A Biblical Work Ethic, Philippians 2:12—18

If the first 11 verses of chapter two illustrate the supreme example of obedience to God, then verses 12—18 show us how to be obedient in the practical sense.  Jesus Christ is our example of what it means to be obedient to God.  It is easy to get lost in the powerful description of Christ’s obedience, but the opening words of verse 12 connect Paul’s injunction to his Philippian friends to the example of Christ’s obedience.  Specifically, the “Biblical work ethic” is connected to Christ’s example in three ways:

  • Jesus Christ’s obedience to His Heavenly Father was voluntary, complete, unreserved, and unwavering.  Ours should be as well.
  • Jesus Christ’s rewards for His obedience show that there are great things in store for all who live life as He did.
  • Jesus Christ is, today, our highly exalted divine/human Mediator who gives strength from Heaven to all believers who simply trust Him, ask Him, and yearn to live as He wants them to.

1.  Never stop working, verse 12

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

The Philippians must have been a singular congregation!  Far from rebuking them for not living in obedience, Paul indicates that they “have always obeyed!”  But all was not right with them.  We have a clue in the phrase, “not only in my presence but now much more in my absence.”  It could very well be that Paul had noted a small weakness in these people; he had been in prison and away from them for so long, maybe some of them began to waver a bit in their faith.  So he urges them to continue growing in their faith even though he isn’t around.  He mentioned this earlier in his letter—

Whatever happens, as citizens of heaven live 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 the one Spirit.  (1:27)

Paul is not wanting them to obedient to HIS commands, but to the Gospel; to God Himself.  There is a dangerous tendency among believers to lean too heavily on their pastor, or their favorite Bible teacher.  Some in the Philippian church were leaning to heavily upon Paul, and that was problematic to the Apostle.  Paul knew that he, like all men, had feet of clay; no matter how hard he would try not to, he would disappoint somebody, as all pastors and Bible teachers will at some point in their lives, let down their listeners, usually unintentionally.

And so Paul urged his friends to be obedient to God, referring to this obedience as “working out” their salvation.  This is phrase of often quoted and usually misunderstood.  In fact, “working out” our salvation can only be understood when the Biblical concept of salvation is understood.  As we have already discovered, salvation has several aspects, including a present one.   When a sinner accepts Christ as his Savior, regeneration begins; he is born again into a brand new life full of obligations.  When we acknowledge Christ as Savior, we are binding ourselves to fulfill those obligations.   Those obligations do not save us, therefore as we “work out our salvation,” we are not working to get saved, but because we are saved.   We are justified immediately upon our confession of faith in Christ, but that objective justification must be followed by our subjective experiences; that is, we must look to Christ for the example of how to live.  It should never be “What would Jesus do,” but rather, “I must do what Jesus would do.”

This working in order to achieve continuous obedience is to be done “with fear and trembling.”  Fulfilling our obligations to live right is so crucial, we must be stalwart and resolute in doing it.  “Fear and trembling” in no way means that we should be scared of God or of punishment, but rather our obedience needs to be performed in a spirit of:

  • Wholeheartedness
  • Single mindedness
  • Reverence and awe, being afraid to offend God
  • Trust in God
  • Humility

2.  The ability to obey, verse 13

…for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

There might be some who think living as Jesus lived is next to impossible for a mere mortal.  Paul deals a death-blow to this self-centered idea by indicating every believer is capable of living as Christ lived because it is God Himself who enables them to do so.  It would be impossible for any believer to live in complete obedience to God on his own, but with God working through him, it is not only possible, it must be done for it is His will.

The words “works” and “to act” come from the same Greek root.  It is always used of God’s action and of effective action.  What does that mean?  It simply means that it is God who works mightily in you (Lightfoot).  Salvation is all of God, both the will to save man and the act of saving man, from start to finish.  But that does not negate man’s part, which Paul has dealt with in verse 12.   The Christian attitude while allowing God to work in them and through them is to give God all the glory.

