1. Signs of Healthy Church MembersRelated Media
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:1-8)
What does a healthy church and its members look like? Many of us don’t know what a right relationship with the church looks like because of bad models or bad experiences. As a military kid, I struggled with having a healthy relationship with the church.
The fact that we were so transient kept me from ever really investing or allowing myself to really be invested in. We found a new church home for a few years, attended, and then we left.
Many of us have similar experiences. But, Paul’s relationship with the Philippians shows us a model relationship with a church.
The letter to the Philippians is very unique. It’s unique because many of Paul’s letters deal with rebuke and correcting sin or false doctrine, as seen in the letters to Corinth and Galatia. In those letters, he began by declaring his apostleship. He declared his right to correct the issues going on in these churches. But in the letter to the Philippians, he introduces himself as a servant (or slave) of Christ (v. 1). Paul writes to them as a friend updating them on his current circumstances and encouraging them in their faith. In fact, one of the themes of this letter is joy—his joy in God and his joy over the Philippians.
Paul, at the time he wrote the letter, was imprisoned in Rome awaiting his sentence. He was chained to a Roman guard and was under house arrest (cf. Acts 28:16). It would seem like a time of great sorrow—the potential end of dreams and aspirations—but not for Paul. It was a time of great joy as he considered this wonderful church and God’s faithfulness.
In this letter, specifically verses 3-8, we will see a picture of what healthy church members look like. In fact, he uses this church as a model for other churches. Consider what he says to the Corinthians:
And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 2 Corinthians 8:1-2
As we study this passage, we should ask ourselves, “Is my church spiritually healthy?” “Am I a spiritually healthy church member?” And if not, “In what ways can I help improve this?” In this study, we will consider seven signs of healthy church members.
Big Question: What signs of healthy church members can be discerned from Paul’s relationship with the Philippian church and how can we apply these to our lives?
Healthy Church Members Think of One Another Often
I thank my God every time I remember you. (Philippians 1:3)
We cannot but stand in awe at the thoughts of a man in prison awaiting the possibility of death (cf. Philip 1:20). Yet, while in this horrible circumstance, his thoughts continually came before the Lord in praise for the faithfulness of this church.
While many deserted Paul during his time in prison (cf. Phil 1:17), the Philippian church cared for him, prayed for him, and supported his ministry. They were a faithful church.
Again, we must consider the typical reaction of people going through a difficult time. We often are prone to becoming self-centered—thinking that the world revolves around us. We become consumed with our problems and our circumstances, but this was not true of Paul.
Despite imprisonment, Paul constantly thought about this church and thanked God for them. How about us? Do you often think about the members of your congregation and thank God for them? This is a sign of spiritual health.
Did we not see this with Christ? Listen to what Hebrews 12:2 said about Christ’s thoughts as he endured the cross: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
What was the “joy set before” Christ? It was his church. Like Paul, Jesus, in his hour of distress, focused his thoughts on those for whom he was suffering. While on the cross, he thought about believers—those who would spend eternity with him—and it gave him joy. They were the “joy set before him.”
Saints, as we consider what healthy church members look like, we must ask ourselves, “Do we continually think of one another?” Are thoughts of the members of our church always coming to our mind even in the midst of a busy week or a trial? Do these thoughts cause us to thank God?
Application Question: What type of thoughts should we have and to what should they lead us?
Hebrews 10:24 says this: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” The writer of Hebrews said that church members should “consider” how they can spur one another toward love and good deeds. During the week, church members should continually think about how they can help each other love God more and love one another more—how they can help each other use their spiritual gifts for the kingdom. This is a sign of being spiritually healthy—thinking about how to help each other grow.
When someone prospers in the church, we should rejoice with them. When someone is sick, we should pray for them. When somebody mourns, we should weep with them. We should constantly think about how to stir up one another to love God and others.
Practically, when we think often of one another, it leads to acts of service. These simple acts of service might look like writing an encouraging letter, as Paul did, or taking someone to lunch to get to know them or to pray for them.
Application Question: In what ways is God calling you to consider the members of your congregation so you can stir them toward love and good deeds?
