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An Epiphany of His Affection: Thoughts on Philippians 1:8

I was teaching two classes in Manhattan, one on Philippians 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 [our 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 Vocabulary:

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

 

 

God’s Delights: A Topical Study

Through holy prophets, the God of the Bible discloses that He experiences a wide range of emotions.  Many dismiss the sacred report.  The sophisticated say these Scriptures are poor attempts to describe the indescribable, or are wishful thinking, or perhaps an infantile projection of our passions onto the concept of a Creator.  (A term used to define this is: “anthropopathic language.”)

The critic disregards this truth: humanity is made in God’s image.  As His image, we are able to represent, reflect upon, experience and relate to the emotions that proceed from our Father.  One of these emotions is “delight”.  God enjoys many things.  That in which He delights, He loves.  The following is an overview of God’s delights.

God’s Delights:

He delights in the Messiah:

“Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. (Isaiah 42:1a)

He delights in His people:

… the men of Judah (are) His delightful plant. (Isaiah 5:7b)

He delights in His servant’s prosperity:

… “The LORD … delights in the prosperity of His servant.” (Psalm 35:27b)

He delights in Wisdom who is delighting in humanity:

Then I (Wisdom) was beside Him, as a master workman; and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him, rejoicing in the world, His earth, and having my delight in the sons of men. (Proverbs 8:30-31)

There are sacrifices which delight Him:

Then You will delight in righteous sacrifices… (Psalm 51:19a)

He delights in the upright’s prayer:

… the prayer of the upright is His delight. (Proverbs 15:8b)

He delights in uprightness.  He loves equity.  He delights in honesty:

“… You … delight in uprightness, (1 Chronicles 29:17b)

… a just weight is His delight. (Proverbs 11:1b)

… those who deal faithfully are His delight. (Proverbs 12:22b)

So far we’ve seen that God delights in the Messiah, Israel, His servants’ well-being, Wisdom and humanity, the sacrifices of the broken, the prayers of the upright person and the integrity of the redeemed community. Let’s invest a little more time and go a little further.

True Metaphors: Bridegroom and Father:

First, an aspect of God’s delight is that it is comparable to the delight of a bridegroom.

But you will be called, “My delight is in her,” and your land, “Married”; for the LORD delights in you, and to Him your land will be married. For as a young man marries a virgin, so your sons will marry you; and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so your God will rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:4b-5)

There is no Biblical metaphor which describes joyous celebration more than a wedding.  The language in this prophecy reveals God’s anticipation and joy.

You cannot overestimate the joy God has in those who have returned to Him through the blood of Jesus.  Each individual’s redemption is similar to the promised national reconciliation of Israel to the LORD.

God describes another type of pleasure He has in His people.  God’s delight is akin to that of a father.

“Is Ephraim My dear son? Is he a delightful child? (Jeremiah 31:20a)

I know some children who are absolutely delightful.  They look delightful, act delightfully, speak delightful words.  Their interaction with their parents is …. delightful.  They are delightful.  God delights in His people as if they were His beloved child.

The following challenge is important.  It is a foundational prophetic passage.  Through Jeremiah, the LORD reminds rulers (reminding us, too) that success, seen in strategic wisdom, power and wealth, is not the goal of life.  If rulers want God’s favor upon their lives they must line up with God’s activity and goals: mercy that intervenes, justice that vindicates, and enduring godly relationships.

Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness (Chesed), justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

“Chesed”

In verse 24 we find a Hebrew word: “chesed.”  Chesed describes the manifest favor of God.  This favor is revealed when the object of the kindness is in trouble.  Chesed is intervention on behalf of someone that is beloved.  God delights in showing this type of favor.  Chesed delights God.

… He delights in unchanging love.  (Chesed)  (Micah 7:18b)

He also loves it when lovingkindness (chesed) is exercised on behalf of those He loves by others (whom He also loves).  In fact, if you want to provoke God’s Chesed, show chesed to others.

… for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. (Galatians 6:7b)

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.  (Matthew 5:7)

Those in whom God delights are the objects of His saving work.

He rescued me, because He delights in me. (Psalm 18:19b)

Finally, remember, your Father delights in loving relationships.  God has revealed that religious rituals (which He instituted) without godly relationships are an abomination.  How sincere is our worship?  We may assess how genuine our worship is through this reality:  if God is truly honored, the worshiper will also honor those created in His image.  If the King of Glory is sincerely magnified, the fabric of redeemed and covenanted society will be strong and healthy; reflecting the love God has for each person, for each social unit.

For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.  (Hosea 6:6)

Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil? … He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:7a-8)

The form of worship, the degree of sacrifice, was never to be the focus of the worshiper – God was the focus.  The God who delights in you.  The God who also delights in your brother.  The authenticity of our adoration is assayed in the crucible of our covenant relationships, in particular, the relationships within and between our local congregations.

