Who Do You Think They Are?

Philippians 1:7-8

Tom Pennington  •  November 30, 2003
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Well on Thanksgiving Day, our family, as yours probably did, took time to go around and express one by one our gratitude to God for the various things that we enjoy from His hand. If you're like most people as you expressed your thanksgiving, the focus of your thanksgiving was really on the things that we enjoy, on those things that enrich our lives here – like family and good friends, food (which I'm sure you enjoyed plenty of, as did we), the comfort of home, clothes to wear and laughter, those kinds of things that bring such joy and richness to our lives. And we should take time to thank God for those things, but there are other things that we should be grateful for that seldom show up in our prayers.

Let me give you a short list of what Scripture urges us to be thankful for and see how you did. I won't give you the references in the interest of time. I'm just going to run through a list that I discovered in the Scripture. We're to thank God for the goodness and mercy of God, for the gift of Christ, for Christ's power and His reign, for the fact that others receive the Word of God and that it works in them, for deliverance through Christ from indwelling sin, for victory over death and the grave, for wisdom, for the triumph of the gospel, for the conversion of others, for the faith that others exhibit, for the love that others show, for the grace that God shows others, for the zeal that others exhibit, a zeal for spiritual things, for the nearness of God's presence, for the fact that you've been given a ministry in the church, for willingness to offer our property for God's service, those things that belong to us in the service of God. We're to thank God for the supply of our bodily wants. We're to thank God for all men, and we're to thank God for everything.

Did you notice what many of those things have in common? People, people. People are usually the reason for Paul's thanksgiving. It's not that the people around Paul were any better than those around you. Maybe you think, "Yeah, I know Paul was thankful for the people around him, but he had Timothy and Luke and Barnabas, and my situation's a little different." But that's not the point. Paul was grateful for the people around him because his mindset about those people was biblical.

You see, when we aren't grateful for people, usually it's because we're viewing them through the dark glasses of our own selfishness. I mean, it's true. The people in our lives aren't perfect. They take our time. They don't always do what we want them to do. They don't always agree with us. They aren't always fun, and they aren't always like us. In fact, sometimes they're quite different and those differences can be a source of irritation, frustration, and anger. But when we focus on those things, what happens? Division – much like was happening in Philippi, exactly like what was beginning there. So, as Paul begins his letter to the Philippians, he uses his own mindset toward them to teach them and us how to think biblically about others who are in Christ.

3.43

For the last two weeks, we've been studying Paul's thanksgiving to God for the Philippians. Verses 3 - 8 of Philippians 1 consist of one long, complicated sentence in the Greek text. In verses 3 - 6, Paul has just poured out his heart toward the Philippians. He says, "I think of you often, and when I think of you, my heart overflows with joy, and I'm so thankful for you. I'm thankful for you for two reasons. I'm thankful because of your partnership or your fellowship in the gospel, (verse 5) and I'm thankful (verse 6) because God will complete what He began in you."

In verses 7 and 8, the verses that we'll look at this morning, Paul sets out to justify his deep commitment to them. I mean, after all, he'd only seen these people maybe three times since he had met them ten years earlier. And so he sets out to justify the intensity of his emotion and his attachment to these people. Notice verses 7 and 8 of Philippians 1. He writes,

For it is only right for me to feel this way [about you] about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.

Notice how he begins verse 7 – "… [Just as] it is only right for me to feel this way about you all." The Greek word translated "to feel" occurs ten times in this brief letter, the most of any book in the New Testament. But this word refers not so much to feeling, as it's translated, as to thinking. Paul uses the noun form of this word in Romans 8:6 - 7 three separate times to refer to one's mindset. It's very similar to how we use the words in English "attitude" and "disposition".

So, Paul is justifying his mindset or his attitude toward all the Philippians. He's saying, "Listen, and there are understandable reasons for the fact that I am so grateful for you all and that you all fill my heart with such joy." And here's the point. As Paul explains his thinking, he provides us with attitudes we should have toward every other Christian. If you aren't truly grateful for, and if you aren't overcome with joy because of your brothers and sisters in Christ, it's because you aren't thinking properly about them. And here in these two verses, Paul identifies three attitudes that should shape our thinking about the Christians around us.

The first attitude we should foster toward other believers is that we should regard one another, first of all, as dear friends. You want to have the right attitude toward those around you? Think of them as dear friends. Notice verse 7, "… it is only right for me to think this way [to have this mindset] about you, because I have you in my heart." With that expression, Paul is pulling on his knowledge of the Old Testament. In Hebrew and in Hebrew thought, the heart was the seat of the whole inner life. It's where thinking took place. It's where your feelings and your emotions were. It's where your will was. It's the core of your being.

