I Hold You in My Heart
Philippians 1:7-11 – Philippians: Life Together
Second Sunday after Epiphany – January 14, 2018 (am)
Creatures crave community.
When God first made the man and woman and placed them in the garden, He made them to be worshipers in conscious, loving fellowship with Himself, and with one another. He made them to live in loving community. In fact, as Adam and Eve entered into the most intimately engaged expression of human relationship, marriage, God designed their love for one another to produce life, in miraculous imitation of His own inner-trinitarian love.
When they were then drawn into disobedience and sin, the most tragic result was the utter disruption of loving, trusting relationship. They were separated from God—spiritual death. And they were estranged from one another—they recognized that they were exposed, strangely compromised, ashamed—immense and tragic loss!
Life on this earth ever since then could be told in terms of fractured relationship—certainly between creatures and their Creator, but also between themselves and one another—between this group and that, this family and that, this ethnicity and that. For any who are familiar with the story of the Bible, the biggest people-divide ever was that between God’s chosen people—those He appointed for the birth of His promised King Who would restore peace and rest—and all other nations, the divide between Jew and Gentile. We still see that divide today—it is international news on most days of the week.
But when God’s promised King finally did come—Jesus Christ, Who provided the way for people to be reconciled to God and to one another—one of the primary ways the outcome of His solution is described in Scripture is that it breaks down the wall of separation not only between us and God, but between us and one another. The apostle Paul wrote (Eph.2): 13 But now in Christ Jesus you non-Jews who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 … that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. This oneness is one of the surest signs, the clearest characteristics, of the church, His New Covenant community. And tasting of the oneness enabled by the gospel, of the love of genuine community, is one of the sweetest experiences in the church. Yet it’s still a by-product of gospel fellowship. It’s not the primary aim. It characterizes gospel community, it doesn’t create it.
Just like peaceful and loving unity in marriage is not an aim in itself, but a by-product of the husband and wife’s humble and diligent pursuit of obedience of God’s Word where it teaches on marriage, even so the peaceful, loving unity we crave in our church community is not the aim, but is a by-product of our being on mission together in obedience to Christ.
Paul is celebrating the love and unity he feels with this Philippian church here in our passage. We heard last week how his thanksgiving to God for them (3) flows forth as joyful prayer (4). Now, today we see his defense of the fact that it is right for (him) to feel this way about (them) (7-8), then we hear the actual content of his prayer (9-11).
And as Paul says this, he’s setting the standard for what is possible for us with regard to the intimacy and joy of our life together. We’re so often satisfied with so little, making two mistakes: 1) we give up on the hope of the sort of impassioned devotion the early church seemed to feel for one another, and 2) we mistakenly believe that whatever love and community we do experience results from setting our sights on that outcome as an end in itself. But that just doesn’t happen! Community comes from a shared mission. Soldiers know that! Sports fans know it! But the church can so often forget it, and try to find it everywhere else except where it actually comes from. Let’s explore this text in two parts and see the sweet, gospel-forged community between Paul and this church.
A Window into a Loving, Christian Community
What is undeniably clear in this passage is that there’s a deeply devoted, loving relationship between Paul and the Philippians. He even refers to it elsewhere. Remember how he spoke so fondly of them to the Corinthians (2Co.8:1-5)—how they gave sacrificially, and joyfully, even out of their poverty, giving primarily to God, then to the others?
Well, here, now, we’re hearing Paul talk directly to these Macedonians, not just about them. He’s constantly thankful to God (3) for them because of (their) partnership in the gospel (5). They are all partakers with (him) of God’s grace (7). And because of that, Paul said: 7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart—their hearts are knit together (cf. Melick 60)—for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. They were with him regardless of his circumstances. If he was in prison, as he was when he wrote this, they were with him just as wholeheartedly as when he was preaching the gospel in a synagogue or in the streets. And because of that, it is right for (Paul) to feel such deep and loving devotion to them.
Christian community is forged in the fire of shared devotion to the spread of the gospel, the fulfillment of the great commission. It is strengthened as we suffer together—persecution, imprisonment—just like when soldiers fight together in war. Only, the cause of Christ, life in the Spirit, the Kingdom of God, cause that bond to run so much deeper, to be so much more noble, so longer-lasting, that it is unique! Christian community is unparalleled in richness, sacred, almost inexpressible!