Whoever believes that Jesus is the Messiah is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. (1 John 5:1  )

In the name of Yeshua, may our Father strengthen us to love one another.  May our lives and worship be delightful to Him.

by David Harwood

Carts before horses: Thoughts on 1 Corinthians 13

horse cart

 

God’s love surpasses any love any of us have ever experienced at any time (Ephesians 3:19a). Yet, there are similarities between His love and ours and God calls us to love one another (like He loves us) as a supreme priority.

This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus (the Messiah), and love one another, just as He commanded us. (1 John 3:23)

It is amazing that we don’t prioritize loving one another according to the intensity of Jesus’ desire. Even those who are godly tend to take loving one another for granted. This commandment is given lip service and other godly things are more purposefully pursued. Here are some of the serious goals of many spiritual people:

Speaking to God out of one’s spirit.

Speaking God’s heart and mind to others.

Knowing God’s will and releasing God’s actions.

Adorning the testimony with a sincere otherworldly lifestyle.

Dedicated to the point of selfless action.

What more could a person ask for?

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 speaks to these ambitions. Take a look:

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

What more could a person want?

Perhaps one should desire to love in such a way as to be found blameless in the Day of Judgment.

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 (the Messiah); having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus (the Messiah), to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11)

and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you; so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints. (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13)

What does the answer to Paul’s prayers look like? What is godly love? How can love be described within the context of relationships? Paul reached a pinnacle of inspired instruction when he presented this catechism of love to the divided Corinthian believers.

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails… (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a)

1 Corinthians 13 is not a prescription (do this and it is love); it is a description (love is like this). This is love described, not love prescribed.

This passage holistically details godly love’s attributes. It is not a manual on how-to-love others. It is often used as a means to take spiritual inventory, and it is a good checklist, but we find in the very beginning of the chapter that the goal is not to fulfill the characteristics of love. You can exhibit every trait and not have the essential heart. In fact, Scripture teaches that if you “give all (your) possessions to feed the poor, and if (you) surrender (your) body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits (you) nothing”.

If the goal is not to fulfill the characteristics of love, then what is the goal? The goal is to have a heart like our Messiah Jesus, a heart that actually loves others. Again, 1 Corinthians 13 is not a refined version of extrinsic demands. It is not a series of implicit commands (“Be patient, be kind, etc.”). It is a plea to examine one’s attitude, behavior and motivation within the context of “body ministry” (1 Corinthians12-14) which was going on within the framework of a highly dysfunctional divided church (Corinth).

Loving the believing community and the individual members of the Church has to do with “discerning the Body, rightly” (1 Corinthians 11:29b). When this is happening you perceive the holy value and lovable nature of the person or group with whom you are in relationship. When love is present the characteristics of love follow according to the strength and maturity of that love. If you love the brethren it will influence your attitude and behavior toward others.

Sometimes I lead responsive readings in Restoration Fellowship’s gatherings. Here is an example of an antiphonal reading that is implicit in most teachings on 1 Corinthians 13. I’m pretty sure you have never done this, but over the years you’ve probably heard the similar teaching so often as to “take these truths to be self evident”. The responsive reading will probably seem familiar. Take a look:

Leader: If you are patient,

Congregation: Then you’ll be loving.

Leader: If you are kind,

Congregation: Then you’ll be loving.

Leader: If you are self-effacing and humble,

Congregation: Then you’ll be loving.

Leader: If you are appropriate to the situation, flexible,

Congregation: Then you’ll be loving.

Leader: If you keep your cool, overlook offenses,

Congregation: Then you’ll be loving.

Leader: If you are glad when justice prevails and love the truth,

Congregation: Then you’ll be loving.

Leader: If you put up with suffering, believe the best about others, hope all things, endure all things, and not betray or give up on them

Congregation: Then you’ll be loving.

Having just read that, open up, take a moment, and compare that responsive reading to this one:

Leader: To the degree you love,

Congregation: You will be patient.

Leader: To the degree you love,

Congregation: You will be kind.

Leader: To the degree you love,

Congregation: You will be self-effacing and humble.

Leader: To the degree you love,

Congregation: You will be appropriate to the situation, flexible.

Leader: To the degree you love,

Congregation: You will keep your cool and overlook offenses.

Leader: To the degree that you really love,

Congregation: You will be glad when justice prevails and love the truth.

Leader: To the degree you love,

Congregation: You will put up with suffering, believe the best about others, hope all things, endure all things and not betray or give up on them.

One of these responsive readings is right, one is wrong. What does the Scripture teach? It says, “Love is…” In 1 Corinthians 13 we discover the results of godly love. The degree that you love determines how the quality and quantity of your love’s attributes are expressed to the beloved.

Horses do not push carts. Horses pull carts. “Pursue love” (1 Corinthians 14:1a).

May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God… (2 Thessalonians 3:5a)

agape,

David Harwood

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