in so many countless ways? What meaning did it have for Paul? What does it tell us about his personal beliefs and Christ-centered perspective on all of reality? Why do we not follow his example?
First, let’s admit that such language is usually grammatically unnecessary. Read through the passage above and remove the underlined phrases in red and you still understand his point. Paul’s “in the Lord”/”in Christ” qualifier is theologically rooted; not grammatically necessary.
Second, we cannot assign to “in Christ” and it’s variants a universal, inflexible, and exclusive meaning. But as a general rule Paul seems to mean “in relationship with Christ” or “in harmony with the will of Christ” by the phrase. As someone else put it: “The meaning is apparently “I testify in harmony with Christ, by his power, and in the domain of his guidance.”
Third, what I find most telling about this recurring “Paulism” is that Paul was absolutely, thoroughly immersed in a reality redefined and colored by Christ. Christ has invaded every corner of Paul’s life, repainting everything with Christ-colored brushstrokes — even to the extent of infecting Paul’s ordinary letter-writing vocabulary. Paul’s encounter with the risen Christ on the Damascus road was so dramatically intense and theologically definitive that Paul would no longer view anything as lying outside the sphere of the Risen Christ’s influence.
To be quite honest, I bet Paul was kind of obnoxious to hang out with. He was probably the kind of Christian who had to bring Jesus into every conceivable conversation topic. Whether you’re watching football, grilling burgers, washing your car or school shopping — Paul would somehow find a way to bring God into the mix, doing all those ordinary things “in the Lord.” Sunsets were smiles sent from God. Rain showers were a reminder of Christ’s living water. Suffering and trials were cauldron’s of character formation. Friends like Timothy and Epaphraditus were brothers and sons “in the Lord” and in the work of the gospel.
For Paul, everything is “in the Lord Jesus Christ.” That is, Christ stands as the bright, life-giving sun at the center of our personal and corporate galaxies, and everything else falls in the orbit and gravitational pull of Christ the Lord. So, may we not skim over these subtle qualifiers of Paul in his letters. Let them spur us on in our own relationship with Christ and fuel our own desire to place our entire lives within the gravitational pull and transforming orbit of Christ as we live more fully “in the Lord.”
Originally posted August 25, 2009. From my Dear Philippians series.