“Christian Affections” Philippians 1:1-11 September 12, 2010
SI: Last week was an introduction to Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
We’ll be studying this letter over the fall, and will finish around Christmas.
We’re also starting Covenant Groups this week.
And I hope that our study of Philippians and our Covenant Groups will be used
by the Lord to bring about a deeper walk with Christ and greater joy in our body.
Bible teachers have often called Philippians, the Epistle of Joy.
Because even though Paul was writing from a Roman prison,
he talks about the joy of Christ, rejoicing in the Lord,
and gives us great insight how believers walk through the difficult times.
INTRO: I had a boyhood friend whose dad was District Attorney of Colbert Co.
My friend once asked me to watch his dad prosecute a double murder case.
He was a intimidating man when he spoke—especially in his closing arguments.
He very much assumed the mantel of his office.
He demanded justice for the victims and families and that the jury do its duty.
I remember being stunned by the forcefulness of his speech.
Then, when the jury was out, my friend said: Let’s go back to my dad’s office.
We went in and there he was with two assistants, his tie was loose, drinking Coke.
And he said, Welcome, boys, we’re talking about the case. We sat and listened.
He talked about his feelings for the victims and the killer.
He talked about the difficulties the prosecution had faced—
evidence not admitted, legal challenges.
He expressed his hopes that the jury would come to the right decision,
and he expressed his concerns that it might not.
I got to see the man behind the office, the man behind that intimidating persona
in the courtroom—and I liked what I saw. Because I saw a man who really
believed in justice, really believed in the rightness of this particular case.
But this time I saw him with his guard down, expressing his feelings, hopes, fears.
Maybe you’ve had an experience like that, where you’ve gotten to spend time
with an important person, and see him or her with his guard down.
Maybe that was a positive experience, maybe it wasn’t.
Philippians is a glimpse into the mind of the Apostle Paul with his guard down.
As we noted last week, out of all the letters Paul wrote to the churches,
Philippians is the most warm, happy, personable letter. Compare it to others.
When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he obviously loved them, but he also wanted
to wring their necks for the way they were acting—and that comes through.
When he wrote to the Galatians, he obviously loved them, but he also wanted to
wring their necks for going off and listening to things besides the Gospel.
And with other letters, Paul had to take on a similar tone.
And in some letters, there is a bit of a strain in the relationship.
But not with the Philippians. This was Paul’s favorite church. They loved him.
They had supported him 100%. He wasn’t writing for the purpose of correcting
their behavior or doctrine—but thank them for all they had done for him,
and to encourage them in the Christian life.
Plus, Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter. Things weren’t going well.
And you know how pressure and problems expose a person’s real self,
and show their true colors.
For all of those reasons, this is a letter that lets us see, maybe more than any other,
the thoughts, motives, feelings, and affections of the Apostle.
We get to see what a great Christian looks like underneath.
And you can’t help liking what you see and wanting to imitate it.
How does the letter start?
Paul starts by expressing his love for all the members of the Philippian church.
Paul says he thanks God every time he remembers them.
He says that when he prays for all of them, he always prays with joy.
And then, the most striking declaration of all, he says in verse 8:
“God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.”
He longs for them. He has deep affection for every one of them.
And Paul says that this is actually the love of Jesus Christ flowing through him.
He is a conduit for Christ’s love, and so he pours out his affection for every
member of the Philippian church
Now, a simple question. Do you love the people in your church like that?
Can you say about the members of Christ Covenant, can you say about the people
in this room right now, worshipping the Lord with you this Sunday morning—
“God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.”?
Don’t answer out loud. But hold on to that thought in your mind right now.
You don’t have to read very far in the Bible before you realize that this is the way
Christians should feel about each other.
Jesus said: “As I have loved you, so love one another.”
John said it over and over in his letter.
“Dear friends, love one another.” Love your brothers and sisters in Christ.
It’s the pathway to gratitude and maturity as a Christian.
