Phil. 2:12-18: 12 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, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. 14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 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, 16 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 labor in vain. 17 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. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.
This passage is on the heels of the hymn about Jesus that we covered last week. The “Therefore” at the beginning of verse 12 informs us of Paul linking this passage to the rest of chapter 2.
In effect Paul says, “You have heard me call you to humbly count others more important than yourselves and to look out for the interests of others (cf. vv. 3, 4). You have just heard me describe the example of the one who lived this out in his humiliation and the divine approval in his exaltation (cf. vv. 5-11).1 Now, because of this glorious truth and grace, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.
Paul is bringing our hearts and minds to practical connections to a couple things:
1) First, in verse 10 Paul says that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow”. “Therefore”, we would do well to live in light of the fact that we will be in that number who bows the knee to Christ and proclaim Him alone as Lord.
2) Secondly, we learn from vv. 6-11 that after Jesus endured suffering and the abuse of the cross, that He was finally vindicated, as God super-exalted Him. “Therefore”, we would do well to live in light of the fact that we will be fully vindicated and exalted with Jesus as well, if we indeed work out our salvation with fear and trembling (pick up our cross; Jesus and the garden; suffering).
Since this is where Paul is leading us, it is vitally important that we rightly interpret what Paul is saying here for the sake of not distorting the gospel. He is exhorting us to live in a manner that would rightly display that you are indeed a son, a daughter of God. We might do well to remember within our theology of grace the words of Jesus: Matt. 7:21: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
And modern Christianity has produces this. The problem is not just the occasional hypocrite, but systems that seem to produce not just one man but whole congregations characterized not of holiness but of worldliness. Live like the world, no biggie! Confront sin, you’re a judgmental unloving Christian. We musn’t remain deceived.
It’s not loving for people to remain deceived. Also, when the church is becoming more like the world, it makes our lives together less joyful, less forgiving, less loving. When we become like the world, the world no longer has any questions. If our words and actions aren’t true, the light of the world is dimmed. Hope vanishes.
Paul asks the Corinthian church this penetrating question, “Is Christ divided?” (1 Cor. 1:13). The local church is designed to reflect Christ. Is the church’s holiness and love reflecting God’s holiness and love so that God can get glory among the nations? We work against him when we build churches that camouflage God’s character.
Okay, before we go any further, let’s take a look at what Paul does not say in vv. 12-13. Paul does not say: “‘Work to acquire your salvation, for God has done His bit, and now it’s all up to you.‘ Nor does he say ‘You may already have your salvation, but now perseverance in it depends entirely on you.’ Still less does he say ‘Let go and let God. Just relax. The Spirit will carry you.’” 2 (That is shallow and unbiblical advice)
Instead Paul says: “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for (or “precisely because”) it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Think about it, God is radically for you (Rom. 8:31)! He is working in you as a child of God. He is affecting your will to obey for his good pleasure of seeing you display His beauty and His worth to those who are perishing.
Fear: The word fear in the Greek is the word “phobos”. This is where the word phobia comes from, and at the core of the word “phobos” it refers to reverence, respect, or honor. What do you fear? (Show pics)
Trembling: The word for trembling in the Greek is the word “tromos”. When coupled with “phobos”, this Greek word means “great” or “intense” reverence, respect, or honor.
We honor and reverence many things in this life, and often to the neglect of healthy fear of God which shows the condition of our hearts in time. Why, when we know that God is for us? This is something that God has worked in us, and believers ought to work it out.
As assured as we are that God is for us and God is working in us, we should be all the more strongly determined to will and to act in a manner that pleases our Master. God is sovereign, but man has a responsibility to respond to this sovereign God. This is where we get into mystery. So, I think we need to pause for a moment to unpack God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility so I can be sure we are all on the same page.
Many of us have spent way too much energy in trying to fight for one or the other (God’s sovereignty or man’s responsibility in regards to salvation) when the Bible insists that they remain together. Many ill-informed Christians are too eager to die on the mountain of God’s election which proves that we shouldn’t evangelize because God will save whom He will and man has no say in it.
Well, we see in the book of Acts that God’s sovereignty in salvation is actually God’s way of encouraging evangelism because of the very fact that we know not who they are that will hear the proclamation of the gospel and respond to it and receive Christ.
At a very low point in Paul’s life and ministry, the Lord comes to Paul in a vision and tells him this: “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” (Acts 18:9-10)
KEY: The Lord tells Paul that His sovereignty over salvation (I have many in this city who are my people) works hand-in-hand with our going and proclaiming the gospel and others’ hearing and believing the gospel.
So too in our lives is God’s sovereign grace a means of encouraging us to continue in working out our salvation with fear (reverence, respect, honor) and trembling in good works which He has already prepared for us to walk in.
Augustine sheds some light on to this mystery when he says, “Our deeds are our own, because of the free will producing them, and they are also God’s, because of his grace causing our free will to produce them.” And he says elsewhere, “God makes us do what he pleases by making us desire what we might not desire.”3
Consider Ephesians 2:10: For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Walk in the good works that God has in store for you, and the fear and trembling comes because in this world we will have trouble, and from the words of Paul earlier in this letter:
Philippians 1:29-30: 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
One more thing we should note, that Paul’s initial meaning in this passage is directed towards the “whole church”. It’s good to individualize this, but we must read it through the communal lens first. Pay attention “as a church” how you behave in the midst of conflict and int the world, not as a lone ranger.
