Red Village Church

Obedience Philippians_2:12-18

Philippians 2:12-18

Good morning. My name is Dave Bollig for those of you I haven’t met, and I’m grateful for this opportunity to open God’s word with you this morning. Having now gone through the process of preparing to preach for the first time… and perhaps the only time, I now have a much greater appreciation for the work and energy that Aaron and others commit to when preparing a sermon, and this experience has made me more grateful for the dedication to God’s word and the faithful preaching that my family and I have received since we’ve been at RVC. All that being said, again, I am thankful for the opportunity and privilege of opening God’s Word with you all.


Would you please open your Bibles to Philippians chapter 2, and I will be reading verses 12 through 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 and disputing, 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 labor 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.


Please pray with me:


Heavenly Father, we thank you for your Word that you have given to us. I pray that you would help me to communicate it clearly and faithfully. I pray that we are edified and encouraged by your Word. I pray that the Holy Spirit would work in our hearts to receive your Word and help us to apply it and that in all this you would be glorified this morning. I pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.


This summer we have been preaching through Paul’s letter to the Philippians. I want to provide a brief review and some context to Paul’s letter prior to moving through our passage for this morning. Paul wrote this letter to the church in Philippi, which was a Roman colony that is located in what is modern day Greece. Paul had planted this church approximately 10 years prior to writing this letter. At the time of writing this letter, Paul was imprisoned, most likely in Rome, for his efforts in advancing the Gospel. Through his letter it is clear that Paul had a great fondness for and deep connection to the Philippian church. Paul expresses his thankfulness for the generosity of the Philippian church in helping to support him in his evangelism efforts. He was grateful for the faithful obedience the church had demonstrated to Christ and his Gospel in Philippi, even as they faced persecution, which is something that Paul could relate to well. Early in his letter, Paul thanks the Philippians for their dedication to the Gospel and emphasizes the power it has in his and their lives and the priority it must have in the life of the church. At the end of chapter 1 of Paul’s letter, he communicates the unifying effect of the Gospel amongst the faithful as well as the joy experienced through faithful obedience to Jesus Christ.


And then at the beginning of chapter 2, as we learned last week, Paul encourages the church through his retelling of the Gospel, pointing to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and the supreme example of humility for our faithful living.


We then come to our passage for today which appears to be structured in four sections. First, verses 12 & 13 we can summarize as Paul’s general call for the faithful obedience of the church. Second, verse 14 is his specific call for faithful obedience. Third, in verses 15 & 16, Paul provides the purpose of their faithful obedience and, fourth, in verses 17 & 18 Paul communicates how the Philippians are to carry out their obedience.


Paul begins with the word “therefore” in verse 12 which should fix our attention on what he has just written prior to this. The literary context is important here as it will help us to ground what Paul is communicating in our passage for today in the centerpiece of his letter found in verses 5-11 of chapter 2. I will start with verses 12-13, talking about Paul’s general call for obedience to the Philippians. In verses 12-13, Paul writes:


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.


As I mentioned before, the “therefore” of verse 12 should fix our attention on what Paul has said before this. In verses 1-5, Paul calls for the the unity of the church and a disposition towards other-centeredness as he encourages the Philippians to be of one mind, demonstrating humility and care for the interest of others. He then goes on to share how this humility and being of one mind is achieved only in Jesus as he retells the Gospel finishing with the exalted lordship of Jesus Christ over all things, in verses 6-11, which acts as the heart and climax of Paul’s letter. Paul follows with “therefore” as he begins verse 12, and in doing this brings the authority and power of the Gospel to bear on his commands to the Philippians as well as connect his commands to the major themes of unity and humbly caring for the interest of others. So because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and his Lordship, that Paul proclaims in verses 6-11, he commands the Philippian church to obey the instruction of Jesus Christ as they have always obeyed and to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.


