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I'd been a Christian for all of 30 seconds and I knew I wasn't going to be able to stay where I was, which is a good thing because I was a total mess (and not just in terms of the way I'd been living to that point).
Some assume the Christian faith is a one and done experience--Jesus saves you, then you coast through life on a get-out-of-hell free card, as though nothing you do matters from that moment forward. But the Bible says just the opposite: When you look at a letter like Philippians, you see an eager expectation for believers to grow and mature. To become more than they are at the moment of salvation.
"God wants us to grow from being infants in Christ to being mature in Christ," writes Matt Chandler, pastor of the Village Church and author (with Jared Wilson) of To Live is Christ to Die is Gain (11). Based on his teaching series on the book of Philippians, Chandler challenges readers see the picture of Christian maturity Paul paints and pursue it with vigor.
//Growth is about character//
If you had to summarize this book with one word it's this: character. Chandler stresses this point over and over again, explicitly and implicitly, thought out its pages. True growth only happens as our character is conformed to Christ. This is why we see the qualifications of leaders focused not on abilities, but on character. Who you are and what you're like matters far more than what you can do. Chandler summarizes it well, "If the gospel is true, your life should look like it's true" (51). And this all starts with your heart.
Chandler rails along with Paul against the dangers of conceit, of thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought. The danger of being consumed by selfish gain and and the kind of discontentment that doesn't draw you closer to Christ but deeper into yourself. Where it's most evident, he argues is in how you view and treat people:
"Here's a good litmus test: In your world, do people have souls? I know that sounds like a simple question. Let me put it into context. When you sit down at a restaurant, as a believer in Christ, and a young woman or young man waits on you, do you think of him or her as having a soul? As being a spiritual creature? Or are you thinking, Just give me my drink and take my order and hurry up? Or do you recognize the image of God in that person? Are you able to encourage, love, and serve your servers, even in a situation as simple as that?" (81)
This is critical for us to understand, not only as we read this book, but as we pursue maturity in Christ. This is why Jesus connects loving our neighbors with loving the Lord, because our love for Jesus will necessarily change how we view others. The clerk at our neighborhood convenience store, the barista at our local Starbucks, the server at our favorite restaurants...
When we see them not as coffee-dispensing automatons, but as people made in the image and likeness of God, it's going to change how we interact with them, especially those we see on a day-to-day basis (if you make a habit of frequenting the same coffee shops each day). It doesn't matter how much you serve in your church, what gifts you have, how much money you give--your character and how you treat others reveals what's really going on in your heart.
Along these same lines is the issue of anxiety. So many of us are anxious about so many things, and yet Paul tells us to be anxious over nothing. I remember when we were younger in our faith, we were told to make an "anxiety box," write down whatever was worrying us, put it in the box and "commit it to the Lord." We tried that for a while, but I think the box got binned before our anxieties did.
Too often, our advice comes across as little more than saying, "stop being anxious, dummy!" While it's true that Paul says be anxious over nothing, he doesn't just say "quit it" and leave us alone. Instead, he commands us to replace anxiety with the discipline of thanksgiving. "Thanksgiving and worry can't occupy the same space," Chandler writes. "Thanksgiving is worry's kryptonite. You can't worry if you're giving thanks" (176).
Developing thankfulness is the challenge, though, and one Chandler doesn't suggest is easy. After all, it wouldn't be a discipline if it were simple. It takes work to be thankful in all circumstances--it doesn't come without the "sweat of faith" (173). We strive to replace our anxiety with "humbly, lowly 'help me' prayers that are full of thanksgiving for God's goodness, God's gifts, and the ultimate good gift, the gospel" (176).
//Geared for new believers, challenging for maturing ones//
To Live is Christ to Die is Gain is Chandler's second collaboration with Wilson, and the results are much stronger than their previous effort. The difference, I believe, is due to the source material.
Where The Explicit Gospel read like a compilation of topical messages reshaped to form a cohesive whole, To Live is Christ to Die is Gain benefits from Philippians' fairly orderly structure and Chandler's gifts as an expository preacher. Rarely does the book run down a rabbit trail; instead, it is highly focused in its goal of presenting a readable, faithful, and application-oriented exposition of the text.
And that in itself may be the book's greatest strength. While it certainly seems geared toward the new believer--it's the kind of book I wish someone had given me when I was first saved-- it has enough weight to it to press on the maturing one.
He examines the many ways in which we as believers need to learn contentment despite any loss, lack or other difficulty and even during times of blessing and plenty. Using the church at Philippi as the poster child for how church should be...Paul speaks to them with thanks and warm words....even while instructing two women who were at odds with each other, he speaks with affection.
In the church of the United States there are many things that we need to get serious about. I believe that the church in the Sudan puts the Church of America to shame when it comes to being content with their lot. People who are suffering intense persecution and hardship know the lesson of gratitude and contentment. And it is the church here in North America who needs to hear these words...The time is coming when we will face our maker and must give an account for our attitudes and actions. This book calls us to take these things seriously and to learn the lessons of gratitude and contentment.
Paul's life --as portrayed by Matt Chandler--was the least likely to bring the fruit of contentment.
Paul suffered intensely --as did John and the other disciples and yet he says with all sincerity, "I have learned to be content in all circumstances, whether in plenty or in lack, in comfort or in pain,"...Paul is a model for us and a person cannot walk away from this book without being challenged to be thankful in every circumstances.