Phil.2:12-18 “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labour in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.”
Working it Out
The Christian religion is all about Jesus Christ and Paul has just given us some great verses about him. What a remarkable example Jesus has left for his followers! Everything about Jesus is exceptional and if you haven’t been bowled over by Jesus then you simply haven’t understood very much about him at all.
If God himself could be impressed and thoroughly satisfied with Jesus and all that he did then we should be too. The Father didn’t grudgingly accept what his Son achieved but endorsed his attitude and behaviour with a full and wholehearted approval. He accorded his Son a unique exaltation and bestowed on him a unique name, a unique and outstanding reputation. In fact the Father’s approval of his Son is so complete that he intends absolutely everyone and everything to recognise the Son’s worth and value too. He expects angels and demons to recognise the greatness of Jesus and he expects you to do the same! And why should any of us want to stand out and be different?
The Father’s response to all that Jesus did was the first response which Paul described introducing it with a “therefore” in v.9 but it was not to be the last, there is another “therefore” to be found in v.12 and this time it introduces a call to the Christian disciple to respond appropriately to Jesus’ example. In what follows it quickly becomes clear that the Christian faith involves both belief and behaviour. If your knowledge of Christ has led you to believe in him the question must be asked:
‘Has you knowledge of Jesus also produced in you the determination to order your life and behaviour in such a way as honours him?’
Why? Because that is just what such knowledge ought to do.
In what follows Paul returns to the whole matter of Christian conduct. He had previously written about how important it was for the Christians in Philippi to maintain good and wholesome relations with each other in their congregational life. He had in fact talked about Jesus in order to put him forward as the great example which all Christians should strive to imitate. Now, having shown the Philippians the ideal life of Jesus, Paul continued to show them the way forward, the way they would have to go if the goal of wholesome relations in the likeness of Christ was to be attained.
The way forward that Paul described made it clear that it wasn’t sufficient simply to admire the truth about Jesus but that such truth had to be believingly embraced with the kind of belief that percolates through to affect the whole of the believer’s life and the entire way in which he orders his life.
This is the subject that Paul takes up and deals with in vv.12-18 where we find:
a) DIRECTIVES dominating the opening verses of this section vv.12-16a and alongside these we are given a series of REASSURANCES that are added to encourage us
b) INCENTIVES dominating the closing verses vv.16b-18
The normal Christian life is not a static affair but a life of growth. Every Christian is to grow in character and in behaviour so that he becomes more and more like Jesus Christ. And Paul, in these verses, describes how such growth will take place.
Paul writes both about what God does and what the Christian must do and we must be careful not to lurch from one to the other as though these two factors were mutually exclusive. We are not to be “letting go and letting God” one moment and the next exhausting ourselves with excessive Christian activism. No, the life a Christian is to lead is one that involves a harmonious blend of both rest and of activity. And we are meant to hold on to this wonderful blend of resting confidently in the fact that God has begun a good work that he will certainly complete whilst at the same time actively working and carrying out our spiritual duties.
Now to the text in more detail.
The Christian is to Work because God is at Work vv.12-13
Each of these verses describes a worker and the two are closely related: in v.12 it is the Christian who works and in v.13 it is God who does. The Christian is able to follow the instructions he is given, the command to “work out his own salvation”, because God has worked, and continues to be at work, in him. This points to that wonderful blend that we spoke about earlier.
How committed are we, I wonder, to doing what we have to do? And are we relying on what God is doing in our lives?
Let’s turn to consider the Christian at Work:
We’re going to start by looking at the “work” that the Christian has to do and the first thing we note is that this is work that can only be carried out by Christians. The Christian’s work is to be marked out by obedience, responsibility and sensitivity.
When Paul wrote to the church in Philippi he wrote to people who already were Christian believers and it is important for us to remember this as we move on to consider the directives that Paul issued in the name of the Lord Jesus. If Paul was writing to Christians it ought to be obvious to us that the directives have nothing to do with becoming a Christian but everything to do with living the Christian life. So, if you are not yet a disciple of Jesus Christ you must not imagine that you can earn salvation by trying to do what Paul urges upon Christians here. Become a Christian first and only then can you start to obey these instructions.
Paul refers to the genuineness of the Philippians’ faith as he recalled the obedience they had displayed in their lives from the beginning, ie. when they first repented and put their trust in Jesus as Saviour and Lord. They had obeyed God’s word and his commands when Paul was with them and thus they had grown as Christians and now here he wanted to urge them to make sure that they kept on doing so even though he was not currently with them. Indeed he insisted that it was all the more important for them to obey seeing as how he was no longer with them.
