As we make our way through the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we found ourselves on Sunday observing the apostle and evangelist right in the middle of a big case of “the feels.”
But the emotions Paul wrote about in verses 7 through 11 aren’t exactly like the feelings the world loves to elevate. In fact, they’re quite different and deeper — because what exists in the heart of the Christian has its roots in the love of Jesus.
Pastor Scott talked a lot about our hearts on Sunday. Not our physical pumping stations in the middle of our chests, but our eternal hearts that hold who and what we love. And in verse 7 Paul notes his deep 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.”
Indeed, the main thing we all share as believers in Jesus is our salvation by his grace through faith — and Pastor Scott described the relationship we have with one another as us literally sitting around a big table and in a sense “eating” or “ingesting” grace. Sharing. Encouraging. Fellowshipping. Christ’s grace abounds, and there’s more than enough for all of us. And more than that, we’re not dining alone. No, we’re built for community, and we as the body of Christ get to go through this life in good times and in bad with other dinner guests at the Lord’s table. And we will feast forever — and without charge. An amazing picture.
But how does Paul — now imprisoned — feel such a connection to fellow believers in Jesus when he’s so often alone? As Pastor Scott pointed out, Paul learned that one key to being not just emotionally stable, but also spiritually and mentally well, is what we’ve chosen to place in our hearts. Certainly Paul could have been angry, sad, or anxious about his plight, but he holds the church in Philippi in his heart, and that is one important balm for his difficulties. And it’s certainly indicative of intense emotions, as verse 8 notes: “For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.”
Paul describes another aspect of love in verse 9 when he tells the church, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment.” How interesting! Pastor Scott noted that the love Paul describes in this verse is none other than the agape love that God literally has for us — and at the center of it is what many might call rather non-emotional elements: Knowledge and discernment. But make no mistake: Our love must have both for it to be effective.
Pastor Scott offered a great reminder that increasingly in our world today folks possess a serious misunderstanding when they often declare, “My experience determines what’s true — for me.” But God’s love is absolute. And so is his truth. It’s true for me, for you, for everyone, yesterday, today, and forever. Therefore love in such instances means telling folks the truth, loving them enough to communicate to them that there is only one truth — and that’s found in Christ.
So it should come as no surprise that the love behind knowledge and discernment has nothing to do with gooey, gaga-eyed love that makes our hearts race, leap, and go pitter patter. It’s the love that will keep us in check, for instance, if there are things in our lives that are displeasing to God — and help us get rid of them.
Another cool bit of imagery Pastor Scott shared is the idea of the Lord’s agape love “abounding” — that there’s so much of it at the ready that it will spill over from our hearts to others. Abundance. Overflowing. We’re not love providers, just creations blessed enough to take part in sharing what God has freely given us so that we can freely give it to others. Exactly like the disciples amid Jesus’ miracle of feeding the 5,000. They first distributed the loaves and fish — and then came back with a dozen baskets of leftover food. Abundance. Overflowing. More than enough for everyone. That’s Christ’s agape love for us!
This week may we be patient and kind with people and then see what the Lord does in our hearts. May we venture out and practice the “distribution” of the Lord’s overflowing love, and in the process may we undergo God’s refinement as we use our knowledge and discernment to approve of what is excellent so that we may be “pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:11)