Spiritual Maturity…”Think Like this”
“Therefore those who are mature will think thus. And, if you think differently in something, God will also make that known to you.”
From a pastor’s perspective, this verse is one that I would love to see painted over every doorpost, placed by every bathroom mirror, and embossed on decorations throughout the homes of my people. This is not the first time that Paul has given such a piece of instruction, but here he is short and succinct. He has spoken of living for Christ and not for self and he has spoken of how (as a believer) he makes nothing of his own work. And then, in the wake of these very powerful Christian teachings, he makes this statement… “Those who are mature will think this way.”
Wham. Right there, we see Paul take the majority of the western church today to the mat. Paul is essentially saying, Do you think that you are mature — then how do you live your life? Are you proud of your own accomplishments? If so, you are not a mature believer. Do you seek to draw attention to yourself? If so, you are immature in your faith. Do you wish to do things your way instead of the way God teaches in the Bible? If so, you are immature in your faith. Are you not studying the Word with the intention of applying the Word to guide your every action? Yep, you guessed it, that is a sign of your immaturity. Do you consider your own needs more important than the needs of others? Yes, you too fall into the category of the immature. Are you willing to sacrifice…not just give of your excess, but really sacrifice…for the wellbeing of the church? If not, you are being childish in your faith…and notice that I said, “childish” and not “childlike.” There is a huge difference. If as a church, you only focus on the “milk” of the Word (that which is easy to swallow and digest), then yes, you too are not mature as a church body.
As a pastor, I often engage with people who are in conflict. And truth be told, after some sermons, that conflict has been directed towards me! My grandfather, who was also a minister, used to say, “if you don’t step on some toes, you are not preaching.” Jesus said that if we belong to him, the world will hate us (John 15:18-21). And yes, Jesus also reminded us that there will be unbelievers (people of the world) who will be a part of the visible institution of the church (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43). The point being, don’t be surprised when persecution comes from within the church, there are unbelievers mixed amongst the immature…and sometimes the two can be difficult to tell apart.
Yet, in times of conflict, after we have prayed, I typically begin by showing them what the Bible says concerning a given struggle that is being had and what the Bible says about resolving and working towards reconciliation. How often people respond by saying, “I know the Bible says that, but…” And I say, “sorry, there are no ‘buts’ about it.” Paul would say that when people will not submit to the plain teaching of scripture, they are immature. So, where are you this day? Are you making excuses for your spiritual immaturity? Don’t. Instead, apply the word to your life and grow mature. Are you struggling to grow mature but the abuse and discouragement of growing up alongside of the weeds is weighing upon you? Then remember Peter’s words, “God knows how to rescue the godly from trials while keeping the unrighteous under punishment…” (2 Peter 2:9). Be encouraged, you are being refined in the Lord’s hands. Are you a leader in a church surrounded by the spiritually immature? Take the council of the author of Hebrews:
“For everyone who partakes of milk is unpracticed in the word of righteousness since he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have been trained in the practice of discernment, distinguishing good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not again building a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God.” (Hebrews 5:13 — 6:1).
“according to my eager expectation and hope that in nothing will I be ashamed, but to be outspoken in all things, now and always, that Christ would be magnified in my body — whether through life or through death.”
Paul begins this verse with a fascinating word: ajpokaradoki/a (apokaradokia). We tend to translate the term as “eager expectation” when rendering it in English. Literally, the term means, “thoughts from the pinnacle). Perhaps the closest idea to that in the English vernacular is that we talk about “mountain top” experiences as being the best and most wonderful experiences of our lives. Well, imagine that Paul is talking about “mountaintop thoughts” as a parallel idea and you will find yourself getting very close to the meaning of this term. What makes this term particularly fascinating is that in ancient literature, it is only found within Christian writings…or perhaps I could present it this way, within Christianity alone can you find the basis for an eager expectancy, for a mountain-top thought.