In 2 Corinthians 7:3, Paul uses this same phrase. Listen to what he says, "I do not speak to condemn you [Corinthians], for I have said before that you are in our hearts to die together and to live together." You see, this expression of having them in his heart was an expression of deep affection and friendship. Paul says to the Corinthians, "We live for each other, and we would even be willing to die for one another." It's an intense expression of personal commitment.

But it wasn't just commitment. It was also genuine enjoyment. When Paul thought of the Philippians, he thought of them as dear friends whom he enjoyed. Notice 4:1. He say,: "Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown…." And he ends the verse with "beloved" again. The apostle Paul was deeply affected by people. You see, when we read verses like Philippians 4:1, in our culture we tend to respond with a bit of cynicism: "I mean, come on, Paul. Get real. You met these people ten years ago, and you've only seen them three times since."

Well, the culture in which the Philippians lived was similar in ways to ours. Paul wrote these words of intense emotion and affection against a popular and pervasive cultural mindset of his time and that was stoicism. The stoics were cautious about whole life commitments, especially if it involved intense emotions. Their philosophy was "be cool, don't get vulnerable, don't get hurt." It's kind of the John Wayne approach to relationships. If conversation starts to even get a hint of emotion, you change the subject: "How 'bout them Cowboys?"

But Paul was a man's man. None of us can measure up to Paul. I love that passage in 2 Corinthians 11 where he sort of runs through the litany of all that he'd endured. See how you check out. He says, "[I was] beaten times without number … five times of the Jews I received thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, one time I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked [and for a whole day I was adrift in the ocean]."

You see, none of us can measure up to Paul. Paul was a man, but he was also a man of deep friendships and relationships. He says, "… I have you in my heart." My whole life and thought are bound up with you. This isn't professionalism. It's not some sort of act, a bit of showmanship to win their hearts. Instead, it's something that shines through every letter Paul wrote. He had a deep love and friendship for his fellow Christians. You see that here in Philippians when you come to 2:20. You see it with Timothy.

For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will be genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, but not those of Christ…. But you know his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father. [Paul was attached to people.]

You see it again with Epaphroditus. Notice verse 25 of chapter 2, "But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is your messenger and minister to my need;" [Verse 27,] "For … he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow."

You see it even in chapter 4 where he's having to rebuke a couple of women in the congregation. Chapter 4:2. He says,

"I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony with the Lord." [Then he says,] "Indeed true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement [he thinks of someone else] also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life."

I love Romans 15, and we're not going to turn there this morning. But if you want to see the apostle's heart for people, read Romans 15. There is no spiritual reason for Romans 15. Oh, there are spiritual lessons there, but what you see in Romans 15 is the outpouring of the apostle's heart for people. He loved people.

The bottom line is that Paul enjoyed the company of other Christians and he counted them and treated them as his dear friends. You and I should work at developing relationships with unbelievers so that we can reach out to them with the gospel of Christ, but our best friends, our dearest friends, should be fellow Christians. And instead of the shallow "let's do lunch" friendships of our day, we should pursue deep, abiding friendships. Now don't get me wrong. In a lifetime, there won't be many of these. In fact, I find the verse in Philippians 2:20 absolutely fascinating. Here's the apostle Paul who poured himself into people, but notice what he says in verse 20 when he talks about Timothy: "I have no one else of kindred spirit." In a lifetime, Paul found one kindred spirit.

Several years ago, I wrote a set of personal resolutions that I review periodically that sort of set the course for my life. I gained inspiration for that from the life of Jonathan Edwards. One of my resolutions is that in my lifetime, I want to have one Jonathan kind of friend, but I want to pursue friendship with as many people as I can and as deeply as I can. How should you think about your fellow Christians? What should your mindset toward them be? You should think of them, Paul says, as dear friends - "I have you in my heart."

The second attitude he tells us here that we should have toward our brothers and sisters in Christ is not only that of dear friends, but secondly, of faithful partners, of faithful partners. Notice verse 7 again, "… since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me." Why were the Philippians in Paul's heart? He says: "since [because I think of you as dear friends, and there's a reason, there's something that drew us together, there's something that united us] you all are partakers of grace with me." The Greek word translated "partakers" is literally fellowshipers with or partners with. It's a compound word in the Greek, the word "with" and the word "koinonia". You're partakers. You're fellowshipers with me. What a deep image of partnership.