This raises a couple of questions for us to ask ourselves about our own obedience:
a) am I obedient only when others are about?
b) am I growing in obedience as I grow older and hopefully more mature?
Do you remember what Jesus had to say about the obedience of his disciples?
Jn.14:15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
The Christian is called upon to take responsibility for his own spiritual growth and progress – he is the one, the only one, who can work out his own salvation. That means that the buck stops with us as individuals. If you are not growing as a Christian in your likeness to Christ then the fault doesn’t lie with the poor ministry of the pastor, it doesn’t lie with the failures of others in the fellowship, it doesn’t lie in God withholding special blessings from you, it lies firmly with you. Each of us is called upon to lay hold of the grace available to us in the gospel and to act accordingly – and that means we are to work at it!
Now again let me say that this doesn’t imply that we work to gain our salvation – that is ours in Christ the moment God works in us – but it does refer to our growing to maturity. A young couple get married and they have a complete marriage from the moment the vows are exchanged and the legal formalities are completed. But there is still so much that they will discover as together they work at their marriage! It is already theirs but oh there is so much more to it than they yet know. And that is something of what it is like to “work out your own salvation” you’re to work at it, you’re to develop it, you’re to plumb its depths, you’re to let it be seen by others.
And you are the only one who can do it for you! The pastor can’t do it, your best friend can’t do it and God won’t do it either – he expects you to shoulder this responsibility as your own and get on with it.
Did you realise that? Have you grasped that? Are you running with that?
May the Lord help each of us at this point to be serious and consistent Christians who aren’t looking for scapegoats to blame but who are facing the facts and working out the salvation we’ve been given.
Our “work” as Christians is one that is to be carried out with a particular mindset and attitude. The Christian is not called to strut about arrogantly as though he is somehow a cut above the rest and omni-competent – far from it, instead the Christian is to be characterised by fear and trembling and this first and foremost with regards to God.
The fear that Paul commends here is not the fear of a lost sinner who is frightened by what God might do to him rather it is the filial fear of a son before a most loving parent. Such filial fear focuses not on what the individual might suffer at the hands of a holy God but upon what pain and sorrow it might inflict upon the loving heart of the Heavenly Father by disobedience.
This sort of fear will inevitably exercise an influence both upon the concern we might have to live up to the spiritual privileges which are ours in Christ and upon our concern for other members of our church fellowship.
Having thought at the Christian and his work as outlined in v.12 we now turn our thoughts to God and his work in v.13.
God is at Work
Now although Paul began with the Christian’s work it now becomes clear that anything the Christian is capable of doing is totally dependent upon the internal work carried out by God. His is the basic, fundamental activity out of which any work the Christian might accomplish flows. God’s internal work secures an inner transformation in our lives and our obedience is the way in which we enter into the benefit of his indwelling.
It is because God works salvation into our lives that we can work it out in our daily living.
The fact is that God is at work in the believer’s life, with a plan and a definite purpose. He intends to complete this too for he will never give up on his people. We must try never to forget such truths or to overlook them. These wonderful truths ought to bring us tremendous encouragement. Let’s not grieve the Spirit by failing to respond in the proper and way of humble obedience.
And God’s working in us is an effective working that really does achieve what it sets out to do. He will not be deflected from doing what he purposes to do and he will not be thwarted. While we might be creatures that are given to failure our God is not and we should draw great comfort from that fact.
God’s working is not only effective, it is also complete – it doesn’t do 50% of the work and leave the rest to us. As we are called upon to work out our salvation there are two elements that are straightaway involved – the will and the deed. We must be able to choose the right course of action and we must be able see it through. And this is precisely what God is working in us to produce: he recreates our will that we desire to do what he wants us to do and he imparts the wherewithal to carry it out.
And why does God do this? It is for his own good pleasure. He does it because he is a God of love who loves quite simply because he chooses freely to love. That means that he works in you because he loves you and not because he saw some potential in you that might prove responsive or beneficial to him. He works for his own good pleasure – you don’t have to gain it and you won’t lose it either but oh don’t waste your opportunity of benefitting from his loving grace make sure that yours is the response of fearful and trembling obedience!
The Christian is to Shine for God
As Paul moves on he continues to expand upon the nature of this obedience that is expected of the Christian now that he has a new nature and he also points to the results such obedience will have in the believer’s life.
