As we continue walking through the small letter of Philippians, we are hopefully noticing every layer Paul is using to enhance our understanding of faith and community. In the middle part of chapter 3, the metaphor shifts from accounting to athletics. If you recall, Paul was passionately talking about everything in his life being a loss in comparison to the gain that he has found in Jesus. He went so far as to say that everything is garbage in comparison to knowing Jesus. In 3:12-16, Paul uses runners and racing as the image for us to keep in mind when moving forward in our walk with Christ. Actually, moving forward, and letting go of the past, is what Paul wants to get across.
Here’s what the text says…
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.15 All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
1) no one has ARRIVED (3:12)
As Paul continues this theme of considering everything a loss compared to knowing Jesus, he let’s us in on something that is huge for our faith journey – he has not arrived…and we have not arrived.
Arrival is a false stop in any journey, especially our spiritual one. What holds us back more often than not is that we think we’ve arrived at our destination, when in reality, we are still on the move.
We use the word ‘becoming’ a lot in referring to our faith journey. We should use this word in all area’s of life: I’m becoming a father, a friend, a husband, a musician, a wife, a student, etc. Most importantly, we’re becoming Christians. We’re further than when we started, but not yet where we are destined to be.
One thing this idea warns us against is ‘super-spirituality’. You know those people who have nothing to learn and only things to teach. Let’s not be those people.
FORGET what is behind you… (3:13)
What comes next is great advice for anyone who wants to move forward in life. Don’t dwell on your past. It’s an essential step in moving forward. In Philippians 1 we read that chains shouldn’t hold you back, here Paul says your past cannot and should not hold you back either.
Gordon Fee helps us here…“Forgetting is not obliterating the past, rather, it’s not letting it absorb our attention or impede our progress”. It’s still part of your history…of your story…it just doesn’t have a hold on you any longer.
So what kinds of things should you forget? What do we put behind us?
- our shaded past…
- our glorified past…
Move FORWARD / PRESS on (3:14&12)
The next step in this equation must be to move forward. This race/athletics metaphor is a favourite of many. Why? Because either they can identify with it…or they desperately want to see themselves like that in their heads. We want to be winners. We want to cross the finish line…in whatever it is that we do.
Paul takes this common metaphor and applies our faith to it. The words are powerful:
- straining (toward what is ahead)
- pressing (on to the goal)
- I‘ve got my eye on the goal (msg)
- I’m off and running (msg)
It’s not just about running, but about finishing. Finishing well is an important part of this journey.
Ravi Zacharias says it like this, “Beginning well is a momentary thing; finishing well is a lifelong thing.”
what does MATURITY look like (3:12-16)
We do all this for one thing – the same thing Paul so passionately writes about earlier in chapter 3…knowing Jesus. We are to take hold of Jesus, as he takes hold of us. As this text comes to a close, Paul introduces the word ‘mature’. We are to strive towards maturity in our faith. What does it meant to be a mature follower of Jesus?
- one who doesn’t feel like they’ve arrived
- one who forgets what’s behind
- one who strives forward in and to Christ
- one who lives up to their present understanding of faith (vs 16)
- one who understands that everyone discovers Jesus at a different pace (vs 15)
In light of this text, ask yourself these questions…
What are you holding on to that needs to be forgotten?
What is holding you back from being ‘you in Christ’?
Are you putting your best foot forward when it comes to reaching God’s purpose in your life? Pressing on? Moving Forward?
Is your spiritual journey leading you towards the most mature version of yourself today?
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small(er) group questions: (read through the 3:12-16 before the discussion)
Is a sense of ‘arrival’ a hard thing to avoid? If so, why? How can one with lower confidence apply this?
Why do people have a hard time forgetting what’s behind them?
How can our past effect our future?
Forgetting isn’t just for the the bad/difficult stuff, but also the victories and accomplishments. Why?
Does this sound like a good description of our faith journey, ‘God is always pulling us forward’?
Do you like Paul’s metaphor? Can a non-sporty/non-athlete get this? If so, why? What does it look like to press onward, to strain ahead?
Spiritual Maturity sounds so good. How would you define it? Before you read this text and after you’ve read it?
Sometimes you find yourself in a passage of scripture that is both inspiring and very challenging. Philippians 3:1-11 might be that one. It’s inspiring because of the passion Paul exudes about his faith in Jesus; how he gives up everything for the sake of the gospel. What’s challenging about it is the language he uses to communicate it, mainly because it’s so contextual and there’s a fear that we, 2000 years removed from it, won’t totally get it. I guess we can say that about all of scripture and any ancient text.
