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Learning to Love Christians
Paul’s thanksgiving and affection for the Philippians in 1:3 to 8
part 1, verses 3 to 4
If the relationships in your life are bad, life stinks. The strain between a husband and wife, parent and child, or between you and a friend can suck the joy right out of life. When there’s strain between employer and employee, eldership and congregation, teacher and student it can cause every hour to be filled with stress. When Jean and I have had an argument, when there is tension between another pastor and myself, or some strain between me and a fellow Christian it seems at times my joy flies right out the window.
Yet in contrast, as Paul writes about his relationship to the Philippians, he mentions the root word for joy sixteen times. That’s why as Paul opens this letter with words of thankfulness and affection toward God’s people in Philippi, our God through the apostle shows us how you can learn to love the Christians in your life.
Amazingly, the number one characteristic of a successful CEO is his ability to enjoy and love people. Do you love the Christians in your life right now? Are you enduring or enjoying your marriage? Are you rejoicing or regretting people in your ministry? Are you delighted or disappointed with your kids? Are you blessed or bummed with your friends? Are you affectionate or afflicted with your flock?
I was once told in ministry that 20% of the people will never like you no matter what you do, 20% of the people will always like you no matter what you do, and 60% make up the middle–and those are the people you are supposed to focus on in ministry. Don’t merely minister to those who think you’re a hero, and don’t focus all your time on those who hate you–but solid servants minister to those in between, along with all those on the extremes.
That is what we see modeled by Paul towards his beloved Philippians. Even though Paul had great difficulty with the Corinthians, and wanted to spank the Galatians, Paul loved Christians. And today you’ll see his very tender love relationship with the Philippians shine through his words. There is joy leaking all over the pages of this letter.
And I thank God I know exactly what he is talking about. I have many friends who’re pastors, and not one of them enjoys the kind of relationship with their congregations that the elders, pastors and I do with you. I thank God for you! Yes there are a few I have to work at loving, and I was going to point them out this AM! The vast majority of the members of this church are incredibly easy to love, and the only struggle I truly have, even in their sorrows and difficulties, is wanting more time with them–which is impossible.
I genuinely marvel at people who don’t want to be a part of this church family. I feel sad for them, not because of me, but because of you. They’re really missing out. I’ve gotten a little crotchety as I get older, because when I ask people what church they go to and they tell me some other church besides FBC, I say without shame, “Hey, it’s time to trade up.” I attend the most wonderful church in the world! As Paul talks about his great love for the Philippians in chapter one, verses 3 to 8, I can honestly say I really do know what Paul is talking about.
Turn to Philippians 1 and take your outline, as we hear Paul talk lovingly about the Philippians. As he does, Paul will demonstrate how each of us can learn to love the Christians in our lives. It doesn’t matter if that Christian is a spouse, your parent, a pastor, a fellow minister, a neighbor, a workmate, a school friend, a sister sitting next to you or a brother sitting in another part of this room. Let’s learn to love Christians by correctly understanding verses 3 to 8.
Transport yourself back to Philippi, about 60 AD, Epaphroditus has returned from visiting Paul in jail in Rome, and he has this letter you now have in your lap. It begins like a first century letter, with the sender’s name listed first–Paul. What memories must have swirled in their minds when they read that name. Ten years ago this man Paul had been in their midst, founding their church. Ten years ago he’d been tossed into their local jail, though he committed no crime. Ten years ago they’d seen God work by calling a small group of God’s chosen together, like Lydia, the jailer, possibly a demon-possessed slave girl as a new church in this popular Roman colony.
Now a decade later, Paul writes them this letter. But Paul doesn’t call himself an apostle in verse 1, but a slave, modeling humility which was needed in this ten-year-old church. He calls them all saints together, including the leaders, pushing them to all be set apart for service to Christ alone. Then in verse 2, Paul greets them with a theological reminder of their salvation by grace, resulting in peace–all of it coming from a loving heavenly Father and an all-powerful Lord, Jesus Christ.
The very next thing Paul does in this letter is pour out his affection with these words starting in verse 3. “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, 5 in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. 7 For 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. 8 For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.”
