It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. -Philippians 1:7-8
Pastors need godly friendships. The life of a pastor can be joyful and fulfilling while simultaneously being a heartbreaking struggle. Who is throwing you a life preserver when the storm rages? Do you cut yourself off, shrinking inside yourself out of self-pity or even fear? Do you lack friendships among other believers because you have grown proud and territorial? Paul leaves very little room for these emotions in his letter to the Philippians. Have you been unfairly criticized? Paul was. Have you been denied ministry opportunities because of unforeseen circumstances? Paul was. Have you been shipwrecked? Run out of town? Bitten by a snake? I think Paul has us beat in ministry disasters no matter how beleaguered you may be. Finally, Paul was imprisoned for his faith. And from this prison cell, he penned not a letter of self-pity or self-righteous indignation but a letter of love to his flock. Paul had a deep affection for the Christians in Philippi. They were in his heart and continually on his mind.
In God's great love for His people, He has placed within our hearts the desire to share a close bond with one another.
While it is true that Paul was confined to a jail cell when he penned Philippians, it is also true that no chain or prison guard could hinder his communication with his heavenly Father, and as a result, his connection with his brothers and sisters in Christ. It is evident that as he prayed, the Lord reminded him of like-minded believers who shared the same convictions and beliefs in the gospel as he did. This bond with the body of Christ sustained Paul in his darkest moments.
The sustaining power of Christian fellowship is a great blessing that is within your grasp. Whether you isolate yourself in self-pity or set yourself apart in self-importance, Scripture clearly points to the necessity of Christian togetherness. Fellowship with like-minded believers strengthens our walk, brings us closer to our Savior, and puts worldly struggles into perspective.
But what was it that gave Paul such a deep connection to this congregation amid his isolation? First and foremost, Paul and the people of Philippi were partakers of grace. In other words, they were true believers. This oneness of belief resulted in a unity of heart as they worked together with a common focus. For today's believers, this type of bond is often formed through shared experiences in ministry. Many of us have experienced the joyful privilege of participating in local and international mission work. I am always amazed by the tight bond that forms when working with others who share my passion for Christ. The genuine connection shared among people who have been changed by God's grace is a marvel that the world cannot duplicate. The Church has always been blessed with kinship, both in Paul's day and in ours.
As Paul and his followers eagerly defended and confirmed the gospel, this bond of fellowship strengthened. The Bible instructs that true believers must be ready to give a reason for the hope they have in Christ (1 Peter 3:15). There are times that you may share the gospel, and to the glory of God, people are saved. Yet, you may share at another time and find yourself the object of persecution. No matter the result of your obedience, you need godly friends who will stand with you to celebrate the victories and support your proclamation of the truth in the face of rejection. Paul greatly benefited from such friends.
Finally, Paul's love for the Philippians stemmed from his great affection for them. In fact, the King James Version uses a word that we may think should never be associated with affection: bowels. Although the use of this word may seem awkward, it conveys a very useful way to illustrate Paul's point. The bowels were seen as the seat of human emotion, and such an expression conveyed the deepest possible feelings. In other words, Paul had such a strong love for his Christian family that he felt it deep in his soul. This was not a mere acquaintance; this was an intense, emotional connection with people whose hearts were united and interconnected. Do you have that kind of relationship in your ministry? It is the image of a mother holding her new baby, as she instantly feels a soul connection in her heart. Or a reunion between two soldiers long separated yet forever bonded because they battled together as brothers.
This is the picture that Paul painted through his writings. When he could not be there to show them physically, he used the most intense words at his disposal to communicate how he felt deep within. A man of passionate zeal, in even in his pre-converted days as Saul, we see the intensity and determination with which he carried out his hatred of God's people. But that zeal, in the hands of a mighty God, was poured out even more so in his letters to believers in such a way that we can only stand in awe of the power with which God transformed Saul to Paul. As readers of Scripture, we bear witness to his deep and abiding love for fellow sinners saved by grace.
In his letter, Paul emphasizes that he both holds his Christian friends in his heart and that he feels affection for them (verses 7-8). We could say that both his heart and mind are filled with gratitude for these believers. In part, Paul's sustaining joy during this challenging season of his life is rooted in his love for the Philippians.
In this we see the beauty and necessity of Christian fellowship. In a culture such as ours where independence is highly valued, it is tempting for pastors to try to minister entirely on their own. What if investing in Christian friendships meant that you had to reveal a weakness, or worse yet, carry the burden of another? Too many feel that the risk is not worth it. Yet, this is simply not how the Lord has designed the Christian life.
Philippians 1:7-8 is a heartfelt reminder of the blessing of Christian friendships.
It has been said that true friends double our joy and cut our sorrows in half.
This concept was Paul's reality as he authored the first chapter of Philippians. Though confined to a jail cell, he was not alone. He had the presence of the Holy Spirit to comfort him, inspire his writing, and give him the knowledge that his Christian brothers and sisters constantly prayed for and thought of him. Knowing that his friends remembered and cared for him brought a sense of contentment and joy that allowed his heart to feel deep affection despite the overwhelming circumstances.
In one season of life, it might be you who, like Paul, is suffering and in need. Other times you may be more like the Philippian congregation, serving as encouragers and prayer warriors on behalf of another. In either case, you must nurture deep friendships rooted in a shared love for Christ. As long as we live on this earth, God will continue to use trials and suffering to refine and prepare us for our heavenly home. Until then, we must cultivate caring friendships with other believers—both to be a blessing and to be blessed as we wait for Heaven, where we will never again have to say goodbye to our Christian friends.