Philippians - Lesson 4
By Curt Niccum
- The class will list similarities and differences between earthly citizenship and heavenly citizenship.
- The class can describe the importance of correctly identifying the enemy.
- The class can describe the importance of fighting the correct enemy.
- Bibles for every student
- If devotional period is desired, you may need songbooks and to designate people for singing, praying, and scripture reading.
Paul begins the body of the letter by emphasizing the unity necessary for victory (Our unity with each other spells victory despite suffering, just as Christ's unity with God spelled victory despite suffering, 2:5-11).
Lesson Plan for Conducting Class
Devotional Period (5-10 minutes)
- Read Philippians 1:27-30
- Sing up to two songs. (The following are suggested tunes.)
- The Battle Belongs to the Lord
- Faith is the Victory
- Victory in Jesus
- Hail, Hail, Lion of Judah
- Prayer (some appropriate subjects for prayer are listed below)
- For Christian unity that remains unshaken in times of trouble
- For those Christians around the world that are experiencing persecution, that they might find joy in their imitation of Christ
Introduction (10 minutes)
- Welcome visitors.
- Review the previous class.
- Q: In Philippians 1:19-26, Paul listed two choices set before him. What were they? A: Life and death.
- Q: Which one did he choose? A: Life. Q: Why? A: Because this would be of benefit to others.
- We saw that Paul's decisions in the present and for the future were always shaped by that which glorified Christ. For Paul, the glory of Christ is found precisely in the cross. The paradox of Christianity is that our life is living Christ's death. Q: Did any of you try to live the life of the cross this week? If so, how did others react? A: (This was part of the assignment from last week. Hopefully, some in the class will be willing to share about their experiences. Expect both positive and negative results, for even though Christ was received well by many, he was also crucified by others.)
Learning Experiences (20 minutes)
- In the past two weeks we have looked at Philippians 1:12-26. Q: Paul marked off this section by using what word at its beginning and ending? A: "Progress.”
- Paul is going to do the same thing with the larger section of 1:27-3:21. Have the class read 1:27 and 3:20. Q: Can you identify the idea Paul is repeating? A: Unless someone has the TNIV (or the Greek), nobody will see a parallel. The problem is that the connection is hard to make in the English language. Q: Let me read 1:27 to you from a different translation and see if you can then locate the theme. "Only exercise your duty as citizens in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” What, then, is the theme emphasized by this and 3:20? A: The theme is citizenship!
- The city of Philippi had a special standing. It had been designated as a Roman Colony.
- When Alexander the Great conquered Europe, he disseminated Greek culture throughout his empire. The Romans approached things differently. They left the Greek culture intact. Instead they established certain cities throughout their empire as "colonies” through which the Roman (Latin) culture could be spread. This worked slowly, but worked nonetheless. (It was not until the third century that the bulk of the Roman Empire actually spoke Latin.)
- Although people from all walks of life could settle in a Roman colony, the government provided incentives to induce government representatives and retirees from the legions to locate there. Thus, the core of citizens in these colonies was fiercely loyal to the state.
- One can see a glimpse of this attitude in Philippi when one reads Acts 16. There the mission work of Paul and Silas was hindered by the constant yelling of a demon-possessed slave. After numerous days of her incessant interference, he cast the demon out of her. This meant an immediate loss of income for her owners, for they used her to predict the future for paying customers. Although their anger originated from economics, the slave's masters understood that they could not complain that Paul had driven out the girl's demon. This would only have resulted in more positive publicity for Paul. Instead, they take advantage of the loyalties (and racial bias) of the city's populace and bring political charges. "These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice” (Acts 16:20-21). Thus we see early on the importance of Roman citizenship to the Philippians and some anti-Jewish feeling as well.
- Paul's calculated response to this situation is redeeming Christianity as a religion compatible with Roman citizenship. Instead of slinking out of prison the next day, he demands a parade with the city leaders at the head (16:37-39). This was a public display appropriate for Philippi, for it revealed both the false nature of the charges and the validity of Christianity as a religion within the Roman Empire.
