Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons… (Philippians 1:1 NRSV)
Paul addresses his letter to the “all the saints” in Philippi. As the letter unfolds, it is clear that not everyone is well-behaved or “saintly” in this congregation. In fact, he seems to suggest some people should know their place and be humble when he mentions the “bishops and deacons” after everyone else. It also becomes clear that he is not speaking just to some of the “good folks” at Philippi and ignoring the bad ones. Paul’s address is for everyone, equally.
So, what have they done to deserve such an accolade? After all, “saint” is reserved for special people, right? “Saint” must refer to those who exhibit godliness and righteousness in a special was and give the rest of us an example. According to my Greek lexicon, the word Paul uses, which is regularly translated as “saint,” means, on the one hand “to be holy, morally upright, pure.” That’s a high bar I’m not sure I ever clear. But the word also means, “to be set apart to or by God, consecrated.” It is the word used to identify the covenant people of Israel – all of them.
Paul was talking to all of the Philippians. Paul is talking to you. Martin Luther taught that we humans are, in Latin, “simul justus et peccator.” That means we are saint and sinner, simultaneously, often not knowing which. We have been set apart for God, consecrated to be a holy presence in the world. And we screw up just as much as anyone else. Through God’s mercy and grace, we always get invited to get up, turn back to the way of Christ, and be saints.