Paul started most letters with words of thanksgiving, but few of his introductory remarks have as much joy and enthusiasm as the first chapter of Philippians. He had a special place in his heart for the church in Philippi because of the way they affirmed and supported his ministry. The Philippians prayed for Paul regularly (1:19); several had “contended at [Paul’s] side in the cause of the gospel” (4:3); and they maintained contact with Paul through messengers who delivered gifts (2:25–30).
Their energetic backing of Paul’s work brought him much joy, an emotion that often led Paul to thankful prayer. Verses 3 through 5 make it seem as though Paul couldn’t think of his friends without also praying for them.
The depth of Paul’s attachment to the Philippians was rooted in the partnership he had with the church, not necessarily in his own preference for certain personalities. The fact that the church had overseers (or elders) and deacons suggests that the congregation was a larger group, surely an assortment of different characters and temperaments. In his book Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer, C. S. Lewis wrote, “It takes all sorts [of people] to make a world; or a church. This may be even truer of a church. If grace perfects nature it must expand all our natures into the full richness of the diversity which God intended when he made them, and Heaven will display far more variety than Hell.”
Human affection for one another is often rooted in preferences for certain personalities and can be subject to fickle moods. But Paul’s thanksgiving points to the way in which shared faith and a common mission can confirm emotional bonds of spiritual friendship.