City Group Study Guide: Fall 2018

© Ronnie Perry Jr., New Song Church.  2018.  All rights reserved

Preface

Thank you so much for being involved in a City Group and taking the time to read this guide to Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  This is not a commentary or devotional but a guide to give you a very broad understanding of the context of each lesson and to guide a group discussion in your City Group.  Towards the end there are questions or tasks to be done individually and a paragraph to guide a time of prayer in your City Groups and well as in your personal or family time.  My prayer is that this will be helpful for your City Groups as well as your personal time!  

While I wrote this guide myself many of the ideas and questions were influenced by the preaching, teaching and others.  I want to particular acknowledge and thank John MacArthur’s “Commentary of Philippians,” N.T. Wright’s “Philippians for Everyone,” James Boice’s “Philippians: An Expository Commentary,” Matt Chandler’s “To Live is Christ,” Sinclair Ferguson’s “Let’s Study Philippians” and Steven Lawson’s “Philippians for You” for shaping my understanding of this book.  May we be hearers, understanders and doers of the Word as we study God’s Word.  May God bless and keep you all!

-Rev. Ronnie Perry Jr. Lead Pastor & Founder- New Song Church.  August 2018

Introduction

The Philippian Church

About 20 years after the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazereth a small group of travellers made their way in a north-westerly direction from the port of Neapolis, where they had recently landed from Troas.  They journeyed 10 miles along the great Roman road called the “Via Egnatia” until they came to the city of Philippi.  This little group of travellers included men who were gaining the reputation of having ‘turned the world upside down’ (Acts 17:6).  This group included Silas, the young Timothy, and, apparently, Luke the medical doctor.  The leader of the group was the Apostle Paul.

The Gospel in Europe

In modest fashion, Paul’s mission team, moved the Gospel of Jesus Christ into ‘European’ soil for the first time. Preaching the gospel in Philippi was not part of their original plan.  They had travelled through Phyrgia and Galatia and planned to go into the province of Asia.  But in some supernatural manner they were kept from going to Asia.  Then they tried to cross the border between Mysia and Bithynia, but were prevented by some Spirit-inspired intimidation.  They moved on and soon were in Troas (Acts 16:6-8). They were no doubt perplexed about the significance of these restrictions.  During the first night in Troas, Paul had a vision.  He saw a man from Macedonia, on the other side of the Aegean Sea.  The man stood there, begging, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’  They obeyed this heavenly vision and crossed the Aegean Sea.  From there they headed for the major city in the area of Macedonia: Philippi.

The City of Philippi

        Philippi was founded in the middle of the 4th century BC and named after Philip II of Macedonia, the father of Alexander the Great.  It was later conquered by the Romans in the 2nd century BC and in 42 B.C. it became a Roman colony.

The Letter to Philippians

        While Philippians does take us into the mind of Paul, most importantly it reveals to us the mind of Christ. It tells us what he thought of as he came to earth; it tells us why he came. Christ’s coming to earth involved two things: humility and obedience:

  1.   Humility consists in two parts: first, relinquishing what we have; and second receiving something that is generally regarded as inferior.
  2. Obedience- Christ died in obedience to the wishes of the Father.  It was not just love but obedience which brought Jesus to the cross.

The mind of Christ and the mind of every believer should be one and the same.  This only happens when our lives and life trajectory is centered on the love of God our Father and the fulfillment of his plans for our lives and the world.

Outline of Philippians (adapted from “Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines of the NT”)

I.        The Single Mind (ch. 1)

A.        The fellowship of the Gospel Part 1 (1:1–2)

B. The fellowship of the Gospel Part 2 (1:3-11)

C.        The furtherance of the Gospel (1:12–26)

D.        The faith of the Gospel (1:27–30)

II.        The Submissive Mind (ch. 2)

A.        Example of Christ (2:1–11)

B.        Example of Paul (2:12–18)

C.        Example of Timothy & Epaphroditus (2:19–30)

III.        The Spiritual Mind (ch. 3)

A.        The Christian’s past: salvation (3:1–11)

B.        The Christian’s present & future sanctification (3:12–21)

IV.        The Secure Mind (ch. 4)

A.        God’s presence & peace: “at hand” (4:1–9)

B.        God’s power & provision (4:10–23)

Chapter 1 The Single Mind

Lesson 1: The Fellowship of the Gospel (1: 1-11)

Pre-reading questions:

  1. What situations tend to make you joyful?  What situations steal your joy?
  2. Who is the most joyful person you know?  What do you like about this person?

Read Philippians 1:1-11

Paul introduces himself as a servant or “slave” of Christ Jesus.  Paul wanted to communicate that he was Christ’s slave and wanted to serve him as an obedience slave does his master.  It is a spiritual law that no one can become a servant of Jesus until they first realize that by nature they are a slave to sin.  A key to joy in life and a life of mission to the Father requires that while we are also saints and sons & daughters of God in Christ, we are also slaves. We belong to another.

In antiquity there were three ways to become a slave:

1.  By conquest- by being defeat in war by an opposing country.

2.  By birth- being born under slavery.  Any child born to a slave would automatically become a slave as well.

3.  By debt- a person could become a slave because of a debt.  Many parents sold their children into slavery because of a debt. This was so common that every 50 years, in the year of Jubilee those who had become slaves because of debt had to be set free (see Leviticus 25).

