2. Marks of Spiritual MaturityRelated Media
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11)
What are marks of a person who is growing in spiritual maturity? How do I know if I am growing spiritually?
Spiritual life has often been compared to walking upstream. If you are not progressing forward, then you are going backwards. The waves of the world are too powerful; the ungodly TV shows, the ungodly music, the depraved culture of this world are always seeking to push a believer backwards. Therefore, we must always seek to progress in our spiritual lives; otherwise, we will be spiritually declining.
Paul wrote this letter to the church of Philippi. Here in this text, he was praying for them to continue to progress spiritually. He was not praying because they lacked maturity. As seen throughout the letter, the Philippians were a very special church that he enjoyed tremendously. They were the only church in Paul’s early ministry that supported him financially (Phil 4:15). He spoke of his pleasant thoughts and memories of her and how he loved this church with the loins of Christ (1:1-8). In many ways, the Philippians were a model church.
However, this church was not perfect, and no church, on this side of glory, will be. It needed to continue to progress. Therefore, in Philippians 1:9-11, Paul shares his prayers for her—prayers consumed with the church’s spiritual growth.
As we look at Paul’s prayer, it should encourage us in our own prayer lives—it should encourage us in how to pray and what to pray. Many times our prayers are very obscure. We say, “Bless sister Martha.” “Bless our church.” “Bless our country.” However, it only makes sense that if we are bringing a petition before the One who has all power that our petitions would be specific.
In addition, Paul’s prayer should challenge us in the area of our spiritual growth. As we study this passage, we must ask ourselves, “Are we progressing spiritually as individuals and as a congregation?” We are always either growing or going backwards. Our spiritual life is never standing still.
Big Question: What specific petitions does Paul pray for the Philippian church? What do these petitions teach us about a mature Christian?
A Mature Christian Is Marked by Abounding Love
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more (Philippians 1:9)
The first mark of a mature Christian is continually abounding in love. Christ said all of the laws were summed up in love. Matthew 22:37-40 says this:
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
He also taught that love would be the mark of every true follower of Christ. He said this: “They will know you are my disciples by the way that you love one another” (John 13:35).
If we are growing in Christ, we will see ourselves both loving God more and loving others more. When people see us, they should see someone who is enamored more and more with God and people. Christians are identified by this. Consider what David said in Psalm 16:2-3: “I said to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.’ As for the saints who are in the land, they are the glorious ones in whom is all my delight.”
David said the Lord was his focus in life and that all his delight was in the saints. This is something that should be seen in each one of us. We should love God and love people more.
In addition, one of the marks of a mature church is its continual growth in love. People come into these congregations and are overwhelmed with a sense of love. In contrast, a characteristic of an immature church is that when people visit, they are alienated and left out. They don’t feel welcomed or loved.
What are further characteristics of this love?
This is an important question because most people don’t know how to define love. What is love? Is love primarily a feeling? Is love a bunch of butterflies in one’s stomach? I often hear people trying to describe their intimate relationships with, “I love him, but I don’t know if am ‘in love’ with him.” What does that mean?
In the Greek, Paul used the word, agape—God’s love. What are characteristics of agape love?
Interpretation Question: What is agape love? What are its characteristics?
1. Love is resident in every believer.
Again, Philippians 1:9 says, “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more.”
One of the things we must notice about this love is that the Philippians already possessed it. He prays that the love they already possess would abound more and more. As mentioned previously, agape—God’s love—is a characteristic of every person who is truly born again. One commentator says this about the Philippians’ love:
At Philippi, love showed itself to be of the very essence of the new nature given to the believer. No sooner had Lydia become a Christian than she pressed Paul and his company to become her house-guests. No sooner had the jailor become a Christian than, though he had earlier fastened the apostle’s feet in the stocks, he began to bathe his wounds. When the hostility of the people made Paul leave Philippi, the church, by contrast, identified with the persecuted apostle (verses 5–7) and sent him help more than once (4:16). Love was their new nature in Christ.1
Similarly, look at what Paul said to the Thessalonians about their love:
Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more. (1 Thessalonians 4:9-10)
Paul said of the Thessalonians that God had taught them to love each other and that they already loved all the brothers throughout Macedonia. They did not only love people in their local church but even those in Philippi, as that was part of Macedonia. Love is resident in every believer because God has given it to them, and he is constantly teaching believers to love more and more. In fact, John said this: “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death” (1 John 3:14).
