Just watch the news for a few minutes and you’re bound to come face-to-face with some pretty grisly, stomach-turning news—from shootings, to pedophilia, to terrorists beheading captives, to immorality proudly displayed.
While, for the most part, we can turn off the TV or pocket our phones and be shut off from the reality of these terrible events, but Paul was not so fortunate. When Paul penned his letter to the Philippians, it was a pretty cold, hard, brutal world.
You’ve heard of Nero. Well, Nero’s mother murdered her own husband. Her ambition was to rule Rome through her son, Nero. But Nero had his own ambitions. He moved his mother out of the country away from the center of power and when she allied herself with the younger Brittanicus, Nero had him assassinated and then later had his mother clubbed to death.
He divorced Octavia and had her executed. His new mistress he kicked to death.
Then, when in A.D. 64 fires broke out in the Circus Maximus and quickly spread through the city, Deo Cassius reports that Nero watched Rome burn while playing his lyre.
When it died down he spent excessive amounts of public funds building a huge palace. When he started to come under suspicion as an arsonist, he found a scapegoat in the new sect called Christians.
In Rome Christians were being wrapped in fresh animal skins and fed to wild animals. Others were crucified, burned or impaled. Around A.D. 67 both Peter and Paul were executed. Nero eventually committed suicide in A.D. 68.
When Paul penned Philippians in A.D. 61 it was already evident that Nero was cruel, brutal, hateful and unpredictable. This had a chilling affect on the whole empire. It was a “darker, colder place.” When Paul talked about living in a “crooked and depraved generation” (2:14) he wasn’t exaggerating!
It is remarkable then, that in this epistle, but especially in chapter 1, vv. 3-8, there is a breath of warm affection and genuine compassion.
There Paul says…
3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 7 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. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.
Can’t you feel Paul’s passion and pride for the Philippians. They had helped him before through their generosity and Paul is brimming over with affection and love. In these few verses he thanks God for them and their partnership in his ministry.
This is a very personal, heart-felt thanksgiving from Paul for the Philippians. There are several principles here which show us how to increase the warmth of our relationships and our churches. I want to focus on six principles that will help you better enjoy the people in your life.
Are you ready?
The first principle is this: focus on the best and forget the rest.
Paul begins verse 3-5 by saying that every time he thought about them (remembrance), he gave thanks to God for the good things he had seen in their lives.
Pleasant memories are a choice. That is why Paul, in the conflict situation between Euodia and Synteche in chapter 4, we tell them to concentrate on things that are true, and honorable, and just, and pure, and lovely, and commendable, excellent or praiseworthy (4:8).
You have a choice: you can focus on the negatives you see in someone, or you can focus on the positives.
When Paul says that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” in 1 Corinthians 13:8, that is only possible if we focus our minds on the positives.
I talk about this in premarital counseling. Of all the couples I’ve married, almost every one of them has been opposite personalities. Why? Because we are drawn to someone who has strengths where we are weak—structured people marry spontaneous people, talkative people marry quiet people, spenders marry savers.
We do that because God in the beginning made Eve to complement Adam, to “fill in the gaps.” So we are drawn to someone who has strengths where we are weak.
But inevitably, those very qualities that you saw so endearing while you were dating, become sources of frustration after you are married. Now, “she’s always late.” “He never tells me when he’s going to invite someone over.” Or, “she never shuts up.” “He never talks to me.”
In marriage, and in all relationships, we have to realize that other people are not weird, they are just wired differently than we are.
The key to making relationships work is to accept that you are different, affirm the strengths God has given the other person, and adjust your interactions so that you can play to their strengths. If you do that, they will likely reciprocate and adjust to your strengths at times too.
Paul could think of some very positive things about the people in Philippi:
- He could remember the conversion of Lydia and her hospitality.
- He could remember God’s deliverance of a demon-possessed slave girl.
- He could remember the jailer’s conversion and his medical care.
- He could remember how the Philippians had sacrificially provided finances for his ministry in Thessalonica, just a few weeks after he had been chased out of Philippi.
- He could remember how the Philippians had supported him while in Corinth.
- And now, they have sent Epaphroditus with a gift.