As Paul expresses his love for these saints, in this single, convoluted, difficult, typical Pauline “run-on” sentence in the Greek, we can learn from his example. Verses 3 to 8 are one paragraph in the Greek, focusing on Paul’s love for the Philippians. The original language emphasizes several main points in verses 3 to 8, and we will not get through them all today, but as we begin, ask God to teach us from His Word, and will you think of one, two, or at most three Christians you need to learn to love?
1 Ask God to glorify Himself by changing your relationship with them through these verses
2 Also ask the Lord to transform you into someone others can love more easily–to become beloved, even lovable
3 And ask God to strengthen the relationships of our church even more–possibly by some of you becoming members, or joining a ministry or community group
You pray silently, then I’ll close. You pray for me, and I will pray for you.
How can we learn to love Christians?
#1 Thank God for Christ in them
Verse 3 says, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.” The main verb in this paragraph, “I thank”, is where we get the English word eucharist, a name often used of communion. In the Lord’s Supper, believers give thanks to God in remembrance of Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice on the cross. Here Paul gives thanks for his brothers and sisters in Philippi who had blessed him so greatly.
The verb “thanks” is present tense, meaning continually giving thanks, telling us it’s very difficult to love Christians if we don’t learn to give thanks to God for them on a consistent basis. And you noticed who Paul thanks? This two-word description is used 151 times in the Bible, and most often points to deep intimacy, relationship and communion.
I thank who? My God–Paul uses “my God” once more in Philippians 4:19, “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” The first time “my God” is used in the Bible is by Jacob right after Jacob’s ladder dream in Bethel. The ladder dream seems to declare intimacy–Jacob makes a declaration of relationship with God in Genesis 28:21 saying, “And I return to my father’s house in safety, then the Lord will be my God.”
But the most powerful expression of “my God” is given by Jesus on the cross, when He cried out in Mark 15:34b, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” This is the cry of intimate separation between God the Son and God the Father, which is impossible to explain, but helps us grasp His sacrifice, and moves us to long for true intimacy.
Paul is continually thankful to God for the Philippians. His thanks is expressed to God, because it’s God alone who made them intimate brothers and sisters through His sacrifice for our sins on the cross. And it’s God’s transforming salvation that keeps them intimate with Paul while they’re in Philippi and Paul is in chains in Rome. Paul is thankful because Christ chose those believers in Philippi to be His children, making them closer than family.
All Paul has to do, verse 3, is remember them. “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.” While under house arrest, Paul’s mind drifted across Italy, the Adriatic Sea, and finally landed in Philippi, and he recalled Lydia and her household, the delivered demon-possessed slave girl, the Philippian jailer and his family, Euodia and Syntyche, Clement, and many others who made up this ten-year-old church.
And what is amazing is Paul gave continual thanks in all his remembrance–he was thankful for every memory. Most of us are not thankful for every memory of our fellow Christians. Most of us are not thankful for every aspect of each Christian we know. But Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit–Paul who is not lying here, Paul who is telling the truth, is thankful for all his remembering of them.
Unlike many of us, Paul was rarely thankful for things, but Paul was often thankful for people. The key is to thank God for Christ in believers. Be grateful for the character of Christ in people. Paul had not had an easy time in Philippi. They were stripped, beaten publicly, then unjustly tossed into jail. But Paul chose to remember the best and forget the rest.
What do you remember about people? What comes to mind about your spouse, your kids, your friends, your community group, your disciples, or your ministry? Paul couldn’t think of anyone he’d accuse or feel ill toward–not even those who threw him into prison or beat him. Verse 3, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you”–literally, my whole remembrance, all I recall about you, causes me to give continual thanks to my God.
Paul believed the best of God’s people. Paul gave Christians the benefit of the doubt. His memory of them made him smile. He had no regrets and no unresolved conflicts, even after ten years. Unfortunately, the memory of certain people makes us churn inside. But not Paul–he thanked God. And Paul was objective–Paul knew people’s hearts. He knew there was no good in any heart to satisfy God. He knew Christians lived way too much in the flesh, and not enough in the Spirit. He knew that all of us fall way short of what God wants us to be.
But Paul also knew God’s grace and gloried in it. Paul was thankful for Christ being in the Philippians. He knew God provided for His children, both for their salvation and their continual sanctification. So Paul’s thoughts were filled with thanks. Think about your disciples. As Paul looked at Christian people, he didn’t see the glass half empty, but the glass half full, trusting God would someday fill it to overflowing perfection in Heaven.
