Please turn in your Bibles to Philippians 2. We will pick up the text in verse 12. And let’s read together. READ.
At the outset of the letter, Paul began by calling to mind the conversion of these believers in Philippi. This served as an encouragement to himself as well as to his readers. He recalled their steadfastness in partnership of the gospel and his confidence that God would continue the work began in and among them. Though he was in prison, he reminded the Christians that his circumstances were actually reaping great benefits. Perhaps even more than before, the gospel was going forth – to the Roman soldiers and to the rest throughout the region. His imprisonment was emboldening believers to preach courageously.
Paul is unsure whether his situation will result in life or death, but can conclude that whether he lives or dies, he does so for Jesus Christ. And then he exhorts his Philippian readers that which ever be the case, “let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” In essence, he is saying, “I am beginning to understand what God is doing in the present – how is he advancing the gospel. But I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. God is at work. But in case this is my last opportunity, this is what I want you to know.” He says, “let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel. Stand firm together as the church. Strive together for Jesus Christ and his gospel. Don’t be frightened. Be brave. The only thing they can do is take your life. They can’t stop the gospel. To live is Christ! To die is gain!”
And then we saw last week that Paul encourages them and holds before them the person of Jesus Christ himself. There is encouragement and comfort and participation in the Spirit because of Jesus Christ. He exhorts them to unity. And this is done in humility. And of course, this is easy for all of us to emulate. Not so much…
But it is possible. In fact, we have someone to look to as our example and our enabler. I can’t think of a greater example of humility than the One who left the Father’s side in glory to enter this humanity and this mess that we have made of it. Jesus came not into a royal or wealthy family situation. He did not come as an adult king. He came as a baby in a feeding trough to quite insignificant parents.
But his humility doesn’t end there. Jesus became a servant to humanity. The ultimate expression of this is that he went to a rough wooden cross to be killed the very people he created! Doesn’t that blow your mind?? Scripture says that through Jesus everything was created. And yet He allowed mere mortals to take his life. Wow!!
As we know, death could not hold the one who has power over it. Jesus rose from the grave, the Father has highly exalted Jesus. He has inherited the name above all names to which all creation will bow. And Jesus never seeks the fame or recognition. But what does the text say? This is all to the glory of the Father. Yes, Jesus went to the cross because he loved us. But even more significantly and importantly, his primary goal was to make God the Father look glorious!
And with that in the forefront of our minds, we will address our first point today. Spiritual Workout. In verse 12, Paul moves on with “therefore,” or “so then.” My beloved. (His pastoral concern and love comes through again). And he says, “as you have always obeyed.” A very popular word in our time today is “obey.” We love the word. It brings us no greater joy than to obey someone. Well, we love the word when we use it with our children. We just don’t like to do the same. Obey.
However, the Philippians knew what it meant to obey. We saw from the outset that they had obeyed in their partnership of the gospel. They had enthusiastically embraced the gospel and were committed to proclaim it as well. But Paul doesn’t specifically reference these acts and it is possible that he wants to point out a “spirit of obedience.” So, in other words, Paul may have experienced great joy as he worked alongside this particular church. They don’t appear to have a multitude of issues as with some of the other churches he writes to.
Can you grasp this thought? To this point, Paul is overwhelmingly encouraged by their enthusiastic response to the gospel. They are apparently performing the things that he has asked them to do. And then I thought to some of my church experiences through the years. And I thought about the contrasts there are in the churches when there are those who willingly do what is expected versus those who may be reluctant or even quite often opposed to the mission of Christ’s church.
And then I pursued this thought a bit further. I imagined what this Philippian church may have looked like and what significance this may have for contemporary churches. Knowing that there are churches who teach God’s Word and others that don’t, what can we extract from this exhortation to obedience.
A growing theme from the text at this point is the concept of unity. We’ve seen it in phrases like, “partnership in the gospel, standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord.” I’ve asserted as well that God’s Word is to be our unifier. This is important because as people, we often have individual preferences and opinions. But as Christians, we are called to glorify God on the same mission. This is laid out in Scripture.
So, the church that is immersed in Scripture will be more unified. It is of utmost importance that church leaders lead biblically. When leaders lead biblically and members follow their leaders, they will experience the greater sense of this unity. It is when leaders stray from God’s Word or the members lack discernment that often the preferences, opinions, and the like will prohibit them from achieving God’s plan for that church.
It is timely that we consider this on Reformation Day. When Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses on the door of the Church of Rome and launched the Protestant Reformation, the Scriptures were again placed into the hands of the common people so that they could study and discern for themselves the truth of God’s Word. So, in this vain, we need to understand that our obedience is to God’s Word alone. And it appears as though the Philippians were characterized by their ongoing obedience… to his word… through Paul.
After encouraging their past obedience, Paul calls them to action once again. He doesn’t know his fate but he determines that, regardless of Paul’s presence or absence, that they are to work out their salvation. Those of us who are good Protestants look at this and object, “Salvation is by faith alone, and not works.” Right you are. There is an abundance of Scripture that confirms this wonderful truth. But Paul is not trying to say that they are “justified” by their works. We often speak of this word salvation in a limited sense of justification – or the moment that we trust Jesus Christ. But we neglect the fact that Scripture often speaks of salvation in more extensive terms. It’s not merely speaking of justification, but of the work of redemption in totality.
