God expects you to not just survive, but go on the offensive during trials and tribulations.

I’ve been parked in the book of Philippians for about 3 months now as I’ve been teaching a group of friends, and have really enjoyed the many precious doctrines it espouses, largely written to a church that, by New Testament church standards, was doing quite well. It certainly couldn’t claim the stomach-churning, eye-popping version of adultery from the Corinthian church, and it wasn’t so young and under duress that it was convinced that Christ had already come and gone and all that was left was God’s wrath, like the church in Thessalonica. On the surface, the Philippian church was doing pretty well.

Most familiar with the tone of Philippians will associate it with Christian joy, which is because the word “joy” and its cognates are used something like 16 times throughout. So yeah, naturally, when you think Philippians, you think “joy.” While it’s true that Philippians paints a picture of joy’s root-cause (the great “knowing Christ” section in chapter three), its emphasis on doing right while under duress is often ignored.

The great “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” passage of chapter 2, verse 12 comes on the heals of the ancient hymn describing the kenosis, humility, and exaltation of Christ, which proceeds the command to pursue unity through humility, which proceeds a warning: “it has been given to you, not only to believe in Christ Jesus, but to suffer for His sake (1:29).” Immediately following verse 12 are a couple more commands: Stop arguing and stop complaining, and always be alert to do the will of God as revealed in His Word because you shine like lights in the pitch-black darkness.

Looked at in its context, Paul’s point is simply this: carry out God’s mission of reaching others with the Gospel under duress, through unity and the Word.

Other than the context, does the text bear this out? I believe so, but we need to do some work on verse 12 to get there, so hang with me:

“Work out” is in the emphatic form in the Greek, and it means to achieve, effect by toil, to carry out to its ultimate conclusion or goal. Kind of like,“The student worked out a problem in math.” That is, he went through a series of steps and thoroughly answered the question. You’re in the class, you’ve received an exam, you know the process and expectations, so don’t do it half way and quit — you don’t get credit for that. Complete the exam.

James 1:2-4 sheds more light on this: the way to maturity in the Christian life is through trials (exams), but only if we come out the other side with obedience by faith in-tact. We have to pass the test by doing what is expected of us, then we get to move up. Phil. 2:12 not only clarifies that there is a test, but how to pass it.

“Your own” is really important to the interpretation here: this implies a parallel action that should be repeated — what’s the parallel? Jesus. That’s what was just discussed in the ancient hymn. When did he have to work out his salvation with fear and trembling? Look at the Garden of Gethsemane:

Heb. 5:7-9

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 10

The Philippians were exhorted to carry their salvation to its ultimate conclusion, namely, Christlikeness. Suffer like Christ. The salvation spoken of here is not justification, but sanctification: victory over sin. Otherwise, God wouldn’t be working in them to will and work according to His good pleasure. That would be ridiculous, as God doesn’t work in the unregenerate to desire His good pleasure.

The reason they should work out their salvation is because “God is at work in them (see Eph. 2:19).” This group had been united with Jesus and given His incredible resurrection life, so they were to see to it that they made progress, which was and is a reasonable expectation. God had invested His most valuable “Asset” to ensure that they would not only survive the struggle, but thrive for the sake of the watching world! The way they should work out their salvation is in humble reverence and dependance, the reason is because God had invested the life of His beloved Son in them.

Paul preached the message of the Gospel to the church in Corinth with much “fear and trembling,” why? So that their faith  “might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1 Cor. 2:3-5).” He had an audience of One, the Lord Jesus Himself, and with great reverence He spoke the word clinging to His grace, not his homiletics. Speaking the Word of God and love for one another in trial is part and parcel of those in Christ, as it reveals a power unknown to the secular world. This is the Christian community’s distinctive feature.

There is personal temptation to do wrong, or corporate temptation to do wrong to others. When I’m ordered by the government to bake a cake for a same-sex mirage, individually I must obey God rather than men. However, the pressure related to the hubbub may cause me to lash out at my brothers and sisters out of stress and anxiety. Therefore, I wouldn’t pass the test. Christ Jesus passed the test in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was tested to see if he would retreat from the Father’s will, and he was tested to retreat from doing what was best for us: to die on the cross to pay for our sins. He passed both tests, the obedience test and the love test.

He knew much more difficult times were on the way, so Paul’s purpose in our text was to challenge the believers in Philippi to choose God’s will to love each other *in trials* so that the Gospel could continue to advance. He was a prime example of this himself, sitting under house arrest in Rome, preaching God’s Word (1:12), yet praying for them (1:9), and writing this letter for their personal joy. Fighting and arguing in Philippi would render his work and toil as “in vain,”  because it would hinder the Gospel’s advancement, the very thing He commanded them to be a part of (1:27-28). As Jesus said, “they will know you are my disciples by your love for one another (Jn 13:35).”

You could outline that section like this:

  1. Carry out your salvation to its proper conclusion in reverance towards God.
    1. The manner with which you are to work out your salvation is with reverance
    2. The reason you should continue working out of your own salvation with reverence is because God is the one equipping you to desire and do the good things He wants
      1. God is at work in you for the purpose of willing the good things He wants
      2. God is at work in you for the purpose of working for the good things He wants
  2. Carrying out your salvation to its proper conclusion includes doing all things without complaining and arguing
    1. One reason you are not to complain or argue is so that you can be blameless
    2. Another reason is so that you can be innocent
    3. Another reason is so you can be children of God without blemish
      1. among an evil generation
        1. Among whom you shine like lights in the world
  3. Carrying out your salvation includes being alert for the need to apply the Word in every moment
    1. for the reasons that at the Bema Seat of Christ Paul may be proud
      1. That he did not run for no reason
      2. That he did not toil for no reason

God expects you and I to not just survive, but go on the offensive during trials and tribulations. 





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