Gospel-Driven Fellowship (Mike Riccardi)

Philippians 1:3–8   |   Sunday, October 7, 2012   |   Code: 2012-10-07-MR

Gospel-Driven Fellowship

Philippians 1:3–8


I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.





I wonder: what comes into your mind when you hear the word, “Fellowship.” How do you understand that concept? When you think of fellowship, what do you think of? A fun time with Christian friends? Interesting and inspiring conversations? Common interests? Sharing a meal with someone? Having a snack with someone? How about the time of a church service or Bible study where the teaching is officially over and everyone gets to just hang out? And we say things like, “Oh, we had some good fellowship tonight.”


Whatever we think about fellowship, I think we can all agree that Paul and the Philippians had it. I mean, even as I read that opening passage, if you’re like me those words tap into your soul’s longing for that experience with other believers. We all wish we would have those deep, meaningful, substantive relationships with our brothers and sisters here at Grace Church, and in GraceLife. We want to “click” with people—and not just about superficial things, like what movies we like or what sports teams we root for, but about things that really matter. We all want the kind of Christian relationships that cause us to well up in the kind of exuberant thanksgiving that Paul expresses in these opening verses of Philippians. And yet, for many of us, that kind of thing just seems so rare—something that must have been available only to those in the early church, when they really suffered together, when they weren’t as busy as we are.


I think one of the reasons that our fellowship can seem so weak by comparison is because we think of fellowship primarily as something subjective. Good conversation, fun at a party, and so on. But the Bible speaks about the believers’ fellowship with one another primarily as an objective reality. As James Montgomery Boice said, fellowship means a “sharing in something, participating in something greater than the people involved and more lasting than the activity of any given moment. When the Bible uses the word, it means being caught up into a communion created by God” (emphases mine).


Believers have fellowship with the Father, with the Son, with the Spirit, and with each other, as a matter of fact—by virtue of the objective work of Christ on the cross. And our subjective experience of that objective fellowship is augmented and enhanced by a sharing in and a participation in something so much more significant and lasting than a fun day at the park together, or a nice conversation about the playoffs, as good as those things can be. Our subjective experience of fellowship is augmented and enhanced most deeply by a participation in the ministry of the Gospel—by linking arms with one another in Gospel ministry. It was that brand of Gospel-driven Christian fellowship that resulted in the kind of loving and affectionate relationship that could overflow with an opening thanksgiving like the one we just read.


And as we return this morning to Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we will find that he has something to teach us about the nature of true, biblical, Gospel-driven fellowship.


I’ve mentioned a couple of times in my previous sermons on Philippians that the main theme of this letter is the Gospel. Paul’s great concern in this letter is that the Philippians would live consistently with the implications of the Gospel. The thesis verse of the entire Book is chapter 1 verse 27, where we find the very first imperative—the very first command. And that is: “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Paul desires that the Philippians’ entire lives be shaped and driven by the Gospel. And so we have subtitled the book of Philippians: the Gospel-driven life.


And we mentioned that Epaphroditus has traveled from Philippi to Paul who is imprisoned and under house arrest in Rome in order to bring him a loving gift of financial support from the Philippian church. And as you’d expect, Epaphroditus also brought with him news of the goings-on of the church. And as he prepares to return to Philippi, Paul sends him back with this letter to the Philippians, in which he takes some time to address some of the more concerning issues that Epaphroditus had reported to him about the church back home.


However, Paul doesn’t lead with those corrections in his letter to the Philippians. He sets whatever concerns he might have in the context of his great love and affection for the Philippian church. He grounds his exhortation and correction in the objective fellowship they enjoy with one another as fellow Christians, each of them united to Christ by a common faith.

Paul begins his letter by making explicit that he is writing as a slave of Christ. He is not lording his apostleship over the Philippians. He doesn’t write as a master, but as a fellow-slave in submission to the common Master—the Lord Jesus Christ. He also identifies the Philippians as saints in Christ Jesus—those who are set apart by God and for God by means of their union with the Savior. And so right off the bat Paul distills the essence of the Christian life for the Philippians: they are slaves of Christ and saints in Christ.


