New Hope UMC



Our current study is Philippians, by Ralph Wilson. It is a deep dive into Paul's letter to the church at Philippi. Although we have studied Wilson before, this is our first look at the writings of Paul.

 Chapter 1: Approve What is Excellent

November 19, 2015. Philippians 1:1-11. 

 Paul addresses the church at Philippi in his usual fashion by first introducing himself and his companions. Then he refers first to the "saints" in the church and lastly to the elders and leaders. The saints are the believers in the church. At this point in the brief history of the Christian church, there were no recognized saints. 

Paul says when you are consecrated, you "belong to God. You become a slave of Jesus Christ. We have a different concept of the meaning of slavery, but being a slave to Christ is fundamental for the Christian believer. What is meant to be a slave of Christ? (The lessons provide discussion questions for each topic. There are links to a forum where the question is discussed. You can read these with the links provided here.)  discussion question 1

Paul greets the Philippians with grace and peace. "I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel". When we become "financial partners" with a Christian ministry, what do we receive out of the partnership? discussion question 2

We are to carry a good work to completion with confidence based on God's faithfulness. What is the basis for our confidence? What does Paul expect God to do for the Philippian believers?  discussion question 3

Paul wishes for the Philippians to "be able to discern what is best and to be pure and blameless until the day of Christ." What is discernment in a Christian setting? Why does Paul ask God to give the Philippians discernment?  discussion question 4


Chapter 2: Struggles That Advance the Gospel

December 3, 2015. Philippians 1:12-30. 

Paul is in prison, we don't know where. He is actually in chains, tethered to a guard for most of every day. He is being held because of his testimony as Christianity was not a recognized religion in the Roman Empire at that time. Instead of bemoaning his fate, he uses this time to advantage actually converting some of the guards to which he has become "attached". A key word here is "rejoice". Not only does he accept his fate, he rejoices knowing that God is in control and he is advancing the gospel.  

Why is our ability to rejoice dependent upon our belief that God is in control no matter the circumstances? See Forum discussion question 2

And another: How can fear keep up from being a bold witness? We are all too familiar with the persecution of Christians particularly in the Middle East. The same is true in a more subtle way in this country. See discussion for question 3. We recall that Paul himself persecuted Christians before his conversion. It is thought that he was present at the stoning of Stephen and took an active role  in the decision by the Sanhedrin. Jesus told his followers that they would be persecuted. Yet they were filled with the Spirit and continued to spread the news of the gospel. Fear is not our friend when it comes to witnessing for Christ. 

Chapter 3:  He Emptied Himself

December 10, 2015. Philippians 2:1-11. 

In this passage, Paul makes an appeal to Christ's blessings, issues a call to unity, a warning against selfishness and selfless love. To achieve unity in our congregation, why is humility necessary? Discussion question 1 

Christ did not cling to his equality with God. It was not for him something to be exploited. This concept is tied to his very nature. Explain what it means that Christ did not cling to his equality with God? Discussion question 2 

Was Jesus really a human being or pretending to be one? Many held the belief that Christ was merely a spirit. Why is it important to make this distinction? Discussion question 3

Jesus emptied himself, humbled himself and gave himself up to a tortured death. For us. He was "exalted to the highest place". How can we know that God will exalt us as a humbled person? Discussion question 4


Chapter 4: God is at Work in You

December 17, 2015. Philippians 2:12-18. 

God is at work in us and Paul is works hard in these seven verses to bring us this message. He talks again about unity and harmony in the church. But he emphasizes that first a believer must work out his own salvation. He is not referring to salvation from the guilt of sin, nor about individual salvation but salvation of the church as a unit. 

What does it mean to work out your own salvation?  Discussion question 1 

Can a church shine and glorify God with dissension and disharmony among its members? Not likely. What happens when we cease complaining and work together to do the will of God? How does ceasing to complain and argue enable a church to shine? Discussion question 2 

But living the Word must be in deed not just silently. In what sense are Christians to hold fast to the Word of Life? Discussion question 3 

Paul was willing to pour out his life as a "drink offering". How does your suffering amount to an offering to God? Discussion question 4 

The class discussed the broader implications of living the Word as churches worldwide. We live in a dangerous world. We are constantly reminded of this with the threats of terrorism, specifically coming out of another religion. What are we to do as Christians? How did Christians in Paul's day react to the threats they received?  

 Chapter 5: Christian Character

January 7, 2016. Philippians 2:19-30. 

In attendance: Linda Heape, Mark Fairey, Cathy Hutto, vid Hutto, Art Whetstone.  

Paul introduces Timothy and Epaphroditus, two followers he is mentoring. (For correct pronunciation of Epaphorditus, see pronounce it.) In previous chapters, Paul was addressing the congregation at large. In this chapter, he is talking about two individuals. So we get a glimpse of how he deals with one on one experiences and also why they are so important in the Christian church. 