Bitter Thoughts toward God’s Church
In the same way that pleasant thoughts of the church are a sign of spiritual health, unpleasant thoughts are a sign of spiritual sickness. Woe to us when our thoughts of Christ’s church are unkind, jealous, angry, or bitter! Woe to us when we have negative emotions towards those for whom Christ died! James 3:14-16 says this:
But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
Many church members harbor these types of thoughts and emotions. Perhaps their church experienced a split, the pastor had a moral failure, or the members were political. Therefore, their thoughts of church turned unpleasant. But, we must remember that the Philippian church wasn’t perfect either. People grumbled and complained in the church (Phil 2:13-14). False teachers were in the church (Phil 3:2), and two women were fighting in the church (4:2). In fact, when Christ joyfully thought about us on the cross, he was aware of all our failures—we are far from perfect.
If Christ on the cross had joy thinking about his church, if Paul in prison had encouraging thoughts about the Philippians, even though they were imperfect, how much more should we have pleasant thoughts about our church throughout the week?
Application Question: If we harbor bitterness and anger towards God’s church, what should we do?
- We should forgive those who harmed and failed us in the church. Paul taught we should forgive just as Christ forgave us (Col 3:13).
- We should pray for them. Christ said: “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:28).
- We should serve them as an act of love. Consider Romans 12:20-21:
- On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
As we love them practically through forgiving, praying, and serving, we will find that our hearts will change towards them. God’s grace will change our hearts toward his church.
Application Question: How are your thoughts towards the church? Are they full of bitterness, joy, or apathy? How is God calling you to work on your heart?
Healthy Church Members Pray for One Another Often
In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy (Philippians 1:4)
Here we see another aspect of Paul’s relationship with the Philippians, and thus a characteristic of healthy church members. He constantly prayed for the church. He said he always prayed for the church with joy.
Intercessory prayer underscored many of Paul’s relationships with churches. Consider what he said in Romans 1:9-10: “God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times.”
What’s most challenging about this is that he had never visited the Roman church (cf. Rom 1:13). Despite that, he said God witnessed how he constantly prayed for them at all times. For Paul, intercessory prayer for the church was not something done on occasion but constantly. He came before God and called the churches and members by name. Intercession for churches is a re-occurring theme in his epistles.
In fact, in many of his letters, he told them exactly what he prayed. In Ephesus, he prayed that they would have the spirit of wisdom and revelation to know God more (1:17). He prayed for the church to be strengthened by the Spirit in the inner man (3:16). He also prayed that they would know the depth, the height, and the width of Christ’s love for them (3:17-19). For the Colossians, he prayed that they would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, that they would walk worthy of the Lord, and also bear fruit in every good work (1:9-10). Later in this letter to the Philippians, he prayed that their love for one another would grow in knowledge and wisdom so they could discern what was best (1:9-10).
Certainly, we should take lessons from Paul not only on our need to pray but also on how to pray for the church. We never see Paul praying for people’s needs, wants, or even healing in the epistles. He always prayed for the church to grow in love, to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, to know God more, etc. These are the primary types of prayers we should bring before the Lord for our churches as well. It’s not that the temporal doesn’t matter; it’s just that the spiritual is more important because it’s eternal. We should remember one another every day in prayer, even as Paul did for the churches.
Constant intercession for the church shows a healthy spiritual life. But, lack of intercession flows out of an unhealthy spiritual life. When a Christian is unhealthy, his prayers will primarily be selfish—concerned with one’s own needs.
Example of Christ
If Paul’s example were not enough, we must also consider Christ’s. Right before he went to the cross he prayed, “Father, I pray that you would sanctify them by your truth—your word is truth” (John 17:17, paraphrase). Help the disciples and those who will believe in me grow through hearing and studying the Word of God; let it be like food for them. He prays, “Father, make them one as we are one” (v. 20-22, paraphrase). Help them to be a unified church. He also prayed, “Father, keep them from the evil one” (17:15). Protect your saints from every attack of the devil.
Not only did Christ pray before going to the cross, he now prays in heaven for the church. Hebrews 7:25 says, “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” When we continually intercede for the church, we are connected to our head, Christ.
Saints, do you remember the church in your prayers daily? Do you bring struggling members of the church before the Father to receive his grace?