And then he distills the essence of the Christian message for them as well. He grounds their relationship in the “grace” that has come to them from the Father in the Person of Jesus Christ, and in the resultant “peace” with God and with each other that flows from that grace.


And so, having begun his letter in this way, reminding the Philippians of the Christian’s identity as slaves and as saints, and bringing to mind the glorious Gospel by which they all experienced the forgiveness of sins, fellowship with God in the Person of Jesus Christ, and the joy of the Holy Spirit—it’s no wonder that Paul’s heart is so full of love and affection for his brothers and sisters in Philippi. His heart has been shaped and driven by the Gospel. Yes, he has issues to address. He will need to remind them, exhort them, instruct them, and command them about certain problems they are facing in the church. But his loving confrontation doesn’t precede his sincere expression of thankfulness for the bond of their relationship.


And it is that affectionate love and thanksgiving—that deep bond of true fellowship between Paul and the Philippians—that is the subject of our message this morning. In our time together this morning, we’re going to discover that the three characteristics of Paul’s thankfulness for the Philippians comprise three marks of Gospel-driven fellowship between believers—three results that the faithful Christian experiences in relationship to other believers, if indeed that Christian is experiencing true, biblical Christian fellowship.




But before we look at the characteristics of Paul’s thanksgiving, we need to appreciate Paul’s thanksgiving itself. Verse 3 begins simply with, “I thank my God.” Verses 3 to 8 make up one long sentence in the Greek, and this first verb here is the main verb. The entire rest of the sentence is an extended commentary on Paul’s thanksgiving for the Philippians. How he gives thanks, when he gives thanks, for what he gives thanks—all sorts of modifiers. But they all come back to this one main point: Paul gives thanks to God for the Philippian believers.


And this was a common practice for Paul. In fact, in 11 of his 13 letters, after he gives his opening greeting, he begins with thanksgiving to God for the church he’s writing to. And that’s fitting, because as Paul himself would say in 2 Corinthians 4:15, the giving of thanks abounds to the glory of God. It’s fitting, because as he tells us in Romans 1:21, a principal way in which we honor God as God is to give thanks to Him as the all-sufficient Provider and Giver of all good things.


And Paul’s thanksgiving is all the more striking when you consider the context in which it came. Paul is in prison, chained to a Roman soldier, awaiting the verdict from Nero regarding whether he will live or die—and yet his thoughts are with the Philippians, and with them often. He is not so much thinking about his own circumstances as he was thinking about their steadfastness, not so much about his trials as about their unity, not so much about the outcome of his life as the humility of their lives.


“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer,” he says. “My God.” Not just “I thank God,” but “I thank my God.” This is evidence of a deep intimacy and sincere communion with the Lord that characterized his time in prison. And that makes perfect sense. His thankful spirit and his joy survived even in these most difficult of circumstances because they did not depend on his circumstances, but on his union and communion with our God. Paul hasn’t forgotten the circumstances of his own trials; if he were ever tempted to do that all he would have to do is move the wrong way, and he would feel the tug of his chains shackling him to his Roman soldier. And he hasn’t forgotten the Philippians’ need for unity and humility, for steadfastness and joy amidst their own trials; he was about to write them a letter addressing these very things. He clearly sees all the pressures and problems facing the Philippian church. But his vision of the Philippians and their circumstances is colored by his all-satisfying vision of his God.


And so borne out of this constant, thriving communion with God is his regular inclination to pray. And as he comes to his times of prayer, he always remembers the Philippians, and as he prays for them, he thanks God for them.


I. Joy


And that thanksgiving is characterized by our first mark of Gospel-driven fellowship. Number one: joy. Look at verses 3 and 4: “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all.” The word order in the original Greek is emphatic; Paul is especially emphasizing the phrase “with joy.” This is what colors Paul’s prayers of thanksgiving. When he remembers the Philippians—which, as we said, was often—and when he prays for them like the good spiritual father that he is, his memories are laced with fondness and affection, and that leads him to pray and give thanks with joy.


