Stewardship of Self (November 4-25)

Teaching in General

Heart and Mind
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians he writes, “And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (4:4, November 25 lesson). When we teach we need to touch the heart and the mind. Sometimes information by itself can carry enough impact to evoke change, “Keith, for six weeks you cannot exercise or lift any weight over eight pounds or you could go blind.” Usually though, information by itself is not enough to bring about significant transformation in individuals and church communities. Generally, we must be touched at an emotional level in order to be motivated to make what we learn become a part of who we are and how we live. On the other hand, emotion without informed direction is not enough. Passion without knowledge can lead to sincere (or insincere) Christians promoting causes that are misguided, irrelevant, hurtful, or even dangerous (sometimes terribly deadly dangerous)—insert your own religious extremist groups of all types here. In our Bible teaching we need to touch the heart and the mind. We need thorough in-depth study and we need to help students feel and experience the word of God. Facts, background, and knowledge of the teachings of the Bible can help show us God’s direction. Music, stories, poetry, humor, drama, hands-on experiences, face-to-face encounters, personal relationships, and prayer can touch us at an emotional level that makes us want to follow God’s direction. Find ways to touch the heart and the minds of your students.

Introduction to the Unit

To be honest, I think it’s a stretch to call this a stewardship unit. Yes, stewardship includes our stewardship of all God gives us, and not just money, and there is a sense in which we are stewards of every aspect of our lives, but I think maybe it was time for stewardship emphasis and they really wanted to do a study of Philippians. Maybe you’ll see a stronger connection than me. Let me know if you do. Nevertheless, this is a good time for an emphasis on stewardship as we prepare our church budget for the new year and look forward to Promise Sunday, so we would encourage you to take some time each week for a focus on our stewardship of the church’s resources. I will offer stewardship quote of the week from The Giving Myths (Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 2007), by Stephen McSwain who led our Fearless Generosity emphasis a couple of years ago.

Also please keep your class informed about these important stewardship dates and emphases:
1.    Stewardship testimony by David Williams in worship on November 4.
2.    Hazel Evans’ stewardship article in the November edition of the Key (you might want to read this to your class).
3.    During worship on November 18, Judee Vanderpool will explain “First Gift for Christ” to be received on December 2, the first Sunday of Advent.
4.    Tommy will preach a stewardship sermon in November.
5.    The budget will be presented on Wednesday, December 5, and voted on Sunday, December 9.

A Letter from Prison
Something to think about: What effect does the fact that Paul is writing this letter from prison (which surely would have been read by guards and prison officials) have on the tone and content of the letter (See, “If I Received a Letter…,” Formations Teaching Guide, p. 70)? Some of you may remember the days before unlimited long distance, email, facebook, texting, and other forms of instant communication, when we actually wrote letters. Remember how you read a letter from a friend or loved one. You probably read it through quickly the first time, then read it slowly the next, savoring every word and read parts of it many times. Imagine receiving Paul’s letter that way.

You might choose to read the scripture each week as a letter from a dear friend (a sort of Lectio Divina).
1.    Read it quickly (not so quickly that you can’t understand it) because you can’t wait to hear what Paul has to say.
2.    Read it very slowly to take in every word.
3.    Ask the class, “Which parts stood out to you?” Reread those sections as class members name them.

Scripture Reading Suggestion

Since Philippians is a letter from Paul you might place the scripture readings each week in an envelope addressed to the class and ask someone to open and read it. Class members might be more inclined to hear it more clearly as a letter. The scripture, The Message version, in a letter format, is included at the end of this introduction if you’d like to place it in an envelope.

Dear Friends
I want to report to you, friends, that my imprisonment here has had the opposite of its intended effect. Instead of being squelched, the Message has actually prospered. All the soldiers here, and everyone else, too, found out that I’m in jail because of this Messiah. That piqued their curiosity, and now they’ve learned all about him. Not only that, but most of the followers of Jesus here have become far more sure of themselves in the faith than ever, speaking out fearlessly about God, about the Messiah.
It’s true that some here preach Christ because with me out of the way, they think they’ll step right into the spotlight. But the others do it with the best heart in the world. One group is motivated by pure love, knowing that I am here defending the Message, wanting to help. The others, now that I’m out of the picture, are merely greedy, hoping to get something out of it for themselves. Their motives are bad. They see me as their competition, and so the worse it goes for me, the better—they think—for them.
So how am I to respond? I’ve decided that I really don’t care about their motives, whether mixed, bad, or indifferent. Every time one of them opens his mouth, Christ is proclaimed, so I just cheer them on!

The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you,

(Philippians 1:12-18, The Message)

Dear Friends,
If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.
Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.

The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you,

(Philippians 2:1-11, The Message)
Dear Friends,
You know my pedigree: a legitimate birth, circumcised on the eighth day; an Israelite from the elite tribe of Benjamin; a strict and devout adherent to God’s law; a fiery defender of the purity of my religion, even to the point of persecuting the church; a meticulous observer of everything set down in God’s law Book.
The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness.
I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it.
I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.
So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it.
The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you,
(Philippians 3:4-16, The Message)
Dear Friends,
Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!
Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.
Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.
I’m glad in God, far happier than you would ever guess—happy that you’re again showing such strong concern for me. Not that you ever quit praying and thinking about me. You just had no chance to show it. Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. I don’t mean that your help didn’t mean a lot to me—it did. It was a beautiful thing that you came alongside me in my troubles.

The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you,

(Philippians 4:4-13, The Message)