- One should not underestimate, therefore, the importance of "citizenship” to this church. Paul employs a word that would have stirred up many strong feelings in this congregation.
- Q: What then is citizenship? Why is it so important to Paul that the Philippians apply it to their religious practice? To be able to answer these questions, perhaps it would be worth examining citizenship from an American perspective.
- Until recently, citizenship was not a common word in the American vocabulary. It was not always that way. Children were awarded citizenship awards and taught about patriotism in schools until the early 1970s. At that point there was a distinct shift of focus away from citizenship and community and towards self-esteem and individualism.
- Citizenship and community were central to the group of people Tom Brokaw calls "the greatest generation.”
- Q: To what generation does Brokaw refer? A: The World War II generation.
- Q: Why is this generation so different? What gives them a different perspective on citizenship? A: They learned the value of self-sacrifice. They gave up personal rights and privileges to defend others and to preserve community.
- This resulted in lives that were changed based on those experiences. The World War II generation learned a valuable lesson through that painful experience. After the war, to their credit, they continued to have a sense of loyalty to community. The attitudes and contributions of this generation have been well documented in numerous books apart from Brokaw's bestseller (some are listed below under Additional Resources).
- Q: We have recently experienced a resurgence of patriotism in this nation. Why? A: The attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Q: To what one event in World War II has this attack been compared? A: The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. (The subpoints of section D may be omitted by the teacher if under time constraints. However treated, the class needs to identify in some way with the fierce patriotism of Romans in the first century. Many post 9/11 Americans will understand, but others might not.)
- Some have questioned the adequacy of this comparison. After Pearl Harbor, Franklin Delano Roosevelt urged American citizens on to self-sacrifice. George W. Bush, on the other hand, called Americans to self-indulgence. (Specifically, he asked them to go to the malls and purchase more than usual.) Perhaps this was due to the type of attack most recently committed which was more economic than military.
- Still, there has been a distinct change in the way people view citizenship. John F. Kennedy asked American citizens "not to ask what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Compare that to more recent campaign slogans, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago” and "It's the economy, stupid!”
- The bulk of volunteer work in the United States is accomplished by the World War II generation. A devotion to citizenship and community has markedly fallen off in subsequent generations. (Thankfully some glimmer of hope seems to exist in our present elementary and secondary school students.)
- These are mentioned only to point out that the value of citizenship may not be appreciated by many American Christians today. Thus they might miss the power of Paul's message to the Philippians.
- Q: Despite the horror of the attacks, did you see anything beneficial result? A: People outpoured generously. More people sought spiritual answers to the tough question of life. The nation came together and found focus. (There are probably many more valid answers.) The fact is that the attacks, if only briefly, made us realize we are a people that belong together. We have identity in community. We are citizens of the United States of America.
- Q: Why does it take an attack by foreigners to stir up these feelings? A: Because it is easy, in times of peace, to 1) lose sight of who the enemy is, and 2) to become focused on ourselves.
- Have the class read Philippians 1:27-30. Q: In view of American citizenship as practiced by the World War II generation, can you find any similarities in thought expressed at a spiritual level by Paul? (If this question is not clear, ask if Paul considers the kingdom of God under attack and needing a patriotic response.) A: Paul calls them to be citizens (1:27). He wants them to stand firm and to fight with him, offering a unified front (1:27-28). He calls them to imitate the leadership of Jesus and himself (1:29-30). In the passage immediately following, the call to self-sacrifice for the good of the kingdom is stressed.
- We have noted that Philippians is about personal relationships. Looking at this passage out of context, one might wonder how this relates to the larger theme. Instead, this has everything to do with the discussion of relationships that follows.
- Again, examining more recent events might be helpful. Q: What happened to the intense bickering among the political parties after September 11? A: It disappeared. Q: What happened to the daily concerns of Americans? A: The focus moved away from self toward that of the nation. Q: What might Hauerwas and Willimon mean when they write "there is nothing wrong with America that a good war cannot cure?” Resident Aliens, 36. A: Our attention is drawn away from self and minor skirmishes with our fellow citizens when challenged by the real enemy. Priorities get straightened out.
