Read – Philippians 2:12-18
Key Verse – Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13 NKJV).
Key Thought – If God has worked IN us to save us, it will be seen in what comes OUT of us.
Sometimes when you read a passage of scripture, a portion of it just jumps out at you. If you develop the habit of reading your Bible regularly and often, as I encourage you to do, then you’ll find yourself reading that same passage more than once, and that same word or phrase may pop out at you again. This is one of those passages for me. Every time I’ve read this throughout my years of Bible reading, that phrase “work out your own salvation” has jumped off the page at me.
Now some people like the concept of working out. My son Joshua is an avid physical fitness nut, and his wife Allison is a personal trainer. They like the idea of working out. I have a neighbor who loves to walk on my road. Almost every morning, rain or shine, hot or cold, you will find her walking… getting her work out in. When brother Nick was attending here, I used to marvel at his running regimen. He was really into running, and participated in some grueling 100 mile races. 100 miles running!
I remember when the first Rocky movie came out. Some of the best scenes in that movie chronicled Rocky Balboa’s work out routine. Who can forget his one handed pushups? Or his punching the beef carcases in the cooler? Or his running up the 72 steps to the Philadelphia Art Museum and leaping ecstatically in the air at the accomplishment?
Now, when I was younger I was into that sort of thing a lot. My brother and I used to lift weights a lot. We even incorporated some of Rocky’s stuff into our workouts. And then some time after that I got into cycling. I used to ride a bicycle a lot, and rode in several 100 and 200 mile rides on a bicycle.
Of course, you can tell that by looking at me, can’t you? I mean, it’s obvious, right, that I know a thing or two about working out? I can prove it to you, if you struggle to believe it. I can take you to my basement and show you my treadmill… and my stationary bike… and my weights… and my elliptical. Just give me a few minutes to go wipe the dust off them before you come look!
Actually, now a days I have a different view of working out.
I’m more like the man who said, “I wanted to work out, but then I wanted to not work out more.”
Or the person who said, “I am in shape. Round is a shape.”
One person asked another, “What’s your favorite exercise?” “Chewing,” was the reply. That’s my way of thinking these days. “I love doing crunches… if by ‘doing crunches’ you mean ‘eating chips.'”
I loved the old guy who told his wife, “My doctor told me to start my exercise program gradually. Today I drove past a store that sells sweat pants.”
Yeah… my idea of working out has changed a bit, and probably not in a good way. I recently came across an exercise fad I could see myself buying into. A fellow was selling “exercise blocks.” They were simply a block of wood. Instructions were inscribed on the block that read, 1.) Place the block on the floor in front of you. 2.) Walk around it twice. 3.) Go sit in your recliner and rest – you’ve just walked all the way around the block twice!
So, is any of that relevant to this passage of Scripture? Is that kind of “working out” what Paul was talking about here?
Well, let’s take a look at the passage and see what we can learn. In doing so, the first thing we may notice is that that “work out your own salvation” – WORK IT – is only the first of at least 4 imperatives Paul gave in these 7 verses. He also told them to SHINE IT, and to PREACH IT, and to REJOICE IN IT.
Now, we really have to think about what he meant there, don’t we? Because at first glance it could appear to be a contradiction in our Bibles. And of course, we believe the Bible to be the inspired, inerrant, infallible, perfect, yea GOD BREATHED Word of God. It does not contain contradictions. We believe that All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NKJV). We believe that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God (2 Peter 1:20-21 NLT).
Over and over the Bible makes clear that salvation is not a matter of our works.
Jesus said, “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matthew 7:22-23 NKJV) Jesus said that doing great things in His name was insufficient to save.
Paul told the Romans, Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20 NKJV)
And to the Galatians he wrote, “knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. (Galatians 2:16 NKJV)
He told Titus, But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, (Titus 3:4-5 NKJV)
Of course, the verse we quote most often on this topic is probably from Ephesians – For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV)
So if the Bible teaches that doing good works is not sufficient to save us… that salvation is purely a matter of believing on the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved… of receiving the free gift of salvation He purchased with His own blood on the cross… then what is Paul talking about here?
Well, let’s start by noticing that he told them to work OUT their salvation. He did not tell them to work FOR their salvation. Remember who Paul was writing to here. Flip back to Philippians 1:1 – to all the SAINTS in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi. Paul was writing to people who were already saved. This book is a book written to Christians, and so he wasn’t now telling them how to be saved. Rather, he was telling them how to live when saved. He was saying that “if it’s in you, it will come out of you.” Jesus said something along these lines when He said that a good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks (Luke 6:45 NKJV). What is in you, comes out of you.
Verse 13 may help us understand that a bit better. Actually, there is no way to understand Paul’s words in verse 12 without also bringing in verse 13. In verse 12 Paul says we are to work out our salvation and in verse 13 he says that God works in you. We work and God works. We need to see both halves to get the whole picture. The first word in verse 13 is “for”, which means “because.” Read it that way and it becomes a little clearer. BECAUSE God is doing a work in you, you need to do your part until the work is completed.
Christian, your salvation was worked IN you by God (Philippians 2:13), but must now be worked OUT by living for Christ. The former speaks of our justification and the latter of our sanctification. The former of our standing, and the latter of our state.
Boice writes that the phrase “work our your own salvation” “teaches that because you are already saved, because God has already entered your life in the person of the Holy Spirit, because you, therefore, have his power at work within you—because of these things you are now to strive to express this salvation in your conduct.” (James Montgomery Boice, “Philippians: An Expositional Commentary” (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 142.) Further, “The verse does not say, “work for your salvation” or “work toward your salvation” or “work at your salvation.” It says “work out your salvation.” And no one can work his salvation out unless God has already worked it in.” (Boice)
I recently enjoyed breakfast with my good friend Pastor Phil Ross. We talked about a lot of things, but eventually our conversation lighted on a topic that we’ve discussed many a time before – why is it that so many professing Christians in our world today, don’t live any different than the lost world around them? In those conversations, Brother Phil always comes around to quoting John 10:27 – “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. If a person is not following, then they are not truly one of His sheep.
One commentator suggested, “While we must not believe in salvation by works, we must most certainly believe in a salvation that works. In other words, we must not fall for that lie of the devil which suggests that one can truly be saved and not manifest it by good works.” (Roger Ellsworth, “Opening up Philippians” (Leominster: Day One Publications, 2004), 43.)
Of course, that’s what James wrote about, isn’t it? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe–and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? (James 2:17-20 NKJV).
Work OUT your own salvation…. If it’s IN you, it should come OUT of you.
How goes that with you, Christian? What comes out of you? If Christianity is in you, it should come out of you. Does it?
If one were to examine your habits… the places you choose to frequent… the words that come from your lips, what would they see and hear? What comes out of you? And let’s not just think of this as an absence of negative things. In others words, I it’s not enough to think that if bad things don’t come out of you, you’re ok. What good things are coming out of you as well? What good habits… good speech… good behaviors… good places that you like to go?
How goes that with you, Christian? What comes out of you? If Christianity is in you, it should come out of you. Does it?
A couple other thoughts before we move off these verses:
First, here’s an encouraging thought – it is God who works in you. This is encouraging to me, because it tells me that not only DID God work a work in me, but He’s still at it! God IS working. In me!
He’s still workin’ on me
To make me what I ought to be.
It took Him just a week to make the moon and stars
The sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars.
How loving and patient He must be!
He’s still workin’ on me!
That word translated “works” is the Greek ENERGON from which we get our word “energize.” God works, He ENERGIZES us. He enables us.
I love a thought I read this past week. Someone wrote, “When God called you to serve Him, He had already factored in your stupidity.” I love that! He knew all about me when He saved me… when He called me. And He keeps right on working in me, and in you, to make us more and more like Christ everyday.
Are you encouraged by that, Christian? Regardless of where you are in your walk of faith, you can take verse 13 to the bank – it is God who works in you! And lest you forget, flip back to Philippians 1:6 – being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. God is working in you, and He won’t stop until He’s done!
Second, there’s a convicting thought. If there is no Christianity coming out of you, it’s almost certainly because there is no Christianity in you.
One man said, “The God who had done the work of salvation within them had not abandoned them. He was still at work in them, giving them both the desire and the power to work out their salvation. If we have no desire to live for the Lord, we have no right to say we know the Lord.” (Ellsworth)
Third, a foundational thought. God must work in you FIRST. You cannot live like a Christian if you are not yet a Christian.
Warren Wiersbe said, “The principle Paul lays down is this: God must work in us before He can work through us.” (Warren W. Wiersbe, “The Bible Exposition Commentary”, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 78.)
If all this seems completely foreign to you… if you find no desire within you to live for Christ… if you are completely happy living just like the world and don’t understand why anybody would want to live OUT their faith, then I think the message to you is as clear as anything in the Bible – you need to be saved. God has not yet done the work of salvation IN you, and therefore you have no interest in working OUT your salvation.
Finally, an explanatory thought. Just as God works in us to save us, God also works in us to help us live for Him. Even our working out of our salvation, is in reality Him working in us and through us.
Paul told the Galatians, I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me (Galatians 2:20 NKJV). That verse parallels Paul’s words here in Philippians. His salvation was God working in him, and everything about the life he lived from that moment on was also a result of God working in him.
The means by which God works IN us is His Holy Spirit, which He has given us. Over and over we find the comforting truth that when we trusted Christ, the Holy Spirit of God came into us. He indwells every believer.
Jesus said, And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever– “the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. … “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you (John 14:16-17, 26 NKJV).
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NKJV).
So… WORK IT, Christian. Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13 NKJV).
Now, I think Paul’s main thought in this section was covered in verses 12-13, but he mentions a few other imperatives which fall out of those verses. If we are working out our own salvation, these next few things will be part of that.
If we are working out our own salvation, then complaining will be minimized… preferably absent altogether. Notice that phrase Do all things in vs. 14. We ought to circle “all things” in our Bibles. I’m reminded of one of my favorite sayings concerning that little word “all” – “All means all and that’s all all means.” And here, Paul says that WHATEVER we do, ALL things that we might do, we are to do without complaining.
Complaining is always a problem for people. The children of Israel were experts at it. They complained when they lived in Egypt. They complained about their task masters who made them work too hard. They complained when Moses led them to the Red Sea and they saw the Egyptians approaching. They complained in the wilderness because they missed the Egyptian food. They complained when God rained food from heaven upon them, because the liked Egypt’s food better. They complained when they were thirsty. They complained and complained and complained.
And people today are no different. We are a grumbling complaining lot most of the time.
But if we are working out our own salvation… living like Christians, then this is an area we need to work on. Complaining, or “grumbling” as some translations have it, ought not to be in us.
Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door! (James 5:9 NKJV)
Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. (1 Peter 4:9 NKJV)
The other word mentioned here is similar. We are to do all things without complaining and DISPUTING. Not only should complaints be absent amongst God’s people, so too should arguments and fights.
And notice that the word “DO” is in the present tense, denoting continual and ongoing action.
Why is this a needed part of working out our own salvation? Because the world is a dark and lost place, and we have the only light. Can any of us doubt the truth of vs. 15, that we live in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation? The NLT translates that, in a world full of crooked and perverse people.
The world is lost… Jesus said we are the light of the world… and we need to SHINE IT… let that light shine. When the lost world sees us mired in complaining and disputing, it doesn’t see the light… it sees no difference between us and them.
If we are working out our own salvation it will be seen in our holding fast the word of life (vs. 16).
Paul is circling back to one of our favorite truths here, isn’t he? He is saying that if we are living as Christians, we will be a people of the Book. We will be Bible people. We will HOLD FAST to the Word of God. We will read it and read it some more. We will love it. We will live it. We will order our lives after it. And when life gets hard and Satan tempts us to despair, we will cling to it like a lifeline.
Those who are working out their own salvation are people who hold fast to the Bible.
And there is another way that phrase might be translated, with equal accuracy. It can also be translated holding FORTH the word of life. In other words, we are to be continually holding out the word of God for others… throwing seed… sharing the good news.
We are Friendship BIBLE Church. Everything we do here ought to be centered around “holding forth the Word”. If I ever stop preaching the Bible here, and start just giving cute little feel good sermons, please throw me out. One of your primary jobs, church, is to keep the teachers in this place honest. Be Bereans. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so (Acts 17:11 NKJV). Compare what I teach… what any teachers here teach… to Scripture, and call us on it if we’re teaching anything but Scripture.
If we are working out our own salvation it will be seen in our holding fast (and holding FORTH) the word of life (vs. 16).
Rejoice In It
Once again, we’re reminded here that Paul wrote this letter from prison, under the threat of being executed for his faith. He didn’t believe that was going to happen, and was confident that he would be released (Philippians 1:25), but he still recognized death was a possibility.
And here he said that even if death was the way his imprisonment would end, he rejoiced and would rejoice to see his Philippian brothers and sisters working out their own salvation… living out their faith in Christ.
He also encouraged them to rejoice in the same thing. All of us ought to rejoice when we see believers living for Christ. All of us should rejoice when the light of the world is shining brightly. All of us should rejoice when the word of God is held fast and held forth.
Yesterday, our church had the wonderful privilege to sing worship songs for a whole hour at the fair. We were given the corner stage for an hour at the busiest time on the busiest day of the fair. That open, central location reaches nearly everybody at the fair. Almost everybody who comes there walks by that location at some point in their visit. We sang songs about our Savior as hundreds and hundreds of people walked by and listened. Many stopped and listened for a while. Some sat down and stayed for the entire concert. Our Sister Beth concluded with a gospel presentation and an invitation.
The light of the gospel shined. The word was held forth. And we all ought to rejoice at such things.
Work it, Christian. And shine it, and preach it, and rejoice in it. That’s what I see in this section of Philippians