Paul is still not finished with his thanksgiving, at least not with the (now convoluted) sentence that began as a thanksgiving. With the comparative conjunction "just as" (omitted from the NIV), he proceeds to offer justification for his confidence in verse 6 and to elaborate on his grounds for thanksgiving in verses 4-5.
It is, after all, Paul goes on, quite right for me to feel this way about all of you. The verb translated feel is especially prominent in Philippians. It has to do with having or developing a certain "mindset," including attitudes and dispositions. The NIV's feel this way about all of you, in the sense of having you in mind—being well disposed toward you—is good colloquial English for this idea. This is the proper verb to introduce the clause that follows and its companion in verse 8, a passage full of friendship motifs toward which this verb points; it also anticipates the kind of "mind" Paul will urge on them later in the letter (2:2-5; 4:2-3).
In giving the reason for his having them in mind in this way, Paul once more emphasizes their mutual relationship, one side of the three-way bond around which this letter finds focus. Certain realities—three are singled out—about that relationship call for such an attitude: his own deep affection for them (cf. vv. 3-4), their past partnership with him in the gospel (cf. v. 5) and the extension of that partnership to his imprisonment—and the defense of the gospel.
The basic reason for such affection is that (literally) "you all are participants together with me in the grace." But which grace? Many take it with the NIV to refer to God's saving grace, others to Paul's apostolic ministry. But in light of verse 29, where the verb of this noun occurs in conjunction with their mutual suffering for Christ, Paul very likely is referring to being "partners together in this grace," namely, in defending and confirming ( vindicating) the gospel in the face of suffering (chains).
The gospel, as always, is the primary matter; both he and they have had a part in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. But the Philippians are also partners together with him (NIV share) in his present circumstances of being in chains. Here is the first mention of the suffering motif that will recur throughout the letter. Whether Paul was literally in chains or whether this is simply a metaphor for imprisonment cannot be known. In any case, the studied repetition of chains in verses 13, 14 and 17 indicates that he is smarting under the imprisonment.
But how do the Philippians share in this grace with Paul? Does this refer simply to their gift to him while he is presently in chains? Or does it possibly allude to what he will affirm in verse 30, that some of them are undergoing "the same struggle" as he in a nearly identical way in Philippi? One cannot be sure. Very likely the recent gift is more immediately in view; that, after all, is the immediate occasion of his thanksgiving.
Nonetheless, this may also refer to their own defense of the gospel in Philippi, especially in the face of hostility similar to what he has suffered. The hostility, after all, comes from the empire itself, of which both they and he are citizens, now in trouble because they hold allegiance to a citizenship in which Lord Christ holds sway even—especially—over lord Caesar.
The mild oath with which the thanksgiving finally concludes (v. 8) reveals the depth of feeling out of which the letter is written. The affection that one senses throughout the thanksgiving now spills out as open and unfeigned feelings toward the Philippians. At the same time, however, Paul is experiencing a measure of distress, because all is not right with them, and he can only sit in prison and pray. Pray he will, but now, having just noted their own love for him in Christ, he returns to the affirmation in verse 7 that he has them in his heart.
This oath also brings into focus once more the three-way bond between him and them and Christ that holds the letter together. For his part he longs for them, not simply to see them again (1:24-25; 2:24) but for them, his dearly beloved brothers and sisters in Christ (see 4:1). Whatever in fact was going on among them, reported to him by Epaphroditus, he wants them to know how strongly he feels toward them—toward all of you. Nonetheless, this relationship serves as only the second predicate on which the letter rests. The first predicate is their own relationship to Christ, which is the ultimate urgency of the letter. Thus Paul's own deep longings for them come with the affection of Christ Jesus himself—almost certainly meaning "the love Christ has for you, which is also at work in me for you."
Such an uninhibited display of affection makes it clear that Paul was not an academic! He was, in fact, a passionate lover of Christ, which made him an equally passionate lover of Christ's people. Much can be learned here by those who have pastoral care of any kind, including parents for their children. Paul's emotion, after all, is simply the outflow of his theology and the spirituality that issues from such theology. His theology has to do with the gospel, which has God as its source and sustainer. Whatever else, those whom we love in Christ first of all belong to God. God has begun the good work in them that he has committed himself to concluding with eschatological glory. That good work is the result of the affection of Christ Jesus, through whom God has brought this "good news" on behalf of his people.
The net result in terms of pastoral care is thanksgiving and joy for the people themselves, for all of them, even those whose antics often seem to bring more grief than pleasure. They belong to God; it is ours to be grateful for what God has done, is doing and will continue to do in their lives. And all of this works much better if the caregiver also shares in the affection of Christ Jesus, by having a good measure of the same affection, predicated on being participants together in the gospel.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.