10:30 am Sunday Worship
6400 W 20th St, Greeley, CO

The Foundation of Love for the Church

Philippians 1:7-8

Last week we looked at verses 3 through 6 of Philippians Chapter 1.  In those verses, we saw the amazing, the unbelievable love that Paul has for all of the believers in the church at Philippi.  We talked about the fact we live in this culture that is constantly trying to get us to focus on ourselves and to think about ourselves, and we even demonstrated how this is also the focus of much of what we see in broader evangelicalism—this focus on selfishness, but selfishness bathed in some Christian language.  We looked at how so many of us have been influenced in one way or another by this type of thinking; that is why I think we looked at these verses, and it became such a challenge for so many of us.  I know it was for me.  These verses show—verses 3 through 6—how even despite the great trial Paul is going through—being unjustly imprisoned—what brings him joy is loving those in the church.  Last week we specifically talked about what this love looked like in Paul.  We saw how Paul thanks God in all his remembrance of them.  We saw how he chooses not to think about all the possible negative memories he could easily bring up from his time in Philippi.  We looked at Acts 16 and saw there’s a lot of bad stuff that happened to him.  He could focus on that, but he doesn’t.  Instead, he only thinks about that which is good when it is about them.

Then we talked about how this would lead him to joyfully praying for them despite any bad circumstances that might be going on in or around the church.  And while Paul would have plenty of things to pray about for himself while he’s in prison, it brings him joy to intercede instead for these Philippians, who are so dear to him.  He views them as those who are persevering with him in partnership for the sake of the Gospel instead of ascribing to them any other identity that he could easily assign to them.  He loves them as those who are his true partners.  We also see his love for them in verse 6 when we see how he focuses on what he understands the Philippian believers are guaranteed to become rather than what they might be now.  He has absolute confidence that because God began a saving work in them, God will also complete that work.  The fact God has chosen each of them for salvation means they are fellow partakers of that divine grace that has save him.  And Paul decides that is going to be his focus when it comes to them.

So if you were like me while I was studying that passage—verses 3 through 6—you were asking questions about how is Paul able to do this.  How can you have that type of love for others, when they are your primary concern, even when you are in such a bad place, a rough place in life—even when you haven’t been with them in such a long time like Paul, and even when there are plenty of bad things you can focus on instead—how do you do this?  How do you do what we see him doing?  We talked about this love he has for the church being reflected in the loving attitude that he has for them.  So last week we learned the loving way in which we must also, to be like Paul, think of each other—by choosing to think more in terms of our identity, the union with Christ that we see in each other. 

But if you went home last week and you tried to just apply that text by forcing yourself to have a new attitude, then you might have struggled a bit because there is a foundation that needs to be in place in our lives in order to really love each member of the church the way Paul does, and that is what we’re going to see in verses 7 and 8 as we study them this morning.  In order to love the church in this selfless way as Paul did, there is something you must have.  Today, we’re going to see what that is.  Today, we’re going to discover this vital truth that is necessary in order to love like Paul—what it is that each of us must have to love the church the way we are implored to love the church from verses 3 through 6.  That is what we’re looking for in this passage—and it’s not hidden.  You will be able to see the surface answer to this question just as we read through this passage here in a moment.  But let’s remind ourselves once again of the context and read verses 3 through 8 together.  Paul says:

*I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all, making my prayer with joy because of your partnership in the gospel form the first day until now.  And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.  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.  For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.*

So once again in verses 3 through 6, we see Paul demonstrating the exact way we ought to think of each other in the church: being thankful for them at every remembrance.  Every time they come to his mind, he’s thankful for them, praying joyfully for them, pleading with God on their behalf.  And he isn’t just dutifully following through with a prayer request list. This is something that gives him joy—seeing them as Gospel partners, those who are persevering alongside of him.  Even though he is the one who has had to endure so much more for the sake of the Gospel, he sees them as his Gospel partners, and he is confident that whatever difficulties are surrounding them, and whatever immaturity might be a part of them right now, if God himself began the work in them, then God will surely also bring it to completion. 

