Loving the Church

7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:7-8)

I love seeing, reading about the Apostle Paul, and learning about how he interacted with his fellow Christians as we have here in Philippians 1. How does this man, this pastor, this brother in Christ feel about Christians around Him? How does he interact with them, how does he respond to them? How does he speak of them and pray for them? I think if we study Paul’s life, his social life with his spiritual brothers and sisters, we can take that and better understand how we are to think about and respond to our brothers and sisters in Christ. That is, how we can think about and respond to each other.

Paul gives us instruction in writing on how we can live lives that are pleasing to God. If you love God, then here is how you can express that love. Jesus said, “If you love me keep my commands.” “If you love me then here is how you can express it,” and much of the New Testament is either the Gospels, which contain the life of Christ and His teachings, or the epistles written by the Apostle Paul. So they give us instruction. But not only do they give us instruction, they also live life for us to see. So with Christ we get to follow His life in the Gospels, right? How did He live life? Matthew, Mark, Luke and John help us with that. It is similar with Paul. We also get a glimpse into his life. We see suffering, we see exuberant times, we see conflict, we see possible physical pain, we see emotional struggles, we seem him as a teacher, and we see him as a prisoner. And in all of this, in his just living life, we see examples of ways he lived out his teaching.

I don’t know about you, but I love having people in my life who are living the Christian life that I can look to as an example. Men in my life, my fellow elders, our deacons, and many others of you that I get to rub shoulders with and observe and seek counsel from. There are some settings that I get to be a part of where I may be around people that we may look up to as great teachers, leaders of various movements, authors of really good Christian books. People that we may be around from time to time on a very limited basis. But you know what? I don’t really know men or women like that. I may meet them, but I don’t really get to see how they live. But we get to see that with each other. Whether good or bad, we get to see that with each other. I feel that way about Paul at times. If you spend large amounts of time reading Paul’s epistles, really studying them, laboring in them, it’s like you get to know him. And there is great benefit, I believe in that.

Today I want us to see Paul. I want us to see his heart the best we can as God has revealed it to us in His Word. I want us to take from him a way in which we can relate to each other as those who have been tied together by the strength of spiritual bonds through our Lord and Savior. Paul will further reveal to us an element of joy in his life, a reason for being thankful. And his thankfulness is rooted in the gospel of Christ, but the gospel brings with it many things. One thing the gospel brings to us is other people who have embraced it. And so part of our joy can be found in other gospel-oriented, gospel-embracing, gospel-loving people.

It’s funny how sharing something in common with another person can bring those two people together in richer fellowship. Even sharing little things, inconsequential things, can make that happen at times. We were vacationing in Arkansas a couple weeks ago and Colton and I were walking along the bank of a small lake in a state park. There was an older man sitting on a five gallon bucket holding two fishing poles, with his line in the lake in front of him. As we walked by I asked, ”Catching anything?” He said, “No, not much.” I said, “Do you fish here much?” He said, “No, how about you?” I said, “No, it’s my first time here. I’m from the Dallas area.” So far he hadn’t even looked up at me, but as soon as I said that I was from the Dallas area, he stood up, laid those poles aside, looked me in the eye with a smile and said, “I’ve got a daughter and son-in-law there.” He gave me their names, asked if I knew them, and went on to talk about them and other family for a few minutes. All of the sudden we had something in common. Not really so much, but something, and we were friends.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we have much more in common than that. We have Christ, the gospel, spiritual life, and spiritual union. We have a common inheritance, a common goal, common work to do. Paul celebrates his gospel relationships, He is joyful and thankful for them, and this morning I want us to see some of those expressions of them. Three ways:

  • He has them in his heart
  • They share in gospel ministry
  • He longs to be with them

 
In verse 7 Paul writes, “It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart”

What “way about you”? Verse 3 – thankful, joyful! It is right, Paul says, that he carry with him this perpetual attitude about his fellow Christians, a spirit of thankfulness and joy. They are not passing friends, mere acquaintances, or distant neighbors. No, he holds them dear, he holds them in his heart. He is not a disinterested friend, they are not people that he must just put up with. They are in his heart. Paul here is talking about an emotional bond that held them together. He says he feels this way, has them in his heart with thanksgiving for all of them. It is right for us to feel this way toward every believer.

The heart here is the center of the inner man, it is who we are apart from the flesh that we see. When Paul says this, he is expressing more than just a feeling toward them, but also stating a commitment to every one of these believers. This is a model of Christian friendship, showing a commitment to a positive way of thinking about each other. The tie was strong, the bond was incredibly powerful. I have you in my heart. How do we do in this area? We can ask ourselves. We know from this letter to the Philippians that the church and Paul’s encouragement to them was not without conflict, from chapter 4. 

Paul expresses this same kind of affection even to more difficult church people like those in Corinth. The Christians there were really difficult. That church had all kinds of problems. They were immature and self-centered. Gross sin was being looked over there, there were problems with people over and over again, and yet what did Paul say to them in 2 Corinthians 7:3? “I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together.” Conflict, difficult conflict, could not rip them from Paul’s heart! 

Look, if we are just friends because we both like fishing, if that is what binds us together, then you know what? It probably won’t take much to rip us apart. But it’s not fishing, or baseball, or scrapbooking, or music, or any of those things that bring us together, it is the blood of Jesus Christ!

17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:17-22)

4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:4-6)

Our unity is not in trivial things, our unity is in Christ Jesus. So who are we to decide that we are no longer going to affectionately hold others in our hearts? But here is the thing, we are not above, saying, “Forget you” in our hearts toward others in the body. There are some things that can drive wedges between us where God never intends wedges to be. We may be tempted to separate from others because of hurt feelings, embarrassment over sin, envy, pride, selfishness, and so many other things. Don’t let that happen in your life.