Every person who is truly born again loves the family of God. They love one another. John also said this: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7-8).
Agape love was immediately poured out into believers when they got saved. Romans 5:5 says this: “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”
2. Agape love is decisive—an act of the will.
As mentioned previously, often love is thought of as primarily a feeling. When someone says they love a person, that typically means he or she has strong feelings towards that person. However, love may or may not include strong feelings. Love is primarily an act of the will. Listen again to what Christ said in John 13:34: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
This might not make sense to someone who only thinks of love as a feeling. How can you command your feelings? We’ve all heard this said before, “I can’t choose who I fall in love with.” However, Scripture would not affirm this. Love is an act of the will. That is why God can command us to not only love fellow believers but even our enemies. Look at what Christ said in Matthew 5:44-45:
But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
How can someone “love” his enemies? It is only possible because love is an act of the will—an act of obedience to God. We can love because God has commanded us to do so. In fact, Scripture even declares that biblical love is obedient. Christ said this:
If you love me, you will obey what I command. (John 14:15)
Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him. (John 14:21)
When Jesus talked about love, he said that love and obedience to God were synonymous. Whoever loves Christ will obey his commands. Whoever does not love Christ will not obey his commands.
Love is decisive. It is an act of the will. I choose to love God. I choose to love my neighbors by serving them. I choose to love my enemies by praying for them and blessing them. I may not feel like doing this, but as an act of obedience to God—an act of the will—I choose to love them.
That is why I don’t understand when Christian couples say, “We just fell out of love, so we decided to get a divorce.” That doesn’t make sense. If the foundation of our relationships is based on feelings then our relationships will always be unstable. Feelings come and go based on circumstances such as what you ate for lunch. Feelings are affected by being sick. But, love truly is an act of the will. I love you Lord, so I will obey you. I love my roommate so I will pray for him. I love my church members so I will serve them.
Paul is praying for this church to grow in loving one another. The fact that “love” is an act of the will makes every person more accountable. If it was an elusive feeling that we couldn’t control, how could God judge us based on the fact that we don’t love him and we don’t love our neighbor. But, the fact that love is a choice—an act of the will—means that we all are responsible to love one another and God as Scripture commands.
Application Question: In what ways has God called you to demonstrate love towards someone when you didn’t feel like loving him or her?
3. Agape love is dynamic—it should be growing.
As already mentioned, another characteristic of agape love is that it should be constantly growing. Paul prays that the love of these believers would abound—that it would overflow. One of the characteristics of believers who are maturing and growing in Christ is that their love for God and their love for one another is growing.
Let us be afraid when our love is stagnant. It is possible to simply attend church every Sunday and exist in the same community without our love increasing. We constantly see one another. We see one another’s children grow up, and we go to the same small group, but our love for one another is not growing. Lord, forgive us for having a stagnant love.
Living in a church community is the perfect place for this love to grow and to be fostered. When someone is sick, we have a chance to not only pray for them but to find ways to serve them in their sickness. We have a chance to stretch our love for one another in the midst of the difficulties of life. Many times it is during trials that our love for one another is forced to stretch and grow.
Also, let us hear that not only are trials the perfect time for our love to grow but specifically while in conflict. Many people see conflict as the antithesis of love, but this is not true. Conflict can often be the catalyst for loving more. The roommate that gets on our nerves, the co-worker or employer that is impossible to deal with—those are people and situations that can stretch our love. They are opportunities for us to grow in love for someone.
Listen to what Peter said about the Christian’s responsibility to love: “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22).
When he calls for believers to love one another deeply, it can also be translated “fervently.” It was a word used of a muscle being stretched to the furthest limit. Many times that is exactly what God allows in our lives so that our love can grow. In conflict, he stretches it and forces it to grow.
It’s just like going to the gym. When a person works out, the muscles are stretched and fatigued by carrying a certain load. By carrying that load one is telling the muscles, “You must grow stronger in order to carry this load!” In response the muscles grow bigger, develop more strength, and more endurance.
