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(015) Philippians IX: Working Out

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Philippians IX: Working Out

Philippians 2:12-13

January 6, 2008

Before I get started, I want to remind all of you that on the last Sunday of this month, the service will be dedicated to the vision of The Gathering. The elders will spend this entire month refining our vision, and I am really looking forward to it.

It will build on our current vision, not replace it, and it will refine who we are, who we’re reaching, and how.

·         So I want everyone to be here on Sunday, January 27th.

Does grace encourage sin?

Last week we took a break from Philippians to talk about Sabbath rest. So I hope all of you had a restful Sunday morning!

This Sunday, we are back in Philippians and we’ll be in 2:12-13. This is a very short passage, but a powerful one. In fact, this is one of the most quoted passages in the NT.

It addressed a very important question:

Q   If we are made right with God by grace, not good deeds, does that mean it doesn’t matter how we live?

Because Paul emphasized salvation by grace, not good deeds, he accused of encouraging godlessness.

And some people even slander us by claiming that we say, "The more we sin, the better it is!" Those who say such things deserve to be condemned. Romans 3:8 NLT 

The great corrupter?

Now here is the interesting thing, and this is a bit of a history lesson mixed with hermeneutics lesson.

·         Hermeneutics is set of principles we use for interpreting and applying Scripture.

These accusations against Paul have not gone away. Throughout the ages, he has been blamed for corrupting the teachings of Jesus and making a brand new religion.

Modern liberal scholars, Muslims, and Jews alike all have far less problems with Jesus’ teachings than Paul’s. And the internet is full of pages making these accusations.

·         They say that Jesus never intended to create Christianity, only to reform Judaism.

·         They say Christianity, as we know it, was established by Paul.

And I can see their point: Jesus teaching calls people to the highest moral standards, saying things like, “You must be more righteous than the Pharisees”

But Paul preaches a gospel of grace, and all but ignores his life and teachings. There is no reference to Jesus’ baptism, his miracles or parables. In fact, Paul only explicitly quotes Jesus five times in all of his writings.

·         The only thing Paul cares about is his death and resurrection.

Paul seemingly takes Jesus from a moral teacher and makes him into savior, and changes the gospel from loving your neighbor into saved by grace.

And there even seems to be some conflict in the Bible between Paul and James, the brother of Christ:

James said:

You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone. James 2:24 NASB  

But Paul said:

For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Romans 3:28 NASB  

Q   So what do we do with this?

Either Paul understood the meaning and implications of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection better than anyone else, or else he recreated Jesus for his own purposes.

·         One rabbi said he was making Jesus more palatable to Gentiles who couldn’t hack the requirements of Jesus and the law.

Paul’s revelation

To answer that, we first have to ask where Paul got his information from: Paul’s authority rests upon his claim that God revealed the Gospel to him.

·         Paul clearly states that he didn’t receive his teachings from any of the other apostles, but directly from God.

On the basis of this revelation, Paul draws on his extensive knowledge of the OT, and reinterprets everything in light of the death and resurrection.

This is a very bold assertion to say, “God told me what Jesus was really about,” especially for a man who never sat under Jesus teachings on earth.

Paul’s critics would have a strong agreement, if it were not for a very important fact:

·         All of the other NT epistles and the apostles agree with him.

In fact, Peter, who was considered the foremost of the Apostles, goes so far as to call Paul’s writings Scripture:

...just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. 2 Peter 3:15-16 NIV 

·         The word for “rest of” is very clear in the Greek to mean that Paul’s writings are Scripture.

It is remarkable to realize that Paul’s letters were accepted as Scripture by the apostles and the church within in his lifetime.

·         It’s also nice to know that I am not the only one to find Paul confusing, even some of the other writers of the Bible agree.

But sum it all up: Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, understood the meaning of the Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection very well, and faithfully preached Christ, and this was affirmed by the Apostles who knew Jesus best.