Why was Timothy’s selfless concern so rare among church leaders? What things has Jesus had to deal with in your life that has helped you to become genuinely selfless and focused on the concerns of others? How has he refined you?  Discussion question 1

Group: Selflessness is difficult concept. Yet at times it seems natural. Several talked of people they had known who seemed very comfortable with humility and selflessness. Other people have to force it. We talked about how this attitude is acquired and agree that it comes from the Holy Spirit, which in turn comes from belief, acceptance and continuing to work things out through Bible reading, study and prayer. . 

Who has come along to teach you? What potential leader in your church needs someone to come alongside them? Do you have a person or two that you are mentoring "as a son with a father" or "a daughter with a mother"? Are you mentoring someone now? Discussion question 2

Group: All of us recalled people in our lives that have had a positive influence, mostly by the examples they set, how they treated others and their genuine caring and humility. 

What is the significance of serving Jesus in a Master – Slave relationship? What does it say about the quality of our service? Of our commitment? What is wrong with leaders who serve out of preference?  Discussion question 3

Group: Leaders who serve out of preference are choosing their roles instead of submitting to God and having him do the choosing. Often they are not suited to the purpose of leading, which is a gift like any other. We discussed attributes of leaders pro and con and talked about people we knew. A leader can get things done, delegate and do it in a way that encourages others to follow. 

What is the Philippian church’s chief problem? How does Paul's description of Timothy's character speak to this problem? How does Paul's call to honor men like Epaphroditus speak to this problem?  Discussion question 4

Group: The problem with the church at Philippi was leadership. When Paul, Timothy and Epaproditus were away there was no one to take up the slack. Paul realized this and worked it out. He knew that leadership in the right way was essential to the survival of the church.

It was encouraging to note that several had made use of the discussion question links in preparing for the lesson. When we get broadband and a projector, we will be able to go through these together. Meanwhile they will be published here in advance of the lesson. 

Chapter 7: Pressing Toward the Goal

January 21, 2016. Philippians 3:12 - 4:1. 

In attendance: Cathy Hutto, David Hutto, Glenn Houser, Denise Metts, Bill Metts, Art Whetstone. 

Key Verses: "But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:13-14. 

Paul now puts his money where his mouth is. He has been talking about trading every advantage to know Christ. In this chapter, he gets to what it means to know Christ and how it urges him on to complete his work for God. 

Here are the discussion questions for this week. 

How can the past get in the way of our quest to know Christ? What do you need to "forget" so that you may focus on Christ today and tomorrow? Is there forgiving you need to do so you can grow in Christ? Discussion question 1 

What is it like to be called upwards by God? Have you ever experienced this? What causes God's call to become dim in our hearing? How can we renew our hearing of his call? What is the content or specifics of this message or summons or call? Discussion question 2 

How can Paul be so bold as to ask others to imitate him? Why are we so hesitant to do this? How does God use imitation in building disciples? Who is likely to imitate you? Discussion question 3 

Why is recognizing and affirming your citizenship and allegiance vital to discipleship? How does it keep us from the temptations outlined in verses 18 and 19? What are the dangers of a church combining and confusing the concepts of temporal patriotism with a Christian's true citizenship?Discussion question 4 

Group discussion:

Several members are now making use of the discussion forum internet link on their phones and tablets. Soon we should be able to show these on the whiteboard for everyone when the broadband is installed.     

We usually first look at the question and then go back to the text in the lesson and then refer to the forum discussion. These discussions are very thoughtful from theologians and studious Christians and help us get more deeply into the issues that are developed in Paul's scripture. We dug into all of the questions and had some time for personal testimonies as well as applying these texts to our modern world. 

The moderator took a few minutes to give the backstory of the church at Philippi, involving 3 people mentioned in Acts. First, there is Lydia, a merchant from Thyatira who also owned a home in Philippi. She was already a God - fearing person but knew nothing of Christ. After hearing Paul, she asked to be baptized. Her group was also baptized and Paul and his companions were invited to stay at Lydia's home. Lydia is thought to be the first person baptized in Europe.

The second person mentioned is a slave girl with visionary powers. She followed Paul and his group until finally he invoked the Holy Spirt to exorcise her demons. Her handlers were upset because she had been earning money for them with her fortune telling. They objected to the authorities eventually resulting in Paul and his companions being taken to to prison. While there a miracle took place when a storm blew open the doors and freed the prisoners. The jailer was about to kill himself since he was responsible for them when Paul stopped him and told him that they were still here and weren't going anywhere. He then asked to be baptized into the faith and the prisoners were invited to his home.

So we have 3 people who came to the faith in different ways: Lydia, through intellectual curiosity; the slave girl, through an act of the Holy Spirit; and the jailer through a miracle. What's more, they were people from different walks of life: a wealthy merchant, a slave girl and a blue collar jailer. Such is the nature and perhaps the goal of the Christian faith. It brings together all kinds of people through the strength and truth of the Gospel.      

