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In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

The heart of brotherly love (Philippians 1:7-8)

Paul has a strong grip on these Philippians. He describes his grip as holding them in his heart. Before his conversion, he had done his best to take another kind of grip of believers when he arrested them and hauled them off to prison. At that time, there was no love in his heart for them. But he had been changed from a fierce enemy into a fervent lover of God’s people. Paul had been given a new heart, one that loved and loved.

This new heart that Paul had was a big heart. He stresses that there was room in his heart for all the members of the church. The word picture that he uses depicts his embrace encompassing all of them. His attitude was one that desired unity and togetherness. There was a dispute in the church in Philippi, but he did not take sides. Instead he loved them all. How big is our heart regarding the people of God?

Further, Paul’s new heart was marked by long-lasting love. Many years had passed since he had first met these Philippian believers, but during these years he had maintained a strong grip on them in his heart. Perhaps we can imagine him lying down at night and thinking about all these believers he had known. He would have prayed for them and gripped them close to his heart as he thought about them. During these years of additional burdens and greater experiences, he still maintained a grip on them in his heart. So another question we can ask ourselves is, ‘How is our affection for believers we met years ago?’ Have we forgotten about them?

One way by which Paul expressed his love for believers was by praying for them personally. Several times in his letters Paul tells his readers that he had prayed for them. He is not mentioning that dedicated life of prayer in order to boast about it. Instead he describes it as the normal way a Christian would live. But it is hard to pray for someone we have ceased to love. In fact, such a difficulty in prayer is evidence that we have ceased to love those other people.

Of course, there are other aspects of brotherly love that could be mentioned. Yet the three features of including everybody, persevering in loving them, and praying for them remind us how hard it can be to have true brotherly love. Because such a lifestyle is difficult, we may be tempted to think that Paul was unrealistic or else he was a super saint who lived at a far higher level than most believers.

It is the case that Paul gave a high prominence to the necessity of love. His words in 1 Corinthians 13 make that clear, as does his placing love first in his list of attitudes and affections and actions that make up the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. Yet we know that Paul is not unique in his demands regarding brotherly love. Other New Testament writers such as John and Peter state the importance of brotherly love in their letters. And the Saviour commands and expects his followers to love one another.

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