It’s the same with us. It is hard to grow in love for people that we are not often around or that we know only at a surface level. Many times, by going through difficulties together, our love is stretched so that it can grow. This is also true in our relationship with God. He often increases our love for him through stretching our love in the midst of trials or difficulties.
Paul’s prayer for the Philippian church that already loved God and loved one another was that their love would abound.
Are you increasing in your love for God? Are you increasing in your love for the brothers and sisters in your church? Are you partnering with them in difficulties? Are you lifting them up in prayer? Are you willing to humble yourself in the midst of conflict to love them more?
Spiritually mature Christians are not stagnant—they have not peaked in their love. They are seeking for it to grow. They are seeking for it to abound both towards God and towards others. In fact, what marks them as mature is the fact that they are still growing more and more in love with God every day and they are growing more and more in love with their neighbor every day.
Application Question: What ways has God stretched your love in order for you to both love God and others more? Or in what ways has your heart been hurt resulting in a struggle to love?
4. Agape love should be increasing in knowledge.
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight. (Philippians 1:9)
Paul prays for the Philippians’ love to grow more in knowledge and depth of insight. He is praying for their love to be intelligent. Often we hear comments like “love is blind.” Love is not blind—love is intelligent and wise.
When you are truly in love with somebody or something, the natural reaction is for you to increase in “knowledge” of that person or thing. If a person really loves the NBA, then they will spend a tremendous amount of time reading up on their favorite team or player. If a person really loves another person, they commonly will get married and spend the rest of their lives getting to know that person intimately.
Here is a tip for single people. When you go on a date with a person and this person doesn’t ask you questions and only talks about him or herself, that is a problem. That means they really don’t care about you. When someone really loves someone or something, the natural inclination is to increase in knowledge of that person or thing. Because there is much more that could be said about growing in knowledge, we will cover this as a second characteristic of a maturing Christian.
5. Agape love is judicious.
He prays for the love to not only grow in knowledge but depth of insight. Depth of insight can be translated “discernment.” Love always is discerning so it can choose what is best. As with the previous point, I have chosen to expand this in a later section as a mark of spiritual maturity.
Application Question: What are some common ways that the world defines love? How does that compare to biblical love? In what ways is God challenging you to grow in love for him and others?
A Mature Christian Is Marked by Growing Knowledge
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight (Philippians 1:9)
Interpretation Question: What type(s) of knowledge is Paul praying for this church to grow in?
What type of knowledge must we be growing in as believers? I think we can tell by the context. In verse 10 he says, “so that you can discern what is best.” What type of knowledge is needed in order for us to discern what is best?
1. A mature Christian is growing in the knowledge of Scripture.
One of the reasons that many people can’t discern what is best when they are trying to find a job or pick a mate for the future is because they don’t know the Word of God. David said this: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105). When the lights are on, it is easier to have discernment and make the best decisions.
One can’t know what is best if he/she doesn’t know the Word of God. It is a necessary component of a mature Christian’s life. They are constantly abounding in the knowledge of the Word of God.
We never peak in understanding the Word of God. The Word of God is “simple enough that a child can understand it but deep enough that a scholar can drown in it.” A mature Christian is not stagnant in his knowledge of the Bible. He is always seeking to abound in it, seeking to understand it more, seeking to teach it more, and seeking to obey it more.
Just as we can never have enough love, we can never have enough knowledge of Scripture. This is a characteristic of mature Christians. As they know God’s Word better, they are better able to discern what is best in all areas of life (cf. 1 Cor 2:15).
2. A mature Christian is growing in the knowledge of God.
We see Paul pray for this all the time in his letters. Consider what he said in Ephesians and Colossians:
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. (Ephesians 1:17)
For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. (Colossians 1:9)
Now this knowledge is not primarily academic, it is experiential. The Greek and Hebrew word for “know” typically speak of a deep, intimate, and experiential knowledge. In the Old Testament, it was used of sexual relations. Adam “knew” his wife (Gen 4:1, KJV). A mature Christian is growing in an intimate knowledge of God.
