In the beginning of verse 7 Paul says, “It is right for me to feel this way about you all…” The feelings that he is referring to are those that he just laid out in verses 3-6. There he said that he’s thankful for the Philippian church and filled with joy because of them, specifically because of their partnership with him. And that word partnership could also be translated fellowship or communion. So, Paul’s feelings for the Philippian Christians are feelings of gratitude, joy, and close fellowship, as if they were his family; and indeed, in Christ they are his family: for they are all a part of God’s family, and are thus one faith family in Christ.
So, Paul says, it is right for him to feel this gratitude, joy, and close fellowship when he thinks about and prays for the Philippian church, and then he explains why; he says it’s right for him to feel this way because he holds them in his heart. And this statement intensifies all that he’s just said. It’s as if Paul is saying, “Because of you I have gratitude, joy, and close fellowship, and that is right and good; but not only do I feel gratitude and joy, but I also hold you in my heart, I have deep heartfelt affection for you; which is right that I think and feel all of these things for you.” Elsewhere, in 2 Corinthians 7:3 Paul uses similar language, telling the saints in Corinth that they are in his heart, to live and die together… In other words, Paul has such affection for the saints there that he will live and die for their good… he loves them with a Christ-like sacrificial love. And that’s the same idea in Philippians. In Philippians 2:17-18 for instance, Paul says that he’s pouring out his life as a sacrifice for their faith. So when Paul says he holds them in his heart he’s saying he loves them with a Christ-like love… he has a deep Christian affection for them.
Now, I wonder, is this how you feel about the church? Do you love your brothers and sisters in Christ this way? Because this is not something that is merely expected of apostles, but every Christian is called to love this way. As Ephesians 5:2 says, we are to, “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…” So, the love of God in Christ that we see demonstrated in His life, death, and resurrection… a love that sacrifices everything for the good of another, is the same love that is to mark out our lives. To truly love the way Paul speaks of, to hold someone in our heart with true Christian affection, is to do whatever we need to do, to sacrifice and give of our time, talent, treasure, and even our very lives to help others come to know, love, and live for Christ. As John Piper once said, “Love is doing whatever you need to do, even to the point of dying on the cross, to help people see and savor the glory of God in Christ forever.” That’s what Christian love is, and that’s what Christian love does.
And love like this makes sense when you look at what Paul says in the rest of verse 7. He tells the Philippians, “for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.” You see, the love that Paul and the Philippians, and all Christians have received is all of grace. It is a love that is rooted in the mercy of God, not the deserving of man. For all we deserve is death and hell, but by God’s grace in Christ we get love. So Paul says that he and the Philippians are partakers of the grace of God. And here we get some insight into the context of this letter; Paul is writing from prison… And he’s in prison because of his boldness to preach, defend, and advance the gospel. But even though he’s in prison, the Philippian church has been in partnership, in true fellowship with Paul, all because they too have received God’s grace and thus believe and are committed to the same gospel that Paul is imprisoned for… And they are committed to the same mission of the gospel that Paul is committed to. And their belief in and commitment to the gospel and its mission, alongside their Christ-like love for one another is what works to confirm the gospel as well.
And this is why I say that the church having and living out sacrificial Christ-like love makes sense; in light of the grace and love that we have received in and through Jesus, we should be, we must be, we will be compelled to love likewise. As 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because he first loved us.” Because of the love that God the Son has lavished on us, even when we were at our worst and wanting nothing to do with Him, we now love others, not because of how they have treated us, or because of how they will treat us, but because of how we have already been loved by Christ. Paul gets at this same idea in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 wen he says, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” Christ loved us and gave Himself for us, and that love controls us and compels us to love and live for Him above all else, which means loving others, even at great cost to ourselves. So, the church having and living out sacrificial Christ-like love makes sense because the grace of God always leads to love. Being amazed by grace means living a life of sacrificial love: a love that works for the good of people and the advancement of the gospel… But of course, those two things go hand in hand… because true love is doing whatever we must do to help others come to see and savor the glory of God in Christ, and that cannot happen without the gospel…
From here, in verse 8 Paul further stresses his love for the Philippian church saying, “For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” Paul yearns for them; he longs for them with a holy Christ-like affection… He says he yearns for them with the very affection of Christ Jesus. What Paul is saying here is that the affection he has for the saints isn’t something that comes from him, but it is a love that has been placed in his heart by his Lord and Savior, Jesus Himself. On one level, this is something that Jesus gives every Christian. When God removes our heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh, when we are born again we are given new desires and new affections.
Professor D. A. Carson says it like this, “biblically authentic Christianity is never merely a matter of rules and regulations, of public liturgy and private morality… Biblical Christianity results in transformed men and women, men and women who because of the power of the Spirit of God enjoy regenerate natures. We want to please God. We want to be holy. We want to confess Jesus is Lord. In short, because of the grace secured by Christ’s cross, we ourselves experience something of a transforming moral imperative. The sins we once loved, we learn to fear and to hate. The obedience and holiness we once despised, we now hunger for…” Or as John Newton said, “Our pleasure and our duty, though opposite before, since we have seen His beauty are joined to part no more.” In other words becoming a Christian means being transformed, being given a new identity, and having a new heart that has new desires and new loves. And one of the greatest desires and loves that Christians should have is love for God’s people. I wonder, do you see that love within yourself?
