The Bowels of Jesus Christ
One of the wonders of our make‑up as human beings is the diversity that exists in the things we like and dislike. Each one of us is slightly different in what appeals to us and what triggers the affections of our souls. What is enjoyed by one is not necessarily enjoyed by another. What one finds attractive is not necessarily the same with another. Our souls are very individual with respect to their affections and what we are sensitive to.
The ‘bowels’ concept among the Greeks was a concept that was used to express the issue of the affections and feelings of the inner man, the soul. Though we use the word today primarily in reference to the literal intestines of our bodies, the Greeks took that very sensitive and emotion‑responsive portion of our anatomy and used it to refer to the deep seated affections of the soul. If one had “bowels of compassion” for another, he would have deep set and sensitive feelings of compassion for him, and would be desirous of coming to his aid in time of need. “Bowels of mercies” is what we as members of the body of Christ ought to have for one another, and so be mutual comforters and edifiers of one another, especially in times of need.
The expression “the bowels of Jesus Christ,” as used by Paul in Philippians 1:8, is an expression that is full of meaning in this area and needs to be thoughtfully considered by us.
When Paul told the Philippians that “I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ,” he was saying more to them than first appears. Without a doubt he was expressing his great love for these saints, and how he loved them with the love of Christ and so greatly longed to be with them and to enjoy their fellowship. They were dear members of the body of Christ to Paul, whose “fellowship in the gospel” had been “from the first day until now.” No wonder in his prayers he made request for them “with joy.” And no wonder he would declare his longing for them with such a tender expression as “in the bowels of Jesus Christ.”
But Paul’s longing for them went far beyond the issue of just yearning for personal fellowship with them. He also in longing after them in “the bowels of Jesus Christ” had his heart occupied with the things that Jesus Christ wanted for them. He had his heart occupied with the cares and concerns of Jesus Christ for them as the members of the church the body of Christ that they were. His own bowels were sensitive to the things the Lord wanted for his saints. He cared for “the things of Jesus Christ.” He knew what the Lord yearned for with His saints, and Paul wanted those same things. He longed not just to be with the Philippians, but to have them possessing and doing and being involved in the things the Lord in His bowels longs for. Paul viewed things from the Divine perspective and longed in his own bowels for those same things which the Lord’s affections were set on.
There is a great need today for believers to long after things that are in harmony with the “bowels of Jesus Christ,” just as the apostle Paul did. But, unfortunately, instead of this being the case, what Paul expressed in Philippians 2:21 is all too often the case with many Christians.
“For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.” (Philippians 2:21)
The things that many Christians want to do, and even do in the name of Christ, are often times not things that constitute the deep set desires of Jesus Christ for them. Rather, they are things that are of marginal and temporal value at best, and often more self‑satisfying than Christ‑satisfying.
One of “the things of Jesus Christ” that suffers drastically today, and rarely seems to be a part of the “bowels” of most Christians, is the issue of doctrinal edification. “Godly edifying” is not the burning desire of the heart that it ought to be. Precious little time, if any, is what is spent by most Christians in studying and learning the doctrines of God’s word that He wants us to know. Instead, stories with ‘Christian overtones’ and supposedly illustrating ‘Christian values’ are the preferred reading among believers today. Along with this, devotional quips and anecdotes are the standard fare being served up in many pulpits. But all such weak, unnourishing, and, in truth, unedifying pursuits are not things that constitute “the bowels of Jesus Christ”. Instead, the Lord’s deep set desire and longing is for us to edify our souls through the sound studying and teaching of His word. His desire is for us to be educated with the doctrines of His word, rightly divided, and to comprehend and delight in the things He is doing in His plan and purpose.
The truth of this being the Lord’s desire for us is repeatedly emphasized by the apostle Paul in his epistles to us. For example, in Ephesians 4:11‑13, Paul tells us:
“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ:…” (Ephesians 4:11-13)
God provided specific gifts for the communication of His word with the intent and purpose of producing the perfection of the saints, which includes the issue of attaining the doctrinal maturity and education described in verse 13. Obviously, doctrinal edification is a serious matter to the Lord, and is something He longs for concerning us.
