Monthly Archives: November 2014

Philippians Overview

The key concept of Philippians is maturity. This is not a church that has absorbed its surrounding culture’s sins, like the Corinthians. They are not wracked with fear, like the Thessalonians. It is a church comprised of human beings, to be sure—but human beings who are steadily growing into maturity, as individuals and as a collective.

 

Paul is proud of the Philippians’ growth and their love for him and for others. He writes from prison, but is overwhelmed with positive feeling for this church that has unselfishly provided for his needs and demonstrated maturity. He is determined that Christ will be exalted regardless of what happens to him—whether it is death or life (1.21-26). He encourages them to continue to follow the model he has set for them (1.27-30).

 

He reminds them to make their main focus the interests of others (2.1-11), since this is the model that Christ set for them. A mature church is a serving church, in Paul’s view. He warns them of “the dogs” (3.2) that seek to change the gospel message and send the church off on a different mission. He reminds the Philippians that all of his education and credentials and credibility before his conversion are the same as excrement to him, compared to knowing the Lord Jesus (3.1-11). He tells them to have the attitude of those who are citizens of heaven, not those who live to indulge their appetites (3.12.21). He encourages the Philippians to trust in God’s provision for them (4.10-14), reminding them to focus their thought lives on things of the Spirit (4.4-9).

 

Paul’s letter sketches out the identity of a mature church—a “grown-up” church. It is not a perfect church, but it is a church that is on an upward growth trajectory. The grown-up church is an encouraging church that edifies one another and looks eagerly for the return of Christ. A grown-up church follows the biblical model, not its own desires. A grown-up church is comprised of individuals focused on looking to the interests of others, not their own. A grown-up church eats the meat of doctrine, and is able to discern the dogs from the real teachers. A grown-up church prizes knowing Christ and serving one another ahead of everything else. A grown-up church is populated by individuals who live as citizens of heaven, not by their appetites. A grown-up church is confident that God supplies their needs. A grown-up church believes in training the individual thought life to be obedient to Christ.

 

If a church is not on this trajectory, it is not a grown-up church. What is it, then? It’s an infantile one. An infantile church is one comprised of individuals who are looking after their own interests. An infantile church is one who is tight-fisted with money, because they don’t yet trust God. An infantile church is a church that is bored with expository preaching, because they need more bells, whistles, smoke machines and entertainment. An infantile church thinks that “today” is somehow different from “yesterday,” and that church needs to be defined differently because of that. An infantile church is populated by individuals—period. This individualism is absorbed into the bloodstream of the church, and will eventually kill it. That’s the thing about being an infant—no one was designed to be one for very long.

 

A church is as strong or as weak as the people who are in it. If a large enough number of people are in agreement to proceed with the “grown-up” church model, those individuals act as a single body—and they grow as a result. If only a few people do this, the church retains its individualism, and sinks into permanent infancy. Which are you? Are you committed to looking after the interests of others in your church? Or is church simply a place you go on Sunday? Are you committed to serving your church? Or is church just your brand? Are you committed to the teaching ministry of your church—or perhaps the outreach apparatus, or the prayer team? Or are you too busy with your individual life to contribute to the maturity of the church? The big challenge with Philippians is to get individuals to see the beauty of maturity. If enough people in your church embrace this, your church will grow into a grown-up body.

 

Are you committed to this?

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Philippians 4:10-23

A mirror can be a cruel thing. Looking into one reveals what we really look like, as opposed to what we’ve talked ourselves into believing we are. The brutal honesty of the mirror enables us to see reality—and to make the necessary adjustments. The book of Philippians functions a lot like a mirror for churches that aspire to maturity.

 

10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. 14 Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction.15 You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; 16 for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs. 17 Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account. 18 But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God. 19 And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen.21 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren who are with me greet you. 22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

 

Paul’s parting words to the Philippians are on the subject of collective giving. They had sacrificed individually and collectively in order to send Paul a financial gift that would enable him to continue on in his ministry. In so doing, they accomplished three things: (1) they shared in Paul’s affliction (4.14). His troubles weren’t his alone; they were his and the Philippians’. They saw Paul’s troubles as their own. They shared the burden. (2) they began to follow Paul’s modeled attitude toward money. He states this attitude in 4.11-13: “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Paul doesn’t see his financial circumstances as a foundational definition of himself; his attention is on Christ. As a result of this, he can be content when he’s poor or when he’s doing well. He is always empowered to accomplish whatever he’s called to do because his focus is on Christ—which means that he’s trusting God to take care of him. In yesterday’s readings, he encouraged the Philippians to “not be anxious about anything” (), and this is an example of Paul living that out. As the Philippians shared their own money with him, they were effectively following this model: they knew that God would take care of their own needs—they saw only the imperative that they take care of Paul’s. (3) In accomplishing these first two things, the Philippians had attained and exemplified a spiritual maturity that should be the goal of all churches. They trusted God to take care of them, which enabled them to give sacrificially to Paul. They had learned this from Paul, just as they were also in the process of learning to be content in all circumstances. This attitude is maturity.

 

What is our attitude? Do we so implicitly trust God’s provision for our own lives that we’re willing to give sacrificially to His ministry? Do we care for others with little thought for ourselves? Are we content with what we have? As we hold up this Philippian mirror, it’s worth wondering whether or not we can see ourselves in it. What kind of trust do we have in God? What kind of model are we following? Spiritual maturity looks like this.

 

Today, I will be content with what I have. If I see need and am given the opportunity to rectify it, I will. I will remember that God supplies all my needs in Christ Jesus, and that because of that I can do all things through Him Who strengthens me—and this is a reference to bearing others’ burdens. When I have this attitude, I will be looking into the Philippian mirror and seeing myself.