Philippians 1:7&8 “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.”
Many people who look at churches and ministers but who rarely attend a place of worship are confused as to what a clergyman does. They might know that vicars, for example, christen babies, give church-goers holy communion, perform wedding ceremonies, and also bury the dead. They don’t know what else a minister does. How does he fill his time? This passage written by the apostle Paul is very useful because it describes for us not only the work of the preacher but his appropriate inner feelings, and also the way he should pray. It is an excellent description of the all-round minister, and lest you think that I am simply preaching this sermon to myself it is also important for us all to understand what is the vocation of a preacher. Some of you are wondering whether God is calling you to this holy office. What is the office? Again, what the preacher has to do in his special office all of us must do in our more general office of servants of God.
1. THE MINISTER HAS TO DEFEND AND CONFIRM THE GOSPEL.
The apostle says here that in all circumstances he has to be “defending and confirming the gospel” (v.7). Here are two contrasting activities. Firstly the minister defends the gospel. You see how insistent Paul is about this as he repeats it in verse 16, “I am put here for the defence of the gospel.” There is some reluctance to do this, and all kinds of pressures within the church’s present structures. Let me illustrate that: if we go back to Blaise Pascal we meet a man who gave Christianity much of its thinking as far as defending the gospel is concerned. There is a famous statement of Pascal when he says, “The heart has its reasons that reason cannot know,” and time and again men have taken that statement and they have said, “That is the way. You cannot bring reason to the defence of the gospel because it is a matter of the heart.” Or there are people who cherish the illusion that the gospel is a leap into the dark. “The greater the risk, the greater the faith,” people fallaciously say. No! Becoming a Christian consists of looking at the life and teaching and claims of Jesus Christ, the one who said, “I am the light of the world.” It is not a leap into the dark but a journey into light. We use our minds and we think much about him and thus many come to know and trust and love him.
Faith is not the opposite of knowledge, faith is strengthened by knowledge. The scandal of the gospel is not its alleged immunity from proof. That is utterly wrong approach. You take that old saying, “It is easier felt than telt.” In that attitude you meet the same kind of irrational principle. Or you have it in the song, “You ask me how I know he lives, he lives within my heart.” But what of the eye-witnesses who have left us their accounts of eating and drinking with the risen Lord Jesus. Shouldn’t the world give them more credibility than my own religious feelings? In the New Testament faith is the result of persuasion and conviction and demonstration and argument. Of course, Christians are people of hope, but that hope is not whistling in the dark to keep up our spirits. In the Bible and in the life of Christ and his apostles we have a light that is shining on and on. Our faith in the resurrection of Christ is in part because that event did not happen in the dark. Ordinary people saw the Lord for almost six weeks, and their lives were transformed as a result. The resurrection didn’t happen during Star Wars, or in Narnia, or at Gotham City, or even in ‘holy history’. Jesus didn’t rise out of the ‘Bat Cave.’ This event happened outside the city of Jerusalem from a tomb which was in a garden upon this planet at a spot where a degree of latitude crosses a degree of longitude. There is real history to that event – not just my claims to an experience of the living Christ.
So I am not taking a pretty good gamble when I believe in Jesus. I am not taking up Pascal’s wager as the smart man’s option, in other words, that if there is no afterlife I have lost nothing following Jesus because it is the best life, whereas if there is a God to meet after death I shall be safe in having followed his Son. I am not simply keeping a sensible option open by some vague religious commitment. Faith in Christ is not a celestial insurance policy. The evidences that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is are everywhere. God’s glory is plainly seen in creation. The knowledge of God is also understood through our own consciences, but also pre-eminently in the Book, in words and sentences written down on pages. So I am persuaded that there are unanswerable reasons for following Christ that carry enormous conviction, and out of these our faith has come. Things weren’t done in a corner but out in the light of day.
That good news has to be defended. But come again to C.H.Spurgeon and he tells us this “Defend the Bible? I would as soon defend a lion. Just let it loose and it will defend itself.” Now the reality today is that all over Africa the lion has to be defended. Wild animals are no match against poachers with high-velocity rifles. Men have it in their power to exterminate the tiger, and all that will be left is a curiosity we choose to visit in a zoo, not a powerful independent roaming roaring killing presence. If the lion has to be defended today certainly the gospel has always to be defended. The New Testament is full of the defence of the gospel. It is packed with examples of men reasoning in support of the Christian faith. I am totally convinced that Pascal misunderstood the New Testament at that point.