- Q: So then, what might Paul be doing in these verses? A: This is a rallying cry. Paul wants the Philippian Christians to identify the real enemy. They have lost focus. Bickering with each other hurts the church. Unity may be sacrificed. Our fight is not with each other but with "the world” (1:27-30) and with the dark spiritual powers (Ephesians 6:12). Fortunately, God fights the latter for us and victory is assured because of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. Our fight with the world can only be won if we follow the same battle plan. Victory at home comes through self-sacrifice.
- The church is at war. This should create in the hearts of its citizens a loyalty and patriotism that far outweighs anything Americans have ever experienced. If we unite around Christ, we truly will stand.
Application (10 minutes)
- Since the lesson has drawn on a number of analogies from American patriotism and citizenship, perhaps one more might help in terms of application. One of the central elements in American Citizenship is the saying of the Pledge of Allegiance. Have the class analyze the Pledge in terms of a spiritual equivalent for the kingdom of God, drawing particularly from the first chapter of Philippians.
- "I pledge allegiance” - A statement of commitment that is certainly implied in Paul's call to citizenship (1:27) and is exemplified in Paul's devotion to doing only that which magnifies Christ (1:20-21).
- "To the flag” - Just as the flag serves as a symbol of that to which Americans devote their loyalty, the cross serves as a symbol of that to which citizens of the kingdom devote theirs. The American flag symbolizes unity in diversity (50 stars representing 50 individual states that make up the nation as a whole) and glorious origins (thirteen stripes representing the thirteen original colonies). The cross also symbolizes glorious origins (victory was won at the cross, 2:5-11) and unity in diversity (Galatians 3:26-28).
- "Of the United States of America” - We are citizens of God's kingdom (1:27 and 3:20).
- "And to the Republic for which it stands” - The flag only represents something greater. In itself it is just a piece of material. It stands, though, for an entire nation. The cross represents something greater, God's activity on human behalf through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The cross, now long decayed, remains as a symbol of that which unites all who believe in Jesus Christ. It shapes who we are, or at least who we are to be.
- "One nation” - Paul stresses the unity of Christianity. In addition to 1:27, see 2:2 and 4:2.
- "Under God” - Here it is not too difficult to find an analogy. The church is the only nation truly under God.
- "Indivisible” - This word refers to the Civil War. The nation was almost destroyed because of infighting. The church, too, has suffered when the battle turned inward instead of outward towards the real enemy. This is one reason Paul does not focus on those opposing him (1:15 and 17) and why he encourages the Philippians not to be shaken by opponents (1:28).
- "With liberty and justice for all” - Here is the crux of the matter. The United States upholds certain "inalienable rights” for all of its citizens. Far more so does the church offer liberty and justice. God offers freedom from sin and righteousness to all. That is why it is important for God's people to be the real source of liberty and justice for the world. We think of others rather than ourselves precisely because that is the foundation of our spiritual union (Philippians 2:5-11 and 3:10).
- Hauerwas and Willimon state, "The cross is not a sign of the church's quiet, suffering submission to the powers-that-be, but rather the church's revolutionary participation in the victory of Christ over those powers. The cross is not a symbol for general human suffering and oppression. Rather, the cross is a sign of what happens when one takes God's account of reality more seriously than Caesar's…. The overriding political task of the church is to be the community of the cross,” Resident Aliens, 47.
- Self-sacrifice, in other words, is not defeat. The cross is where real victories are won. It happened 2,000 years ago, and it still happens today. In a sense, the church, because of its allegiance to the king and the kingdom, has volunteered for a suicide mission (i.e., self-sacrific), yet it will win through this a victory of incalculable proportions.
- Q: What are some specific things we will do as good citizens of Christ's Kingdom? A: Allow students to discuss personal goals, but also coax the class into considering group activities (either for the class or the congregation).
Assignment (1 minute)
Each class member should read 2:1-11.
Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony (Nashville: Abingdon, 1989). Tom Brokaw, The Greatest Generation (New York: Random House, 1998). Mary Pipher, Another Country: Navigating the Emotional Terrain of our Elders (New York: Riverhead, 1999). Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (London: Simon and Schuster, 2000).
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