Philippians 2:12-30; It Is God Who Works – So Rejoice!

Mark Wheeler
August 10, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Philippians 2:12-30
It Is God Who Works – So Rejoice!

You, O Lord, have placed Your hand upon us. We need not run from You in shame. You, O Christ, have placed Your life within us. Our lives will not end in isolation or obscurity. You, O Holy Spirit, are nurturing Your passion within us. Turn us from vanity and reckless desire. Father, Son, and Spirit, we give You thanks and praise. Amen.

Last week our church met at Harmon Park with a half-dozen other churches to help celebrate the Hillyard Festival and to bring the Word of God beyond our doors into the open-air of a big community event. One of the most exciting parts of this Worship in the Park is the opportunity to show our outside neighbors that these other churches are not only not our competition, but they are our family – we actually love each other.
Could you imagine how much work it would be to do what we did last Sunday all by ourselves? On our budget, and with our resources, impossible. But with God leading the way, and our ecclesiastical extended family at our side, not only does it become possible, it was amazing!

This Summer our sermon series comes to us from Paul’s prison epistle to the fellowship in Philippi. We have already seen that even though Paul was under house-arrest and could have remembered how hard life had been in Philippi, he chose instead to be thankful for all the ways God works good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28). This letter is so filled with different forms of the word “joy” that it is often called the “Joy Epistle”.
Today we read from Philippians 2, a piece of Paul’s letter that challenges our real acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior by challenging our response to life’s circumstances. Listen to God’s Word from Philippians 2:12-30 ….—-
12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.
19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. 20 I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. 21 For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. 23 I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. 24 And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.
25 But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. 26 For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. 28 Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. 29 So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, 30 because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me.

Did you catch the challenge? Right at the start: “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling”.
Wait, what? Wheeler, you have been telling us for nigh unto 20 years now that we humans cannot earn or deserve our salvation no matter how hard we work!
Every month when we gather at the Communion Table, as we are about to do this morning, I remind this congregation that we are not invited to this Table because we are so good that God wants to reward us with an invite – we are here simply because God loves us so much that He gave His only begotten Son – and He invites us to His Table so we can re-experience the trauma and the victory of Christ’s death and resurrection, the anxiety and the ecstasy of eternal life offered us through faith.
But today we read where Paul says we have to work out our salvation in fear and trembling? Something’s not right!
Let me shed a little light on this challenge. The verse starts with a reminder of this church’s obedience to the Scriptures, their faithful obedience to Christ’s commands (see Matthew 28:20). Now, in the midst of their hardships and persecutions, Paul challenges them to remain faithfully obedient (continue to work out), and reminds them that even their desire, let alone their ability to be obedient, is God who works in [them] to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

Have you ever heard someone say (maybe you have said, or still say this yourself) that the main reason they don’t want to become a Christian is that there are just too many rules. “I still want to have fun. I want to do what I want to do, not have a whole new set of ‘laws’ to follow.”
When I did a lot of youth ministry and youth outreach, this is the pushback I got from kids – and then I realized that I still get it from full-grown adults, and seniors. What we don’t realize at first – and Church, this is our job to help people realize – is that following Christ is the most exciting and thrill-seeking lifestyle out there, and it honors God and serves humanity at the same time!
John Ortberg, a well known Christian author and pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in CA, once said it this way: “Spiritual growth doesn’t mean a life of doing what I should do instead of what I want to do. It means coming to want to do what I should do.”
I used to tell my youth that amazingly, what I want to do changes – and now I actually can do whatever I want – and it’s legal and no one gets hurt.
That wasn’t terribly convincing, but we can show its truth simply by being joyful, joy-filled! And God does the work to get us there! We just have to let Him, then working out our salvation becomes second nature!

Full disclosure time. I fail at this every day! Every day I realize that what I want to do is to fall into temptation and do something that does not honor God or follow Christ or serve humanity. That’s where Paul’s challenge to continue to work out, with fear and trembling, comes in. And the reminder to pray, because God actually wants to help me. And He wants to help you!

I’m going to end my message early today – to help you be grateful and joyful; but before I do, take a look at the rest of this chapter in Philippians. Paul has a paragraph with attitude advice. He says, “14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.”
Do everything without grumbling or arguing. I am greatly encouraged by the fact that these Christians in 1st century Philippi really were no better than any church in 21st century anywhere. This is Paul’s most joy-filled letter, but even these good friends require a little wrist-slapping admonition – don’t grumble any more, and stop that arguing! A little later he even names names.
Have you heard the slogan, “If you love what you do for a living, you never have to work a day in your life!”? In everything, love what you’re doing; and it becomes play instead of work.

And then, the rest of this passage is Paul thanking the Philippian Church for their friendship and Paul passing the love of friends back and forth. I read somewhere that Paul mentions over 100 individuals by name in his letters. He was a man who made deep friends, and knew how to help others do the same.
And it always has to do with allowing God to do His work in and through us.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the Heidelberg Catechism, and the wonderful way it proclaims the Gospel and disciples Christians. Remember Q&A 1? What is your only comfort in life and in death? That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
This same catechism teaches us how to work out our salvation, how to allow God to do His work in us. The catechism teaches that the key to this kind of success is in being grateful. I have not gotten permission to use these people’s names in today’s sermon, so I won’t – but we have a number of folks who happily and readily serve in almost any manner of ways – because they live in a world of gratitude and joy. Yes, there are others who do a lot of work, but insist on getting credit and complain about how much they do.
Which ones do you think honor God better? Which ones follow Christ with more obedience?
The Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 90 talks about cultivating this gratitude in our lives. Craig Barnes, president at Princeton Theological Seminary, says this, “The catechism describes our gratitude as ‘a love and delight to live according to the will of God’ (Q&A 90). The more grateful we are, the more we delight in the will of God. … this life-altering gratitude is so much more than an attitude or theological commitment. It must be grounded in specific acts of praises.”

Work out your salvation in fear and trembling is our challenge – not based on our abilities or even our endurance, but based solely on our relationship with God through the gift of His Son Jesus Christ our Savior – our only comfort in life and in death – who does the work in us and through us.

If you, like me, find yourself dreading another meeting or phone call or sermon, then heed Paul’s working solution – allow God to work in you, and re-discover the joy and gratitude of one who walks and works with God Almighty.

You, O Lord, have placed Your hand upon us. We need not run from You in shame. You, O Christ, have placed Your life within us. Our lives will not end in isolation or obscurity. You, O Holy Spirit, are nurturing Your passion within us. Turn us from vanity and reckless desire. Father, Son, and Spirit, we give You thanks and praise. Amen.

Resources:
Ortberg, John; The Me I Want to Be; Zondervan; Grand Rapids, MI; 2009; P. 81, Kindle edition.

Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 447.

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