We all live according to some story – some narrative that takes the small, and seemingly unrelated pieces of our lives and joins them together to make sense of our experience. The story we live by can be a like a ‘loop tape’ that plays over and over in our head – telling us who we are, what is wrong with the world, and where we are going. But we need to pause and ask ourselves: which story are we listening to? Who is narrating it? And is the narrator reliable?
One educator writes: “In my English classroom right now, I am enjoying A Tale of Two Cities with my students one more time. One of the book’s main characters, Sydney Carton, believes he is an utter failure. Although he is intelligent, handsome, and full of energy, he tells himself, “I shall never be better than I am. I shall sink lower, and be worse.” Indeed, the more he repeats these words to himself, the more it seems his potential will be wasted – all because he is the unreliable narrator of his life…. At the end of A Tale of Two Cities, Sydney Carton calls to mind words that he memorized long, long ago but had nearly forgotten: “I am the resurrection and the Life, saith the Lord; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” As Carton allows these words – Jesus’ words – to narrate his life, he is changed and God redeems his story forever. This is the power of a reliable narrator.” (Sara Breetzke).
The idea that humans ‘narrate’ a story to our selves is well accepted in many fields of study (including psychology, education, counseling and theology). But the notion that there is a bigger story, or a “grand narrative” that we are a part of and ‘makes sense’ of our smaller stories, is increasingly rejected, especially by those who do not think we can confess that there is a God who gives existence and meaning to the world (See in particular, Jean-Francoise Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition, 1979).
Christianity, however, says that we do in fact live according to a bigger story – that the Creator God not only made us but is on a rescue mission to redeem and restore his good, but sin-broken creation, particularly restoring relationship with humans whom God has made in God’s own image (Gen 1:26; Col 3:10). God is writing this story and until we see our stories as part of his story, we will never know our true identity and purpose. This story comes to its climax in the Spirit empowered life, death and resurrections of Jesus – God the Son.
Is this idea that we live according to a story new to you? What do you think of it?
How have we seen Paul allowing Jesus to be the center of his story so far in our series? How does that encourage you?
Paul’s letter to the Philippian church, as one scholar puts it, “sparkles with joy – the sort of life giving, heart-refreshing joy that is tangibly transforming on its effect on the mundane realities of everyday existence” (Marcus Bockmuehl). This joy flows from Paul’s ability to see his identity being solely bound up in his relationship with Jesus, from his partnership with the Philippian church in the ministry of making Jesus known, and from his ability to “read” his prison circumstances – difficult as they may be – in light of God’s Big Story.
Now Paul also wants the Philippian Christians to adopt this same way of seeing their lives as they work to make the good news of Jesus known in their community (Phil 1:9-11; 3:17; 4:9). To do this they will need to let the story of Jesus, which Paul narrates in Philippians 2:5-11, shape their lives just as Paul has let it shape his (see 3:7-14).
Everything else in this letter ‘hangs’ on this story of Jesus’ humility, obedience, suffering and subsequent exaltation. In this study, we’ll see how this letter keeps coming back to the Jesus-Story, and what it means for us today.
Search “The Bible Project Philippians” on YouTube and watch it in your group.
- What element of the video stood out to you or helped your understanding of this letter? Why?
As we saw in Phil 1:27, the believers in Philippi are not just to live as good citizens of their city but to see that they have a different citizenship – they are to be good citizens of the gospel of Christ (cf. 3:20). As followers of Jesus, they are called to a new standard for their living as they make the confession “Jesus is Lord” over and against the Greco-Roman claim that “Caesar is Lord” and the nationalism that the city of Philippi was known for.
Living as citizen’s of their heavenly homeland means unity within the church on the one hand (1:27), and courageously loving and sharing the gospel with those of their city who are opposing them on the other (1:28-30). In 2:1-11 Paul is now offering very specific instructions about how Christians are to live – with Jesus himself setting the “paradigm” or “pattern” of thinking, feeling and acting that we are to adopt in our relationships. As scholar Stephen Fowl says it: “…Paul views his circumstances and those of the Philippians in terms of an alternate story [that is, the true story] of the way the world works. Here in 2:6-11 the basis for that alternate story is laid out. It serves as a direct counter to the claims of the empire” (emphasis mine).
- Read Philippians 2:5-11. In verses 6-8, what do we learn about Jesus – his identity, his attitude/mindset, and his actions?
- In vv.9-11, what else do we learn about Jesus? (What is the outcome of his obedience and suffering? How is the world to respond to him?)
- In 2:6-11 Paul is clearly describing Jesus in a way that makes his co-equality with God the Father clear, and demonstrates how Jesus takes the path of humility in order to make salvation possible. But that’s not the only reason he tells the Jesus-Story. Paul is describing Jesus approach as the pattern of life that all Christians are to emulate (see 2:5). This is what following Jesus means.
This group of Christians in Philippi is to also see themselves as part of God’s mission – the big picture story of God’s rescue. We are too. In light of this, Paul instructs the church to do everything without grumbling or arguing so that they will be distinct from the world around them. Why? “Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.” (2:15b-16a).
With this in mind – that the Church is to be a missionary people, and that we are to model our way of life around the story of Jesus – how does Paul’s letter to the Philippians help prepare and equip the church today to share Christ within our community? What is important to Paul about how we will be witnesses in the world?
- At several points in the video the illustrator draws a question mark ‘thought-bubble’ next to the head of a Roman citizen who does not know Christ.
Consider Paul’s example and encouragements to the Philippian church – including some of the points I’ve listed below (A-F). If we were to live these out, how would that create “questions” among your co-workers, neighbors, and classmates?
Consider: Why would these produce questions? How do they present the Christian community as an interesting, thought provoking ‘contrast community’?
- Paul’s attitude toward his own suffering, and even death, in 1:12-26 (cf. 4:12-13).
- The true unity and equality of a diverse group of people (slaves, free-persons, different ethnicities, male and female serving alongside each other – 1:27-2:4; 4:2-3).
- A community of humility, with a heart of servant-hood they are to have for each other (2:1-4), which is demonstrated by Paul’s own narration of his life (1:12-26; 3:7-14) and of that of Timothy (2:19-24) and Epaphroditus (2:25-30).
- A belief that they are made acceptable to God, not on the basis of their religious heritage (3:4-6) nor on their performance of religious laws (3:7-9a), but solely on the basis of God’s kindness and grace that come through Christ by trusting him (3:9).
- In an age of anxiety, a deep trust in God, marked by prayer and the peace that comes through God (4:4-7).
- A commitment to think about, and thus order their lives around, things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy (4:8).
- Paul has used the story of Jesus as the means of describing how we are saved, and how the saved are to act in relation to each other – that is, what mindset and actions should be ‘normal’ within the church. What element of the Jesus-story do you find most helpful and/or challenging as a model for your life? Why?
Pray with each other that we, as God’s community in Kamloops, could learn to narrate our lives according to this story and so experience a transformative work in us personally and corporately, and that this would impact our wi