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Maturity in the Time of a Pandemic (Philippians 3:15-21)

There are lots of ideas around concerning wise behaviour at the moment – but what does it look like to be truly mature?

What might maturity look like when facing a pandemic?

Sometime between bog roll stockpiling and society shutting down, Shaun of the Dead found a new meme lease of life:

Seeing as daily life is suspended, the next best sensible thing seemed to be waiting till everything got going again.

Today’s verses start with showing us that a more mature perspective is possible.

Paul writes,

all of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things.

(verse 15)

Paul has in mind here his words concerning knowing Christ and pressing on toward Him (verses 12-14), and the driving momentum of these earlier verses stand in stark contrast to purposeless inactivity. Every other immediate goal may have been derailed by Covid-19. Career plans on hold, studies up in the air, graduation ceremonies gone.

But for the Christian in self-isolation, the chief goal of everything remains unshakeable: getting to know God as we press nearer to Him!

Maturity then grows by enjoying God’s clarity in faulty thinking (verse 15b). Our morals for living and guilt-tripping are now squeezed almost entirely into family living rooms and online spaces. I find it’s easier for me to become righteously cranky or sluggishly complacent when I’m left to work out my own standards in my head in self-isolation. Paul’s instruction to check in with wise Christian friends near and far (verse 17) is vital today for ‘living up to what we have already attained’ (verse 16).

It was tragic to hear of the spread of the virus through a Shincheonji Church congregation in South Korea. Paul points us to the quiet spiritual devastation that comes with passing on untruths like Shincheonji’s, who believe founder Lee Man-hee to be the returned messiah. It leads to corroding self-promotion, worship of appetite and future ruin (verse 19). Yet for Paul’s abrasive language here, he first weeps over the ‘enemies of the cross of Christ’ in his time (verse 18)- oh how we join in tears and prayers for enemies in our time!

For knowers of Christ though, our destiny is secure and glorious.

We get to go on knowing Him forever, for ‘our citizenship is in heaven’ (verse 20) where He is reigning. We are residents of Heaven now. We are His, and so it’s no wonder pangs of longing for Him grow nosier when we face global crisis. However life changes beyond this year, we never quite belonged to pre-pandemic normality anyway. Neither was our confidence ever really in what could have been later down the line.

A couple of days before Boris briefed the nation with stricter measures, the daughter of two dear friends of mine passed away. Ceri was 25 when she lost her fight to a cancer that had spread throughout her body over the last year. She had initially received an all clear a little while before. Pete (her Dad) read of Psalm 23:6 a couple of days before she died: ‘and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever’, and quoting from Tim Keller’s My Rock, My Refuge, read ‘we will walk, eat, converse, embrace, sing, and dance – all in degrees of joy, satisfaction, and power that we cannot now imagine.’ She smiled and said, “That sounds nice.” They were almost the last words Ceri spoke to her Dad.

Ceri lived and died with the certainty that her future lay in Jesus with no sickness or pain in her body. It’s the outworking of our new citizen status in verse 21:

and we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

As the rumble of panic may shake us in our global crisis, we also know that our dear Jesus is unstoppable to achieve His purposes. He promises eventually to bring His people to rest over the finish-line.

Tattooed on Ceri’s upper back was ‘choose joy’. What a beautifully mature view of things under unprecedented pressure. How apt a sentiment for Paul’s letter to the Philippians, and for us to take on today.


Consider or discuss

  • What do you sense Paul is describing about the Christian life with the image of an athlete in lung-busting strides toward a finish line(verses 12-14)? Where do you see this kind of momentum in pursuit of Jesus in your life? What might you be tempted to giving chase to instead?

  • Maybe you wouldn’t call yourself a Christian and are still exploring faith. What do you think to the ‘mature view of things’ (v15a) Paul speaks of? What would change in your life were you to take on this new perspective for yourself?

  • The opportunity of self-isolation isn’t that we’d turn in on ourselves, but that we’d take our inner selves to the Lord Jesus again in the quiet. What do you need God’s help and clarity of thought in when you think about how you live your life? (verse 15b)

  • How have you found Paul’s vivid, absurd language regarding false truths (v19) in the passage affecting? Are there any ‘enemies of the cross of Christ’ that move you to pray for their false truths to turn into sharing of the Good News as they find their salvation in Jesus?

  • In what circumstances in your life right now can you pray, inspired as a citizen of heaven (v20), to ‘choose joy’ in?


Respond

This image, adapted from Tim Keller by my friend Charlie, resonates with a couple of Philippian themes and provides good gospel sharing connections with unbelievers at this time. Take one above that is of concern to a friend who doesn’t know Jesus yet and then pray for the opportunity to share the gospel with their concern in mind.

Listen to this live version of Andrew Peterson’s Is He Worthy?. Track the lyrics through on second listen as you worship God with the song and allow God to speak to you, expanding your vision for what being a citizen of heaven now promises one day. You might like to also read the portion of Revelation 5 it’s based upon.

Taking it further

  • This has been such a helpful blog for me in the last week and a bit! Written by Philippa, a friend of a friend. Read this and then take precious time using the picture language of the Psalms to seek His face as you get to know Him better.
  • Some books can help you get deeper into today’s themes. The Pursuit of God (A. W. Tozer) was transformative for my Christian life when I first read it just after graduating. A classic aid in getting to know God more deeply.

    And it dawned on me last year that The Horse and His Boy is probably my favourite fiction ever. It’s a lively adventure novel that follows a tearaway voyage of a boy (Shasta) and a nobleman’s stolen talking horse (Bree) to “Narnia and the North!” Beyond the obvious allusions to purposeful journey, there are subtler connections to a book like Philippians with Lewis’ keen exploration of fulfilment and his characters’ uncomfortable self-discovery and humility. It’s great fun! Lewis himself is also a Christian who reimagines one of his characters as an allegory to the divine Christ – I’ve found Shasta’s penny-drop moment over the mountain (you’ll know) chokes me up every time, namely because it helps me to get a bit more of Paul’s ‘mature view of things’.

This post was written by Joe Winstone, UCCF Staff Worker based in York.

Though contributions to this blog are all written by UCCF Staff and Relays, the opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent the broader opinions of UCCF.

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