In the first 11 verses of Philippians 3, Paul shows us his best accounting skills as well as what he comes to see as valuable confidence builders. Both of which are not what you expect, but then again, come to expect from Paul.
Up until now we’ve be encouraged from Philippians to be abounding in love, gracious in humility, patient during struggles, and live a life full of joy. This all in the context of a loving biblical Jesus community.
Another layer is added to this letter in 3:1-11. First: Confidence & Status. Second: Relationship. All of which intertwine with the other.
When Paul talks about confidence, he uses his own list of accomplishments and credentials to make his point. He is worried that some ‘religious’ Jewish leaders will come and try to dismantle all the work he’s done in Philippi. Up until now, the philippian church knows that their status as children of God comes from one place only, Jesus (death and resurrection). This young church has faithfully followed Paul’s teaching, that salvation is God’s initiative, not ours – that God does the work in us, and we simply must accept his invitation to love him back. Paul is evidently concerned that some religious Jews will come and tell them that they must add external symbols to make their faith authentic, mainly, circumcision. To show them that this isn’t the case, he lists off all his credentials (circumcised on the 8th day, born a jew, from the elite tribe of Benjamin, a pharisee, a faultless law-abider). Paul says that even though this used to be his gauge for confidence, it is no longer the case. Only one thing gives him confidence, his relationship with Jesus.
The conversation switches to the language of accounting, adding up gains and losses. Saying the same thing, with different words, Paul tells us that what used to be a gain for him is now a loss, what used to be usable to him is now garbage, what used to be valuable is now nothing. He goes so far as saying that it’s all ‘CRAP’ (yes I said crap, only because I didn’t feel to use the other, more appropriate 4 letter word here). Definitely some strong language here to get a point a across, but one that Paul is so passionate about: What he thought to be so important before, means absolutely nothing to him now. But why? Well, Paul is convinced that more than anything, knowing Jesus is what he wants. Knowing the power of Jesus resurrection and the pain of Jesus’ suffering is worth more to Paul than any of his other accomplishments, career or religious.
How can I apply this text for me, for us, here, now, today?
Where do you get your confidence? Is it your bank account? Your new car? Your new position at work? Your nice home? We can get caught up in these things, but in the end, they don’t mean much and they certainly don’t have any long lasting (eternal) value.
How do you or your friends view spiritual religious status? What do you think you have to do for God’s approval in your life (assuming you’re looking for that). The religious answer would be to work as hard as you can, be as good as you can be, add up the chores and external symbols at the end of the day and hope you come out on top. But that won’t last too long either. Actually, it didn’t. Jesus came to change all that; to remove all that; to redeem all that.
When we start drawing a line to keep people out (like the religious pharisees of the 1st century did) we must know that Jesus will cross that line and be with the people we’ve left out. Paul warns the Philippians that some will come and want to draw a line, but they must be on the side of Jesus who stands at the door and knocks, hoping that we will let him in.
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small(er) group questions:
What are some things in our society that can give us false confidence? Why should be we careful of those kinds of things?
Have you ever struggled with trying to achieve certain things only to realize they wouldn’t satisfy in the end?
Why do you think some religious types (past and present) want so badly to fit us into a perfect box when God’s mercy and love is all about breaking down walls?
Philippians 3 has two (C) words that can cause a problem to some: Circumcision & Crap (garbage/rubbish). What do you do with texts like this? Are they a breath of fresh air or a something you’d rather skim over? How about being a woman and approaching this text and theme (eg. ‘we are the circumcision…those who serve God by his spirit’)?
How have you come to Paul’s conclusion in your own life, that everything else is ‘nothing’ in comparison to knowing Jesus? Or…where are you in that process, and is it a difficult place to arrive to?
What does ‘being found in Jesus’ & ‘knowing Jesus’ mean to you? How would you describe Paul’s words in verses 9 & 10 to your experience?
(Thanks for taking time to be community together on Mondays & Thursdays. Maybe plan some kind of summer event to be together (which won’t be too hard for you guys;) or even a serving event that your group can creatively think of. No pressure, just a suggestion.)
We have just gotten word that we have received a few summer grant positions funded by the Canadian Government.