It is striking that the Bible teaches that all men have become slaves to sin in similar ways to those in which people became physical slaves in antiquity.

1.  The Bible teaches that humans are born into sin (Psalm 51:5).  This is not mentioning sin in reference to the sexual act.

2.  The Bible teaches we are sinners by conquest.  Sin rules over us, so that we cannot do the things we want to do (see Romans 7, Psalm 19:13)

3.  We are also sinners by debt (Rom. 6:23)

There were also several ways of becoming free from slavery in antiquity:

1.  You could earn your freedom.

2.  You could buy your freedom

3.  Your freedom could be given to you by someone willing to pay the price of redemption.

In spiritual terms, there is only one way of deliverance - to be bought by the One who alone can pay sin’s price.  We could never earn or buy our salvation.  But God freely gives grace to those who believe in and trust in the fact that Jesus paid the price for our freedom by dying the death we deserved.  We are now slaves to Christ under a bondage of love and goodness.

Saints in Christ Jesus

These “saints” were not special people, but people like you and me.  All true Christians are “saints”.  What makes them saints is not their personal holiness but the fact that they have been “set apart” by God.  In Exodus 40 Moses was to sanctify the altar and the basin in the middle of the tabernacle.  There was no change in the material of the object but they were set apart for special use by God.  Likewise, as Christians we are “set apart” for use by God in terms of our purpose of existence in spite of our sinful acts and regardless of our circumstances.

Overseers (Elders) and Deacons

        Finally Paul mentions the officers of the church.  The church of Philippi was likely a network of multiple “house churches/congregations” in the city.  The overseers/elders were the pastors of these local congregations and the deacons took care of the needs of the poor, marginalized and sick.  Notice these officers worked with the believers.  All believers are responsible for the work of the ministry to go forth both within and outside of the church.  But these leaders work with the others to fulfill God’s purposes for His church.

Discussion Questions

  1.  What does Paul description of he and Timothy as slaves and the Philippians as saints express about his view of himself and others?
  2. Why did the Philippians bring Paul joy?
  3. Who is someone of whom you can say “I thank my God every time I think of you” (v. 3), and why?
  4. This letter is all about “partnership” (v.5), one of the most important words in Paul’s vocabulary.  It is sometimes translated “fellowship,” but it clearly has a practical, even financial implication which our word “fellowship” doesn’t always carry.  In Paul’s world this was the normal word for a business partnership, in which all those involved would share in doing the work on the one hand and in the financial responsibilities on the other.  

How had the Philippians worked in partnership with Paul?

5.  Consider New Song Church or another Christian community you have been a part of.  Would you say that you are in partnership for the gospel, or is your fellowship more social?  Why do you answer as you do?

6.  The particular work which God has begun, and will finish (v.6) is the work of grace, through the gospel, in the hearts and lives of the Philippians Christians.

How is it easy or hard for you to trust God to complete the work he’s started in you or in others?  And why?

7.  Paul prays that the Philippians’ love will overflow in knowledge and wisdom (v.9) How does this idea contrast with more popular ideas of love?Paul also prays that this wise love will result in moral discernment (v. 10).  Why is moral discernment a necessary component of Christian love?

8.  Finally Paul prays that the Philippians may be filled to overflowing with the fruit of right living (v.11).  “Right living” is often translated “righteousness.”  Here it emphasizes the behavior which results from both God’s faithfulness and the status of being forgiven family members.  What are some of the fruits of right living?

9.  What can you do to see love about more and more in your life? (v.9)

 

10.  Despite being in prison (v. 7).  Paul begins his letter with an overflow of joy.  How and why do you experience joy in your Christian life?  What often steals your joy in the Christian life?

11.  To whom can you write a letter, card, or e-mail or call to encourage of express gratitude?

Pray

Paul’s prayer for the church (vvs. 9-11) is a prayer that all church leaders and Christians may want to use for themselves.  Pray that you and others will have love which overflows into knowledge and wisdom, the ability to discern right from wrong.

Lesson 2 The Furtherance of the Gospel (1:12-16;

Pre-Reading Questions

  1.  When have you been faced with seemingly insurmountable problems, and seen God work good out of them?
  2. How did the experience(s) affect your faith?
  3. Paul found joy in ministry, even when it was difficult.  Yet he longed for heaven, knowing that to die is gain.  Do you consider it gain to die?  Why or why not?  What kind of situations cause you to feel ready to depart this lif

Read Philippians 1:12-16

Study Guide

One of the surest measures of our spiritual maturity is what it takes to rob us of our Spirit-filled joy.  Paul certainly experienced sorrow and tears.  He suffered grief and disappointment and was troubled by other Christians.  Yet he never seemed to have lost his joy.  In fact, it seems that the worst affliction merely tightened his grip on salvation’s joy.

