To All The Saints
When was the last time you hand wrote a letter? And I am not talking about a thank you note for the fuzzy blanket you got at Christmas. I am talking about an all ink, no backspace available, 10 page summary of all of the heavy thoughts and emotions stirring deep within your heart?! I don’t think I ever have. But Paul, while living under house arrest does this very thing, and writes life-changing words to his brothers and sisters in Christ at the church in Philippi… and he does it all without a White-Out bottle sitting close by!
So with that in mind, let us forgive Paul for all of his run on sentences, and remember that Paul is actually flesh and blood, inspired by the Spirit, writing this letter to his beloved brothers and sisters in Christ. He is not writing to meet a deadline for his next blog post, or even because he knows it will hold a place in the canon of scripture. He is writing because he loves these saints in Philippi, and this is the pouring out of what is in his heart – an offering for them.
And the amazing thing is that this letter, which begins with so much affection, is not only for his homies - you know, the ones he “clicks” with, the guys that had his back when that thing came up last year, the ones at a similar spiritual maturity level, similar age, same since of humor, the ones he can relate to, the one’s that he might prefer to hang out with. No, these words were penned for “all the saints in Christ Jesus” who lived in Philippi.
Listen to how Paul feels about them:
“I thank my God every time I remember you” (1:3) “I always pray with joy because of your partnership” (1:4) “I have all of you in my heart” (1:7) “how I long for all of you” (1:8)
Have you ever felt that way about a very large group of people? No exclusions? I think that we can learn a lot from this simple truth – Paul longed for all of the saints in Philippi – that’s a lot of people. Since all scripture is truth, we can be confident that Paul is not just flattering them here, but how does Paul love all of these people? Are the Philippian saints really that awesome? Probably not. Let’s look at the beginning of this letter to see how his affection for all of them could possibly be genuine.
First, let’s look at verses 4-5 and observe how the fellowship that Paul has with them fosters genuine love:
“In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of you partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now.”
When he talks about a joyful “partnership” with the saints at Philippi, the Greek word there is koinonia. This fellowship, this communion, is not a superficial association with them. Listen to what John says about this koinonia in 1 John 1:3-9:
“that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”
So fellowship/partnership/communion is not something that we choose to have with those we like, those we prefer, those who agree with us, those who share the same passions… Fellowship exists between those who are walking “in the light, as he is in the light.” Paul, as he walks in the light, has fellowship with the Philippians because of his fellowship with Christ. As a result, he is not seeing them through earthly eyes, but in light of who Christ is. This is essential to understanding Paul’s love for all of the saints.
A couple more keys to understanding this extraordinary love can be found in the words that Paul prays over the Philippians in the beginning of his letter to them:
“that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.” (Phil 1:9-11)
If I were Paul’s editor, I would have emailed these two verses back to him and told him to sort this thing out and add some periods. But obviously that’s not the case, so let's break it down:
First off, he lays the foundation of his desire for them: “that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” Abound can be translated “to exceed a fixed number of measure.” And one “more” was not quite enough for Paul… so he adds an additional “more.” This is a lot of love, and it is cultivated “in knowledge and depth of insight.”
It is important not to confuse love-cultivating knowledge with simply knowing about the Bible. Remember that before his conversion, Paul had an excellent knowledge of the Scripture while he was killing Christians!
This “knowledge and depth of insight” did not come to Paul as he was sitting at a desk dissecting scripture in order to validate his righteousness before God, but as he fell face down, encountering the living Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). Paul gained insight as he witnessed God’s infinite love first-hand: even while Paul was “breathing threats and murder against the disciples,” Jesus loved him enough to meet him on that road, and offer him salvation through the cross. This knowledge is a true understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, a knowledge that produces love infinity.
Paul was able to love all of the Philippians because He clearly saw the love that Christ poured out on him, the worst of sinners, through the cross. He understood that while he was still drowning in wickedness, with absolutely no hope, the Creator of the universe loved him without limits, and sent his very own son to die so that he could be rescued. He longed for the Philippians with the affection of Christ because he understood the affection of Christ – affection that ran so deeply that Jesus hung on a cross for it.
We see the third reason why Paul is able to love the way that he does in the next part of his prayer:
“so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ” (1:10)
The purpose of laying this foundation of love and knowledge is so that they will be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ. Discerning/pure/blameless is a powerful, God-glorifying combo. This means that they will know what is best – not what is good, or sufficient – but what is best.
The word pure here can be translated unmixed, uncontaminated (think “ALL in”), and blameless means void of offense (think always obedient). God’s best for us can be a hard pill to swallow sometimes, but those who are all in and always obedient swallow it… this is a picture of a life truly surrendered. And this surrender, this emptying of oneself allows God to fill – filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ (1:11).
This is a third reason that Paul is able to love the way he does. He lives in this posture of surrender, so he is able to be filled with the fruit of righteousness. This love that he has for the Philippians is not manufactured by his own will, it is a supernatural love from God… think 1 Corinthians 13 kind of love: patient, kind, not jealous or rude or easily angered, keeps no record or wrong, doesn’t delight in evil, rejoices in the truth…
And as Paul concludes his prayer with “to the glory and praise of God,” let us not forget that this is what all of this love is about anyway. Not so that we all feel good and make others feel good. It is so that as we love one another, God’s name is lifted higher and higher.
So this love infinity is not about Paul’s amazing will power, or because the Philippians were so lovable. Paul loved them all because he saw them in the light of Christ, he understood the infinite love that compelled Christ to hang on the cross, and he emptied himself so that God could fill him.
Do you love others the way that Paul did? If not here are a few questions to ask yourself:
1. Am I walking in the light of Christ?
2. Do I truly understand the gospel, and how much God loves me?
3. Am I fully surrendered to him?
Lord, I want to walk in light of Christ, not in darkness. Search deep down in the trenches of my heart to reveal any areas that I am holding back from you that would hinder our fellowship. Empty me of myself – I don’t care what what this means for me – how hard this might be – because I need you more than I need anybody, anything, any comfort, any success. I want a deeper understanding of the Gospel, Lord. I want to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge. I was bound by unbreakable chains of sins, but you loved me enough to make yourself nothing so that you could set me free. Let this understanding fuel my heart and teach me how to love others like you have loved me - to the glory and praise of God.
Lindsey Newcomer spends most of her time managing the Newcomer household, which she falls more in love with every day. She's a typical housewife with a few exceptions - she doesn't exercise, iron, or drink coffee. She can count on one hand the number of things she takes seriously - foosball and her daily 8pm bowl of Cheerios probably make the cut… but the weight of her sin, and the depth of love that Jesus Christ poured out through the cross sober her like nothing else. She loves how these verses from Hosea sum up God’s relationship with her: “And I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and justice, in steadfast love and mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD.”