We see this in the narratives and writings of the mature believers in the Bible. Moses who spoke to God face to face, prayed for God to show him his glory (Ex 33:18). He prayed to see God in an even more intimate way.
David said this to God: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Psalm 42:1-2).
Paul said this about Christ: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11).
David was desperate to know God and so was Paul. Paul wanted to suffer and die like Christ. He wasn’t just looking for academic knowledge; he wanted to continually experience Christ. He wanted the power and sufferings of Christ in his life. This is a characteristic of mature believers. They are constantly seeking to know God more, and this knowledge allows them to discern what is best.
Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the 3. A mature Christian is growing in the knowledge of others.
In order to discern what is best for my daughter, not only do I need to know what Scripture says and need to know God more, but I also need to know the way God made my daughter. Is she gifted in athletics? Is she very talented in music? Proverbs 22:6 says this: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”
It can also be translated this way: “Initiate a child in accordance with his way” (Pulpit Commentary). This means that in order to best train my daughter, I not only need to teach her Scripture, but I also need to help her discern the way God made her—the way she is wired. I am not here to conform her into my image. She doesn’t have to play basketball, join the military, or write books (all things I wouldn’t mind her doing). God may have made her different than me. I think one of the reasons so many children rebel at some point in life is because they were molded into their parents’ way, the world’s way, or the church’s way instead of the way God made them.
God already has a plan for my daughter. My wife and I need to help in the process of discerning God’s plan. If I really love and want what’s best for her, I need to help her discern the way she is wired.
It’s the same with my wife. First Peter 3:7 says I need to dwell with my wife “according to knowledge” (KJV). I need to know her and understand her. That is the only way I can serve her best and also help her discern what is best. This is why any good counselor is not only going to teach a person truth but also ask important questions in order to help guide him along “his way.”
Similarly, mature church members are constantly trying to get to know one another more. They are seeking to know one another so they can better serve and encourage others in the way God uniquely created them.
How is God calling you to get to know others in your church, school, or work place better? Maybe, he is calling you to ask someone out to lunch, dinner, or coffee? Maybe, he is calling you to ask someone questions and just listen.
Are you growing in the knowledge of the Word of God? Are you growing in the knowledge of God—growing in intimacy with him? Are you growing in the knowledge of others?
Application Question: How would you rate your growth in “knowledge” in these three categories: knowing God’s Word, knowing God, and knowing others? What strategies do you believe God is calling you to implement to increase your knowledge? Be specific.
A Mature Christian Is Marked by Spiritual Discernment
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ (Philippians 1:10)
The next mark of a mature Christian is spiritual discernment. This is emphasized twice in verses 9 and 10. He prays for the church’s love to grow in knowledge and “depth of insight.” Depth of insight in verse 9 can also be translated discernment or judgment (NASB, KJV). Discernment is again mentioned in verse 10. Hendricks adds this about the addition of the phrase “depth of insight.”
A person who possesses love but lacks discernment may reveal a great deal of eagerness and enthusiasm. He may donate to all kinds of causes. His motives may be worthy and his intentions honorable, yet he may be doing more harm than good. Also, such an individual may at times be misled doctrinally.2
The word “discern” in verse 10 can be translated “approve” or “examine.” It was used of a metallurgist testing metals or coins to determine their purity or genuineness.3 In Luke 12:56, it is translated “interpret or analyze.” Look at what it says: “Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don't know how to interpret this present time?”
Christ rebuked the Pharisees because they could discern the weather by looking at the signs, but they couldn’t determine the present time with the messiah standing right in front of them.
Maybe Paul was emphasizing discernment because of the false teaching that was happening in the church. It seems that Judaizers were in the church calling the Christians back to circumcision and the law (Philippians 3:2). There also was division happening in the church (Philippians 4:2), and the Philippians needed a wise love to know how to handle these situations. They needed discernment which is a sign of spiritual maturity.
We often see this lack of maturity in a child’s inability to discern. Toddlers may know what a car is but they typically can’t tell the difference between a Toyota and a Lamborghini. To them they are both just a “Car!” When my daughter Saiyah was younger, she really liked tea. I don’t understand why, but she did. However, with Saiyah everything was “tea.” “Saiyah, do you want some milk?” She would look at you and say, “Tea!” We would say, “Saiyah, do you want some cheese?” She would respond, “Tea!” For her it was all the same. Everything she ate was tea.
