And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
—Philippians 1:9-11 (NRSV)—
A fifth scripture text that I have selected to guide my leadership practices is this prayer found in the opening chapter of Philippians.
Acts 16 provides a historic account of the founding of the church at Philippi on Paul’s missionary endeavors. Philippi was the location of an imprisonment for Paul and Silas, the conversion of the jailer and his family, and the hospitality of Lydia, a business woman who worshipped God, who along with her household were baptized by Paul.
As he writes to this congregation that he loves deeply, he provides insight into a key communal activity: Spirit-led ethical discernment.
Paul experienced the challenge of upholding the Law of Moses and representing the good news of Jesus Christ. As he ministered in the Gentile world, he was confronted by the tension in which some of the deeply-held religious traditions (beliefs and practices) associated with the people of God were important for the new converts and the emerging faith communities.
He recognized some of the inadequacy of the Law of Moses to be the primary determinant on living out faithfulness to God. However, to remove the boundary of the Law from the faith community also had significant risks.
Paul’s prayer provides the awareness that a faith community is led by the Spirit of God to determine appropriate responses to the challenges that are encountered.
In Paul’s time, there were no easy answers to the challenges thrust upon them, but they had the Spirit of Christ, a commitment to exemplify love through their life and to assess the outcome of their actions in relationship to bringing glory to God. The advantage Paul modeled was a Spirit instinct in the mission of representing God.
I am encouraging pastors and congregational leaders to engage in ethical discernment about the challenges facing their elders, pastoral teams, and congregational life.
It is a type of discernment that accepts real life and leadership challenges, applies scripture, theological reflection, and accumulated knowledge to the circumstance, and moves forward with confidence that God’s Spirit is a participant in the outcome.
There will always be the tension of balancing tradition and contemporary challenges within our community of faith. However, we cannot become overwhelmed in doing nothing, nor frozen by fear.
Trusting in the providential care of God, we move forward with humility and confidence that God’s Spirit guides our instincts for life in the world.