We are looking for a returning student (must be returning to qualify) to work along side our staff and community this summer. The job involves assisting in our kid’s department, creating a number of community events that will serve families well during the summer months, looking for and organizing community projects (i.e. $1 car wash, volunteering at Durham events, clean up, serving events, etc.).
This hired student will also be heavily involved in preparations for our 7th Running4Home event on June 11, as well as the follow up work required after the event.
Both jobs will begin immediately.
– Both jobs will be 35 hrs per week. An 8 week term. Work days are flexible (Tuesday-Friday), except for Sundays which are mandatory for this role. Some Saturdays are required when events fall on those days.
We are looking for students who love helping the community, are energetic in nature, enjoy spending time with people and meeting new people, have some skills and experience working with children, as well as some administration skills. A police check will be required to be hired.
If interested, please send a resume and cover letter to firstname.lastname@example.org
In our last post we talked about balancing confidence and humility. It seemed to have struck a chord. Why? Because it is the best way to lead our lives at home, with friends and in our work place or careers. Knowing who you are and what you offer the world, while combining that with an authentic sense of humility, is a real beautiful balance to hold.
As we move further into Philippians 2 we discover another balancing act in our faith journey; one between God’s work of salvation in us, and our work of figuring out what it means to be saved.
Verses 12 & 13 bring together what some may think are two opposing ideas; two contradicting thoughts. However, when we take a closer look, we can see that they actually compliment each other really well. Paul says these two phrases together…
“continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling…”
“for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”
First thing we see is that salvation isn’t something we just kind of get and then do nothing with; Paul says that we need to work it out…figure it out. Some see this and quickly assume that we work at receiving God’s gift of salvation. That is NOT the case at all. NT Wright comments on this theme by saying, “’working out your salvation’ isn’t earning salvation, it’s figuring out what this business of being saved means in practice.”
Paul includes this phrase to help the Philippians and us realize that we have a responsibility to figure out what our new life in Jesus looks like in the real world. It’s kind of like getting a new tool or a new game or a new musical instrument. They’re great gifts and can be quite costly, but if all they do is sit on a shelf or hang on a wall or get stored in a cupboard, what’s the use. You gotta pull out the instructions, put the tool to use, invite friends over to play the new board game, take lessons to learn how to play this new guitar or piano. We must do that with the gift(s) God has given us. They’re free to receive, but take some work and wrestling to figure out how they benefit our lives.
Let’s be clear, God’s gift of salvation is his doing, his initiative, his work in us. 2:13 affirms that. If you read 2:13 along side 1:6 you’ll see that these two verses are very similar, it’s because they are. In both places Paul is instilling in us that God is the one who starts, continues and finishes whatever work he is doing in us. The balance of course comes when we do our part, ‘work it out with fear and trembling’
Paul then turns to a community issue. As we keep reading through this letter, we see that every new layer is another way for Paul to address what is close to his heart, a healthy biblically functioning community. This rings true in 2:14. Paul gives this simple, yet effective piece of advice: “don’t complain & grumble”. Where does this come from? One, there was probably some issues of conflict arising from time to time, which are very normal in any kind of community, even the healthy ones. However, where the phrase originates from is Exodus 16 & Number 14. Paul reaches back into Israel’s history to teach this new church a lesson. “Don’t do what they did.” Israel got caught complaining and grumbling about their journey through the wilderness, even when they knew it was God’s way to save them from Egypt. So Paul borrows this theme to help the Philippians avoid any of the same mistakes their spiritual forefathers and mothers found themselves in.
Finally, why is Paul really saying all this? Why the reminder of how to balance God’s work in us and our work to figure it out? Why deal with issues of conflict that may have either been happening already or just beginning to rise up? Because Paul’s greatest desire was that this early church would SHINE. That’s right, shine. Read the whole text together…
12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life.
When we accept God’s gift of salvation, take the time (ongoing) to figure out how to live out our faith in Jesus, and then do that, both as an individual and as a community, Paul says that we SHINE. Why do we need to shine? Because the world has lots of dark and broken places in it, and the church is the community of faith that can and will shed light in and on those places.
Jesus said in John 8:12 that he is the light of the world. He also says in Matthew 5:14 that we are the light of the world. At first glance you’re thinking that Jesus is talking from both sides of his mouth, but then you start to piece it together – Jesus is our light, and his light shines in and through us so that we shine his presence into our world. Paul just takes this a step further by challenging us as a community to live in such a way that we SHINE brightly.
