“7For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. 8For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:7-8 NASB)
Do you know anyone who wears their heart on their sleeve? That English idiom simply means to openly express your feelings or emotions to others. I believe the Apostle Paul was a man who wore his heart on his sleeve. Reading all of his epistles, we can sense the passion and emotion he had for his brothers and sisters.
Having already admitted his thankfulness and joy for the Philippians in verses 3-5a, now Paul is validating and providing the context of his feelings. We know from Acts 16:40 that after they were officially released from prison by the orders of the Philippian magistrates, Paul and Silas went to Lydia’s house where other believers were and ministered to them for an undisclosed amount of time.
Literally, Paul qualifies the Philippians believers as partakers of his grace, which means that they were the recipients or the fruit of Paul’s ministry, which too is a grace from God. They also were partakers or joint partners of Paul’s grace by standing by his side when he was imprisoned. In their allegiance to Paul, they were defending and confirming the gospel of Jesus Christ. They saw themselves as sufferers if Paul suffered because they were bound together in spirit through faith. I can only imagine how their lives changed while Paul was imprisoned in Philippi. I believe their faith was tried and was greatly strengthened due to Paul’s imprisonment. I also believe their evangelistic zeal increased and the church grew during that time. That is another example that evidenced their partnership with Paul. Historically, persecution has always been the catalyst to the growth of the church. From Paul’s first meeting at Lydia’s house (Acts 16:15) to his next meeting at Lydia’s house (Acts 16:40), I can imagine a numerical increase of the church as well as a deeper faith.
Their committed co-laboring with Paul greatly encouraged him, as it was evidence of genuine faith. Verse 7 and 8 tells us the depth of his feelings. Literally, Paul says he has them in his heart and he longs for them in the bowels of Christ Jesus. The metaphorical phrase and meaning of bowels of is foreign to our culture, but it was very significant in the first century among the Hellenistic and Jewish cultures. Jesus is described as having bowels of mercy and bowels of compassion. Bowels is the Greek word splagchnon. The root word is splen, which is where we get our word spleen. The bowels were regarded as the seat of the more violent passions, such as anger and love, but by the Hebrews as the seat of the tenderer affections, especially kindness, benevolence, compassion; hence our heart.
Paul is communicating his deep compassion for the Philippians. This compassion is more than just natural affection; but a longing to be in physical proximity of them for fellowship and service. It’s a deep-set spiritual affection rooted in love that leads to physical action. That type of compassion is best evidenced in Jesus. Mark 1:41 gives us one of many great instances where Jesus was moved with compassion and physically assisted or healed someone. O the grace of God! I confess that I don’t always feel this way, but I desire to be a more compassionate man. It is only by cultivating intimacy with God and that we will begin to overflow with compassion and other spiritual affections toward others for the glory of Christ.
The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.