Chapter 8: Rejoice in the Lord Always

January 28, 2016. Philippians 4:1-9. 

In attendance: David Hutto, Cathy Hutto, Bill Metts, Denise Metts, Linda Heape, Mark Fairey, Glenn Houser, Art Whetstone.  

Key Verses: "Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. the Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your heas and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:4-7. 

Paul cautions about having one's own way. He begins with a plea to Euodia and Syntyche to put their differences aside, but concludes with a profound teaching on how to find inner peace through prayer and trust. 

Here are the discussion questions for this week. 

Is rejoicing in the Lord a feeling or an action? How should you seek to fulfill this command if you don't feel like it? What is the effect of rejoicing? Discussion question 1 

Our discussion. It is both feeling and action taken together. Feeling joy in a time of crisis or a low point in your life is difficult. But it is perhaps a hallmark of a Christian life to feel the joy that comes from God at a desperate time. This does not come instantly but is something you build toward with prayer, study and communion with God. 

How is a request in prayer altered by the presence of thanksgiving in the prayer? How does thanksgiving affect our faith as we pray? Discussion question 2 

Our discussion. We always have something to be thankful for no matter how bad things get. We have so many blessings but we just don't stop to realize them. Several gave examples of hidden blessings that we should acknowledge through prayer. After all, everything we have is from God. 

How does making our requests known to God help build a relationship and trust? What is God's part in the promise of peace? Discussion question 3 

In any relationship, there must be communication. This is true with God, too. As to peace, the only way to real peace is through God. All other attempts fall short as will end in despair. We are talking about inner peace here as opposed to world peace. 

Why is mind control necessary for success? For mental and spiritual peace? What have you decided to focus on instead of your anxieties? How is this working for you? Discussion question 4 

 It's kind of like the power of positive thinking. Good thoughts crowd out bad thoughts. If your good thoughts are in short supply, the Bible is a good source. Praying, reading the Bible, discussing it with other Christians all build up a reserve of good thoughts. 

We talked some about the status of the world and the decline of civility and morality. The implications are that there is less discernment between right and wrong possibly starting to some extent with trouble in the home. The desire for independence is visible in this generation and that is independence over respecting parental authority. The decline in church attendance during this period is all noteworthy.   

Chapter 9: A Partnership in Giving and Receiving

February 11, 2016. Philippians 4:10-23. 

In attendance: David Hutto, Cathy Hutto, Glenn Houser, Bill Metts, Linda Heape, Mark Fairey, Art Whetstone

Key Verses: "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength." Philippians 4:12-13.  

"And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:10

Paul concludes the letter with a few personal notes that reveal even more promises for our Christian lives. He talks about poverty and wealth, both of which he has experienced; about how God will provide for us in any circumstances. He talks about finances and thanks the Philippians for their support. There are some memorable, oft quoted verses in this final chapter of our study of Philippians. 

Here are this weeks discussion questions. 

How can a "prosperity doctrine" threaten Christian ministry? To what prime motivation in us does such a teaching often appeal? In balance, what does the Bible teach about poverty and riches? Discussion question 1 

Our discussion: The prosperity gospel is a controversial doctrine. Some see it as a good thing to ask God to bless one's personal well being; others see this as putting our wishes in front of God's. The Prayer of Jabez in Chronicles adds to the confusion. A landmark book on this obscure scripture by Bruce Wilkinson has become a platform for those who espouse the prosperity gospel. Jabez asked for God to increase his territory and keep him from evil. The important thing in all of that it is not money that causes the problem; rather it is the love of money. Wealth can be used to further God's kingdom.  

What is the basis of Paul's contentment? Does this contentment undermine ambition? What is necessary for us to achieve this kind of contentment? Discussion question 2 

Our discussion: Paul find's his satisfaction in Christ. Christ is what he lives for. The troubles of the world are inconveniences that do not disturb his relationship with God. 

How were the Philippians' financial gifts credited to their heavenly account, do you think? How was their giving linked to temporal blessings? Discussion question 3 

Our discussion: Those who are called to work full time in the ministry depend on the support of others. That was true in Paul's time and is true today. They need financial support to carry out their mission. It is up to us to support them with our giving. We can worship the Lord through deeds but giving is required to support those who work full time in the ministry. One activity complements the other. But activities cannot replace the financial needs of the church. 

In this context, what is the condition that must be met for the promise to be valid? What is the limit of the fulfillment of the promise? In your own words, what does the promise mean to you? Discussion question 4 

Our discussion: We enter into a partnership with the church through our commitment to service and gifts. Now we enter also into a partnership with God. This is through having a personal relationship with Him. We belong to Him. He belongs to us. We have our own covenant with God. 

The Covenant Prayer of John Wesley expresses this relationship very well. 

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it
. And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.