Think about these 2 questions:
Can we have this balancing act of receiving God’s gift freely (no religion), while at the same time working at figuring out how to live it out ?
Will we let God work in us and through us, so that more and more, our lives bring fresh air and bright light to a broken & dark world ?
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small(er) group questions:
After reading through Philippians 2:12-18, what are some impressions or questions that resonate with you?
How would you describe ‘working out your salvation’? Is it worth the effort and why? What does it look like for you?
Why do you think Paul quickly balances what he says in 2:12 with his statement in 2:13?
Look at 2:13 & 1:6. How similar are they? Would you say Paul is trying to get a point across? Why are these two verses so important for us?
Paul goes back to Israel’s past in 2:14 (don’t complain or grumble).
– why is this simple instruction so crucial to community?
– why is it so important to learn from our past (both in our families and in church history)?
“You will shine like stars”
Why does the world need us to shine?
What does that look like?
How can we do this humbly and gently without any form of arrogance or condescension?
This has implications for us as individuals and for us as a church community. How so?
There are two things that good leaders balance really well – confidence & humility. To make a significant dent in our world, one has to be confident of the abilities they have to offer, while balancing it with thinking of others more than they think of themselves. We must be able to tell ourself “I can do that” while at the same time saying “how can I help others”.
Humility is really the key ingredient. Actually, if you think about it, it’s the most important and most impacting virtue any of us can have. The tough part is believing that it’s true. Why’s it tough? Because you have to convince yourself that moving forward requires you to move backwards, and going up requires you to stoop downward.
As we continue our series in Philippians, we arrive at a point in this letter where Paul urges these first century Christians to live out this value and virtue of humility. In Paul’s view, humility and christianity and inseparable.
Bill Hybel’s wrote a book many years about this very text (2:1-8). Here’s an excerpt,
“God asks us to lose so we can gain. He makes a hard request, then makes a promise. Lose your selfish ambition; I will honour you for loving others. Lose your addiction to things; I will provide for you if you seek me wholeheartedly. Lose your obsession to be in control; I will give you power as you follow me. Lose your appetite for thrills; I will startle you with pleasures you could never have found on your own. Lose your life; I will give you eternity.”
In the first few verses of chapter 2 Paul makes a bold request: Make my joy complete. It’s like when someone asks you the scary questions, ‘Wanna make me happy?’. You know the response to this kind of question requires action, not just a wordy answer. The same is true for Paul. For him there are two things that will make his joy complete: (1) that the Philippians would be united in heart & mind and (2) that they would be humble. We’ve been and will continue to talk about unity and community in this series. Mainly because the over arching theme in this letter is ‘partnership’. However, the idea of humility is what we want to focus on in this post.
Christian or not, acts of humility are like pebbles or river stone that we throw in the lake or the pond; they start with a little ‘plop’ in the water, but the ripples continue far past that initial drop. Humility is like this. We must have enough faith to know that our acts of kindness and grace towards others will go a long way. Paul defines humility like this, ‘putting others interests before your own.’ It’s probably an ideal we have in our head that doesn’t always follow through in our actions.
Paul give us the ultimate metaphor or example of humility – JESUS!
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Even though this text (some call it a hymn or a poem) is full of theological insights (incarnation, Jesus becoming a man, God becoming flesh), the main reason Paul includes this is because of its practical implications. He wants the Philippians to learn humility from the best…Jesus is the best example he could find. He is the ultimate example of what it means to put others before yourself. Jesus put aside his divinity to be human and serve us – serve us right up to his action on the cross.
So here’s the question for us: will we do the same? Will we be people of humility? Will be the kind of people who can be confident in who God’s created us to be, while at the same time, in humility, put others first? Knowing that when we do this, there is a ripple effect, a lasting impact, a seed of justice and mercy that is planted by every act of humility we do. Here’s the main thing: will we choose to ‘be like Jesus’?
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small(er) group questions:
What is it about balancing confidence & humility that is so difficult? Is it easier to be confident or is it easier to be humble? Why is this combination so effective in life, leadership, work, relationships, etc?
How is humility connected to the theme of community, fellowship, and partnership that is so prominent in Philippians?
Read through the 2:1-4. What are your impressions? Your thoughts?
Now read 2:5-8. What are your thoughts about Jesus, his humility, his humanness, his divinity?
Can you think of ways that, even though they start small, have potential for impact? In other words, how would you define the ripple effect of humility?
(One of the video’s we watched on Sunday can be found HERE)