In 1 Corinthians 4, Paul uses another image to describe our partnership or our common service that I think is more picturesque even than this word and enlightens our understanding of what it means to think of our fellow believers as faithful partners. He says in 1 Corinthians 4 that as servants of Christ, we're like galley slaves. We're pulling the oar together. Now for us, that's a figure of speech. But for some in the history of the church, it was a reality.

I came across this week the story of a French Protestant named Jean. He was arrested for his faith in the days of Catholic persecution. His autobiography was discovered in an old trunk about a hundred years after his death. It was eventually published in Paris in 1868. Jean, as he attempted to escape to the Netherlands from the persecution of the Catholic-dominated leadership in France, was arrested and he was condemned to the galleys. First, he was thrown into a dungeon so dark he says he couldn't see to drive away the rats which stole his bread. Several of his fellow prisoners, he records, were so horribly beaten that they died before they ever made it to the galleys. He was made to march with a chain of prisoners in the winter of 1712 across the entire breadth of France. Over four hundred men were chained together in pairs, and then a long chain ran the entire length of those two hundred pairs binding them together. He estimates that each man bore a weight of chains around a hundred and fifty pounds. In this chain gang were many murderers and the vilest of felons, but the French Protestants, the Huguenots, were distinguished by red jackets as deserving of especially harsh treatment.

But that was just to get the galleys. The punishment of the galleys was far worse. The royal galley in his time was a hundred and fifty feet long and forty feet broad. It had fifty benches for rowers, twenty-five on each side. The oars were fifty feet long. Thirty-seven feet of the oar was outside the ship and thirteen feet was inside. Six men tugged at each oar, all chained to the same bench. They had to row in unison or they would be heavily struck by the oar behind or before them. A slave driver scourged the rowers with a long whip. Jean writes: "To enable his strokes to tell, the men sat naked while they rode." At night, the galley slave slept where he sat. He never left the bench except for the hospital or the grave, yet some of the Huguenots lingered in this living death for more than thirty to forty years.

One historian writes, "During all these years, they toiled in their chains in a hell of foul and disgusting utterance for they were mixed up with thieves and the worst of criminals. They ate the bread and drank the waters of bitterness. Their keepers lashed them to make them row harder, lashed them to make them sit up, lashed them to make them lie down. And yet at any moment, a word spoken would have made these heroic confessors free. If they would only recant their heresy, their chains would fall off, and they would be restored to life, to friends, to liberty. Yet very rarely did one give up his faith. They preferred to remain galley slaves for life."

When Paul says that we are partners with him, that's what he means. We're partners in the sense that we pull the oar together to accomplish the same purpose. But unlike the galley slave who served unwillingly and for an awful and earthly cause, Paul says that the Philippians are partners with him, they're fellow rowers with him, in grace. What does he mean? Well, there are two possibilities when he says that they're partners or fellow rowers with him in grace. One is that they're partners with him in that they have experienced God's grace in salvation and that's true. But the second possibility is that they are partners in the grace of ministry. You see, Paul saw his ministry as a gift of God's grace.

I think this second meaning is what he has in mind as he does elsewhere. If you notice Romans 1, Romans 1:5, he writes about Christ: "through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name's sake." That's what he's talking about. He says, "You're partakers with me, you're partners with me, in the grace of the opportunity of ministry."

Notice how he defines the nature of their partnership in grace. He says you are partners of grace with me "both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel." You see, Paul thought of the Philippians as faithful partners in two very specific ways.

First, he says "in my imprisonment", literally "in my chains". In what sense had the Philippians been his partner in chains? Well, you remember that not only had they sent financial provisions to help support Paul during his imprisonment (you see that in 4:14), they had also continued to pray for him in his ministry (1:19). But in addition, they had refused to be ashamed of him. Remember, these people lived in a Roman colony with retired soldiers. The idea of looking for spiritual leadership to someone who was incarcerated in a Roman prison would not have been a big selling point. Your typical seeker-sensitive church in Philippi probably did not put a picture of Paul in chains on their direct mail flyer. You've been a partner in my chains.

Secondly, Paul says I think of you all as partners "in the defense and confirmation of the gospel", in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. The words "defense" and "confirmation" are technical, legal terms that were common in first century law courts. The word "defense" is "apologia". You recognize it. It's the word from which we get the word "apology" or "apologetics". It refers to someone defending himself in court against a judicial accusation. You see this in 2 Timothy. He uses it this way, 2 Timothy 4:16 is what I want. He says, "At my first defense (there's our word) no one supported me, but all deserted me; but may it not be counted against them." He's talking about his legal defense against the charges that have been brought up against him.