However, as she got older she learned to discern the differences. “No, this is a T-bone steak. This is better than tea.” Discernment is a mark of growing in maturity.
It’s the same with our spiritual lives. Paul says one of the reasons that God gave pastors and teachers to the church was to help the congregation grow into maturity so they would no longer be like children tossed to and fro with every form of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14). A spiritual child can’t always tell what is most healthy for them. They often will accept teaching that does not line up with Scripture, and therefore, they are often prey for cults or self-help Christianity. The spiritually immature often can’t discern what is best.
But, those who are mature can not only discern between good and bad but also between what is good and what is best. The spiritually mature are marked by testing everything and choosing what is best—choosing what is best for others and choosing what is best for their spiritual lives.
When a young Christian will listen to just about any music, watch just about any TV show, hang out with just about any people, the spiritually mature instead practices discernment in order to do what is best for his spiritual life and others. This is what marks the spiritually mature and that’s what Paul prayed for this church. He prayed that their love would grow in knowledge so they could choose what is excellent.
Paul will say the same thing later on in the book. Listen to what he says in Philippians 4:8-9:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Did you see what he said? He commands them to think on what is excellent and praiseworthy. He also commands them to practice what they have heard or seen in Paul and then the God of peace would be with them. Mature Christians practice this discernment in their entertainment, their relationships, their church activities, etc., so they can always think on what is “excellent.” The result of this is the manifest presence of God being in their lives. The spiritually mature have God’s anointing on their lives because they choose what is best in order to know God and do his will. This is what marked Moses, David, Paul, and other great saints—choosing what is best and excellent.
Do you practice discernment in your hobbies, your career ambitions, your friendships, and even your meditations in order to live in the presence of God? Are you a mature Christian? Or do you watch things, listen to things, go to certain places, and hang out with certain people that would not be what is best for your life or others?
Mature Christians are discerners who test everything to hold onto what is good and best for their spiritual life and others. They put everything into the fire—to see if it is excellent.
Interpretation Question: How can we practice this type of discernment in order to choose what is best?
1. Mature Christians test everything by the Word of God.
Hebrews 5:13-14 says this:
Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
The writer of Hebrews says the mature can distinguish between good and evil because of their constant use of the “teaching of righteousness.” They are constantly using the Word of God. They don’t just hear it on Sundays and in small group, but they are using it daily to share it with others, to study it, and to pray through it. And, because of this, they develop the ability to distinguish.
The Christian that can go long periods of time without having a daily quiet time is going to have a very hard time distinguishing not only between good and evil but the good and the best. It has often been said the enemy of the best is often the good. Young Christians often have many good things in their lives, but these good things keep them from what is best.
Are you constantly using the Word of God in order to develop spiritual discernment?
What else is needed to develop spiritual discernment?
2. Mature Christians test everything by discerning what edifies.
First Corinthians 10:23 says, “‘Everything is permissible’—but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’—but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.”
Mature Christians ask, “Will this build me up?” “Will this build others up?” If not, then maybe I should not do it. Immature Christians typically just ask, “Is this sin?” or “Is this OK for me to do?” Just because it is OK or not morally wrong doesn’t mean that it is best. We should ask, “Does it edify?”
3. Mature Christians test everything by discerning what is evil.
Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22, “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.”
The other necessity of developing spiritual discernment is a willingness to avoid every kind of evil. Some versions say, “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” Many Christians don’t like that verse. It is too limiting. “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” If it is promoting sexual immorality, if it is teaching different values on marriage or one’s body image, don’t listen to it. Don’t watch it. Just avoid it.
Many Christians are unwilling to do that, and therefore, they remain in a state of immaturity. Satan continues to have a door into their lives.
Mature Christians test everything through the Word of God, and they are willing to abstain from all appearance of evil. They are pursuing “the best in priorities—the best in habits—the best in pleasures—the best in pursuits—the best course of action for themselves and for their families.”4
Application Question: What are some areas in your life in which you are prone to accept or practice things that are not best?
