Philippians 2:1-11, “Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
In conclusion to our examination of this most glorious section of Scripture two Sundays ago we noted how the key to rejecting a me-centeredness and the motivation for preferring others (essential to achieving unity) is to keep your eyes fixated on Jesus alone!
This is why Paul intentionally presents Jesus’ example of true selflessness and humility directly following the individual challenge for these Philippians to “let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus!” The only way we can ever see a Jesus Culture yielded within a church whereby the presence of Jesus is manifesting through the lives of the believers who make up that church is for the example of “Jesus Christ” to be our primary motivator.
So it’s with these things in mind that Paul continues… Philippians 2:12-13, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now 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 do for His good pleasure.”
“Therefore, my beloved…” In light of this glorious example established by Jesus Christ (One who completely submitted to the will of His Father in order to prefer you and I), the Apostle Paul now tenderly applies His exhortation… “My beloved” or literally “the recipients of my agapē”, as you consider these things, as you have always done (“always obeyed”) whether I was in your presence or not, may you “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling!”
Right from the beginning it should be pointed out that this statement “work out your own salvation” has been taken to mean many things it does not. Tragically, this verse has been contorted and distorted to make the argument that your works play a role in your salvation. I must be clear - your works have played and never will play such an important role!
First off, it’s important in seeking to understand what Paul is actually saying that you keep in mind who he is writing this to - Paul is writing to believers, not unbelievers. The intended audience was Christians who’d already experienced a saving faith based on Jesus’ work! As a matter of fact, this “working out” was something Paul affirms was already happening.
Additionally, Paul has already said in Philippians 1:6 that he was “confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Right from the jump please dispel the idea their eternal security was in some way at risk.
Secondly, Paul is clear they were to “work out” not “work for” their salvation. And note this distinction is not semantics. This wasn’t an exhortation to do something to gain salvation - salvation by its very definition must be given and received and can never be attained.
In Ephesians 2:8-9 Paul was unequivocal to this point writing, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Paul is not contradicting himself. Instead, it appears he is describing a result their salvation should have been manifesting in and through their lives.
In the Greek the word translated into English as “work out” is “kä-ter-gä-zo-mī” which can mean many things: preform, bring about, fashion, commit, produce, yield, or to do that from which something results. If you do a word study of “katergazomai” you’ll find many examples of this word being translated in all kinds of different ways. Here’s a few examples:
It would seem the fundamental idea behind this word “katergazomai” is that something already existing within a person naturally works it’s way out of that person! Whether it be a homosexual lust manifesting in a “shameful” act, a “trial” - “tribulation” - or “light affliction” producing “perseverance”, “patience”, or an “eternal weight of glory”, or for that matter a “sorrow” which yields “repentance” or “death” - this “working out” is really nothing more than a natural manifestation of what’s already within the individual.
In a more modern way you’d say Paul is encouraging these Philippian believers to “live out” their “own salvation.” He’s telling them to allow the work within to work its way out from their lives. You see works are not the cause of salvation. They are the effects of one’s salvation.
For example… Service (whether it be ushering, watching babies, singing on the worship team, donating your time at the food bank, coming to the church to help with a building project) or for that matter generosity shouldn’t be seen as a way to earn your salvation - things you do for God to earn points with Him. Instead, these type of external works should manifests from all that God has done for you - the fact Jesus saved you! Works are not a bad thing depending on the motivation… Are they a means to an end or the end of the means.
Which makes sense for Paul then writes, “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” One of the problems when we talk about salvation as a work of God is that we don’t fully understand what’s all involved in the process. The fact is the Bible presents salvation as being a past tense event - we have been saved, a yet still future event - we will be saved, and a continuing process - we are being saved.
Past Tense: Titus 3:4-7, “But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy Jesus saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
Future Event: Romans 5:8-10, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”
Continuing Process: 1 Corinthians 1:18, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 2 Corinthians 2:14-15, “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.”
The reason this Biblical understanding of the three-fold work of salvation is important (past, future, and present) is that it clarifies what many confuse. First, if you’ve been saved how can you not be saved - unless for some crazy reason you decide to reject that original work of Jesus which others would then argue is simply evidence you were never saved to begin with. By the way, that’s about as far into those weeds as I’m going to go this morning.
Beyond this and more specific to our study is that if the work of salvation is a continuing process then salvation becomes just as relevant to the present as it was to the past or will be in the future. Understand, the same incredible work of Jesus on the cross, the same amazing grace that redeemed you though you were lost, the same unconditional love that justified you and gave you a home for all eternity… Is presently at work in your life today!
And notice what work God is presently doing… “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” Don’t miss the most obvious… This is a work God specifically does “in you.” The continuing work of salvation - a work that transforms your life occurs within the seat of your desires (your spirit). Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit God has imparted you with a new nature - the internal nature of Jesus Himself.
