Christian friend, how do you make big decisions? You will probably tell me that you pray about them. You may tell me that you seek out counsel. But I have two questions.
First, do you? Do you really go to the Lord with your cares and desires, asking him to reshape your mind to match is desires? Do you actually lay what you want down before the Lord and ask if what you want fits best his plan and his kingdom? Do you speak with other believers, wise believers, godly believers, and ask them to help you to know if what you want is best? Do you go to the word and ask if the desire of your heart violates the commands of Scripture or the principles of Scripture?
And secondly, how big, in the light of your decisions, is the church of the Lord Jesus? When you consider something like moving to a new city, taking a new job, building a new house, going on an extended vacation, investing in the future, getting married, or any other such thing, does the church figure in your mind at all? No, I’m not suggesting that you seek your pastor’s permission to take a trip out of town. But, when you make a plan, especially a big plan, does the good of the local body with which you have covenanted even begin to niggle at the back of your brain?
What I fear is often the case in our world today is that many believers assume that all of our decisions are our own. WE think that we have every right to go where we want, do what we want, change how we want, and no person has a real right to speak into us. We think that we are to consider our own wellbeing, that of our family, that of our portfolio, and those things make us let go of any local church body without much by way of concern for the people we will leave behind. Sure, we may miss some old friends, sure, THERE may be no solid church where we will move, but this or that reason makes our move the best idea for us.
Many of these thoughts came to the surface for me while reading a new printing of an older D. A. Carson book. Carson takes us to Philippians 1, and he points out how Paul considered the good of the local church above his own personal desires.
Philippians 1:19–26 – 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.
Paul knew that it would be for the good of the church that his deepest desire not be met, at least not yet. Paul wanted to depart and be with Christ. He had served many painful years. He had been through more than many of us will ever dream of. And, with all that said, Paul knew that his life was for the good of other believers and not merely for himself. And convinced of that, Paul knew that the right thing was that God use him for the good of the church first.
Do we think like this? Do we make decisions like this? I truly wonder.
See how Carson writes about this topic, and ask the Lord to help you think in a godly way. Ask if God will help you to, as a Christian, value the local church to the glory of God even above the typical factors in your major decision-making process.
What is striking about Paul’s evaluation is how deeply it is tied to the well-being of other believers, rather than to his own. Even in this respect, Paul is imitating his Master. "Convinced of this"—convinced that my remaining alive will be best for you—"I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith . . (1:25). Or better translated, "I know that I expect to remain and expect to continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith." And even this progress in the faith that Paul covets for the Philippians, he construes as a cause for their joy: "so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me" (1:26).
The lesson to be learned is startlingly clear: put the converts of the gospel at the center of your principled self-denial. Paul’s deepest hopes for his own immediate future turn neither on the bliss of immediately gaining heaven’s portals nor
on returning to a fulfilling ministry and escaping the pangs of death, but on what is best for his converts. Often we are tempted to evaluate alternatives by thinking through what seems best for us. How often do we raise as a first principle what is best for the church? When faced with, say, a job offer that would take us to another city or with mortal illness that calls forth our diligent intercession, how quickly do we employ Paul’s criterion here established: What would be best for the church? What would be best for my brothers and sisters in Christ?
There is a kind of asceticism that is frankly idolatrous. Some people gain a kind of spiritual "high" out of self-denial. But the self-denial that is motivated by the spiritual good of others is unqualifiedly godly. That is what Paul displays.*
*D. A. Carson, Basics for Believers (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018), 35-36.