We are studying Philippians 3:7-14 for Sunday, February 3 – rounding out our recent focus on Philippians. We will be thinking about what it means that Paul regards his past status and success as loss compared with having gained Jesus Christ. Here are a few questions about the text we might want to consider, whether before or during class:
In v7, Paul refers to “whatever gains” he might have had, that he has “come to regard as loss.” How do we understand Paul’s reference here? That is, what gains might he have had from those things, do we think? What do we think it means about them that they are “loss”? What are the different ways we can answer this question? What difference does it make which one of these we choose? Why do we say this?
How do the things Paul describes in vv4-6 compare with things we ourselves might regard as “gain”? [More personal] What are the things we have regarded, or sometimes regard, as “gain” or as things that give us status? The things Paul refers to in vv4-6 are ethnic, religious and theological marks, memberships, and behaviors. Can we think of any things in our own ethnic, religious or theological world or community that we ourselves might be tempted to regard as “gains” we could bank on? What would those be? How do we feel about that? Why?
One of the things Paul seems to be referring to in v7 is “righteousness under the law,” according to which he was “blameless.” (v6) What does it mean to regard “righteousness under the law” as “loss”? How would that have changed Paul’s behavior, do we imagine? (That is, do we think Paul stopped being “righteous”? Do we think he stopped doing some “righteous” things but kept on doing other “righteous” things? Which ones? Why those, do we think? …) What makes us think this?
(Note: here it might be worth taking a look at Romans 13:8-10, 1 Corinthians 8 & 9:19-23, and Galatians 2:1-14.)
What does it mean in vv8-9, do we think, to “gain Christ” and “be found in Christ”? What does it mean to “know Christ” (v10)? What are our reasons for thinking what we think here? (For instance, do we know this from something else in the text? From something we have learned in church or Sunday school? From … )
How does what Paul describes in v11, “sharing of [Christ’s] sufferings by becoming like him in his death,” seem to be related to gaining, knowing, and being found in Christ? Why? How do we feel about this? Why?
What did “sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death” look like for Paul, do we think? What would it have looked like for the Philippians, do we think? Why do we think this? [More personal] What would that look like today, do we think?
How does Paul’s wanting to “gain Christ” (v9) seem to relate to what Paul says in v12 – that “Christ Jesus has made me his own”? Do we understand these two statements to go together, to conflict with each other, or what? Why?
What is Paul “pressing on” for in vv12 & 14? What does it mean to “press on” here? What does he have to do to “press on”? Why do we say this? [More personal] What does it or would it mean today to “press on”? What would be required? (Attitudes? Which ones? Activities? Which ones? Other? What?) Why do we say this?
Overall, this strikes me as a particularly challenging text for us contemporary Christians. It depends on references to ancient Judaism, which bring up issues that continue to challenge the church; it deals with themes of ethnic and religious identity that are still flashpoints for contemporary Christians, as evidenced by the daily outpouring of outrage on the internet; it touches on and arguably challenges core theological points, especially for Protestants (“justification by faith” right up against “pressing on” and “sharing in Christ’s sufferings and becoming like him in his death,” which quickly takes us into the territory of “Holy cow, I’m seriously not even close …”).
Might be good to remember that this letter closes (more or less) this way:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.