We see so much love and kindness from Paul in these words.  These are the words from that man who made the decision to come to Philippi and to start preaching the Gospel there in the first place—the one who first began witnessing to Lydia.  We saw in Acts 16 that Lydia was the first convert in the church.  He’s the one who was in the city of Philippi to help that church grow, and was beaten and imprisoned during that time.  And he is an apostle of Jesus Christ.  He is the one who—even now in prison again for this Gospel—who is right now overflowing with all these words of love and affection for them. 

So you can imagine as the Philippians read these words, they may be thinking something along the lines of, “Us? What about you?”  That kind of talk seems over the top when you think of who’s saying these things to him.  Is he overdoing it on the politeness thing a little bit?  But in verse 7, it’s like Paul sees them thinking that type of sentiment, and he says, “I’m not just being polite.”  In verse 7 he says, “It is right for me to feel this way about you all.”  It’s the right thing to do.  In other words, he wants them to know he is not in any way exaggerating.  “It is right for me to feel this way.”  What way?  The way he has just been describing in verses 3 through 6.  All these things he has described—they’re not just to puff them up.  It’s not just because it’s the polite thing for him to say.  No, Paul thinks it is right for him to stop now and interject these verses—7 and 8—so they will have confidence this isn’t just a nice thing he’s saying.  Not only does he really think this way about them, but he is also saying “It is right for me to feel this way.  Yes, I do think this way about you, and I’m not just being emotional.  This is how I should feel about you.” 

Notice again something we pointed out last week.  He says “about you all”—“all of you in the church.”  He’s not just talking about the deacons and the overseers, the spiritually mature people—he’s not leaving out any of the troubled people, like the two women from Philippians 4.  He says, “you all.”  That word translated as “right” doesn’t just mean that’s what is appropriate; it means that which is morally and ethically right, or that which is just.  “This is the morally, ethically right way for me to think.”  And the word translated as “feel” is the word “phroneo,” which is a word that Paul uses disproportionally frequently in the book of Philippians.  He uses it ten times in this book and only 13 times in the rest of his letters combined.  And that word is usually translated as “think.”  So it’s not just feelings. It has more to do with having a mental disposition toward something, rather than just a feeling like we typically use the word “feelings.”  So Paul is saying, “I know—I am sure that everything that I just said about how I think of you, how I feel about you—that it is just and right and that’s the way I should be thinking about you.”

Then Paul says, “Because,” and that word indicates now Paul is prepared to give his reason.  He is now going to tell us why “I must feel that way.  Why I should feel that way,” why he should think this way about the Philippians, why he loves them the way he does.  So with this “because,” he’s about to give us the answer to the question that was inferred in what I said early—the proposition I made a little while ago—what is it that is at the core here?  Why is it Paul can have this type of attitude toward these people?  What is it that we also need in order to love each other in the amazing way we have seen in Paul?  And here is answer, “It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart.”  The way we are conditioned to think about a phrase like that is, “That’s not very theological.  ‘I hold you in my heart’?”  Paul says, “The thing that informs my thanksgiving in the evaluation of you is that I hold you in my heart.” 

But before we start thinking that Paul has just turned into some sort of feelings-driven, Hallmark-movie-watching, tears-up-whenever-he-sees-a-puppytype of guy, we need to remember when it says “heart” here, it means more than the Valentine’s-y way we think of it.  There is definitely emotion involved—I’m not saying no emotion, but that’s not all.  The heart refers to the deepest level of human consciousness, the seat of the mind, the will and the emotions, where the center of feelings and decision-making are.  The rest of our passage—verses 7 and 8—show us the reasons these believers are in Paul’s heart in this way.