And joy is at the heart of Paul’s message in Philippians. This is the first of sixteen occurrences of the word “joy” in this epistle—which means that Paul mentions joy or rejoicing on the average of four times per chapter. And this emphasis on joy only makes sense, because joy is the centerpiece of all Christian experience. After all, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy… (Gal 5:22). David spoke of joy as the defining characteristic of salvation when he prayed in Psalm 51, “Restore unto me the joy of Your salvation.” Jesus told the disciples that the designed end of His speaking to them was their joy, when He said in John 15:11: “These things I have spoken to you that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” Elsewhere Paul describes the kingdom of God as “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17). Commentator Gordon Fee hits the nail on the head when he writes, “Joy…lies at the heart of the Christian experience of the gospel; it is the fruit of the Spirit in any truly Christian life, serving as primary evidence of the Spirit’s presence” (Fee, 81). And Paul is saying, “Whenever I remember you, Philippians, I always pray for you, and offer thanksgiving for all of you, with joy.”


And notice: Paul isn’t playing favorites. He knows that one of the greatest struggles facing the Philippian congregation is unity, and so he goes out of his way to make sure that they know that they are all on equal footing in his heart. Verse 4: “…always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all.” Throughout these opening 8 verses, Paul repeats the word “all” five times. Aside from here in verse 4, you have verse 1: “to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi;” verse 7: “it is only right for me to feel this way about you all;” the end of verse 7: “you all are partakers of grace with me;” and verse 8: “I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.”


The privilege of ministering to the Philippians by interceding in prayer for each of them was a delight for Paul. It delighted his heart to go before the throne of grace on behalf of his treasured friends—to take their needs and requests and cares, and cast them at the feet of the Christ who cares for them (cf. 1 Pet 5:7).


Can the same be said of you? Do you delight to engage in the ministry of intercession on behalf of your brothers and sisters in Christ? James Montgomery Boice said, “I believe that 90 percent of all the divisions between true believers in this world would disappear entirely if Christians would learn to pray specifically and constantly for one another” (Boice, 41). So one question to ask is: Do you pray?


When you do pray, do you intentionally remember your brothers and sisters in your Bible study? In GraceLife as a whole? Paul said he gave thanks for all of the Philippians with joy. To me that speaks of systematically and intentionally remembering each one in the congregation. That’s one of the reasons that we want to get this photo directory updated, because it will be a real, tangible tool for systematically holding up one another in prayer.


When you do remember your brothers and sisters in prayer, do you remember them with thankfulness for the work that God is doing in their lives? Instead of remembering your fellow believers and immediately thinking of negative things, does being reminded of them cause you to give thanks to the Lord for the work that He has done and will do?


And then, does that thankfulness cause you to well up with joy in Christ? It’s one thing to do the duty of prayer and intercession—even to do the duty of giving God His due by thanking Him for His sovereign work. But theology must lead to doxology. The reality that God is actually conforming people to the image of Christ in our midst must cause us to rejoice! It must cause us to thank God for our fellow believers with joy.


You know, I imagine that as the Philippians red this portion of the letter and learned about Paul’s joyful thanksgiving on their behalf, that they thought to themselves, “Paul really cares for us. He is really praying for us.” Are there people you think of when you hear that? Are there people who you know are praying for you? Are you the kind of person that when people are reminded about you, they’re confident that you really care for them, and that you’re really praying for them? You see? There’s work to do, friends. If we’re going to really live life together, if we’re going to really be the Church in this place, we need to cultivate this kind of fellowship with each other—this kind of joyful thanksgiving and prayer for one another.


The Source of Joyful Thanksgiving


But you say, “What if I don’t feel that kind of joyful thanks? Where does that kind of thing come from? What is the source of that thanksgiving that is characterized by joy?” Take a look again with me at verse 3: “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now.”


