Paul’s Love for the Philippians
“It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel” (v. 7).- Philippians 1:7–8
Not only does the gospel bring us into an eternal union with Christ, it also unites us to other believers in Jesus, forming us into one body in which we are “members one of another” (Eph. 4:25). Practically speaking, this cannot help but create in us a deep affection for other Christians. So real is this love for fellow believers that the apostles find it inconceivable that we could ever love God without loving other disciples of Jesus (1 John 4:20–21).
Both direct commands that we love fellow believers and glimpses into the relationships between the apostles and their churches seen in the epistles show how the gospel forms love for Christian brothers and sisters in our hearts. Philippians 1:7–8 reveals the close bond Paul felt with the Christians in Philippi, showing us how the apostle held the Philippians in his heart and yearned for them “with the affection of Christ Jesus.” Paul’s correspondence with the Philippian church was not a communication born of a mere duty he felt to write to a supporting congregation. On the contrary, writing to the Philippians delighted the apostle, and he wanted them to know how sending the epistle reflected his yearning for them.
Elsewhere in the New Testament, the Greek term translated as “yearning” in verse 8 is used only for praiseworthy longings. The love Paul had for the Philippians was a laudable affection, one arising from their fellow partaking of grace in the apostle’s imprisonment (v. 7). This grace moved the Philippians to share in their pastor’s sufferings as they prayed earnestly for him and even sacrificed some of their own financial well-being to help meet some of his needs (vv. 5, 19; 4:18). This sharing took place even as Paul was called upon to defend and confirm the gospel. One commentator says that by “defense” (v. 7) the apostle meant the “disarming [of] prejudice and [the] overcoming [of] objections” to his preaching. “Confirmation” referred to the presentation of proof and testimony. While Paul obeyed the mandate “to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you … with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15), he had the blessing of the Philippian church standing with him in prayer, love, and financial support. May we be those who can offer such support to defenders of the gospel in our own day.
In many ways, it is easier to pray or to give to various churches and ministries instead of doing both. How often do we pray for other believers and gospel defenders without responding to their need for financial support? How often do we write a check and then promptly forget to pray regularly for those to whom we give. Let us do both, as we are able, thereby showing our love for others and our wholesale reliance on the grace of God.
Passages for Further Study
2 Corinthians 8:16–24