Farewells and the Splendor of Trembling: Philippians 2:12-18

philippiansToday we’re continuing our look through Philippians, specifically dealing with 2:12-18.

The past few weeks, we’ve been talking about the Splendor of God. We have talked about his great sacrifice. We have talked about how he refused to operate under the normal means of power, rather, he showed humanity a new way.

It’s really easy to get lost in those passages. The splendor of Christ, the power of the cross, and the hope of his resurrection are such powerful images and examples of love, that often we can stop there.

There is something important about making sure we always look at Christ, right? We should never lose sight of the cross, and how that sacrifice has freed us to live lives otherwise impossible.

The Cross should lead us outward

It can’t end at the cross. It can’t stop with Jesus dying on the cross and coming to life again. This must become real in our own hearts, right?

This must, in some way, transform us.

This transformation must also move outward and begin to transform the world around us. So, today, we’re going to look at what this looks like.

First, let’s read our passage together. Philippians 2:12-18:

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

14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”[c] Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. 17 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. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.

So, what’s going on here?

As Christians, it’s really easy to spend our time with our head in the theological clouds.

More concerned with being right than with being Christ-like.

Paul, with the theological weight of the past chapter still simmering, tells the Philippians to bring it back to their own lives.

What does Christ’s life, death and resurrection mean for us? What does it mean for us to live lives that doesn’t just exist in our theology, but spill out into the world around us?

Working out your salvation

Now, after all we’ve read these past few weeks, we come to this command which was given by Paul.

Paul tells the church in Philipi to work their salvation out with fear and trembling.

Often, this is taught as a command to do salvation right.

We interpret this as, we must follow the rules, the commands, and live lives that are good enough. In other words, we must do the hard work to be saved.

Sometimes, we’re taught that Christ’s death didn’t accomplish the whole thing. It didn’t quite go 100% of the way…that we need to go 10% (and in our minds, how often do we believe this to be a 50/50 venture?)

Part of the problem, when you begin to talk about working out your salvation, is that it begins to be something that is about being saved.

We’ve all been in the pews when we hear sermons that make us feel like any sin, any wrong doing against God, puts our salvation at risk. And so, to secure our place in the Kingdom of God, we re-confess, we re-dedicate our lives to God.

Now, there’s something beautiful about rededication. Saying, God I’ve strayed a bit, and I want to come back to you.

However, must be careful to understand that God never left. His grace never left. And our actions aren’t what saves us.

Christ’s death is.

So, when we begin to talk about this passage, and when we begin to study what it means to work out our Salvation, we must understand this important thing: We are saved by the grace of God. Period.

Not by works. In this, we cannot boast.

Salvation is something we accept. Never something we do.

However, what we see here, is that while Salvation isn’t something we’ll ever earn, it is something we must be diligent to work through.

When Paul says this, he’s not not telling us to work “for” our faith, instead he’s telling us to work “out” our faith.

There is a very big different here.

To work out

The word being used here is Katergazomai, which means “to bring about” or “to carry out.” This isn’t about earning a seat at the table, rather, it has everything to do with putting faith into action.

This isn’t a one time event. It is a consistent and ongoing effort. It’s something you work on and do over and over again.

What does this look like?

Paul uses Chapter 2 to define this for us.

In verses 1-4, we talked about working together as a unified body pushing and striving towards a common goal. Ignoring differences of opinion, and unifying under the banner of Christ.

In verses 5-11, we talked about how love empties self, and in that emptying becomes its fullest and most beautiful self. We saw this modeled by God. And we see the challenge to imitate that.

In verses 14-16, we’re talking about what it looks like to cease arguing and instead, live as an example, or light, to the world around us (more on that in a moment!).

To work out our salvation means that we find a way to exist together in harmony. We refuse to let differences divide us, and we do so with fear and trembling.

Fear and trembling

Now, this is a bit of a misleading phrase. We see this, and we immediately get the image in our minds of an innocent person cowering in the corner in response to an angry, and abusive Father.

Let’s move away from that.

Fear and trembling has nothing to do with fear of life.

Rather, it has more to do with a deep respect or awe.

Fear and trembling is how a person goes to through their marriage ceremony.

Fear and trembling is how a person feels when they hold their first child.

Fear and trembling is how Moses approached the burning bush.

Fear and trembling is that deep appreciation of the magnitude of the moment we are in, and a deep understanding of what is required.

And because of this understanding, because of the reverence and awe that’s brought into the conversation, we are forced to take the situation seriously.

So, we must take this working out of our salvation seriously. We must take our response to it (not our validation or our completion of salvation) seriously.

And when we do this, Paul tells us that what this must look like.

Complaining and arguing. 

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 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 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life.

Now, part of the reason this was Paul’s main challenge is contextual. The church in Philippi was experiencing quite a bit of internal discord. However, the more I experience the Christian faith- particularly, Christianity publicly, I see wisdom and great importance of this challenge:

Complaining:  The word Paul uses here for com paining is “Gongysmos” which means grumbling. It’s actually an onomatopoeia (like bang, or crash, or click). It’s a word that is intended to bring an audible connection, not just an intellectual one.

Arguing: The word used for arguing is “dialogismos.”

These words aren’t all the interesting on their own. However, there is something Paul is alluding to in these comparisons.

In Exodus, we read about Israel. God’s chosen people. Called to be an example to the world of God’s love and God’s sovereignty over all other deities.

However, through the book of Exodus, we see over and over, discord, distrust and frustration by both Israel and God.

They are always complaining; about food, water, walking, etc. Often, the say being in slavery is better than being with God.

They argue amongst themselves. Constantly.

And the world sees.

The world always sees, right?

We’ve seen this in the Christian church.

Rob Bell.

Farewell tweets.

The world watches us as we deal with our own. How are we responding to each other when we aren’t on the same page?

How are we acting?

Are we grumbling. Complaining. Arguing. Throwing one another under the bus?

Or are we finding unity in Christ?

Are we dedicating our lives to love in the same way Christ offered to us; without conditions.

Or do we bicker.

Paul writes about

To Paul, Salvation leads to obedience and obedience leads to evangelism.

There is a progression here

Paul is teaching us that when we’re brought into the fold, brought into the family, we’re called to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We’re called to sacrifice our preferences. To give up our separate identity.

We’re sons and daughters of the King.

When we do that, the world takes note.
When we’re able to put aside our pride, our theology, our politics, and instead, focus on unity, that is the greatest for of evangelism possible.

It’s engaging. It’s inviting. It’s contagious.


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