Philippians 2:12-29

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 or 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.

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.

I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.

Observation

  • The Philippians had always obeyed.
  • The Philippians were to obey again.
  • The Philippians were to obey more in Paul’s absence then they did when he was with them.
  • The Philippians were to work out their own salvation.
  • They were to work out their salvation with fear and trembling.
  • The command the Philippians were to obey was to work out their own salvation.
  • They were to work out their salvation because God worked in them.
  • God worked in them for them to will and for them to work for his pleasure.
  • They were to do everything without grumbling.
  • There were to do everything without grumbling so they would be:
    • blameless
    • innocent
    • children of God without blemish
  • They lived in among people who were crooked and twisted.
  • They were to be blameless while living among people who were not blameless.
  • The Philippians were like a beacon of light in the world.
  • The Philippians held to fast to the word of light.
  • In the day of Christ Paul will be proud his work was not in vain.
  • The Philippians would be the reason Paul would know his work was not in vain in the day of Christ.
  • As long as the Philippians had their faith, Paul is glad he worked with the Philippians even if he would be sacrificed because of it.
  • The Philippians should rejoice with Paul for their faith.
  • Paul hoped to send Timothy to the Philippians soon.
  • Timothy would be sent to them so they may hear good news about Paul.
  • Paul had no one like Timothy.
  • Timothy was genuinely interested in the welfare of the Philippians.
  • Everyone else with Paul sought only what was in their best interest.
  • Timothy was the only one with Paul that sought Jesus Christ interest over his own.
  • The Philippians knew Timothy.
  • The Philippians knew the value of Timothy to Paul.
  • Timothy severed Paul like a son.
  • Timothy served with Paul in the gospel.
  • Paul wanted to send Timothy to the Philippians as soon as he found out what was going to happen to him.
  • Paul was trusting in the Lord that he would come to the Philippians soon.
  • Paul had sent Epaphroditus to the Philippians.
  • Epaphroditus was a fellow worker in Christ with Paul.
  • Epaphroditus was the Philippians messenger to Paul.
  • Epaphroditus was the Philippians minister to Paul.
  • Epaphroditus had ministered to Paul’s need.
  • Epaphroditus had been longing to return to the Philippians.
  • Epaphroditus had been ill and almost died.
  • The Philippians had heard about Epaphroditus’ illness.
  • Epaphroditus had been in distress because he knew the Philippians had heard of his illness.
  • God had mercy on Epaphroditus and spared his life.
  • By sparing Epaphroditus’ life God showed mercy on Paul.
  • If Epaphroditus had died Paul would have grieved greatly.
  • Paul was excited about sending Epaphroditus so the Philippians could see him.
  • Paul knew that the Philippians would be excited to see Epaphroditus.
  • Removing the Philippians’ anxiety over Epaphroditus would make Paul happy
  • The Philippians were to receive Epaphroditus with joy.
  • The Philippians were to honor men like Epaphroditus.
  • Epaphroditus nearly died for the work of Christ.
  • Epaphroditus risked his life to serve Paul for the sake of the Philippians.

Interpretation

This passage has been the subject of some controversy in the church. In verse 12, Paul says to work out your salvation in fear and trembling. This verse has been used by those who try to claim that we have to do something for our salvation. We must work it out. It is our responsibility. If all we had was verse 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.” Then coming to the conclusion that salvation was at least partly based on our doing something, would be completely reasonable.

But arriving at that conclusion violates two principles of good biblical interpretation. The first is ripping the verse out of context. The very next verse says for it is God who works in you. Salvation is indeed through works but it is the work of Christ. Then continuing on in the same verse, “both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” God’s work in us shapes and molds, not only what we do, but what we will, or want to do. And it is done for His good pleasure.

The second principle violated is that scripture interpreters scripture. That is, scripture is consistent and does not contradict itself. In other places in scripture, it states clearly the salvation is the work of Christ alone. One example is Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Here Paul clearly states that we are saved by grace. Our faith and our salvation is a gift not something we earn or given as a result of our efforts.

How are we to understand verse 12? We are to understand it in context, both immediate context and in context of the rest of scripture. We are to work out our salvation by reliance on Christ who does the work within us. He shapes us, He molds us. He conforms our will to His.

Verse 13 says, “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” When we understand this, it is truly humbling. It ends all pride in our abilities, for we have none. We are nothing and can do nothing except through the grace of God alone. I mean supernatural grace, grace which comes from the spirit of regeneration.