Paul says this joyful thanksgiving comes in view of, or because of, the Philippians’ participation in the Gospel. The Greek word there is koinonia, which is commonly translated “fellowship” in the New Testament. But “participation” is a good translation for it, because true fellowship is more than just having things in common. It is a participation in something. That which undergirds Paul’s thanks and joy for the Philippians is the objective fellowship that they participate in by virtue of the Gospel.


The Philippians’ participation in the Gospel encompasses multiple things. First of all, it means that they are fellow-believers. Paul and the Philippians are fellow-partakers of the grace that comes through Christ alone. For the Christian, this is the bedrock foundation of all our relationships with each other. Our friendships with other Christians are not based most foundationally upon common interests, hobbies, or experiences. They’re not based on whether we’re in the same stage of life, have worked in a similar profession, or come from the same part of the country. They are based on the reality that all who believe in Christ are one with Him as their living Head, and therefore are one with each other as members of the same body. And so the Philippians’ participation in the Gospel—the result of which was joyful thanksgiving—meant, first of all, that they and Paul shared a common bond in Christ.


But it was also that they were ministry-minded. Paul mentions their participation in the Gospel “from the first day until now.” He’s referring to the Philippians unique commitment to the ministry of the Gospel that has characterized them from Paul’s first dealings with them 12 years earlier all the way up to the present day. At the very beginning of the church in Philippi, the very first thing Lydia did after getting saved was to implore Paul and the others to stay at her house. The Lord opened her heart, and as a consequence that dear woman immediately opened her home (Ac 16:14–15). And Acts 16:40 tells us that Lydia’s house even became a sort of home-base of operations for the church in Philippi. The same thing was true of the Jailer. When the Lord saved him, his response was to tenderly wash the wounds of the disciples (16:33), and then to bring “them into his house and set food before them,” it says in Acts 16:34. You see, from the very first day, the Philippians’ salvation manifested itself in a concern that they be used by God in strategic, instrumental ways for the proclamation and advance of the Gospel.


And that concern for Gospel ministry resulted in their continued support of the Apostle Paul in a unique way. Turn to Philippians 4:15. Paul writes, “You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs.” Immediately after Paul left them, they were already supporting him financially. Thessalonica was Paul’s very next stop after Philippi on his missionary journey. These Philippians were all-in from the beginning. And they had continued to give sacrificially until that very day. The whole point of Epaphroditus’ visit was to send a financial gift for Paul. And along with financial support came the personal and spiritual support of sending Epaphroditus to minister to him, as well as—what he mentions in chapter 1 verse 19—their prayers for him in his affliction.


Finally, not only were the Philippians saved, ministry-minded, and continually supportive of Paul, they also engaged in Gospel ministry themselves. They proclaimed the Gospel in Philippi as Paul had taught them to do. They had to withstand the dangers of false teaching and speak out against it, as Paul equips them to do in chapter 3. They had to suffer in the path of obedience, chapter 1 verse 29. See, the Philippians knew that it wasn’t enough to just support those willing to do the work; they knew they needed to be doing the work themselves. Paul could joyfully give thanks for the Philippians not only because of their support of him, but also because they were actually carrying out the work of the ministry alongside of him. The Philippians were brothers-in-arms in the cause of Christ.


You see? This is where such deep love, affection, and joy comes from. We all desire the kind of relationship that we observe between Paul and the Philippians in chapter 1, verses 3 to 8. Well, Paul says that comes from the fellowship—the participation in—the ministry of the Gospel! Nothing has the ability to so uniquely knit the hearts of fellow-believers together than participating in and supporting one another in the ministry of the Gospel! The greatest Christian fellowship is forged in the furnace of common affliction suffered in the path of advancing the Gospel.


Just a minute ago I used the metaphor of “brothers in arms.” We understand this reality. Elsewhere Paul describes the Christian life as fellow-soldiers engaging in a common spiritual battle. And the bond that is forged between fellow-soldiers is so strong.  When you’re fighting in combat together, living your lives together, risking your lives together, struggling together, encouraging one another after defeat, rejoicing with one another after a victory—there is nothing like this that creates such an emotional/relational bond. Fellow-soldiers become family. A band of brothers. No wonder calls the Philippians “brothers” six times in four chapters (1:12; 3:1, 13, 17; 4:1)!


