That Paul cared deeply for the believers in Philippi (he “had them in [his] heart” vs. 7) is seen in his prayers for them. Words are simply words, no more, unless they genuinely express reality. Paul’s deep concern for his readers is clearly reflected in his prayer. It would take at least a complete volume to do justice to Paul’s words on prayer in Philippians 1:9-11 but I will limit my thoughts to what seems to be of special importance to me in my life right now.
The first thing is that love can grow not only in an emotional sense but also in “knowledge and depth of insight” (vs. 9). We are able to learn what love is, but also how it can transform life and provide insight into life’s problems. Perfect love is intelligent and understands how best to express itself in daily life. This infers that love in an imperfect state, while intending to do what is right, may on a specific occasion do what is be harmful. This is seen in a relationship where an informed love will hold a person accountable rather than provide him an excuse for self-destructive activity. Intelligent love does the right thing, not necessarily what is prompted by an emotional urge.
Paul goes on to say that this kind of love discerns what is best – it helps a person “understand what really matters,” as the NLT has it. Intelligent love provides the moral discernment that leads to correct action. I have argued before that love is primarily volitional and that the choices of life are always easier when we understand not only the issue involved but the unintended consequences as well. Many a life has been ruined not because the choice was clearly wrong but because while it seemed okay the result was inevitable. An informed love is far less likely to head down the wrong path.
I believe it can be summed up in a phrase my grandmother used so often, “sanctified common sense.” Genuine love doesn’t break the bonds of custom to prove that it belongs in some more lofty sphere, but is informed by a rational understanding of which course of action is better for everyone involved. It is not fantasy but factuality. Blind love may be well intentioned but Paul says that love with its eyes wide open (read “informed and insightful”) is what prepares us to live a pure life now and be ready for “the day of Christ’s return” (vs. 10
Paul began his letter to the church in Philippi by letting his readers know that his prayers for them were filled with joy. The reason for this was, as he puts it, "I have you in my heart" (Phil. 1:7). His affection for them was not superficial but rose from deep within. But it was more than that. In the following verse he adds that his longing for them was "with the affection of Christ Jesus." This affection was not one that was like that of Christ, but was Christ himself loving through the apostle. As Paul writes a bit later, “For me to live is Christ” (vs. 21). The partnership that we share with all other believers is one that includes Jesus of Nazareth, the long awaited Messiah, God himself incarnate in his Son. No wonder the fellowship is so profound and incredibly satisfying.
Genuine affection is more than a romantic feeling. It is the result of a relationship in which each party accepts the other without reserve. Unfortunately the word love has been used in such a broad context that we can “love” our husband or wife in a long and satisfying marriage or we can “love” a good milkshake. The love, or affection, of which Paul speaks, belongs in the former category. Perhaps the ultimate definition of love is John 3:16 which, as correctly translated by the Homan Bible, says, “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son . . .” (see their footnote). Love is correctly described as giving, the opposite of receiving, which is the most characteristic desire of the sinful nature.
To love as Jesus loved is the supreme goal of the Christian living and there is no better description of love than that section of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians that reads, in part, “Genuine love is patient and kind. It does not envy the good fortune of others or brag about its own successes. Love is not arrogant, it is not rooted, it doesn't seek its own advantage, it's not easily provoked, it keeps no record of grievances. Love takes no pleasure in injustice but rejoices wherever truth prevails. There is nothing that love cannot bear. It never stops believing, it never loses hope. Love endures" (1 Corin. 13:4-7 in Dear Friends, This is Paul).
No wonder Paul’s heart was filled with joy as he prayed for his fellow believers in Philippi and cared for them with “the affection of Jesus
Paul has just reminded his readers in Philippi that whenever he prays for them he is filled with joy. It‘s the first thing he wants them to know. As he puts it, the reason for his joy is “the way in which you have helped me in the work of the gospel” (Phil 1:4-5). Together they have shared the privilege of telling others the good news that by faith in Christ their sins are forgiven and heaven awaits. It is a partnership, a koinoinia (“a close association involving mutual interests” – BDAG).
What interests me is that the continuing expansion of the Christian faith involves a partnership that stretches beyond the present time and goes back some two thousand years. Countless sermons have been preached, an untold number of books have been written, and an incalcuable number of individuals have shared their faith in one great faith-based partnership. We are one with Peter when he stood up in the outer court of the Temple and proclaimed the gospel to his fellow Israelites; one with the tireless John Wesley who preached over 40,000 sermons; and one with the country preacher in Louisiana who tells his little flock the story of Jesus. Not only does this partnership reach back over time, but it knows no geographical boundaries: we are one with those proclaiming the gospel in every part of the world. Jesus called Peter’s messianic confession the “rock” on which he would build a church that not even the “gates of hades” could crush (Matt. 16:18). One body, says Paul, but many members – the church universal (see 1 Corin. 12), a magnificent partnership spanning both time and space.
Another aspect of our partnership is that Jesus himself is one with us in the proclamation of the gospel. We work with him, not only for him. We are “in Christ,” as the oft-occurring expression in the epistles has it. As members of his body, the church, our relationship is intimate and real. He is not the commander, so far up the organizational hierarchy that we know who he is but we don’t know him on a personal basis. He works with us, right next to us. We talk to him all the time at work. Great friend. Can you possibly think anything more rewarding than working as a part of that vast group of believers that stretches from Easter morning all the way to the present day and that comes from every place on the face of the earth! No wonder we can join Paul in his prayer and in his joy because we are, in fact, part of that amazing partnership.
I imagine that the majority of you who have been reading Shout For Joy for a time, especially what Peter has to say, will realized that we have finished commenting on both of his letters. So we are moving to Paul, specifically his letter to the believers in the ancient town of Philippi. You may remember that on Paul’s second missionary journey the apostle and his companions crossed the Aegean Sea and soon arrived at Philippi, the leading city of that area of Macedonia. (Acts 16:11-15). After a significant ministry there, including the conversion of Lydia and a time in prison, he continued on toward Athens. At one point, he wrote a letter back to his good friends in Philippi. We know it was written from a prison but scholars are divided whether that was in Rome, Ephesus, or Caesarea. The letter is the most personal of Paul’s writings and is best described as the Letter of Joy.
In what we call the first chapter of the letter (the current division into paragraphs took place in the 13th century) we watch the note of joy appear. In verse 4 Paul tells the believers that in his prayers for them he always prays “with joy” and in verse 25 he speaks of their “progress and joy in the faith.” A lot of secular literature has been written about the subject but much of it seems to consider joy as a synonym for happiness. The Greek word, however, suggests that joy arises from deep within rather than being a pleasant experience on the surface of life. I am happy should I win the lottery but joyful when a lifelong friend shares with me a story of recovery over a life-threatening disease. Happiness makes me laugh, joy often makes me cry. At the next marriage you attend watch the tears at that moment when the young couple are declared man and wife. Happiness may last all day, but joy is forever.
Joy is such a blessed experience because it is an attribute of God. Mark Twain was right when he noted that “to get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with” and we are privileged to share it with God. Peter reminded us that to have a personal relationship with God is to be “filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:9). And way back a thousand years before Christ David calls on us to “shout to God with cries of joy” (Psalm 47:1). It is in fellowship with God that we rather suddenly become aware of joy, that profound sense of wellbeing that arises from deep within.