The Love We Need in Churches Today – Philippians 1:7-8
By: Northern Seminary
I was still a young pastor when I was given leave so I could visit and study churches which were growing. I wanted to discover their secret.
I did discover a secret but it was a secret which hindered their growth and didn’t help it. Each of these churches had serious tensions in their pastoral teams.
Church number one had pastoral staff, just not a pastoral team. No one understood what others were doing. There was little coordination.
Church number two had great people, and they took their work seriously. But it was their own work they took seriously, and there was little evidence that they cared what anyone else was doing. I asked one of the pastors why they didn’t pray for each other. He said it hadn’t occurred to them to do that. Really?
Church number three had leaders who wanted to leave. Some said openly they couldn’t respect others, and they just kept themselves to themselves so they could survive.
Before long each of those churches was struggling. The lack of love among the leadership spread and damaged others.
Sincere love between Christians can be in dangerously short supply in many churches. When Paul wrote to the Philippians he stressed the depth of his affection for them. Perhaps Paul had heard that some in the church questioned whether he truly valued them and their support for his work. Paul wanted them to be in no doubt at all.
7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
Here Paul speaks about loving and about sharing. Those two themes are strongly interrelated.
First, Paul is very clear that he loves these fellow believers from the depth of his being.
His care for them shines through in both verses.
“I have you in my heart,” he tells them in verse 7.
“I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus,” he adds in verse 8.
And, he says, God is my witness when I tell you that. God would vouch that this is true. It wasn’t unusual back then and it isn’t unusual now for people to say things they know you want to hear. Some politicians make promises they know they can’t keep. So why do it? What they promise is what the voters want to hear, and that will win them votes. But it’s not just politicians who say what people want to hear. It’s common. We compliment people on their appearance or their home when we wouldn’t want to wear those clothes or live in that house. Then there’s the restaurant server who takes down my order and tells me, “That’s a great choice.” Probably anything I ordered would be a ‘great choice,’ but the server wants me to feel good about my selection.
Paul doesn’t want the Philippians to think he’s simply flattering them when he declares his affection. So he made God his witness that his words were the truth, and that was quite a statement. No orator invoked the name of God, not unless their words were one hundred per cent truth. Paul’s were. He meant what he said. “God can testify I am sincere,” he promised.
And he uses two body metaphors to describe how deeply he loves them. He holds them in his heart, and, as translated in the King James Version, he longs after all of them “in the bowels of Jesus Christ.”
A reference to bowels sounds strange and inelegant, and a very inappropriate way of expressing love for others. But the Greek word for bowels is splagchna. It’s a word they used to describe the heart, liver, and lungs, some of the most important organs of the body. Because they were so vital for life, people of ancient times thought of the splagchna as the location of deep emotions like love or anger. Paul uses that way of speaking to express the depth of his love for the Philippians, but (thankfully) modern translations don’t mention bowels but substitute a word like “affection” or “compassion.”
Paul certainly cared for these Christians very deeply. If Christians today are to care like that it’ll mean at least these three things.
First, we seek to give rather than to get.
I’d frequently find Margaret at the manse door with a basket of food. “Who’s this one for?” I learned to ask. Margaret would name a family who had very little, and she’d explain she wanted to help but didn’t want them to know where the help came from. Margaret and her husband took very seriously Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount that “when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret” (Matt. 6:3-4). I would pass on the gift, and a family would not only eat well but know they were loved.
Second, we don’t loathe our sisters and brothers in Christ.
I find it awkward to suggest that Christians can hate others. But they can and some do.
Arthur Blessitt is the rather extraordinary evangelist who began carrying a cross around America from the late 1960s and eventually all around the world. In his book, Turned on to Jesus, he describes the first church he pastored while still a college student. It was in rural Mississippi, and had only twenty members.
