More of Jesus
‘Maximalist Christianity’ for a New Year
Christ does not call us to scrape by spiritually year after year.
He can handle our down seasons and weak times. Jesus is gentle and merciful when our souls seem to be running on empty. He will not snuff us out when smoldering, or break us when bruised. And he is gracious enough to not leave us stuck forever in the state of “just enough”: believing just enough, hoping just enough, loving just enough to scrape by.
Jesus does not abandon his own when our spiritual tanks are low — and he bids us not to settle for threadbare spirituality or devotional minimalism. He invites us to more, and promises more, and empowers more.
Mature, healthy Christianity is maximalist, not minimalist. Those who are born again long for more of Jesus, not less. They’re not occupied with meeting bare minimums but want to see more, know more, enjoy more of Jesus, and then believe more, hope more, and love more, to his honor.
“Mature, healthy Christianity is maximalist, not minimalist. Those who are born again long for more of Jesus, not less.”
In time, the heart indwelt by the Holy Spirit recovers from its ebbs and cries more, more, more — not less, less, less — to see Jesus more clearly, love Jesus more dearly, follow Jesus more nearly.
So as an old year passes, and the new dawns, we don’t try to grope our way to find minimums of Bible intake, prayer, and covenant fellowship in the local church. We want to make the most of a new year.
We want more of Jesus in 2022.
Christ Honored in Death — or Life
Few passages shine with as much maximalist impulse as Philippians 1:22–26. Paul, in prison of all places, writes with confidence of his coming deliverance. Soon a verdict will come down, and either he will be released from prison or, through death, be released from this life. Paul is not anxious though: to die is “far better” because that is “to depart and be with Christ” (Philippians 1:24).
His first desire, and personal preference, is to be as proximate to Jesus as possible — and so, “to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Yet Paul sees in Christ himself that personal preference doesn’t carry the day — at least not as a rule.
Paul has gladly dedicated his life to the advance of the gospel, not the advance of his own preferences. Nice as it would be, in his reckoning, to “depart and be with Christ” right now, Paul expects God’s work through him on earth isn’t yet complete. The very pattern and example of Christ’s own life did not move immediately toward his own immediate preferences but often laid them aside for the good of others. Paul anticipates that this too will be his call, for now: to “remain in the flesh” and “continue with you all” for their “progress and joy in the faith” (Philippians 1:24–25).
How, then, in his new, post-prison life to come, will Paul seek that Jesus “be honored in my body . . . by life”? What will “to live is Christ” mean for him in this new season? The dawning of a new year may be as good a time as any to rehearse Paul’s own vision of maximalist Christianity in Philippians 1:22–26.
First, Paul highlights fruitful labor: “If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me” (verse 22). This is not a manifestation of pride — as if Paul thinks so highly of himself as to presume effectiveness. Rather, this is a humble recognition of Christ’s call and the Spirit’s power: ongoing life in this age is an invitation to fruitfulness for Christ’s kingdom — perhaps particularly for an apostle, but no less so for the rest of us. As Paul writes to a young pastor and protégé, “Let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful” (Titus 3:14). He dreams, and plans, and teaches toward not only fruitful apostles, but a whole church of fruitful laborers.
Fruitful labor isn’t magic, though it is supernatural. Christ calls his people, in the grip of his grace, to give themselves to the good of others, and to learn to do it, including the ups and downs of real-life trial and error. We cannot produce genuine spiritual fruit in our own strength, nor do we presume it will happen through us at the drop of a hat, in our own timing.
But we can learn. This is where genuine labor comes in. It is work. We engage. We invest energy and effort. We take modest and patient steps and over time devote ourselves to various initiatives and acts for the good of others, knowing that Christ means to empower our labor by his Spirit and make them fruitful in his timing.
Others’ Progress and Joy
Paul then spells out further, in verse 25, what this “fruitful labor” will be: “your progress and joy in the faith.”
In our day of self-focus, and shameless self-promotion, how refreshing to see the marked other-ness in Paul’s ambition. Modern ambition — and perhaps American ambition in particular — can subtly seep into our souls and color our seemingly Christian ambitions. But Paul’s perspective is that he remains in this life, as long as he remains, for the sake of others.
He resolves to honor Christ through his ongoing life by giving himself to the progress and joy of others’ faith. Paul’s life, as long as he lives, is dedicated to the glory of Christ through advancing others’ joy in Christ. Paul is not scraping by. He is not groping for spiritual minimums. He is not focusing his planning on a single act or word or two. He means to abound in doing good (2 Corinthian 9:8). He hopes for his life to overflow in countless acts and words for the good of others. His impulse is not only maximalist but others-oriented.
Ample Cause to Glory
Finally, we find one further degree of specificity in verse 26. The apostle will remain, for now, in this life, for the advance and joy of others’ faith, “so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.”
When released, Paul means to make another visit to Philippi, and his intentions are plainly maximalist. He means not only to give them a cause, or some cause, to glory in Christ. Rather, his plan, God helping him, is to live in such a way among the Philippians that they will have “ample cause to glory in Christ” when Paul comes to town. Ample cause. Literally, “so that your boast may abound in Christ Jesus because of me.” Not threadbare boasting in Christ, but boasting that abounds. And not minimal effort and energy on his part to provoke it, but maximal.
“If we content ourselves with just scraping by spiritually, we deprive not only ourselves of joy but also others.”
Which might inspire us to have such hopes and dreams, and pray such prayers, for a new year. If we content ourselves with just scraping by spiritually, with angling to just get by, do just enough, we deprive not only ourselves of joy but also others. Not only is our own boasting in Christ diminished, but also others boasting in him. Observe, then, the contagious power of joy in Christ. When our gaze attends to Jesus, and we devote our remaining lives to his honor, we give others not only cause to rejoice in Christ, but ample cause — boasting in Christ that abounds — to the honor and praise of our Lord.
Living to the glory of Christ is not just for Jesus and me, but also includes others — not just that they would see our lives and give God glory, but also that our lives would become part of catalyzing joy in Christ in them, such that they too would live to Christ’s glory and so multiply our life being poured out for Christ.
So 2022 provides a fresh opportunity to make such Pauline resolutions. Rather than the often self-focused mood of new-year resolves, what if we kept in mind how the joy of others is critical, for the fullness of our own joy, and for the maximizing of Jesus’s honor through us?
Our Lord has more grace to give — to empower us to thrive and not merely survive. And he is worthy of our earnest, humble resolves. Such maximalist Christianity could only be unattractive if we have a minimalist view of the value of Christ.