Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1352
May 27, 2018 Philippians 2.12-18
Rev. Dr. Ed Pettus
(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)
Paul begins this section of scripture with one of his favorite words, therefore. Paul was a builder of arguments. He characteristically gives a point that builds up to another point that builds to another and so forth. When reading Paul’s letters you will see this style often, “this is the case, therefore, do this, be this”. It is not his only connecting word but it is a major one! In this passage Paul is building on his discussion about Jesus’ obedience. His encouragement to the church is to have the same mind as Christ, the same attitude. Jesus was obedience and it takes great obedience for us to learn to think like Jesus and act like Jesus and build an attitude toward life like Jesus.
Paul speaks directly of Jesus’ actions. Jesus humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on the cross. Therefore! Therefore, be like Jesus. It is highly unlikely that we will be obedient to the point of physical death, but we will all be obedient to the point of spiritual death – death to self, death to sin, death to the world, death to all things that oppose God. Paul builds his argument for the church based on the mind and attitude of Jesus Christ. Now, this is not a tremendous insight here! I have not uncovered a secret code to the Bible! Of course Paul builds his argument on Jesus Christ, that is the entire point of our lives. Christ was obedient, therefore, obey. The Scripture is simply teaching us that obedience to God’s Word, obedience in discipleship, and obedience to the leading of the Spirit is the way to live worthy of our call in Christ and the salvation given through His obedience.
Paul indicates that the Philippians have been obedient and encourages them to continue while he is away. “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence...” He has seen their obedience in action. Paul was a major contributor to their formation as a church and would have taught them extensively about the Old Testament and how it shows Jesus as the Messiah. He would have taught them much of what we read throughout the letter to the Philippians as he reminds them of what it means to be obedient.
Obedience is closely following God’s commands. Obedience is doing the right thing. Obedience is standing firm upon the truth. Obedience is trusting Jesus and following Him each moment of our lives. Obedience is yielding our will to God’s will or perhaps thinking about it this way, to make our will God’s will. That is what it means to live a salvation life.
Paul seeks for the church an obedience that does not fade away while he is away. In his next phrase he says, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” To work out salvation is not to earn salvation, but to work out how to live in salvation! That is, to work out ways of obedient living in the call of God. Work out what it means to have received the gift of salvation. Work out the love and hope and forgiveness and redemption. J.B. Phillips renders it this way, “be keener than ever to work out the salvation that God has given you with a proper sense of awe and responsibility.” Obedience is a major part of what it means to live out our salvation. It is a sign of true commitment and devotion to what God has done. What might that work look like? It might be working within the Scripture, to study and meditate and live it. It might mean practicing the disciplines of faith like prayer and service and worship. It might mean seeking to build our love for God and neighbor so that others might see God’s life in us and God’s work in us and be drawn to Jesus Christ. It might sound intimidating to work out what it means to live in salvation, but there is good news in this work.
God at Work
The good news – God is doing the work! “...for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” We are blessed with a God who works in us to bring about His will. This is the God who works to help us do the things that will please God. We might remember Paul’s encouragement in Philippians 1:6, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” I think this would be a huge joy for us, knowing that God is at work in us to bring about the very things that He calls us to do and to the people we are called to be. It is like someone asking us to do something or to learn something new that we don’t think we can accomplish, but they say to us that they will help us all along the way. God works in us through various means. First, in His Word. If we feel that we don’t have a love for the Word or a zealous attitude toward God’s Word, pray for those things to come. Pray for the love and zeal so that our lives are marked by the Living Word. This is how God works in us, through His Sacred Word. Second, through the Holy Spirit. Jesus said the Spirit would come to guide us, to comfort us, to be with us, and God is working in those ways to bring forth His will. Third, God works in us through our common fellowship. God speaks through you and me to us! Fourth, God also works in mysterious ways. We may not understand all the ways God is at work through pain and suffering or through failure and disappointments, but God is with us through all things.
Once again it is in obedience to God that we are better able to discern all the ways God is at work.
What comes next is a selection of ways we might live out and work out our salvation. Verses 14-18 present at least three ways we live in obedience.
No grumbling or disputes
Perhaps Paul had seen signs of grumbling in the church. Maybe some arguments had caused problems. It makes sense that Paul would not teach something like this unless there was a problem. Most grumblings and disputes come when we fail to understand one another clearly or fail to discern what God is doing. We cannot assume things. We cannot gossip. We cannot suspect the worst. These things lead to divisions and grumbling and disputes.
Hold fast to the Word
So, how might we prevent grumbling and disputes? How might we promote obedience and harmony in a community of faith? Hold fast to the Word. Grasp the Word in such a way that it reshapes our lives to full obedience. I know I say something similar to this just about every Sunday, but we must be committed to study and love God’s Book. If that is not a major aspect of our life, then we need to start in Psalm 119 and see the love and desire and life given through the Scriptures.
Be glad and rejoiced
With God at work in us we have tremendous reason to be glad and rejoice. It is a great blessing to have the Holy Spirit working on our behalf, praying on our behalf, and teaching on our behalf. It is a tremendous blessing to have the Word so readily available. It is such a joy to have teachers and preachers and books and fellow believers to help us in our way of discipleship and obedience.
But why does all this matter? Why do we need to care about what Paul is teaching us in these verses and through this letter? I’m gonna tell you why. It’s because of what Paul describes in verse 15, because we live in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation. That is not the primary reason, but it is an important one. I would say first that obedience is practiced in order to glorify God, but for now let’s focus on this world in which we live. We are in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation. Is Paul speaking of his time our ours? The answer is yes. He was certainly speaking of his time, but these words have been true for every generation. And each generation has had the thought that the next generation was worse than theirs. For instance, my parents thought our music was the worst thing in the world, and now many of my generation think that the current music has little redeeming value. Every generation in history has had it’s crooked and twisted issues.
Paul tells the church that we are to shine as lights in the darkness. Obedience, even when seen or criticized as hate speech or behind the times or any other derogatory comment, is the attitude and same mindedness in which we live in order to reflect the person of Jesus Christ. Certainly we have to also observe how Jesus dealt with people who criticized him or opposed him, and when we do so sometimes we see great gentleness and compassion, but other times we see stern warnings.
To the religious leaders of the day Jesus may have pronounced a warning of woe, “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep” (Luke 6.25).
But he would also speak kindly to those who had sinned, but also with a charge to live in obedience, “Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8.10-11).
Obedience is one of the ways we shine the light of Christ in a twisted, crooked, dark world. Obedience is the way we keep ourselves blameless and innocent. In obedience we make proud all those who have come before us, who have mentored us, and who have shown us the way of obedience. Obedience is the witness of Christ in and through us by our attitudes, words, deeds, and presence. Christ was obedient to God’s purpose, therefore we are called to obedience in all aspects of our lives. Let us rejoice with Paul and with one another knowing that God is at working obedience in us, to will and to work for His good pleasure. Amen.