Watch the above video by The Bible Project which gives an overview of Philippians.
Watch the Bible Project Overview of Philippians above together as a group (or view the poster here). After watching the Overview, what stands out to you about about the letter as a whole, its context, and the way it is structured? How does this impact the way you read it?
How does this opening section (Phil. 1:1-7) relate to the central idea of the book in the hymn of Phil. 2:5-11? You may like to include in this discussion how you understand:
The significance of Paul referring to himself as a ‘slave’ in Phil. 1:1 (cf. 2:7).
Paul speaking into the cultural expectations of honour and shame, and how this applies in the cultures that we are familiar with.
How does Paul have such confidence that God will continue the “good work” he has started in the church at Philippi (v6)? Reflect on this in relation to;
Paul's confidence in God’s grace, and
What the Philippian partnership with him demonstrates.
At GBC we speak about partnership with one another in God's work amongst us (we also use the word 'Membership' interchangably). What does this passage bring to mind about what such partnership with one another requires?
Oswald Chambers says,
"Crises reveal character. When we are put to the test the hidden resources of our character are revealed exactly" (from Disciples Indeed).
Keeping in mind Paul’s situation (in prison), and the context of the Philippian church (persecution and a 'shamed' reputation), how does this passage instruct us in our approach to difficulty, suffering, conflict and crises that we are currently facing?
Read Philippians 1:1-11, then read again 8-11 more carefully. What stands out to you as strange, interesting, or important in these verses?
If we understand Paul as praying for a mature and healthy church (and by implication individual Christians) what is revealed about his understanding of what maturity and health actually are for us?
What does this prayer teach us about unity and relationships within the church? What is your experience of this in church life?
Why do we need knowledge and insight to love one another properly and choose what is best? What might love without these two things look like?
Describe what the love Paul prays for here might look like if it shaped the culture of our church.
What impact can you imagine this having?
What things can be done to increase it; what things should we avoid so as not to harm it?
Consider Paul praying (e.g. what, how, why he prays; his motivation, focus, content, manner, etc.).
What does this reveal about Paul’s understanding and practice of prayer?
How might Paul’s model shape prayer for us? Specify particular things you might do differently from hereon after learning from his model.
Think of your own relationships within our church family. Try to identify where growth in love might be needed, or where increasing in knowledge or insight would improve how you relate with specific individuals. How willing are you to pray for this?
Identify three people within our church. Perhaps choose:
one person you care for especially;
one person you know is in particular need or a time of challenge; and
one person with whom you experience tension.
Using Paul’s prayer as a matrix or prompt, pray for each of these people on three occasions this week. At the end of the week, reflect upon your experience.
Access an audio recording of Sunday's message here.
Who have you learned from in enduring hardship well? What is it about the way they have endured difficult situation that has had an impact on you?
Read Phil 1:12-18a where Paul responds to the Philippians' question about how he is doing in his imprisonment. As you read through this text, are there questions that arise that it would be help to voice, and discuss with your group what you think it is saying?
Paul recognised his difficult situation as one that was actually advancing the gospel in his time. How might our current circumstance enable an advancement of the gospel in our time? What might be required of us to see this happen?
What does it mean for us to adopt a non-competitive posture in relation to other Christians in our context? You might think together about the way comparison can foster a sense of competition, and the way a secure identity and shared mission dispels it.
What impact does a posture/perspective of thankfulness have on the community as a whole? In what ways are Paul's words to the Philippians here instructive to us today?
Make thankfulness a habit. If you find identifying what you are thankful for difficult then this is a good thing for you to try (e.g. maybe you don't feel thankful for anything right now, so trying to name something seems disingenuous?). It's interesting that is actually in the attempted articulation of things that we are grateful for that can sometimes help us to experience a feeling of thankfulness.
If you're willing to give it a try, here are a few ideas how you could put this into practice this week:
As you go on your daily walk, name something to God that you are thankful for today. Rather than naming something general (like 'my work', or 'my friends'), try to be as specific as possible, like a specific experience, or a specific thing about your work or family you are thankful for.
Ask a trusted friend to ask you once a week; 'What are you thankful for today?' Take your time in answering, and it's okay to need to speak it out before you figure out what you are actually thankful for.
Send a text, write an email (or a letter!), or make a call to say thank you to someone (for something specific that you are actually thankful to them for). And then add it to your schedule to make a habit of doing this each week as we step through Philippians.
In verse 27, Paul said "conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ". How would you interpret what Paul said here for our context?
“Stand firm” is a phase that Paul always used to encourage and remind the believers to be followers of Jesus. In what way do you, or our church need to stand firm at this time? Pastor Gary mentioned that “those who oppose you” in today's context, are those who promote individualism, consumerism and materialism. Do you share this view, and can you name more of “those who oppose you” other than those three mentioned by Pastor Gary?
