Continuing our discussion in Philippians, we move on to chapter 2:12-18.
Before we get into the heart of this discussion, though, I’d like to go back for a moment and look at a couple of verses preached over last week. If you notice in verse 12, Paul uses the word “therefore.” Some of your translations may say “so then” or some other wording. The point is that Paul is drawing the readers’ attention backward for a moment so he can move on to what his point is.
A good rule of thumb in Bible study is that whenever you see the word “therefore” you should find out what it’s there for.
Last week Matthew preached over the first 11 verses in chapter 2. This is a discussion by Paul on humility, using Jesus as the ultimate example of the way we should live. I don’t want to preach the same passage again, but because Paul is obviously continuing his line of thought into our passage today, I want us to try to understand his point.
In verse 3 Paul says this: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others more significant than yourselves.” There seems to be a correlation between humility and significance. If we are to be humble, we must consider others more significant than we consider ourselves. This is an interesting thought. In order to be humble, we have to consider others. I think it’s telling that Paul didn’t say we’re supposed to think of ourselves less. Instead, he focused on others. Perhaps real humility isn’t thinking less of ourselves, but not thinking about ourselves.
As we were preparing to plant this church, I started reading everything I could about church planting. I read books, magazine articles, blogs, and all kinds of other stuff. If it was about church planting, I read it. I encountered one blog that was particularly interesting. The writer was relaying a conversation he’d had with his grandmother. She said something like this: “If you’d only realize how little people think of you, you’d be set free to accomplish so much.” This made me laugh at first, and then I caught what it was she was saying. Everyone thinks about themselves. No one is thinking about me at all. If we could each come to terms with that, we could accomplish so much more because we wouldn’t be concerned about what everyone else thinks.
As I was reading back over this passage, that blog came to mind. Humility is not thinking about me at all. It’s considering others significant. It’s others focused.
“Humility is the luxurious art of reducing ourselves to a point, not to a small thing or a large one, but to a thing with no size at all, so that to it all the cosmic things are what they really are… of immeasurable stature.”
I think this goes right along with what Paul was saying in verse 3. When I consider the utter bigness of God, I stop considering myself at all. In light of that, all I want to do is adore him. When I think about the fact that God wants me to know him and that he can be known, I’m so overwhelmed with gratitude that I want my life to be nothing but an offering to him. The problem with all this is that I have to think about the bigness of God at all, I have to consider his grace, and I don’t often do that. If we could, however, realize that we are insignificant compared to God, our humility would be guaranteed. There is a distinct relationship between humility and significance.
Why bring this up again at all? Paul is a logical genius. In chapter 3 he is going to give us a list of qualifications that, if we truly understood, we would be amazed with. Paul was brilliant. He was trained and he was thoughtful. In this chapter, he begins by exhorting us to be humble as Christ was humble because we need to understand our place if we’re ever going to accomplish what we’ve been called to do.
Verses 12-13 are where we’re going to start. Paul says “…as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but 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 work for his good pleasure.” Let me first say this: salvation is a gift of God. Paul himself says in Ephesians that it is a gift “so that no one may boast.” So what does he mean by “work out your own salvation?” If you take the context of the passage and really read what he is saying, there seems to be an emphasis on obedience. “As you have always obeyed…work out your own salvation.” It seems that what Paul is saying here is that salvation involves obedience. If we are obedient, our salvation will lead to good works. If we consider Christ, whose humility led him to obedience, then we will also be obedient. Our salvation will consist of good works.
“Not only in my presence, but much more in my absence…” The goal of good teaching is maturity. The sign of maturity is that one is able to reproduce what he has been taught. Isn’t that the goal of education? Teachers, isn’t that what you hope to see from your students? When we teach, the goal is that our students will be able, eventually, to reproduce the results on their own, that they might synthesize the knowledge and be able to create on their own. As parents, that’s what you want for your children as well, to become independent and able to live successfully on their own. This was Paul’s goal as well. He had been with them, helped them start the church, stayed with them to organize and help them grow, now that he was no longer with them, he wanted desperately for them to grasp what he was saying and live the way he had showed them. He wanted them to grow to maturity in faith. We pray that you do the same. We have men and women here who can disciple you, who can help you understand the truths of scripture better. A step in that process would be for you to join a small group. Get to know some of the people in our congregation. A further step would be to get involved in discipleship.
That’s what we’re all about here. We want your life to be changed. We want you to encounter Jesus and never be the same. We believe that he’s the only one who can really change your life. You can make New Year’s resolutions, you can join a gym to get into shape, you can save money to pay off debt, and you can plan for a great retirement, but only Jesus can change your life. He’s the only one who can make your life new. Let your salvation bring a real change in your life. Work out your salvation. It’s like working out your body. If salvation is supposed to change your life, live like your life has been changed. Put your salvation to work.
Verse 13 brings this paragraph together. “It is God who works in you…” Because God is at work in you, you should be at work in the world. Let your salvation lead you to good works. Let your salvation drive you to be what God has called you to be. Let your salvation bring a real change in your life. It is in that way that your salvation can bring a real change in someone else’s life.
“Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent…” Does this not sound like a parent? Do everything without grumbling or complaining. This goes back to the humility of Christ. Jesus took on the sins of all humanity without grumbling or complaining. In light of his humility and the fact that he didn’t have to do any of it, we should be like him. Living like Christ isn’t easy. There are times when it can be incredibly, unbelievably hard. There are times when it will cost us. It has cost many people their very lives. It has cost others fortune. It cost Jesus. He faced ridicule from his own people. He gave up his position in heaven to come to earth and live like a man. There has never been another who has given up so much to live the life he was required to live.
