I must admit that for a couple weeks now I’ve been at a loss for what to write about concerning Philippians 1:7-8 (or should I include verses 9-11 as well?). You might be surprised to hear I’m not half the theologian I hoped I was! Having mined the depths of my own wisdom and knowledge and found nothing I thought would be of help or assistance to you, I’ve fallen back on the professionals.
At our church this weekend we started an ABF (Adult Bible Fellowship) study on – as providence would have it – Philippians, led by Matt Chandler. And in studying and preparing for the first lesson, Chandler gives great insight into – as providence would again have it – the reason behind Paul’s effusive outpouring of emotion towards this church in verse 8.
8For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.
Chandler asks, “What is it about these people that would make Paul yearn for them with the affection of Christ Jesus?” The affection of Christ for His children drove Him to the cross. It is a deep and abiding affection in which Christ was willing to suffer and even die for them. These aren’t just empty, surface level words Paul is using here nor did he use this kind of language towards any other church he wrote to.
To get an idea of why Paul felt this way about the Philippian church, we need to go back to the beginnings of this church in Acts 16:11-40. This is the chapter that sees Paul’s journeys bring him to Philippi where a rich woman named Lydia, a demon-possessed slave girl, and a jailer would all be converted.
The gospel was getting ready to explode in Philippi through Paul’s efforts and the power of the Holy Spirit. It would cross all boundaries – racial, socio-economic, and intellectual.
Lydia was very wealthy. Verse 14 tells us she was a seller of purple goods. In that time period, the color purple was the most expensive color to produce and thus the most expensive color to purchase. Lydia was a dealer in very expensive products and was probably financially well-off as a result. We also know that she was from Thyatira, which was a city in Asia. She was an Asian in Rome worshipping with Jews.
The slave girl was the opposite of Lydia. She was demon-possessed, poor, and out of control. Her owners were using her ability of fortune-telling (via spirit possession) for great personal gain. Verse 18 says she followed Paul and Silas around for many days screaming and mocking, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” Paul, under the power of the Holy Spirit, commanded the spirit to come out of her and immediately she regained control of her mind and her owners lost their ability to use her for gain. Everything she once lacked she had been given back in an instance.
And finally, the jailer. Here is a blue-collar, hard-working, duty-bound, country-first soldier working to get his pay and go home. When the jail doors are flung open and he thinks all the prisoners escaped (punishable by death), the soldier immediately grabs his sword in order that he may kill himself. When he realizes none of them escaped he fell down before Paul and asked the all-important question, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul preached the gospel to him and he and his family were saved and baptized.
So what was it that so endeared Paul to this church? It may have had something to do with the outpouring of the gospel across all dividing lines. It may have had to do with the fact that he baptized a lot of these people himself. Paul had such an unforgettable experience in Philippi and such time had passed that, at the writing of his letter, he may have been wondering things like
- How old was the slave girl by now and what was she up to?
- How had Lydia, upon conversion, used her great wealth to further the gospel?
- How many more soldiers were members of the church because of the witness of the jailer?
It looks like verses 9-11 will have to wait until next time.
What self-imposed boundaries do you place on the gospel? What people do you think beyond saving? Jesus is no respecter of persons, so neither should we be. Do you believe God is mighty to save (Zephaniah 3:17)? By the way, that is the first time I’ve ever referenced Zephaniah in anything!