Example of Godly Pastors
I’ve studied the disciplines of other godly pastors and found that they often practice very similar disciplines as Paul and Christ. Many times they seek to cover every member in the church by name throughout the week or month.
They might list all the church members, divide them by seven, and pray for each throughout the week. Or they divide that list by thirty and pray for each member throughout the month. This is a good discipline that we should consider adopting.
Prayer for the Universal Church and Local Churches
In addition, we should not only pray for our local church, but for the universal church and other specific congregations, even as Paul did. When Scripture talks about the church being the body (Eph 4:4), many times we think first of our local church, but that is incorrect. The reality is our local church is not the body—it is only part of the body. The church universal is the body, and we should continuously pray for it, since we are connected to it and dependent upon it. In Ephesians 6:18, Paul actually commands us to pray this way. He says, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” We should be alert and “always” keep on praying for “all saints.”
How is your prayer life? How often do you pray for your local church? How often do you intercede for the church universal? Christ did, so did Paul, and so should we.
Saints, we must understand how important this is—prayer is the power of the church. When the church becomes prayerless, it begins to die and becomes fruitless. This is also true of our spiritual lives. Healthy church members pray often for the church.
Application Question: How would you rate your prayer life 1-10? What tips or practices have you found effective in cultivating your prayer life?
Healthy Church Members Have Gospel Fellowship
because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:5-6)
Next, Paul tells the church why he was so thankful and prayerful for them. He cites their partnership in the gospel. “Partnership” in Greek is the word “koinonia,” which also translates as “fellowship.” It simply means “to have in common with.”
Most of our friendships are based on koinoinia. We partner with people because they share similar cultural experiences, similar hobbies, or similar dreams. In the same way, healthy churches and church members share a similar partnership—a partnership of the gospel.
Interpretation Question: What does gospel fellowship or “partnership in the gospel” mean?
- Gospel partnership means people have been saved by the same gospel—the same good news.
- Gospel partnership means people partner with one another to spread the gospel.
Paul probably focused on the latter, which is also a sign of a healthy congregation. When each member shares a common passion and ministry of spreading the gospel, it creates a tremendous fellowship. The Philippians partnered with Paul’s ministry by supporting him financially and meeting his practical needs. In fact, they sent Epaphroditus to care for him while in prison (Phil 2:25), and their partnership with Paul in gospel ministry created a special bond between them. And this is true for healthy churches and church members as well.
However, let us hear this: Most members of the church know nothing about gospel fellowship. They come to church based on the fact that they share a common ethnicity or socio-economic status. They are all black, white, yellow, rich, poor, etc. That is not gospel fellowship.
You can tell it’s not gospel fellowship by changing the music, the carpet, or how you take the offering in most churches. A split might happen if you do this. However, when the fellowship or the “common thing” truly centers on the gospel, there is unity.
Gospel fellowship is one of the greatest intimacies we ever experience. At times, you may meet Christians and only fellowship with them for fifteen minutes and yet find deeper fellowship than with family members. This is because of the common bond of desiring and working to see all nations know Christ. Again, many Christians know nothing of this. It is a special bond shared by those who work and sacrifice to see others know Christ.
Consider what Christ said about this in Mark 10:29-30:
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.
Christ described the reward of sacrificing for the gospel as receiving brothers, sisters, mothers, and children. When he said this, he was talking about God’s reward of intimate, familial relationships for those who sacrificially serve the kingdom. However, many Christians never experience this reward—the gospel fellowship that Paul and the Philippians shared.
Have you experienced gospel fellowship? Are you experiencing it with your church?
Application Question: How can we develop a greater gospel fellowship in our lives and in our churches?
1. We develop gospel fellowship by gathering together to pray for the lost.
In 1 Timothy 2:1-4, Paul tells Timothy that the church should pray for everyone because God desires that all be saved.
I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
This implies the church should gather to pray for “all men to be saved.” Do you partner with your church to pray for the lost? This creates gospel fellowship.
2. We develop gospel fellowship by serving together, as we build God’s kingdom through discipleship, evangelism, and missions.
This could be as simple as inviting people to church, evangelizing, serving, supporting missions, etc.