I read a quote by R.C. Sproul, Jr. Saturday morning. He said: “Why do bad things happen to good people? That only happened once and he volunteered.”
No one has ever given up as much as Jesus did for the call of obedience. Paul tells the church in Philippi to do everything without grumbling. Obey completely and immediately. This is the call to action. If we are to let our salvation move us to good works, we must respond completely and immediately.
Why this preoccupation with total immediate obedience? “…children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation among whom you shine as lights in the world…” Why all the talk about obedience?
Because you live among a crooked and twisted generation. Remember also that Paul was writing in the first century. How much more crooked and twisted has society become 2000 years later? You are children of God. You should live in the humility that Christ himself displayed, not grumbling or complaining because you are lights to a generation who is crooked and twisted. If they are to ever encounter Jesus for themselves, they must see him in the way you live. This is the crux of the matter. Since the time of Abraham and Moses God has been in search of a people that would display his greatness to the nations. God has pursued us and wooed us to himself so that we might show and tell the world what he is all about. We have been set apart that we might display him to everyone else. The fact that you were saved by a magnificent and merciful God should compel you to these works with gratitude and love.
You shine as lights in the world. Jesus himself said that you were the light of the world. We’re going to watch a short video that will hopefully illustrate this point a little.
There are four things in this video I would like to call our attention to:
Every day we are faced will thousands of little decisions. What to eat, what to wear, who to talk to, how we respond when someone wrongs us. In the midst of these tiny decisions there is an overarching guiding principle. We are to choose how we will live. We are to choose what to do with our time, money, and talents. How can we impact the world every day in these small, seemingly unimportant decisions?
Paul would encourage us to let our salvation determine how we live our lives. If Jesus really is the most significant person in our lives, he should be the driving force behind them. If salvation is really the most significant event in our lives, it should determine how we live. Work out your own salvation. Let your salvation lead you to good works. Let your relationship with Jesus be the most significant thing about you. Let Jesus define who you are and that will determine how you live. Jesus will determine how you choose. Jesus will determine how you act. Jesus will determine how you respond. Jesus will also determine how you dress and even what you eat. In light of Jesus, choose daily.
We’ve talked about how the world is a crooked and twisted place. Because of the sinfulness of man, the world is corrupt and broken. Because of the selfishness of man, many in the world die from preventable things like unclean water and treatable disease. One million children are exploited by the global commercial sex trade every year. Three billion people in the world live on less than $2 per day.
You can make a difference. You can save someone’s life. You can change the world. There’s a table in the foyer that as different opportunities for you to serve. You can sponsor a child through Compassion International or World Vision. You can give money to support clean water through organizations like Living Water. You can help in our own community through Helping Hands and other organizations.
You can be a part of the cure, but you have to get stirred up about something. You have to hate injustice. You have to want to do something about it.
Work Is Worship
God has placed you where you are right now for a reason, and it’s not just to get a better job. Your work is worship. The way you interact with people can go a long way to showing them the love of Jesus. God divinely put you where you are to show his love to those around you.
So often we think of missions as going overseas and evangelizing tribal people or taking medical supplies to those who are most in need of them. We think of missions as what we do “over there” and indeed that is part of it, but God didn’t just create us to go “over there” but to be his people right where we are. Stop thinking of missions as something a few select radicals do and start thinking of it as a way to live your life where you are right now.
Today is all you have. In fact, this moment is the only moment you have. We’re not guaranteed another breath. The time is right now. Immediate obedience is what we’ve been called to. Delayed obedience is disobedience.
What is God stirring in your heart to do right now? What part of your life is he touching, encouraging you to get busy? Which of these four things strikes the strongest chord with you? How have you been called to obey? Act swiftly. There is no time like right now.
These four things I would leave you with today. If we take scripture seriously (and if you’re a follower of Christ I hope you do) then there is always a call to action. In light of Jesus’ example we must pursue humility, not thinking less of ourselves, simply not thinking of ourselves at all, but of God. His magnificence is what stirs us to worship, his salvation is what calls us to intimacy and to action.
Choose daily who you will serve and how you will live your life. Be conscious of who it is Jesus has called you to be. Don’t relinquish the choice to others. Don’t choose by not choosing. Decide who you are going to be: a disciple of Jesus, or something else. Don’t be fooled, either. A disciple is one who listens to and obeys the master. Jesus said a disciple is one who obeys all that he has commanded. Are you being obedient to Christ daily? If not, perhaps you should re-evaluate whether you are a disciple or not.
Hate the injustice you see around you. Even as Americans we are not immune to injustice. What is it you see that isn’t right? Where can you make a difference today? Perhaps it’s in the life of a child somewhere across the globe or maybe it’s in helping to bring clean water to a primitive village. Maybe it’s simply doing what you can right here in Kilgore to help agencies already at work. Where can you make a difference?
Treat your work as worship. Live like God knew what he was doing when he put you where you are. If you’re in a difficult work situation, rejoice that you have a job and live like you love Jesus. If you are looking for a job, rejoice that Jesus has saved you and let his salvation be evident to every potential employer. Your life is your worship. Your life is the mission God gave you. Rejoice that you have been called to a mission with Jesus.
Act swiftly, today! Don’t wait for something to force you into action. Don’t wait for tragedy to strike. There is much to be done! The fields are white, ready for harvest. It’s interesting that in that passage Jesus doesn’t tell us to pray for the harvest, but instead to pray that God would send more workers into the harvest. That’s what we are praying for. We are praying that God would send us more workers; that we might be a larger force to go into the fields.
I hope that Jesus changes your life. I hope that you encounter him and are never the same. I hope that in humility you would consider Jesus the most significant person and that his mercy and grace would cause you to put your salvation to work.