While Paul is in a private residence as he writes, he is chained night and day to a Roman soldier while under house arrest.  There are 4 issues that might have robbed him of joy: trouble (Paul’s imprisonment), detractors (those preachers who sought to elevate themselves at Paul’s expense), threat of impending death, and the sorrows of living on in the flesh.  Yet he was fully confident that, despite his negative circumstances, the Lord’s cause would triumph.  

A key word in the passage is the word translated “supply (v. 19).”  This describes what a choir manager would provide for the members of a Greek choir who performed in a drama.  In short, he took care of all their living expenses.  The word came to mean a full supply of any kind.  Their prayer would generate the Spirit’s supply (1:19).  Paul was looking forward to getting a fully suple of the Holy Spirit as a result of the Philippians prayers.  

Another major word is “progress” which describes not merely moving ahead but doing so against obstacles (1:25).  The related verb was used of an explorer or of an army advance team hacking a path through dense trees and underbrush, moving ahead slowly with considerable effort.  Resistance is there inherent to that sort of progress.  Far from lamenting, resenting, or complaining about his various hardships, Paul acknowledged them as an unavoidable aspect of ministry.  They were a small cost that he was more than willing to pay as a means for furthering the progression of the gospel.

  1.  How would you describe Paul’s mood in this passage?
  2. In what ways did Paul’s imprisonment helped the gospel on its way (vv. 12-14)?
  3. Every major center of Roman influence had an Imperial Guard, as was the case in Ephesus where Paul was likely imprisoned.  The soldiers were used to the “gospel” of Caesar, the supposed good news that a new emperor had taken the tone, bringing peace and justice to the world.  Now someone was announcing a different gospel: that Jesus of Nazareth had taken the throne of the world and was summoning every person to bow the knee to Him.
  4. Why did Paul’s imprisonment have such a positive effect on the Christians in Ephesus.
  5. We are not sure what Paul meant by those who preached Christ out of selfish ambition, without meaning it, trying to stir up trouble for him (v.15).  Some think this was a rival Christian group.  It seems more likely they were ordinary pagans who are talking up the latest piece of news.  Saying have you heard about Paul who is talking about a new emperor who is a Jew crucified a few years ago!
  6. What are some ways that Christ could be proclaimed out of “envy and rivalry” these days?
  7. Consider Paul’s response to the insincere teachers (v.18).  How can we apply the spirit of his response to those who walk about Jesus today, even for the wrong reasons?
  8. Paul feels confident that God has more work for him to do (vs. 23-25), even though he admits that his first desire is to be with God.  How can this attitude here serve as  a model for us in times of waiting?
  9. Paul’s belief never wavered, indeed it came through the terrible experience strengthened (see 2 Corinthians 1:8-11).  But his feeling came and went.  Learning to distinguish between the two is itself part of Christian maturity.  What is one circumstance right now in which you need to maintain your belief and hope in the midst of troubling feelings?
  10. Bible scholars recognize 4 possible interpretations of Paul’s confident hope of salvation or deliverance (1:19).  It could refer to Paul’s ultimate salvation, to his temporal deliverance from execution, to being vindicated by the emperor’s ruling, or to his eventual release from prison.  Which interpretation do you find most likely, and why?
  11. How specifically does one develop the maturity and faith to be able to face painful circumstances with a positive, hopeful attitude?
  12. What does it mean to be able to say with all genuineness, “For me to live is Christ”?
  13. Paul mentioned his desire to engage in fruitful labor.  What would this look like in your life?

Prayer

Bring your toughest problems to the Lord, and after you have named them, then ask God to help you wait eagerly and full of hope because nothing is going to put you to shame (Phil. 1:20).

Lesson 3  The Faith of the Gospel  (1:27-30)

Pre-reading Question

  1.  Where and how have you experienced resistance to your faith?  How did you feel?  How did you respond?

Read Philippians 1:27-30

Paul had a special love, respect, and appreciation for the church at Philippi.  It was a mature church but it did have a few problems, some of them potentially serious.  Like every church, they needed to be on guard against false teachers.

 Paul turned from the autobiographical emphasis in the first part of the letter to focus on the Philippian congregation.  He called on them to maintain their spiritual commitment and conduct themselves in a way consistent with the power of the gospel.

Philippians 1:27-30 is one long sentence in the Greek, and “conduct” is the main verb.  IT comes from the root word “city”, which in earlier times usually referred to the city-states.  The verb carries the basic meaning of being a good citizen.  Philippi had the distinction of being a Roman colony, a highly privileged status that gave it inhabitants many of the rights enjoyed by citizens of Rome itself.  A responsible citizen was careful not to do anything that would bring disrepute on his city.  

Discussion Questions

  1.  Why is it important for Christians’ public behavior to match up with the gospel?
  2. What would be some examples of behavior which does and does not match up with the gospel?
  3. Paul urges the Philippians to stand firm “with a single spirit, struggling side by side with one united intent for the faith of the gospel” (1:27).

The aim is not unity for the sake of unity, because people can stand united            for evil purposes.  In your experience what is unique about the unity of Christians?

      4.  If we refused to be intimidated by our opponents, what will be the result (1:28)?

      5.  Regarding what gospel issue does your community need to hold its nerve and remain       unafraid in the face of resistance?

