A Call to Celebration
Grounded in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians
- Does everyone have a list of names, addresses and phone numbers of those in the group? It helps you keep in touch with each other.
- When Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians he was in prison. You may not have been in prison yourself, but, at some time or other, you may have felt as though you were trapped by the circumstances in which you found yourself. Invite group members to share any experiences like that which they may have had – being trapped or imprisoned.
- Pray- for God’s Spirit to move in your midst as you proceed furtherto look at Paul’s Letter to the Philippians; – for the other small groups associated with your church.
- Read Philippians 1: 12 – 26and the comment that goes with this guide
Philippians 1: 12 – 26
vv. 12 – 14 : There is no situation, no matter how bad it might seem, that is beyond being used by God. It might have seemed that Paul’s work of spreading the Gospel would have to be put on hold while he was in prison. He could not go on any of his missionary journeys. But in fact it was the means whereby the Gospel was made known among the soldiers who were given the job of guarding him. And what is more, it gave heart to most of the other Christians there so that they now spoke out more confidently than before about Jesus. Paul’s imprisonment was well known so that people in the city would ask about the prisoner, and this would give them the opportunity to share the Gospel. Like Paul, we, too, can seize the opportunity right where we are for sharing the Gospel. There’s no reason for us to put it off. Opportunities do emerge. It’s for us to make use of them.
vv. 15 – 18a : Undoubtedly Christ wants his followers to spread the Gospel as a united body, cooperating with each other and encouraging each other, but it does not always happen that way. The church is divided and church leaders vie with one another for position. There are personality clashes and differences in theology. We come up against denominational rivalries. That’s true today: It was also the situation in Paul’s time. Some preachers were jealous of Paul and his influence and possibly disagreed with some of his theology, yet Paul acknowledged that, in spite of it, the message they preached could still have its effect in the lives of those who listened to them. Where Christ is accepted as Saviour and Lord, he will do his own work in the hearts and minds of believers.We find it hard to separate the message preached from the motive and manner in which it is preached. We feel that when envy and rivalry provide the motivation they undermine the message. Yet who would demand that a preacher be perfect in Christlikeness before being allowed to preach? No witnessing to Christ could ever be done if we insisted that the person doing it had to live out the way of Christ in all its fullness.
vv.18b-19: Paul acknowledges here his reliance on prayer and on the the Spirit of Jesus Christ. This gives him grounds for joy. Identifying the Holy Spirit with the Spirit of Jesus Christ anchors our understanding of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus Christ.We have called this series of home fellowship group guides a Call to Celebration, for Paul, in spite of his oppressive circumstances writes this Letter to the Philippians out of a spirit of rejoicing calling on his readers to join him in joyous celebration. But he shows that the basis for his joy was to be found in his reliance on prayer and on God’s Spirit at work in his life, both of which sustain him in his God-given mission. The work of God can never be done without prayer and the help of the Holy Spirit.
vv. 20-26: You are mortal: you will die. We all know that, but we have not all faced up to the reality of our own death. Paul had done so. He had to. He faced the possibility of death every day. But he is not afraid of it. Indeed he is looking forward to it because it will open the gateway to a new intensity in his relationship with God. His relationship with God will not be hampered by the things which disrupt that relationship in this life – all summed up by the word, sin. Whether he lives or dies, all his confidence is placed in Jesus Christ. While we live, we have a God to serve. When we die we have a God to praise.From time to time we come across people, young people in particular, who see in this passage a justification for contemplating suicide. If dying is gain, so the argument runs, why not plunge headlong into it. But this is far removed from the spirit in which Paul wrote. He affirmed life and the opportunities it gives for serving Christ. As servants/slaves of Christ we seek above all to serve his purposes. However, through Christ, we can face death, when that should be demanded of us, calmly, even joyfully, not because we can explain exactly what will happen to us or what life after death will be like, but because we have confidence in the God who loves us and the Christ who saves us.
1. Verses 12 to 14 talk about seizing the opportunity for witness. (a) Share with the group, if you can, one opportunity that you have had to share the Gospel. Did you seize it, or let it slip? b) List some of the possibilities, as you see them, for your church helping to spread the Gospel further. What are you going to do with your list?
2. In verses 15 – 18 we see that Paul was happy to see Christ being preached even when the motive behind the preaching was suspect. (a) How comfortable do you feel with this idea? (b) Are motives important in church work?
3. Verses 18b and 19 draw attention to the importance of prayer and the Spirit of Jesus Christ in Christian work. (a) Give examples, if you can, of the important part played by prayer in Christian work. (b) Why is it helpful to identify the Holy Spirit with the Spirit of Jesus Christ?
4. Verses 20 – 26 make us face up to the issue of whether we are ready to die. (a) Many people find death a difficult subject to think about. Why? (b) Paul said that living is Christ and dying is gain. What do you think that we gain through death?
- Pray for a spirit of love and unity within your small group, in the congregation as a whole and among the local churches.
- Pray for preachers, pastors and church leaders.