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The Litmus Test For Christian Maturity

In a test-obsessed society where we measure learning outcomes by standardized assessments, we often fail to instill the long-term value of learning, personal growth, and life-change. But really, what is a true measuring stick for personal growth? How does a mentor, teacher-leader know if his or her time is not spent in vain?

On occasion, I will watch the show the biggest losser. I find it fascinating to watch the contestants submit to the intensity of the trainers. The trainers work with them and push them to achieve a goal that the contestants themselves may not see. Yet, the trainers see the end result and methodically work to see their vision realized in the individual’s life. Yet, it is not the time spent on the ranch that displays the contestants true lifestyle change. Instead, it is the aspect of the show where they are sent back home again to spend a week without their trainer, making choices on their own.

The success of any coach, leader, or mentor is tested when the mentor is absent.  The Apostle Paul alludes to this in Philippians 2:12-16.  The NET translation says it this way:

So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, continue working out your salvation with awe and reverence, for the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort—for the sake of his good pleasure—is God. Do everything without grumbling or arguing,  so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God without blemish though you live in a crooked and perverse society, in which you shine as lights in the world by holding on to the word of life so that on the day of Christ I will have a reason to boast that I did not run in vain nor labor in vain.

The Philippians obeyed the gospel in Paul’s presence. In fact, he applauds them for their efforts. Yet, now he encourages them to obey with greater diligence in his absence. In one sense, this is a simple request because it is God who is producing the desire for sanctification (the Greek word here is energeo, and suggests energy, work). Yet on the other hand, it is a difficult request because the believers at Philippi were in living in a ‘perverse and crooked society.’  The pull of temptation when a mentor is physically gone is unmistakably real. Whether Paul goes on to die in his labors for the Lord and is removed from the earth, or if his physical separation is only temporary; Paul urges his disciples to continue on in the faith. Otherwise, if they did not keep the faith and dispense it freely, his effort as a disciple-maker at Philippi would be in vain. Therefore, the litmus test test for discipleship is determined by how the disciple functions when the mentor is away. Even when absent, the disciple is to live like the teacher is present.

On another note, how do leaders prepare for success in the wake of their absence? 

1. Trust the Holy Spirit: Paul is confident of the Spirit’s work in maturing the saints at Philippi. It is God, through the Spirit that is producing the work of sanctification. So, as a leader, we trust God!  In fact, Paul does not even give them a formula for their spiritual growth, but entrusts their sanctification to God.

2. Give them simple instructions as you leave: I like how Paul leaves the Philippian believers with a small list at his departure that is both practical and profound. He tells them to do all things without complaining so that they will reflect the glory of God in a dark world.  As they act this way, they will bear fruit for the Gospel; extending life to those who would receive it.

3. Remind them of the Day of Christ: Functioning in a leadership capacity, we cannot go wrong when we remind people of the Day of the Lord. Just as Paul will see the day of the Lord, the believers at Philippi will as well. When we, as leaders remind people about the day of the Lord, it provides them a goal in which to live for; helping them learn, grow, and change with the expectation of standing before God complete in Christ.

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