So we have discovered what it is that justifies Paul loving the Philippian church the way he does.  It’s because he has them in his heart.  So if we want to love each other the way we see Paul modeling it for us, then we need to have each other in our hearts.  We need to have the members of this church in our heart—that deepest part of us where mind and emotion come together in truth.  That’s not just something you can go home and decide to do.  You need to know the reason they are in his heart.  So we need to know these reasons, and that is what you see reflected in the two points in your outline.  Number one—shared grace, and number two—shared affection.  And after I realized the amount of time I would have today, shared grace is expanded, and shared affection will serve as a conclusion.  But these are the key to how Paul is able to love the Christians at Philippi, why it is right he does so, and why they are in his heart.  And if we really understand them, then we will be able to feel and think the same way when it comes to each other—if we can see these things and see each other the way Paul does.

Point one—shared grace.  Here we are talking about a grace that Paul understands he shares with the Philippian believers.  Look at verse 7 again.  “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 sand confirmation of the gospel.”  So Paul sees them as “partakers” along with him of grace.  Part of the reason these believers are in Paul’s heart is because he understands them to be partakers of the same grace he has—that God has extended to him.  He is saying, “You and I have become partakers of that same grace.”  Under this first point, which is going to be almost the whole sermon, you’ve got three subpoints of shared grace—what shared grace is.  Shared grace of salvation.  Shared grace of suffering.  And shared grace of speaking. 

First, salvation—we see this flowing out of the confidence that we see from Paul in verse 6.  The fact God has begun a good work in them means God has extended to them that very same grace that was first extended to Paul in Acts 9 on the road to Damascus, where God knocks Paul off his horse and saves him.  The very definition of grace means that it is something that comes from God alone.  It is given from God alone, and it’s distributed according to his good pleasure.  He disperses it as he chooses.  He opens the eyes of the blind.  He removes the veil.  He’s the one who gives spiritual life to the spiritually dead.  This is his work and his work alone.

So for us not to recognize it when we see it, and for us not to rejoice in it when we see it is to rebel against God’s plan and to act as if we were in charge of the dispensing of grace, that we could do it better.  Many of us tend to look at unbelievers and we rank them, right?  We judge them on how close to the kingdom that person might be.  And that affects our evangelism.  “That person is a church-going person who grew up in a church—they’ve got a far better shot of believing in Christ than this person I live next to who has the Satan-worshipping bumper sticker and stuff like that.”  But that’s not the case.  It’s a denial of God’s grace in salvation.  Sometimes even within the church we let petty differences and our own biases influence how we think about those within the church whom God has chosen to miraculously save and give life to. 

Paul sees God’s choosing of them to be partakers of the same grace as he has been given as the primary way in which they are to be viewed.  That’s the filter at which Paul looks at these people.  And that’s how we are to look at everyone in the church—everyone who makes up the body of Christ.  The fact that totally depraved sinners are plucked out by God and given a new nature, that the sovereign and omniscient God of the universe has chosen to take this person and completely change their nature and to make them a partaker of the same grace as you have been made of—that he has chosen to do that—that he who does all things for the good of those whom he has called and for his own glory—the fact he would take that person and put them in the same church as you needs to be the primary way we view the fellow members of our church.  That person in the church whom you might try to avoid because the two of you have personality issues, or the one you and your spouse or you and your friend might “Christian gossip” about— “Wow, I can’t believe that car they bought.  I guess they aren’t to that place where they’re giving like we are yet.”  Or, “Look at that—what a different way to raise your kids.  Do you remember when we used to think like that?”  Or, “I’ve learned not to talk to her because it’s just better for my soul and probably hers also.  We disagree so much there’s just a connection that’s not there.  It’s just better for us that we sit on opposite sides and don’t interact much.” 

We need to understand that it is God who put that person here and put them with you.  There’s a reason that person is here with you and not your mom, whom you get along better with, or your dad, or your sister, or your brother, or maybe your child, or that guy from work whom you get along with so well, or the other mom from your kid’s school with whom you see eye-to-eye with everything.  You get along with those people.  There’s a reason why these people are in the church with you—and not those people.  And it has to do with the sovereign initiative of God.  We need to understand that the sovereign God, who extended divine grace to you, also chose to extend that same divine grace to them.  You are partakers of the same grace.  And more than that, this all-wise God has placed you together in this church to grow in sanctification.  There is something deeply flawed in us—an evidence of how much we have caved into the selfish lifestyle this culture is trying to pull us into.  We must look around this church and be overjoyed and have hearts overflowing with love and amazement at the miraculous trophies of God’s grace who are filling the chairs in here. 