Paul was set for the defence of the gospel, and Peter tells the early church to give a reason, an apologia, for the hope they have. Almost the whole of apostolic preaching in Acts is defensive preaching. It is full of thougtfulness and argumentation. The early Christians were disputing in the synagogues and before the philosophers because, they said, “We have a defensible gospel.” I was always glad of the lectures in apologetics that I received at seminary. In many ways they were the most memorable lectures I heard. I was also thankful for the impact that Francis Schaeffer’s writings made in the 1970s because of his use of the infallible Bible and his emphasis on biblical spirituality.
To defend the gospel you have to remove every misunderstanding and prejudice that stands in the way of faith in Christ. You read Acts 2 and the history of Pentecost and immediately you find the church misunderstood: “These men are drunk.” God is overwhelming them, and they are proclaiming a message that comes from the throne of the universe, and people dismiss them as inebriated. Right down through the ages the living church faces such calumny. “These people burnt witches. These people supported the monkey trial. These people destroy unity. These folk are snake handlers. These are the people who caused the troubles in the north of Ireland.” We have to remove such prejudice and misunderstanding. That is a legitimate part of our witness.
Or consider the great doctrines of the 1689 London Confession which men misunderstand: predestination, the atonement, the creation, depravity, the Trinity – the church has to remove the resentment men bring to those concepts. We have to answer the critics. There are objections to a historic Adam, a virgin birth, Christ walking on the water, the sufferings some men and women pass through, an axe-head that floats, the eternal punishment of the wicked, and we have to defend Christianity against these criticisms. In two periodicals which arrived in the Manse on Friday last there were misrepresentations of Christianity. In the Times Simon Jenkins expressed his exasperation about the fact of a number of different congregations meeting in one community. He says, “Go to any small town in England and you will see each Sunday a bizarre sight. It is of tiny crocodiles of worshippers coming out of half a dozen buildings, each dedicated to the same God under the same Christian rubric” (Simon Jenkins, “The Church of England is Contemplating Sacrilege,” June 7, 2002). One immediate correction is that it will not be a tiny crocodile of worshippers leaving many evangelical congregations. That’s a big crocodile, but another more important truth is that the concept of Almighty God declared and believed in these churches varies enormously one to another. The same God-words are used but a totally different import is placed on them. There are church-goers here in our own small town who would have apoplexy if they had to hear my sermons every Sunday. Simon Jenkins would be amongst them! They have their own beliefs about what God is like and how Christians should live.
An example of the difference in beliefs was found in the second periodical which landed on my doormat on Friday, the weekly Spectator. There was an article written by a man called Tom Stacey promoting the present Archbishop of Wales Rowan Williams to be appointed as the new Archbishop of Canterbury. Of course Rowan Williams makes no secret of the fact that he will put no barrier to ordaining a practicing homosexual or lesbian in the Church of Wales, just as long, he says, “as that person lives a moral life in terms of the Church’s teaching and has a spiritual director to whom he or she is answerable” (Tom Stacey, “Pilgrim’s Way,” The Spectator, 8 June 2002). Again there is no understanding of the Bible’s repudiation of homosexual activity and why it does so. The Bible’s teaching on the church and morality comes under attack in just those two articles that I looked at the day I was preparing this sermon, and Christians then have to speak up and defend the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. That is especially the task of the preacher. In our apathetic age a twenty minute sermon with three illustrations followed by an appeal is simply insufficient grounds for a life-changing decision to take up your cross and follow Christ for the rest of your life. Our challenge is crossing the increasing distance of unbelievers from the gospel and the sophisticated nature of their opposition to it. So we have to defend the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The second calling of the minister, says Paul, is to confirm the gospel. Isn’t confirming something an important action? Your travel agent will say to you, “Confirm your flight a few days before your departure date.” The hospital might tell you to confirm an appointment for some treatment. A businessman will arrange something over the phone, and then he will add, “I’ll put that in writing and drop you a line to confirm these arrangements.” The more important something is then the greater the need to confirm that all truly is as we understand it to be.