      6.  When Paul mentions suffering (v.29), the idea is that in His sovereign grace, God grants believers the privilege of suffering for His sake.  How can suffering be a gracious gift or privilege?  

      7.  Church strife is often generated by holding grudges, unjust criticism, bitterness, dissatisfaction, and distrust.  Think about your own church community.  How can you work to heal church strife?

      8.  Consider the situations you will face this week.  How can you stand firm in your convictions?  What will that look like in your life?

      9.  What is the one principle you are taking away from this lesson that will help you become a person of spiritual integrity?  Why does this particular truth stand out to you?

Prayer

Pray for unity among believers, centered on the love of Christ.  Pray especially about specific cases of disunity which you knew about.  Ask the Lord what you could do to help bring reconciliation.

Lesson 4 The Example of Christ (2:1-11)

Pre-reading questions

  1.  We all long for unity.  Even in a mature, doctrinally sound and relationally connected church, selfishness can divide and weaken the church.  What are some ways selfishness can weaken the church at large today?
  2. What aspects of the story of Christ’s birth do you find most fascinating, and why?
  3. Which cinematic version (movie, television) of the life of Christ had a powerful impact on your life?  Why?  How does what Paul describes behind the motivation of Christ incarnation in ways that aren’t usually addressed in these movies?

Read Philippians 2:1-11

The incarnation is the central miracle of Christianity.  This is the theme of this passage we are studying.  Many scholars believe that 2:5-11 was the lyrics from a hymn sung by the early church.  Yet Paul was not merely describing the Incarnation to reveal its theological truths.  He presents the supreme unparalleled example of humility to serve as the most powerful motive for the believers’ humility.  The Incarnation calls believers to follow Jesus’ incomparable example of humble self-denial, self-giving, self-sacrifice, and selfless love as He lived out the Incarnation in obedient submission to His Father’s will.  Paul is calling us to live for God and one another in a radical but right way reflective of Christ self-denial in order that we would be members of God’s family.  May the humility of Christ in the gospel propel us to a love and self-denial that exalts the name of Christ.

Discussion Questions

  1.  Church strife is often generated by holding grudges, unjust criticism, bitterness, dissatisfaction, and distrust.  Think about your own church community.  How can you work to heal church strife?
  2. Paul lists 4 marks of the spiritual reality of unity in the church in verse 1:

  1.  Comfort of love- portrays the Lord coming close and whispering words of gentle cheer or tender counsel in a believers ear.
  2. Fellowship of the Spirit- refers to the partnership believers have with each other based on their common hope of eternal life, a partnership possible through the indwelling Holy Spirit.
  3. Affection and mercy- God has extended His deep affection and compassion to every believer and that reality should result in unity.

        Why is it important that we “Experience the truth” of these marks of spiritual unity if we  are to engage in healthy relationships and forgive one another as the church community?

        3.  How did Paul say the Philippians could complete his joy?  Why?

4.  How would you explain these phrases if you were teaching this passage?

  1.  Like-minded
  2. Same Love
  3. One Accord
  4. One mind

]        5.  The aim of this passage is not unity for unity’s sake, because people can stand united  for evil purposes.  In your experience, what is unique about the unity of Christians?

        6.  Paul doesn’t say we should bring our thinking in line with each other.  For no one person, in an of themselves, can be completely right.  Instead with are to unite around someone/something else.  What should be the basis of our unity and thinking?

        7.  What are some practical ways to regard someone as more important than you are?

        8.  How can you personally look after someone else’s best interests this week?

Prayer

Pray for unity among believers, centered on the love of Christ.  Pray specifically about cases of disunity.  Ask the Lord what you could do to help bring reconciliation.

Lesson 5: The Example of Paul (2:12-18)

Pre-reading Questions

  1.  Many Christians report “growth spurts” in their spiritual lives, when God has really worked on and grown them.  If you have experienced this, indicate when.  What kind of life events or situations did God use to prompt this growth?  (Example: a spiritual mentor, financial problems, physical illness, a Bible study group, becoming a parent, crisis, etc.)
  2. In this passage Paul talks about not complaining, but living blameless lives.  How do you typically respond to unpleasant situations?  (situations include: petty annoyances or irritations, chronic, ongoing trials, major crises or tragedy)  (responses include: cry, curse, complain, pray, get angry or resentful, rejoice, seek some kind of escape, denial, determine to honor God)?

Read Philippians 2:12-18

One of the ancient debates of Christianity is the proper relationship between the power of God and the responsibility of believers in living the Christian life.  Is the Christian life essentially a matter of passive trust or active obedience?  Is it all God’s doing, all the believer’s doing, or a combination of both?  This same question arises about salvation itself.  In this verses 12-13, Paul presents the appropriate resolution between the role of God and the believer in sanctification (growing more like Jesus).  Yet he makes no attempt to rationally harmonize the two.  He is content with the incomprehensibility and simply states both truths, saying, in effect, that on the one hand, sanctification is of believers, and on the other hand, it is of God.

“Work out your salvation” does not refer to salvation by works (see Rom. 3:21-24; Eph. 2:8-9), but it does refer to the believer’s responsibility for active pursuit of obedience in the process of sanctification.  The principle of working out salvation pertains to personal conduct, to faithful, obedient daily living.  Sin in every form is to be renounced and put off and replaced by righteous thinking.  God’s work and evidence of grace is the fuel to feed our hope and stregthen and encourage us as we “Work out.”