And so if you desire those experiences of Gospel-driven fellowship—of a true, unfeigned, joyful thanksgiving for your brothers and sisters—make sure that you are participating in the Gospel of Christ. Not just by being a believer. Not just by coming to church. Not just by sitting in GraceLife and putting a smile on and saying hello to a few people and then moving on to the next Sunday morning stop. But by getting involved in people’s lives! The Philippians met Paul’s physical needs! And you can’t meet people’s needs if you don’t know what those needs are! And you can’t know what those needs are unless you know the people! And in order to know the people you need to say more than, “Hi, how are you? Oh, praise the Lord! OK, well, have a good week!” It’s not gonna cut it! The kind of fellowship that brings joyful thanksgiving requires that we roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty. And I ask you this morning: Are you willing to do it?


II. Confidence


Gospel-driven fellowship is marked by a joyful thanksgiving. But it’s also marked by a confident thanksgiving. We see the second characteristic of Paul’s thanksgiving in verse 6: confidence. I know that many of the translations begin a new sentence here, but in the Greek it just continues: “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now, confident of this very thing…”


The word here denotes being confident, persuaded, convinced, and even certain. Paul’s deep appreciation and thanksgiving for the Philippians is marked (a) not only by joy, in view of their participation in the Gospel, but also (b) by confidence concerning the destiny of the Philippians.


But where does this confidence come from? Upon what is this confidence grounded? Is it the Philippians themselves? Their work? Their effort? Their faith? Their love? Because they are just such wonderful partners in the Gospel? No! The entirety of their participation in the Gospel is not, most deeply, the work of the Philippians, but the work of God in the Philippians. Paul says he is “confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”


Paul is saying, “As I reflect on your labor of love—on your participation in the Gospel from the first day until now, I am convinced that you have truly known the grace of God and are united to Christ by faith. And because of that I am confident—I am persuaded, I am convinced—that this work of salvation that has evidenced itself in good deeds will be perfected and carried to completion until the return of Christ. “Because: both are a work of God. And God finishes what He starts.” That’s where the hope comes from. That’s where Paul’s confidence comes from.


Paul says that it was God who began a good work in the Philippians. Salvation is a sovereign act of God. We could turn to literally dozens of verses to corroborate this:

  • Philippians 1:29 – …it has been granted to you for Christ’s sake…to believe in Him.
  • And, of course, the Philippians knew that truth well, because their first convert is reported to have believed only after “the Lord opened her heart” (Acts 16:14).
  • Acts 11:18 – God is the one who grants repentance that leads to life.
  • James 1:18 – In the exercise of His will, He brought us forth by the word of truth.
  • And who can forget Ephesians 2:5 – Even when we were dead in our transgressions [He] made us alive together with Christ. By grace you have been saved!


And so, Paul’s argument goes, God is the one who began this work of salvation, and so it will be God who perfects it until the final day. Just as God is sovereign in salvation (or conversion), He is sovereign in sanctification. And I want you to turn with me this time to a couple of passages to underscore this, because there is a lot of confusion about the topic of sanctification.


Turn first to 2 Corinthians 3:18. “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” Beholding, we are being transformed. Both components are there. We have a role to play; Paul tells us our role is beholding the glory of the Lord Jesus. But notice the voice of the verb. When we behold the glory of Christ, we are being (passive) transformed. And the question is: Who is the agent of that action? If we are being transformed, who’s doing the transforming? It’s God.


Turn one book over to Galatians 3:3. Paul asks, “Having begun by the Spirit are you now being perfected by the flesh?” What’s the implied answer? “No!” If you’ve been regenerated and saved by the Holy Spirit, then you will also be perfected by the Spirit. You say, “Well don’t I have any role at all?” The answer to that is, “Yes! But not the decisive role.”