Let me confirm to you that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Creator of the heavens and the earth. Without him was not anything made that was made. This world did not come out of nothing. Its origin was not in chance, or in a Big Bang. All things were made by him. The Lord Jesus himself confirmed this when he was on this earth. There was at a wedding in Cana of Galilee six stone water jars, each of which held between twenty and thirty gallons of water. The Lord Jesus changed all that water into mature wine. He did it in a moment. He created elements that were not there before and compressed into the twinkling of an eye a process that takes two or three years. Again, he multiplied five loaves and two fishes to feed a vast quantity so that five thousand men were completely satisfied and twelve baskets of fragments were gathered up. Who is the man who could do this? This is Jehovah Jesus of Genesis One revealing the Creator to us with the same power that made from the dust of the earth living creatures and man himself. David Brewster was a Scottish scientist who invented the kaleidoscope, and when he was dying he said, “I shall see Jesus, and that will be grand. I shall see him who made the worlds.”
Let me confirm to you also that the Lord Jesus is God’s promised Christ. When he stood before the congregation in his synagogue in Nazareth this local boy from a respected family in the community read to them words of Isaiah where that prophet was speaking of the time the Messiah would appear on earth saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preached good news to the poor.” When Jesus had finished reading those words he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Lk. 4:21). In other words he was making it transparently clear that he was announcing his Messiahship, and they understood that all too clearly and were outraged and tried to kill him. Later Jesus told them about the Bible, “These are the Scriptures that testify about me” (John 5:40). On another occasion Jesus told them, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me” (John 5:46). Daniel prophesied of a figure called the Son of Man appearing in glory, and Jesus takes that title and applies it to himself scores of times. Then many other prophecies about the Messiah were fulfilled by his life. For example, his birth was predicted to occur in Bethlehem, and that is where the Lord was born. Other Messianic prophecies exist, giving us such details as thirty pieces of silver, Christ’s torture and humiliation, his execution with common criminals, the piercing of his body, and people gambling over his clothing. All these details were fulfilled in the Lord Jesus. I say to you that the gospel confirms he is the promised Messiah.
Again, let me confirm to you that the Lord Jesus is the unique Son of God. In John’s gospel this theme is overwhelmingly vivid. Listen to this NIV rendering of John 1:18: “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” Who is Jesus? The apostle John, who saw him weary, crucified, dead and raised from the dead says that he is “God the One and Only” who is now at the Father’s side. The Lord Jesus says, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father . . . I am in the Father and the Father in me . . . I and the Father are one.” In other words the gospel confirms that Jehovah Jesus was the Son of God made flesh.
Again, let me confirm to you that the Lord Jesus is the only way to the Father. There is none other name under heaven given amongst men whereby we must be saved. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” To become a son of God one must receive Jesus Christ into one’s life. To all who do that God gives the prerogative to become children of God. One does not pick up divine sonship with one’s passport. It is not the same as citizenship or as being a human being. It all depends on your relationship with the Lord Jesus: “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” If you contract out of a pension scheme then none of its benefits become yours. So too if you shrug off the gospel let me confirm to you that you gain nothing from the fact that Jesus is indeed a loving welcoming Saviour. You must receive him as a repentant believing person. God must place in your hearts the Spirit of adoption. An unadopted road is ruts and potholes and pebbles, lacking any surface or maintenance. So, too, sinners who are unadopted lack a God they can look at and call Father. You must come to terms with this one fact that the God who planned and accomplished redemption at such a price now lays down the terms of the road to the Father.
Again, let me confirm to you that Jesus of Nazareth is the only hope for anyone. God has made us people who survive and enjoy our lives only if we find life’s purpose. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him for ever. For us creatures you must realise this, that hope is life. Those who are without God are also without hope. Our world desperately seeks deliverance from despair by series of relationships, and by entertainment, drink, sport and drugs. So we live in our deeply hopeless age because God has placed eternity in our hearts, and our civilisation must grow darker and colder as this century progresses while God is estranged from man. The contrasts are stark: total pessimism virtually inviting suicide, or the electrifying knowledge that God has sent his Son to deal with our sins. “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The gospel alone gives us hope in death. The Lamb is all the glory in Emmanuel’s land. These are the great themes that the church announces to the world confirming the truth of the gospel. So the minister has this great task in and out of season of defending and confirming the gospel.