The word "confirmation" on the other hand refers to guaranteeing or furnishing security in the process of one's defense. You can see this word used that particular way in Hebrews 6:16. The writer of Hebrews says, "For men swear by one greater than themselves, and with an oath they give a confirmation as the end of every dispute." In other words, they, they give an oath to confirm their word.

I think Paul intends to use this unusual expression "the defense and confirmation of the gospel". I think he intends to use it with two meanings in mind. I think it refers on the one hand to the genuine legal trial that he's about to face. He's in prison. He's going to appear before a Roman authority. He must give a defense of the gospel that he preached against the charges that were given as to why he was arrested. And in addition to that, he must offer clear proofs of the truth of the gospel to defend himself against the charges of insurrection in the Roman Empire.

But Paul's meaning seems to be larger than just his own legal circumstances. It appears to point to his ministry in which he sought to set forth a defense of the gospel and to corroborate that truth by proof, testimony and confirmation. So, I think he's talking about both his legal troubles that he's about to face, and I think he's talking about his broader ministry as well. He's saying that he and the Philippians were united by their commitment to one cause, and that cause was the gospel. It's like soldiers on the battlefield fighting side-by-side defending one cause or fighting for one cause.

Stephen Ambrose's true account of the soldiers of the 101st Airborne is called "Band of Brothers". That these men not only survived the horrors of World War II, but achieved victory to it, through it, is a tribute to their training. It's a tribute to their toughness. But most of all, it's a tribute to their devotion to one another. That's really the premise of his book. Ambrose's title "Band of Brothers" is based on a line from Shakespeare's "Henry the Fifth". On Saint Crispian's day, Henry Plantagenet makes this battlefield oration to his outnumbered and beleaguered men.

Listen to what he said: "He that outlives this day and comes safe home will stand a tiptoe when the day is named and rouse him at the name of Crispian. He that shall live this day and see old age will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbors and say, "Tomorrow is Saint Crispian." And then he will strip his sleeve and show his scars and say,

"These wounds I had on Crispin's day."… This story shall the good man teach his son; and Crispian shall never go by from this day to the ending of the world, but we in it shall be remembered – we few, we happy few, we band of brothers; for he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother."

That's what it means to be partners in the gospel. It means that we battle as fellow soldiers in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, whatever the cost.

You want to be filled with joy and gratitude to the Christians God has placed around you? Don't start by trying to change them. Start by changing your attitude toward them. Consider them as dear friends, as faithful partners, and thirdly, as Christ's beloved, as Christ's beloved. Notice verse 8. Paul writes: "For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ." Paul begins verse 8 with an oath. He calls God as his witness that what he's about to say is true. He does this on a few other occasions in the New Testament: Romans 1:9, 2 Corinthians 1:23, 1 Thessalonians 2:5, and so forth. Now this doesn't mean that Paul wasn't trustworthy. Instead, Paul uses this in the same way that God Himself uses an oath. Very interesting passage and, if the Lord allows, someday we'll come here because this has become a favorite passage of mine, but come to Hebrews 6. Hebrews 6, and notice verse 17. Verse 16, he's just mentioned that men take an oath to confirm an argument.

Verse 17, "In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise [who's that? That's us, you and me. We're heirs of the promise given to Abraham that the gospel would come and that we would be surely blessed in Him. In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise] the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath." God took an oath. Why, because God isn't trustworthy? No, because He wanted us to be even more sure and confident of what He is saying.

And that's the same reason Paul takes an oath when he begins Philippians 1:8. He wants to drive home how true his point is. Paul usually does this when he wants to emphasize his own thoughts or his own feelings. Why? Because obviously only God knows the truth of what he's saying. They can't be tested empirically. And he says, "This is how I feel about you." Who's the only person that knows he's telling the truth? It's God. And so he says, "God knows. God is witness." He's in effect saying, "God knows I'm telling you the truth."

Now notice what he calls God to witness: "how I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ." "I long for you" – that phrase speaks of desire and earnestness to see them again. It describes a sort of homesick yearning. You've experienced homesickness. When I was at Grace to You for the twelve years I was out in California before I moved to the church. It was my responsibility usually at least once a year, sometimes a couple of times a year, to take an international trip to one of Grace to You's eight international ministries. And I would be gone sometimes for three weeks and be literally pouring myself into that ministry day and night for those three weeks. And really, it wasn't until I got on the plane on the way home that my thoughts began to turn toward home in a profound way. I longed to see Sheila and my girls. I longed to be home. That's the picture behind Paul's phrase "I long for you all".