Galatians 5:19-25, “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. Those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”
As you learn to ceed more and more control to the influence of His Spirit as opposed to your flesh (this is what Paul means when he encourages us to “walk in the Spirit”) the results are radicle… Overtime God slowly transforms both your “will” and your actions - what you “do!” You see as your desires change so do your behaviors! In the end what Paul is saying is that since God is working in you - your job is to decide to let that work flow out of you.
This is why the very implications of this phrase “work out your own salvation” indicate the manifestation of God’s work in you should be seen by those around you! The evidence of salvation should yield a progressing and constant change in how you live.
Before we continue, please don’t overlook the very personal natural of what Paul says. He’s clear you “work out your own salvation.” Knowing the legalistic tendencies that arise amongst Christians Paul is specific for a reason. Everyone has the responsibility to determine how God’s work manifests from their own lives. It’s not your job to dictate this to anyone else.
Now I say all of this with maybe one exception… Paul continues in the next few verses by giving us an example of what “working out your own salvation” should actually look like before closing out the chapter by presenting two practical examples we can examine.
Philippians 2:14-16, “Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.”
Paul get’s very practical on how God’s work in us should manifest from us… First, he says, “Do all things without complaining and disputing!” While on the surface the challenge to resist “complaining” seems daunting, it’s a much larger challenge than the translation affords. In the Greek the word actually describes “a secret displeasure not openly avowed.”
Not only should we as Christians “do all things” without “disputing” or arguing (note: Paul adds no caveat or limitation to what scenario this applies to - it can apply to church life, service, taking out the garbage, your job, the HOA, etc.), but that we should also guard our hearts. Paul’s challenge focuses just as much on your attitude as it does your actions.
Here’s why this is so rad… If you can resist such an attitude and behavior in all that you do, the reputation that results will effectively represent Christ Jesus “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation!” Seriously, the radical nature of a person who adopts such an approach to life is so other-worldly one must conclude he or she is not of this world!
Now before you find this to be an impossible mandate, don’t forget Paul says, “That you may become!” Not only does the ability to “do all things without complaining and disputing” only occur as a natural manifestation from God’s work in your life, but this reference again points back to these results also being the natural manifestation of God’s work - not yours!
I didn’t catch this until one of the final readings through my study, but Paul is brilliant in transitioning to this exhortation. Though in some regards we have the ability to manage our actions, it’s only a work of God that can yield an internal effect transforming one’s attitude.
Follow Paul’s logic… The natural results of the progressing work of salvation is to yield a person who now has a reputation of being “blameless” (free from guilt), “harmless” (unmixed or pure), and known to be a “child of God without fault” (one that is unblamable). And it’s such a person that then naturally “shines as a light in the world” or literally they’re seen as an illuminator “holding fast the word of life!” God’s work in me manifest in a witness through me!
One of the things that amazes me about Paul’s approach in this passage is that while he affirms they were living “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation” his focus isn’t to rail against or highlight the crookedness or various perversions within this world. Instead, Paul simply exhorts believers to be examples in such a world of a better way.
One of the other things that blows my mind about this passage is how sincere and so very personal Paul wanted such a Godly reputation to be found in these Philippians. This wasn’t a suggestion or a flippant desire. In actuality, he was willing to place the success and effectiveness of his entire ministry on God’s work manifesting in such a way. He writes, “May I rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain!” He continues…
Philippians 2:17-18, “Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. For the same reason you also be glad and rejoice with me.”
“If I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad!” What Paul is saying is that if his death was necessary for such a work of God to be accomplished in and through these Philippians than he was not only willing, but took joy in this reality. A point he continues by saying these Philippians should “rejoice” in as well!
Philippians 2:19-24, “But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, that I also may be encouraged when I know your state. For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus. But you know his proven character, that as a son with his father he served with me in the gospel. Therefore I hope to send him at once, as soon as I see how it goes with me. But I trust in the Lord that I myself shall also come shortly.”
Though Paul had been honest about his present circumstance (his death was something he had come to peace with and the knowledge that God could use his death to further the Gospel yielded incredible joy for him), on two occasions he writes, “But I trust in the Lord…”
Paul knew his earthly life may end in Rome. That said, he was still making arrangements as if the Lord would instead bring about his unlikely release. Not only does he communicate to these Philippians his intention to send Timothy to Philippi, but Paul is clear he was also making plans to come himself - He writes, “That I myself shall also come shortly.”
It’s not an accident the letter shifts from describing the reputation Paul desired would manifest through God’s work in these Philippians to this man Timothy and later Epaphroditus. Sure, from a practical sense Paul intended to send Timothy to Philippi in order to retrieve word as to their “state” and he’d already sent Epaphroditus to curry this letter, but in mentioning them Paul was presenting them both as an example of this Godly reputation.
