Why Small Is the New Large


April 6, 2021

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 (ten) 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 ABCs: attendance, buildings, and cash. 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 for “holy” is hagios, and it means something like special, different, distinctive, unlike the prevailing surrounding culture, or 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 other’s 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 this letter? 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 megachurches. I’m just saying if megachurches (or any churches, for that matter) want to count 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 is: “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?

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt

P.S. – You can order a hard copy of this series here.

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WHAT IS THIS? Wake-Up Call is a daily encouragement to shake off the slumber of our busy lives and turn our eyes toward Jesus. Each morning our community gathers around a Scripture, a reflection, a prayer, and a few short questions, inviting us to reorient our lives around the love of Jesus that transforms our hearts, homes, churches, and cities.

Comments and Discussion

2 Responses

  1. Thank you for this preview of this forthcoming devotional series. I’m hoping it will help guide me on determining God’s role for me in expanding His kingdom. In answer to your questions: 1, I desire to grow along with others into the mature image of Christ. 2, I long to be part of a group of individuals who represent the “new humanity “ that Jesus was sent to create. 3, what is holding me back, is the difficulty in finding other like minded individuals who share this view. I’m convinced that we, the church in America, are in the midst of a winnowing process whereby the form of church you describe will come about out of necessity.

  2. Revival never comes about via a new way to worship/do church. The Methodist revival of the Church of England came about because John Wesley wanted to understand what it meant to live a life centered in God 24/7. john Wesley never approached the poor with a social justice initiative; he approached them with a message about God’s love for even them. They then responded with the question “What does this mean for my life?” He sat down with them and started hammering out an answer and the amazing method and message of Methodism began to take shape. As C.S. Lewis would later put it, the church is most successful when people aim their lives at heaven; that is when the world is transformed one person at a time.

    Our current political landscape is teaching us the futility of trying to legislate the Kingdom of God into existence. But when the church becomes sidetracked with something other than the individual and their life with God 24/7 that is what happens.

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