Paul remembered everything, but hoped in Christ—meaning this. His memories were a choice, not a feeling. But Paul’s pleasant memories were a choice, and so are yours. Thanking God for others is a decision. Remembering God’s grace in believers’ lives is a resolve. And Paul was sincere–He thanked “my God”–who’s that? Verse 2, God His Father and His Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul knows it’s God who’s placed these people in his life. So it is God Paul thanks for his fond memories, because Paul knows that he, Paul, can’t change people. But he can change the way he thinks about people, and the way he prays for them and what he focuses on. And so can you. Being thankful for people is a choice.
When a vulture flies over the desert, it finds a dead carcass–why? Because that’s what it is looking for. When a hummingbird flies over a desert, it finds a flower–why? Because that is what it is looking for. What are you looking for in the Christians around you–carcasses or flowers? To learn to love Christians, thank God for them. Give thanks for Christ making them brothers and sisters, for Christ dying for them, forgiving them for all their sins, Christ living in them, Christ gifting them, and Christ bringing them home to Heaven to live together as one family with Christ and you. Verse 3, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.”
“Let’s get real, Chris–I’ve been single for a long time. Am I supposed to thank God for all those Christian men who hurt me, or passed me by along the way?” Well, consider the true story of the lady who raised twelve kids, having her first child at the age of 32. She got married at 31 years of age, but didn’t worry about getting married, leaving the future in God’s hands.
Yet until that day, every night she hung a pair of men’s pants on her bed, and knelt down and prayed this prayer. “Father in Heaven, hear my prayer, and grant it if you can. I’ve hung a pair of trousers here, please fill them with a man.” And high school guys, do not start laying a dress on the edge of your bed–okay?
To learn to love Christians, thank God for them. Thank God for the way you see Christ in them. Now be honest–there are genuine Christians who you struggle with–right? At least one! What steps can you take to start to learn to love them?
1 Remember their UNIQUENESS
Every Christian is made differently. Christ in a Christian is manifested uniquely, giving them a distinctive shape, spiritual giftedness, heart for God, abilities, personality and experiences. I look at people as spiritual tools in Christ’s hands. You may be a spiritual plier, but they’re a spiritual saw. Thank God for their Christ-designed uniqueness.
2 Say THANK YOU to everyone who serves you
All those who minister to you, teach you, help you–including your spouse and your children. Continually tell believers how thankful you are for them. Why? Paul did–Romans 1:8, “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you [why?], because your faith is being reported all over the world.” And Philemon 1:4, “I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers [why?], 5 because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints.” Make a practice of telling Christians WHY you’re thankful for them. And for those Christians who challenge your thank-o-meter . . .
3 WRITE OUT A LIST of truths you can be thankful for about them and go over it every day
He’s not been unfaithful, he attends church, he provides . . . she knows how to cook meat, she doesn’t watch soap operas, she’s kind to the kids, she doesn’t rob banks. Write a list out, and say thanks to God for them in prayer. This is exactly what Paul says we do to love Christians.
First PRAY for them with joy
Look at verse 4, “always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all.” To learn to love Christians in your life, then practice positive praying. The fastest way to change a relationship from bad to good is to start thanking God for that relationship in prayer. People can resist your advice, but they can’t resist your prayers.
Later on in verses 9 to 11, Paul will actually tell you what to pray for. But for now, Paul is giving you a key to loving Christians. Our thanks to God will leak out in prayer with joy. The grammar tells us–verse 4 is one of the ways we accomplish verse 3. I hope you’ve noticed, Paul rarely prays for things. Paul thanks God for people. Whatever frustrations and grief believers may cause him, they’re still an incredible source of joy and thanksgiving to Paul.
Parents, are you praying for your children? And children, do you pray for your parents? Are you thankful they’re walking with Christ? Stop and consider how your parents or your kids would feel if either you or they were to die this month? Don’t pass up an opportunity to thank God for the Christians in your life. As Christians, it’s difficult to cultivate loving relationships if you don’t learn to give thanks to God for them in prayer. Verse 4 says prayer is . . .