Turn back to Philippians, to chapter 2 verse 12. Philippians 2:12: “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” You say, “Aha! It’s up to me!” Keep reading, verse 13: for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” You see? The reason why we work—the ground of our putting forth effort in our fight for holiness—is not because we’re going to sanctify ourselves, but because God is working in us the obedience which we must work out. The believer’s perseverance is grounded in God’s preservation.


And so God has begun a good work in the Philippians, and it is God’s work to complete it. And here’s the point—this is why Paul can have the confidence he does about the Philippians: God finishes what He starts. See, God is not like us. We start a project, and we get distracted, and so we leave it half-done for 6 months, in which time we start five other projects that we don’t finish… that’s us. But God isn’t like that. God never lacks the wisdom or the power to finish what He starts.


You know, this is so interesting. In Luke 14:28–30, Jesus is telling a parable about the cost of discipleship, and He uses this illustration of counting the cost building a tower. That illustration sheds light on this reality too. Jesus says, “For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’” And Paul tells us that God never fears such ridicule, because He always has sufficient resources to finish what He’s begun.


And so if you’re here this morning, and you’re confident that you’re saved, but you’re fearful that one day you may lose your salvation, let me tell you with all the confidence and certainty of the inspired Word of God itself, that God would never allow Himself to be shamed that way. God would never subject Himself to the ridicule of having started something He wasn’t able to finish. “My Father is greater than all,” Jesus says in John 10, “and no one can snatch them out of His hand!”


The perseverance of the saints that is grounded in the Father’s preservation of the believer is a marvelous truth—a doctrine that should cause us all to rejoice. But let’s not forget that this verse comes in the context of Paul’s thanksgiving to the Philippians. In this passage, the doctrine of the believer’s eternal security is designed to cause other believers to rejoice in confident thanksgiving at the prospect of the sure salvation of their brothers and sisters!


You know, we can look at some of our fellow Christians in this room—at the level of sanctification that they’re at right now—and we can tend to let their lack of progress and immaturity harden our hearts toward them. “Ugh. She is so conceited.” “He is so arrogant!” “I can’t believe how rude she was to me!” And how easy is it, after experiencing the faults of fellow Christians in real time, to write them off and have a chip on our shoulder! But Paul doesn’t think about those things. Paul doesn’t look at the failures of the here-and-now without taking ten looks to their glorification in the day of Christ. The doctrine of the preservation and perseverance of the saints should lead us to view our brothers and sisters in light of the fact that they will one day be perfectly conformed to Christ’s image. And that confidence should produce in us a thankfulness and a joy that characterizes our fellowship with one another.


III. Affection


Well, we have seen that Paul’s thankfulness for the Philippians has been characterized both by joy and by confidence—and that these experiences are also marks of true, biblical, Christian fellowship. We come, finally now, to the third mark of Gospel-driven fellowship: affection. Let’s read verses 7 and 8: “For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.”


Can you hear the loving affection just pouring out of those verses? Even just how many times you hear the second-person pronoun there just makes this intensely personal: “It’s only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since you all are partakers of grace with me. God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ.” He’s just gushing!


And he says, “It’s only right! In view of my joy on the basis of our fellowship in the Gospel, and in view of my confidence of your coming glorification, it’s only right for me to have this intense yearning and sincere affection for all of you.” The term that is translated “right” in verse 7 is the Greek word dikaios, righteous. You see, to feel this way about each other is not just icing on the cake for believers. It is right. It is morally obligatory. And if it’s right to feel this way, it’s wrong to lack this deep affection for one another. You say, “But God can’t hold me accountable for not feeling certain ways! I can’t control how I feel! Besides, Christianity’s not about emotions anyway!” Wrong on all counts, my friend. Love and joy, the two concepts that top the list of the fruit of the Spirit, both very much involve the emotions, and you are commanded to be both loving and joyful. Now granted, love and joy are not merely emotions; but they certainly aren’t less than emotions. And it’s not quite right to say that Christianity isn’t about emotions. Much of your character can be examined in light of what kind of feelings you’re experiencing. As Jonathan Edwards has famously written, “True religion consists much in holy affections.” It is true that the Christian life is not governed by emotions, but spiritual health and character is discovered by emotions. We need to cultivate this affection for one another.


