Got Any Splanchna?
Within the kaleidoscope of my youthful memories is the image of a handicapped pastor. His stroke had left him limping and speaking with a slur. In the place of what was once freshness and vigor was weakness and care. I cannot remember a single sermon of his but I shall never forget the love and compassion he showed a young man groping his way through middle school.
Chrysostom once said that heat makes all things expand and that the warmth of love will always expand a man’s heart. A similar thought may have been in Paul’s mind when he wrote to the Philippians. “I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus,” he told them (Phil. 1:8). Our English translations have masked the underlying Greek in an unfortunate way. The word that is rendered “affection” is the Greek noun splanchna. In ancient Greek splanchna generally referred to the upper viscera – the heart, liver, and lungs. The seat of a person’s emotions was supposed to lie in these organs, much as today we say that we love someone with our “heart.” Paul is here making a great and wonderful claim. There is nothing shallow or insincere about his affection for the Philippians. His love comes from his inward parts, from the deepest level of his emotions. Nor is there anything self-actuated about Paul’s affection. The love that he embraces for others is actually the love of Jesus Himself who lives within him.
It was Paul’s proud claim that he loved the Philippians with the genuine compassion of Christ. Elsewhere the Bible says that God has poured out His love into our hearts by His Spirit. The source of Paul’s affection lay in his compete yieldedness to that Spirit and in his exaltation of the person of Christ. I wonder how much – or how little – we emulate Paul in this regard. Speaking personally, this is the most important lesson I’ve had to learn in life – to put the cares and needs of others above my own. No one can read the New Testament without realizing that what binds Christians together is love. As someone has put it, the perfect tense of “to live” is “to love.” The danger that threatened the Philippian church, and the danger that threatens many of our churches today, is to forget this fact.
We must not mistake genuine love for the empty compliments and plaudits that are callously tossed about in human relationships. Thackeray, towards the end of his life, prayed that he “might never write a word inconsistent with the love of God, or the love of man, that he might never propagate his own prejudices or pander to those of others, that he might always speak the truth with his pen, and that he might never be actuated by the love of greed.” I have met several people who have had this Christ-like love. They come in all ages and from all sorts of backgrounds. No two look alike. But you know them when you see them. They are never impatient or tart with you. Their lives are characterized by acts of devotion, service, and sacrifice. They make you think of Jesus. Somehow you feel that you have understood a little more of what it was like to be in the presence of Christ when He was on earth.
“I deeply love you,” Paul informed the Philippians, and he meant it. He strove to bring every thought, deed, and emotion captive to Christ. To love the Lord Jesus Christ is to have and keep His commandments (John 14:21). And His greatest commandment is that we love one another as He loved us. How lightly we regard those commandments today and act as though they were purely optional. Not so with Paul.
It is sadly possible to have a loyalty to the Body of Christ from which the flaming love for the selfsame Body has gone out. It is still loyalty but it is loyalty to a principle rather than to people. A marriage may go through the motions of faithfulness, but the affection has long since departed. A similar sad state can exist in our union with our fellow believers.
If we say we love God and do not love our brethren, we are liars. If that is the case, we are still in need of learning one of life’s greatest lessons. And if you are a pastor/elder, before you teach your people (Eph. 4:11) you must seek to love them. Let your motto be Eph. 4:1-3:
May 25, 2006
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.