Pull up a slab of rock, light a candle and grab a quill, ink and a scrap of papyrus to take notes. We’re journeying together back to the year AD 58 to a Roman prison cell to listen in as Paul pens his letter to the Philippians. What can his letter speak to us some 2,000 years later?
“For God is my witness that I long for all of you with the splagchnon of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:8).
Few words more powerfully, and graphically, express the deeply rooted love and compassion Jesus showed toward others than the Greek word splagchnizomai. Try saying that a few times. You should have spit coming out, and it should have sort of a rough, deep German ring to it. “Splagchnizomai!” Read Luke 7:13, where Jesus encounters a funeral procession for the only son of a poor widow. My translation says, “When the Lord saw her, his heart was filled with pity for her.” The actual Greek language conveys a deeper, more graphic emotion being experienced by Jesus here. It literally reads, “When the Lord saw [the mother of the deceased], his bowels yearned for her.” Jesus’ stomach churned, his bowels moved, he was sick to his stomach, he was moved with pity from his deepest parts! Now THAT is true “gut-wrenching” love and compassion! Jesus was touched at the core of his being, and overcome with an intensely felt compassion.
Now, back to Philippians. In today’s verse, Paul uses this same word, splagchnon, to describe the deep, heartfelt affection he feels toward his Christian brothers and sisters in the city of Philippi. Paul calls God as his witness (He really means it!) as he declares how deeply he cares or “longs for” them with “the bowels of Christ Jesus.” With what?! Yes, Paul does not just care for them from his deepest place—his bowels. That would be amazing enough; but rather, Paul boldly declares that he loves them with the intense, deep, unconditional, sacrificial love of Christ himself—“with the deep affection (“splagchnon”) of Christ Jesus! Paul has Jesus-like compassion and love for these people!
What does all this “bowel talk” mean for us today? Three thoughts:
1. I marvel at the strong love Paul communicates to his Christian brothers and sisters! Man, if we believe his words, Paul’s actually beginning to feel the same kind of deep love and compassion for others that Jesus himself felt–the kind of love we usually only dream of. We say, “Sure Jesus loves everyone—even his enemies—because he was God; but we are only human.” Well, apparently Paul was beginning to grow in his character to a point where he could actually declare with confidence—God as his witness—that he loved others “with the very love of Christ.” Believe it or not, that means we can too by the power of the Spirit!
2. I think of the cheap and shallow way we have with words. We love God. We love cheesecake. We love our new Ipod. We love our best friend. We use the same word—“love”—for all of these things. How much meaning can that word really carry anymore if we can use it to describe our affection for our mom or boyfriend in one breath and our craving for cookies in the next? I think we should all seek more creative, meaningful ways to communicate our affections in life. Let’s not just say “I love you” anymore; but instead follow Paul and tell our closest family and friends what they really DO TO US, or how deeply they touch us. For example, when I got down on one knee and asked Keri to marry me, I can say with complete honesty that “I thought my heart was going to stop beating” and that “time stood still” for that ten seconds before she said “Yes.” I could have just said “that moment was amazing”, but that just doesn’t describe it.
3. This challenges me to seek a deeper, more powerful kind of love for God. Knowing that Christ’s love for me comes from such a deep, bone-rattling, heart-yearning, gut-wrenching place, I am challenged to respond with an equally as passionate, heartfelt love for my Savior. It’s so easy to sing, “I could sing of Your love forever” over and over again, but never really feel it in my bowels. I want a faith that moves me to the core of my being.
Let us continue to grow in our love for God until we begin to love God and others with all our “splagchnon.”