Yes, of course, we’re all in various stages of sanctification.  We always have different sins we are working through, but it should be repulsive to us.  And we should cry out to God to readjust our thinking if we can look at any fellow church member and have the first thing that comes to our mind be something critical.  Of course, we should notice sin in their lives, areas where they might need to grow, need help.  That’s part of our job as the same body of Christ—to be used by God to help to accomplish those things in them.  But how will you ever truly be effective in that if you are not first and foremost filled with love for them because you recognize in them the miraculous work of God in their lives?

Paul doesn’t just see this shared grace in the initial act of regeneration.  That is clearly part of it, but the evidence he gives has to do with how he sees the shared grace being played out in their ongoing sanctification.  He gives examples of how he sees that shared grace evident in their lives, and these are the next two subpoints.  Subpoint A—salvation.  Subpoint B—suffering.  We see this as he talks about his imprisonment.  Paul makes it clear in verse 7 that it is his imprisonment—“my imprisonment.”  It belongs to him.  Yet, there is some way in which he sees it belonging to the Philippians also.  He sees his suffering as an extension of the suffering of the Philippian church.  He is the part of the Philippian church that is enduring this part of the suffering.  And again, he is careful to point out he feels this way about all of them.  They are all suffering in this. 

Suffering, as we will see as we go through this book, is an important theme.  And here in this first place we see it, Paul wants to demonstrate to them that he sees them as suffering right alongside of him.  One of the things that Paul surely has in mind here is that whatever the gift is that they sent along with Epaphroditus—he sees this gift from them as their choosing to take a stand alongside of him.  They’re of one mind when it comes to the Gospel, one mind when it comes to the Gospel work that Paul has been imprisoned for to the point where they are willing to make it known they are in lock-step agreement with him—this Roman prisoner who is 800 miles away from them.  They’re willing to send Epaphroditus—one of their best and most beloved—to minister to Paul, to demonstrate just how much they understand themselves to agree with him—to be with him in this. They see Paul’s suffering as their suffering.  They refuse to let him bear it alone.  They share in suffering together.  Is that how we see each other in suffering?

One of the keyways we could say something similar to Paul about each other, that we would be able to hold each other in our hearts, will be realized when we are committed to suffering together.  I think we’ve actually seen this a lot in our church when people are going through medical issues, physical issues, family issues.  We see each other coming alongside of each other.  We need to hold each other up in those moments in prayer, help provide for each other’s physical needs.  I do think this happens pretty regularly here.  When we do that, we need to see it and understand it as sharing in suffering together.  But not only in the physical cases—this should also be the case when it comes to the spiritual side of things—spiritual trials that come on because of the physical trials.  A lot of times it is much easier to bring someone a meal and say you’ll pray for them than it is to sit down with them, read the Scripture with them—weep with those who weep—and pray with them there. 

Now even more so as we come into a time in this country as what looks to be increasing persecution.  There is going to be some suffering that is overtly spiritual.  Some of us are going to feel it more than others.  We know already there are a good amount of people in our church, especially those of you who are working in the education field, who are going to be feeling some more intense pressure and suffering for the sake of their Gospel faithfulness.  Do we see, do we understand this suffering as our suffering as a church?  Are we determined that they know they are not alone in this?  It’s not just that they come to church service on Sunday mornings for a different experience, and that’s what you provide them.  It’s that they can come here knowing this body is suffering alongside of them.  We are to be a congregation that walks with each other throughout the week—not just one that checks up on each other on Sundays, and maybe Wednesdays.  That’s not what this is.  