1 The VEHICLE Verse 4, “offering prayer”
Prayer is a four-letter word you can say anywhere these days, except at public school. Of course, as long as there are tests in public schools, there will be prayer. The Greek words “offering prayer” refer to supplication, which means to ask for a definite need that’s keenly felt. This word for prayer describes earnest and urgent requests.
Paul was thankful for the Philippians, and used the vehicle of prayer to ask God to meet their spiritual needs and express to God how deeply he cared for them. Thanksgiving forces us to reflect on God’s blessings through Christians, which as a result increases our joy and moves us to pray more. As Paul prayed he did not say, “Bless me, bless my wife, bless our four and bless no more.” He didn’t pray, “Give me this, give me that, do it quickly and that’s that.”
God is declaring and Paul is modeling a different way. The main verb found in verse 3, “I thank my God,” is driving this passage. Our prayers are to be filled with thanksgiving. How often was Paul thankful?
2 The FREQUENCY Verse 4, “always offering prayer”
Paul means again and again, every time, always, giving the Lord thanks for the Philippians. This doesn’t mean Paul was a monk, and all he ever did was pray. It does mean that Paul had cultivated the habit of continual prayer–constant communion with Christ. And as the Philippians came to mind, his prayers were filled with thanks.
All godly believers work at cultivating the habit of continual communion with Christ throughout the day. Paul says it this way in Ephesians 6:18, “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” And this way in Romans 12:12, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”
We’re not to retreat from life, but cherish a constant and growing fellowship with our heavenly Father by, verse 4, “always offering prayer.” This kind of praying transforms believers. Continual communion in prayer alters the direction of our lives.
So you’re praying about Buford, who you dislike. But God is glad to hear your heart, because our Lord always wants you and I to be honest with Him. So you pray, “Lord, I can’t stand Bufford. He’s loud, rude, wears dumpy clothes, and looks like Robert Dodson. I just know he’s not paying attention in church and you go on and on–and God is listening.
But as you continue to pray, God is going to start working on you–and soon you’ll discover something wonderful about Buford. Buford has strengths you’ve never noticed before. You say, “Lord, I never realized he had a heart for you. He really is your child, and he wants to serve you, Lord.” And God will smile and say, “Now why don’t you keep praying for Buford, and you’ll discover even more I put in Buford–more you never thought was there.”
As you do that, you will start acting friendly to Buford. You may even become friends with Buford. A family altar can alter a family. He who kneels before God, can stand before anyone. Continual prayer with joy will cause you to love Christians.
3 The ATTITUDE “always offering prayer with joy”
Paul models prayer to the Philippians because prayer is what joins all of us together. Ninety percent of divisions between you and other Christians would disappear if you prayed together. Obviously there were qualities in the believers at Philippi that caused Paul struggle. There were the imperfections of disunity, and the dangers of Pharisaism and perfectionism described later in this letter. Yet Paul prayed with joy.
There is emotion in prayer–tears of joy or sorrow, incomprehensible peace or wrestling. Some prayers are marked by compassion, others by agony. But for Paul, when he prayed for the Philippians his spirits were lifted–prayer came from his heart like water rushing downhill. For other churches, Paul’s prayers were like swimming against the tide. Praying for the Philippians energized Paul, where praying for other groups sometimes exhausted him.
Prayer is not simply rattling off requests. Prayer involves entering into others’ situations, their needs, their triumphs, their failures and carrying them into the presence of God. Praying like that can take a heavy toll on your emotions and leave you empty of strength. At other times, prayer can revive you. Either way, it requires your whole being. Yet here, you see Paul refreshed with joy.
Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, making it a primary evidence of the Spirit’s presence. Joy is more than happiness, and joy is deeper than emotions, even though joy often effects our emotions. Joy is a heart of delight in God no matter how you feel, or what is going on around you. This is the first of sixteen times the word group for joy is used in Philippians.
Joy is not the sole focus of this letter, but it is the primary attitude of this letter. And prayer for the Philippians caused Paul to delight in God all the more with joy. Think about it–Paul is in prison, yet praying with joy. Paul is modeling for the Philippians–he’s praying for them with joy while experiencing difficult circumstances.