But it doesn’t happen automatically. Even in the Philippian church there were two
women who had gotten sideways with each other. Read about them in chapter 4.
And most of us, if honest, would say people in our church don’t much care for.
But Christ loves his people through his people, so you must do all you can to
cultivate deeper feelings of love for your brothers and sisters in the church.
How do you do it? Paul shows us three ways through his example.
MP#1 You cultivate love for members of your church through participation.
In verse 5 Paul says that he loves the Philippians because of their partnership
with him in the Gospel from the first day he met them.
In verse 7 he says it’s because they have shared in God’s grace with him.
You can’t see it in English, but those words “partnership” and “shared” are both
forms of koinonia, the Greek word for sharing or fellowship or participation.
Paul is looking back and he says that from the very first day I met you,
you’ve been participating with me in the life and work of the church.
The Philippians did that on a number of occasions by taking up collections
to help Paul in his church-planting work.
Another time they took up an offering for poor Christians in Jerusalem,
even though Paul didn’t ask for it.
And when they found out Paul was in prison in Rome, they took up another offering
and sent it to him to be delivered by a trusted member of the church.
They were faithful friends and eager partners.
When Paul speaks of the fellowship or sharing in God’s grace he is certainly
thinking back to those first days with Lydia and the slave girl and the jailor—
and the converts in their households and early church meetings in Lydia’s home.
How they had met for worship—
and studied the Scripture together and prayed and sang and shared
church life with each other. Those were such sweet memories for Paul,
that it filled him with affection for every member of that church.
Here’s what we gather from Paul’s example:
One of the most important ways to cultivate love for the members of your church is
koinonia—fellowship, partnership, participation—in life and work of the church.
Every church has a rhythm. The most basic rhythm is weekly worship.
That goes all the way back to the Old Testament church, Sabbath day worship.
In the New Testament, Christians began to meet on the Lord’s Day—
the first day of the week, the day of Resurrection for corporate worship.
That’s the most basic rhythm of the church, and it’s established by God himself.
Then, every particular church has it’s own rhythm.
Regular times of ministry and study and prayer. Regular holidays, special events.
When you join a church, and you submit yourself to that rhythm,
and your love grows for the members of the church.
It’s a work of the Holy Spirit, but it takes place through the participation you share
in the life and work and worship of the church.
Most of the time it’s very ordinary, week-to-week, church life.
Nothing particularly exciting about it.
But sometimes heaven opens and, and the Holy Spirit is poured out.
Our Thanksgiving Service same time every year, Sunday eve before Thanksgiving.
We have a message, usually a special speaker—and then open the floor.
Anybody who feels led can go to a microphone and give thanks to the Lord for
something he has done for them in the past year.
Those of you who have been there know that things have been shared in that service
that are so precious, and so tender, that I would never repeat them here.
You had to be there. And if you missed it, it was your loss.
Because let me tell you what it did for every soul who was there—
it forged and even deeper bond of love with the one who spoke.
I’ve realized more and more that fellowship is a spiritual discipline.
It doesn’t come naturally. It’s not just socializing and having a good time.
It is deliberately submitting yourself to the rhythm and life of a particular church
for the long haul, participating with the members of your church in the worship
and work of the church. Giving and receiving.
That comes easier for some people than others, but God requires it of all.
And what happens when you follow through?
The affections of Christ are poured out in your heart—
and you become a conduit of his love to other people.
We’re starting Covenant Groups this Wednesday.
That’s one important way, in the rhythm of our church, that we have fellowship.
It’s not the only way, but it’s a big way. Because part of our church DNA.
I’ve been in relaxing, easy Covenant Groups, and I’ve been in difficult ones—
but they’re all good because through fellowship, Christ loves the church.
Where do you get the strength to push back against anti-fellowship forces?
Whether demanding schedules, or your own reluctant personality,
or the values of the world that say it’s all about being comfortable
and getting your needs met? Same way Paul did, through Christ.
Aren’t you glad he left heaven and entered into fellowship with us?
That’s what the incarnation was—his participation in our lives.