Not only do we suffer with each other when it comes to how we are interacting with a world that his hostile to the God of the Bible and to those who serve that God, but we also suffer with each other when it comes to the most difficult areas of personal sanctification.  We don’t look down on someone who doesn’t understand how to be a godly steward of their time and money or who doesn’t understand how to be a godly husband or wife or parent—even if they don’t realize how much they’re suffering in these things but they think they’re fine.  A culture of discipleship understands that as a body, when one part suffers, the body suffers.  So we make it our business, our desire to bear one another’s burdens.  We suffer alongside of them by giving of our time and energy to help them.  Not only should they not be bearing the burdens of loneliness and physical ailments by themselves; they shouldn’t even be bearing their immaturity by themselves.  This is the logical response of someone who understands that they are knit together with this person as partakers of the grace of God that has save both of us and placed us in the same church together.

Subpoint C—speaking.  We’re talking here about the Gospel.  Next, we see that Paul understands they are partakers of grace together as it relates to the speaking of the Gospel.  He says they are partakers with him in the Gospel both in its defense and its confirmation.  You see in these words that Paul has both the idea of protecting the Gospel message and proactively sharing it.  He takes comfort in the fact he can see the grace of God in them through the defense of the Gospel.  He takes comfort in that, which is especially important because we find out later in this letter in Chapter 3 that there is a prevalence of false teaching around them.  So the Gospel needs to be defended.  When we see the Gospel as precious, when we really understand its importance over and against everything else in this world, we see each other as fellow defenders of that Gospel, it will cause us to feel and think of each other the same way Paul does—holding each other in our hearts.  There’s a very real sense in which our inability to love like Paul comes from a low view of the Gospel—that we may or may not understand that we have. 

When you understand it as precious, defending the Gospel together forges that same kind of war-buddy type of bond as men who go off to war and are defending a common cause together because they love the country they serve or the people who live in that country.  When they are defending it together, it forms that bond, and I have personally seen and felt this for you all when it comes to defense of the Gospel, especially coming out of the conference we just came out of.  From time to time, as I peek my head out there in the evangelical world through various blogs and podcasts and websites, it can get discouraging to see so many people being swept up by fine-sounding arguments when it comes to various aspects of some of these false teachings, like some of the social justice movement type of stuff.  I look in horror as so many Christians have even now had no problem endorsing some of the most rank heretics and brazenly false teachings because they see something else as previous. 

Maybe some of you saw that in the news this week when Paula White, a false teacher who was featured prominently at the Justin Peters Conference we did here as a health and wealth teacher who promotes the “little god theology”—released a book.  She is a woman who founded and co-pastored a church together with her husband as they were both having affairs, and then they divorced later.  I think she’s been divorced twice now and writes these books on “Best Life” type of stuff.  This week her newest book was released, and it was endorsed by some of the most prominent Christian conservative leaders in our county.  Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Dallas, who is also on Fox News all the time; Jack Graham, Franklin Graham, Ralph Reed, Jerry Falwell Jr., Greg Laurie—all came out supporting this book, touting its excellence and demonstrating that what they really see as precious is the religious right rather than Christian orthodoxy.  Those of you who follow Justin Peters on social media might have seen some of his posts pleading with these men to immediately disassociate with her.  This is bad.  “This is a discernment mistake,” he called it, “of the most egregious kind for a pastor to make.”

I look around, and I’ll see all of this stuff like that going on in the culture and all of the confusion out there, and yes, it can be discouraging, but then when I look at you all, and I hear the way you’re asking questions and making comments, not just during this last conference with Tom Ascol, but even back in the Justin Peters Conference—when I hear how you talk, and I see what you’re seeing, my heart is full of joy and love for this church.  I can see the grace of God that we share as I watch your fervor for the defense of the true Gospel, as you all respond and when you see it clearly when so many people don’t see if clearly, and it seems so obvious, and then you do—it fills me with such love and excitement for our church. 

So we should see the shared grace in the defense of the Gospel as we watch each other and we see this in each other, and we should hold each other accountable and stand arm-in-arm with each other and not compromise the Gospel message in any way, even as the world and much of so-called Christianity constantly pressures us to compromise.  But we also see the grace that we share as we watch the confirmation of the Gospel among each other.  As Paul keeps tabs of the growth of this church in Philippi from a distance, it has grown from a few women at a riverside to a big enough church now that they have a plurality of elders and deacons.  It confirms even more the fact they are partakers of the same grace.  That’s hopefully what you’re seeing here also.  As we look around, we see a church that is actively engaged in the proclamation of the Gospel with the work of both evangelism and discipleship.

