Straining Towards the Goal

Posted Sep 19, 2020

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The questions in this small group guide relate to the sermon from Sept. 20. 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.

Opening Prayer

Lord Jesus, as we study the third chapter of Paul’s beautiful letter of joy, we open our hearts and minds to your Spirit. Guide us into the realization of your deep love for us, your unconquerable desire to accept and value us. And help us to see that accepting your acceptance is more powerful to transform our lives than any amount of lecturing and criticism could ever be. Amen.

Scripture

Philippians 3:1-21

  1. Pastor Adam said, “Paul begins by noting that as far as legalism goes, he had all the right credentials–he was circumcised, and a member of the party of the Pharisees, and he excelled at obeying the Law. But in Christ he came to find not a legal code, but a living Lord….As he came to know Christ, everything in his faith was turned on its head. He experienced a love, grace, power and joy in trusting in, walking with and following Jesus as Lord, that he counted all of his achievements as a rabbi, as though it were nothing.” Did coming to know Christ turn anything in your life on its head? Why or why not?
  2. We may wince at Philippians 3:2, where Paul said, “Watch out for the “dogs”…. Watch out for those who insist on circumcision.” But in New Testament times, non-Jews “remained Gentile outsiders, ‘dogs’ as some Jews referred to them. (Dogs in the ancient world were mostly wild and verminous, not often family pets.)” * Paul was ironically turning the insult around. The real “dogs,” he said, were those who called Gentile converts “dogs” if they didn’t keep the full Jewish law. What people have you seen Christians treat as “dogs”? How can you avoid doing that?
  3. Pastor Adam noted that in Philippians 3:8-9, “Paul is saying, after pursuing the law his whole life, doing everything he was supposed to do, being circumcised, a rabbi, pious Pharisee, even persecuting Christians, he always felt like he was seeking God’s acceptance and approval….20th century theologian Paul Tillich famously spoke of this saving faith as accepting that God accepts us. No longer trying to earn God’s love; no longer wondering if we are enough.” What has most powerfully moved you toward accepting that God accepts you? To what extent have you been able to stop seeking God’s approval, and trusted that you already have it?
  4. How clear is your sense of the central, overarching goal for which God calls you to live your life? How can you live your life in such a way that you, like Paul, are going flat out for the goal of living the life God calls you to? What choices can you make in the weeks and months ahead that will empower you to run God’s race with eyes for nothing but the prize?
  5. Pastor Adam summed up Paul’s message about joy this way: “Here’s the point I want us to understand: the first key to joy is accepting your acceptance from God. The second key to joy in Philippians 3 is both a clarity of purpose and a deep devotion to fulfill it. We’ve all heard others speak about the importance of “living for a purpose bigger than yourself.” How do those two keys produce joy that can continue no matter what circumstances we meet?
  6. Paul observed with deep sadness that “many people live as enemies of the cross.” These were the people who thought God’s acceptance meant that they could simply kick back and live in any way that felt good to them, with no responsibility or obligation to live for the sake of others. How can imitating Paul keep you from a life that “ends with destruction”? In what ways are you living as an ambassador, a colonist seeking to bring the life and rule of heaven to bear on earth? How can you as a group join together to carry out that mission?

For deeper study read through all of Philippians 3, observing the honesty with which Paul communicated his spiritual commitment and joy to those early Christians.

Closing Prayer

Lord Jesus, thank you for accepting us, for loving us enough to give yourself for us. And thank you for offering us a life filled with purpose and meaning as we follow in your footsteps and join you in redeeming this sad, troubled world. Amen.


* Wright, N.T., Paul for Everyone, The Prison Letters: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon (The New Testament for Everyone) (p. 116). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

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