Paul begins by describing Timothy as being “like-minded” or literally one “equal in soul.” The first mention we have of Timothy is in Acts 16:1-2 when we’re told that during Paul’s second missionary journey through the region of Galatia “he came to Derbe and Lystra. And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who believed, but his father was Greek.” Though we don’t know much about Timothy’s conversion, since “he was well spoken of by the brethren” Paul recruits him to join his ministry team.
If you study Timothy’s life, not only does he become Paul’s most trusted friend, but he ends up being seen by the Apostle as “a beloved Son.” There is no question that Paul had a fondness and a deep love for Timothy. Notice the incredible compliments Paul pays him.
First, while Paul was deeply suspect of who he’d send to Philippi stating that most “seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus” - not so with Timothy. Because of his other-centeredness and Christ-focus, Paul was confident Timothy would “sincerely care” for the “state” of these Philippians. This man loved Jesus and loved those Jesus loved.
Additionally, Paul says, “But you know his proven character, that as a son with his father he served with me in the gospel.” Because Timothy had been with Paul during both of his stops in Philippi, he was able to point to his “proven character” and faithful “service.” This church knew of Timothy’s internal “character” because his outward actions had “proved” it.
Philippians 2:25-30, “Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need; since he was longing for you all, and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. For indeed he was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.
Therefore I sent him the more eagerly, that when you see him again you may rejoice, and I may be less sorrowful. Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem; because for the work of Christ he came close to death, not regarding his life, to supply what was lacking in your service toward me.”
In addition to Timothy (who Paul planned to send to Philippi) the Apostle closes the chapter presenting another example of a man who immolated the very things he was discussing. As we noted in our introduction it had been Epaphroditus who had been sent to Rome from Philippi with their financial support. In actuality, this very letter was entrusted to Epaphroditus by Paul which is why he tells them to “receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness.”
What’s worthy of note is that while in Rome Epaphroditus became so ill “he was sick almost unto death.” Not only was Paul worried he might die, but word of his condition had reached Philippi. Paul writes that Epaphroditus “longed for them and was distressed because they had heard he was sick.” It seems that while Paul would have preferred for him to stay it had become more important to send him home to alleviate any worry they may have had.
Aside from the interesting backstory, notice the glowing and ringing endorsement Paul gives Epaphroditus. He begins by calling him his “brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier…” Then Paul affirms that Epaphroditus had not only fulfilled his mission by being their “messenger,” but had practically “ministered to Paul’s needs” while in Rome. This is what Paul means when he says he “supplied what was lacking in their service towards me.”
As a matter of fact Paul even tells them to “hold such a man in esteem” going so far as to say in his service “for the work of Christ Epaphroditus came close to death, not regarding his life.” One scholar I read observed that this statement “not regarding his life” was actually a particular Greek phrase associated with gamblers. What Paul was saying is that for the sake of Christ Epaphroditus had been willing to risk it all - he bet the house willing to loose it all!
Please don’t overlook a subtle, but inescapable point… Epaphroditus was a Godly man, faithfully serving Jesus, who became so sick he almost died. And note… This statement that “God had mercy on him” indicates his was not a miraculous healing! The reason I bring this up is to dispel a common heresy that sickness exists because of a lack of one’s faith. Epaphroditus survived because of God’s mercy, not his faith or deservingness.
In closing there is no doubt that, like these Philippians, we also live in a “crooked and perverse generation.” Sadly, our cultural norms have redefined what is false into truth. It’s taken the lie and made it into a new gospel. Aside from rejecting what is Godly, we now live in a world challenging what is simply natural. What has always been seen as perverted has been normalized by the majority. What has always been fringe has become mainstream.
Today, and I speak specifically of America, the fear of society at large is not the creeping influences of an amoral secularism, but instead the traditional influences of Christian ethics. The truth is that the most dangerous beliefs in our world is a Biblical understanding of marriage as well as the simple belief that biology is the chief determining factor of one’s gender identity. We’ve gone from “one nation under God” to “one nation offended by God!”
And it’s in facing such a generation that what our crooked world needs most is a unified church that possesses a Godly reputation. You see our focus should not be on condemning the world or calling out its perversions. Instead, our individual focus should be on allowing God to “work out our salvation” so that we can each better immolate Jesus.
Honestly, I’ve found that most understand this world’s brokenness on a personal level… People experience emptiness and long for something more! And it’s with this in mind that what people need more than anything isn’t a Christian telling them what they already know, but to see in us a life that dramatically contrasts it - that we “hold fast the word of life!”
May we hear the exhortation of Paul to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” knowing that “it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure!”
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