As I write this, the current price of a U.S. postage stamp is fifty-five cents. That means, essentially, if I give my mail carrier two quarters and a nickel, he’ll make sure a letter I’ve written gets to my friend on the other side of the country. Even to Alaska. Even to a house in a remote part of the state. Even if the house is on the tippy-top of a very tall mountain. Even during a snowstorm. That makes sending a letter one of the greatest bargains going today.
It’s not just the small cost that makes sending or receiving a letter wonderful. A handwritten letter communicates something that an email or an Instagram DM or a phone call cannot. (Remember phone calls?) A letter is personal, not just because of the words written, but because of how they’re written: in the sender’s unique handwriting. A letter also takes time and more effort than other, more modern forms of sending a message, and that says something in and of itself.
Just think about the last time you received an honest-to-goodness letter in the mail—not a bill or a package from Amazon or an account statement, but an actual letter from a friend. Didn’t it feel, well, special? Much more valuable than two quarters and a nickel, anyway.
Paul’s letter to the Christians at Philippi was special, the nearest thing to being there in person. He couldn’t be there, of course, because he was in prison. But he wanted to impart something to his faithful friends, those who had become partners in the gospel (Philippians 1:5). Philippians is essentially a thank-you note for financial support. The theme is joy, and the tone is one of gratitude—to the recipients but also to God. In fact, if Paul had decided not to mention his current imprisonment in the letter itself, it would be hard for us as modern readers to deduce that reality on our own. This is simply not the sort of letter one would think emanated from the heart of an innocent man living under the weight of suffering.
But here it is, all the same.
Philippians is powerful, because it is an artifact of something nearly too good to be true. In the kingdom of God, the meek inherit the earth, the poor are blessed beyond measure, and those in prison find reason to sing. So, when Paul writes “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:2), it’s not merely a formality. He knows the reality of God’s amazing grace, and he knows it’s available to his friends in Philippi. And he also knows what it’s like to experience the peace that “surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7); it is his heartfelt desire that his brothers and sisters in Christ be wrapped up in it too.
This simple verse is a beautiful picture of the kingdom. In earthly terms, Paul is the one in need. He’s in prison. He should be asking for help. But he sees the world through the lens of heaven, so he is content, and his desire is for his friends to receive the gifts—namely the grace and peace of God.
Written by John Greco