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?