After all, Christ Jesus humbled Himself and with fear and trembling, He went to the cross and bore the shame of our sin and was cut off from the Father. So too should we with fear and trembling pick up our cross and follow Jesus communally as we love one another in spite of our differences
So just how do we walk this out in fear and trembling, as we labor to advance the gospel even in the face of certain suffering? Paul answer this clearly in the rest of our passage here this morning. As we unpack verses 14-18 we will see some concrete examples as to how we are called to work out our salvation in fear and trembling:
1) v. 14: Do all things without grumbling or disputing: Don’t be complainers. Stop being so critical. Stop all the gossip. You don’t have to be right all the time. Don’t help with a smile while I’m looking and then turn around and roll your eyes. Cut it out. Grow up! Enjoy the mercies that God has given you yesterday and today. I think one of the things that we will be accountable for when we stand before God is whether or not we enjoyed what He gave us to enjoy. Your house, wife, children, job, church, friends, etc .
We grumble and dispute because we are greedy. Greed isolates. So does narcissism; concerned with “I” to an unhealthy degree. Two narcissists can be friends as long as they benefit one another. When narcissists become successful, they find more successful friends. But the top narcissist in any community will be utterly alone because he can’t recognize the problem of talking only with his soul which makes him miserable, unfriendly, and full of complaints. (rephrased: Delhousaye class notes II.E.2)
2) v. 15: 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: Grow up and stop grumbling so you can be good examples. Your salt looses it’s saltiness when you grumble, and your light is hidden under a bed when you are disputing. Once you grow up and act like a redeemed child of God by the super-exalted Christ, then your salt will be salty and your light will allow others to see.
Read and unpack the parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:13-21; parables communicate ultimate reality) This is a remarkable moment in Jesus’ parables: The one, true God speaks directly to a human being. God and the man are the only two characters in the parable. Every human being faces an ultimate word from God. Of course, no one wants to hear fool. The man is not rebuked for ignorance, but living as if God does not exist. His social location makes it unlikely that he denied the existence of God. God didn’t matter. God was staring him in the face with the blessing of an abundant harvest. It is one thing to deny God’s existence after suffering an atrocity, but quite another after being given everything the world has to offer. Lord, have mercy on us, the wealthy! (Delhousaye, II.E.2)
For most of our history, Christianity has viewed life as preparation for heaven. To be frank, historically Christians have not expected much from this life. While their souls yearned for heaven, their bodies were mired in filth, hunger, and disease. Today, reaping the fruits of being in the world’s largest economy, with all the conveniences of technology, many of us are able to use our wealth and power to insulate ourselves somewhat from scarcity. American Christians expect a lot from this life: health, wealth, and meaningful work. But virtue from scarcity is a better preparation for heaven.
Thus, in contrast to the rich fool, in honor and reverence of God, we should:
3) v. 16a: hold fast to the word of life: Just what is this word of life? None other than the gospel! Nine times Paul rattles off this word euaggélion, the good news that is depicted in Phil. 2:5-11. Hold fast to Jesus. Obey His words. Our conduct in the church must be one of fear and trembling of misrepresenting the gospel (the word of life). What is the word of life? John 1: The word became flesh and dwelt among us.
4) v. 16b-18: 16b so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain 17 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. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me: Rejoice in one another’s obedience to Christ! Why? THE RESURRECTION!!
Also, Paul’s name is on the Philippian church. What I mean by that is, Paul is planting
churches throughout the eastern world and the behavior of these gospel-centered
churches affects his reputation of being a true apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, and
he represents God Himself.
As we close, I want to share with you 5 truths that were being distorted in the 1st century church and are still being distorted today:
1) God will judge (2 Peter 3): We can easily fill a church with people who will follow their own desires. It’s even easier to deny that sin is happening and go on living as if everything is okay because we are fine on the outside. Avoiding the doctrine of hell makes us one step closer from denying it altogether.
2) We deserve God’s judgment: We need to feel our own helplessness. God is good and we are not. We must understand our sinful inclination: we love darkness rather than light. Don’t deny or downplay our human sickness. We cannot deserve this new life—but there is One who has deserved it for us. He who thinks lightly of sin will think lightly of the cross and our Savior.
3) Jesus is our only hope: We must trust in Jesus—who he is and what he is done. We cannot be redeemed through our own works. The bodily resurrection is an essential part of our message. Without the person of Jesus and his atoning work, we can make “converts” but we will not have a Christian church. When we get this right, we begin offending and attracting all the right people. Only true converts respond to the truth about Jesus Christ.
4) We will not experience heaven on earth: Christ’s death and resurrection secure forgiveness—but it’s not true that salvation is mainly for this life only. There is a blessed hope—the glorious appearing. Paul says, “If only for this life we have hope, we are to be pitied for all men.” (1 Cor. 15:19). Wanting health, happiness and what we want when we want it, is not repentance. We need to see Christ as worth more than all worldly treasure.
5) We can be pretenders and deceive others: Christianity is not a game. Jesus is not a coat for us to put on and off depending on the need and the convenience. We can pretend and deceives people here, but God is in the heart business. Where is your heart You know where it’s at and you need to be honest with yourself and others. How do you understand 2 Cor. 13:5: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (adapted from Mark Dever, The Gospel Coalition)
And may we remember that “the driving theological reality is Christ himself, whose self-humiliation (vv. 6-8) and super-exaltation (vv. 9-11) are the ground[s] of assurance of future victory and the motivating example to “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”