So later, Paul will command the Philippians in 3:1, “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.” And 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” They were going through tough times and needed joy too. And lest we forget, at the very beginning of the church of Philippi, Paul was thrown into jail after being stripped, beaten, placed in stocks in the worst part of the prison. Yet at midnight, Paul and Silas, Acts 16:25, “were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.”
Paul modeled joy at the birth of their church. Paul is modeling joy as he writes verse 4. And Paul will later exhort the Philippians to choose joy in this letter in response to their difficulties. As James 1:2 says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.” Why? Because God is at work in the toughest circumstances, and God is at work by giving you some difficult Christians to live with, minister to, and reach out to.
God will use trials and people for His glory and for your good, to make you like Jesus Christ. So delight in God in joy for those crumby Christians in your life, because the more difficult they are, the more you’ll become like Christ–if you cooperate, if you choose thanks with joy. Now don’t treat your spouse badly and say, “Now Honey, this is good for you–this will help you become more like Christ.” No, because they may be tempted to have you see Christ sooner.
God will use people to make you like Christ. God uses Christians to chisel away at you so Christ shines through. So you can thank God and find joy as you pray for the Christians in your life. Paul had so much thanksgiving in every memory, Paul was regularly making supplications with joy. Prayer with thanksgiving is joyful prayer. We are too blessed to be depressed. You say, “Chris, there’re always a few who bring joy to life. What about those others?” The VDPs–Very Draining People? You’re asking about the extent of Paul’s prayers. Was Paul selective on who he gave thanks in joy for?
4 The SCOPE Verse 4, “always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all”
Literally, verse 4 says always in all requests, with joy in every prayer. Paul’s prayer was not selective. Paul didn’t just pray for those who were doing well, or those who are easy to get along with. Nor were all of Paul’s prayers focused on the dark side of people or tough circumstances. Verse 4 says, “in my every prayer for you all.”
Posturing and division was occurring at Philippi. Two prominent women were dividing up in Philippians 4:2. Yet Paul says, “in my every prayer for you all.” That includes Euodia and Syntyche, who didn’t agree with each other. Becoming a Christian tore down all the walls that existed between slave and free, Roman and Greek, men and women, soldier and citizen. And still today, Christ alone can make very different people into one family.
The phrase, “for you all,” tells us Paul didn’t choose sides, nor did he pit one Christian against another. Paul called all believers in this body to get along with all the other Christians. He thanked God for all, praying for all with joy so they all would stop grumbling, complaining and disputing against each other. Paul not only saw Christians individually, but also saw them as a community. And he could pray with joy because the community continued to follow Christ.
So if Christ is your Master, you will give thanks and pray with joy for the Christians in your life. How can you start? This week’s assignment–take those 1, 2, or 3 Christians the Spirit brought to mind who you need to learn to love, and . . .
1 THANK God for them in prayer every day this week
Say, “Lord, thank you for Buford,” and each day this week, celebrate some new Christ-like quality in Buford’s life. Monday–he’s giving, Tuesday–he said thank you, etc.
2 Choose to DWELL on their Christ-like strengths
Only dwell on Philippians 4:8, ”Whatever is true [about Buford], whatever is honorable [about Buford], whatever is right [about Buford], whatever is pure [about Buford], whatever is lovely [about Buford], let your mind dwell on these things.”
Paul never denied weaknesses or shortcomings in others, but chose to look past them. A person who constantly focuses on the faults, shortcomings, and slights of others is not controlled by the Holy Spirit–or worse, they don’t know Christ at all. How can anyone who knows Christ only look at the faults of others. Have you come to Christ? If so, you hate your own sin more than others. Choose to dwell only on their strengths.
3 Trust God to bring you JOY through prayer
This week, practice giving thanks for Christians by praying for them in joy.
4 Ask yourself, how you can become more BELOVED?
You are commanded to love each other–so how easy is it for others to love you? Are you the huggable bear, or are you the prickly porcupine? Ask your spouse or parents what one step you could take to be more lovable.
And there are more keys to loving Christians. You’re to be thankful for their loyalty to the Gospel. You’re to recall God is not finished with them yet. You’re to think truthfully about them. You’re to be sincere with them. You’re to allow Christ’s affections to be expressed through you. And you’re to pray for their love to grow. But you say, “Chris, I don’t know how.” Then come back next time and find out. Let’s pray.