I want to stop here for a bit because it is important to understand what Paul is saying, but more importantly what he is not saying, when he says to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling”. We must not get confused and think that Paul is saying that we are somehow capable of and therefore responsible for our own salvation from the guilt of our sin. To help clarify what Paul is talking about here, it is important to know who Paul is writing to. Paul’s opening greeting in his letter is to “all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi with the overseers and deacons”. In addition to his greeting, Paul opens our passage today referring to his readers as “my beloved” who have “always obeyed”. So Paul is writing to those who already possess saving faith in Jesus Christ and have strived to obey Him. He is not writing to those who don’t believe, or even those who may attend the church and may participate in the life of the church but don’t believe. It is clear he is writing to believers. Knowing this, we know that Paul cannot mean the Philippians must work out their salvation from God’s wrath due to the guilt of their sin when he tells them to “work out their own salvation.” For Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:8 that “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” and in Romans 3:23-24 he says “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”


So we must not equate the use of the word “salvation” here as salvation from the eternal punishment we deserve due to the guilt of our sins. This has been accomplished only through God’s grace in the life and death of his Son, Jesus. The sinless life and death of Jesus Christ on the cross is the atoning sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins and what justifies us before a Holy God. This work is a completed work done for us, as Jesus declared it “finished” on the cross and should be distinguished from the part of salvation Paul is writing about in verse 12 in our passage, which is a work done in us and with us but is not yet complete. So if Paul is not referring to our justification, then what part of salvation is Paul commanding us to work out in verse 12, the part of salvation that we participate in? This is the salvation from the bondage of sin in our lives. This is often referred to as sanctification or the process of the weakening of the corruption of sin and the growth of holiness in the lives of God’s elect. Our understanding of the accomplishing work of Jesus Christ must not be restricted to simply the pardon of our sin and making us right with God. It must also include the understanding that His death and resurrection destroys the dominion that sin has over our lives and is the source of the power needed to wage war against sin and to enable the growth of righteousness in our lives.


The sanctifying work of God’s elect that Paul is referring to in verse 12 is a process that begins with the regeneration of our hearts and God’s gift of the Holy Spirit. Sanctification is an operation of the Holy Spirit who works in us and with us, purifying us from our sin and growing us in righteousness as we walk obediently in the good works he has set before us. Repentance and faith in Jesus are not just evident at conversion but are the visible and ongoing marks of the Christian. Recognizing and turning from our sin and faithfully walking in obedience should be the ceaseless work of this life.


Paul finishes verse 12 with how we should go about this work with “fear and trembling”. There are at least two ways to think about what Paul means by fear and trembling. One is appropriately recognizing the ultimate authority our Heavenly Father possesses over us. As a faithful earthly father is called to bring his children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, how much more will our perfect heavenly father discipline and instruct his children. And as children are to recognize and respect the authority and power their earthly father has over them, how much more should we recognize and respect the absolute authority and power of our heavenly father over us. Some of us may be able to remember, although imperfect, the faithful discipline and correction they received from their father and can relate to the fear and trembling involved in this process.


It was not always pleasant or comfortable, but we know it was good for us. For others, this may not be a relatable experience, due to an absent father or one which fell very short of this model. The good news is we have a heavenly father, who is perfect in his love, patience and goodness towards us and in His discipline of us.
In addition, we can understand what Paul means by fear and trembling through greater clarity of who God is and who we are. As the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, guides us in truth and produces in us the fruit of His Spirit, we are more aware of and clearly see the goodness, mercy, love and holiness of God and the evil, depth and destructiveness of our sin and the punishment we justly deserve. As our knowledge of who God is and who we are grows, our affections, devotion and gratitude will grow for Christ. It is Paul’s desire for the Philippians and us to carry out this sanctifying work with the reverential awe it deserves.


And then verse 13 “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” We must understand that this is not a synergistic work, meaning God does his part and we do ours and together they accomplish the growth of holiness. We must understand that no part of this work is possible without God and no part of this work is done without God.


We cannot work out that which is not first worked in us. And no pride can be had by us in this work, for our ability to carry it out is given and powered by God and done to His delight. May we honor God through our awareness of our complete dependence on Him as we carry out this work with fear and trembling.


This work done by God in us is ever increasing but never completed in this lifetime and is done for “His good pleasure” as Paul writes in verse 13. It is to God’s delight that his children would be conformed more and more into the image of His Son Jesus, and we can have confidence that he will bring that work to completion. For Paul says earlier in this letter, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

So we can have confidence that this work will be completed, but how can we know our sanctification is increasing? In Colossians 3:9-10 Paul says “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” So our renewed thoughts and desires will be increasing in likeness to God’s. James says to “be doers of the word and not hearers only”.


As we carry out the good works set before us, it is evidence of our living faith and growing spiritual maturity. In Hebrews 12:1 it says “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” So our perseverance in fleeing temptation and turning from our sin is another indication of the sanctification process progressing in our lives. In all these evidences of an increasing sanctification we are dependent on Christ as we look to him, “the founder and perfector of our faith,” (Hebrews 12:2) as the author of Hebrews writes.


