Devoted to my Salvation

Philippians 2:12-18  SCC  12/26/10


            We have enough day to day responsibility don’t we? Isn’t there enough on our plate? Don’t we have plenty scheduled? Pulled this way and that, people expect things from us. Our kids. Our mate. Our boss. Our colleagues. Now God wants something from me. He says so. And it is not just a one-day expectation. He is not asking for a moment here and there. God has something that I must place on my daily schedule. Yes probably even my hourly one. Paul tells us what this is in our passage.


1. There is hope that this very thing will be done amongst the Philippians because they have demonstrated their obedience by their works when Paul was present. Now there is the confidence that will continue in his absence vs 12a. But it is the specifics of this obedience that should get our attention.

2. Namely, ‘you must take the responsibility to keep on working according to your own salvation’. So they must continue their obedience to ensure this happens. But what is this salvation? Contextually, it is to continue in unity with one another amplified by selfless sacrificial service on behalf of one another by taking on the interests of others. There is salvation or deliverance in that. They would be delivered from the consequences and outcomes of pride, selfishness, being provocative, complaining, and revenge. Think about the results of these motivations and actions. Wouldn’t we all be better off if these actions and their consequences were minimized, marginalized, and eradicated? How often has this hurt us and how often have we hurt others.

But there is a distinct motivation or perspective that must guide us in working out this salvation—with fear and trembling. Added to fear is trembling—the same word used in Mk 16:8 when the two Mary’s fled Jesus tomb after the angel appeared to them. It heightens the idea that this fear is one associated with trembling—that is being afraid. We should be afraid not to work out our deliverance. We have a responsibility and to fail in it is something we should fear. Our obedience to work out our salvation should find its motivation in fear. Now if you agree with God that this is what you ought to do, then you may not know fear. But if you disagree with God and believe that working out your salvation is negotiable, then fear and be afraid, so you will obey God. Up the fear—up the obedience.  Paul’s absence could make this command seem negotiable to the Philippians.

3. The reason this is our life long work is because this is consistent with what God is doing in us that brings Him pleasure vs 13. So working out my deliverance in tangible ways in relationship with a network of believers is going to bring pleasure to God. So while vs 12 is about the free will of the believer, verse 13 is about the sovereignty of God. V 12 says it is you who should work. V 13 says God works for His own good pleasure. So the work we do which will succeed is the work that accomplishes the good pleasure of God. The implication is that if we refuse the life-long responsibility to work out our own salvation, God’s work in us to bring pleasure to Himself through the demonstration of our unity with a network of believers, based in selfless sacrificial service to one another, is hindered. And that should cause us to fear so that we will be motivated instead to do that which brings God pleasure.

We usually do not think that disunity or lack of harmony amongst a network of believers caused from our own selfish, self-centered attitudes is really that serious. We give blacker marks to things like adultery, financial indiscretions, or some kind of inappropriate deviancy. God ‘s black mark is on disunity based in pride and selfish, self-centered, non-sacrificial behavior. Perhaps this is a life-long work because it is a life-long problem for us. So what is so significant about our harmony?


1. First, in all things they were to display their harmony vs 14. This is done in at least two ways. (1) Without grumbling. This is done by people who agree about what is right but do not want to do it. Everything was to be done without complaining. I know God says be kind to one another but do you know how that person has treated me? (2) Without arguing. People who do not agree with what is right and want to discuss it do this. I want to discuss whether or not God expects me to forgive the one who has mistreated me. The point here is don’t complain about what you know you should do and do not dispute about what the Bible says you should do. The bottom line is that we all have the same basis of authority—the Word of God. Since the Word of God gives us the mind of God, then to please God is to obey His Word. If you desire to complain or dispute that then you have a problem between you and God. You will have to answer to Him. The human fallout and spiritual causality is a rupture of harmony within a network of believers you are associated with. Grumbling, complaining, and arguing about what is right places you in jeopardy with God.

2. Second, our harmony is our testimony to the world that we belong to God vs 15. One purpose of believers not complaining or arguing with one another is to be a better light in the darkness of our generation. So the purpose of our harmony is not to create a peaceful and harmonious world but to make an impact with the gospel in our world. We do this by demonstrating three things: 1. Being blameless 2. Being innocent 3. Being above reproach. In other words, there is nothing that sticks whenever anyone may want to accuse us of doing anything wrong. They still may blame us or accuse us but the evidence will not support it. Our testimony is pure and undefiled. And this takes place in a generation—the one in which we live—that is crooked and perverse. So we are not living like monks or hermits out of the world but right in the middle of it. Something crooked and perverse must have a standard by which it can be revealed as such. The nature of sin is that it has to have some truth to pervert and ruin. Sin cannot exist by itself. Good and evil are not co-equal opposites. Sin can exist if there is first something good to ‘make crooked’ or ‘pervert’. We are all bent this way but the difference between the believer and the world is that the world will not admit it or repent of it. But by overcoming our perversion or crookedness we can be lights in a world that believes crooked is normal!

3. We maintain our light by holding fast to the word of life vs 16. We do not just suck it up and try harder. And what is our motivation for doing so? The same as the apostles: To have reason to glory because I did not run nor toil in vain. This is referring to an eternal value. First, the motivation is an individual thing. It was Paul and rewards he could rejoice in, in his day but it is also us, and rewards we can rejoice in, in our own day. This refers to the day of Christ which is judgment following the rapture. Second, it is an eternal thing too. He did not want to run in vain or toil in vain. He saw his rewards as depending not just on the people he led to Christ but on the spiritual development and maturity of those people. Again the focus is on eternal welfare—in the day of Christ. We do all of this with that day in mind! Paul did. We must too. Everything we do and everything we can do to maintain harmony as a testimony in a world not interested in it. So we do it anyway. It will be a witness against them then.


Here we are back again the theme of suffering. First, he says he rejoices in the suffering associated with the gospel because that ministry had resulted in the faith of the Philippians vs 17. What has priority is the gospel and the light it brings into a dark world. Suffering because of it is a necessary evil. So avoiding its suffering is not our job. Second, actually suffering and joy are connected because joy comes form suffering for the Gospel. So the encouragement is to suffer for the sake of the gospel so that you can share the same kind of joy with others who rejoice in the outcome of their suffering vs 18. There is a mutual benefit of encouragement and joy amongst believers who have the long view—eternity. The gospel becomes paramount and suffering for it as Paul has and encourages the Philippians to now do multiplies the impact of the gospel. Joy comes form suffering for the gospel and so does ministry fruit.


1. Stick to your responsibility to live in harmony within your network of believers. Don’t ever give up on that. Make it your life-long passion to do so. That does not mean accepting each other’s sin. That actually destroys the harmony. It does mean setting aside your own interests and in self-sacrificing love in humility serve one another.

2. Understand that this harmony is a way of testifying we belong to God in this wretched world. God has called us to this and we are obligated to perform it both on our own and with God’s assistance. This is a way the gospel is preached to the world.

 3. This is no guarantee that the world will be receptive to the gospel our harmony testifies of. Because it is a crooked and perverse world, the gospel will be rejected and believers will suffer for it. But this must be so. It cannot be avoided unless we compromise that gospel.