Do you invite people to church? Are you practicing personal evangelism with friends and church members? Are you supporting the work of missions? Are you partnering with your church to reach your city and the world for Christ? If not, your gospel fellowship will be weak or nonexistent. Healthy church members experience gospel fellowship.
Application Question: How would you characterize the fellowship of most churches? In what ways is God challenging you to foster gospel fellowship in your life and your church?
Healthy Church Members Have a Growing Confidence in God
being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6)
Interpretation Question: What does Paul mean by being “confident” that God would complete the “good work” he began in the Philippians till the day of Christ?
Confidence is simply another word for trust or faith. Paul had great faith in God that he would complete the work that he began in the Philippians until the day of Christ.
What work was Paul talking about? What work did he believe God would complete in the life of the Philippians? Romans 8:28-29 tells us. It says,
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
In Romans 8:28-29, Paul taught that God foreknew, meaning he chose, and predestined believers to be conformed to the image of his Son. In fact, he said that God works everything out to the good so these special people will conform to Christ’s image.
This means if a truly born again person backslides, somehow God uses that backsliding for the purpose of making him like Christ. It means for those truly born again, even when they stumble, they stumble in God’s direction. Even trials help a believer to look like Christ. It is a tremendous promise that believers should take great comfort in while going through trials and tribulations.
We are often quick to quote this verse, “God works all things to the good,” but we must remember that “good” means looking like Christ, being holy like him. Yes, we often quote it, but the question is “Do we really have confidence in it?”
Faith in God for our Walk
Let’s consider this truth first about ourselves. If we really have confidence that God is going to complete the work he began in our own lives, it should affect how we go through trials.
Application Question: How can I know if I lack faith in God to complete his work in me?
1. Be careful if you’re an anxious person.
The anxious often become frantic or overwhelmed in their trials. This is because they lack confidence that the trial is ordained, the trial is chosen, and God is working in the trial to make them look like Christ. Consider these verses:
When a trumpet sounds in a city, do not the people tremble? When disaster comes to a city, has not the LORD caused it?(Amos 3:6)
I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things. (Isaiah 45:7)
Do you believe that God is in control and that he works every situation for your good? Or are you a worrier and an anxious person? Worry shows a lack of faith in God.
2. Be careful if you’re prone to anger or depression over your failures.
Being impatient with God or yourself also shows a lack of trust in God. These Christians often become angry at God and sometimes very angry at themselves when they fail. They get very frustrated when they fail and struggle to get back up after stumbling.
We must consider that our trials are meant to make us know God more and to have greater trust or confidence in him. In our trials and failures, God desires to draw us closer to him through his Word, prayer, and the saints. He even uses our failures to help us hate our sin so we can turn away from it and learn how to get rid of it (cf. Matt 5:30).
The situation that causes us to doubt God and fall into depression, God intends it as a breeding ground for greater faith. Let your faith in God grow, as you draw near him.
Faith in God for Others
Application Question: How can I know if I lack faith in God to complete his work in others?
We first looked at what it means to grow in faith in our own spiritual lives, but Paul in this text spoke about believing God to work in the lives of others. He was confident in God despite the Philippians’ complaints (2:14), false teaching (3:2), and discord (4:2). Paul believed God is faithful.
What does this look like? How can we know if we trust God to complete his work in others?
We can tell if we have “confidence in God” to complete his work in others by how we treat them, especially in conflict or when they fail us. Listen to what Paul teaches in 2 Timothy 2:24-26:
And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
Paul tells Timothy the Lord’s servant should not quarrel with people, but he should have a reputation of kindness, not resentment. Why? Paul says this person “hopes” or trusts in God to grant them repentance.
The Lord’s servant is gentle and gracious, even when in a disagreement, because he trusts in God. He has proper theology. He knows it is God who changes the hearts, not him.
He knows yelling at the person will not change him, because only God grants repentance and changes hearts. The servant of the Lord still teaches and challenges, but he does it in love, with gentleness, because he realizes only God transforms lives. Scripture says we plant the seed and water it, but God makes it grow (cf. 1 Cor 3:6).