Christian obedience is not a matter of following a few rules and regulations – in fact Paul doesn’t mention anything specific at all in these verses, but instead he focuses upon the extent of the Christian’s obedience and the kind of action that it ought to be.
He begins with the scope and shows us the extent of discipleship. Nothing is left untouched, and nothing is to be left untouched, by the gospel. “Do all things...” he says. Our response to the knowledge that God is at work in us is to be a total response. We don’t just give him our Sundays or our religious moments, we give him our obedience in everything we have to do. Being a genuine Christian is not a leisure activity but it is a whole life of obedient service.
And such obedience is not to be grudgingly given as though God were demanding too much for Paul goes on:
v.14 “Do all things without grumbling or questioning, ”
This is the way to go and in going this way our lives will be blameless and pure. No-one will be able to reproach us or call into question the reality of our faith because our lives will shine in this otherwise dark world. Our behaviour will loudly declare that we belong to God and his family. You see in calling for such behaviour Paul is simply calling upon the Christians in Philippi to be what they are!
And the same call comes to you if you are a Christian – be what a Christian is! You don’t have to try to become something you’re not. God has already worked salvation in you and is still working in you and you are simply to work that out on a daily basis. Simple, yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s always going to be easy. We live in “the midst of a crooked and twisted generation” and we will face a variety of temptations along the way.
It is easy to turn to grumbling especially when our circumstances are less than ideal. You’ll remember how it didn’t take the Israelites long having been freed from awful slavery in Egypt to forget that deliverance and to start grumbling about water shortages and a restricted diet and it wasn’t a good time in the experience of God’s people.
And Jesus has warned his own followers not to grumble.
Do you take such a warning seriously? I know I must.
In the original Paul actually used plurals when he spoke about grumbling and questioning and so more literally he wrote:
v.14 “Do all things without grumblings or questionings”
That means that all self-centred criticism of any sort is quite simply ruled out. Blessed are those fellowships where such admonitions are heeded!
And there is a goal in view to all this – it is to live blameless and pure lives that will shine out brightly, so differently to the world round about us. The picture is a positive one for light in a dark place is welcome to dispel fears and to lead the way forward in the right direction. And this will be achieved as the Christian holds fast to the Word of life as he refuses to be shifted from God’s truth and as he holds out that same truth to others.
Are there areas in your life that need to be addressed and changes that need, with God’s help, to be changed?
Christian Incentive – the Day of Christ
While we need to be given clear directions and instructions to follow, we also value encouragements and incentives along the way and there is nothing wrong with this.
Jesus lived the perfect life and set the perfect example and we are told that as he did so he was encouraged by a great incentive. We are told by the writer to the Hebrews that it was
Heb.12:2 “for the joy that was set before him (that he) endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
So here Paul didn’t forget to encourage the Philippians to look forward either as he called upon them to imitate their Saviour.
1. He told them firstly that there was intrinsic value in living the type of life he called for. He referred to it as “the sacrificial offering of your faith”. Now such language speaks of priestly service and such service is offered to God: their obedience, their character building, their holiness and their witness, all prompted by their faith in Christ, is the sacrifice they have to offer him.
2. Paul adds a word of his own apostolic approval concerning such a life of sacrifice. To live this way is right, he effectively says, adding that he is happy to be associated with such lives. That is what he meant when he talked about his life being poured out as a drink offering on their sacrifice. You’ll remember that death was a real possibility for Paul as the outcome of his current imprisonment but instead of being worried by that possibility Paul refers to it as a joyful addition he could happily make to their offering. (A drink offering was a smaller less significant offering added to a more important sacrifice designed to complete it.) Paul could hardly have commended the life of faith he was recommending in stronger terms than this.
3. But there is yet a higher value that Paul wants to express. This kind of life lived in imitation of Christ will be acceptable to Christ himself when he comes! Paul looks forward to that day with expectancy. He longs to see the Philippians rewarded by Christ on that day and knows that his joy will be overwhelming if they are found standing firm then. So Paul rejoices now at the prospect and invites the Philippians to join with him in his rejoicing.
And what a lovely note on which to draw our reflections on this passage of Scripture to an end this morning! The note of rejoicing! The Christian life is likely to involve us in hardship and difficulty. It will require all the energy we have and all the commitment we can muster. It will call us to go against the flow and to stand out in opposition to a lost world of darkness. But it is not a life of gloom and sadness it is a life where rejoicing is the natural element for God is at work in us, working his purposes out. So let us unashamedly rejoice and go on our way rejoicing.
To the glory of God,