In this sense, Christians are like television sets.  A TV is useless until it is plugged into a power source.  Similarly, an electric iron is of no value until it is plugged in to the electric outlet.  There is no light in dark room until the light switch is switched on.  And, best of all, is Jesus’ argument—

No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  (John 15:4)

Christians are who they are because God has made us what we are.  By means of the Holy Spirit working in the hearts of His people, God accomplishes His will by making it your will.  That is, the Holy Spirit will make living in obedience your desire and your ambition.  It is God’s will for you, and it will become your will for yourself if you live in consistent obedience.

3.  Purpose of obedience, verses 14—18

The thing about obedience is that there are two kinds:  grudging and voluntary.  Grudging obedience is not the best way to live because, as is pointed out numerous times in the Gospels, true religion is never a matter of external compliance.  Peter, for example had this to say about offering hospitality—

Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.  (1 Peter 4:9)

In the original, “everything” comes first in verse 14, making Paul’s admonition even stronger:  “Everything do without grumbling or murmuring.”   It can’t be clearer than that:  God must be obeyed in everything cheerfully and voluntarily.   It may take a while and it may take practice to get to that point, but this must be the goal for every Christian in living out his life.

Why is it important to be genuine in your obedience?  It is so that you may be pure and uncontaminated lights in a dark world.

…so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”  Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky…  (verse 15)

The inference of this verse is that you may become “blameless and pure” in the eyes of man.  God knows your heart, and people can spot a phony a mile away.   We must strive to make our obedience to God voluntary and our heart’s desire, otherwise, as Paul suggests, people will see our disingenuousness.

Another important aspect of this verse is Paul’s use of the word “become.”  At our conversion, we become children of God in nature and position.  But as we progress in our salvation—as we work it out—we become “children of God without fault.”  By adhering faithfully to God’s Word and by putting it’s admonitions to work in our lives, we will be free improper attitudes that sully the heart.  If our hearts are clean, our lives will be also.  They will hold up under the scrutiny with which the world examines us.  If we can be genuine in our Christian lives, our nature as God’s children will become evident to all who see us.

The fact is, identifying the Christian in a room full of people should be an easy task, both for other believers and for unbelievers.  We should stick out like a sore thumb!  Believers possess the Holy Spirit!  Believes are filled with the same Spirit that raised Christ from the death!  Nobody should be able to hide that.  Christians ought to shining like lights even while they are standing still, doing nothing.  But before that can happen, we must step out in obedience.

4.  Mind of Paul, verses 17, 18

But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you.  (verse 17)

This is a powerful verse, which presupposes an understanding of what a “drink offering” is.  Increasingly, Paul is looking ahead at his end.  Not sure if he will be released or if he will die in prison, Paul refers back to Genesis 35:14 where Jacob set up a pillar at Bethel and offered a “drink offering.”  A “drink offering” proper was an offering of wine added to the burnt offering and the meal offering.  The drink offering was not added to the sin or trespass offerings.  It had nothing to do with forgiveness of sin or redemption or with the Person of Christ.   When the fires of the burnt and meal offerings were raging, the wine was poured out on the sacrifice and an amazing thing happened;  it went up in steam and vanished.

In this verse, Paul is offering his life as a drink offering to be poured out on the offering of Jesus Christ.  He wanted to be so identified with Jesus Christ that even in his death his desire was to be just as consumed and obscured as the wine was.  Whether he lived or died, Paul wanted Jesus Christ to receive all the glory.  This was what Paul wanted for himself, and this is what all believers should strive for.

So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.  (verse 18)

Today, we rejoice over all the wrong things.  If we want to be Biblical Christians, then we should continually rejoice over what Jesus did for us and over the fact that we can serve Him!  We should never be so great in our own eyes that we don’t rejoice with other believers over their successes, be they temporal or spiritual.

Are you willing to be consumed in Jesus Christ?   Are you willing to live your life in such a way that your genuineness would make you disappear into Christ?  May the Lord help us all to say as John the Baptist said—

He must become greater; I must become less.  (John 3:30)

(c)  2010 WitzEnd

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