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The best friendships

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends! (Philippians 4:1, NIV)

The Christian gospel builds the best friendships in the world.

I could point you to a number of examples to make this case, but consider the fragment above, from a first-century piece of Christian correspondence.  It’s in Philippians, a letter which Paul, that great official spokesman of Christ, wrote to the church at Philippi, Greece, from prison.

The tone of the whole letter is very warm — but nowhere more so than this astonishing sentence, which is bursting with terms of affection.

My brothers and sisters. This translates a single Greek word which was much more commonly used in the ancient world for blood relations. It was the early Christians who pioneered its use for fellow-Christians. For the Bible teaches that those who belong to Jesus are children of the same heavenly Father. This is the basis of our closeness: we are a family together!  (We might add: one of the astounding aspects of Christian experience is the way this works across nationalities and cultures.)

You whom I love and long for — read through the letter and you’ll see Paul really means it. He is clearly very fond of them; he thanks God for them; he prays for them; he longs to see them; he is concerned about their concerns.

My joy and crown — for their part, the Philippians were clearly a great encouragement to Paul. In fact, Philippians is a thank-you letter for a financial gift they’d sent to him, to take care of his needs in prison. He had great joy in seeing how they were getting on, and standing firm for Christ. When he calls them his crown, he perhaps has the sense that they are “his pride and joy”, as we’d say.

Dear friends — he can’t finish without including this, too. He really wants them to know how fond of them he is!

That is quite a lot in one sentence! But Paul doesn’t write just to be gushy. He has a serious practical purpose. He wants the Philippian church to stick with him in the face of false teaching (and how much warmer the real Paul is than the popular caricature of a rather cold, cerebral figure!). And he wants them to stick with each other (which will mean them showing each other the same attitude he has for them).

Do you know something of that depth of friendship? It comes from being part of the great world-wide family Jesus is building, and then (as Paul explains in Philippians 2) showing each other the same attitude of self-giving that Jesus showed.

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