Applications always come down to this: What will you suggest to your children and grandchildren about ——-? What will you model before them?
Paul has been arrested in Rome. This letter to the Philippians is written to a group of believers in Christ who are organized into a local church, with leaders called overseers and deacons. Paul has been their consultant and associate for 29 years. He visited them at least three times, living in their homes, staying for months perhaps with Lydia’s family or the jailer’s family. This church has sent him money and supported him in his attempt to plant Christian churches in what is today Turkey and Greece. They sent one of their members to help him as soon as they heard about his Roman imprisonment. It has been a close and continuing relationship centered on spreading the good news that Jesus atoned for our sins by his death and rose again to demonstrate His deity and power. Paul writes of his thankfulness, joy, hope, and expectations for them. He loves these Greeks and tells them so (Philippians 1:1-11).
These people lived in the same city and organized themselves under two tiers of leaders to accomplish specific goals like worship and evangelism. This fact is the reason Christians have historically had local congregations. Many have questioned the validity of that today because of our internet, facebook, telephone, transportation etc. Why have a local church? Why not just get together on the internet? Why get together at all?
Whatever you decide in this controversy, just remember you must apply the word of God with rationality. You can’t just toss out this historical fact of this particular church’s existence and organizational structure and the relationships that resulted. Paul’s approval of their organization is a factor to consider as well. Nor can we forget about the years of experience of other Christians from Roman times until now who followed this example, organized themselves under leaders, and worked together for mutual encouragement and the salvation of others. Paul also speaks of their unity around what they believe and their acting in loving ways with each other (2:2). It seems a little unreasonable to toss out the local church organization and relationships, and just go with individuals or small groups, using modern technology and doing what you want without any accountability to anyone else. Guarding the truth becomes an issue when there are no specific guardians to hold others accountable.
John and I drive 25 miles or so to associate with a church whose beliefs and practice are things we believe and can live out in a similar manner. It’s not as “local” as we would like. It is harder to help one another, go to funerals, baby showers, reach out to those living near the church facility, serve on committees etc. Our emphasis has been on unity of doctrine, the two tier organizational structure, and being able to work together for the gospel. The local part has been stretched.
Are you trying to figure this out for yourself? Are you actively participating with a group to tell others about Christ Jesus and worship together, and try to live out the Christian life together? If not, what is your thinking about Corinthians, Galatians, Colossans, Thessalonians, Romans? They were all groups, organized under leaders for the purpose of worship, spreading the gospel and teaching the Bible. Are you involved in a structured group doing that?
This is the kind of hard thinking we have to do if we ask our three questions:
What does this passage in the Bible say? What does it mean? How do I apply it?
I hope these thoughts help you as you read Philippians. What will you suggest to your children and grandchildren about their involvement in a local church? What are you modeling before them right now? Do you need to make any changes in that?
(Roger Ellsworth’s book Opening Up Phlippians (Day One Publishers, 2004) is a great resource. He has been preaching now for 60 years. He has written more than 30 books.)