2. THE MINISTER’S FAITHFUL BELIEFS AND SPIRITUAL AFFECTIONS SHOULD ALWAYS BE ENDORSED BY HIS CONGREGATION.
The true preacher is always the spokesman for the Word of God and also of the people of God. Paul says, “Whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of your share in God’s grace with me” (v.7). Paul could be saying here that they all shared in the wonderful grace of Jesus which was greater than all their sins. But that interpretation is not fully convincing. The words literally are that the Philippians are ‘fellow partakers of the grace of me’, and though that could mean the saving grace which Paul experiences it may also mean the grace-gift which he possesses. When Paul tells the Romans, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you . . .” (Roms. 12:3) then he is virtually saying to them, ‘As an apostle I say to every one of you . . .” When he tells the Galatians that James, Peter and John gave him the right hand of fellowship “when they recognised the grace given to me” (Gals. 2:9) then he is saying ‘when they recognised that I too had been made an apostle they gave me the right hand of fellowship.’
So it is in our text; the Philippian church was saying, “Our minister Paul is also an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ,” and they identified themselves with his message, and submitted to its teaching, and supported his ministry. They did so not only when there was extraordinary meetings with hundreds of people packing in to hear him in Philippi when he was defending and confirming the gospel. At the beginning the name ‘Paul’ was on everyone’s lips as the latest sensation to hit town. He had converted the town jailer and transformed the demented fortune-teller, and respected business people were believing what he said. “Let’s hear this message!” But this church was also loyal to him when things turned nasty, when the fires of persecution began to burn and Paul ended up in chains in prison. They still continued to affirm at such an uncertain time, “he is an apostle of the Son of God.” “For whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me” (v.7).
The Philippians had no way of knowing that this imprisonment had actually opened new avenues for the spread of the gospel. They just knew in their hearts that Paul was a servant of the most high God who had come to Philippi to show them the way of salvation, and he was not discredited in their eyes because now he was facing grave charges of sedition in Rome. The world hated Paul’s Saviour; it would be very strange if it loved Paul. So they stuck by him whatever other churches said or did. The early Christian grapevine buzzed with news of the spread of the gospel and what was going on in the big centres in Asia Minor, Greece and Rome. There were always some minority of men who tried to wean the churches away from Paul. There were always more eloquent and attractive speakers than Paul turning up. But the Philippian church were committed to the apostle even when he was under arrest.
Sinclair Ferguson says, “How fickle we modern Christians are by comparison: often uncommitted and consequently unreliable in times of difficulty, failure, or crisis in the fellowship to which we belong. When difficulties arise (of whatever kind), we seek more comfortable pastures. Not so the Philippians. No wonder such a bond of love developed between Paul and these Christians.” (Sinclair Ferguson, “Let’s Study Philippians,” Banner of Truth, 1997, p. 12).
Are we showing loyalty to our congregation? Are we committed to the cause? Of course, let’s make sure that it fulfils the requirements of a proper church. I am not saying at all that everyone should stick in their denominations and congregations whether truth or error is taught. I was reading Francis Schaeffer’s little booklet on the church called “Two Contents, Two Realities” where he outlines some of the marks of a gospel church. He asks, does your church have real Biblical content? Is there a reality of giving honest answers to honest questions? Is there a real spirituality involved? Does it share in the apostolic grace and truth of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul and Peter? Is it a genuine community of Christian love and caring for one another? You would answer, I hope, “Not perfectly, but this is its aim.” Then let us be more committed to be sharers of God’s grace as our lives speed by.
There has been scarcely a single week in the past eighteen months when the plight of Ian Stillman has been drawn to my attention. Ian Stillman is a member of Carey Baptist Church in Reading, and he has been a world-renowned aid pioneer among the deaf in India for 27 years. He himself is totally deaf, and also an amputee. Ian was jailed in North India in August 2000 after police claimed to have found drugs in a public taxi in which he was a passenger. Ian denies all knowledge of any drugs. Ian was excluded from his own trial, refused a deaf interpreter and a Hindi translator. For months he was held in cramped, unsanitary conditions without medical care. The local police insist he is a wanted criminal hunted by Interpol for 30 years. Interpol and the UK Government have officially denied this. On 11 January 2002 the High Court in Himachal Pradesh decided that Ian is “not deaf” and rejected his appeal. On 6 May 2002 he was refused leave to appeal to the Supreme Court in Delhi. His family, church, friends and members of the government continue to act for his release. None of them has the slightest doubt of his innocence. For them it is inconceivable that a Christian man of his advancing years, responsibility and maturity could be a drug smuggler and user. They have shared in God’s grace in his gospel work and helping the millions of deaf people in India in the name of Jesus Christ, and they support him now that he is in prison. Iain is indebted to their loyalty and affection, to the hundreds of letters that are sent to his prison in India each week, though he cannot reply to them. Iain Stillman can say with Paul here, “God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” Let us turn lastly to that theme.