How do you treat people during a conflict? Do you trust God is going to complete the work he began in them? Certainly, this doesn’t remove the need for rebuke or discipline. It just changes the manner because of our faith in God.
Are you an arguer? Are you resentful and unforgiving? If so your faith in God is small. Your confidence lies more in yourself or others, and therefore, you stay constantly frustrated.
We see an example of how Paul handled people in the church who disagreed with him in Philippians 3:15. It says, “All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.”
He understood that they might disagree with what he taught, but he essentially said this to them: “Stay open, God will make this clear to you.” I have confidence that God will reveal these things to you.
When you look at the church, you will find much disorder—fighting over doctrine, impatience, unforgiveness, and church splits. Part of this chaos springs from a lack of trust in God to complete the work he began in others.
Confidence in God often means waiting for him to make his will clear to people in his own timing. This doctrine will heal many marriages and many churches. It will heal the hearts of many people. We must learn to trust God to complete what he began in his followers.
God, like any good teacher, doesn’t teach us everything at once. If he did, we would become frustrated and overwhelmed. So, he patiently works on each area of our lives to conform us into the image of the Son. We must trust him—both in our lives and in others.
Application Question: How do you typically respond when you fail or others fail you? How can we as believers develop greater confidence in God’s perfect work for each believer’s life?
Healthy Church Members Love One Another
It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart… God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:7-8)
Another characteristic of healthy church members is love for one another. Paul had a genuine love for this congregation. He said that he had them in his “heart” in verse 7 and that he longed for them with the affection of Christ in verse 8. He loved these believers.
In addition, the Philippians loved him. They sent Epaphroditus to care for Paul’s needs while he was in prison (Phil 2:25), and they supported him financially when no other church would (Phil 4:15). Paul loved this congregation, and they loved him.
In one sense, this should be true of every believer since Scripture teaches that love is a proof of salvation. First John 3:14 says, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.”
Christ also taught that the world would identify believers by this love. In John 13:35, he said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Application Question: What does biblical love look like? How should we demonstrate it in the church?
1. Love is practical.
While Paul was in prison, the Philippians provided for his needs through Epaphroditus. Philippians 2:25 says, “But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs.”
If Paul was sick, Epaphroditus probably got him medicine. If he needed materials to study or write, he probably provided it. No doubt, when he was discouraged, he listened. The Philippians met Paul’s practical needs, and we should do this for one another.
In addition, we see Paul’s concern for the Philippians as he writes a letter to encourage them in the faith. First John 3:18 reiterates the importance of the practical nature of love. It says, “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”
2. Love is forgiving.
Peter said this about love: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
Love covers a multitude of sins; love is forgiving. To support this, Warren Wiersbe shared a story of a husband who was interviewed on a radio station about his wife. Let’s consider the conversation:
“Tell us some of the blunders your wife has made,” a radio quizmaster asked a contestant.
“I can’t remember any,” the man replied.
“Oh, surely you can remember something!” the announcer said.
“No, I really can’t,” said the contestant. “I love my wife very much, and I just don’t remember things like that.”1
This is very biblical. First Corinthians 13:5 says that “love keeps no record of wrongs.” Sadly, many members in the church are historians. They keep a long record of wrongs which dates back years. Whenever they discuss them, it’s like they’re fresh in their hearts—all the bitterness comes back. However, healthy church members love one another and practice forgiving one another.
Who is God calling you to forgive?
3. Love is sacrificial.
Jesus said this: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).
Christ taught his disciples to love as he loved. How did he love us? Christ died for us. Therefore, sacrificing for others should characterize our lives. Certainly, we see this in Epaphroditus’ relationship with Paul. Epaphroditus left his home, job, and family to serve Paul who was in prison. While there, he gets sick and almost dies. His love was sacrificial.
In addition, Paul’s imprisonment demonstrated his sacrifice for the Philippians and other Gentiles. In Ephesians 3:1, he called himself “Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles.” He suffered for the Gentiles. His love for the Philippians was sacrificial. We also see this sacrifice in the early church. In Acts 2:45, the early church sold all they owned to provide for the poor in the church. No doubt, all who saw them identified them as Christ’s followers (cf. John 13:34). Healthy church members love sacrificially.
