“All the Saints”
The Most Neglected Understanding of the Church
1. Notice a unique detail from the greeting and the farewell of Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
a. 1:1 – “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Jesus who are Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.”
b. 4:21 – “Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you.”
c. 4:22 – “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.”
2. When Paul addressed the congregation at Philippi as “all the saints...who are at Philippi” he used what has become the most neglected description of the church.
1. Action and Reaction
a. All those who are in Christ at a place are frequently referred to as “the saints” from the book of Acts onward in the New Testament.
i. Acts 9:13 – “But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem.’” (cf. 8:1, and remember 26:10)
ii. Romans 1:7 – “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints...” (cf. 8:27; 15:25-26)
iii. Colossians 1:2 – “To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae...”
b. The term gradually began to be applied by some only to such persons as were supposed to be outstanding in spirituality, and misunderstandings resulted.
i. The custom of restricting the usage of the term “saints” to notable persons who were selected and honored officially developed.
ii. But, the difficulty of selecting which individuals were worthy of the honor became obvious, so regulations to limit the search came next.
iii. The doctrine developed that such individuals could store a reservoir of merit by their good deeds and blameless lives.
iv. After a while it was assumed that their reservoir of merit is available to other humble Christians in answer to prayers offered to the saint.
v. The worship of the saints easily developed from that practice.
c. Now we have gone from one extreme to the other: having been influence by the idea that “saints” are those few Christians with especially flawless character, we hardly ever applied the term to the congregations.
i. Very few members of the church would consciously think of themselves as saints; most would think it improper, even presumptuous.
ii. We’ve lost an understanding of ourselves that would enrich our lives and enable us to impact the culture in which we live.
iii. And it’s largely because we’ve forgotten what the term “saints” originally denoted, so let’s turn our attention in that direction.
2. About the Word the Apostle Used
a. The term Paul used for “saints” means “people who are sacred to God” or “holy ones.”
i. The idea is that He has set them apart for Himself.
ii. They are dedicated to Him, or consecrated for sacred purposes.
iii. They are separated, or different, from others simply because the Lord has made them his own.
b. The term is used in the New Testament in ways which tend to draw us away from the misunderstandings that we have described.
i. It usually refers to members of the church.
ii. It is always used in the plural (except for Phil. 4:21), and it speaks of all the believers in a place as a group.
iii. In very few instances does the use of the word refer to their character; instead, it has to do with their position in Christ and, as a result, where they stand in relation to God.
3. Applying the Concept of Sainthood
a. Saints understand themselves in relation to God.
i. Philippians 3:12
ii. Deuteronomy 7:6-8
iii. 1 Peter 2:9-10
b. Saints value themselves for who God thinks they are.
i. Ephesians 5:3
ii. Philippians 3:2, 19
iii. Philippians 4:8
c. Saints treat each other in a manner which is appropriate among those who are valued by God and secure in who they are.
i. Romans 16:2
ii. Philippians 2:3-4, 14-15, 29
iii. Philippians 4:1
1. Understanding the church this way will give us a strength and an influence which cannot be gained in some other way.
2. We can be saints anywhere, but we can only be saints in Christ Jesus.