Q   But what about the contradictions between James and Paul?

They are both using the same word, “justify,” in slightly different senses:

You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone. James 2:24 NASB  

Justify: To demonstrate as morally right (a definition for the Greek word for “justify”).

For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Romans 3:28 NASB  

Justify: To be vindicated by God.

·         Good works demonstrate salvation, but do not earn it.

The balance

And this brings us nicely to today’s passage: It gives Paul’s perspective of the balance between God’s role (which is grace) and our role (which is holiness).

·         In fact, this is the most concise explanation of the cooperation between God and man in spiritual growth.

Let’s turn there now in your Bibles, Philippians 2:12-13, page 831 in the pew Bibles.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Philippians 2:12-13 NIV


First thing to note: therefore. Whenever we see a “therefore,” we should look back and see what it’s “there for.”

·         I have a book called “Never Read a Bible Verse Again,” and its point is we must always read the Bible in context.

In this case, Paul is going all the way back to 1:27:

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit... Philippians 1:27 NIV  

·         Notice the parallel between 1:27 and 2:12: They both refer to the Philippians doing what’s right even in Paul’s absence.

So the point of therefore: Live as a manner fitting a child of God, following Christ’s example of serving (which is in 2:5-11).


When Paul say “work out our salvation,” he does not mean salvation in the sense of the moment our sins are forgive by God’s grace through Christ’s sacrifice. This is God’s part.  

He is talking about salvation as a life-long process, where our actions and attitudes more reflect our salvation. As I’ve said, Paul says, “You are saved, you are righteous, now act like it.”

·         This verse tells us to “work out” the reality of salvation.

Fear and trembling

And Paul tells us to do this with “fear and trembling.”

Q   Have you ever thought about fear being a good thing?

·         This is not a very popular thing to say these days.

Pete P. was telling me about a conversation with a person who refused to believe that fear could ever be a good thing.

But fear is a gift from God that keeps us safe from dangerous situations, and it is a gift that I wish God would hurry up and give it to my daughter Sarah.

A couple of weeks ago I told you about when I heard Sarah call me, asking me to get her down. I walked in to find her naked, standing in our pedestal sink, filled with soapy water.

·         I really wanted to take a picture, but I didn’t want encourage her (as if she needed encouragement.)

One of the reasons we worry about our children so much is that they lack a healthy sense of fear.

Sure, they can learn some things by trial and error and suffering consequences, like not touching the stove, but other things are pass/fail quizzes, like playing in the street.

·         You make not get a second chance on that one.

Fear is like pain or even guilt (which is another unpopular one today): When experienced as God intended, they all keep you from dangerous and destructive behavior.

·         But they are experienced beyond their purpose, at times or in ways not intended, they themselves become destructive.

Two good fears

I think every believer should have healthy doses of two fears:

1. We should have reverential fear of our Creator.

In ages past, there was an unbalanced emphasis on the “Fear of the Lord,” where God is big and scary, but Jesus is nice.

·         That is how my mom felt growing up in the Catholic Church.

But the pendulum swings, and there is an overemphasis on God’s love and acceptance. While God is our loving father, we must never forget that He is also a holy and awesome God.

A couple of weeks ago, I talked about the Apostle John, who was Jesus closet friend on earth, but he saw Jesus risen and in all his glory – he fell down as though dead.

·         And every one of us will have that same experience when we see the Lord face to face.

2. We should fear the consequences of sin.

As you probably know, as of last Tuesday, it became illegal to text message while driving. We need a law for that? You do know that cars are dangerous, right?

·         Perhaps they also need to pass a law prohibiting “driving by Braille.”

Cars are very destructive forces, and must be handled with a certain amount of fear.

Of course I have to admit to my own hypocrisy: I just got a new cell phone/PDA, and I have missed several stop lights because I have been checking my e-mail and browsing the internet.

·         But it is so cool!