At one of his first services, Blessitt called on two men, sitting on opposite sides of the room, to take up the offering. Slowly, reluctantly, they got to their feet and passed the plates. Later, an old church member told Blessitt he’d made his first mistake. The two men, Haynes and Lynde, hated each other’s guts, hadn’t talked in twenty years, carried guns and had threatened to shoot one another a hundred times.
Blessitt asked around, found that no one seemed to know why the feud between the two families had begun, but it had been going on for more than forty years. He decided it was un-Christian and had to stop.
Blessitt visited Haynes. The man listed all his grievances against Lynde, which, Blessitt concluded, “didn’t amount to a pig’s oink.” He challenged him to forgive, but he wouldn’t.
Blessitt visited Lynde. He responded in the same way about Haynes, but Blessitt persuaded him to go with him to see the other man. Lynde said, “I’ll do it for you as a personal favor, Pastor, but if he so much as blinks at me the wrong way, I’ll go for him.”
The hatred between the two men was palpable as soon as they were together. Blessitt got straight to the point. “If you two don’t get together, I’m going to ask the church to vote you both out, or dismiss me as pastor.”
Both protested how much the church needed them, especially as they were the only carpenters and the church wanted to put up a new building. Blessitt replied: “We don’t need a building if we’re going to have people like you in it. Now you both either get right or get out.”
Faced with that hard reality, the men seemed to soften. Blessitt got them all to bow their heads, and he prayed for anger to go and love and brotherhood to bind the men together. When the prayer was over, Haynes and Lynde opened their eyes, looked at each other and both were smiling. They shook hands, each claimed the feud was the fault of their own family, and they became friends who willingly worked side by side.
Perhaps that account is simplified; perhaps not. But it exemplifies a fundamental New Testament principle, that no one can know the God who is love and then fail to love a fellow Christian (1 John 4:7-8). It would be a contradiction. And it’s a disgrace when a church allows it to continue.
Third, it will be possible only with a love beyond our own.
I tried to like Adam, but he made it very difficult. Adam was the pastor of a neighboring church, and our two churches would often run shared mission initiatives or get together for services or friendship meals. Adam and I often shared leadership roles at these events. That should have worked fine, but I’d been around for a few years before Adam arrived in town and he struggled to cope with the love and recognition people showed me. So he began to minimize or criticize things I did, and he voiced those criticisms very publicly. I was shocked, and I know others were shocked. I talked to Adam about it, but nothing changed.
I was embarrassed and offended. My instinct was to answer back, to give as good as I got at church events, and at other times keep as far from him as possible. But I didn’t. I made a conscious decision to love him. Something was eating him up on the inside, something he couldn’t resolve, and I could hate him or love him whatever he said or did. Somehow love won. Over time Adam shared more of his story and that helped me understand better. But the put-downs didn’t stop. Again and again I had to make a choice, and I chose to love. I found a way to care for this man that surprised me.
What I really found was a love beyond my own, and that was Christ’s love. Jesus loved people who wronged him and rejected him. His love never failed, and he died for those who were neither grateful nor deserving.
Paul also found that love. He wasn’t looking for it, and as a persecutor of the church certainly didn’t deserve it. But Christ poured his love upon Paul, forgave him, transformed him, and commissioned him.
Now he loves these Philippians with the affection of Christ. He’s following Christ’s example of love, but his words have a depth beyond just copying an example. When he writes, “I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus” (v. 8), he’s describing love that flows from Christ into him and then out through him and to the Philippians. He’s not merely inspired to love, he’s enabled to love. It’s like a billionaire giving me unlimited cash to pass on to needy people. They might think I’m generous, but I am not the source of the wealth. The money has come from someone far richer than me; I am only the channel. Likewise, the deep love Paul had found in Jesus was the deep love he now channeled on to the Philippians.
Love whose source is in the heart of Jesus is the gift received by every Christian, and love from the heart of Jesus becomes the gift every Christian has to pass on to others.
Second, Paul is grateful that they share in the work God has given him.
He writes: “…whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me” (Phil. 1:7).