Though Paul’s words would serve to encourage the sanctification of individuals, he has in mind here the desire for the corporate sanctification of the church. As Christians, when we agree to willingly live together, united around the Gospel, in humble obedience to Christ’s Lordship and His example, what a profound impact this will have. Not only will it serve to spiritually grow the body of Christ as we seek to encourage and sharpen one another in the faith, but we also testify to the world the truth, beauty and goodness of Jesus and that it is only in Jesus, and through Jesus, that true community is possible. The purity of His bride, the church, is of utmost importance, as we’ll see later in this passage.


Paul follows his general call to faithful obedience in verses 12-13 with a specific call to the church in verse 14 to “do all things without grumbling or disputing”. It would seem likely that Paul would have in mind a disagreement that he was aware of in the church between two women who he addresses specifically later in his letter and pleads with them to “agree in the Lord”. We are not sure what the nature of the disagreement was, but it is clear that the views held by both sides were not threatening or undermining of the Gospel and therefore not worthy of the division that the disagreement was causing in the church. When initially reading Paul’s command against grumbling or disputing it may not strike us as on overly harmful or damaging act for Paul to call out. One reason this may be our initial reaction is due to the subtle severity of these acts, as well as the high frequency that they occur in our lives and those around us. The words Paul uses here for grumbling in the Greek means a murmuring or a secret displeasure or debate, and the word for disputing, means reasoning that is self-based and therefore confused. Both of these actions described by Paul are in clear opposition to the humility, like-mindedness and other’s-centered attitude that Paul encourages at the beginning of this chapter.


Paul understands that these are symptoms of a deeper problem. He recognizes that grumbling and disputing come from an attitude and spirit of discontentment. The fruit of the overly critical and discontent spirit is contrary to the fruit of God’s Spirit which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Paul knows that this spirit of discontentment will not just damage the individual, but it will damage the church. As the discontent individual seeks to complain and criticize, all those in community with them are affected. The result is an undermining of the humility of Christ’s people and the like-mindedness and unity of the church. How relevant is Paul’s command for us? How often are we critical of others or the decisions they make? Are our criticisms worthy of being communicated? Are we careful about the information we share about each other? As we often remind our children, is what we’re saying true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? Is it helpful?


Now, we do believe in an objective and ultimate truth and therefore compromise is not permitted for certain things, but are we seeking to love and encourage others in the truth? Are we praying for those we may disagree with? Are we checking our motivation for disagreeing? Are we seeking to have an attitude of thankfulness? Are we seeking our glory or God’s?


This may be a seemingly mundane command that Paul gives, but one which is very practical and weighty.


We cannot forget the damaging effect a discontent spirit has on us, the unity of the church, and our Gospel witness, which Paul addresses as he continues in verses 15 and 16.


…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 labor in vain.


In these verses Paul seems concerned with the purpose of the faithful obedience he has just called for from the church in Philippi. Paul makes reference to the Old testament scripture in these verses as he desires for the Philippians to be “without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation”, which compares them to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 32:5. Here Moses declares that the Israelites are “blemished” and part of a “crooked and twisted generation” and that they are no longer “children of God” due to their grumbling against Him.


But Paul contrasts the Philippians from the Israelites calling them children of God, without blemish and in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation but not part of it, descriptors given to them now only through Jesus Christ.


Paul then continues “among whom you shine as lights in the world,” which may be a reference to Daniel 12:3, which describes the resurrection age to come and states “those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” Paul’s comparison of the Philippians to God’s chosen people of the Old Testament help to communicate their role in God’s story and their value as Christ’s chosen people.


It also seems likely that the words of Jesus from his Sermon on the Mount declaring “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5:14) may be in mind here for Paul. It is clear that Paul is communicating the importance that the faithful, obedient and like-minded living of the Philippians has in their evangelism and Gospel witness to the lost culture around them. Paul is concerned with the holiness of the Philippian church because he knows how this affects the witness and testimony of the church. He understands that a more sanctified church is a brighter beacon to the lost.

