You know, its funny how our affections are so often, if not always, formed from our desires. I mean, have you ever thought about what draws certain feelings of strong affection out of you? People say that they “Love the University of Kentucky basketball team.” This is obvious to anyone who has ever lived in Kentucky. The affection that UK basketball fans demonstrate is nothing short of fanatical. They represent well, wearing something blue or something about John Calipari or something with “Go Cats!”, “Go Big Blue!”, or “Three Goggles” printed on it. They religiously attend games or watch them on television if they do not have tickets. During a UK basketball game, it is best to log out of Facebook because these fans post something about the game (usually unnecessary derogatory comments directed towards referees) non-stop. And if you even think about criticizing the Cats, prepare for a heated argument with one of these fans. The point of all this rambling is to show that UK basketball fans desire for the basketball team to win and to have success. Whether it is beating Louisville, signing the top recruits, or winning a National Championship, these fans have a deep desire in their hearts to see the Cats win and succeed. Now, when the Cats do succeed, as they did by winning their eighth National Championship this past Spring, this desire is brought to fruition, namely through affection. I distinctively remember seeing countless tweets, posts, and shirts made that read, “I LOVE MY CATS!” The affection that these fans demonstrated was deeply rooted in their desire to see UK win. As they witnessed the desires come to pass…BOOM! Strong affections and shouts of joy!
As I have begun a study of Philippians, the words “desire” and “affection” are on my mind and heart as I am reading this warm, loving, and joy-drenched greeting and thanksgiving. I have given exceeding focus to the first eight verses of Philippians and I am more than thankful for God’s grace in my decision to do so (I typically give little to no attention to the greetings of Paul’s letters). I can just imagine Paul writing this letter and having to start over and over again due to the tears of joy springing from his joyful, grace-filled, and grateful heart. I can imagine the believers at Philippi receiving this letter and feeling and noticing the dried up tear drops on the first page. While the tone is overly joyful, it is also very somber as I cannot help but feel the weight of Paul’s heart as he describes his affections for the saints at Philippi. Without a doubt, there is strong emotion and affection reaching from the pages of Scripture in Philippians 1:1-8. Now, since we have established the fact that our affections are deeply rooted in our desires, we beg the question, “What in the world would cause Paul to show such affection to these believers?” A second question that is like it: “What desire of Paul gave birth to these emotional and joy-soaked affections?”
I will answer these questions in reverse order. Paul indicates that every prayer of his to God is given in “thank[s]” for the “saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi” and “every prayer of [his] is given “with joy” (Philippians 1:1, 3-4). Paul is thanking God for his remembrance of the believers in Philippi (Philippians 1:3). He has a thankful and glad heart when reflecting on the believers in Philippi and his heart and prayers are full of joy. What was the desire behind all of this expressive written affection? His desire is for the gospel to advance and for Christ to be proclaimed truthfully and faithfully (Philippians 1:15-18). He has a strong and holy ambition to preach where Christ has not been named (Romans 15:20). Paul has a strong desire to see his own people, the Jews, be saved through the gospel of Jesus Christ (Romans 10:1). In short, Paul has a desire to see the gospel believed, lived, and proclaimed. In seeing this desire of his come to fruition not only in his life, but also in the life of the first church he had established in Europe (Acts 16:6-40), Paul is overwhelmed with exceeding joy and this joy was demonstrated through the joy-soaked pages of this letter.
Now, on to the first question we proposed. What in the world would cause Paul to show such affection to these believers? We partly answered this question in the closing of the answer to the other question. Paul has seen his desire for the gospel to be believed, lived, and proclaimed in the life of this body of believers. Verses five and seven shed light and give us the answer we desire. Philippians 1:5: “…because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” There are two implications of this verse that shed light on our question about the cause of Paul’s affection:
- Paul shows affection because the saints at Philippi were fellow believers in the gospel.
- Paul shows affection because the saints at Philippi were faithful in the gospel.
Paul’s joy springs from the Philippian believers’ dedication to the gospel of Jesus Christ. He finds joy in their partnership with him in the gospel of Christ. The saints at Philippi have partnered with Paul in a cause much greater than themselves, namely, the cause of Christ. They pray to and worship the Lord Jesus Christ with Paul. God has been glorified in the life of this church and Paul is rejoicing in it. He rejoices so much that he gives these believers, and by implication believers today, the assurance that this gospel we have believed, this work of saving faith that God has started in them (and us) is not in vain, but will be [brought] to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6). This verse alone has me jumping for joy (in my heart of course; I think my co-workers would find it strange if that was literal). God has poured out his grace on these believers (along with Paul) and awakened their dead hearts and opened their spiritually blind eyes (In Paul’s case, God blinded him literally and then gave him both physical and spiritual sight). And what both Paul and these believers have seen is more glorious than anything they have ever seen. They have tasted and seen that He is good above all else (Psalm 34:8). This satisfies Paul’s desire and leads him into tremendous affection for these brothers of his. Paul is ecstatic at the fact that God has graciously given a gift of salvation that is brought into effect by God Himself.
Verse seven is equally compelling as Paul’s joy springs from these believers’ support of Paul “both in his imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel” (Philippians 1:7). We see here a two-way avenue of love and grace both horizontally and vertically. Horizontally: Paul showed love and grace by preaching the gospel of Christ in Philippi (see Acts 16:6-40) and the believers at Philippi showed love and grace to Paul in their support of him and prayers for him while he is imprisoned as well as in their bold defense and confirmation of the gospel. Vertically: God has poured out His love and grace on Paul and the believers at Philippi by sending His Son as a perfect substitute and sacrifice to win our justification in His sight. The faith in Christ shared by both Paul and these believers is a gift of grace from God. Paul is overjoyed by these two realities and as a result, verse 8 speaks for itself: “For God as my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ.” What joyous and powerful affection this is!
In my extended meditation on Philippians 1:1-8, I see clearly how Paul’s exuberant joy and emotional affection toward the saints at Philippi are deeply rooted in his desire to see the gospel of Jesus Christ believed, lived (obeyed), and proclaimed.
So, where are your affections rooted? They are rooted in your desires. I pray that my affections would be directed to those who are proclaiming the gospel faithfully and obeying Christ radically. As Christians, those who are believing the gospel, obeying the gospel, and proclaiming the gospel should bring us true joy that leads to expressive affection. In order for this to come to pass in my life, I must set my eyes on my own heart. What do I desire? What do you desire? Allow this question to penetrate your heart and with much prayer and daily sin-fighting, may your answer be faithfully:” God is my true desire! I have seen His grace and I am overjoyed! Now, let me make much of His name by obeying Him faithfully and proclaiming Him globally!” I pray that your affections for gospel partnership among believers will be motivated and shaped by your desire to know God more and to praise and see the glory of His grace praised among all peoples of all nations (Ephesians 1:6).