Paul then moves on to address complaining.  Modern Western society is the most prosperous culture in history, and arguably the most discontented society ever.  Fueling this is the false conviction in society that personal happiness, though elusive and unattained, is the supreme objective of all of life.  Discontentment and complaining are attitudes that can become so habitual that they are hardly noticed.  But those twin sins demonstrate a lack of trust in His will, grace, wisdom, love and goodness.  There is nothing inherently wrong with desiring good things but when we are angry with God, allow us desire to excuse disobedience and like of trust then these things will push us away from God and replace our desire for God with desire for things apart from God or contrary to God.  To deal with complaining, Paul commands the Philippians to stop and then gave them reasons for obeying the command.

“Complaining” is an emotional rejection of God’s providence, will and circumstances for one’s life.  The word for “disputing” is more intellectual and here means “questionings” or “criticisms” directed negatively towards God.  Whereas complaining is essentially emotional, disputing is essentially intellectual.  A person who continues to murmur and grumble against God will eventually argue and dispute with Him.

Discussion Questions

  1.  How would you answer a person who insisted that “work out your own salvation” means “work for your own salvation”?
  2. According to Paul, what is to be our attitude as we work out our salvation (v.12)?  Why does he use those two words?  (Note: another translation for these words is “utter seriousness”)
  3. Paul said that God is at work within believers.  The verb used refers to being energized and active in a particular endeavor.  What does this suggest about God’s role in our growth?  
  4. What is the ultimate goal for cooperating with God’s working in us (v. 13)?  How does Ephesians 2:10 echo this idea?
  5. There are 2 errors in which Christianity may fall concerning the doctrine of sanctification, or becoming holy.  We can stress God’s role in sanctification, to the virtual exclusion of any human effort.  Or we can emphasize self-effort at the expense of reliance on God’s power.  How does Phil. 2:12-13 solve this dilemma?
  6. Why is divine initiative the prerequisite to holy resolve (Ps. 27:8)?  How does holy resolve lead to holy living?  
  7. Do you tend to take responsibility for the spiritual state of your heart and that of your families or do you tend to not take responsibility?  How might this impact your prayer life?
  8. Why was it for important for the Philippians to live a life free of complaining and disputing?  What different does the absence of such behavior make?  What was at stake?
  9. How did Paul describe the world in which the Philippians lived?  How is not complaining a resistance to this world?
  10. Instead of grumbling and arguing with God about their lot in life, Paul urged them to remember their mission.  What exactly was their calling (vs. 15-16)?
  11. How does one replace the habit of doubt and grumbling with a habit of dependence and gratitude?  
  12. In what situations do you need to make a concerted effort not to grumble?  What is your plan for overcoming this habit?

Prayer

Thank the Lord for humbling Himself for you.  Pray that you will shine as a bright light in a dark world.  Praise him that every knee will bow and tongue confess that he is Lord.

Lesson 6: The Example of Timothy & Epaphroditus (2:18-30)

Pre-reading Question(s)

  1.  How are Christian friendships different from other friendships?
  2. What has been some of the most joyful ministry roles you have served in? Why?  What were some of the least?  Why?

Read Philippians 2:18-30

17th Century Puritan Thomas Brooks wisely observed, “Example is the most powerful rhetoric.”  This passage presents 3 men whose lives were great patterns for godly living.  Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus were together in Rme at this time.  Paul was imprisoned but was free to carry on his work unhindered.  Timothy, Paul’s son in the faith had been with him for some time.  Epaphroditus had been sent from the Philippian church to bring financial support for Paul and to minister to his needs.

Drink Offering: This refers to the topping off of an ancient animal sacrifice.  The priest poured wine either in front or on top of the burning animal, and the wine would vaporize.  That steam symbolized the rising of the offering to the deity for whom the sacrifice was made (see Exod. 29:38-41; 2 Kings 16:13).  Paul viewed his entire life as a drink offering, and it was poured out on the Philippians’ sacrificial service.

Epaphroditus: A native Philippian, whom little is known about outside this book.  His name was common in Greek, taking from a word that meant “favorite of Aphrodite” (the Greek goddess of love).  Later the name meant “lovely” or “loving.” He was sent to Paul with gifts and was to remain with and serve Paul as he could.

Like-minded: Literally means, “one-souled.”  Timothy was one in thought, feeling, and spirit with Paul in his love for the church.  He was unique as he was Paul’s protege (see 1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 2:2).  