We might think he’s saying, ‘Whether times are bad or good, we all enjoy the blessings of the gospel.’ Yes, they did all enjoy the blessings of the gospel, but that’s not Paul’s meaning here.
Instead, he is saying, ‘Whether I’m locked away as a prisoner, or out there preaching the good news, you are always my partners, my supporters, my encouragers.’
Paul was always conscious that his commission to be an apostle was an undeserved favor. He’d persecuted Christians, and was on his way to hunt down more of them in Damascus when he had a vision of Jesus, heard his voice, and had his life turned around. The persecutor became the preacher. It was so unexpected and undeserved that Paul saw his calling into a new life and mission as nothing other than charis, the grace of God.
He uses the word ‘grace’ in that sense when writing to the Philippians. And he thanks them especially that, no matter his circumstances, they stand with him in his work. In verse 5 he called the Philippians his partners, and now he emphasizes that point. They all work together. They share in God’s grace, God’s work, with him.
Paul’s words teach three lessons for churches who promise support to those they send out to do mission.
Support should never depend on success. Paul was sometimes locked away, and sometimes free to go from city to city with the gospel. Whatever his situation, the Philippians were faithful in their support.
That’s very good, but not always what happens. I know of missionaries in Europe who were getting nowhere in witness with locals, but they reported every baptism which took place in churches across their whole city as if their personal efforts had won these people to Christ. Why did they do that? “Because,” they said, “folks back home need to hear success stories if they are to go on sending us support.”
How sad they did that, and how sad they felt the need to do that. There are good times and bad times in mission work, and no one should have to exaggerate the effect of their witness to win support. If no one helps missionaries during the bad times, they won’t be there when the good times come along.
Support isn’t just financial; it’s much more holistic than that. I have friends who ask mission personnel, before they leave home shores, which magazine they have loved to read. Then they mail that magazine every month to them at their overseas location. It seems so little, but it sends a huge message to those missionaries that even their small needs matter.
Words are cheap, and it’s easy to tell departing missionaries, “I’ll be thinking of you and praying for you.” Those were the words Matt and Sheila and their young family heard from the members of their home church before they set off for East Asia. Sadly they were the only words they heard for four years. No letters, no emails, no calls, no visitors. When they returned home on leave and went to church on Sunday, one of the members said, “So, you’re back then?” That was all, then he went off to arrange the hymn books. There was no interest in what they’d been doing or how they were doing. People who take the good news to others need supporters who care about their work and care about them as the people doing that work. Love demands our best support, not our least support.
Support is given because it’s ‘our’ work. The 80/20 rule is discussed across all kinds of business and organizational life. For example, of all those who ever attend a particular church, it’s likely only about twenty per cent will really participate in the work of that church. Or, perhaps out of all the accounts a company has, the serious income comes from only twenty per cent of them.
When Paul thanks the Philippians because they share in God’s grace with him, he’s thanking them for not abandoning the work of mission to Paul and Timothy and a handful of others. The eighty per cent don’t think the work belongs to just twenty per cent. The mission – taking the gospel to every country they could reach – was the work of all one hundred per cent of them. Paul leads. Paul makes the journeys. Paul is the principal preacher. But they all share in the same grace, the same call, the same responsibility. This is the work of all of them.
Paul cared for these Philippian Christians. His care wasn’t mercenary, something which existed only to get their support. With the love that Jesus had shown him, and given him, Paul loved these people. They loved him too, and out of love recognized their call to share in his call to take the good news to the world.
These Christians were bound together by Christ’s love. That’s the love we need in our churches today.
 Arthur Blessitt with Walter Wagner, Turned on to Jesus (London: Word Books, 1972), 46-47.
 Ephesians 5:1-2, 25.
 There are three accounts of his conversion, in Acts 9, 22 and 26.
 And when writing to several others, such as in Rom. 1:5; 12:3; 1 Cor. 3:10; Gal. 2:9; Eph. 3:2.