Paul describes true Christian fellowship in three ways. In Part 1, we looked at the first way: “I have you in my mind.” Today, we will consider the next two ways.
I have you in my heart (vv. 7–8). We move a bit deeper, for it is possible to have others in our minds without really having them in our hearts (many people today would confess, “I have you on my nerves!”). Paul’s sincere love for his friends was something that could not be disguised or hidden.
Christian love is “the tie that binds.” Love is the evidence of salvation: “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another” (1 Jn. 3:14). It is the “spiritual lubrication” that keeps the machinery of life running smoothly. Have you noticed how often Paul uses the phrase “you all” as he writes? There are at least nine instances in this letter. He does not want to leave anyone out!
How did Paul evidence his love for them? For one thing, he was suffering on their behalf. His bonds were proof of his love. He was “the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles” (Eph. 3:1). Because of Paul’s trial, Christianity was going to get a fair hearing before the officials of Rome. Paul’s love was not something he merely talked about; it was something he practiced. He considered his difficult circumstances an opportunity for defending and confirming the Gospel, and this would help his brethren everywhere.
But how can Christians learn to practice this kind of love? “I get along better with my unsaved neighbors than I do my saved relatives!” a man confided to his pastor. “Maybe it takes a diamond to cut a diamond, but I’ve just about had it!”
Christian love is not something we work up; it is something that God does in us and through us. Paul longed for his friends “with the affection [love] of Jesus Christ” (1:8). It was not Paul’s love channeled through Christ; it was Christ’s love channeled through Paul: “God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us” (Rom. 5:5). When we permit God to perform His “good work” in us, then we grow in our love for one another.
How can we tell if we are truly bound in love to other Christians? For one thing, we are concerned about them. The believers at Philippi were concerned about Paul and sent Epaphroditus to minister to him. Paul was also greatly concerned about his friends at Philippi, especially when Epaphroditus became ill and could not return right away (Phil. 2:25–28). “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech, but with actions and in truth” (1 Jn. 3:18).
Another evidence of Christian love is a willingness to forgive one another: “Above all, love each other deeply because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8).
“Tell us some of the blunders your wife has made,” a radio host asked a contestant.
“I can’t remember any,” the man replied.
“Oh, surely you can remember something!” the announcer said.
“No, I really can’t,” said the contestant. “I love my wife very much and I just don’t remember things like that.” 1 Corinthians 13:5 says, “love keeps no record of wrongs.”
Christians who practice love always experience joy; both come as a result of the presence of the Holy Spirit. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy…” (Gal. 5:22).
I have you in my prayers (vv.9–11). Paul found joy in bringing the friends at Philippi before the throne of grace in prayer. This is a prayer for maturity and Paul begins with love. After all, if our Christian love is what it ought to be everything else should follow. He prays that they might experience abounding love and discerning love.
Christian love is not blind! The heart and mind work together, so that we have discerning love and loving discernment. Paul wants his friends to grow in discernment, in being able to “distinguish the things that differ.” He is praying that they would be able, in the midst of competing issues and concerns, to see what is truly important and deserving of priority, and they would be able to make wise spiritual decisions.
Paul will soon find it necessary to warn them about the ever-present danger of false teachers (Phil 3:2, 18–19). They would make themselves easy prey for such teachers if, in the interest of being loving, they were uncritically to accept everything these teachers were presenting.
We should be keenly aware of this danger. How often the church today has refused to stand against doctrinal error because someone argued that we must be loving! Sadly, in cases like this, love was misunderstood to mean being agreeable and tolerant. No one believed more firmly in love than Paul and yet he did not hesitate to rebuke a fellow apostle for compromising the truth (Gal. 2:11–21). Paul did this because he understood that love and truth are not enemies. The most loving thing we can do is stand for the truth in a loving way.
The ability to distinguish is a mark of maturity. When a baby learns to speak, he or she may call every four-legged animal a “bow-wow.” But then the child discovers that there are cats, dogs, cows, and other four-legged creatures. To a little child, one automobile is just like another, but not to a car-crazy teenager. He can spot the differences between models faster than his parents can even name the cars! One of the sure marks of maturity is discerning love.
Paul also prays that they might have mature Christian service. He wants them filled and fruitful (1:11). He is not interested simply in “church activities,” but in the kind of spiritual fruit that is produced when we are in fellowship with Christ. “Abide [remain] in Me as I also abide in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me” (Jn. 15:4). Too many Christians try to “produce results” in their own efforts instead of abiding in Christ and allowing His life to produce the fruit.
What is the “fruit” God wants to see from our lives? Certainly He wants the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22–23), Christian character that glorifies God. Paul compares winning lost souls to Christ to bearing fruit (Rom. 1:13) and he also names “holiness” as a spiritual fruit (Rom. 6:22). He exhorts us to be “fruitful in every good work” (Col. 1:10) and the writer of Hebrews says our praise is the “fruit of the lips” (Heb. 13:15).
The fruit tree does not make a great deal of noise when it produces its crop; it merely allows the life within to work in a natural way and fruit is the result. As Paul reflected on the fruits of righteousness, he undoubtedly called to mind the words Jesus spoke to His disciples on the night before his crucifixion: “I am the Vine; you are the branches. If you abide in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5).
The difference between spiritual fruit and human “religious activity” is this: fruit brings glory to Jesus, not man. Whenever we do anything in our own strength, we have a tendency to boast about it. True spiritual fruit is so beautiful and wonderful that no man can claim credit for it; the glory must go to God alone.
This, then, is true Christian fellowship—a having-in-common that is much deeper than mere friendship. “I have you in my mind … I have you in my heart … I have you in my prayers.” This is the kind of fellowship that produces joy and it is the single mind that produces this kind of fellowship! When we have the single mind, we will not complain about circumstances because we know that difficult circumstances will result in the strengthening of the fellowship of the Gospel.