If your group has not had a chance to listen to the full sermon related to this discussion guide, they can find it in our sermon library. This week’s sermon was preached by Rev. Adam Hamilton.
Lord Jesus, as we gather to study your Word open our hearts to hear your voice through Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Help us to be humble and open to what you wish to teach us. Guide us as we learn together how to deal with conflict through the kind of love you modeled for us and offer us. In your name we pray. Amen.
Philippians 2:1-30 (CEB)
- Pastor Adam said, “Philippians 2 begins with Paul’s call to unity among the Christians there. Listen to his words: ‘Complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other.’ Why does Paul have to write this? Because they were struggling in this little church with disagreements.” Do you believe Paul was calling the Philippians to think the same way and agree about everything? Would that be realistic? Or was he calling them to think the same way and agree about loving one another and being united? Would that be realistic then? How about now?
- Paul went on to say, “Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others” (Philippians 2:3-4). Does thinking of others as better than yourself mean detracting from your self-esteem or self-care? Was Paul asking people to become self-destructive martyrs? What does humility look like when relating to people you care about? What does humility look like with strangers?
- Sometimes we think and talk as though conflict started recently. In his sermon Pastor Adam pointed out that this has always been a reality: “The kind of conflict we’re experiencing today in our country robs us all of joy. And what Paul teaches us in Philippians 2 is meant to address conflict, and to restore our joy… conflict is not new—conflict is a part of being human. And every one of the New Testament’s twenty-seven books was written, in part, to address conflict.” Paul’s joy did not spring from “papering over” conflict, and pretending it wasn’t there. When have you, in a family, a workplace or a neighborhood, seen someone try to “resolve” conflict by ignoring its existence?
- Paul wrote that “that at the name of Jesus everyone in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow.” That might sound like just another triumphant warrior—but it wasn’t. Scholar William Barclay wrote, “Jesus won the hearts of [people], not by blasting them with power, but by showing them a love they could not resist…. Worship is founded, not on fear, but on love.”* And Pastor Adam quoted from Dr. Martin Luther King: “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” How do we avoid returning hate for hate? Have you ever seen love drive out hate?
- Paul said if the Philippians would “do everything without grumbling and arguing,” then among “crooked and corrupt” people they would “shine like stars in the world” (a phrase he drew from Daniel 12:3). This may speak to us in a combative election year, and with the prospect ahead of the United Methodist denomination dividing. How can you, as individuals and as a group, live a joy-filled life that “shines like a star” in a world darkened by name-calling and angry words?
- Paul closed chapter 2 by praising two of his Christian co-workers—Timothy and Epaphroditus. He said Timothy was “a person who genuinely cares about your well-being,” while Epaphroditus, who’d left his home in Philippi to help Paul, had “risked his life and almost died for the work of Christ.” Pastor Adam shared his dream for his granddaughter Stella—that she “learn to love, not hate. I want her to learn to do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but instead to consider others needs before her own. And I want her to grow up in a world where she’s not afraid.” How can you, in our times, be like Timothy and Epaphroditus, helping to make a world for Stella (and all our children) full of unselfish love rather than hate?
For deeper study read through all of Philippians 2, taking note of the affection and wisdom Paul expressed to those early Christians.
Lord Jesus, you gave your all to open the doors of your kingdom for every one of us. We have a lot to learn and grow in, but we want to be citizens of your kingdom. Teach us, even when we see certain issues differently, to live in love rather than hate, being united in you. Amen.
* William Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians (Revised Edition). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1975, p.39.