Application Question: How is God challenging you to love the church more like Christ? How can we grow in this radical, Christlike love?
Healthy Church Members Share God’s Grace with One Another
It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God's grace with me (Philippians 1:7)
Next, Paul says it was right for him to have such deep seated thoughts, love, and affection for this church. It was appropriate because whether he was in prison, defending the Word of God, or preaching the Word of God, they shared in God’s grace with him.
Interpretation Question: What does Paul mean by the Philippians sharing in God’s grace with him?
To share in God’s grace simply means they supported him as a ministry from God. When Paul had needs, the Philippian church supported and encouraged him. In fact in chapter 4, he talked about how no other church shared with him financially but them (Phil 4:14). They were there for him; they allowed themselves to be conduits of God’s grace to Paul.
Consider how Paul boasted about the Philippians when addressing the Corinthian church. Second Corinthians 8:1-2 says this:
And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.
He said that even though the Philippians, who were part of the Macedonian churches, were struggling themselves, God’s grace was manifest through them. In their great poverty, they gave exceedingly to support the struggling church in Jerusalem. Paul saw this giving as a grace of God. The Philippians allowed God to work through them.
This grace is not only seen in using our finances but specifically in using our spiritual gifts to build up others. Consider what Paul says in Romans 12:5-8:
so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
We share God’s grace by using our spiritual gifts to bless others. They are gifts of his grace. Some have the gift of mercy—meaning they can listen to people and feel their pain and empathize. Some have the gift of exhortation, the ability to challenge and encourage people. Many will not grow in their spiritual lives unless challenged. This is how the body of Christ grows. Paul said this in Ephesians 4:16: “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Churches grow as each person uses God’s grace to build one another up.
In a sense, God’s grace is not just about giving of one’s finances or using one’s spiritual gifts. It is using all of the abilities God gave us to advance his kingdom. Are you sharing the grace God gave you to build up his church? Are you allowing God to work through you to build up other Christians? This is a characteristic of spiritual health.
Are you using God’s grace? Or are you a lone ranger Christian, not serving or getting involved in the life of the church? It is possible for God’s grace to be without effect in us—meaning not used. Paul said this about the grace God gave him. “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me” (1 Cor 15:10).
In Paul’s life God’s grace was not without effect. This means he used God’s grace. He worked hard with it to build up God’s church. It must be the same for us. Sadly, very few in the church faithfully use God’s grace, which handicaps the church.
If the church is a body, then when one part is not working, it hinders the ministry of God’s church. Most churches are handicapped because the members do not exercise their gifts. It has been said that only 20% of the church does all the work. What about the other 80%? Can you imagine how effective churches would be if they were operating at 100% capacity?
What grace has God given you? In what ways is God calling you to get involved in your church? Some don’t have much time, but they come to church to greet people at the door. Some have a God-given ability to make money. He gave it so they could advance the kingdom through showing hospitality, giving, and living sacrificially.
A believer might be asking these questions, “How can I know what my spiritual gift is? How can I find it?”
Spiritual gifts are given to build up the church (1 Cor 12:7). One finds them by serving and getting involved with the body of Christ. In the midst of teaching, listening, serving, helping, leading, etc., you will find that God has given you grace in a certain area or areas. It will edify others and it will edify you (1 Cor 14:4).
In what way have you received grace? Healthy church members use God’s grace to build God’s church.
Application Question: What are your spiritual gifts? How do you feel God has called you to use it in building God’s church?
Healthy Church Members Long to Be with the Church
God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:8)
Finally, Paul declared how he longed for the Philippians with the affections of Christ. “Affection” is an interesting word in the Greek. It is a medical word used for the bowels or intestines (cf. Acts 1:18). This word started to be used for compassion or affection since we often feel our greatest emotions in our stomach. When a person is nervous, he feels it in his stomach. When a person really likes someone, he often feels it right in his gut.
Essentially, Paul said that he felt the same affection Christ felt for them and that he desired to meet with them. Paul missed these saints while away in prison and desired to meet with them.
It’s the same for other healthy Christians. Because they are intimate with Christ, they feel his affection for the saints, and they continually want to meet with them.
