A Call to Celebration

Grounded in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians

Session Eight·

Invite people in the group to tell others their favourite food, colour and music. ·         List three things which you could do with reasonable confidence. ·         What’s the difference between healthy self-confidence and that over-confidence which borders on arrogance? ·         Discuss what has happened to you as a group over the time that you have been meeting and where you want to go from here ·

Read Philippians 3: 1- 9 and the comment on the following pages.

Philippians 3: 1 – 9

vv.1-6: The Jewish people used to speak of Gentile people as dogs. Paul turns this around and uses the term of those people who want Gentile Christians to submit to Jewish rites. They are the evil workers that he is warning his readers against. They were Christians who honestly thought that Gentile men, on their conversion to Christ, should be circumcised because, from the time of Abraham, this had been the sign of belonging to the People of God. But Paul is adamantly opposed to this because it implies that faith in Jesus Christ is not enough for salvation, to be a child of God one needs something more.The message that we are saved by the grace of God received by faith seems too simple for many. They want to add something more to it. Some have wanted to add the practice of physical circumcision; others, membership of a particular church. Some have given the impression that there were minimum standards of dress required or that abstinence from drinking, gambling, or other activities had to be added to faith. Some want to add good deeds and religious activity as requirements that have to be met for salvation. Yet the fundamental message is that we are saved from sin by God’s love and grace, received by faith.He goes on to say that it is those who worship in the Spirit of God and who put their confidence in Jesus Christ, not those who place their confidence in physical markings, who are the true People of God. He then says that, if anyone should have grounds for confidence before God on the basis of being a Jew and keeping the Law he should have, and he lists his qualifications for this.Our confidence is to rest on Christ, and on Christ alone, not on our baptism, our nationality, our family, or our racial origins, not on our respectability or good standing in the community, not on a sincerity of belief or the soundness of our ethical standards. The only ground for Christian confidence is God who was in Christ Jesus.

vv. 7-9: Before his conversion Paul was proud of his standing and his achievements, but he happily gave all this away for what he gained in knowing Jesus Christ, his Lord. The accountant’s reckoning which used to see great profit for him in keeping the Law, now sees it as a loss. What used to seem so valuable to him looks now like a heap of garbage.Righteousness refers to our standing before God. It means being right with God. How do you stand before God? On what is your confidence based? Paul rejected a confidence based on his keeping of the Hebrew Law in favour of a confidence based on Jesus Christ.Righteousness is not built up by what we do, nor is it measured by our standing in the eyes of other people. It is a gift which comes from God. We are given, as it were, the goodness and righteousness of Jesus himself. Our confidence is then squarely to be placed on him, not on our own goodness, church involvement, moral standing, ethical ideals, or reputation in the eyes of other people.This means that we live as people who have been put right with God. No longer do we carry old guilts. They have been forgiven. We are free of the burden. No matter how heinous the crime, no matter whether other people forgive us or not, if we put our confidence in Jesus Christ as the one who puts us right with God, we are saved, we are free, we are forgiven.If we are put right with God, we are then to try to live in God’s way. But we are not then trying to become something which we are not. We are working at becoming more fully what we already are, to take possession of what which we already have – the righteousness of Christ.And we take possession by faith. Faith is not something that we achieve. It is simply the way whereby we are opened up to the grace and salvation of God.

For discussion:

1. The message that we are saved by grace through faith seems too simple for many. (a) Why do you think this is so? (b) Give examples of additional requirements which people have suggested should be added to faith.

2. Baptism is the sign under the New Covenant of belonging to the People of God. (a) What is the connection between faith and baptism? (b) Why is baptism in itself not enough?

3. Confidence before God. (a) What are some of the inadequate things on which people try to build their confidence?  (b) Share your own experience of Christian confidence.

4. Righteousness is hardly something which the majority of people aspire to. (a) Why is this?  (b) How does the biblical understanding of righteousness as “our standing before God” differ from the popular understanding of righteousness?

  • Pray for your own increasing confidence in Christ.
  • Pray for families who have had children baptised in your church, for the formation of faith in those young lives and for the faith and witness of their parents.