For God is my witness that I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:8, ESV)
Paul commits himself to the Philippians with a most solemn vow. Words can be easy, but these are not easy words. These are words with a long history of action behind them. They are words carried along on the blood, tears, and suffering which Paul paid out in his care for the Philippians and others. Paul isn’t handing them a bagful of good intentions as yet unfulfilled. No, those would be easy words.
In this brief little verse I come under conviction again and again. How often I find myself offering heaping portions of good intentions to those around me but never fulfilling them in action. The royal robes of Christian love must be fitted to the body of Christian servanthood, else they are empty and useless.
So often we have it backwards. We want to speak, then act. To say ‘I love you’ and then put it on display. Oh how different our testimony could be if we lived love first, rather than merely stating our as yet unfulfilled good intentions. Which are blessed, the feet of those who bring good news or the lips of those who talk about bringing good news someday?
The Philippians themselves have each witnessed Paul’s love for and commitment to do good to them in the way he has lived. Their heartstrings, tuned by the gospel of Christ, ring in unison for their beloved apostle as they help him in chains, in beatings, in lack. In Christ, their love has extended beyond their means but they continue to give help to Paul again and again, as he has also helped them. Why? Because Paul has loved them with the love of Christ.
Even though Paul has proven his love in action many times, he calls upon God as his witness. The Philippians themselves are eyewitnesses of Paul’s external acts of love but this is not enough. Paul seeks to assure them that his love for them lives in the heart, which they obviously cannot see or know. Think about it for a minute… calling God as his witness. The ultimate Witness from whom nothing is hidden, before whom the hearts of men are laid open. The Witness who sees all, including Paul’s own heart. Paul calls on Him as witness of his genuine longing for the Philippians. And even here, normal patterns of speech fail Paul. He longs for the Philippians, not merely with his own affection, as deep as that is. Rather, he longs for the Philippians with the bottomless affection of Jesus.
Christ and His affection are what brought Paul to and through all he has experienced with the Philippians. It is not a mere abstract concept or even Paul’s own affection. It is the sacrificial love of Jesus himself, moving within Paul and moving Paul to serve them. What a profound commitment Paul has made, calling God to witness his love, which wasn’t even his. It was the supernatural love of Christ.
In all of this we have an example to follow. May we seek to act in Christ’s love for others before saying it. What does this look like in your specific circumstance? I will not attempt to reduce this to some sort of rudimentary checklist. It is lived in your life, not merely or only in your thoughts and heart. It is Christ at work within you, dear Christian, to live love towards those around you. Then, when you finally say it, no one wonders what you mean. They already know.