- And it was not just their gifts that he appreciated, but their hearts of love for him that motivated them to give.
Paul not only focused his thoughts on the positive things, but he gave thanks to God for them.
The quickest way to change your thinking about another person (and to change your relationship with them) is to start thanking God for that person. Whenever a negative thought pops up in your mind, start thanking God for them and the good things you see in them.
Paul enjoyed people. God wants us to enjoy one another, not endure them. He doesn’t want us to just be nice and civil to someone, but to genuinely love them.
So start focusing on the good in others.
That doesn’t mean that we ignore problems. We will have to deal with relational conflicts. We need to “speak the truth in love” and sometimes confront a person with their sins.
But we don’t need to dwell on the negatives. Confronting someone will be more effective if we can affirm the good we see in them before presenting their misbehavior to their attention.
When negative things happen between people—and they do happen!—deal with it immediately. Work toward forgiveness and reconciliation. But all the while keep focusing on the best that you see in them. Remind yourself: “He is a saint; God has been working good things in her life.”
So, let me ask you: What do you tend to remember about people? Do you have pleasant memories? Pleasant memories are a choice. If you’re going to really enjoy people, you’ve got to focus your mind on the good and eliminate the bad. Focus on the best and forget the rest.
Or, do you have a joy deficit in your life because you have a tendency to focus on the negative?
Change your thinking. It’s your choice!
The second principle for warm, affection relationships is to pray for others.
Verse 4 tells us the context of Paul’s thanksgivings—it was in the midst of the prayers that he prayed for the Philippians. Intercession is praying for others and this is what Paul regularly did. Whenever he thought of them, he prayed for them.
In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy (Phil. 1:4, NIV)
In your Bibles underline the words “all,” “all,” and “always” in verse 4, and go back to verse 3 and underline “every.”
Let’s highlight four things from this principle:
- First, notice the intensely personal nature of his prayer. These are “my prayers…for you.” They came from Paul’s heart and were specifically directed towards them. These were not general “bless them all” prayers, but were very personal and focused and specific.
- Second, the constancy of Paul’s prayers for them is picked up in the words “always” and the Greek present participle for “making” prayer. It was a continuous activity in their behalf. Paul said to the Thessalonians, “pray without ceasing” and the adverb there depicts a “hacking cough.” So like an asthmatic or someone with a bad cold, Paul was consistently praying for them throughout the day.
- Third, notice that no one is excluded from Paul’s prayers. It was for “all of you.” Not even the troublemakers at Philippi were excluded from Paul’s prayers and thanksgiving.
- Fourth, the spontaneity of his prayers is indicated in that he “always pray[ed] with joy.” Paul didn’t view intercession as a chore or duty to get through, but a sheer delight. He enjoyed praying for them.
Now, I have to tell you. When you start to pray for someone, and you do it like Paul did—specifically, continuously, inclusively and with delight, someone is going to change—either the person you are praying for or you…or both.
That is what makes prayer such a powerful force for increasing the warmth of love and affection in a church, or a family, or a workplace.
Paul realized that one of the best ways to improve relationships and increase relational warmth within a church was to regularly pray for them.
The primary responsibility of spiritual leaders in a church is to be continuously involved in the “word and prayer” (Acts 6:4). The greatest impact leaders can have on the level of warmth and growth at Grace Bible Church will occur through prayer.
So let me suggest that you make a list of all those you want to deepen your relationship with and begin praying habitually for them, for God’s love and God’s will in their lives. Thank God for the good things you see Him doing in their lives.
Joy delights in seeing God bless others.
If there is one thing that is clear in these verses (not to mention the rest of the book), it is that Paul is a happy, joyful Christian. His present circumstances looked less than promising, but Paul was jubilant and joyful.
John Piper has written many excellent books, but one that changed my life is, Desiring God: The Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. Piper’s thesis is that it is not wrong for a Christian to experience great pleasure in this life, so long as his pleasure is in the right things. To take pleasure in God is a good thing. To take pleasure in one’s fond remembrances of a dearly beloved church is a good thing.
Now let’s get to the third principle which will help you better enjoy the people in your life.