Notice again that he punctuates the fact that he hasn't chosen one clique in the church at Philippi. He says, "I long for you all," for all of you. But the key to understanding Paul's point in verse 8 is the prepositional phrase "with the affection of Christ Jesus", with the affection of Christ Jesus. The Greek word translated "affection" is, you're not going to want to hear this, "splanknon" – an ugly sounding word, but one with a beautiful meaning. The word can refer to one's actual entrails or bowel, bowels. It's only used this way once in the New Testament, and that is in Acts 1:18.

You remember, when Judas hanged himself, and the rope broke, and he fell, and it says all of his bowels gushed out. Specifically, the heart, the liver, the lungs is what it's typically referring to. So, Paul is literally saying, "I long for you all with the bowels or the entrails of Jesus Christ." That doesn't sound very pleasing, but this word is most often used figuratively. We understand that. We still use the stomach and our gut area to refer to intense emotion. Usually for us, it's negative. We say that "it hit me in the gut" or "it gave me an upset stomach" when we refer to intense emotion. But in the case of the Greek word, it was often positive emotion, that deep longing and love and affection.

It's important that you understand that when someone heard this word used figuratively in the first century, they didn't immediately picture someone's internal organs. It's like our English use of the word "heart". In a couple of months, we'll celebrate Valentine's Day. And men, when you give your wife a card, and it says inside "I love you with all my heart", you hope that your wife doesn't immediately picture this red quivering muscle inside your chest. In the first century, the word was used of deep affection. It was used even to describe a mother's love for her child because the emphasis was on the depth of the force of feeling.

It's interesting that this word is often used to describe the affection God has toward men. Several times, for example, in the New Testament in the gospels, it's used to describe what Jesus felt toward the multitudes. In Mark 6:34: "When we went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them (there's the word, He felt compassion for them) because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things."

Christ used this word to describe how God responds to a repenting sinner in that wonderful story that we call the parable of the prodigal son which better should be called the parable of the father's heart because it's not about the son; it's about the father. Listen to how he describes the father, in, in this case, picturing God: "So [this young sinner] got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him [there it is - his, his bowels, his, his gut reached out for this young man], and he ran, and he embraced him and kissed him." You know, that's one of those verses that I can never get used to because that pictures God responding to a repentant sinner. We're talking about Asia. We're talking about where face is a big thing, where you don't do things that in any way demean your character. And here's this father, and when he sees his prodigal son coming, he picks up his robe, and he runs to meet him. That's God.

But this quality of affection, of deep love, can be in the heart not only of God, but also of the noblest men as well. It's listed among the virtues of a Christian - here in 2:1, Philippians 2:1, in Ephesians 4:32, in 1 Peter 3:8. It's this that's motivated the Good Samaritan to stop and take care of the man who was beaten and robbed. You see that in Luke 10:33. And it's "splanknon". It's the expression of deep, intense emotion that motivates us to care for the physical needs of others around us as well. First John 3:17 says, "whoever has this world's good, and sees his brother in need and closes his [splanknon] against him, how does the love of God abide in him?"

But you can't work this up. It's called "the affection of Christ Jesus". You see, this kind of affection that profoundly moves the whole man toward another is only possible for those in Christ. When Paul says "he longs for them with the affection of Christ Jesus", this is what he means: "I long for you with the same kind of affection that Christ has for you." You see, the reason Paul was so grateful for these people, and the reason they filled his heart with joy was: he saw them as the special objects of Christ's care and affection, as the special objects of Christ's love, and Paul simply sought to imitate that. "I long for you with the same affection Christ has for you."

We desperately need to gain this perspective toward one another. You see, when you see another Christian, see him or her as one of Christ's little ones, as the special object of our Lord's care just as we love all of our children, even those that are more challenging. Christ loves all of His little ones. So, if you and I constantly remember that we're Christ's little ones, how will it affect how we respond to each other?

Well, I think that question is answered best in Matthew 18, Matthew 18. If we recognize each other as Christ's beloved, the special object of His care, here's how it'll affect our thinking and our response to others, Matthew 18. Matthew 18 is really the earliest chapter about life in the church. The theme of this chapter is the childlikeness of the believer. Christ begins in 18:2 by calling a child to Himself and holding this child up and pointing out that faith is like the simple, helpless dependence of a little child. We must come to Christ like children, recognizing that we have no achievements and no accomplishments to offer to commend ourselves with, Christ says.