Beloved, in the time we currently find ourselves in, a time of social distancing and shelter in place orders, where we are providentially hindered from gathering together as a church body, I really relate to this verse. By God’s grace I have a true and deep affection for you; and in this time especially I am yearning and longing to gather together with you again. But I wonder, do you feel the same? Do you long for your fellow church members? Do you love your fellow church members with a love that is only explainable by the miraculous work of Jesus? So many claim to be Christians without being a member of a church… So many join churches without having any real love for the church… But friends, if we really love Jesus, and if we have truly been loved by Jesus then we will deeply and truly love the church… we will long to be with our brothers and sisters as much as we can to help one another, encourage one another, and love one another to Christ and in Christ. That’s one thing I’m praying for in this time: that absence would make the heart grow fonder… that we would realize what a great gift we have in the local church, and that we would no longer neglect the church or take her for granted, but would be loving and devoted church members… And Lord willing we’d be able to say with Paul, that with God as our witness we yearn for the church with the affection of Christ Jesus…
After Paul expresses this Christ-like, Christ-given love he has for them, he then tells the Philippians what his prayer is for them. In verses 9-11 he says, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so 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.” Here we see that love is not merely an emotion, but is so much more. Love is an emotion, but it’s also thoughts, it’s desires, and it’s actions… Love isn’t just feeling, but it’s also doing…
True Christian love is directly linked to knowledge and behavior, to discernment and attitude, to right living, not for our glory but for the glory and praise of God. Notice he says that he prays that their love would abound with knowledge and discernment. Christian love is based on and rooted in truth, specifically knowledge of good godly truth, the truth of God’s Word… In order for true Christian love to abound it must abound with knowledge and discernment. This seems to echo what Paul says in Ephesians 4:15, when he says that by, “speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” So many try to separate truth and love. The world says it is unloving to speak of absolute truth, or to hold such convictions that we would believe and say that God’s Word is truth or that Jesus is the only way of salvation. But then, there are people who claim to be Christians who think they are loving simply because they speak truth… That no matter their tone or actions, as long as what they are saying is right it must be loving. But that’s not what Paul is saying here.
Love and truth, love and knowledge go hand in hand. Our love is love that is birthed by and fueled by gospel truth… What the inerrant, infallible, completely true Word of God teaches us: who the triune God of the universe is, what He has done in creation, what He has done in redemption, and what He promises to do in recreation and making all things new, births Christ-like love in us and leads us to, motivates us to, compels us to love others by serving them and sharing God’s Word (Truth) with them, and doing whatever we need to do to help them see and savor the glory of God in Christ forever. You see, Christians must be a people love, knowledge, and discernment, and that means being a people of love and truth. Love without knowledge has no eternal value, and knowledge without love is meaningless. If we would be loving we must be constantly growing in our knowledge and understanding of the Truth, of God’s Word. And if we would be truly wise, having true knowledge and discernment, we must apply the Truth, and live lives of Christ-like love.
This is why sitting under the right preaching of God’s Word is so important; this is why studying God’s Word on our own and in groups is so important; this is why discipleship is so important: our knowledge and understanding of God’s Word, of theology and doctrine, of the Triune God of the Word is directly tied to how loving we are. We will never grow beyond what we know… So even now, when we are required to shelter in place and be scattered about, you should be making every effort to grow in knowledge and love on your own, and to reach out and help others do the same by whatever means necessary. Call, text, email, FaceTime, Zoom, chat with one another from 6 feet away… do whatever it takes to be there for one another and disciple one another, so that we would all grow in knowledge and love, in knowledge and discernment…
And notice in verse 10 what Paul says that this knowledge and discernment leads to. Paul prays for the Philippians to have discernment, “so that [they] may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness.” I hear a lot of people talk about Christian discernment today, and typically they are referring to being able to sift through what is false and what is true when it comes to preaching, teaching, and doctrine. And while those are certainly things we should have discernment about, here in Philippians discernment is much more than knowing what is right and good, but it’s properly feeling, delighting, loving, and living.
True Christian love, knowledge, and discernment leads to approving what is excellent… To approve of here means to test and try, and thus know… And we are to know what is excellent, that is we are to know what is better, what is best… When someone does something thoughtless, we often say, “They should know better…” And that’s the idea here. We are to know better; and that means that we are to feel, delight, love, and live better, because we know the One who is better… To approve what is excellent is to know, delight in, and treasure the One who is excellent… to know, delight in, and treasure Christ above all else because He is better than all else, He is best… Which is exactly what Paul says in Philippians 1:23; there he says that Jesus, and being with Jesus is far better than everything.