Sin brings so much destruction, tragedy, suffering, guilt, shame, and regret into our lives that we should be terrified of it. It’s as scary as playing Russia Roulette with a shotgun.

The point is, we should have a reverential fear of God, and a healthy fear of sin, and those things will motivate us to live a life pleasing to God.

Work in, work out

But we don’t live right just by mustering up enough will power. out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you... Philippians 2:13 NIV

·         We work out our faith, as God works in us.

·         It is a joint venture – we are never on our own.

I would quote from “Footprints in the Sand” right now but I think Micah would tackle me before I got to the second line.

Our cooperation with God in our spiritual growth is like the two peddles on a bike: God works, we respond, God works some more, we respond. Both parts are absolutely necessary.

That’s not to say it is a 50-50 partnership – it’s probably less than 99-1, but God requires that we our part if he does his.

God’s part

And what exactly does God do?

...for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Philippians 2:13 NIV

God’s good purpose means those things that are according to his will and desires, and because God is loving and has our best interest in mind, we trust that purposes will be good.

He does two things to help us accomplish his good purpose:

1. He helps want to do what is right.

Desire and will is the first step of any action. If we have no desire to do what is right, what are the chances that we will?

·         But God will not violate our free will: Before he gives us the desire to do right, we have to want the desire.

Sometimes we can’t even bring ourselves to wanting to desire what is right, especially if it is something very difficult, like forgiving someone who has hurt us badly.

·         Sometimes we have to pray for the desire to have the desire to do what’s right.  

But if there is the slightest inkling for God’s purpose, he can fan it into flame.

2. He empowers us to do what is right.

Not only does he give us the desire to do what is right, he empowers us to do it. How does he work in us and empower us? More ways than we know, and when we get to heaven, I believe we will be amazed at all he did.

Even still, it’s always a joint venture. To close, here are four specific ways he “works in” us that require us to “work out”:

1. The Lord works in us through His Spirit.

The Holy Spirit guides and directs us, empowers us to do what is right, and gives us discernment.

·         We work out how much we rely on Him.

2. The Lord works in us through His Word.

He uses the Bible to speak to our hearts, to give us examples to follow, to sharpen us, develop us, and build our understanding.

·         We work out how often we meditate on it.

3. The Lord works in us through people.

He uses people to walk beside us, help us see truth, and to support and encourage us.

·         We work out who we’ll surround ourselves with.

We should have friends we are influencing, but we need to be cautious of those who are influencing us.

4. The Lord works in us through circumstances.

Q:   How does God produce the fruit of His Spirit in our lives?

A:   By putting us in the exact opposite situations.

True love is learned around the unlovely; joy is learned in pain; peace is learned in chaos.

·         We work out how we to respond.

And the reason God does all of this, the working in us, but requires our participation, is that he is more concerned with the process and who we are becoming, than keeping the rules.

·         In the end, God wants his children to grow up, to learn to make right choices out of love, not because we had no choice.





Father, first of all, we ask to want what you want. We can never go wrong there. We trust that your purposes are good, even if we can’t understand.

·         Help us cooperate with you in our growth, doing our part.

Help us rely on your Spirit, to meditate on your Word, to pray, to respond to situation better, and all of the other things that will help us act like your children.

Benediction (2 Corinthians 13:14 NIV)

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  Amen.


The following sources were used in preparing this sermon:

“The Rebel’s Guide to Joy in Suffering,” a sermon preached by Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church ( on 10/21/07

“Dear Philippians III: The Secret to Enjoying Life,” a sermon preached by Bruce Wersen of His Place Community Church ( on 2/9/03.

“Jesus and Paul” Dictionary of Paul and His Letters edited by Hawthorne, G. F., Martin, R. P., & Reid, D. G.


The New American Commentary (Vol. 32): Philippians, Colossians, Philemon by R. R. Melick.

Word Biblical Commentary (Vol. 43): Philippians by R. P. Martin.

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