Our thoughts are wonderful things. They transport us out of our circumstances and remind us that there are better things that await. Our thoughts, when grounded in the promises of God’s word, are often a corrective to our feelings and our fears…those things that often haunt us at night when no one else is around. And when we rest our thoughts in God and in his glory, we are able to face both life and death with boldness and confidence. As we read through this letter together, make a special note about how much emphasis Paul places upon his thinking and thoughts; in the world we live in, one that spends most of its time talking about feelings, you might be surprised at how often Paul focuses on thought and reason.
And thus, as he thinks expectantly toward the promise of Christ’s glory after death, Paul’s prayer and hope (understanding that hope, too, incorporates the idea of confident expectation) is that he will do nothing that would dishonor his Lord…even in suffering…so that Christ is magnified in his body at all times and in every way. Oh, how our world would be different were every Christian to embrace such a mindset in life. May it be that we all strive toward that end.
Feelings…Nothing More Than Feelings…Argh!
“In so far as it is right for me to think this way regarding all of you, because you are in my heart, in both the chains and in the defense and validation of the Gospel, all of you are partakers of grace with me.”
This is one of those points that, when I look at our modern translations, I just want to say, “Bah!” and “Shame on you!” Grump… Okay, now that I have that out of my system, let me explain why. You see, in our modern culture, people tend to make decisions based on their feelings and not based on their reason. People say, “what do you feel” about such and such when they ought to be asking, “what do you think” about such and such. The heart is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9) and we ought not to rely upon it for life decisions…we ought to rule over our hearts with a renewed and sanctified mind (Romans 12:2).
Okay, with all of that in mind (not in heart), we arrive at Philippians 1:7 and we find (in our modern translations) the Apostle Paul telling the Philippian church how he “feels” towards them. Bah! Shame on you, ESV, NIV, NASB, and other translation committees for bowing to the culture on this. Yes, this is how the culture communicates, but it is not how the Apostle Paul communicated. And while I am not always fond of the KJV/NKJV translations, to ye who have provided such, may God be praised, for you have chosen to be faithful to Paul and not to the modern culture. For the word that Paul uses here in the first part of this verse is frone/w (phroneo), which means “to think about something, to hold an opinion on a matter, to reason in such a way, to give careful consideration to something, or to develop an attitude on something because of careful thought.” The term has nothing to do with one’s feelings and everything to do with the way one thinks. Let God be true and every man a liar! Ha, it is truth we are after, it is what is reasonable that we seek, not what the fickle heart might set its affections upon; it is not about what we may feel. How far we have fallen as a culture to permit feelings to trump reason!
Thus, as the Apostle Paul reflects on the Christians in Philippi, he discerns that it is correct, accurate, and proper to think in this manner concerning the other believers (to rejoice in them, as he speaks in the previous verse, and to count them fellow partakers, as he speaks in this verse). Why is it right to think of these believers in a positive way? Because through their gift and through their prayers they have become fellow workers, even partakers, with Paul in his labors — even his labors from behind chains.
It is a remarkable statement that Paul is making here, that through prayer and support, we become partakers in the work of the Gospel just as we are partakers in the grace of the Gospel given to us by Jesus Christ. At the same time, ought that not be the case? Ought it not be the case that having received the grace of God, we would desire to support those called to take the Gospel to other regions in the world? Ought it not be the case that having received the grace of God that we would be burdened with a desire to pray for those who are actively laboring in such a task and for those facing difficulties and persecution for having done so? Ought it also not be the case that we find ourselves yearning to share this good news also with those in our own midst, to participate in the task of the Gospel actively by living it out and by reasoning with others about Christ? Or, have we become too busy, too distracted, and too self-centered to do so? My prayer is that were the Apostle Paul with us today, he would say of our church, “It is right for me to think this way of you.” And it is my prayer that when we hear the judgment of Christ, what we hear is, “Well done.” May Jesus think this way about us as well.