Jesus is, “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:15-19). He is the Lord of creation, sovereign over every king, president, and ruler of every nation. He is God in the flesh. “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3). He is sovereign and supreme, and He rules over and controls everyone and everything, from the government’s decisions and decrees to the way a virus spreads and attacks… He decides when every baby will be born and when each one of us will die. He is sovereign over all because He is Lord of all because He is God. God is revealed to us in and through Christ, because He is God with us. And as the infinitely perfect, infinitely glorious, infinitely good God of the universe, there is no one and no thing better than Him. And because He is God in the flesh, we love God by loving Christ. He is the excellent one that we are to approve of; He is the One we are to know, delight in, treasure, and live for… because He is supreme…
So we are to approve what is excellent, which means we are to know, discern, and approve of whatever makes the most of the glory of God in Christ. What is excellent is the worth, the value, the sufficiency, and the supremacy of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. And when our mind, when our heart is tethered to and saturated with the supremacy of Christ, when He is the One we approve of and know above all else, then we will be filled with the fruit of righteousness and become pure and blameless.
To be pure is to be morally unmixed, that is to be righteous internally, in our desires, thoughts, and emotions. And to be blameless is to be faultless in respect to our external actions and speech. We will not reach either of these perfectly in this life, but, as verse 6 promises, “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” This work starts here and now, and is finished in glory. But here and now we are to be so saturated with Truth and Love that our lives more and more exemplify that same Truth and Love. And that’s the idea of being filled with the fruit of righteousness.
The fruit of righteousness is elsewhere called the fruit of the Spirit. “[T]he fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). And the more we, by God’s grace, approve what is excellent, namely the glory of God in Christ, the more the fruit of the Spirit shows itself in our life. For as we look to Christ, and in Him see the love of God made manifest, then we are filled with and compelled by love so that we love others. When we look to Christ in His supremacy and see His sufficiency we find true satisfaction and contentment and are thus filled with true joy, and that joy that we have in our spirit shows it self in our life through praise and rejoicing. When we look to Christ and see that He suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous to bring us to God, to make peace between God and sinner; when we see that eternal peace it brings us peace here and now, peace beyond all understanding… And the same goes for all the other aspects of the fruit of the Spirit: patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. As we look to Christ who is our righteousness, and we trust in Christ, love Christ, and delight in Christ we will be filled all the more with the fruit of righteousness, and will thus progress in sanctification and come closer and closer to being pure and blameless. So, you see, this ties directly to what Paul was just saying: as we grow in our knowledge of Christ and His great love for us, we will then grow in our love for Christ, which will then enable and motivate us to live for Christ all the more.
And all of this is to the glory and praise of God because 1) this is all first and foremost a work of God’s sovereign grace. Again verse 11 says we are to be, “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” This fruit of righteousness comes to us through Jesus Christ… Righteousness comes to us through Jesus and so does the fruit. “For our sake he (God) made him (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). As Paul says in Philippians 3:9, we are “found in him, not having a righteousness of [our] own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” Because Jesus lived the perfect life that we have failed to live, died the wrath absorbing death that we deserve to die, and rose from the grave in a death defeating resurrection, now, when we turn from our sin and trust in Him, His righteousness is accredited to us. He took our sin and the punishment due us upon Himself, and He gives us His righteousness. So, this all works for God’s glory because it’s all a work of His grace.
But the gospel doesn’t merely make us righteous legally, but it makes us righteous practically. And this is also how all of this is to the glory and praise of God, because 2) the righteousness of Christ that makes us right with God also bears fruit in us and through us, enabling us to live for the glory of God. This is the truth that was proclaimed so well during the Reformation: that justification (being made righteous) is by faith alone in Christ alone… but, true justifying faith never remains alone… it bears the fruit of righteousness. And the righteous life is a life of love: one that is lived out of and for love for Christ and love for people. And when we live lives of sacrificial Christ-like love, all because of how much Christ loves us and how much we love Him, when we approve what is excellent and thus know, delight in, and treasure Christ above all else we truly magnify the glory of God in Christ because everything about us proclaims to the world that Jesus is better than all else, that He is best… And thus God is glorified as the glory of Christ is magnified…
Beloved, what we see in this passage is that the Christian life really comes down to two things: love for God’s Son and love for God’s people… that’s what true Christian love looks like practically. It’s a love that’s rooted in and motivated by the Truth of God’s Word. It’s a love that sacrifices for the good of people, especially God’s people, and especially for the ultimate good of people, namely helping them see and savor the glory of God in Christ forever. And that’s the same thing we are to do as well: see and savor the glory of God in Christ… we are to approve what is excellent, and thus love, trust, delight in, and treasure Christ above all else. And when we do, not only are we counted righteous in Christ, but we will then truly be filled with the fruit of righteousness, and then the fruit of the Spirit will become evident in our lives. So, as we are loved by Christ, and as we come to know and treasure Christ, we will grow in our love for Him, and that will lead us to live lives of true Christian love, where we joyfully love Christ and others, even at great cost to ourselves. Because no matter what it may cost us, no matter what we will lose, we will never lose Christ, and He is truly excellent, He is better, He is best.