Life-Study of Philippiansby Witness Lee
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
In this message we shall consider certain features of the church in Philippi. Philippi was the chief city in the province of Macedonia of the old Roman Empire (Acts 16:12). Through Paul’s first ministry journey to Europe (Acts 16:10-12), a church was raised up in this city, the first church in Europe.
In Philippians 1:1 Paul says, “Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.” This verse indicates that the church in Philippi was established in good order. Notice that Paul speaks of “the saints...with the overseers and deacons.” This is the only place in the New Testament where such an expression is found. It is significant that Paul speaks of the saints with the overseers and deacons. In every local church the unique group consists of the saints. The saints are the components of a local church. Among the saints there are leading ones, which the New Testament describes as elders or overseers. Overseers are the elders in a local church (Acts 20:17, 28). “Elder” denotes the person, whereas “overseer” denotes the function. When an elder functions, he exercises oversight. Hence, he is an overseer. Here overseers are mentioned instead of elders to indicate that the elders were proper in their responsibility.
In the second century, Ignatius taught that the overseers, or bishops, are higher than the elders. He claimed that the elders are local and that the overseers, bishops, exercise authority in an area greater than a locality. Ignatius’ concept, however, is altogether contrary to the Scriptures. The New Testament indicates clearly that the elders are the overseers and that the overseers are elders. Both titles refer to the same people. When an elder is carrying out his responsibility in the church, he is functioning as an overseer. The overseers, therefore, are not a group of people different from the elders.
In 1:1 Paul also mentions the deacons. Deacons are the serving ones in a local church under the direction of the overseers (1 Tim. 3:8). The English word deacon is an anglicized form of the Greek word diakonos, which means “a serving one.”
Philippians 1:1, which shows that a local church is composed of the saints with overseers to take the lead and deacons to serve, indicates that the church in Philippi was in good order. Paul did not say “to all the saints and the overseers and deacons”; he said “all the saints with the overseers and deacons.” The Greek preposition rendered with actually means “together with.” If Paul had used the conjunction and instead of the preposition with, this would indicate that in a local church there should be three groups of people—the saints, the overseers, and the deacons. But his use of with indicates that there are not three such groups in the church.
The concept of today’s organized Christianity is to have various distinct classes of people within the church. It is against the Bible, however, to have different classes of believers in a local assembly. The New Testament reveals that in a local church there is a unique group, and this group is composed of all the saints.
Writing under the leading of the Holy Spirit, Paul wrote in a deliberate, cautious way, using the preposition with and not the conjunction and. Paul’s use of the preposition instead of the conjunction is very significant. It indicates that in any locality there should be just one church, which must include all the saints in that locality. We thank the Lord that in spite of all the divisions, we have been recovered to the original standing of the church: that of one church in a locality including all the saints as the unique group of people.
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