That’s how our communion with him is described—get strength through him.
MP#2 You cultivate love for members of your church through intercession.
That sounds so basic, but here it is. Paul says:
“I thank my God every time I remember you.
In all my prayers for all of you I always pray with joy.”
Who do you pray for with joy? Who do you pray for most easily?
The answer to that is simple. It’s the people you love the most.
Parents, who do you pray for most easily? Your children.
It’s even easier to pray for your children than to pray for your spouse.
It’s so easy to pray for your children that you almost breathe prayer.
When you see your children do something that makes you glad—
when they are mature and loving and spiritually sensitive—
you just thank God. You thank God every time you remember them.
When you wake up in the middle of the night and think of them—you pray.
Paul is saying: I love you guys so much, it’s easy for me to pray for you.
And the flipside is true as well:
I pray for you guys so much, it’s easy for me to love you.
There is a dynamic at work between love and prayer.
If you love much, it’s easy to pray.
And if you pray much, it’s easy to love.
How can you have something against someone in the church,
if you are praying for that person? You can’t
If you are praying for him or her, you can’t help but grow in the affection of Christ.
The church I grew up in had a Sunday night service.
In fact, every church I was ever in until I came to Christ Covenant
had a Sunday night service. So next Sunday we are starting . . .
I’m just kidding. I like our rhythm.
But I do sometimes miss Sunday night church,
so I occasionally go out on Sunday night and worship in other churches in town.
Several times I’ve worshiped at Spirit Life Church of God.
They do something very moving at the end of the service.
The pastor says:
All of you who are struggling with a particular temptation or sin and need prayer,
come and stand here. All of you who have wayward children or someone in
your family who is not saved and want prayer, come stand here. All of you
with physical ailments who want prayer stand over here.
Other categories, depending on the emphasis of the message.
Then, when those people have come forward, put themselves out there
and said: Yes, I need prayer. Then, everybody else in the congregation comes
forward and encircles these people and touches them,
and then in good Pentecostal tradition prays for them loudly.
It’s a visible expression of the connection between love and prayer in church.
If you were one of those praying, how could you not leave church
without your affection for that person you touched and prayed for strengthened?
And look at what Paul prayed for.
After telling them how easy it is for him to pray for them—
he tells them his prayer, he tells how he prays for them.
“And this is my prayer: That your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.”
Wow. That’s quite a prayer. Love, knowledge, insight, discernment, purity,
spiritual fruit, the glory of God. When I read that prayer it makes me wonder
if we ought to shoot higher in our prayers for each other.
Instead of praying for so-and-so’s gall bladder, pray that they will be filled
with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.
Not that there is anything at all wrong with prayers for health.
Of course we should ask God for healing.
But let’s not ever lose our eternal perspective.
This life is soon over. These old bodies of ours will give out.
Even if we’re healed of this disease, another one will get us.
But the Day of Christ is rapidly approaching.
And more than anything else, our prayers for each other should be for all
of these things Paul asked God to give the Philippians.
And I think that if we are asking for these things for each other—
for Christian virtues and spiritual fruit and the glory of God—
that our love for each other and for the church will be even deeper.
Do you want to feel and experience in yourself the affection of Christ?
Do you want to be a conduit of the love of Jesus. Pray.
Who loves you most? Christ does. What’s he doing for you? Interceding.
And knowing that empowers you to pray and love.
MP#3 You cultivate love for the members of your church
through participation, through intercession, and through favoritism.
I used that word to get your attention.
Because favoritism is a negative word.
We shouldn’t have favoritism in the church, should we?
If we mean by favoritism, excluding people for shallow reasons,
shunning people we don’t like, bringing cliques and a party spirit into the church,
of course that’s wrong. That was going on in the Corinthian church and Paul
strongly reprimanded them for it.
But if we mean by favoritism, that your heart and affections are more deeply
bound to particular people in your church—that is absolutely right.
There were lots of people who followed Jesus, but out of all of them, he picked 12.