In verse 30, Paul mentions that we are undergoing a "struggle". Other translations phrase this as "fight against", or even "warfare". This was because the Philippians saw that Paul had been beaten and put into jail, and they were facing the same persecution. What kind of spiritual warfare are we heading for as a church? Are you ready to go?
In these verses, Paul mentioned a number of times being of "one heart", "one mind" etc. This is of utmost importance for the church as a witness to Jesus and proclaimer of the gospel. Do you think that GBC is enough of one heart and one mind to stand firm in this warfare?
In situations of conflict with others it is easy and normal to cast blame without adequate self-reflection. This can be a brave and difficult thing to do, but will also lead to freedom and enable unity in God's church. If you are willing, take time to step through this reflection.
Pray this prayer, and notice what God highlights to you about your own conduct?
Loving Father, I invite you to reveal to me any way in which I am not conducting myself in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ.
Without judgement or self-recrimination, notice what is brought to mind, and weigh this against what you know of God and his purposes in this world.
Name these things back to God, owning your part in which you have failed, and ask him if there is any action for you to take to make amends for your misconduct.
Now reflect on what God may be wanting to say to you, and teach you, as his child and follower, in this situation?
Questions for Discussion:
Read Philippians 1:18b-26. What speaks to you? What raises questions for you to explore?
In Philippians 1:19 Paul implies that he counts on the continued prayers from Philippi as a condition for his ‘salvation’!
Henry Barclay Swete sums up the passage well: ‘He was confident that, as his converts prayed, a fresh abundance of the spirit who was in Jesus Christ and had been sent by Him would be poured into his heart, making for his final salvation whether the present captivity should result in life or death’ (The Holy Spirit in the New Testament, 1910).
More recently, David Crump writes: ‘The apostle does not accomplish his work alone, but as the representative of a prayerful confederation of mutually concerned men and women who pray. Such petition weaves a complex spiritual web of reciprocity that effects a tangible, substantive difference in the arenas for which God’s people pray’ (Knocking on Heaven’s Door: a New Testament Theology of Petitionary Prayer).
Crump also notes wisely, ‘Paul’s prayer requests invariably concern the progress of his apostolic ministry, never focussing on the personal wants of a man in need, although this contrast may assume too much, since by all accounts Paul made no distinction between his existence as an individual and his responsibilities as an apostle…’
How might these understandings shape your prayer for others? What dangers should we avoid through misunderstanding how prayer works in these ways? What does Paul’s understanding of prayer as explained here suggest to you in how we approach praying for others?
[If you want to pursue this topic further, read the attached photocopy pp 247-251 from Crump’s book. Note especially the wonderful last page and its final paragraph!]
What do you think of how Paul faces death?
Imagine talking to a friend. They ask you describe what it means for you in daily life that ‘to live is Christ’. What do you say?
What would it mean for you in your circumstances to take Paul’s approach: to honour Christ with your body and be focussed on fruitful labour so that others make progress and joy in the faith?
Questions for Discussion:
In v1 Paul lists experiences of a Christian (encouragement in Christ, comfort from love, partnership with the Spirit, affection and sympathy). In what ways have you experienced these as being a source of strength personally and in community?
In conversation with others with differing opinions or approaches (like in your family, workplace, or church), what does it look like to 'count others more significant than yourselves', and 'look to the interests [ideas, opinions, circumstances etc] of others' (v3-4)?
In a group setting, what do you think enables healthy conversation among divergent ideas, opinions etc.? What makes it difficult, or hinders it entirely? To what extent do you practice this as a group?
In this text Paul is encouraging a mindset that is reflective of our status as 'in Christ'. This is something that is both;
(a) true of us because we are Christians, and
(b) something we grow into as we mature in Christlikeness.
In what ways might God be inviting us to grow in our mind (which encompasses our thinking, our deciding, and our responding) right now?
A Personal Reflection exercise
In the message, Steve gave three pictures to illustrate what Paul is pointing to that happens in church community:
a vine on a tree,
a pulled thread on a garment, and
a spiders web.
Spend time reflecting with God on one or more of these images (and notice them as you go through your week), and ask God if he would like to say something to you personally through one of them.
Have one person read through Philippians 2:5-11 slowly then share with one another what stands out to you as you hear it read.
In v6, Paul describes Jesus as 'Being in the very form of God'. In context it could be read either as 'Although he was in the form of God... he emptied himself etc.', or 'Because he was in the form of God... he emptied himself' (and Steve suggested we should read it in both of these ways).
What is the significance of reading Paul's meaning as "Because he was in the form of God, Jesus emptied and humbled himself and became obedient to death"? What does this suggest about God's character?