Again, personally for me a few weeks ago on Sunday night when we heard what’s going on with the Green Team and the Red Team—when you hear them and when you talk to those people on those teams, and you hear about the different stories of witnessing to people, encountering people with the Gospel at work, at school, in nursing homes, downtown Greeley, people who are meeting other people and sharing the Gospel with them—when you hear people in this church doing Gospel ministry in order to help others grow in sanctification, it’s so encouraging.  The more you see and experience a church like that, the easier and more natural love for the church becomes because you are seeing and experiencing that same shared grace that Paul sees and understands here. 

In order to really love the church the way we are supposed to, the way we see Paul loving them in verses 3 through 6—an almost supernatural type of love we see him expressing—that comes from the foundation of having the church in your heart—everyone here is held in a place that is central to the core of who you are.  As you look around the congregation, you see everyone, and they hold a place in you central to the core of who you are.  The way this happens isn’t by trying really hard to do that.  It’s by having this same mindset as Paul. 

We’re all partakers of the same grace.  It is evident as we have witnessed God’s regenerative power in each other’s lives.  It’s evident.  As we suffer together, as we share in each other’s sufferings, taking upon ourselves the suffering of each individual in the church, bearing one another’s burdens, it’s evidence.  And we see it as we watch each other defend the Gospel, take stands and not compromise.  We’re so close to each other that it’s like we’re experiencing it together.  As we go out together sharing the Gospel to a lost world, and as we talk to each other about these experiences and as we encourage one another and as we get involved in each other’s lives and minister the Gospel to one another, discipling each other in the truth, it becomes evident that we share in this same grace.  It becomes easy to hold each other in our hearts.

What we need to see—and what is so important to see here—is that you will never be able to sound like Paul in these verses—you’ll never be able to talk about the church in this way, to experience the love and joy Paul has for these believers, if you do not throw all of yourself into the life of the church.  This is an impossibility for you.  If you don’t make the church and everyone in it your very life, this will never describe you.  In order to love like Paul, you must be able to see everyone here as partakers of this same grace you have been given.  You can’t just acknowledge that as a truth,  That this is “a truth I know.”  It’s not just something you mentally assent to and affirm. It’s something you must experience by getting involved in everyone’s lives.  Stop seeing them as people whom you just catch up with once a week, or if you are someone who makes it here when they can but rarely talks to anyone else here during the week.  Sunday night and Wednesday night are kind of the bonus thing you might do for God if you can’t find something better.  If you aren’t being discipled by someone here or disciplining someone here, then these words that Paul is speaking are always going to remain a mystery to you.  You’ll never have an idea, never really know what it’s like to be this way.  You might get to a point when you think you’re experiencing some of this, but if you’re not sold out, heart and soul, to this church, to this people God has sovereignly placed you with, then you are just experiencing a shadow of what the love of the church is and not it’s substance. 

When you’re at Disneyland, they do this cool thing in most of the lines when they try to make the line interesting—as interesting as possible.  They’ll put some cool pictures or animatronics to keep you entertained so you’re not paying attention to how long it is taking or how much money it is costing per ride.  They do all this stuff and give you kind of a preview of what the ride might be like, and since it’s Disneyland, it’s already kind of a fun experience.  But you wouldn’t go stand in the line and just stay there for a while then leave and tell everyone how much you love that ride and tell everyone they should go to that ride.  You never actually got on.  You’re not going to do that.

This church is a really good church. The expositional teaching you get here, the purpose and planning that go into the music we select, the classes and programs we do—they’re good.  But if you’re just showing up to all these things—maybe you’re even getting a lot out of the service, you should be.  It’s the Bible.  If you’re getting a lot out of the service and the teaching, but you’re not getting involved in the lives of the people that make up this church, then you aren’t really a part of this church in a way you might think you are.  You’re like the person content to see the cool stuff in line and settling for that and never actually getting on the ride.  Paul’s words here will never actually mean a thing to you. 