Discussion Questions

  1.  How did Paul describe his life and ministry (v.17)?  To what is he referring in these phrases?
  2. What qualities did Timothy exhibit that made him such a model servant?
  3. What happened to Epaphroditus, and what was his unusual response?
  4. What is the connection between looking after the interests of others (2:4) and looking after the interests of Jesus the Messiah (v. 21)?
  5. It is interesting that Paul doesn’t say “Timothy is a wonderful teacher” or even “Timothy is a very devout and holy man,” but “Timothy will genuinely care about you.”  The definition Paul seems to be adopting for a good pastor - and the implication is that he himself was like this - has more to do with sheer unselfish love than any other traits about the person.  Do you see yourself as someone who genuinely cares for others?  Do you feel like you have a faith community that cares for you?
  6. How does Paul show his own vulnerability to the Philippians in verses 25-27?
  7. What were Paul’s instructions to the church at Philippi regarding how to treat men like Epaphroditus?
  8. Do you have a spiritual mentor, a “Paul,” whom you learn from and serve with?  Who is your “Timothy”?  Would you like t have a “Paul” and “Timothy” in your life?
  9. Genuine, biblical love always requires personal sacrifice.  In what specific ways are you sacrificing out of love for God or love for others?  
  10. The common denominator among Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus was a wholesale surrender to the purposes of God, marked by a selfless servant spirit.  What can you do to become this kind of Christian worker?

Prayer

Thank God for partnerships in the gospel.  Thank him specifically for the people with whom you serve and have served in even the simplest and seemingly insignificant ways.  Ask God to show you someone you should bring alongside with you, or whom you should come alongside, to work in partnership.  

Lesson 7: The Christian’s Past: Salvation (3:1-11)

Pre-reading Question(s)

  1.  The Bible insists there is a difference between believers and unbelievers.  How can we tell we are truly saved?
  2. What are some things you have treasured or benefitted from?  Consider not only physical objects but also achievements, honors and privileges.

Read Philippians 3:1-11

The good news of forgiveness and eternal life is the heart of the NT message.  But it also challenges professing believers to examine themselves and make certain their faith is genuine.  Paul presents, implicitly and explicitly, 5 qualities of true believers: they rejoice in the Lord, exercise discernment, worship in the Spirit, glory in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh.  

This autobiographical passage introduces Paul’s dramatic and compelling salvation testimony.  It is one of the most informative statements on the doctrine of salvation (soteriology) in Scripture, revealing the internal work of God in a truly repentant and believing sinner.  

Context:

Rubbish:This very strong word can also be rendered “waste,” “dung,” “manure,” or even “excrement.”  Paul expresses in the strongest possible language his utter disdain for all religious credits with which he had sought to impress man and God.  In view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ, they are worthless.  

Dogs (v. 2): During the 1st century, dogs roamed the streets and were essentially scavengers.  Because dogs were such filthy animals, the Jews loved to refer to Gentiles as dogs.  Yet here Paul refers to Jews, specifically the Judaizers (those requiring Gentiles become Jews before they became Christian), as dogs, to describe their sinful, vicious, and uncontrolled character.

Mutilation (v. 2): In contrast to the Greek word for “circumcision,” which means “to cut around,” this term means “to cut down (off).”  The Judaizers’ circumcision was, ironically, no spiritual symbol; it was merely physical mutilation.  

No confidence in the flesh (v. 3): By “flesh” Paul is referring to man’s unredeemed humanness, his own ability and achievements apart from God.  The Jews placed their confidence in being circumcised, being descendants of Abraham, and performing the external ceremonies and duties of the Mosaic law - things that could not save them.  The true believer views his flesh as sinful, without any capacity to merit salvation or please God (apart from the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit).  

What things were gain . . . I have counted loss (v.7): The Greek word for “gain” is an accounting term that means “profit.”  The Greek word for “loss” is also an accounting term, used to describe a business loss.  Paul used the language of business to describe the spiritual transaction that occurred when Christ redeemed him.  All Jewish religious credentials that he thought were in his profit column, were actually worthless and damning.  Thus, he put them in his loss column when he saw the glories of Christ (see Matt. 13:44, 45; 16:25-26).

Knowledge of Christ (v. 8): To “know” Christ is not simply to have intellectual knowledge about Him; Paul used the Greek verb that means to know “experientially” or “personally” (see John 10:27; 17:3; 2 Cor. 4:6; 1 John 5:20).  It is equivalent to shared life with Christ.

Discussion Questions

  1.  This section and the second half of the letter is introduced by verse 1, which can seem cut off from what follows it.  What is the connection between “rejoice/celebrate in the Lord!” and the warnings which follow?
  2. The badge of family, ethnic membership for the male Jew was circumcision, a mark on the physical body.  Paul sees some of his contemporaries obsessed with this, particularly with inflicting it on Gentiles to try to make them acceptable to God.  By contrast, who are the true “circumcision” (v. 3)?
  3. What are some accomplishments or aspects of religious or personal heritage that we use to make ourselves acceptable?  
  4. In 3:7-11 what were Paul’s “profit” and “loss”?
  5. What relationship does Paul draw between resurrection and suffering in vs. 10-11?
  6. What is the goal of Paul’s life (vs. 12-16)?
  7. What motivates him to keep pressing on toward the goal?
  8. Based on Paul’s words here and previously in Philippians, how would you define Christian maturity?
  9. Paul kept pressing toward maturity because Jesus had already grasped Paul and taken control of him (v. 12).  In what areas of your life would you like Jesus to take hold of you?
  10. How has God helped you toward maturity through difficult places?
  11. What are some ways the gospel of grace gets overshadowed by an emphasis on human effort and religious “performance” in the church?  In your own life?  
  12. The apostle Paul met Christ on the Damascus Road (see Acts 9:1-31) in about AD 33-34.  Why then, 30 years later, would he express the hope “that I may know Him”?  Didn’t he already know Christ by that time?
  13. How does Paul’s passion for Christ challenge you today?  What needs to change in your life?