What is the mindset that Paul is encouraging the Philippians (and us) to cultivate among themselves? How does this occur?
Paul uses a linguistic pattern "Although [x], not [y], but [z]" throughout his letters, which is very clear in this text:
"Although [x] Jesus possesses a certain status, he does not [y] exploit it for selfish gain but [z] acts for the good of others."
Discuss ways that we can apply this to ourselves in our own context? (e.g. regarding Covid-19, in our approach to refugees, in how we use our wealth, in our family or workplace roles)
For Personal Reflection:
Over the coming week:
Learn Philippians 2:5-11 by heart (if you don't know which version to learn, you might like to use Michael Gorman's translation)
Then bring it to mind at different times in your week (as you lie in bed, as you wake in the morning, as you walk through the streets, as you wait in the supermarket line), so this story and mindset become part of you as it was for Paul.
Read this excellent theological paper by Michael Gorman: The Theological Significance of Paul's Master Story in Phil 2:6-11
Please read Philippians 2:12-18. What stands out to you in this passage?
If Paul’s principal application of verse 12 (working out our salvation) is verse 14 (not grumbling and arguing), how does this shape our understanding and practice of salvation? (Try and answer this both theologically and behaviourally). Is there anything you find surprising in this?
Why do you think grumbling and disputes ruin churches and the faith of those within community? (You might consider: What does this look like in a local church?; What specific impacts does this have upon the church?; What causes this to happen?; What ‘salvation work’ do we need to do to avoid this?)
What does it mean for our obedience to God being characterised as humility and humble relating to one another? How does this help us understand verse 13?
How might living this way cause us to ‘shine like stars’? Can you think of examples? Why then does this reveal the importance Paul places on how we get on with each other?
From what you have understood through this passage, which things can you list in your own life and relationships with others that are areas for growth in outworking salvation?
Consider this short extract on ‘faith development’ from Margaret Whipp, 'SCM Studyguide to Pastoral Theology' (SCM Press, 2013) pp38-46. As you reflect on this, don’t only focus on an individual’s growth, but make sure you consider the relational aspects of this in church community.
Please read Philippians 2:19-30. What stands out to you in this passage?
Paul contrasts the humble other-person-focussed service of Timothy with church leaders who look out for their own interests. Paint a picture describing what these two approaches of ‘looking out’ might look like in practice today. (You might also gain some ideas from 1:15 & 17.)
Consider how Paul commends Epaphroditus. How do you feel about holding up other people as exemplars?
How would you describe, not what Paul is saying in these ‘travel plans’, but what he is doing by giving them? How might you take a similar approach in your relationships?
In verse 23 Paul says he needs Timothy’s supportive ministry at present more than do the Philippians, hence he won’t send him yet. In verse 26 he writes about the potential sorrow the death of Epaphroditus would have caused him, and in verse 28 of the relief from anxious sorrow sending him home to be reunited with the church would bring him. And in verse 26 he describes the emotional longing and mental distress Epaphroditus experienced. What does such humble transparency of weakness show about true leadership? How do people often respond when leaders don’t do things as they anticipate?
What do we learn here about the significance of considering emotions in Christian life and ministry from Paul’s decision-making and explanations of his choices? Where and how might you apply that perspective?
What do we learn in this whole passage about how hope functions in sustaining perseverance when circumstances are out of our control? (Consider this from the perspective of Paul, Timothy, Epaphroditus, and the Philippians).
What challenges to your expectations come to mind from this saying from John Wimber, ‘Church isn't about being neat and tidy; that’s what the graveyard is for. Life is oftentimes found in mess. The nursery is messy and noisy but that’s where all the life is!’As seen here, how did Paul provide safety through his leadership as a non-anxious presence during times of messiness?
How do we help one another to ‘look out’ appropriately as we travel as pilgrims following Jesus and making disciples?
Write down the names of people whom you regularly serve at present, reflecting on these questions:
Where and when and how you serve them?
How do you believe they feel about your ministry to them?
What might God be calling you to do as your next step in this journey?
For Prayer and meditation:
Use these two prayers in song in response to what you have considered:
Steve suggested that the issue Paul is addressing in this passage is people with privilege who look to use what they possess to exclude others. Paul is warning about Jewish Christians who may seek to exclude people from the church community based on lack of adherence to cultural identity, customs, or to their own prescriptive agenda.
Is there anyone in your group who has experienced oppression or marginalisation because of someone else's privilege? Would you be willing to share about your experience of that?
Privilege is an advantage a person holds over another. Much of the privilege we possess is unearned. Name some privileges that you possess, and how you feel about having these privileges.