And that is, enjoy ministering together for the gospel.
Verse 5 signals for us the cause (not the word “because”) of Paul’s joy-filled prayers for them “because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”
Their partnership with him in the ministry of sharing the gospel with others was what gave Paul great joy.
This word “partnership” is koinonia. It represents a joining together for a cause. In this case, it was Paul and the Philippians working together in the gospel ministry.
Of course, Paul is referring to the financial gifts that the Philippians had sent to him in Thessalonica, Corinth and now Rome. They had been amazingly generous, even when they couldn’t afford to give.
But in a broader sense Paul saw them as genuinely and actively with him whenever he shared the gospel with others. They played a vital part in his ministry, equal to what he was doing.
He didn’t view them as passive or insignificant, but vital partners in the gospel ministry.
When theologian Broughton Knox was serving as a young chaplain in the British navy on a ship preparing for D-day and the invasion of Normandy, he noted that the minds of all hands on board, regardless of rank, were focused on the invasion’s success. No one thought of his own interests, but only on how he could help his shipmates in their commonly shared task. He says, “I remember noting in my mind how I had never been happier” (Tony Payne, ed., D. Broughton Knox, Selected Works , Vol. 1 (New South Wales, Australia: Matthias Media, 2000), p. 58).
After the invasion and return to England, everyone noticed a difference in the atmosphere on ship. It was still friendly because it was a well-run ship. But several of the sailors, sensing the difference, asked the young chaplain why things had changed.
Knox reflects, “The answer was quite simple. During those months that preceded and followed D-day, our thoughts had a minimum of self-centeredness in them. We gave ourselves to our shared activity and objective. . . . Once the undertaking was over we reverted to our own purposes, as we do normally” (Ibid)
Broughton Knox was, of course, reflecting on his ship’s experience of the fellowship that people experience in pursuing a common goal. Human friendship is a wonderful thing, but fellowship goes beyond friendship. Fellowship occurs among friends committed to a common cause or goal and flourishes through their common pursuit of it.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring rides upon this reality. The fellowship of the Ring is made up of individuals of disparate origin and ridiculous diversity that exceed any of our ethnic or social differences: four hobbits, tiny beings with large, hairy, shoeless feet — Frodo Baggins and his friends Merry, Sam, and Pippin; two men, warriors of the first rank always dressed for battle — Boromir of Gondor and Aragorn, son of Arathorn II, King of Gondor; one wizard, Gandalf the ancient nemesis of evil and a repository of wisdom and supernatural power; an elf, Legolas, from a fair race of archers of the forest with pointed ears; and a dwarf, Gimli, a stout, hairy, axe-wielding creature from the dark chambers under the mountains.
The nine members of the fellowship bore few affinities. The elves and the dwarves were like the English and the French because both had an unspoken agreement to feel superior to the other. However, the nine very different individuals, bound together by their great mission to defeat the forces of darkness and save Middle-Earth, became inseparable and their covenant indissoluble. The man Boromir, despite his lapses, gave his life for the hobbits. And the elf and the dwarf came to form a great friendship, so great that Gimli was inducted into an honored order reserved only for elves.
This is the deep kind of partnership that brought Paul great joy. As he thought about the Philippians, he thanked God for them and prayed with joy for them because they were his partners, his comrades.
This brought Paul joy not only because they were partnering with him, but because what they were doing was very significant. They were involved in the “gospel,” in bringing the good news of Christ’s victory. God has intervened and won our deliverance from sin and Satan and death and now reconciles us to himself through Jesus Christ.
For Paul, the gospel was not merely a proclaim with liberating content, but a real power that liberates its readers. It itself brings the power to change people’s lives (Romans 1:16).
One of the things that brought Paul such great joy was the constancy and faithfulness with which the Philippians had stood by him—“from the first day until now.” From the moment of Lydia’s conversion to the latest gift sent through Epaphroditus, the Philippians had been loyal to help Paul through “thick and thin,” through successful times and hard times.
If you’re not actively involved in gospel ministry with someone else, get involved. Enlist!
One of the best ways to draw close to someone is to get involved on the front lines of ministry with them in the battle for the souls of people.