And out of the 12, three he was especially close to—Peter, James, and John.
And of the three, there was one closest of all—John, the disciple Jesus loved.
And here is the Apostle Paul.
If we could have asked Paul, is there a church that is especially close to your heart?
He would have said, the church in Philippi.
And if we could have asked him, if there was anyone in that church who was
especially near and dear to him, he would have mentioned the people in Acts 16,
Lydia and her household, the slave girl, the jailor and his family—
because those were the people he knew best.
He had met some other members of that church over the years, like Epaphroditus.
But there were a great many members of that church he had never met.
He only knew a few very well.
But notice what he says:
“I long for all of you . . . It is right for me to feel this way about all of you.”
Here’s the spiritual dynamic at work—
Paul’s deep love for a few particular people in that church, gave him a love for all.
When you develop deep affection for a few special people in your church—
when you walk through difficult times with two or three brothers or sisters
and come out on the other side, when you pray together,
when you serve each other—your affection grows for every members.
Able to feel love for all. Because the church is a body and a family.
And Christ loves them all, and you have the love of Christ.
A few years ago somebody loaned us the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers.
Allison and I were engrossed for several nights in a row.
Couldn’t quit watching it. On more episode!
When we were done we went out and bought the book by Stephen Ambrose.
In case you don’t know what it’s about—
It’s the story of one company in the 101st Airborne, Easy Company—
starting with their training in Georgia, through D-Day, Battle of the Bulge,
all the way to Hitler’s mountain fortress Berchtesgaden and the end of the war.
The book leaves you with one powerful impression.
Here was a group of men who were all very different.
Some were college graduates, some and never finished high school.
There were Jews and Gentiles, some were religious, others profane.
And what is more, there was a constant turnover as casualties were replaced.
But in the crucible of war they found a brotherhood, a koinonia.
Why? Because of their shared experience, their participation.
Also, certain men would form deep bonds, they would become buddies—
they would have opportunities for particular acts of sacrifice for each other.
But instead of that drawing them away from the other men in the company,
it forged even deeper bonds with all.
The sacrifices of their closest companions gave them even deeper connection
and loyalty and affection for all the others.
Major Richard Winter was their commander throughout the war.
Often Stephen Ambrose tells the story from his perspective—
and you see in this man a deep affection for all of these men—
even those he didn’t know well, even the new ones,
even the ones he would have absolutely nothing in common with in civilian life.
The experience of war is a powerful thing to share.
The Gospel and advance of the kingdom of God is a greater, more powerful thing,
a more pure and holy thing—and above all, an eternal thing.
And in our experience of that, we have those individuals who’ve been in the
foxhole with us—and we have our band of brothers, which is the body.
Some you don’t have much at in common with except the very biggest and most
important things of all—that you are followers of Christ, bound together by his
blood, on the road to heaven together, and by God’s providence, in same church.
CONC: You can choose your church. There are lots of good churches.
Even times and reasons to change churches.
But you can’t choose the people in your church.
The Lord has chosen them and put them there.
And what he wants you to do, is have the affection of Christ for all of them,
to become a conduit of the affections of Jesus.
Jesus loves his people through his people.
And here’s the way—by participating in the life of the body, the worship, the work,
the weekly and annual rhythms of this particular family of God.
By praying often for the members of your church, especially for growth in grace,
for love, insight, spiritual fruit, the glory of God.
And by showing love and deep affection to particular members of the body—
loving specific individuals, helping them along, asking them for help—
and in so doing, forging love for the body as a whole.
And where does the power come from? What would Paul say?
Who does he mention by name six times in these opening eleven verses?
Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ who said: “As I have loved you, so love one another.”
How does he love you?
By participating in your life through his incarnation and death.
By even now interceding for you before the Father.
And by loving you by name, singling you out, as his sheep, and moving
heaven and earth for your salvation.
As I have loved you, so love one another.
Don’t you want that? Don’t you want to be a conduit of the affection of Christ?
You can. That’s the great life God has called you to live.