Prayer

Thank the Lord for the certainty of His love for you.  Pray that you will never fall back into trying to earn credits with God, but will continue to trust what Christ has done for you.  Pray for those who are still hesitating to trust Christ for salvation.  

Lesson 8: The Christian’s Present & Future Sanctification (3:12-21)

Pre-reading Question(s)

  1.  Today the word “colony” is not popular.  It rings of the age of imperialism.  To have a colonial attitude is supposed to mean being patronizing, perhaps bullying, looking down on local people in far-off lands and an inferior species, good only to help increase the profits for the mother country.  Philippi was a Roman colony.  By the time Paul went there, it contained quite a number of families descended from the original Roman colonists as well as others who had benefited from the Roman presence, and many locals resented the Latin-speaking elite that had taken over their Greek town.  This is key to understanding this passage.

        What does citizenship mean to you?

2.  What can be learned by athletic training and practice from sports in terms of the Christian life?

Read Philippians 3:12-21

Judging from the frequent use of athletic metaphors in his writings, the apostle Paul must have been a sports fan.  Paul’s favorite athletic imagery was that of a footrace (Acts 20:24; Rom. 9:16; 1 Cor. 9:24; 2 Tim. 4:7), and it is this metaphor of the Christian life that is the theme of this passage.  Here we see Paul’s passionate concern for spiritual growth.

Some people might have mistakenly assumed that Paul had reached spiritual perfection.  But Paul was still subject to temptation, still possessed his unredeemed flesh, and was still a sinner.  Yet he was pursuing perfection with all his might.  Paul understood that the Christian life is a lifelong process.  

Press on means “to pursue,” or in some contexts “to persecute,” or methodically oppress and harass a person or group.  It has the extended connotation of pursuing a person on foot in a chase, it also conveys a sense of striving and pressing on to a goal with relentless intensity.  The word was used to describe a sprinter, and thus refers to aggressive energetic action.  Paul pursued sanctification and pleasing God (and taking pleasure in God) with all his might, straining every spiritual muscle to win the prize.

Discussion Questions

  1.  Paul boldly invites the Philippians to imitate his behavior (3:17).  Have you ever been helped by the example of other believers?  
  2. What attitude was Paul advocating in verse 15?
  3. Paul admits that he weeps at the behavior of people who are enemies of the cross (3:18).  When have you been deeply affected by the actions of people who don’t follow Christ?
  4. What challenges does the church (and New Song) face from the world around you?
  5. When Paul says “we are citizens of heaven,” we naturally suppose he means “so we are waiting until we can go and live in heaven where we belong.”  But that’s not what he says.  The task of the Roman citizen in a place like Philippi was to bring Roman culture and rule to northern Greece, to expand Roman influence there.  This is why we are instructed to pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  How will things be different when the Lord comes from heaven (3:20-21)?”
  6. What would it mean for our church to live as a colony of heaven with the responsibility for bringing the life and rule of heaven to bear on earth?
  7. Paul spoke of “forgetting” the things which are in the past (3:13).  Where is the healthy balance between obsessing over past events and failing to move on, and remembering and learning from our past?
  8. How can the truth of our citizenship in heaven alter the way we live on earth?  
  9. What are your personal goals for advancing in spiritual maturity?  Do you have a workable plan for reaching those goals?  
  10. Most great accomplishments are the result of doing little things faithfully over a long time.  List 3 “small things (a daily devotional time, memorizing two Bible verses a week, praying faithfully for lost family members and friends, and so on) you can begin doing daily that, over time, will make a big difference in your spiritual growth.  
  11. Make the commitment to sit down with a person of the same gender in your City Group and your spouse (if married) in the next 2 weeks to talk through the issues raised in this lesson and your personal goals.  Address some of your weaknesses and commit to hold each other accountable.  

Prayer

Thank God for his commitment to our spiritual growth.  Ask God to help you make a spiritual growth plan, write it out and have people to hold you accountable.  

Lesson 9: God’s Presence & Peace: “At hand” (4:1-9)

Pre-discussion Question(s)

  1. When in your life have you been the strongest - spiritually speaking?  What factors or practices do you feel gave your faith stability and strength at that time?
  2. Where in your spiritual journey have you felt the shakiest and most uncertain? Why?

Read Philippians 4:1-9

The issue of spiritual stability is very much on Paul’s heart in this passage.  This church had a special bond with Paul.  They alone supported him when he left Macedonia.  Paul did not have to sharply rebuke their theology or ethics in this letter.  But there are hints of the destabilizing threats facing them in the epistle.  They were experiencing persecution, there was a lack of unity, false teachers were a threat and most seriously there was a dispute between two prominent women in the congregation that threatened to split the church into rival factions.  The situation was compounded by a failure of the elders and deacons to deal with it.  As a result of all of this instability, some of the Philippians had failed to trust God and gave in to anxiety.  Anxiety is a normal emotion and part of our humanity but we must not let it control us to the extent that it causes us to neglect dealing with conflict or failing to live out our faith in God’s promises.

