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February 3 lesson: Press On In Christ

January 19, 2019
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Press On In Christ

Winter Quarter: Our Love For God
Unit 2: Loving God by Trusting Christ

Sunday school lesson for the week of February 3, 2019
By Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers


Lesson Scripture: Philippians 3:7-14

As we complete this unit with our last lesson based on Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, let us rejoice in the courageous voice of him who writes from prison to express gratitude for a gift of love. The gift was hand-delivered by Epaphroditus, who also shared with him what was happening in the fledgling congregation. The gift and the news prompted Paul’s letter.

The news was a mixed bag! Some good, some bad. The conflicts we discussed in earlier lessons were personal (Euodia and Syntyche), political (Caesar and Christ), and congregational (Paulist and anti-Paul). We need to add one more – religious (Judaizers and Gentiles).

Paul always went to the Jewish synagogue in every town to begin his missionary work. He was proud of his Jewish heritage and the role of Judaism in bringing the Messiah/Christ to the world.  The present conflict was over the place of the Mosaic Law in the Church. The conflict would become a heated one, focusing primarily on circumcision as a prerequisite for Christian discipleship.

We believe this conflict has overtones of the one our beloved denomination is currently facing as the called session of General Conference meets in St. Louis this month. In the verses preceding our lesson, verses 4-6, Paul gives his spiritual autobiography – birth, circumcision, tribal identity, a rigorous keeper of the Law/Pharisee, and a persecutor of the first followers of Jesus. Faith in Christ is the identity marker for God’s people, not keeping the Law. Law limits/builds fences, whereas faith opens wide the doors of the Kingdom without barriers. The issue is faith in Christ, and none of us can judge the faith of others by outward signs. Only God knows the heart of the true believer. Like those who wanted to stone to death the woman taken in adultery, we are all out of the stone-throwing business. (John 7:53-8:11)

We believe the Bible teaches that members of the fellowship of Christ cannot limit who can or cannot belong. Moreover, who can judge whom God has called to ministry? Every Christian is called, and God gives gifts for specific ministry to those called. Who is qualified to build barriers?

In our early ministry, some were absolutely convinced African-Americans could not be seated in our segregated churches. Later, others were just as certain women should not be ordained. They were wrong then, and we believe many in our churches are wrong now. How can the Church of Christ exclude anyone who says, “Jesus is Lord?”

Paul calls all his former claims of religious superiority “garbage!” (vs.8) Nothing in his background compared to the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” The contrast could not be stated more vividly.

Paul is close to having an accountant’s balance sheet of gains and losses. What do you consider “gain or loss” for Jesus’ sake? He shifts his argument to the source of righteousness – our right relationship to God. Is it based on old inherited cultural standards, or is it established by the new community of faith in Christ? “Do not judge lest you be judged,” remains eternally good advice.  There are no human standards that supplant the “righteousness of faith in Christ” – neither the Mosaic Law nor the United Methodist Book of Discipline!

There is another dimension to Paul’s assurance: when we are found in Christ, we will participate in his sufferings. (vs.10) Jesus did not die on the cross to show how dedicated He was, but to open the doors of eternal life to all humankind. When we are found in Christ, our lives become Christ-shaped as living sacrifices the world will see. “Let your light shine before all people that they may see your good works, and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt. 5:16) We believe now is such a time for our beloved denomination to show to the world the true scope of Jesus’ love and acceptance. We quote Edwin Markham who said:

            He drew a circle that shut me out—
            Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout—
            But love and I had the wit to win:
            We drew a circle that took him in.

We believe, like with segregation and women’s ordination, we are on the side of what is right, not what is easy. We know that not everyone will read and interpret this scripture as we do. However, we have written this to encourage conversation within your Sunday school class and hope it will foster meaningful, productive, and thoughtful dialogue about the issue.

Similar to Philippians 2 in last week’s lesson, Paul is not casting doubt on the reality of the resurrection (vs.10). There are no “ifs” or “maybes” with his “somehow.” He is referring to a future hope for believers based on Jesus’ resurrection. Our faith rests in the totality of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

Nor is there any way we can earn or merit to “attain resurrection from the dead.” Like our salvation, resurrection is a gift from God, not an achievement, and is given to all believers. We all stand “in the grip of grace.” Paul himself, in prison, faces an uncertain earthly future, but he has no doubt about his eternal destination.

Not knowing what the future holds, and being honest, he confesses: “Not that I have obtained all this, or have arrived at my goal, I press on to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of me.” (vs.12) We love the expression “Be patient with me; God ain’t through with me yet.”

The Christian life is a long-distance run – a marathon if you will – not a sprint. Day by day, we keep on keeping on. The ultimate destination gives us the energy, and the perseverance, to run the race, and “keep our eye on the prize!” The Christ-like spirit of servanthood marked Paul’s life from the Damascus Road to the Roman prison.

Salvation is far more than “going to heaven.” In this life’s journey of faith, we “press on,” forgetting the past and looking to the future with hope and confidence. May each of us, each congregation, and our whole denomination – do the same. God will bless us on the way to live with Him forever.

Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at sgr3@cox.net.

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