Paul was thankful, he was full of joy over his Christian brothers and sisters, and it was right that he held them in his heart. They were united by Christ. But now notice what Paul says next: “because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.” He describes this union as being partakers together of grace, whether he was in prison or whether he was defending and confirming the gospel. This church, they were true partners in ministry. They were with Paul. The occasion of Paul’s suffering, his imprisonment, gave the Philippians an opportunity to demonstrate their partnership with him in ministry.

Their partnership in ministry was an interesting one. One way in which they were partners in a practical way was that the Philippian church provided financially for him, we see that in chapter 4. Another way was that they shared in his suffering by sending Epaphroditus with their gifts, and in the way they suffered by enduring the same struggle in their city, a Roman colony, they way Paul did in Rome in prison. So they were suffering as he was, and they were sharing in ministry by their financial support. Do you see how they had these things in common? They had common goals, gospel ministry, by sending support and by ministering in their own hometown as Paul was doing in Rome, even under the terrible threats of governmental retaliation. These things further tie them together, bind them together. They shared a focus on Christ, because of their spiritual life in Christ. 

If, for me, life is about Christ, everything is about Him in all that I do, then my focus is on Christ – loving Him, serving Him, sharing Him with others, making Him known – and if for you life is about Christ, everything is about Him in all that you do, then your focus is on Christ – loving Him, serving Him, sharing Him with others, making Him known. If we are both on the same track, this is our life, then we will be drawn to each other because of the commonality of the most important things that we hold dear. I think that is at least in part what we see here in verse 7: “I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.”

Now, if Christ is marginal to me, and loving Him is marginal in my life and in yours, and my main focus is on money and yours is on being liked by others, then, practically speaking, there’s not much holding us together, right? Don’t get me wrong, we are still tied together in Christ – positionally we are in one family, we belong to Christ – but practically, if we lose that focus, if we get sidetracked by the trivial, we lose the closeness, the joy, the spirit of thankfulness for each other that we could have otherwise. Do you see that?

We must be constantly evaluating our lives to see where we are headed, what are we loving, what is at the center of our lives. Is it Christ, and Christ-exalting service? Can we look each other in the eye and say we, you and me, we are focused on Christ, we share the same closely held goals in Christ, and with joy, let that work out into ministry together? Are we doing that, do we share that together?

Lastly, let’s look at verse 8. Paul is moved here to make an exceptionally strong declaration of his love for these Christian brothers. Here is what he says: “For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” Paul is not embarrassed to express his strong desire for his friends. When he says, “God is my witness,” he is stressing the intensity of his longing. His longing for his friends is far beyond description, and it’s like only God can attest to its strength. 

Have you ever just really longed to be with someone? Maybe your spouse that has been away for a while, a child that has moved away, and you haven’t seen him or her for a while? A good friend in another state or country. Maybe even a loved one who has left this life and you long to seem them. You feel it in your gut, in your heart, how you want to be with them. When I travel it’s not my house I long to come back to, it’s my family I long to be with. With Paul it’s like only God can measure his love and yearning, as he calls God to be his witness, it’s like it is beyond human love. Especially when he says that he yearns for them with the affection of Jesus Christ.

Affection here refers to the inward parts or literally the bowels, there is a great emotional component here. He brings Christ into the picture. For the fifth time in this opening section of the letter we see Paul emphasize “all.” All are loved by Paul, or loved by Christ in Paul, and Paul in Christ. Divine love embraces all, it brings all in. This is what we are called to! So think about this:

7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:7-8)

Paul has them all in his heart, in his inner man, that is the church people in Philippi. They share in gospel ministry together, they have the same goals, which are exalting Christ in prison, in persecution, in suffering, in financial giving. They are in ministry together, they are mutually united in Christ in one family, and so they work together doing the work of Christ. And with all of this there is a deep, emotional, God-given, affection that extends to the core of Paul’s being. Unity, in heart, in work, with the affection of Jesus Christ. Wow. Does this describe you and me as a church? Is this where we are with each other? If not, if we are not quit there, how do we get there?

Let me give some suggestions. If you are struggling experiencing this unity, here are some things you can do:

  • Begin praying for your brothers and sisters in Christ here – I mean, specifically pray for them. Use the prayer list, ask a few people how you can pray for them, take the church directory and pray for each person every week. Prayer, sincere prayer, can bind your heart together with others in the body.
  • Interact weekly with others in this body – Get to know those you don’t know. Have lunch, coffee, or ice cream. Make a phone call, have a family over, spend some time building involvement with your Christian brothers and sisters that you will be spending eternity with. When was the last time that you initiated a get-together with someone you don’t know well from our church?
  • Get plugged into ministry with others from our church – Ask someone, “How are you ministering within this body?” and see if you can work alongside them. Ask an elder or a deacon how you can get involved. Share in gospel ministry with each other.
  • Find ways to meet practical needs of others in our body – Is there a mother struggling to keep up with her responsibilities? Help her out. Someone having mechanical problems with their car and you can help? In the name of Christ, help! Someone need childcare, or maybe just an encouraging word? Can you counsel someone struggling through life? Jump in and do it for God’s glory.
  • Are you struggling in a relationship with someone in our body? Seek to resolve known issues right away. Don’t let conflict or any other thing interrupt the unity that you have in Christ with another believer. Seek to do what you can biblically to make it right, so that your relationship with that person can mirror the very unity that Christ has with His Father.

 
We have been called to live life together in the joy of Christ. Paul is celebrating that here, and we can celebrate with that same joy! As we do these things, or things like this, our hearts will be drawn through Christ to each other as a family, as a spiritual family. So that we may have these attitudes that Paul had, when he said:

7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:7-8)