"For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:7-8)It is only right that Paul feels in what way towards them? Is it in feeling that God will perfect them until the day of Christ Jesus as mentioned in the previous verse, or is it in feeling such intense love for them as mentioned in the next verse? I believe it to be the latter. Also, in what way is it right for him to feel this way? Is it out of faith or out of some other motive? What is interesting is Paul's next thought, "because I have you in my heart." Darby translates this thought in a unique way among all the other translators. He translates it as, "because ye have me in your hearts." (Philippians 1:7, Darby) Personally, I believe that this translation makes more since, at least as to how the sentence is constructed, and it helps the sentence to flow better and to yield a simpler meaning. It is right and just for Paul to have such love for then since, after all, they have expressed such love and concern for Paul and for his work. More than that, in all that Paul has been through, they too have endured, and as his love for them has endured through his hardships, so has their love for him endured throughout all of their own hardships.
They, Paul and the Philippians, have a special bond one with another, not just a bond of love, but a bond of community; a bond that is formed through shared experiences. His hardships and theirs has taught them a level of grace and has brought them close though their mutual participation in that grace. It is easily to feel bonded with someone who has gone through things similar to you and who has found their strength, endurance, and joy in the same place and person(s) as you have. You both knew what it meant to suffer and you both understood, through experience, what it means to be sustained by the grace of God,
This word for partakers is a contraction of a word that means "union" and one that means an "associate" or "companion." It implies that they are more than friends, companions, associates, and fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord. It implies that they have joined together for a common cause, a common experience, or a common suffering in Christ. It is one thing thing to have friends in Christ, it is another to join with them in a common pursuit, vision, and purpose in Christ. This was who the Philippians were to Paul. While they were all believers in Christ, they were united in their common mission and suffering for the Gospel. We often talk about unity in the Body of Christ. Perhaps the unity is best achieved when we use the grace of God to participate together in the development and growth of the body among us and in the advancement of the Kingdom of God around us. Perhaps, if we feel isolated and at disunity with one another, it is because we are not invested with each in the common work of Christ. Paul said that it is through our union in purpose that the Body grows and bears fruit to God. "From whom [the head] the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love." (Ephesians 4:16) Unity can only be found in action, not in being.