This is the same in our lives, because if we remain steadfast in out faith, our suffering can only serve to further God's work in our lives. Paul's example also highlights our responsibilities to each other, because through our own example we can help other Christians that might be facing the same kind of difficulty as us.
In the next few passages, Paul goes on to discuss something that has undoubtedly crossed the mind of any Christian facing extreme difficult, which is the idea that it might just be better to be done with the world and live eternally in heaven. Paul says that "for to me, living is Christ and dying is gain," to the point that "I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better, but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you" (Philippians 1:21, 23-24). We shouldn't take this to mean that Paul is contemplating suicide, but it does bring up one of the hardest truths about the Christian life; that is, that we know that this life cannot even compare to what awaits us in heaven, and so in times of struggle, we may wonder if it would simply be better for this life to end and our eternal life to begin. Despite how much we might long for our promise in heaven, however, our role as a servant of Jesus demands that we make the best of our life now, because it is only by remaining here that we are able to further God's work and spread the Gospel, both explicitly, and implicitly through the example we set even in the face of hardship.
Day 2 Study Questions
What kind of example have you set when you were faced with extreme difficulties? Did your responses to these difficulties evidence the influence of the Holy Spirit in your life, as in the case of Paul's example in prison, or did you respond according to your human desires and intuitions?
Can you think of a time when your response to hardship encouraged other Christians, or a time when another Christian's response to hardship encouraged you? If not, think about why this is. Do you have a group of other Christians you can rely on and encourage, or do you find yourself dealing with issues alone?
Has there ever been a time when you simply wished this life would end so that you could live eternally in heaven? If you've ever contemplated suicide, what made you reconsider? How might Paul's words in Philippians 1:23-24 help you when the difficulties you face feel like they are too much to bear?
In the conclusion to the first chapter of Philippians, Paul entreats his readers to "live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ" even in the face of difficulty, because God "has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well -- since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have" (Philippians 1:27, 29-30). Here he equates suffering for Christ with believing in Him, because ultimately the former is evidence of the latter. It is important to note, however, that faith in Christ does not necessarily denote suffering, and furthermore, that this suffering does not stem from faith in Christ. Rather, it is the fallen nature of the world that produces suffering, and Christians bear the greatest brunt of this suffering precisely because we do not conform to the world, but rather to Christ's example.
Day 3 Study Questions
Do you feel like you always live your life "in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ?" If not, what keeps you from doing so? Think about how you live your life both in times of ease and times of difficulty. Is it easier to live in a manner worthy of the gospel when life is difficult, or when life is hard?
When, if ever, has your suffering felt like a "privilege?" What do you think Paul means when he calls suffering for Christ a privilege?
How can Paul's acknowledgment that you are suffering in the same way that he and other Christians have suffered help you in times of difficulty? Does this offer you comfort, or does knowing other Christians suffer not alleviate your difficulties?
In the second chapter of Philippians, Paul outlines what he means by a life "worth of the gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:27). He says "if then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, and sharing in the Spirit, and compassion and sympathy," then you will "do nothing from selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves" (Philippians 2:1, 3). He instructs his reader to "let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness" (Philippians 2:5-7). The particular Greek word Paul uses to describe Jesus' "emptying" of himself is kenosis, and it connotes a kind of spiritual emptying, where Jesus, as a man, gave up his own will and any hold he had over the course of his own life so that he could be filled instead with God's will (Gorman 2).
Thus, when he talks about emulating Jesus' example of humility, he is talking about something above and beyond mere modesty or generosity. Instead, he means a kind of humility whereby we give up any of our own individual desires so that we might be filled with the Holy Spirit; in effect, by emulating Jesus' earthly example, we will be able to emulate God's character as well. This is why Paul concludes finishes his discussion of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross by noting that "God also highly exalted him […] so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2: 9-11). Through his humility and self-emptying, Jesus was able to embody the glory and power of God, so that his act of humility was in actuality an act of exaltation and ascendance. In the same way, by following Jesus' example, when we humble ourselves we actually allow God to elevate us by imbuing us with his Spirit, so that we can express His divine will in a way previously impossible.
Day 4 Study Questions
When have you acted in "selfish ambition or vain conceit?" When faced with difficulties, do you respond by attempting to demonstrate your own autonomy and will, or do you attempt to emulate Jesus by abandoning your own will in favor of God's?
Has there been a time when you attempted to "empty" yourself but were unable to? What specific things kept you from doing so?
Has there ever been a time when you were able to empty yourself of your own will and let God work through you? How did this make you feel afterward? Did you find yourself regretting the decision, or did you feel exalted?
Even if we assent to humbling ourselves and acting out God's will, we often finds ourselves doing so reluctantly, and complaining all the while. This is of course a natural response, because it is in our nature to defy God and seek out our own ends, so that when we do assent to enacting God's will, we must constantly struggle to deny ourselves and our own interests. Paul acknowledges this tendency, and encourages us to "do all things without murmuring and arguing," because "it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Philippians 2: 13-14). It is only through God's help that we are even able to deny our sinful nature in the first place, and so similarly we must always rely on His help if we ever hope to deny our own will.
Once again, Paul reminds his readers that as servants of Jesus we must rely entirely on God, because when we try to rely on out own abilities, even in the service of God, we will always fall short. When we do rely on God, we will be able to "be glad and rejoice" when enacting His will, because we can be confident that, contrary to out human intuition, everything we do glorifies Him, and subsequently, allows us to live the kind of life He wants for us (Philippians 2:18).
Day 5 Study Questions
Think of a time that you have humbled yourself and allowed God to work through you. What complaints did you have, or if you…