The Gospel: The Ground and Glue of Christian Fellowship (4)
We earlier saw that the gospel is what binds Paul and the Philippians, indeed, it is what binds you with other believers as well. I pointed out that this expresses itself in four ways, two of which we’ve already noted. We turn now to the third and fourth.
Third, Paul’s joyful gratitude to God is also based on his confidence that the work God initiated in them he will bring to completion (v. 6).
Paul had seen his fare share of people who loudly proclaimed their faith in Jesus only later to betray the fact that they never truly knew him as Lord and Savior. But he is confident beyond all doubt that what God had started in the lives of the Philippians he would in fact finish and bring to consummation. That isn’t to say that these people wouldn’t face obstacles to Christian growth. It isn’t to say that Satan had given up trying to deceive them and derail their faith. It isn’t to say that the Philippians had graduated into some super-spiritual condition that put them beyond the reach of temptation and sin.
Neither is it to say that they need not strive and maintain their spiritual diligence and pursue holiness in life. Rather it is to say that God is faithful to his work. It is to say that God will do whatever it takes to uphold the Philippians in their faith in Jesus, and you in your faith in Jesus. It is to say that God will persevere in his commitment to supply them (and you) with whatever it takes so that our confidence in Christ would not fail or falter and the work of grace he began would ultimately be brought to its proper goal when Jesus returns.
The assurance that fills Paul’s heart and accounts in part for the joy that floods his prayers on their behalf is that God will do whatever it takes to guarantee that no born-again child of God will ever lapse into unbelief and apostasy. That isn’t to say the people of God won’t at times wander away and spiritually drift and even fall into a backslidden and bitter state of soul. It is to say that their loving heavenly Father will never let them fail so as to fall completely out of his loving arms.
Take this text right now and impress its truth on your heart. I’m thinking particularly of you who are struggling with doubts about where you stand with God. You’re plagued by fear and anxiety that God has given up on you. He’s quite simply had enough; he’s had his fill of you and your pathetic efforts to remain true to him. Listen to me. No, listen to God speaking to you through Paul. Whatever God starts, he finishes. Whatever God starts, he finishes. Whatever God starts, he finishes. I pray this truth will echo repeatedly in your mind and spirit and you will be energized to get back in the race and resume the battle with the world, the flesh, and the Devil, renewed with the confident assurance that they can’t win!
The reason why Christians persevere in their faith is because God preserves them in it. God will not give up on the elect, he will not abandon them with the job only half done, he will not permit any obstacle or opposition to stand in the way of bringing all his children into the full inheritance of what he has promised in Jesus.
Fourth, because the Philippians share with Paul a common faith in the gospel, he loves them with a passion that is heartfelt and unyielding (vv. 7-8). Let’s note how this affection is felt and described.
Paul says, “I hold you in my heart” (v. 7). I carry you around not simply in my thoughts, but in the depths of my soul, in the very center of my being. You are always and ever dear to me! The basis for this abiding affection is again that these Philippian believers had partaken with Paul of the saving and sustaining grace of God. And how did he know this? On what basis does his confidence rest? Paul knew this to be true because when he was thrown in prison it would have so easy for them to run and hide and protect their own backsides. Instead they stood with him in defense of the gospel even when it threatened their own lives and freedom.
The depth of passion and affection of genuine Christian fellowship is stated yet again in even more intensely personal terms in v. 8.
It’s not clear why Paul felt compelled to call God as his witness. Perhaps he felt inadequate to give expression to his true feelings and thus calls on God to help him. Or maybe the enormity of his love deserved more than his own testimony. Others think that some in the church at Philippi doubted his motives toward them and thus Paul is saying, “If my expression of affection for you isn’t true, may God judge me now!”
In any case, he wants them to know how he “yearns” for them, a strong and emotionally charged term used to describe how desperate he is to see them again. But the important thing here isn’t the intensity of his love but its quality: he loves them and yearns for them “with all the affection of Christ Jesus” (v. 8b).
I think what he means by this is that his love for them originates in Christ’s love both for him and them. In other words, he is implicitly referring to the gospel yet again! We love only because Christ first loved us. But more than that, his love for them is of the same quality or kind as the love that Jesus actually has for us.
Think about how much Jesus loves you. Reflect on the depths of a love that would lead him to the cross on your behalf. Meditate on how patient and kind and compassionate and forgiving he is toward us all. That, says Paul, is the same sort of love I have for you.
So, is it just me, or, when you read Philippians 1:3-8, do you feel a touch of envy as well? Is there anyone who doesn’t long to experience with other Christians this kind of affection and fellowship and mutual delight?
If you want it, dig deeply into the gospel. Reflect long and hard on the gospel. Think and meditate and celebrate the truth of what God has done for a sinner such as you. From this endless well of the saving waters of God’s grace you will find refreshment and strength to experience with one another what Paul had with the Philippians and they had with him.