In Philippians 1:8, Paul says that he longs for the people of the church in Philippi "with the affection of Christ Jesus." It’s a deep yearning he has for the people. He longs to go and be with them. It’s an intense love, filled with compassion. Paul longs to see them, hang out with them, serve them, laugh with them, fellowship with them.
Literally, its a strange phrase to us today. Literally Paul says, I long for you "in the bowels of Christ Jesus." The bowels? That sounds sac religious, eh! Don’t believe me? Look at the King James Version!
I suppose Paul was really moved inwardly by his longing for the Philippians! Yet the bowels-phrase is not so strange at all. It’s just like saying "I love you with all my heart." We take the "heart" language of love for granted today. It’s sort of a sick, silly visual- the blood pumping organ. But our point in using "heart" is to say that we love someone with the very core of who we are— the seat of our emotions and identity and life. (By the way, I think many people in love today should try to love with their brain for while!- But that’s another post!)
In 1st century Roman world, the bowels represented a similar metaphor. The bowels were the innermost part, the deepest core, the seat of action and movement in the body, an intimate-private component of who we are (and that is occasionally made public!). The bowels, in my mind, represent the expelling of our most inward composition! We either expel good stuff… or not-good stuff (Matthew 15:17).
The NIV translates bowels, then, as "affection". The NLT says "tender compassion". The Message says "I feel as strongly about you as Christ does!"
So all of this leads me to Paul’s point. He longs for the Philippians with the inner-most affection of Jesus. Wow. Stop and think about that for a moment. What would the affection of Jesus look like? If we loved people like Jesus, how would that change us? How would it change others?