There is a present reality and a future reality to our salvation. So in Ephesians 2, Paul says that “by faith you have been saved.” And yet in Romans 5:9–10, he put it this way: 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”
And sometimes we point most intensely to Ephesians 2.8-9, we leave out verse 10. Ephesians 2:8–10, 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
There really is no inconsistency in Paul’s words here. In fact, in verse 13, this action is also attributed to God and not us. In essence, what Paul is saying is this: “the one who works the working is God.” What? Paul says that God… is working… in you! How? The Bible tells us in Psalms and Romans that no one seeks after God. So the fact that you’re here today (on your own accord) attests that God is at work in you. He has given you the will.
Mark Driscoll share a bit about how this happened in his life. He admits that when he went off to college, he wasn’t yet a believer. And so he was going with the intent to “break commandments.” But then God called him and saved him. And suddenly, everything changed. He was attending every Bible study he could find. He had an insatiable appetite for Scripture. He suddenly found himself at prayer meetings.
I can attest to this as well. I remember God’s Spirit giving me the same appetite. I was going to church, attending Sunday School, signing up for small groups. I loved it! I couldn’t get enough. And I am certain this did not originate in me. It was God at work in me!
Now there are some obvious implications and cautions with this truth. Do you sense God at work within you? Do you have a longing after God? Jonathan Edwards refers to these as “religious affections.” In other words, do you have an inclination for God? Do you find yourself longing to be with others in a Growth Group, discipleship relationship, attending the Journey because you want to know how to better study your Bible? Or do you not have this inclination? This is the caution. Either you have not yet trusted Jesus Christ, or you have wandered from him and are immersed in your sin.
Paul says that we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Here’s how this all fits together. If it is God who is works in us and causes us to want to serve him and actually does it as well, this should cause us to fear and tremble. We like to give ourselves a lot of credit. We don’t always verbalize it. When we realize that our salvation and our spiritual growth depends on God, we should pursue this with great zeal and with fear.
John Calvin puts it like this: “There are, in any action, two principal parts, the will, and the effective power. Both of these [Paul] ascribes to God; what more remains to us to glory in?” God gets all the credit and this is all for his good pleasure.
And the way we work out our salvation is our obedience to God. But again this is not popular in our day. Walter Hansen adds in his commentary, “Paul’s call to unflagging, Christ-like obedience will not be popular in a world that so highly values going fast and having fun and so quickly rejects enduring pain and submitting to authority. But the essential characteristic of the wise who build their community on Christ is their consistent obedience to him.” And yet this is what we are called to. As we are diligent in God’s Word and in its application to our lives, we are working out our salvation and also creating unity within our church community. No short cuts. And yet it is responding positively to the changing desires within us.
Our second point is Spiritual Illumination. We see this in verses 14-16. READ. This is another exhortation to unity. There is no room for grumbling and questioning for the people of God. And we know this has always been the case. Perhaps Paul had in mind the Israelites from the Old Testament. Do you remember? God led the Israelites out of Egypt and immediately grumbled against the Lord and Moses. God gave them food to eat from the sky and they grumbled. And they grumbled for 40 years in the wilderness. God basically said I’m trying to teach you a lesson, to trust only in me and you will enter the Promised Land. But they grumbled, and they grumbled, and they grumbled some more.
I pondered this in my own heart and considered how much I grumble and complain as well. Our conclusion should be that for the one who is a partaker of the grace of God, there really should not be any instance for us to grumble. Well, think about it. He gave us life. We sinned against him. We deserve judgment. He provides salvation through his Son. He continues to bless us time and again – shelter, clothes, food, friends, church, whatever. And how many times do we grumble?
And Paul adds questioning. This has the idea of disputing or arguing. We do know that there were some disagreements within the church that Paul wanted to see reconciled. It is not clear whether Paul has questioning the leaders or one another here. Regardless, as believers the default position within the body of Christ is trust. This doesn’t mean that some things should not be discerned biblically. But there is often an unhealthy amount of distrust within the church today. I believe that Satan thrives on division between believers. We can often nitpick one another to death. You need proof of this, just go to the internet and have a listen.
Sometimes I just don’t get it. We often forget that we’re on the same team. People have bashed Mark Driscoll in Seattle because he’s made some few poor choices in his younger ministry years. Or John MacArthur because he’s likes to identify false teachers and make a bold stand for truth. And now people want to throw John Piper under the bus because he talks to Rick Warren. This is the kind of stuff I’m talking about. I’m thrilled to lock arms with many of these men because they love the Lord Jesus Christ and they are preaching the gospel and influencing people for the Kingdom. Do you know what I’m talking about? I’m not referring to matters of first level theology like the doctrine of Scripture, or the trinity, or the deity of Christ. It’s these things that we can dispute. The rest are often over preferences.
