A Call to Celebration

Grounded in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians

Session Nine

  • Invite members of the group to share the most exciting thing to have happened to them in the past week.
  • Make a list of ten desires which you have and then underline the most important and the least important of these. Share with one another.
  • Talk about ambition. What makes a person ambitious? Is ambition a good thing? What are the dangers in being ambitious?
  • Do you or have you had particular ambitions?
  • Does your congregation have a mission or vision statement? What goals has it set for itself? If you don’t know, find out.
  • Read Philippians 3: 10 – 16 and the accompanying comment.

Philippians 3:10-16

vv. 10-11: Desires loom large in our lives. They dominate us, making us their slaves, or they come into conflict with each other, tearing us apart, so that we have difficulty making up our minds what we course of action to follow.How best to deal with desire? Some would say, “Follow your desire. You are most true to yourself when you do that. Get rid of inhibitions – go for it!” On the other hand, Hinduism and Buddhism see desire as the root cause of all human troubles. They hold out the possibility of mastering desire so that we eventually come to a situation where desires no longer have any effect upon us. But Christianity takes a different view. Instead of simply letting desires have their head or trying to smother them altogether, it sees them as God-given, but seeks to bring them under the control of one over-arching desire – what Paul called the desire to know Christ, the power of his resurrection, sharing in his suffering, becoming like him in his death, and looking forward to life with him beyond death.This means wanting, more than anything, to have the same power which raised Jesus from the dead, the Holy Spirit, present and active in our lives. It means wanting to do God’s will. It means trusting Jesus Christ and his way of life in the here and now and looking forward to joining him in resurrection life later on.Wait a bit! It’s OK to want the power of Christ’s resurrection raising us to new levels of life, but what’s this about wanting to share in his suffering? That’s a bit much! Yet what does it mean to share Christ’s suffering and to become like him in his death? In his suffering and death Jesus showed his complete abandonment to his heavenly Father’s will. To share in his suffering and become like him in his death is to want in our hearts, above all else, no matter what the cost, to do God’s will.

vv.12-14: We are a Pilgrim People, a people on a journey. We have not yet arrived. We do not know all the answers. We do not have all the truth. We often fail to live up to Christ’s standards of goodness, love and service. And this can be said of every individual Christian. We have not yet arrived at our goal. But what is important is that we keep the goal always before us. If we have been grasped by the grace of God, if we belong to Christ Jesus through faith and baptism, we must keep on travelling toward the life of God’s eternal kingdom.Paul uses the illustration of an athlete straining every muscle, giving everything he or she has, to winning the race. The gold medal is however not a piece of metal hung around the neck, but it is a life in full, open, complete and trusting relationship with God in full harmony with God’s way of love and peace. The emphasis in this metaphor is not on the competitive aspect of athletics, but on the effort put into achieving a goal.To keep the goal in mind one has to forget what lies behind. “We cannot live on past successes or rest on former laurels. Nor should we be bogged down by past failures, despair over past sins or bitterness over past wrongs done to us.” (Nicky Gumbel, A Live Worth Living, Kingsway Publications)A swimmer may have the ultimate goal of winning an Olympic gold medal, but needs lesser goals to achieve on the way, like improving one’s personal best time, doing well in lesser tournaments, achieving a set standard of physical fitness. Similarly the Christian needs lesser goals like controlling one’s pessimism or deepening one’s prayer life or giving oneself more generously to other people, along the way, while keeping the ultimate goal in mind.

vv.15-16: Irrespective of our level of Christian maturity we are to have one main goal, what Jesus called life in the kingdom of God. Paul believed that God would show any Christians who were working toward some other goal the error of their ways. Only, he says, hold onto what you already have. Don’t lose it.

For discussion:

1. Desires (a) What are your strongest desires?  (b) What would it mean to place them under the overarching control of a desire for Christ?

2. Ambition (a) What’s the difference between a Jesus-centred ambition and a self-centred ambition?(b) What does it mean to be ambitious for Christ?

3. A Pilgrim People on the way. (a) In what way is it helpful to see our congregation as a Pilgrim People ?  (b) What goals do you set yourself now as steps on the way toward the ultimate goal of Christlikeness?

4. Christian maturity. (a) What are the signs of Christian maturity?  (b) How can babes in Christ be helped to grow toward Christian maturity?

  • Write each person’s name on a slip of paper, place in a container and ask each person to draw one out, to read out the name on it and then leave time for either silent or spoken prayer for that person.
  • Pray for the work of our church in helping people grow in Christian maturity.