Few of Paul’s books end abruptly, and none of them ends without thought. In this book, as in others, Paul’s thoughts ran back over the work he had written, and his final remarks were added to impress his most important themes upon his readers. These last verses (Phil. 4:20-23) contain a twofold doxology interspersed with a few brief words of greeting. The doxology has the glory of God and the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ as its theme.
What is the glory of God mentioned in these last verses of Philippians? It is not exactly the same thing as the glory mentioned in verse 19, although the words are identical. In verse 19 Paul is talking of glory in the sense that God’s glory expresses God’s character. God’s glory is the outward expression of what God is internally. Hence, Paul is really saying that God shall continue to supply the need of the Christian out of His inexhaustible might, wisdom, love, holiness, truth, and other perfections. However, when Paul prays in verse 20 that glory might be given to God, he is thinking of glory in another sense. Here glory is praise. He is really looking forward to the day when God shall be praised and honored as He should and must be forever. There is a picture in the fourth and fifth chapters of Revelation of how this will happen. When Paul closed his letter to the Philippians he was looking forward to the day when God should be praised in this way and when all honor should be given to the Lord Jesus Christ, before whom every knee should bow. In this desire the first part of this doxology sums up much of the teaching of Philippians.
Paul had been speaking of the glory of God, which is certainly an exalted theological concept, but he no sooner speaks of this than his mind immediately turns to those who would actually give God glory. Of whom did he think? In these two short verses Paul’s thoughts run to four distinct bodies of believers. First, there are the Christians at Philippi. Second, there are the Christian leaders who are in Paul’s immediate company. Third, there is the larger company of believers in Rome. Finally, there is the special body of Christians who were employed in various services related to the imperial court. Paul knew that it was these very human brothers and sisters in Christ, some of whom had been sharply critical of him, who would one day join in the great heavenly chorus to sing God’s praises. He rejoiced that they would give God glory.
The final verse of the letter to the Philippians says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” God’s grace! There is nothing more significant that Paul could have used to end his epistle. If we have understood anything at all about this letter, we have understood that the message of Christianity from beginning to end is grace, God’s unmerited favor to human beings. Do we deserve anything from God? Not at all! We deserve nothing. We have run from God, and still, even after we are born again, we run from Him. Yet, when we were far from Him, God came to us dying for our sin, rising for our justification, and now living to enter the life of those who believe in Him and to guide them in holiness. God loves us and will love us forever. That is grace. It lies at the heart of the gospel.
Finally, Paul does not only mention the word grace, he also mentions the Lord Jesus Christ. This is significant, too, for it is only through the Lord Jesus Christ that we know God’s grace and indeed continue to experience it. In fact, it is only through Jesus Christ that we experience any spiritual blessing. Think how many times the name of the Lord Jesus Christ is mentioned in this letter. The letter begins with the name of Jesus; it ends with His name. He is mentioned in every conceivable relationship.
As I reflect on our journey together through this study my heart is warmed, thinking of the preeminence, honor, and great glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is our life; He is the hope, prayer, song, and joy of Christians in all ages – of Paul and his friends at Philippi, of the Roman Christians, and now of our congregations today. May this great theme – the Lord Jesus Christ and His grace – bless your heart today, and may it continually do so until that day when we shall know Him perfectly even as we are known. Amen!
Philippians 4:20-23 Reflection Questions:
Do you think about and pray for the Christians you associate with, even if they are objectionable and may be extremely critical of you?
What is one thing God has shown you through this study?