But then Christ changes in verse 5 from talking about physical children to talking about spiritual children. Notice verse 6, "these little ones who believe in Me." He's talking about all believers. And notice He identifies several ways then that we should respond to believers, to those He calls His little ones, to those who are the object of His care, who are His beloved. In verse 6, don't ever cause them to sin. Don't ever put something in their way that's going to cause them to sin.

And Christ makes it very serious. He says: "it would be better for you to have a heavy millstone hung around your neck and be drowned in the depth of the sea than to do something that would cause one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin." You see, if you look at others around you as Christ's beloved, you'll never do anything that causes them to sin. You're not going to put 'em in that situation because you know Christ loves them, and He wants them to grow in His likeness, not toward sin.

In verses 10 - 14, he says that if you really going to that these are Christ's little ones, then you're going to pursue them when they stray. That's the point of the ninety and nine, the ninety-nine, excuse me, plus the one. That's the point, is that you're going to pursue those who stray. You're not going to say as some say when people leave their church in difficulty and trouble, "Blessed subtraction". No, you're going to pursue them as best you can.

Verses 15 - 20 of Matthew 18, He says you're going to lovingly deal with the sin of others. If you understand that they're Christ's beloved they're the objects of His special care, then when you see them sin, when you see them fall into a sin, you're going to run after them and you're going to try to draw them back. You're going to follow the process that's outlined here in drawing them back to Christ.

Verse 21 and following, if that person who's brought into the discipline of the church repents, if they express repentance, then you're going to be quick to forgive them. Peter thought he was being magnanimous in verse 21. He says, "Okay, Lord. So, I go through this process and they say they're repentant." "How often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" You see, the rabbi's taught you should do it three times, and so Peter thought he was being generous. He doubled it and added one. He said "Seven times"? And Christ says, "Oh no, Peter, up to (seven times) seventy times seven", He says at the end of the next verse - 490 times. And of course, Christ is using merely a hyperbole. He's simply saying however many times it takes, however many times they come.

You see, when you and I interact with other Christians, they belong to Christ. And when we understand that they are Christ's beloved, that they're the objects of His care, then we begin to imitate Christ's love toward them, and we respond to them as we should respond. We don't cause them to sin. We pursue them when they stray. We deal with their sin to keep them from going deeper into sin. And we're quick to forgive them when they express repentance. Treat them as you would treat Christ. That's what Paul is saying – "I treat you in the same way Christ treats you."

D.A. Carson summarizes these two wonderful verses like this. He said,

Both from Paul's example and from that of the Philippians, we must learn this point. The fellowship of the gospel, the partnership of the gospel, must be put at the center of our relationship with other believers. Paul does not commend them for the fine times they had shared watching games in the arena. He doesn't mention their literature discussion groups or the excellent meals they had, although undoubtedly they had enjoyed some fine times together. What lies at the center of all of his ties with them, doubtless including meals and discussion, is this passion for the gospel, this partnership in the gospel. This means (listen to this, this means) that in our conversation, we ought regularly to be sharing in the gospel – that is, delighting in God, sharing with one another what we've been learning from His Word, joining in prayer for the advance of the gospel, encouraging one another in obedience and maturing discipleship, bearing one another's burdens and growing in self-sacrificial love for one another for Christ's sake. In short, we must put the gospel first, and that means we must put the fellowship of the gospel at the center of our relationship with fellow believers.

He's exactly right. Look at the people around you. Who do you think they are? How do you think about them? Are they merely acquaintances that happen to like the same church you do? Do you tend to break the people around you down into three groups: those you like and enjoy, those you merely tolerate, and those you honestly can't stand? Paul says you should think of them as dear friends, as faithful partners and as Christ's beloved. They should be your deepest friends. You should view them as faithful partners in the ministry of the gospel. And you should never look at them without remembering that they are Christ's beloved. They are His little ones, His children, the objects of His special care. That is how you should think about your fellow believers who are a part of this church. Let's follow Paul's example.

Let's pray together.

Father, we are overwhelmed at the heart of this man Paul. We see in it the imitation and expression in a small way of Your heart toward us.

Lord, I pray that You would help us to find our joy and our thanksgiving and our satisfaction in You first and foremost and then in the people that You have placed around us. Lord, I pray that You would help us to think like You think about them, to see them as You see them, to see them as Your children, the special objects of Your care, to see them as partners and to treat them as dear friends.

I pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.