A Mature Christian Is Marked by Spiritual Integrity
so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ (Philippians 1:10)
Interpretation Question: What does it mean to be sincere and blameless?
Next, Paul prays for the Philippians to be sincere and blameless which refers first to the inner attitudes and then to the outward behavior. In general he is praying for spiritual integrity. Integrity really is the practice of honesty and morality no matter the situation—even when nobody is looking. Let’s look at how he calls for integrity first by looking at the word “sincere.”
The word “sincere” carries the idea of testing something by sunlight.5 Our English word “sincere” comes from the Latin word “sin cere,” “without wax.” In ancient Rome those who made pottery often covered cracks with wax to deceive those who purchased them. However, one could discern if the pot was “sin cere” by lifting the pot to the sun and allowing the light to shine through it.
When Paul was praying for the Christians to be sincere, he was not praying for perfection. He knows they will not be perfect until Christ comes. He was praying for them to be free of hypocrisy—to not cover the flaws in their life with wax. One of the problems in the church today is wax—pretense. We put on the wax of church attendance. We put on the wax of “everything is OK,” and therefore, we often never share our issues with anybody. We would rather act like everything is perfect than admit our flaws before one another and even God. There is a lot of hypocrisy in the church.
One of the consequences of sin in the Garden of Eden was that man began to hide from both God and man. Adam and Eve ate of the tree and then hid from one another and from God. There was no transparency. That is how the world is. They hide their insecurities and pain behind nice cars, nice clothes, nice jobs, etc.
The counseling industry has become large primarily because people need a place to share the issues they are hiding and not telling anybody. That is what the church is supposed to do. It’s a place where we confess our sins before God and one another in order to help each other heal and grow. James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”
James called for the church to confess their sins to one another and pray for one another so they could be healed. Even the Lord’s Prayer implies this. It says, “Forgive us our trespasses.” This implies a community of believers confessing their sins before one another and before God. When this happens, there is healing. God heals individuals, churches, and nations.
How do we live sincere lives?
It is not by being perfect. It is by being willing to confess our sins to others and before God. It is by saying, “I am not perfect. I need mercy and encouragement from the community to help me grow in Christ. And God, I need your forgiveness and grace because I continually fall into sin.”
This is the mark of mature Christians. They are humble and open about their continual struggles with sin. Remember, Paul in Romans 7 said, “The things I would do, I don’t do. The things I wouldn’t do, I do” (paraphrase). In First Timothy 1:15, he said he was the “chief of sinners.”
When we act like we are perfect, we turn into Pharisees. We may have the wax of daily devotions and the wax of faithful church attendance, but inside we are full of dead men’s bones. We are full of pride and anger. We are judgmental and unforgiving. Judgmentalism is a characteristic of someone who is not sincere with themselves, others, or God. They look at their church attendance and outwardly righteous behavior and look down on anybody else that isn’t like them.
Paul was praying for this church to be free of hypocrisy. When Christ gave the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the purpose was not to condemn the son who came home but to condemn the older brother. In the beginning of Luke 15, the Pharisees were mocking Christ because he was a friend of sinners. They were the older brothers who judged others and yet could not see their evil attitudes. They mocked and condemned those who sinned outwardly, but it was their sin of pride and self-righteousness that was keeping them out of the presence of God and would ultimately condemn them to hell. They were not sincere. They were full of hypocrisy.
Are you free of hypocrisy?
Application Question: Who do you confess your struggles to in the church? Who do you ask for prayer so that you may be healed?
The next aspect of spiritual integrity is being blameless. What does it mean to be blameless? The word blameless means “without stumbling, or offense,” and has both the idea of not falling into sinful conduct and of not causing others to fall into sin.6 This was the same characteristic that Paul gave as a requirement for those selected as elders and deacons in 1 Timothy 3. The leaders needed to be blameless, or it could be translated “above reproach” (1 Tim 3:2). This means that there must not be any areas of clear rebellion in their lives or any areas that could cause others to stumble. They are seeking to live a life that is blameless.
Being blameless does not only have to do with clear areas of sin, it also has to do with areas of freedom that could potentially cause a weaker or less mature brother to sin. Paul said this in Romans 14:21: “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.”
