Why Small Is the New Large


August 1, 2017

Philippians 1:1b

To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons:


I fear we have the wrong picture in our minds when we think of the Church at Philippi. I mean, for this place to be one of only several churches in all of the world to merit a letter from the Apostle Paul (and Timothy) and for this letter to not only survive until the present day but to be canonized as Holy Scripture—it had to be something amazing. Didn’t it?

I think it’s fair to estimate when Paul writes, “To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons,” he’s talking to what would be a pretty small church in our way of sizing things up. When he first arrived there weren’t even enough Jewish men (10) to field a team. They had no synagogue. Paul had to walk a mile outside of the city to a nearby river to even find a prayer meeting. Ten years later they had grown into a full fledged church, but in our way of thinking of church plants and church growth, these guys would still be in the school gymnasium phase.

We probably wouldn’t consider them too successful by our standards. But what if we have the wrong standards? We so want to measure our churches and their impact by the ABC’s: attendance, buildings and cash. (HT to Jim Cymbala for the reference). Paul wants the Gospel to spread but he will not be seduced by numbers or deceived by appearances. Paul has one metric for the growth of the church and the spread of the Gospel. It’s not the number of people that matters to Paul but the holiness of the people.

To all God’s HOLY PEOPLE in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons,

The Greek word is “hagios,” and it means “holy” which means something like special, different, distinctive, unlike the prevailing surrounding culture, in the midst of yet set apart. And let’s be clear. The last thing Paul is interested in doing is setting up little clubs of “holier than thou” legalists who measure each others’ performance by their religious activity and who judge the outside world according to their pagan proclivities.

Holiness used to mean something like strictly rigorous religious observance for Paul. That all changed the day he was knocked off his proverbial “high horse.” Now holiness means something altogether different. Holiness means one thing and one thing alone: the holy love of God made known through the risen Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.

To all God’s HOLY PEOPLE in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons,

What if we began to measure our faith and the faith of our local church communities according to the metrics of the New Testament as laid out in a letter like the one we are into now? It would probably become a lot less about last Sunday’s attendance and next year’s building project and a lot more about cultivating a holy obsession with becoming a holy people and what that really means (and what it doesn’t).

In the coming days and decades I suspect the real church is going to look a lot more like a half a dozen people quietly and powerfully travailing in prayer down by the river than the massive building project on a hundred acres on the outskirts of town. And please, don’t take this as a rant against mega churches. I’m just saying if mega churches (or any churches for that matter) want to matter in the new-old-world rising up around them they must concern themselves a lot more with their micro dimensions.

One thing we can learn today from the little church in Philippi: Where the holiness of Jesus is in play, small will be the new big.


Abba Father, we thank you for your son, Jesus, who will make us as holy as we want to become by the power of your indwelling Spirit. Come Holy Spirit and increase our desire for Jesus’ kind of holiness. It is in his name we pray. Amen.


  1. One of the hard questions my mentor, Maxie Dunnam, is fond of asking: “How deep is your desire for holiness?”
  2. What is the vision for a “holy” version of you? What is the caricature of that vision?
  3. What is holding you back from pursuing this vision? Will it be worth it?

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J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. jd.walt@seedbed.com.


Farmer. Poet. Theologian. Jurist. Publisher. Seedbed's Sower-in-Chief.