If you’re wondering where you might stand in all of this, look at verse 8 and ask yourself if you can honestly say this about the people of the church.  “For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” So at the bottom of your outline, the conclusion—the shared affection that you see in verse 8.  But now when we are talking about sharing, we’re not talking about what Paul shares with the Philippians. We’re talking about the affection for the Philippian church that he shares with Christ.  He yearns for them.  He wants to be with them.  He longs to be around them, to go through life with them.  This is more than just saying he misses them.  He’s someone who yearns to be with the church—not just be at church—with the church, the assembly, the people.  They will have to be stopped from getting here by something probably drastic.  Whenever the church gathers, what would it take the one who yearns for them to not show up?  Again, notice Paul is saying he yearns for all of them, not just one of them.  Not just the best one.  Not just the godliest one.  All of them!  Longing to come here to hear Travis preaching or longing to come here to sing these songs we get to sing or sit in one of the classes because you know that is better than anything else out there, better than sitting at home watching TV or something like that—even really, really wanting to be here for those things is not at all what it means to yearn for the church.  He longs to be with them all.  He yearns for them with the affection of Christ Jesus. 

That word for “affection” is the one talking about the soft inner organs, the place where you really feel your emotions.  You know that feeling you get inside when you see your family at the airport for the first time in weeks, and you see them coming around?  Or the feeling you got in your chest and your stomach when you saw your bride coming down the aisle.  Paul is saying he has this feeling for them, and its source is in his union with Christ.  He is saying, “I understand myself to be the affection of Christ toward you.”  He is saying, “I have come to share in the Lord Jesus Christ love and compassion for you.” And to demonstrate that he really means it, he takes an oath before God.  He says, “As God is my witness, this is true of me.”  That is amazing.  For someone who knows and understands the fear of God better than any of us to say that— “As God is my witness, I yearn for you.”

Christian, how far away are you from being able to say this about everyone in our church?  Paul can honestly say this about his fellow Christians.  At about five or so this afternoon, how many of us will begin thinking about whether we want to come tonight?  Don’t just look at this and go, “Oh that’s Paul.  It seems like a bit of a reach for me to shoot that high.”  These words are here for us to see them, to be amazed by them, and then realize this is something we can and should be striving to say alongside of him also.  It’s not actually as difficult as it may sound to some of us, but it will never happen if you remain where you are when it comes to your involvement in the church.  The only way to be able to have this type of affection for each other—the type we see here—is to be able to hold each other in our hearts.  And the only way this happens is when we can see each other as partakers of the same saving, sanctifying, fruit-producing grace.  And the only way we’re going to see that in each other—the only way that’s going to happen is if we go all in with the church, getting so involved in each other’s lives that we are sharing everyone’s suffering and sharing the experience of the Gospel ministry with each other locked arm-in-arm walking together in defensive of the Gospel and the confirmation of it.  Look again.  Listen to these words:

*I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.  And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.  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.  For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.*

Where are you in that?  Can you say that?  Are you okay with saying that?  Surely, you’re not okay with saying, “You know, I’m good if I never feel that way—if I can never say something like that and mean it.  I’m fine with just being in the line.”  Of course not!  How could you say that?  So Grace Church, let us run from superficial, selfish lives and give ourselves to one another, that we would be a true church, a true body holding each other in our hearts.

Father, please make us a church like that.  God, I pray for each one in here right now.  I mean, it’s so easy for me—it’s so easy for all of us to start making excuses right away.  Lord, would you kill those in us?  God, I pray you would help us to long to be able to say the same type of things Paul was saying about each other.  Help us to see that the insidious plot of the world to make us think about ourselves constantly—help us to see that for what it is—satanic—o be overjoyed with the grace you have given us and those whom you have surrounded us with who share in that grace and take full advantage of very opportunity.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.