by Reilly Smith
Are you willing to give up everything for Christ as he gave up everything for you? Are you willing to love like Paul challenges the Church to love in Philippians? Are you praying for your congregation as Paul prays for the Philippians? Has the Church responded in unity to God’s sustaining graces with humble concern for one another?
These questions were some of the personal challenges that arose in the minds of those attending the annual Leadership Conference at Steinbach Bible College on March 17-18, 2017. People in five other locations joined by webinar, including from Alberta and Ontario and the countries of Belize and Mexico.
The speaker, Dr. Ed Neufeld, is a professor at Providence Theological Seminary and the pastor of Kleefeld Christian Community, both in southern Manitoba. Dr. Ed Neufeld spent four sessions dissecting separate portions within Paul’s letter to the Philippians, showing the importance of prayer, love, unity, and sacrifice. There were several primary themes from each session that stood out from this weekend.
In Friday night’s session Dr. Neufeld began with a study of Paul’s prayer in Phil. 1:9-11, seeing it as an apostolic prayer providing vision to the Church. The prominent point of this session was to pray for love to increase. Dr. Ed Neufeld made it quite clear that prayer is vitally important; and that praying for love to increase will cause many other areas of spiritual maturity to increase, including knowledge, discernment, sincerity, and blamelessness.
He made it clear that there is no tension between increasing your mind and increasing in love; rather, to make good kingdom choices, love is vital. Furthermore, the Greek word that is translated as pure (1:10) is a word about sincerity. Pure in this case is not about being sinless; it is about decisions resulting in right actions.
All this information was pulled out of Paul’s prayer, with the clear application being that it is important for leaders in the Church to be praying for their congregation. Dr. Neufeld pointed out that both disciplined and undisciplined people accomplish what needs to be done. It is not a question of more discipline being needed for prayer, but, rather, a realization of the utter helplessness of leadership without prayer.
Saturday morning began with a study of Phil. 1:12-27. In this session Dr. Neufeld addressed several different applications. First, in living or dying we are to do what is best for Christ. He plunged into Paul’s main questions in Phil. 1, starting in verse 18. Paul’s thought is shown to centre around three main questions: “What’s best for Christ?” “What’s best for Paul?” and “What’s best for the Church?”
Dr. Neufeld noted that God would be glorified if Paul didn’t despair or let go of his faith through the trials. Furthermore, what Paul needed in order for him to hold onto his faith was the Philippians’ praying and God’s grace. A question leveled at those in attendance was: “Lord, not my will but yours be done”—can you say it and mean it in a dark day?
Then Paul’s two loves were addressed. Dr. Neufeld showed that in Philippians Paul clarifies that the focus of his love is on Christ and on Christ’s people. Paul’s question in this passage focuses around these loves. Does Paul leave this earth to be with Christ or does he stay to aid the Church? The question to us is, who or what are we loving as opposed to whom we should be loving?
After this, Dr. Neufeld examined our call to be worthy citizens. Phil. 1:27 was shown to be a bridge between Paul’s example and what he wants us to do with it, with an encouragement to look at the examples of Paul, Timothy and those around us. Here he also noted that all around us, in our very own churches, there are people who are worthy citizens of the gospel.
One of the questions that arose during the second session’s Question and Answer time, was, in light of the above examples, can we live simple lives? The answer was that the Philippians were just ordinary people. Following Paul does not always mean living an extraordinary life.
In the third session Dr. Neufeld began by addressing how the Church is called to love each other. The New Testament has many commands to love each other as there are 96 imperatives regarding the way the Church treats each other. Love must be recognized as a central aspect of the gospel.
The discussion that arose from this conversation was extensive and the humble exploration of this matter was a great example of how pastors and other leaders in the Church should respond to controversial ideas. The emphasis on love set the stage for the following observations Dr. Neufeld would make.
Dr. Neufeld noted that in Phil. 2:1 God has given us sustaining graces to support us, and in 2:2 our response to these graces should be church unity. He continued to unravel the response, making it clear that humble concern for each other is also part of the response to God’s sustaining graces.
As noted by Dr. Neufeld, humble concern does not mean pastors should minster only to those who think they need help. Rather, he believed that pastors should serve humbly in the same way as Jesus and Paul did. They did not take their instructions from their people, but still showed an immense amount of caring.
Also in the third session Dr. Neufeld discussed how it is essential to be genuine. He showed that Paul regards Timothy as a great example of genuineness. Paul sent Timothy to the Philippians because he is the only one who genuinely cares for them.
In Phil. 2:19-24 it was noted that Christ’s interests and Timothy’s genuine care are interchangeable terms. Such truths cause us to ask ourselves: is our ministry done out of genuine concern and love for others?
In the fourth session Dr. Neufeld gave a strong comparison and challenge. It was noticeable in chapter two that Christ set aside everything for His people. However, in chapter three it was noted that Paul set aside everything for Christ. How much are we willing to sacrifice back to God for what was sacrificed for us? The correct answer is all.
Dr. Neufeld also clarified that for many people, in many countries, this question is not a hypothetical one. In some places, if a person gives their life to Christ, they really are giving up family, friends and a home merely as a result of that decision.
In a similar way, he noted that Paul lost all the prestige he once had in his circles among the Pharisees when he became a Christian. This loss wasn’t hypothetical for Paul either.
As can be seen, the Leadership Conference proved to be a great time of learning and of personal challenges in our service to Christ. Much fellowship and discussion occurred throughout the weekend with many people wrestling with the text.
Most of all Philippians was shown to be a book of love. If there is one challenge to be made for the Church today from Philippians, it is to love each other. This is not a secondary calling of the Church, but one of the primary callings, a command heard throughout the Gospel.
Reilly Smith (Cornerstone, Crystal City, Man.) is a second-year student at SBC in the BA (pastoral minor) program. The article was produced for the Tri-Con Editors’ Group as part of his course work for Dr. Patrick Friesen.