In talking about eating meat and drinking wine, he was talking about areas that were not sin. Scripture in no place forbids eating meat or drinking alcohol; however, Paul says he would not do it if it caused a weaker brother to stumble. This demonstrates the fact that Paul was spiritually mature and seeking to live a blameless life—one that was above approach.
This is commonly a problem with young Christians. Their youth often leads them to only ask, “What are my rights? What am I allowed to do according to the Scripture?” But, that is not the only question a mature Christian will be asking. One should also ask, “Would this freedom cause anybody else to stumble?” Sure there are many things that I could probably do that would not lead me into sin. I am a pretty disciplined person. However, I know that some things I might choose to partake in might actually destroy another believer.
This is what marks the mature in Christ. They are seeking to be blameless. They don’t want to stumble into sin or cause others to.
Are you seeking to live a life that is sincere and blameless before God and others? Are you willing to give up your freedoms and rights in order to be blameless before God and others?
Application Question: In what ways can we, as individual believers and the church, practice being more sincere and blameless in our Christian walk?
A Mature Christian Is Marked by Good Works
filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:11)
The next mark of a mature Christian is being filled with the fruit of righteousness. The word “filled” speaks of something completed in the past and having continuing results.7 Paul pictures these Christians as having born fruits throughout their life and one day standing at the judging seat of Christ surrounded by these fruits (v. 10). This is a mark of mature Christians.
In fact, it is the one of the reasons that God created us. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
We were created for good works. The word “workmanship” comes from the Greek word “poiema.” We are God’s poem—his artistry. Each one of us has been given different spiritual gifts and different experiences so that we can minister for God and bear fruit in a unique way.
Mature Christians are bearing fruits that God prepared in advanced for them. We get a picture of the process of God preparing works for us in advance as we look at Jeremiah. He said to Jeremiah that before he was even in the womb, he knew him and called him to be a prophet to the nations (Jeremiah 1:5). That was God’s call on Jeremiah’s life and yet he still had to choose to be obedient and submit to God’s will.
Fruit always bears the mark of the tree it came from. An apple tree bears apples and an orange tree bears oranges. In the same way, mature Christians demonstrate the fruit of Christ. They demonstrate his character, and people can tell that they are his disciples (John 13:35).
However, immature Christians are not filled with fruits of righteousness. Because they are true Christians, they will bear some fruits. But in many ways, they will resemble the world instead of God. First Corinthians 3:1-3 says this:
Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?
These Christians were not yet mature, and you could tell by their fruits. They couldn’t handle the deep teachings of the Word yet; they still needed spiritual milk. They were prone to jealousy and quarreling. They were worldly.
Many Christians are like this. Sometimes it’s hard to discern if they are really Christians because of the worldly fruits in their lives. Immature Christians are like children—as mentioned before, they lack discernment. This leads to having the wrong friendships and the wrong dating relationships. They are prone to discord—they are always in a fight with somebody. Because they are not choosing what is best, it leads them further away from God.
From personal experience, I spent a large part of my Christian life living as a worldly Christian. Cursing, a fruit of the world, still marked my life until I was freshman in college. I had ungodly language and ungodly relationships. However, even though I resembled the world in many ways, God still used me by his grace. I often brought people to church and led people to Christ, but I was compromised and therefore missed out on God’s best. I missed out on the abundant fruits that God wanted to bear in me.
With cursing specifically, during my freshman year while reading James 1:26, God really convicted me and set me free from that sin. It says, “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” God essentially said that my religion was worthless and potentially not real. This really convicted me and from that day, I never struggled with that specific sin again. I knew I had to grow up and mature.
This was God’s plan for the Philippians, and it is his plan for every believer. God wants believers to grow up, to bear fruit, and to walk in his specific calling for their lives. However, many Christians are like Esau; they forfeit the Father’s inheritance to enjoy a temporary meal.
Interpretation Question: What are some fruits of righteousness?
1. Godly attitudes are a fruit of righteousness.
Galatians 5:22-23 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
Are you growing in these godly attitudes? Are you growing in patience, joy, peace, gentleness, and self-control?
2. Praise is a fruit of righteousness.
Hebrews 13:15 says, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name.”