Consider what Paul said in other passages about longing for the church:
But, brothers, when we were torn away from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan stopped us. (1 Thessalonians 2:17-18)
I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. (2 Timothy 1:3-4)
in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God's will the way may be opened for me to come to you. I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong (Romans 1:10-11)
Paul longed to meet with the Philippians, with the Thessalonians, with Timothy, and even with the Romans whom he had never met. This is a sign of spiritual health in a Christian.
Listen, Saints, if you don’t long to meet with the church then something is wrong with your spiritual life. If you are growing in your relationship with Christ, then you will naturally grow in your love and longing for the church as well. Paul said I long for you with the loins of Christ—the very inner parts of Christ were yearning through Paul to be with this church.
I often hear Christians say, “Oh, I am a Christian, but I don’t need to go to church to practice my faith.” Yes, maybe you don’t need to, but you will want to if you are a true Christian and a healthy Christian at that. Love for Christians is a characteristic of genuine salvation, and when you really love someone, you always desire to meet with them. First John 3:14 says, “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love the brethren. Anyone who does not love remains in death.” A lack of desire to meet with the church may prove a lack of love and therefore true salvation.
When one is saved, God gives him a love for the church. Romans 5:5 says, “the love of God has been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” He gives believers the ability to love God and one another. And it is natural when you love someone to want to meet them and to long for them.
Since Christ died for the church and he lives in us, it will be natural to continually long for the one he died for. It will be natural to yearn with the affections of Christ.
Do you long for the church? Do you long to meet with brothers and sisters throughout the week for fellowship and prayer? Or does your “longing” for work, success, and wealth overtake Christ’s passion within you? Are you a healthy Christian?
Healthy Christians want to be with one another, and they meet as often as possible. Hebrews 10:25 says, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
The early church who lived in the wake of Christ’s coming met every day from house to house breaking bread (Acts 2:46). Because they longed for one another, they met as much as possible. This natural desire should be growing in us “all the more” as we see the day approaching (Heb 10:25).
Do you long to meet with believers throughout the week? Do you want to live life with the people of God?
Interpretation Question: What are some of the reasons Paul longed to meet with believers?
Why did Paul long for them? Why should we long to meet with our brothers and sisters in Christ? Here are a couple of healthy reasons:
Listen again to 1 Thessalonians 3:5: “For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts might have been useless.”
We should desire to meet with believers to see how they are doing spiritually. We should meet with believers to find out the temperature in their spiritual life. We should ask them how their relationship with God is, their devotional life, their battle with temptation, etc. Paul wanted to know, so he sent Timothy to find out (1 Thess 3:2).
2. To Study the Bible
Romans 1:11 says, “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong.”
Most commentators believe this spiritual gift was his teaching of the book of Romans and not a charismatic gift of some sort. He wanted to help them grow by teaching them the Word of God (cf. 1 Peter 2:2).
3. Mutual Encouragement
In Romans 1:11-12, we see another reason to meet together. He said, “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith.”
We should long to meet with others not just to give but also so we can receive—to be mutually encouraged by others’ faith. Similarly, Paul said this to Timothy: “Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy” (2 Tim 1:4).
I’m sure much of the depression in the church is because many do not have healthy fellowship with others. Paul longed not only to give, not only to check up on them, but also to receive and be encouraged. Oh, there is joy in meeting with the people of God! There is joy in the midst of God’s people!
What does your Christian fellowship look like? Are you longing? Do you long to see believers to impart a spiritual gift? Do you long to see them to make sure they have not been tempted by the devil? Do you long to see them for mutual encouragement?
Application Question: How is your longing to meet with the saints? How is God calling you to grow in this endeavor? Why is it so important?
What are signs of spiritually healthy church members?
- Healthy Church Members Think of One Another Often
- Healthy Church Members Pray for One Another Often
- Healthy Church Members Have Gospel Fellowship
- Healthy Church Members Have a Growing Confidence in God
- Healthy Church Members Love One Another
- Healthy Church Members Share God’s Grace with One Another
- Healthy Church Members Long to Be with the Church
Application Question: How is God challenging you to grow in your relationship with his church?
1 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 65). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
Related Topics: Christian Life