I was teaching two classes in Manhattan, one on Philippians (as a window into Pauline theology) and the other on God’s love. What I taught on God’s love was apparently irrelevant to one student until we happened upon this verse in the Philippians class:
For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of [Messiah] Jesus. (Philippians 1:8)
Suddenly, the eyes of her heart opened to the nature of God’s love. Ever since, this has been one of my favorite verses.
The most important words from this verse for this exhortation are “long” and “affection.”
Quickly, epipotheo, translated “long for,” means “to pursue with love, to long after.” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon)
The word translated “affection” is one of those messy words having to do with internal organs, in this case, the intestines. At the risk of a bad pun, let’s mention that applying this to the transcendent and glorified Son of God is “gutsy.” It is not the well thought out concept of a theologian. Instead, it is a word (splangchna) which indicates feeling. This word describes a “visceral” emotion. It is often translated, “compassion.” Louw-Nida (a lexicon used in translation work) puts it like this: the deep, inner seat of tender emotions in the whole personality. That works for me.
Longing for You with Jesus’ Affection
Now, it seems that there are a few possible explanations for this radical expression. If I’ve left something out, please write me and let me know. Meanwhile, let’s take a look at some of our options…
Maybe Paul’s reference to the Messiah’s affection is about his experience of something alien to his own soul. A temple is not the same thing as the God who indwells it. Was he perhaps like a temple and Jesus’ affections like the manifest presence shining from a human holy of holies? Was he, perhaps, like a riverbed and the affections of Jesus, the river?
“Philippians, I am experiencing something that is way more than I could ever have in and of myself. I am experiencing Jesus’ own longing and affection towards you.”
Was Paul overwhelmed by Jesus’ affection, similar to a revival phenomenon of spiritual inebriation? Was this like experiencing a flame of fire, burning over him, which had no relationship to the apostle at all? (Acts 2:3) Sort of like a burning candle? The candle is not the flame.
“Brothers and sisters, I am experiencing the Messiah’s affections for you, not my own.”
Is it possible that this was a spiritual enhancement of Paul’s human affection? Is this a description of Paul and the Messiah’s spirits being united? After all, “he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.” (1 Corinthians 6:17) Is this what the apostle meant?
“My affection for you is like a glove and the fullness of this longing and affection I have for you is like the hand in the glove.”
Orthodox Churches have a doctrine of sanctification called “theosis.” They explain that a sword in a fire ends up with similar qualities, yet remains a sword. So the human soul which abides in the Lord “may become partakers of the divine nature.” (2 Peter 1:4b) I think of it more like a carton of milk being put in a refrigerator – it eventually shares the same temperature.
“My soul has been in communion with the Son of God so intensely that I have come to share His affection for you. My affection is like His because of His presence in my life.”
Or perhaps it has to do with the quality of Paul’s sanctified and empowered emotional attachment. (Romans 5:3; Galatians 5:22-24) Paul might be saying,
“My longing and affection for you is just like the longing and affection of Jesus. When you experience my longing and affection, you are experiencing that which is analogous (just like) to the Son of God’s heart for you.”
At the risk of wearing you out, we’ll stop exploring these possibilities. One way or the other, Paul is saying something he expected believers to believe: Jesus longs for them; Jesus is affectionate towards them.
Whole, Full, Powerful Longing
It is important to know that the Lord’s emotional life is whole, full, and powerful. This includes “longing” as well as “affection.”
In this instance, Paul is connecting to, and conveying, an emotion which we call “missing.” The reason someone longs for something, or someone, is a sense of incompleteness. When you miss something, or someone, you have a longing – which can become a pining. Paul wasn’t pining away for the Philippians, he was oriented towards knowing Jesus, but in the depths of his heart he longed to see them. Isn’t it amazing that this emotion is paralleled by Jesus’ heart towards us?
“Longing with affection” feels similar to homesickness. Doug Collins, a chaplain in Iraq, wrote (in the Gainesville Gazette, 11/14/08), “…homesickness. It is probably the No. 1 (sic) issue that I deal with here. Homesickness also is the hardest thing to deal with … I have nothing that can take away the longing in the heart to be at home with family and friends…”
In Light of This
There is warmth radiating from this verse that can provide comfort and reassurance. To think that the Lord’s heart is affectionate towards these believers provides emotional and spiritual security. These Philippians weren’t perfect. They had problems with pride and schism which provoked apostolic adjustment. Yet, they warranted affection from the Lord – as do you. Jesus thinks of you with affection; you stir His emotions in the direction of loving affection. He enjoys your company and longs to be with you. In his emotional motivations towards the Philippians, Paul was like Jesus.