3. A MINISTER’S CONGREGATION ARE IN HIS HEART AND HE LONGS FOR THEM.
Notice how emotionally Paul writes here. He says things like “I feel this way about all of you” (v.7), and “I have you in my heart” (v.7), and “I long for all of you” (v.8). We might be tempted to think, “What seeker-sensitive language. What touchy-feely terminology!” But when we think like that we are reacting against the contemporary cheapening of deep feelings not their necessity. Surely James W. Alexander of Princeton was right when he said, “No man can be a great preacher without great feelings.” He said that “it is a matter of universal observation that a speaker who would excite deep feeling must feel deeply himself.”
Paul felt that way about the church in Philippi because he cared about their God, about his glory and his Christ. There are feelings of concern for lost sinners who are without God and without hope. Paul moved on from Philippi to Athens and there he was ‘provoked’ because he saw the city immersed in idol-worship. Temples and altars seemed to be on each street corner. How indignant and grieved he was at man’s blindness, and jealous for the honour of the one, living and true God. When he spoke to the Philippians about the enemies of the cross of Christ he could only do so “with tears” (3:18). He cared abut the life and death of Jesus Christ, and for people to scorn the Saviour’s agony broke Paul’s heart. Authentic preachers bearing the good news of salvation and fearing some may reject it and so condemn themselves to hell have never been far from tears. Whitefield said to people, “You blame me for weeping, but how can I help it when you will not weep for yourselves?” Some preachers are so preoccupied with the joyful celebration of salvation that they never think of weeping over those who are rejecting it. Minister’s eyes are dry because they have closed them to the awful reality of eternal death and outer darkness of which both Jesus and his apostles spoke. Richard Baxter said. “I marvel how I can preach slightly and coldly, how I can let men alone in their sins, and that I do not go to them and beseech them for the Lord’s sake to re pent, however they take it, and whatever pains or trouble it should cost me.” So there are the feelings of compassion for one’s unbelieving hearers.
There are also feelings of warm affection for those whose lives have been changed by the saving love of God. Paul knew what once they had been. There was a slave girl, owned by rapacious men who abused her. She was gripped by some demonic influence until the Lord delivered her. Now whenever Paul thought of her, feelings of the strongest affection welled up within him. It was the same when he thought of the old jailer and of Lydia. He had been the beneficiary of their kindness when they first came to know the Lord. Their faces lit up whenever they saw him, and when they were with him they felt loved. Paul had no embarrassment or guilt about feeling such affection for them. He says, “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart” (v.7). Paul made Christianity so attractive by his overflowing love for them. Paul was vital, and sparkling, and buoyant, and cheerful, hopeful, courageous. He was the man most full of God whom they had ever met. He was conscientious but not picky, caring but not mawkish, encouraging everything that was good, but opposing anything that was mean and little. People noticed this and they said, “It is wonderful when he comes and visits us. We can lean upon him in our troubles. He gives such considered advice.” Paul was not a Stoic and opposed the hard doctrines of Stoicism with all his power. So he excelled in the religious affections. Paul lacked nothing in love and joy, and so lived a more beautiful loving life than these Christians had seen in anybody else. When he spoke to them it was with words of warm affection.
I appreciate the comments of an old preacher from Calvary Baptist Church, Pine Bluff, Arkansas named E.W.Johnson in his insistence that preachers must speak the truth in its emotional context. If we are defending and confirming the gospel then there must be an emotional dimension about it. If an evangelist should preach the gospel lacking in the affectionate qualities and energies generated by those truths, he has in reality not preached truth at all. He has denied it. E.W.Johnson illustrates that with these references:
Could Winston Churchill have spoken to the English speaking world as he did during the struggle with the Nazis if he had not spoken of the realities of those times in the emotional qualities of those realities? Could Demosthenes have delivered his Philippics, warning the Athenians of the threat to their liberties to be seen in the rising power and ambitions of Philip of Macedon, if he had merely delineated facts without conveying the emotional qualities of those facts? Could Lincoln have spoken at Gettysburg as he did, briefly outlining the meaning of America’s greatest war, as well as honouring the fallen of the nation on that field, if his words had been without emotional content?
