Philippians - Lesson 5
By Curt Niccum
- The class will define sin and identify its consequences.
- The class will describe how Jesus reverses Adam's sin and resulting curses.
- The class will relate what God has done for them in Christ to their need to do the same for others.
- Bibles for every student.
- Music and/or lyrics for When My Love to Christ Grows Weak to be distributed to class members or shown on large screen (in compliance with copyright laws).
- If devotional period is desired, you may need songbooks and to designate people for singing, praying, and scripture reading.
In 2:1-11 Paul presents the pattern for life in the kingdom by focusing on the King Himself.
Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class
Devotional Period (5-10 minutes)
- Read Philippians 2:1-11
- Sing up to two songs
- This is My Task
- Heart of a Servant
- O to be Like Thee
- Prayer (some appropriate subjects for prayer are listed below)
- For us to be agents of reconciliation in an alienated world
- For Christ's return and vindication that every knee may bow and confess that He is Lord.
Introduction (10 minutes)
- Call the roll or have someone check it. (It is very important to know who is present so someone can check on those who are absent.) Introduce and welcome visitors, take prayer requests, and make any necessary announcements.
- Have the class discuss their last Christmas or perhaps recent important birthdays/anniversaries of loved ones. (Be attentive to those in the class who may have lost loved ones this year thus making this discussion particularly sensitive.)
- A few years back WalMart broadcast a commercial advertising a special program that coupled poor children with Policemen and Firemen and then allowed them to go on a Christmas shopping spree together. One of the participating policemen commented that the children must be forced to get something for themselves, because otherwise they would only get gifts for others. One child quips, "After all, that's the spirit of Christmas!”
- Q: Usually we always ask each other what we received for Christmas. There is a better question. What was the best gift you gave this Christmas and why? A: (Any answers will do. Let class members share some of their more memorable gift giving.)
- Q: What makes one gift more important or special than others you gave? A: Two types of answers are likely: 1) the gift met an important need, or 2) the investment of time it took to do just the right thing.
- Q: In what way did you find any truth this year to Jesus' statement, "It is better to give than to receive?”
- Q: I think we all know that December 25th was not the date when Christ was born. Still, are there things people do at Christmas that in some way could relate to the religious or spiritual idea behind Christmas? A: Giving to others is certainly central.
- Q: What is it about Christmas that changes people's normal focus on self to look towards others? A: Perhaps, even with the gospel story misunderstood, people can detect enough of the truth to be changed for a season.
Learning Experiences (20 minutes)
- When the truth of the gospel is seen in all its fullness, of course, people can be changed for an eternity, not just a day or a season. In Philippians 2, Paul powerfully tells the gospel message. Have someone read 2:6-8.
- The story of Jesus recounted in this form challenges the basis of human existence.
- Q: According to the Old Testament, how does the story of humanity begin? A: (The answers will certainly come from Genesis. What you are looking for is a description of Adam and Eve's fall and its results for their descendants. If necessary, the class can be prodded with additional questions to get to that point in the primeval story.) Q: What has been the result of that sin? A: Humans have continued to fall prey to the power of sin and have suffered the punishment of death because of it (Romans 5:12-14).
- Q: What ultimately was Adam and Eve's sin? With what were they tempted? A: (Some might provide the simpler answer - to eat of delicious looking fruit. If necessary, have the class look at Genesis 3 to see with what specifically the serpent tempted Eve.) The sin was that they desired to be like God.
- Some have suggested that the motivation for every sin remains the same. In some sense, sin is the human desire to be like God. If nothing else, it is the refusal to accept that the Creator knows what is best for the created. Have the class repeat out loud: "Sin is the desire to be like God.”
- Q: Do you see any similarities between Jesus described in Phil. 2:6-8 and the story about Adam in Genesis 1-3 A: Both were in the "image of God” and both were human. Q: What about differences? A: 1) Jesus did not seek to be like God as Adam did. Rather, being like God, Jesus was willing to give that up. 2) Whereas Adam's sinful life resulted in the curse of death for humanity, Christ's death resulted in his own resurrection and glorification (and that of his followers, 3:20-21). Adam brought death yet Christ brought eternal life.
- This leads to the most important point. Obviously Christ's action has reversed the action of Adam and his descendants (see also Romans 5:15-19)! Christ alone has accomplished reconciliation between a sinful humanity and a holy God.
- Paul does not spell out here why Christ died on the cross; it is assumed that his readers know. There was no greater broken relationship than that between God and humanity. There was no greater gulf between two beings than that created by humanity's first sin. The gospel story is the account of God's working in human history, an amazing thought in and of itself, to heal that wounded relationship.
- It should be clear that no human could bridge that gap. There is no way that any one person could ascend to God's level. (It would be useful here to use arms or items at a distance to help emphasize the magnitude of both the gulf created by sin and the need for God alone to act to bridge it.)