Paul desired that his beloved Philippian congregation be unwavering and firm in the faith.  This passage gives 7 basic principles for developing and maintaining spiritual stability:

  1. Cultivating harmony in the church fellowship
  2. Maintaining a spirit of joy
  3. Learning to be content
  4. Resting on a confident faith in the Lord
  5. Reacting to problems with a thankful prayer
  6. Thinking on godly virtues
  7. Obeying God’s standard

They are to “stand fast” which has a military ring to it.  Like soldiers on the front line, believers are commanded to hold their position while under attack.  

Discussion Questions

  1.  Describe Paul’s relationship with the Philippians, using only verse 1?
  2. What was Paul’s recipe for finding true peace?
  3. Have you ever seen a dispute between Christians handled in a positive and healing manner?  
  4. Paul spells out the kind of thought life that will lead to a stable Christian experience (v. 8).  What are the marks of that way of thinking?
  5. With all the assurances of Scripture, why is peace such a rare commodity among so many believers?  
  6. Why is gentleness such an important factor in relationships in the church?
  7. How would following Philippians 4:8 lead to spiritual stability?  What is required in training our minds to think this way?  
  8. Paul says that God’s peace “will guard your hearts and minds” from anxiety, doubt, and worry. This is a military term used of soldiers on guard duty.  Just as soldiers protect a city, so God’s peace guards and protects believers who confidently trust in Him.  Is your mind guarded by God’s peace, or is it infiltrated by fear, doubt, and false ideas?  Write down the issues that are troubling you now.
  9. What guidelines are given in Philippians 4 that relate to your prayer life and your thought life?  What do you sense God nudging you to change?

Prayer

Taking 4:6 as your model, pray about areas of life which you have considered too insignificant, or perhaps even too impossible to bring to the Lord.  As you pray, accept and claim the promise that God’s peace will keep guard over your hearts and minds in King Jesus.

Lesson 10: God’s Power & Provision: (4:10-23)

Pre-reading Questions

  1.  What would you say is necessary for contentment, both in general and in your life?
  2. When in your life have you had to most- materially speaking?  When have you had the least?  What do you remember about how you felt during those different times?

Read Philippians 4:10-23

As he concludes his letter to the Philippians, Paul deeply expressed his gratitude to them.  Paul enjoyed a special relationship with them.  They had sent him a gift and Epaphroditus as a companion, this passage is his thank you note to them.  Remember Paul is writing while imprisoned in a private residence yet he mentions no complaints or even asks for prayer for his release.  Paul knew how to rejoice in every circumstance and be free from anxiety and worry, because his heart was guarded by the peace of God and the God of peace.  His example is relevant to our discontented culture.  5 principles of contentment flow from this seemingly mundane conclusion.  A contented person is:

  1.  Confident in God’s providence
  2. Satisfied with little
  3. Independent from circumstances
  4. Strengthened by divine power
  5. Preoccupied with the well-being of others.

Content in the Greek means “to be self-sufficient,” “to be satisfied,” or “to have enough.”  It indicates a certain independence and lack of need for help.  Paul was saying, “I have learned to be sufficient in myself - yet not in myself as myself, but as indwelt by Christ.”  He expresses this subtle distinction in Galatians 2:20.  Christ and contentment go together.

I Can Do All Things means “to be strong,” to have power,” or “to have resources.”  The Greek text emphasizes “all things” by placing it first in the sentence.  Paul was strong enough to endure anything through Christ’s strength.  He was seeing when he reached the limit of his strength, even at the point of death, he was infused with the strength of Christ.  

  1.  What are your impressions of this closing passage in Philippians?  What truths stand out?
  2. What is revealed about the Philippians support of Paul’s missionary work?  
  3. Roman prisons didn’t provide food for prisoners.  That was left for friends and family.  Now that Epaphroditus arrived Paul received his gift.  How does Paul express his gratitude?
  4. What insights do you gain into Paul’s financial condition?
  5. With whom have you entered or with whom could you enter into a partnership in suffering (v.14)?  What motivates you to do this?
  6. What prompted Paul’s doxology of praise in verse 20?
  7. The contented attitude of someone like Paul is incomprehensible to today’s society.  Instead, people are obsessed with delineating their needs and wants, and loudly demanding that they be met.  How, realistically and practically, can Christians avoid this trap?
  8. How have you experienced the truth of Phil 4:13?
  9. What practical help does this Scripture passage offer on being more grateful to God?
  10. List some specific things you can do this week to cultivate an attitude of contentment.
  11. Like the Philippians, how can you further the work of God by giving generously to His faithful servants? In  addition to supporting the ongoing work of your church, what missionaries can you assist financially?  

Prayer

Claim the promises of verses 13 and 19, not in a general way but for specific situations.  Where do you need strength and renewed energy from God?  How are you fearful about your needs not being met?  What anxieties weigh you down?  Pray about each concern, thanking God for the promises of verses 13 and 19 and their encouragement to you.