Philippians 2 v 12 – 18
The Apostle is stirring up (exhorting) believers to higher things.
Through Paul’s writings he relates Doctrine with Duty, Creed with Character and Faith with Life. To him these things are inseparable. And so, after imploring us to have the Mind of Christ follows with this exhortation to earnestly work towards spiritual progress. He tells us to work out our own salvation. He is telling us to work out our salvation NOT to work for or towards our salvation. He’s telling us to work out something that we already have. He is not telling us that if you do certain work, you will have salvation. He is telling us if you have the salvation, then you will have certain work. The salvation comes first then the work follows. What we see in the text is a responsibility and a reason, namely to work out our salvation. The reality is that God is at work in us as believers. He has started the work of salvation in us and will complete it. The way in which He completes the work is to move us to will and to work out what He has already begun in us and given us freely and by His grace alone.
- The Reality
The reason (for) is not that God will give us salvation, but because He is already at work in us. He started the work when we were dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:4-5, 8-10) for (not because of) good works. We must see Paul’s Philippian exhortation in the light of this passage. We are not God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus because of good works, but for (unto) good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
It takes a resurrection to save a sinner, not a reformation or rehabilitation. Salvation is life put within us, and whatever we do after that is living the life that God put in us, by grace and by grace alone. It does take obedience to give it expression.
Two kinds of obedience:
a. Environmental obedience – expressed in the presence of other people. Paul didn’t want their obedience to be of this kind, otherwise it would be eye service (Col 3:22), only active if the environment is conducive to it.
b. Obedience in the absence of others – done to please God and no-one else. It remains faithful no matter what others do or say. That is the type of obedience that Paul hoped for in the lives of his beloved Philippian friends, and for us that we should render in our service to the Lord and His cause.
Man does not have a role to play in his salvation, but a life to live because of his salvation. He must work it out in fear and trembling. There is a place for the right kind of fear in the life of a Christian.
The Fear of the Lord in Proverbs (1:7; 8:13; 10:27; 14:26-27; 16:6; 19:23; 22:4). The way to riches, honour and life is the fear of the Lord.
It is something that we need to remember in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, when many are losing their work and people are getting desperate. Gambling and investing in the stock market have increased, which is not a good idea at this time. That’s not what will bring you riches, honour and life. The fear of the Lord will bring you life (Prov. 22:4).
So prompted by the fear of the Lord to hate evil, depart from it and turn to God, where they will find wisdom, life and honour and the love that dispels any improper kind of fear (1 John 4:17-18). But many have never experienced such love from God, because they’ve never had the fear and trembling in the first place.
Paul says that it is God who works in you:
a. to will – helping us in our motivation and desire.
b. to do (work) – working together with us.
Chapter 9 of our Baptist Confession of Faith says that unless God works [in] us to will and to work, we won’t will and we won’t work.
Our Confession warns us that this will of man is made perfectly and immutably free to do good alone in the state of glory only, but until now has God made our wills alive and God alone keeps our wills alive.
God alone does the work, He just moves us along, not being our co-pilot, but our pilot taking us along as passengers.
- Without murmuring and disputing
Lots of people are grumbling, which soon can lead to disputing – the reason why Paul says this is that we can be blameless in a crooked and twisted generation, holding fast to the word of life.
Paul’s reason for pride is a godly one. Faith is a sacrificial offering to God.
Rejoice and be glad with all believers.
These are clear instructions that the Holy Spirit is giving us, needing no explanation. We must shine as lights in the world, which means we must be children of God without fault. That’s only possible if we become harmless and blameless, which requires to do all things without grumbling and complaining. Only if God is at work in us, we will work out what God is working.
To shine as lights we must be in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation – and how crooked and perverse it has become! Paul knew it would always be that way, and it seems like it is becoming worse every day. All the good things that we see – dispelled [by] the crookedness and the darkness – we are seeing them stripped away so fast, like we never had them. Never more have it been more important to us that we shine as lights. In order to shine we must hold fast to the Word, hold forth the Word, doing both. May the Lord give us the grace, continue His work within us. God is at work in us to will and to work. He did that by giving us life when we were dead in trespasses and sins. Every good work that we do and every good will that we will are signs that God has given us grace. Let’s walk, work and will in that grace.