- This means that the only one able to act was God himself, and he chose to descend to our level! In fact, he descended to the lowest level so that every human could be saved. He took on the form of a servant and died a criminal's death on the cross, all in obedience to God's loving and gracious will for sinful humanity!
- This is not the end of the story. Christ's self-sacrifice in obedience to God resulted in glorification. It was precisely where the world saw defeat that God accomplished victory. The cross brings life, and life eternal. Read 2:9-11.
- Paul places these verses in a specific setting. This is not an aside in Paul's letter for reflection on what God has done for us. It is a specific example providing the motivation and pattern for us to "do unto others.” Have someone read 2:1-5.
- Christ's death provides the ultimate example for life. Paul lists a number of positive responses that belong to those who have been blessed by God through Jesus. Q: What are they? A: Encouragement, comfort, tenderness, compassion (2:1), love (2:2), humility (2:3), and looking out for others' interests (2:4). Q: What two things in this passage does Paul mention that are alien to the life of the cross? A: Selfish ambition and vain conceit (2:3).
- Because of human rebellion and the power of sin on this earth, broken relationships with God and with other people remain a real part of human experience. Christ, though, is the only answer for healing in any damaged relationship. For those who have been reconciled to God through the cross, we realize the victory that can come from self-sacrifice. Paul writes to encourage Christians to place the cross in the middle of our relationships with one another.
- So how does this play out? Q: Has anyone done anything to you that even compares to what we did to God? A: Absolutely not. Q: In humanity's relationship with God, who was in the wrong? A: Humanity. Q: Who did absolutely nothing wrong and did not deserve in the least to be stabbed in the back the way He was? A: God. Q: How did God handle the situation? Did he decide he wasn't going to do anything until people said they were sorry? A: No. Q: Did he decide to ignore us? A: No. Q: Did God decide to pretend it didn't happen but hold a grudge anyway? A: Again no! God acted proactively in order to fix the broken relationship. In fact He did everything possible in order to bring us back into communion with him.
- Q: So then, what are we to do? A: The same, to the extent that it is possible for us. In particular we need to be armed with the same mind that Christ had so that it becomes our natural response. (Note that the verb for "thinking” introduced in 1:7 occurs three times in 2:2 and 5.)
- It seems to me that there could be no greater gift. If the Christmas story is about God taking on flesh to heal a broken relationship, then in some sense Christmas is celebrated every time we sacrifice for the sake of another. God, after a manner, takes on flesh in us. As Paul says, "Christ lives in me.” This is not for a season; this is for eternity.
Application (10 minutes)
- Refusing to fix broken relationships may indeed be the most common sin practiced both inside and outside the church. Hearing what Paul says here is imperative. Yet, there is no easy way to put this into practice. We can study it, but that does not make it easier. No series of lectures or workshops can move one to think and act this way.
- This goes beyond self-help. It requires a vision of who Christ truly is and a total transformation made possible only by God. Paul wrote to Christians, who by definition have these, but they had lost their focus on love and what the more important things are (1:9-11). How do we maintain the proper focus? Perhaps it takes us holding each other accountable as Paul does the Philippians. How many broken marriages might have been avoided if we held each other accountable? How many personality conflicts that ultimately destroyed churches could have been avoided if we had held other accountable? We must have the mind of Christ and remind each other of this. We also certainly need leaders willing to jump into the fray. Elders and deacons must provide constant reminders - in what is taught, in their own lives, and by intervening into squabbles the world and many in the church would label "a private affair.” (Note that this is the only letter in which Paul specifically addresses Elders and Deacons, Phil. 1:1.)
- It is likely that Philippians 2:6-11 is an early church hymn, and thus one of the earliest Christian songs known. Q: Why might Paul have chosen to quote a song lyric in his letter? A: 1) Music and poetry affect us at a different level. In terms of last week's lesson, imagine patriotism without songs like "God Bless America” or "God Bless the USA.” 2) Perhaps Paul even wants to remind them that they sing about this in worship and yet do not put it into practice. (They would not be the first church to not understand the songs they sing.) This would be similar to their giving money to a distant missionary but not giving of themselves to each other. 3) Music remains one way we remind each other about what is important (see Colossians 3:16).
- Perhaps it is best to close with a song; one of the few that makes the direct connection between what Christ did for me and what I must then do for others. Have the class sing "When My Love to Christ Grows Weak,” stanzas 3-5.
Assignment (1 minute)
- Each class member should read 2:12-18.
- Challenge anyone in the class who has a broken relationship to attempt "making the first move” thus week in order to heal it. (Broken relationships are not magically healed. It will take time along with fear and trembling. The time, though, to fix it is now.)
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