A Call to Celebration

Grounded in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians

Session Twelve

  • What religious traditions have helped to shape the faith and attitudes of those present? List the denominations or faith backgrounds of those in the group.
  • How has belonging to this group helped you in your faith and living?
  • Invite each person in the group to nominate one virtue he or she would like to develop or one failing he or she would like to conquer, and then undertake, with God’s help, to make special effort during the coming week to develop it or to defeat it. Next week we’ll ask for a report on how this has gone.
  • Read Philippians 4: 8-9 and the accompanying comment.

Philippians 4: 8 – 9

v.8 : What we focus our attention on affects our outlook and our actions. If we focus on the negatives, we become defeatist and miserable. If we focus on the positives, we accomplish much and have a happy and confident disposition. To a congregation affected by pride and division, under some threat from rival teachings, Paul drew attention to the importance of having the right focus. Instead of dwelling on the things they should avoid, he emphasizes here what they should concentrate on.Temptations will come. Lustful, covetous, vengeful, selfish thoughts will come. But what really matters is what we do with them. We can dwell on them, we can feed them, we can allow ourselves to get carried away by their allure, but, on the other hand, we can dismiss them as unworthy and unhelpful. This is where self-discipline comes into it.Paul takes a list of virtues which were admired in the general non-Christian society of his day and calls on the Christians to keep them. This reminds us that there are values in our Australian society which God wants us to keep.While Paul’s list came from the Greek society of his day, the values are still relevant to us. We, too, are to focus our attention on what is true. Truth and integrity are to be our quest. We are to focus on whatever is honourable and worthy of respect in society; be concerned about justice, fair dealing, upright behaviour. That’s what we should practice and what we should foster in the world around us.We are to seek sexual purity in thought and in attitude. Develop friendly attitudes toward others so that we focus on their lovable attributes rather than on their more distasteful ones. Focus on those things which are commendable – things like kindness and graciousness.Not all currents in society are noble and uplifting. There are also currents which would carry us in the opposite direction. This makes life difficult, not only for Christians but for all who would try to uphold wholesome and enriching values.

v.9: In verse 8, Paul refers to generally accepted virtues, but virtues in the abstract. However we don’t live in the abstract; we live actual, particular, individual lives where we are confronted with our own unique set of circumstances. Virtues have to become concrete, specific, personal, if they are to become real. So Paul put himself forward as a living example of what he is talking about. He told his readers to keep on doing what they had learned through the tradition and example which he had set before them. The word received, in this instance, is a technical word for the reception of a tradition.We all need to belong to a tradition, a way of living handed down from one generation to another – even when we criticize it or branch out in new directions. None of us is big enough to build up entirely for ourselves a complete morality or faith system . Nearly all of the material which we build into our own personal systems we receive from others.We also need living examples. It’s not enough just to have the broad, general principles to guide us, we need models, people who demonstrate the way of life which we are being invited to live.It’s easy to believe in general, much harder to live it out in daily life. It’s one thing to believe in love in general, but to love the abusive, loud-talking and loud-music-playing family across the street may be quite another.Christian virtues can only be learnt by practice, by doing – by keeping on doing them, and it is the God of peace who helps us.

For discussion:

1. Emphasize the positives, ignore the negatives. (a) How helpful have you found this approach in life? (b) How did Paul apply it to the Philippians?

2. There are values in our Australian society which as AustralianChristians we should uphold.  (a) List some of these. (b) Why is it important that Australian Christians live out these community values?

3. In verse 8 we are told to focus on certain virtues. (a) Why is it so important to think about these particular things?  (b) How is this applicable to our reading of books andmagazines and to our viewing of movies and TV?

4. Faith is not so much what we believe in the abstract, but what wedo in particular situations. (a) Make a list of abstract ideas (like honesty, family, love, etc)which almost everyone would assent to in general, but fail topractice in particular situations. (b) How can Christians help one another practise Christlike living?

  • Pray for our Australian society and the development of those characteristics in it which are admirable.
  • Pray for the Church in Australia that it will be able to move beyond vague generalization to specific messages of hope and life.