In I Corinthians 2:6‑16 Paul writes to the Corinthians about “the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom,…” which he desired to speak among them, but could not because of their carnality.
“Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought:
But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:
Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” (I Corinthians 2:6-10)
In view of this Paul points out to them the privileged position we are in today having the “deep things of God” revealed unto us and the Holy Spirit given unto us. As he says in verse 12,…
“Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.” (I Corinthians 2:12)
If God has given us His Spirit “that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God,” then obviously it is a deep set desire of His that we know what He wants us to know. The Lord’s bowels long for us to comprehend His wisdom with Him. He longs for us to know what He is doing in His plan and purpose, especially in this present dispensation of His grace, in accordance with the revelation of “the mystery of Christ.”
This is underscored again in Colossians 1:27. While dealing with the truth of the dispensation of God that God committed to him, the apostle Paul talks about the mystery of Christ that has now been made manifest and how that it is God’s desire that His saints fully comprehend all the details about it. Hence, Paul says…
“To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:” (Colossians 1:27)
The “to whom” in this verse refers to us, His saints. It is God’s will that we know about “the riches of the glory of this mystery.” It isn’t just a take it or leave it issue with Him. It is His will and deep set desire. And because this is the case, Paul goes on in verse 28‑29 and says,…
“Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus:
Whereunto I also labor, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.” (Colossians 1:28-29)
Paul’s labor to provide for this doctrinal maturity was not misplaced. It was not done out of mixed‑up priorities. Rather, his labor and striving to provide the saints with doctrinal perfection was exactly in line with what God wants accomplished with His saints. Our Lord’s bowels long for this to be accomplished.
Also notice that Paul’s prayers for the saints as set forth, for example, in Ephesians 1:15‑23; 3:14‑19; Philippians 1:9‑11; and Colossians 1:9-11, make it evident what “the bowels of Jesus Christ” involve.
“Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and love unto all the saints,
Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers,
That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you THE SPIRIT OF WISDOM AND REVELATION IN THE KNOWLEDGE OF HIM:
THE EYES OF YOUR UNDERSTANDING BEING ENLIGHTENED; THAT YE MAY KNOW WHAT IS THE HOPE OF HIS CALLING, AND WHAT THE RICHES OF THE GLORY OF HIS INHERITANCE IN THE SAINTS,
AND WHAT IS THE EXCEEDING GREATNESS OF HIS POWER TO US-WARD WHO BELIEVE, according to the working of his mighty power,
Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places,…” (Ephesians 1:15-23)
“For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,
That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be STRENGTHENED WITH MIGHT BY HIS SPIRIT IN THE INNER MAN;
THAT CHRIST MAY DWELL IN YOUR HEARTS BY FAITH; THAT YE, BEING ROOTED AND GROUNDED IN LOVE,
MAY BE ABLE TO COMPREHEND WITH ALL SAINTS WHAT IS THE BREADTH, AND LENGTH, AND DEPTH, AND HEIGHT;
AND TO KNOW THE LOVE OF CHRIST, WHICH PASSETH KNOWLEDGE, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14-19)
“And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more IN KNOWLEDGE AND IN ALL JUDGMENT;
That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ;
Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11)
“For this cause also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be FILLED WITH THE KNOWLEDGE OF HIS WILL IN ALL WISDOM AND SPIRITUAL UNDERSTANDING;
That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God;
Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness;…” (Colossians 1:9-11)
Sound doctrinal edification is no secondary matter or one of lesser importance to the Lord. Instead, it is of primary importance and is to be the main function of the local church. The longing of Jesus Christ is for just such a thing.
It is in accordance with all of this that the apostle Paul longed for the Philippian saints “in the bowels of Jesus Christ.” He not only longed to be with them, but he longed for their “furtherance and joy of faith.” And this is because that is what Jesus Christ longed for regarding them.
In appreciating such a matter as this it remains to be asked, ‘How about you?’ What are the deep set desires of your heart? Are your bowels longing for the same things as “the bowels of Jesus Christ”? They should. It’s inconsistent with who you are “in Christ,” if they don’t. – K.R. Blades