Philippians 3:12–4:1: Perseverance

by Sep 5, 20160 comments

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Human motivation is a tricky thing. On the one hand, fear can be a powerful motivation, but only to a certain degree. So, the fear of failure can drive people to do things that they otherwise would never attempt, pushing performing artists and athletes to practice and train so they can perform far beyond what they think they could to accomplish. Or, fear for the safety of another person has famously caused some people to achieve unimaginable feats of strength, like lifting cars to save another person in an emergency. In large part, fear works powerfully because “losses loom larger than gains.” But, on the other hand, using fear as motivation isn’t fool-proof. While the fear of a parent, boss, or leader can often conform our external behavior, fear is powerless to transform our internal desires. As the Apostle John writes, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:18).

Love, then, can accomplish far more than fear, because love is the ultimate motivational tool. Love is more difficult to create than fear, but in the end, love motivates much more powerfully. Even fear itself depends on love, since we can only feel fear when something we love is threatened. The difference between love and fear, though, is that love gives us the ability to endure even the worst hardships for the sake of embracing what it is that we most love. But on the other hand, the power of love also means that the consequences can be disastrous when we love the wrong things, as the church father Augustine observed:

Reflect on this, then (and see the differences). Think of all the evils that greedy men are prepared to face. Think how they will put up with hardship, in order to win the things they are greedy for—things that seem unbearable to people who don’t share their greed. But love makes them brave. Love of evil, though, is called “greed,” love of good is called “charity.”

The question is not whether we love, but what we love.

In our study of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we have puzzled over the riddle of how Paul could possibly rejoice in the midst of his deep suffering in prison (Phil. 1:12–14), in the face of rivals who preach against him (Phil. 1:15–17), and with the possibility of a death sentence looming over him (Phil. 1:18–26). So far, Paul has only told us that he is motivated to follow the self-sacrificial example of Christ in the midst of such deep, cruciform suffering. Now, we must ask why Paul would do these things. Here in Philippians 3:12–4:1, Paul finally provides those answers.

Up to this point, Paul has primarily echoed the language about the humble obedience and sufferings of Christ from Philippians 2:5–8. We will see more of that language in this passage, but we will also start to see Paul start to appropriate themes from the exaltation of Christ. Paul’s own motivations, as we will see, closely follow the motivations for why Christ willingly took the form of a servant to endure such great suffering at the cross: in order to obtain glory (Phil. 2:9–11). In part, Paul presses on out of the fear of falling short of fully obtaining Christ. But more than that, Paul presses on from a desire to obtain the same kind of glory that Jesus Christ himself received when the Father highly exalted him after he obediently submitted to death on a cross.

Discussion Questions

1. What fear motivates you to action? Or, what are you so worried about losing that you change your behavior, whether in good ways or bad ways? How does Paul’s use of fear as a motivational tool address your own fears? What are the strengths of motivating someone by fear? What are the weaknesses of challenges someone by fear?

2. What do you love? Or, what do you desire so much that the prospect of gaining it causes you to change your behavior, whether in good ways or bad ways? How does Paul’s use of love as a motivational tool address your own loves? What are the strengths of motivating someone by love? What are the challenges of motivating someone by love?

3. In what ways does your own contentedness with justification by faith alone hinder you from the growth of sanctification? How can the promise of glory help you continue to persevere through suffering in your life? What specific situations in your life require you to remind yourself to the glory God is bringing into your life in Christ?

4. Why does Paul so closely tie our current lowly state and our eventual glorification to the previous lowly state and current glorification of Christ? What does that tell us about God? What does that tell us about ourselves? How does that affect our desire for that glory in the life to come?