Last year I visited the Getty Center in Los Angeles when Vincent van Gogh’s painting “Irises” was exhibited. I came as close as permitted, then I slowly backed up and admired it from a distance.
When I examined “Irises” close up, the small brush strokes of blue, white, and yellow paint appeared random. But the further I moved away, those seemingly insignificant brush strokes revealed beautiful blue-purple irises in varying stages of bloom.
The apostle Paul’s final words to the church in Philippi is a little like van Gogh’s brush strokes when observed a breath away.
In the past, I glossed over the final verses in this letter as I saw no obvious words of instruction, unlike earlier, when we read “Rejoice in the Lord always” or “Be anxious for nothing.”
But in v.21-22, Paul writes:
“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.”
Two things stand out from these two verses:
1. What makes someone a saint isn’t his or her behavior but his or her relationship to Christ Jesus.
Earlier Paul proclaimed the centrality of Christ and the gospel in his preaching.
2. Paul reminds the Philippians there are believers beyond their local church (such as those who are with him in Rome and especially those of Caesar’s household).
It’s easy to focus only on the friends we have in our local church and forget the body of Christ, the church universal, which includes brothers and sisters who live in different parts of our city, state, and country.
We can easily forget our persecuted brothers and sisters in countries where they can be imprisoned or even executed for their faith, like as Asia Bibi, a mother who has been under threat of execution for almost six years in her country. Her crime? She offered water to a coworker, who follows a different religion.
So Paul ends his letter with these words in v.23:
“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”
Paul began his letter with grace and peace from God and he ends with grace.
Once again, he reminds the believers of God’s grace as the basis for their relationship with God and by extension, each other. It is nothing they have done or will do. They can have joy because their salvation is a grace gift through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection — a gospel of grace.
Today: Read Philippians 4:21-23