For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Phil 1:8-12

Continuing his warm and very personal greeting, the apostle Paul lauds his deep love and affection for the believers in Philippi. Throughout this entire opening passage we can see Paul’s pastoral nature pouring through as he affirms the joy this church brings him.

Looking at the Greek text there is one interesting word that stands out right away and points to the heart of this introduction. In English, the word affection in verse 8 is from the Greek splagchnon, which means guts or bowels. Young’s Literal Translation renders this as the “bowels of Christ”.  But remembering that Paul was a Hebrew, this begins to make sense as the Hebrew culture considered the gut as the core or seat of our innermost affection and compassion. Truly, Paul loved this church with all his heart!

Like all good pastors, Paul prayed that these believers’ love would abound still more and more.   Clearly, they already were exhibiting Christian love for others, but this serves as a good reminder that we can always love more. Is there ever really a way to love another person too much?  Not the emotional “Hallmark movie” love, but the agape love which is sacrificial, unconditional, and not tied only to fleeting and whimsical feelings. This is the love the Lord has for us, and likewise commands us to have for our brothers and sisters in Christ.

This love also needs to be rooted in truth. Paul says it should be with real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent. The idea here is that in our Christian walk we should be growing in godly wisdom, exercising good spiritual judgment, and careful to approve what is excellent, which is the Greek diapherō, and has more of an idea of what we carry or bear.

I really like the picture this idea of bearing or carrying paints for us. There is so much bad or useless baggage we can carry in life, so Paul is reminding believers to be cautious here and not get bogged down in life’s worries or meaningless endeavors. Instead, in wisdom and discernment, through study of scripture and prayer, we are to carry what is important: love, the gospel, and truth. In doing so we allow the Holy Spirit to further sanctify us and make us sincere and blameless until the day of Christ, that future glorious day when our Lord returns for us.

Through all of this we bear the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ. As we learn from John 15, we must rely on Christ to do the good work in us. Jesus said, “as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” When we are firmly attached to and abiding in Christ, we bear eternal fruit.  This is not something we do on our own; it is impossible (see John 15:5). Therefore, as Paul says here, the outcome of our fruit bearing is all to the glory and praise of God.

This is such a heartwarming passage and exemplifies the true, deep joy that each of us can experience when we love one another and abide in Christ.