Was it necessary for Churchill to become “emotional” when he spoke with such effectiveness that his speeches were as military power itself? Was it necessary for Demosthenes to become “emotional” when he tried to rally the Athenians to the dangers rising from the north in the person of the Macedonian king? Was it necessary for Mr. Lincoln to become “emotional” at Gettysburg?
Or was it only necessary for Winston Churchill to be well informed about those things of which he spoke and believing them to speak clearly about them, with deep love in his heart for all that England meant to him and to the western world? Or was it only necessary for Demosthenes to know what he was talking about when he warned Athens of the Macedonian king, to believe the information he had, and to be filled with devotion to all that Athens meant to the ancient Greeks? Or was it only necessary for Mr. Lincoln to understand the meaning of the great American war, that in his eyes the very existence of the nation was at stake in that war, and to love the country?
With what unbelief do preachers in our day enter the pulpit to speak to immortal souls about questions of heaven and hell and yet speak without feeling. We do not need to get “emotional”. We need only to know whereof we speak and believe what we are saying about sin and the redemption which is set before sinners in this life. When these things are true, we will speak with feeling. Our message will grip our hearts and the feelings of those to whom we speak will be moved if God be pleased to mingle our words with faith in the hearts of our hearers. If our message does not grip our heart when we preach to men, rest assured, it will not grip the heart of those to whom we preach. How can we meet the awful foolishness which goes by the name of Christianity in our time unless we come before men to speak as men in the grip of truth, especially in the emotional content of that truth? (E.W.Johnson, “Questions Concerning Evangelism,” Sovereign Grace Publishers, Pine Bluff, Arkansas, 1988).
From where, then, does such affection come? Paul tells us here that he longs for the Philippians “with the affection of Christ Jesus” (v.8). This means, first of all that we must know Christ, really know him, and live our lives as those joined in love to the Saviour, following him whithersoever he goes. This is the only way to produce any fruit. There were two boys who grew up together in Devon. One prospered as a merchant and had a fine home and business. The other boy became a sailor and had none of those things. They were comparing their lives one night, and the sailor said. “It’s true I’ve not made much. I’ve been ill, hungry, shipwrecked and sometimes scared stiff, but I’ve been round the world with Drake, the greatest Captain who ever sailed the seas!” So Paul was led through a life of stoning, imprisonment, heartaches and hungers, but he says, “I count all things but loss for the excellency of Christ Jesus my Lord” (3:8).
But then notice that Paul doesn’t say that he loves the Philippians “with an affection like Jesus Christ’s”: he is not only copying the Saviour in loving them. That is not the prime reference here. Rather, of Jesus Christ’s fulness Paul continues to receive. To that great heavenly reservoir of every grace and virtue Paul is joined. The life of Christ comes into Paul day by day. Without that he can do nothing. The apostle says, “I live, yet not I, Christ liveth in me” (Gal. 2:20). So Paul receives into his life day by day the very affection of Christ Jesus himself, and his joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness and self-control. It is by those graces Paul functions as a minister. So there is no excuse for a Christian having a stony heart. Here is a reality that overcomes the lack of affection you knew from your parents, the retarding influences of your old upbringing, and the disappointments you have had from the failure of other Christians to love you. The affection of Jesus Christ shed abroad in your hearts by the Spirit enables you to love God’s people.
Think of the power of Methodism, its glow, its strength, its drive. Hear Charles Wesley singing, “Thou, O Christ, art all I want: more than all in thee I find.” That is not muddle-headed mawkish sentiment. This is the life of God in the soul of man. Wesley’s ‘veterans’ – the preachers of his own generation – and hundreds of other preachers would meet each year in their Conference and report of churches planted and the kingdom of God spreading, and then they would sing together
“We have through fire and water gone,
But saw Thee on the floods appear,
But felt Thee present in the flame,
And shouted our Deliverer’s name.”
What is a congregation without love from its pulpit, love in its leadership, love in its prayer meetings, and love in all its relations? It has become sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. Think of the once great Ephesian church, and Christ saying to that congregation, “You have left your first love.” How different the early church. “The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul” (Acts 4:32). Unity between pulpit and pew. Unity in defending and confirming the gospel. Unity in apostolic teaching and suffering. Unity in warm affection. That is the goal of the true minister of Christ.
9th June 2002 GEOFF THOMAS