Philippians –  New Life for a new reality: Paul’s letter to the Philippians

Jesus’ last words to his small group of friends before he returned to heaven were:

‘Go, and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of (literally into the life of) the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them (how to) obey all I have commanded you. And surely, (you can be absolutely sure of this) I am with you always, to the very end of the age’.

Matthew 28: 19, 20

Full of the Spirit of Jesus, they were empowered to do just that; fear was replaced by faith, and they wholeheartedly obeyed.

We believe that the Lord has guided us to take a closer look the letter of St Paul to the new Christians in Philippi because there are a number of parallels with the situation they were in then to our own context at this particular time. So over the next 9 weeks we’ll be seeking to learn from the Holy Spirit how we can live the Life of Christ in the new reality into which we are emerging.

Nicky Gumbel’s short and very readable book A Life worth Living forms the structure of this series.

Themes and connection with Christ Church

  • Front lines – Philippi was a strategic place: God has put us in strategic places, our front lines.
  • Families – Church built on Lydia and the Jailer and their families: God is giving us huge opportunities to relate to families and embrace them in the life of Christ Church.
  • Values – Thankfulness and prayerfulness, two of our CCD Values, run right through this letter.
  • Context – Paul is in prison, yet he makes the choice to rejoice: Inspiration to focus on character of the God of grace and peace rather than our restricted circumstances.

Here is the plan for the whole series

  • 7  June  New Heart (Philippians 1: 1-11)                
  • 14 June New Purpose (Philippians 1: 12-30)
  • 21 June New Attitude (Philippians 2: 1-11)
  • 28 June New Responsibilities (Philippians 2: 12-18)
  • 5 July New Friendships (Philippians 2: 19-30)
  • 12 July New Confidence (Philippians 3: 1-11)
  • 19 July New Ambitions (Philippians 3: 10-21)                                   
  • 26 July New Resources (Philippians 4: 1-9)
  • 2 August New Generosity (Philippians 4: 10-23)

Each week will be adding some home group study questions to help us to delve deeper into God’s word and to apply it to our daily lives.

Sunday 7 June : A New Heart (Phil 1:1-11) – Open to God in prayer

Paul’s heart had been open to God’s purposes, even though doors he was expecting to be open were closed (Acts 16; 9). He sees stumbling blocks as stepping stones and is not overwhelmed by frustration.

  1. What opportunities is the Lord opening up for us in this frustrating time?
  2. Are our hearts open to new possibilities?
  3. What might those be? His heart is full of thankfulness and joy as he prays for the church (v3-5).
  4. To what extent is this a characteristic of our praying? Verses 9-11 – Paul’s prayer is for an overflowing of love as they learn to discern the ways of the Spirit at work in their lives. He prays that as a result they would become more and more like Christ.
  5. Are we learning to live the life with this goal in mind?
  6. What are the indicators that would help us measure this kind of fruitfulness?

Sunday 14 June: A New Purpose (Phil 1:12-30) – to live the life of Jesus where you are and to proclaim him!

Paul is absolutely clear about his purpose – to ‘advance the gospel’ (v12). This motivation puts even the most dreadful suffering in perspective.

  1. What might that look like in our circumstances? E.g. make the most of every opportunity, wherever we are.
  2. How are we being fruitful on our front lines (6Ms)?
  3. To what extent are we relying on prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit? (v 19). ‘For me to live is Christ, to die is gain’ (v.21). Paul speaks fearlessly about death in circumstances where that was a very real possibility.
  4. What are we really living for right now?
  5. What is my purpose?
  6. How do we regard the prospect of death, especially in view of the threat of Covid-19

Sunday 21 June: A New Attitude (Phil 2:1-11) – seen supremely in Jesus and comes from being united with him

Paul is desperate to see Jesus’ prayer for his people realised in the life of this church – that they might be one….it would ‘make his joy complete’ (v2). He calls them to look at the attitude of Jesus to his life for the supreme example in what it meant to be fully human/fully alive (vs5-8). This was in total contrast to the popular pathways of selfish ambition, self-importance and self-centredness (v3).

  1. Which of these attitudes makes you feel more fully alive? Give specific examples from your experience.
  2. From this passage, what reasons would you suggest there are for this? (NB verse 1) The principle Jesus gave his disciples of being great by becoming the least (Mark 10; 43, 44) is one that took them a long time to learn.
  3. How are you learning to live this aspect of life in Christ? There are indications of this principle at work in our society as the Coronavirus pandemic has impacted people’s lives. The new ‘heroes’ are those serving on the front lines
  4. What might this be saying?

Sunday 28th June: New Responsibilities (Phil 2: 12-18)

In this section, Paul seeks to apply what he has described in the last Chapter about Jesus’ example. He introduces his practical teaching with the word ‘Therefore’. The Philippian Church is empowered by the Holy Spirit to be working out, shining out and pouring out the very life of Jesus Christ in them. 

Working out

Paul’s friends are to be working out with each other the salvation that Christ has won for them (v12). This word can include the meaning of wholeness or freedom. It is a call to make the most of the new relationship the believers have with God and with one another. This is their response – ability in the sense that they have been give the ‘ability to respond’ by the God who is at work in them both to want to and to be able to take actions in line with the good purposes their Lord has for them (v13). They are to treat this responsibility with the utmost seriousness (with fear and trembling).

Reflect on some examples of how you have done this, both in relation to God and others

Shining out

The actions the Christ-followers in Philippi are taking should make them stand out as being very different from the usual way people in their society are behaving – they will look like bright stars in a dark sky (v15). Paul notes that to buck the trend in their culture of compl

aining and arguing would be a significant way of ‘shining’ (v14). Wherever they are, whatever they are doing (on their frontlines) they are to show how God’s word is relevant and indeed ‘life-giving’ (v16a). This was a major focus for Paul during his time with them i.e. discipling them; helping them to learn how to live the Life (v16b).

What have you seen in the life of Christ Church that stands out from the culture of our society? How are we often no different at all? 

Pouring out

Paul called the Christians in Rome to ‘offer your bodies as living sacrifices to God’ (Rom 12. 1). He saw himself as having this priestly responsibility along with the Philippians, rejoicing with them as they poured out their whole lives to the Lord and for the Lord (vs 17, 18).  If we look back at the example of Jesus on the cross (2; 6-8) we see how Paul is saying again – as it was in Jesus, so it is for us. 

Which examples of others ‘pouring themselves out’ have you been struck by during this time of lockdown?  Have you seen Christ in others? Have you been Christ to others?