Paul says, “It’s only right for me to feel this way, because I have you in my heart.” He’s saying, “Our hearts are knit together. You are, as it were, joined together to the very fabric of my soul, united to the essence of my being. Even though we’re physically separated by a great distance, I still have you here with me.” The koinonia—the fellowship—that they shared in the ministry of the Gospel, produced this intense connection.


They supported him in his imprisonment, even when it would have been easier, safer, and less shameful (in the eyes of the world) to abandon him, they put themselves in danger by sending him Epaphroditus and bringing him financial gifts. As he proclaimed the Gospel—both in defending it against accusations and criticisms and in confirming and establishing it by solemn testimony and forthright declaration—the Philippians stood beside him as fellow-saints, and fellow-soldiers. And the consequence of that partnership in the ministry of the Gospel produced this deep, loving, affectionate bond. This true, Christlike fellowship that you can read with your own eyes in Philippians 1:3–8, is a result of ministerial companionship.


“For God is my witness: how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” The word “affection” is splangchnois, the word for bowels, or inward parts. It’s like saying, “My love and affection for you is so deep I can feel it in my stomach.” And we can relate to that a little bit. We understand the effect of the emotions on the stomach. Deep distress or sadness can cause us to lose our appetite. Terrible news can make us sick to our stomach. Or even positively, when someone is lovestruck and happy we speak about having butterflies in our stomach. Paul says, “I think of you, and I remember our partnership in the ministry of the Gospel, and I think of your coming glorification when God perfects this good work in you, and I long to be reunited with you all so much that I can feel it in my bowels I love you with all the affection of Christ Himself.”


And I just want to ask you: Do you speak with each other this way? I mean, when was the last time you said something like this to a Christian brother or sister? Paul isn’t embarrassed to speak this way! The gravity of his union with the Philippians demands that he speak this way! As you live life together with your fellow believers and fellow-soldiers for the Gospel, don’t squelch this kind of affection in superficiality and perpetual levity. Let it breathe.




But like I’ve said, this joy, this confidence, this affection that characterizes Paul’s thanksgiving for the Philippians—all of this is borne out of a true and living, Gospel-driven fellowship with other members of the body of Christ. When I read these opening verses of Philippians—about having believers in my heart, and longing for them with the affection of Christ Jesus—I think about specific people—treasured friends whom I’ve labored alongside, and even suffered alongside, in the ministry of the Gospel—the people I’ve been in the trenches with. Let me ask you: Are there people you think of when you read this passage? And let me be more specific: Are there people you think of in this room when you read this passage? There needs to be.


And I’m aware that that kind of thing doesn’t just happen overnight. A bond like Paul and the Philippians shared takes months and years of standing and laboring together. But you need to be cultivating that. You need to be working toward that. And what better time to start than now?


What does Gospel ministry look like for you, right here, and right now?

  • For some of you it looks like finally committing to regularly attending a Bible study, where you can come out of the shadows of a 300-person group and really get to know a small group of believers (under the oversight of the pastors) to whom you can be accountable.
  • For some of you it looks like really investing in the relationships you’ve begun at Bible study, or in some other arena. Confessing your sin to one another and holding each other accountable; having the difficult conversations with one another.
  • For some of you it looks like serving the families even outside of GraceLife by serving once every six weeks in the nursery.
  • For some of you it means sitting next to different people, and being intentional about getting to know them.
  • For some of you it means inviting the person you spoke with last week out to lunch, or over your house for dinner, and to learn how to pray for them.
  • For some of you it means attending one of our Local Outreach ministries, or being intentional in other ways about taking the Gospel to the lost.
  • For some of you it means an increased commitment to supporting our missionaries.


And for all of us it means that we make it a priority to regularly pray for one another here in GraceLife—to pray for one another’s growth in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus, to pray for the Spirit’s continuing work of sanctification in our lives, and to pray for each other with joy, with confidence, and with affection.