But what of free will? Do we not have the ability to choose and do as we will? How can we reconcile the idea of free will and what Paul is talking about here, that it is God who works in us? The bible is also clear the man chooses and is responsible for those choices. Yes, we choose what we want. But what we want is our own selfish desires. We are interested in our own self-interest. We cannot choose the good because there is no good in us. In Romans, Paul writes “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” We cannot choose good because we are not good. God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, changes us. He does the work. Yes, we may freely choose what we want. The point is we always choose evil because that is what we want. We want evil because we are evil until we are changed or regenerated by Christ. The entire praise and glory goes to God none to us.

Therefore, there is no the denial of free will. Rather free will is affirmed, by claiming man cannot choose God. When my children were little and I was going somewhere they would ask, “Can I come?” I would often reply with a smile, “If you want to come, then you have to come. If you don’t want to come then you can’t come.” It was the exercise of their free will that determined rather not they were allowed to come. So too, it is the exercise of our free will that determines rather or not we may come to Christ. And we do not want to come until Christ has created in us a new will.

Paul is not teaching inactivity or we do nothing. Rather Paul is simply teaching that God acts in us to change us. His righteousness is in us. Once his righteousness is in us, then we may choose the good, then we may act and work.

Paul in verse 14 says to work without grumbling or complaining. This is the fruit of humility. If we recognize what we have been given, a gift beyond measure, that we in no way merited, then our response is humility. We only complain because we feel unfairly treated. We feel we deserve better. Or, we feel it is unfair. But, what we have already received so better than we deserve.

The heart of man is wicked. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.” (Jeremiah 17:9,) What can come from such a place? In the life of man there is nothing pure, nothing right, until he has been renewed by the Spirit of God. When God reveals His glory there is a brightness that shines. Habakkuk 3:3-4, Exodus 34:29, Ezekiel 43:2, Matthew 17:2, Luke 2:9, Acts 9:3, Revelation 21:23 are but a few examples. If His glory is in us then we too ought to stand out from the world. It is no wonder Paul uses the metaphor of shining as lights in the world for God has worked in us. Normal, is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as “conforming to the standard or the common type; usual; not abnormal; regular; natural,” One who is has been given a renewed spirit is anything but normal. We are to stand out. We are not to conform to this world. We are to “shine as lights in the world.”

The reason why we ought to shine is, we carry the word of life within us. We have been enlightened and we ought to enlighten others. We are like light bulbs and the gospel like electricity that flows through it. When the electricity flows the light bulb gives light all around. In fact, a light bulb’s shine is usually so harsh at we need to place a lamp shade around it as Moses needed to place a veil over his face.

Paul goes on to talk about sending Timothy. He says he has no one like him. When Paul says, “For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ,” it should not be taken in a literal wooden sense. He is speaking in hyperbole. Earlier he spoke about how some had sought their own interest while others did what they did out to love. “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.” (Philippians 1:15-16) He also speaks highly of Epaphorditus. But there are clearly many with him who “seek their own interests.” It is should be noted here that Paul is not talking about people who have openly abandoned the pursuit of righteousness. They were preaching the gospel. God would use their preaching, “Whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” (Philippians 1:18) God can and does sovereignly use even the ungodly to accomplish His purpose.

Application

The idea that only Christians choose good, is rejected by many. And many take offensive at the idea. They point to the many good things done by non-Christians. For example, many non-Christians give to the poor. Many non-Christians defend the rights of the oppressed. Many non-Christians work to heal the sick and give comfort to those in pain. These are only a few general examples and many, many more general and specific examples could be given.

These deeds are in fact good, in a relative sense. And doing them does not require one to be a Christian. But, in an absolute sense, they are of no value. If something is like a vapor, here for only a short while and then vanishes, what real value does it have? Where does it derive its value? If we only exist for a little while then return to nothing what value do we have? Where do we derive our value? If I live to what is considered very old, 100, that would not even be a spec only the eternal time line. What real value would be the good done by or to me? Only that which is eternal has true value. The only thing that is eternal is God. Therefore, only what is done for Him is of truly good, in the absolute sense.

Since man, in his natural state, does not seek God and rebels against God, man is not good. There is no goodness in him. But praise God! He has given us value. He, for His glory, has regenerated us. We could not change. He has changed us. He is has given us a great gift. The gospel is a light, a light which is not to simply guide us in the right way, but is to be shown to others.

God chooses whom he will. We should not take pride when God uses us in any way. He has simply allowed us to share with Him His work. He could have decided to use the neighbor’s dog instead.

Therefore praise God for the mercy he has shown you.

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