I have repeatedly tried to communicate how I believe that the church can make a great impact with the gospel. It is as we live our lives in conformity to God’s Word that we will stand out in community and the world. And I believe that this is what these verses are referring to. When we as the church live in a manner worthy of the gospel, and when we do all things without grumbling and complaining, do you think that we will stand out? Yes. Because you don’t have to look very far to see grumbling and questioning. Look in the Chief newspaper. Have a listen in the local coffee shop. Turn on the news on the television and watch picketers. We’re complaining about HST and environmental abuse and Garibaldi at Squamish and the crime problems. We question politicians and RCMP. Right? It’s everywhere.
But how does our interaction influence these conversations? Are we a positive or negative influence? It’s easy to get caught up in negativity. But imagine if we were to do all things and say all things without grumbling and complaining. Our perspective is that we deserve nothing and have gained everything.
Paul says here that we desire to 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. Can you see this? This is why we aren’t Amish, right? The Amish try to separate themselves from the world. Paul says that we are to be “in the midst of” and “among” the world. Why? Because if we are living like we are supposed to biblically, we will stand out. The way Mark Dever puts is “the church is the gospel made visible.”
Remember, God is at work in us. And as he continues to prompt us… and we respond…, we will be changed. And the world will take notice. We will be blameless and innocent and without blemish. This doesn’t mean we will be perfect in this lifetime. 1 Peter 2:12 says, “12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” And perhaps even more to the point would be the words of Jesus to his disciples in Matthew 5.14-16, “14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
So, I thought about our church. And then I thought about Squamish. As you know, this is not really a town that loves Jesus. I thought about Howe Sound Secondary School. And I thought of the few lights that shine in that place throughout the week. I thought about Don Ross and the elementary schools. I thought about grocery stores and banks and jewelry stores and construction sites and law offices and home improvement stores. You get the idea. Doesn’t this get you excited?? We don’t normally think like this. This is our community project. Our jobs aren’t just our obligation to support ourselves, we are joining together to shine a light in the midst of a lost world. And then sometimes we cross paths during the week. And the light should become brighter as our conversation is about Jesus. We need to shine! Together. Shine!
And yet “shining” isn’t the end. It isn’t sufficient for others to embrace Jesus. We need to speak of the hope that we have as well. We need to share the gospel to others. And you know or you will see that when your light shines bright, you will have many more opportunities to speak. Let’s be bold with the gospel!
The text adds that we are holding fast to the word of life. Some translations state that it is holding out or holding forth the word of life. But I think it is communicating a clinging to and obeying. It is to believe and obey what it contained in this revelation from God. Like the song, Trust and Obey. But there is not too much distinction between theses understandings because to trust and obey God’s word is also to hold forth God’s word to others. God’s word is life to the dying. Have you thought of this?
The kids and the Sunday School teachers will recall this, I’m sure. Do you remember in the book of Acts where the apostles where arrested and put in prison and the angel of the Lord opened up the prison and let them out? Do you remember what the angel told them to do? He said, “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” God’s word contains the message of hope for mankind.
And Paul adds this statement, “so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.” I don’t think that he is saying that he thinks that he is wasting his time. We know that he considers his ministry for Jesus. I think he wants to boast in their obedience. I think he longs for the day when he will stand before Jesus and rejoice in the progress in their faith. And he is using this statement to encourage them.
We know that Peter uses a similar challenge when he writes in 2 Peter 3:10–12 “10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. 11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God…” And Paul would add in 1 Thessalonians 2:19–20, “19 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20 For you are our glory and joy.”
Lastly, and briefly, the last point is Spiritual Sacrifice. In verses 17 and 18, Paul increases the intensity of his appeal. He says, “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.” Paul uses a powerful visual to demonstrate a life that is poured out for God. The imagery is that of a drink offering found in the book of Numbers where a strong drink would be poured out in the Holy place.
Paul viewed his life in the same manner. He had come to grips with his possible death and concluded that to die is gain. Philippians 1:18–20 “18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.”
Paul knew what it meant to give everything for the sake of Christ and his church. To the Corinthian church he said that he will most gladly spend and be spent for their souls. For Paul, happen what may, the Philippians’ faith and ministry are already grounds for rejoicing. And his aim here is to encourage them. Paul recognized their needs and speaks of their worth in Christ.
And in verse 18, he says, “follow my example.” Insofar as this is a biblical example, you too should rejoice. Because Jesus gave his everything for us, we will do the same. And we will be glad and rejoice.”
Is this where you are this morning? Are you glad and do you rejoice? Or do you grumble and question? We of all people should be the most joyous. God has forgiven our sins in Jesus Christ. He has blessed us with his Word, his Church, so that we can grown in the knowledge of him. As we do, our affections are continually toward him. He prompts and we respond and we grow ever like our Savior. We shine as lights in the world because we are living in a manner worthy of the gospel. And because this provides us the opportunity, we speak the good news of a Savior from our sins. And we give our very lives to this task.
Paul says in Romans 11:33–12:2, “33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” 35 “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. 1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
He is an awesome God and has authored and perfected our salvation. If you have not trusted in him for salvation, bow the knee today. Let’s pray.