Be careful of being a complainer instead of a worshiper. That is a fruit of the world. Paul describes unbelievers as having this fruit in Romans 1:21. He says, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him.”
Are you growing in your worship? Are you praising him throughout the day? Or are you a complainer and arguer?
3. Discipleship is a fruit of righteousness.
Paul said this in Romans 1:13:
I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.
He seems to primarily be referring to the Gentiles coming to Christ and growing in him—discipleship. Are you growing in the areas of evangelism and discipleship?
Interpretation Question: How do we produce these fruits?
Mature Christians produce these fruit by an abiding relationship with Christ. Again, look at what Paul says: “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:11).
Believers produce these fruits “through Jesus Christ”—through an abiding relationship with him. If we are not abiding in him, we cannot produce fruits. It is by living a life in his presence, abiding in his Word, praying, and fellowshipping with his people that these fruits will naturally blossom in our lives. Look at what Christ said in John 15:4-5:
Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
Are you abiding in the vine? This marks a mature believer. They can’t miss a morning without starting their day with Christ and abiding in his presence. This enables them to produce fruit.
When Christ returns, Paul wants the Philippians to be like fruit trees at harvest, their branches hung low, laden with the good deeds that Christ has worked in and through them.8 This marks mature believers and a healthy church. God is using them greatly because they are abiding in his Son. They are like trees planted by the river, their leaves never fade. “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor” (Isaiah 61:3).
Application Question: Recently, what type of fruits has God been bearing in your life? What type of fruits do you feel like you are missing or desire more of? How is God calling you to pursue them?
A Mature Christian Is Marked by Glorifying God
filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:11)
The mature Christian’s life will glorify God while on the earth and ultimately throughout eternity. Again, the context of verse 10 is the day of Christ. This refers to the day when Christ will return and ultimately judge and reward believers for their good works. Second Corinthians 5:10 says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”
When these believers are rewarded in heaven for their good works, their rewards will ultimately bring glory to God throughout eternity. It will demonstrate that these works have been done through him and by him for his glory (Philippians 2:12-13).
These Christians will ultimately bring glory to God in heaven throughout eternity, but they will also bring glory to God through their works on earth. Their lives will constantly point people to God. Listen to these Scriptures:
This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:8)
In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)
People will glorify God because of their prayers, counsel, works of service, etc.
We saw this in the life of Christ. His works drew people into worship. Look at the people’s response after he healed a blind man: “Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God” (Luke 18:42). This should also happen in the lives of believers. People worship God because of their faithful lives.
First Corinthians 10:31 says, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” This should be the daily aim of every believer.
However, where the mature believer’s life glorifies God, the immature believer’s life detracts from glorifying God. Like the Pharisees, even their good works are done in order to receive praise or honor.
Are you living a life for the glory of God or for your glory? Are you seeking to live in such a way that people are drawn into God’s presence? Is that the ultimate aim of your life? Or does your life detract from God’s glory?
Application Question: How can we consciously live for the glory of God in our daily endeavors? How can we be careful of the pharisaical spirit which seeks to bring honor to ourselves instead of God?
What does a mature Christian look like?
- 1. A Mature Christian Is Marked by Abounding Love
- 2. A Mature Christian Is Marked by Growing Knowledge
- 3. A Mature Christian Is Marked by Spiritual Discernment
- 4. A Mature Christian Is Marked by Spiritual Integrity
- 5. A Mature Christian Is Marked by Good Works
- 6. A Mature Christian Is Marked by Glorifying God
Application Question: In what ways is God calling you to pursue spiritual maturity?
1 Motyer, J. A. (1984). The message of Philippians (p. 55). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
2 Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Philippians (Vol. 5, p. 60). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
3 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (p. 47). Chicago: Moody Press.
4 Hughes, R. K. (2007). Philippians: the fellowship of the gospel (p. 43). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
5 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (pp. 49–50). Chicago: Moody Press.
6 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (p. 51). Chicago: Moody Press.
7 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (p. 53). Chicago: Moody Press.
8 Hughes, R. K. (2007). Philippians: the fellowship of the gospel (p. 44). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
Related Topics: Christian Life