In the light of this, let’s close this meditation with Paul’s prayer found in the next verse:
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 [the Messiah], filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus [the Messiah], to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11)
David Harwood is a prophetic teacher and worship leader, and author of the book God’s True Love.
Posted in Featured Articles, The Kingdom of God Tagged with: affection, compassion, Doug Collins, God's love, Jesus, love, messiah, orthodox, Paul, Pauline, Philippians, Son of God
“Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.” -Phil. 4.5
This is a unique verse, and it opens up a panoramic view of the apostolic heart of Paul. What is this “gentle spirit” that he is encouraging, and why does he tell us that the Lord is near in this context?
Philippians is Paul’s great call to a life of rejoicing in the midst of trial, and he was writing to a church that was facing great opposition from persecutors. He repeatedly exhorts the saints to rejoice in the midst of the suffering, and this verse provides for us a concentrated stream of thought from the apostle along these lines.
What is a “gentle spirit” then? To be sure, it is not cowardice, shyness, or any attempt at looking humble or sounding modest. A “gentle spirit” is not something that can be conjured by a self-conscious attempt at meekness. This “gentle spirit” imperative, following Paul’s exhortation to “rejoice in the Lord always,” must be the God-breathed result of delighting in Him in the midst of great pressure and trial.
Anyone can look gentle and meek in a contrived way when men are watching and some religious reward is at stake. But when the rubber hits the road, when the turbulence of life picks up, when the ground begins to shake beneath our feet, the depth of our foundations in God is revealed for what it actually is. It takes a certain kind of soul to demonstrate the gentleness and kindness of God Himself in an atmosphere that is inhospitable and difficult, but this is the privilege and calling of every saint. This “gentle spirit” is not something calculated and performed, but rather received and demonstrated, through the very life of Jesus Himself.
The “gentle spirit” Paul speaks of denotes a disposition that can hardly be rendered in translation by a single word. It is your quite specifically grounded benevolence, gentleness, considerateness, openness, vitality, and at the same time moderation that must be manifest to all men. Luther’s “lenity” well expresses the source of this disposition: Christians are men who have been made lenis, lenient, mellow, “beaten to pulp,” as opposed to the nonrecipients of grace, who can still be stiff and bristly.
(Epistle to the Philippians, Karl Barth; WJK Publications, 2002; p. 121)
It is not in the flighty and jolly moments of positive religious experience that this is proven out, but rather in the hum-drum, grinding, pressing moments of day-to-day life. Our “gentle spirit” is not mainly displayed from a pulpit, at a conference, or at some overt spiritual function. It is in the way we approach others from our innermost being. Have we a tinge of self-righteousness toward them? Have we a hint of superiority toward them? Have we a smidgeon of stiffness or coldness toward them?
What about our spouses or children? Have we a bit of disdain or bitterness toward them? Have we a shade of impatience or anxiety regarding them? Have we any hardness, brashness, or brazenness toward them?
Paul called the church to rejoice in the Lord always, and to allow the gentle and kind Spirit of Jesus Himself to flow through our lives and unto others in an effectual way. It will not happen in some magical and automatic way without our cooperation, for He is looking for co-laborers. We’ve got to allow the Potter to “beat to a pulp” all our anxiety, arrogance, and self-glorification, until we are wrung out souls, ready to be revivified and powered by His own resurrection life. Then shall His own gentleness and kindness flow from us, in the high places and in the low places.
He follows this call with that most striking note, “The Lord is near.”
Paul’s thought is two-fold here:
1. The Lord is near, literally at hand, and as the great coming Judge, He will not be pleased if we have walked in our own stiff-hearted dispositions. He calls us to a higher reality, namely His own gentleness, and if we have treated others unjustly or been hard-hearted toward them, it will not be well for us on the day of His return. “…. to the extent that you did it to one of the least of these…. “
2. Secondly, and most encouraging for the believer, is that the Lord, who is our great help, is not only near in the sense of His soon coming. For the soul that has been redeemed and transformed through the Gospel, He is as near as the inner-man. He is near to us in every plight and every challenge, and He is fervent and eager in His desire to walk us through the tumultuous seasons of life. We do not need to remain in a place of stiffness, arrogance, or brashness towards others. We need only to cry out to Him, and He will break up the hardened ground of our hearts, oil the dry places, and make us tender and loving and gentle towards all men. His own vibrant love and kindness will flow through us like a mighty rushing river.
So turn from your self and unto the Chief Shepherd. He is near to you, dear saint, and His gentle Spirit is ever and always our great good.
Posted in Scripture Tagged with: demons, God, Karl Barth, Paul, Philippians, Reality, righteousness, suffering, the Gospel