Paul understands the damage that hypocrisy can inflict on the church’s witness to the culture around them. Paul then starts verse 16 with “holding fast to the word of life” or the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


Paul communicates the power and impact that a fellowship of believers, united around and dependent on the Gospel of Jesus Christ and clinging to it, can have on the culture around them. He finishes verse 16 with “so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain”. Paul understands the mission and how it’s achieved. He wants the Gospel and the full richness of it to be furthered through Christ’s church in Philippi. Paul understands that the church is God’s means for advancing the Gospel. He has run and labored for this church to be that means in Philippi. He’s prayed for this church, encouraged this church, has friends in this church, sent friends to this church, been imprisoned for this church. He has sacrificed and invested a lot in the church in Philippi and hopes they will remain faithful until Christ’s return. I can’t help but think of the humbling effect it must have had on the church in Philippi as they heard Paul’s letter read to them and thought about his devotion to their church and his dedication to advancing the Gospel even in the midst of his current imprisonment and his unknown future. May it have this effect on us as well.


We complete our passage in verses 17 and 18 as Paul communicates how faithful obedience should be lived out. Paul starts verse 17 by writing “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’s reference to a drink offering here was a sacrificial act in Jewish practice that involved the priest pouring wine out over the sacrifice as a complement to the blood sacrifice offered. So Paul seems to communicate his joy in however his efforts aid in the sacrificial obedience of the Philippians. There is also the possibility that Paul is referring to his own death here, which he mentions back in chapter one. Either way, Paul’s humility and willingness to be used for the advancement of the Gospel is evident. Paul concludes verse 17 and then 18 “I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.” Paul finishes this passage rejoicing for the ability to sacrifice for the sake of the Gospel and urges the Philippians to rejoice in their sacrifice as well. He communicates how the Philippians are to live lives “worthy of the Gospel,” which is with joy. Obviously, this theme of joy is all over Paul’s letter to the Philippians and worth unpacking here.


It appears that Paul’s understanding of joy, which is an attribute of the fruit of the spirit, is not the absence of difficulty or pain but rather he understands that Christian joy is experienced within the context of exertion, or resistance. Joy does not occur within a stress-free environment. The Bible tells us that we can be sorrowful, yet rejoice (2 Corinthians 6:10), so Paul is not requesting an indifference towards pain and suffering, but rather an understanding that our pain and suffering occur within the context of a process that is progressing towards something and that will be completed. He does not see his sufferings and sacrifices independent from one another and detached from a greater purpose. When we see every one of our trials and tribulations as part of a process that God is using to bring us to completion in the image of His son, we can approach everything with joy and endure it in joy, because there is an eternal meaning and purpose to all of it. Do we live like God’s promises to us are true? Do we live deeply satisfied with God’s will for our lives and as it is expressed in our lives? Our joyful obedience, especially in the midst of pain and difficulty, will encourage the faithfulness of our brothers and sisters as well as strengthen our witness.


Paul’s call for joyful obedience is not from a detached writer with empty words. Paul came to Philippi with the Gospel. He had been imprisoned in Philippi for proclaiming the Gospel. He was in prison for his obedience to advancing the Gospel as he is writing this letter to help the Philippians stay faithful in advancing the Gospel. Later Paul would die for advancing the Gospel. Paul’s laboring and suffering for the Gospel is an incredible example of joyful obedience, and he calls for the Philippians and us to do the same.


But Paul does not intend to bring attention to his suffering and his authority as the basis for the faithful obedience and unity of the believers in Philippi. It is Jesus who even though equal with God, humbled himself and took on the form of a human. And it was Jesus who humbled himself and lived a life of service and became obedient to the point of death on a cross. And it was Jesus who for the joy set before him, defeated sin and death in his resurrection and has been exalted and given the name that is above every name so that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord! Jesus is our supreme example of faithful obedience and the object and perfector of our faith.


Only in Jesus can we have assurance that sin and death have been defeated for us. Only in Jesus can we have the power to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Only in Jesus can we faithfully proclaim his light to a dark world by our words and deeds as a fellowship of united believers. Only in Jesus can we have confidence that our sanctification will be carried out to completion. Only in Jesus is there true joy experienced in this life and the hope of eternal joy when He returns.


Please pray with me:


Heavenly Father, we thank you for the life, death and resurrection of your Son Jesus and all that he has accomplished for us. We thank you for the Holy Spirit, who works in us to conform us more and more to the image of your Son. We pray that you would help us to take our sin seriously and that we would turn from it and walk faithfully in your ways working out our own salvation with fear and trembling. I pray that we would be a church that is like-minded and unified around the Gospel of Jesus Christ, a church that does not grumble and complain, but is humble and puts the interest of others above our own. I pray that our witness would be without blemish and a light to the culture around us as we seek to joyfully obey You. We pray all these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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