What is the path to spiritual growth? What practices will help us draw closer to God and empower us to live transformed lives? Bruce Epperly suggests that Paul provides such a guide in these verses from Philippians 4. I invite you to consider Bruce's reflections and add your thoughts.
Philippians 7 –
Philippians as a Pathway to Spiritual Growth
Philippians as a Pathway to Spiritual Growth
Bruce G. Epperly
Good theology involves the interplay of vision, promise, and practice. It paints a picture of our world – God, humankind, grace and sin, creation, the future. It tells us that we can experience the ultimate realities of life, and it gives us practices to align ourselves with the ultimate sources of meaning and value in our lives.
Paul presents a vision of reality in which God’s providence moves constantly through our lives, aiming toward a harvest of righteousness. God rules by love and relationship rather than unilateral and coercive power. We can share in God’s providence, responding to God’s grace, by “working out our salvation with awe and excitement.”
Paul promises a harvest of righteousness. But, how do we cultivate the seeds of the spirit that will grow into abundant living for us and others? Paul may remember Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seed. He may be asking himself and the community to ponder: “How do we provide the right circumstances for growing good seed? How do we nurture the mind of Christ within us?”
Philippians 4:4-9 provides a pathway to spiritual growth. Listen to Paul’s counsel:
Rejoice* in God always; again I will say, Rejoice.* 5Let your gentleness be known to everyone. God is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, beloved,* whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about* these things. 9Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
While Paul’s list is not exhaustive, it provides a holistic pathway to spiritual growth, grounded in a sense of connection with God and one another. Spiritual growth is not an individual path, but emerges from our relationships within the body of Christ. We cannot be saved on our own; we require a community of supporters and prayer partners to produce a harvest of righteousness. We hold ourselves accountable, cheering each other on, sharing each others’ joys and sorrows as we seek to embody practices of faith such as:
- Rejoicing – opening to the fullness of life and the dependability of God. Joy is not accidental but the result of cultivating a sense of God’s nearness and providential care.
- Gentleness – having the mind of Christ, responding to conflict with spiritual strength and empathy, with a care for the other, rather than anger or coercion.
- Prayer – connecting with God throughout the day, practicing the presence of God through attentiveness to God’s movements in our lives.
- Supplication – asking, seeking, and knocking, bringing our deepest needs to God and letting God move through our lives to fulfill the deepest desires of our hearts in light of the well-being of the whole.
- Thanksgiving – living a life of appreciation, giving thanks for every gesture of kindness, living by appreciation, and honoring the interdependence of life from which all good gifts emerge.
- Affirmative faith –focusing on God’s bounty, living by a sense of “learned optimism,” attending to the goodness of life rather than focusing on life’s limitations and our personal failures. Renewing our minds by opening to the deeper realities resident in the limits of life, living by possibility not limitation.
Paul doesn’t give us a formula for spiritual transformation, but points us to spiritual guideposts along the way. The whole universe is waiting to provide our needs – all of our needs – if we awaken to God’s abundant life within our daily lives.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty one books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats.