LESSON PLAN 4 - Phil. 2:12-30 - "WORKING OUT" OUR SALVATION
LAST WEEK: In Phil 2:1-11, we heard Paul narrate some of the most memorable verses of all his writings. In the first five verses, he connected the blessings of being a Christian with the corresponding benefits in a Christian's life: we experience comfort, encouragement, love, and unity as saved believers in Christ. Because of this, we should in turn pass on these same blessings to our fellow believers. Paul emphasized that how a Christian thinks-that is, how we form our attitudes-is absolutely critical to living the Christian life. This sets up the ultimate example of humility that establishes the pattern that should shape all of our attitudes-the incredible sacrifice that Jesus Christ made on our behalf. In verses 6-11 he gave a profound description of how Jesus' humbled Himself for you and me. Instead of coming first as God and King, Jesus voluntarily took on the form of a human being. Then, following His calling and the will of His Father, He allowed himself to be oppressed, humiliated, and savagely crucified in order to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. For doing this, God exalted Jesus by raising Him up to the very highest point of honor and made everyone in the heavens and on the earth subject to Him. At the final Judgment, all people, whether they want to or not, will admit that Jesus Christ is, in fact, Lord of Lords. And for many, this will happen too late.
THIS WEEK: First, in Phil. 2:12-18, Paul will talk to us about living as "lights in the world" (hold-on to that idea). After giving us a mind-blowing portrayal of Christ last week, Paul strenuously exhorts the Philippian believers to "work out their salvation" out of obedience in their day-to-day lives. Then in vv. 19-24, he advises them of his plan to send his co-worker in the faith Timothy to them and identifies Timothy as a person with a service-centered life. Finally in vv. 25-30, he praises fellow Philippian, Epaphroditus, who will be returning to them with Timothy.
Read Phil 2:12-13 - "WORKING OUT" OUR SALVATION
12 So then, my beloved, just 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; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to desire and to work for His good pleasure.
v. 12a: "So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence" - The phrase "So then" marks a transition from the ultimate example of Christ in vv. 6-11 last week. He follows by urging the Philippians to not only obey him while he's exercising pastoral oversight, but also in his absence (i.e., doing the right thing even when he wasn't looking), by following the great example of humility and service that Christ set for all Christians.
v. 12b: "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" - This is Paul's rationale for their day-to-day living. The "salvation" he's commanding them to "work out" isn't their one-time spiritual deliverance but refers to their ongoing responsibility to live-out their salvation right now, in the present. His statement implies the need to "work-out" their salvation by improving their personal relationships with others. To work "with fear and trembling" reminded them that they needed to "fear" Almighty God and to "tremble" at the very idea of doing anything that dishonors Him.
v. 13: "for it is God who is at work in you, both to desire and to work for His good pleasure" - a Another reason the Philippians needed to "work out" their salvation was so they could allow God "work in" them. Using wordplay here, Paul tells them that they needed to "work out" because God "works in." And God's working in them gave both the motivation and the ability to accomplish "His good pleasure." God's divine initiative in us-when He saved us-calls for a human response, and the operative word is work, not to maintain our salvation by works but to use our lives to prosper God's kingdom on earth today, in the here and now.
APPLICATION 1: "Working out our salvation" refers to our Christian responsibilities in the present. When God saved us, he gave us an ongoing responsibility to live-out our salvation in the present, and when we "work out," God "works in" us to give us both the motivation and abilities we need in order to accomplish His purposes here on the earth.
Read Phil. 2:14-16 - CHILDREN OF GOD TO BE ABOVE REPROACH
14 Do all things without complaining or arguments; 15 so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, 16 holding firmly the word of life, so that on the day of Christ I can take pride because I did not run in vain nor labor in vain.
v. 14: "Do all things without complaining or arguments" - Here, Paul adds a constructive "how-to" to the Philippians' "work out" process. Complaining and arguing both have a counter-productive effect on church unity. Most of our complaining and arguing happens when we put our own interests ahead of the interests of others. This self-seeking weakens our work as well as the work of others.
v. 15a: "so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent" - This is the reason and goal for v. 14: to completely stop complaining and arguing so that as Christian believers and as a church, we are "blameless and innocent," which, in practical terms, means that we are living-out our lives with an standard of character that causes no offense-none-to others. That's a very high bar.
v. 15b: "children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation" - Our "blameless and innocent" character is intended to be striking contrast to the depraved world we live in. The picture here is to present ourselves as a "straight" people in a crooked world.
v. 15c: "among whom you appear as lights in the world" - Using an astronomy metaphor, Paul compares the noticeable character of Philippian church members to bright stars in the night sky. As Christians and as a church, this makes us very distinct, a light in the dark world around us. And some of those outside will be drawn to this light-they will want in. We must strive-daily-to maintain it.
v. 16a: "holding firmly the word of life" - Our mission, to be a light in a dark world, is accomplished by "holding firmly the word of life." The thing to which we are "holding firmly" is the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And the idea here is, that the more "firmly" we hold on to the gospel, the brighter we become. And "holding firmly" works two ways: (1) It strengthens the church as body of believers and (2) and shines a bright, evangelistic light that will attract those outside the church.
APPLICATION 2: Allowing God to "work in" us means we (a) do all things without complaining or arguing and (b) hold firmly to the word of life. Complaining and arguing destroys church unity and impairs God's work. The "word of life" we hold onto is the gospel message that shines light in the dark world around us, and as a church, the more firmly we hold onto it, the brighter our light shines.
v. 16b: "so that on the day of Christ I can take pride because I did not run in vain nor labor in vain" - Here, Paul shifts to athletic imagery to make his personal appeal to the Philippians. First, to fully understand Paul's statement about taking "pride," we need to recognize that Paul's life was totally focused on being a servant of Jesus Christ, and everything he did here and elsewhere was motivated by the desire to please Christ, not himself or other people. Second, he loved the Philippians (and the other churches he planted) like a parent loves his or her own children. Therefore, all of Paul's ambitions-his efforts to "run" and "labor" for both Christ and the churches was entirely unselfish. The "day of Christ" refers to the day when Paul and indeed, all other Christian believers will be rewarded-in eternity-for their faithful service.
Read Phil. 2:17-18 - POURED OUT AS A DRINK OFFERING
17 But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. 18 You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.
v. 17a: "But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith" - Here, Paul uses a sacrificial analogy that shows his humility in relation to his own importance. Under the OT sacrificial system, the animal sacrifice was primary and the "drink offering" was only secondary. The expression, "poured-out," represented Paul's life and "sacrifice" referred to his "service," in this context, to the Philippian church, but in the broader context, to all his efforts to spread the gospel message to the entire known world. As a missionary, he set the standard.
v. 17b: "I rejoice and share my joy with you all" - For Paul, his role in planting the Philippian church and watching it prosper and mature has been a source of immeasurable joy-like a parent watching his child mature into godly adult, and he shares this joy with them by his words of praise in this letter.
v. 18: "You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me" - Notice that Paul has expressed "rejoice" or "joy" four times in these two verses. This says a lot about a man who is locked in jail awaiting a life or death decision. As for him, he was happy-rejoicing-no matter what happened. The simple explanation is that the mind of Christ dominated all of Paul's thought processes. If Christ's life was as act of sacrifice, Paul saw his life as being one, too. And what he was doing then and there, pouring out his life as a drink offering to serve the cause of the gospel for people he loved, the Philippians in this instance, was a continuing source of personal joy to him.
APPLICATION 3: Like Paul, we should perceive our own Christian lives as an activity which is being "poured-out" as a "sacrifice." The pouring-out is the time we devote to our Christian work both inside and outside the church, and the sacrifice is creative effort and resources we put into it. If we are diligent, we will receive our spiritual rewards-i.e., heavenly treasure-on the "day of Christ" that Paul mentioned in v. 16. But while we are still at work "down here," we can "rejoice" over the opportunities that God has given us and share that joy with those around us.
Read Phil. 2:19-24 - PREPARING THEM FOR TIMOTHY'S MISSION TO PHILLIPI
19 But I hope, in the Lord Jesus, to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition. 20 For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. 22 But you know of his proven character, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father. 23 Therefore I hope to send him immediately, as soon as I see how things go with me; 24 and I trust in the Lord that I myself will also be coming shortly.
v. 19: "But I hope, in the Lord Jesus, to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition" - This and the next ten verses form a break in the chapter that outline Paul's intentions to send Timothy and Epaphroditus to Philippi. Timothy, converted by Paul at Lystra on the first missionary journey, had been Paul's co-worker and right-hand man in ministry for over ten years at the date of this writing. Epaphroditus was the delegate for the Philippian church sent to Rome to deliver the church's gift to Paul. So, Knowing that he couldn't visit Philippi at present, Paul hoped to send Timothy as his emissary and co-worker. The expression, "I hope (to send Timothy) "in the Lord Jesus," wasn't an escape clause in case the plans didn't pan out but an acknowledgement of being subject to God's will, a principle Paul lived by. In the next three verses, Paul assures the Philippians that Timothy is qualified to act as his direct representative.
v. 20: "For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare" - From Paul, this was the highest commendation an individual could receive. As a "kindred spirit," it meant that Timothy shared Paul's passion for the gospel ministry in every conceivable way. And added to that, Timothy understood and shared all of Paul's concerns for the Philippian church.
v. 21: "For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus" - This verse is intended to provide a sharp contrast between Timothy and the self-seeking people in Christian ministry who were unwilling to put the interests "of Christ Jesus" first. Paul regarded Timothy as a model for a person who possessed the spiritual character to keep focused on the best interests of others.
v. 22: "But you know of his proven character, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father" - Paul had recruited Timothy from Lystra at the start of the second missionary journey in about 50 A.D and began the process of training him up. Over time, they became as close to one another as a father and a son, and to Paul, who never married, this was the closest thing he ever had to an immediate family. But Paul certainly wasn't a loner and, in effect, gathered an enormous extended family (20+ churches) over the course of his ministry.
vv. 23-24: "Therefore I hope to send him immediately, as soon as I see how things go with me; 24 and I trust in the Lord that I myself will also be coming shortly." - Timothy was in Rome with Paul at the time of this writing (though not under arrest), and Paul intended to send him to Philippi as soon as he made more progress in his legal affairs. Paul himself also hoped to visit the Philippian in the near future, but whether or not he actually did remains uncertain.
APPLICATION 4: Like Paul, we need to be mentoring others to take our place. Whatever roles we play in Christian ministries of our church and elsewhere, we need to be mentoring our own Timothies to take our place whenever we go on to receive our higher reward. We need to share our joy.
Read Phil. 2:25-30 - ADVISING THEM OF EPAPHRODITUS' RETURN
25 But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need, 26 because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. 27 For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 Therefore I have sent him all the more eagerly, so that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may be less concerned about you. 29 Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold people like him in high regard, 30 because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to compensate for your absence in your service to me.
v. 25: "But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need" - Paul's letter to the Philippians was ultimately delivered by the hand of Epaphroditus. In this verse, Paul gives this man five titles: "my brother," as a fellow Christian believer; "fellow worker," for his service in Christian ministry; "fellow soldier," emphasizing his unashamed defense of the gospel; "your messenger" for his role in delivering the letter; and "minister to my need," indicating that he had helped Paul in numerous other tasks.
v. 26-27: "because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. 27 For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow." - These two versed tell the Philippians that: Epahroditus missed his friends in Philippi; he was concerned that they had learned that he was very sick but had not heard that he had recovered. These verses clearly demonstrate that those who serve Christ are not immune to troubles, nor are they guaranteed a miraculous healing. But notice Paul's mention that "God had mercy on him" (Epaphroditus) and also on Paul, who would have very grieved over the loss of this friend.
vv. 28-30: "Therefore I have sent him all the more eagerly, so that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may be less concerned about you. 29 Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold people like him in high regard, 30 because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to compensate for your absence in your service to me. - Paul was clearly elated at the prospect of sending Epaphroditus home to the Philippian church and the reception he would receive when he arrived there. Paul also trusted Epaphroditus and looked forward to receiving a report on the church from him. Finally, he encouraged the Philippian believers to honor Epaphroditus as one who, like a true missionary, had risked his life in places where others can't go. Epaphroditus, like Paul, was clearly a man willing to go the extra mile in order to serve the gospel of Jesus Christ.
APPLICATION 5: Like Paul, we should communicate the well-deserved praise of others publically. A lot of dedicated and hard-working people in the church often go unnoticed. Paul used his written correspondence as a means of recognizing and praising many of his co-workers. As members of the same church, all of us have this responsibility to do this on our own whenever the opportunity arises. Its not only blesses the people who deserve praise but blesses us for giving it. So, speak up!
PRAYER: Lord God in heaven, we come to you this day, thanking You for your mercy and the underserved grace You have given us as children of your kingdom. We are especially thankful that You've given us this good church where we are free to worship and serve You. Dear God, we understand that our salvation is a free gift that we did nothing to earn. Yet, Paul tells us in this lesson that we need to work out our salvation so that You can work in us, and by doing this, You will give us the abilities to accomplish Your divine purposes here on earth, right now. Help us, Lord, to adopt and implement the simple steps that Paul gives to do this: (1) to do all things without complaining or arguing (2) to hold firmly to the word of life, which is the gospel message. I ask these things in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, AMEN.