In vv4-6 Paul names some things that gave him a potential advantage over others. What do you think knowing Christ gives Paul that these things do not? How has his view and use of these advantages changed as a result of knowing Christ?
In "Subversive Witness", Dominque Gilliard encourages Christians 'to embrace scripture's call to leverage our privilege to further the kingdom and sacrificially love our neighbours'.
Can you think of ways in which you are, or desire to be, able to leverage your privilege to further the kingdom? How about for us as a GBC community?
In vv10-11, Paul describes knowing Christ as involving 1) living in the power of his resurrection, and 2) sharing in his sufferings.
How do you understand these two aspects working together in the life of faith?
Can you think of examples where it is costly, and may involve suffering, to forego privilege for the sake of others who lack what you possess?
How might we understand this kind of action as evidence in your life of the power of Jesus' resurrection?
Questions for reflection and discussion:
Please read Philippians 3:12-16. (You might wish to pick up from the start of the chapter). What stands out to you? How would you summarise what Paul is saying here, and why he is saying it? What result is he looking for in the Philippian church?
What examples can you think of in churches today where people have high expectations that they have ‘obtained’ and been made ‘perfect’ or ‘complete’? Can you detect anything of this attitude in yourself or others you are close to, and what might the consequences of this be? Or do you think we are more at the other end of the spectrum, and expect too little?
What does a balanced focus on the future look like in Christian life? How does it shape your present life?
In what ways is your ‘goal’ in life similar or different to Paul’s, and in what particular ways are you pursing it?
How would you describe Paul’s perspective of ‘maturity’ or ‘completion’ exhibited in these verses?
In his commentary, Gerald Hawthorne summarises Paul’s argument in this passage something like this:
I know what the correct attitude towards ‘perfection’ which should be held by all those who want to be ‘perfect’
I know too that you hold a different attitude from mine
I know that I cannot convince you to change your attitude by logical arguments or apostolic commands alone
But I know that God can, for he is at work within you, and he will reveal this to you as he did to me, about the truth of ‘perfection’
What do you think of this understanding of the passage, and how might we follow Paul’s example in our relationships within our church community?
What implications should we draw from this passage about how we negotiate:
Church POLITY: e.g. avoiding sectarianism; understanding leadership; negotiating power; diversity in church life and between churches; valuing communal discussion for formation; church discipline; soul competency of the ‘rights’ of private judgments; church independence and sufficiency to determine its own affairs, etc
Societal POLITICS: e.g. avoiding both totalitarianism or quietism and withdrawal (the so called ‘Benedict’ option); understanding and handling difference; the relationship (separation) between church and state; allowance for secularism, etc.
INTER-PERSONAL relationship: e.g. signs you are struggling with handling difference; skills in how to negotiate this; hot-button issues; epistemic humility, etc
What hinders you most at present in straining forward to the goal?
Read the attached article: A Fellowship of Believers: Covenant Relationships among British Baptists, by Karen E. Smith.Use the historically grounded insights to reflect upon how we follow Christ together as his people and consider what actions each of us might embrace.
Questions for reflection and discussion:
Please read Philippians 3:17-4:1. (You might wish to pick up from the start of chapter 3). What stands out to you?
How does our sense of identity shape how we live?
It was suggested our identity is our lived answer to the questions:
Who am I? (i.e. who I know: the relational self);
Where do I fit? (i.e. who I am connected with: the social self);
How will I live? (i.e. who I am becoming: the ‘walking’ self);
What will I do? (i.e. who and what I will impact; the purposeful self).
How do you answer these questions in your own life at present? How does being a ‘citizen of heaven now’ impact you in changing your identity?
How might seeing Christian faith as a ‘political commitment to Jesus as Lord and King’ cause us to live differently in the kingdoms of this world? Compare Phil. 1:27 (New Living Translation is good on this verse).
In Phil. 3:17-19 Paul contrasts two models of ‘walking’ and choosing who we follow. What do these examples look like for us today, and what tempts us to be influenced by ‘enemies of the cross’, as it is depicted here?
Where do people in our local culture nourish their identity, and get fuel for status and security? How might we be complicit in following in those same ways? What political implications might there be for each of these things if we were to choose the way of the cross? How would we be different from our neighbours, and what might this experience be like?
What do you see in Phil. 4:1 about how we can help one another stand firm in our new identity?
Read this chapter from Rob Peabody on being a ‘Citizen’.
Listen to this podcast discussion with Christopher Wright in Faithfulness in Idolatrous Times.
How do they inform your practice of being a citizen of heaven now?
Here is a chance to become a movie critic! Using your insights gained from Paul in this passage, watch and reflect on this short animation about ‘the rat race’ called ‘Happiness’ (and discuss them with others if you are part of a group).