When Paul says, it is right for me to feel this way (7), right is the word righteous, just. And the word feel, is one of the key words in Philippians—ten of Paul’s twenty-three uses of this word come in this letter (Martin 68). It’s the same word he uses when he says (2:5): 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. It means much more than a mental exercise or emotional reaction. It signifies rather ‘sympathetic interest and concern, expressing… the action of the heart as well as the intellect (Michael). It is the outworking of thought as it determines motives, and through motives the conduct of the person involved. Paul’s disposition toward the Philippians was a righteous devotion of heart and mind.
It honored God, was we see: 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. It is the very love of Christ Himself, poured into the heart of Paul that loves the Philippians through him! Nothing else could explain the intensity, the depth, the purity of his love! It arises out of their shared passion for the gospel. It is purified as they witness the life-changing power of the gospel, and suffer under the opposition that arises as it spreads. It is best when it consumes them body and soul! And that conviction is what drives Paul’s prayers.
A Prayer that Expresses and Expands Such Community
9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment…. Almost certainly he’s talking about knowledge of God; Paul uses these words in his prayers at the end of the thanksgiving paragraphs in each of his four epistles from prison (here, Eph.1:17; Col.1:9-10; Phm.6). And all discernment is surely the practical wisdom that flows forth from a genuine knowledge of God in everyday life. It’s the unique quality of true believers that sets them apart from the world around them and, when resentment of the gospel quiets down, this is what people admire in Christians.
9 … It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent—there’s that practical wisdom—and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ—there is our ultimate hope—11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God—He brings it about in us.
This is Paul’s prayer for the Philippians. It is one of my favorite prayers in the whole Bible. More often than not I included it when I sign my name to those cards the staff sends weekly after we pray for the requests you write in the Friendship Register. It is a prayer that arises out of the depth and breadth of love that characterizes the fellowship of a truly gospel-motivated, gospel-saturated church community.
When we pick up on Paul’s heart here, our prayer is not: O God, increase our love. Rather, our prayer is: O God increase our gospel zeal, our heart for Your mission, for the spread of Your Kingdom, such that love grows up among us and cannot be contained, such that we love one another so fully, so deeply, so devotedly and unselfishly, that we, like Paul, have to defend the fact that it is right for (us) to feel this way! This is what life together can look like, and should, even today!
This is what we’re praying for as we ask, seek, and knock for God to develop us into a community of worshipers that bears much fruit as we live and proclaim the gospel with authenticity and passion.
Let me ask us a few brief questions.
- Do our lives center on the gospel? Is it the driving purpose and compelling force in our lives?
- Does our fellowship here center on gospel celebration, gospel proclamation, gospel advance? Do we seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness? (Mat.6:33)
- Do we recognize that any lack of community we sense in our life together as a body of believers more likely reveals a lack of zeal for the mission of the church than it does a lack of relational love within the church—that as we grow in our passion and devotion to see the gospel spread, even against all odds in our day, the more our hearts will be knit together with one another in our mission, the way we see Paul’s heart knit together with the Philippians here?
The gospel is the story of God’s love for us, expressed in the Person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ, that awakens His love within us to the point where it surprises even us! When this gospel takes root in our hearts, it accomplishes at least two things:
- it transforms us into lovers of God and of people, and
- it reorients the direction of our lives such that the advancement of the gospel—the spread of God’s kingdom and righteousness—is our highest priority.
That is just what Paul was praying for in the Philippians when he wanted them increasingly to approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God (10-11). He wanted them to be captivated by the Kingdom of God until it comes in all its fullness. When this is happening in the local church, our love for one another, our community, the quality of our life together just explodes into the sort of profound affection Paul is expressing here.
I mentioned soldiers and sports fans earlier. When your team is playing, and there’s much at stake—it’s playoff time—and they’re doing well, you become fast friends with total strangers who love the same team you love. If you’re watching in a public place, you’re slapping high fives and hugging and singing together with no knowledge at all of one another. You never learn that this guy is about to lose his job, that’s why he’s here, or that one’s marriage is about to fail. You don’t know that this one’s daughter is struggling with her math, or that one’s closest aunt was just diagnosed with cancer. Yet you’re enjoying a rich sense of community because of your common love, your common commitment, your common mission. How much more does God have in store for His church, whom He’s saved by the blood of His Son, whom He’s adopted into His family by giving them a common Spirit, a common name, a common cause, and an eternal future together free of all pain?
We crave community. And we’re willing to be satisfied with so much less than in available to us in Christ. We’ll fellowship around a love of birds or rabbits or dogs or architecture or literature or music. But my friends, we’ve been made to fellowship together around our love for God, our love for His creatures, and a love to introduce these two to one another. No shared mission will ever rival that in terms of providing the community we crave!
Let’s now celebrate Him Who provided for our community by reconciling us to God and each other.