Reflection from October 2, 2022


Philippians 2:12-30

If you were here to worship on June 19, this year, you may remember that I began a series of messages on book of Philippians. In that message I spent quite some time looking at the book as a whole and then highlighted the special relationship of Paul to this congregation, who were supporting him in his mission endeavors. It was a very tight knit relationship due to their financial and personal care for the apostle.

In that first message, we looked more closely at the first chapter where Paul reveals his great appreciation and love for the church in Philippi and prays a wonderful prayer for them and then we jumped to chapter four where we found the basis for this special relationship. We were also able to see from chapter 16 in the book of Acts more about this close relationship. Hopefully we learned that our support for the work of the church and missions, for the workers in church and mission, are graciously received by God. The support for Paul was personal, financial and in prayer. Like the church in Philippi, we can all participate in that way to one degree or another.

The second time we looked at Philippians together we ended at the end of Chapter one where Paul had challenged the members of the church in Philippi that whatever happened, they should live lives worthy of the Gospel. They needed to stand firm contending for the faith as one man. For, as he reminded them, they were granted the privilege of not only believing in Christ, but also of suffering with him.

In our third encounter with Philippians in this series we saw that Paul really challenged the believers to live out their lives in fulfilling the provisions that salvation presents us with. He wanted them to imitate the life of Christ in their lives. They were to do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. They were to consider others better than themselves and care about other people’s interests not just their own.

Then we looked at the wonderful actions of Jesus who, though he was very God of very God, humbled himself and became a man. And as a perfect and sinless man, at the same time still completely God, he gave himself as a sacrifice for our salvation. The Father then exalted him to the highest place and one day all will bow and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

And so, this morning we are going to be looking at the last part of the second chapter of Philippians. In this section Paul reiterates his challenge to his friends in the church in Philippi to live godly lives. And then we will see that he continues by sharing the lives of some whom he considers to be examples of living such spiritual lives. As we have mentioned before Paul has made clear in the first part of chapter 2 that Jesus is the primary example of living a spiritual life in verses 6-11. That was after his challenge to the folks in the church in Philippi to live their lives for others in verses 1-5.

And now, in verse 12, he returns to his challenge regarding how they should live. This challenge follows the verses which we looked at during my previous sermon. Let’s read it together to get the setting for our thoughts for today. [Read 2:6-11]

With the excellence of the life and example of Jesus in our minds, Paul segways into his next thoughts with “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, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose”. Jesus had served his Father and allowed God to work and accomplish his will in him. “Not my will,” said Jesus, “but thy will be done”. And we need to do the same thing as Jesus did.

Paul once again shows his appreciation for the Christians in Philippi by telling them that what they needed to do is to continue doing the same thing they have always done, which is to obey. You always obeyed while I was with you. Now do the same thing when I am not with you, even when I am in Rome in a prison. Just what does Paul want them to do?

They are to continue to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. The reason for fear and trembling? This doesn’t mean we are to be fearful and uptight about the process. It means that we recognize its importance and in reverence and humility make certain we do not miss out. We need to be submissive to God and his will for us. Take this task seriously and work on getting the most out of your Christian life and service. Do everything in humble submission and rejoice in the blessings and victories that it will bring.

It is God who works in you so that you want to do what He has in mind for you, that is “to will” and then also “to do.” Are you willing to serve God in obedience? That shows that God is at work in you. Are you also doing, that is, are you acting on that willingness to live in obedience? That is God at work in you.

Now that sounds like teamwork – you will and you act because God is work in you. But it is more than teamwork. You are 100% responsible for your will and your actions. But God is 100% at work as well. So, you are responsible even though God is enabling you to do it. God is responsible even though he expects you to do it. The neat thing here is that we are not on our own and what we are doing is acting according to God’s good purpose for each of us. WOW! I think that ought to excite us. Just what does this purpose look like? Let’s read verses 14-18.

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the words of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labour for nothing. 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. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.

The first issue is to do everything without complaining or arguing. That’s huge in and of itself. But it is a condition for the following statement. We are to act in this way so that we may “become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation”. Clearly there are several things in this compound sentence that we should think about. First off, being children of God means that you have become a believer in Jesus and received him as your Saviour.

Want to be pure and blameless? That’s the result of our being people who do not complain or argue. The afternoon after I wrote this in my notes, I found myself complaining. And when my complaining met resistance, I argued the point. And it turned out to be quite pointless. A lesson to be learned.

Want to be pure and blameless? That’s the result of our being people who do not complain or argue. This is how we become folks who are willing and doing the works of God that are done according to his good will for us. Or conversely it might be the result of us being His children who are willing and acting according to his good purposes for us.

Paul, and our Father in heaven, want us to become and to always be blameless and pure, children of God who are without fault. Now this is getting heavy. Children of God, pure and blameless, who are described as without fault even though we live in a crooked and depraved, or perverse, generation. Does this feel like it is rather too high a goal for you? Then, remember that God is working in tandem with us to accomplish this. The Holy Spirit, the third person of the trinity, is at work transforming us as we grow mature in Christ.

I think you are likely thinking about the crooked and depraved generation among whom we live. If you were here last week, you remember how concerned Dr. John is about the state of our honesty, or rather the lack of it, in our world today. So many false things reckoned as true, even in some Christians.

But Paul was talking about the generation in Rome and elsewhere away back in the first century. Then maybe we think to ourselves, “Paul, you thought you had it bad, but, boy, you should see our generation”. However, Paul was quoting another writer a long time before Paul’s generation. Your Bible may have a small letter that leads to a footnote and the footnote leads you to Acts 2:40 which then refers you to Deuteronomy 32:5, where Moses complains about a generation that was “warped and crooked”. Our generation, Paul’s generation, Moses generation. Many are the warped and crooked generations among whom God’s people have been called to shine like stars. We are no different. Let’s shine!

The darker the night the brighter the stars appear to shine. The more depraved our generation the more we need to shine. But we shine as stars. Stars and planets may have no light of their own but reflect a greater light. And so are we to shine. The source of our shining is the word of life, the Bible truth, the good news of God’s salvation for the world who believes. Reminds me of the saying, “the only Bible some people will ever read is you, your life”.

It is interesting to note that one of the reasons Paul wanted the Philippian believers to shine in this way was to prove he had not spent his life working for nothing. And he is happy if his life is poured out just like drink offering on an altar on which the main sacrifice is the Philippian believer’s lives and service. He would rejoice in that and expects them to rejoice with him in celebration of his ministry to the Lord.

And it is at this point that Paul turns from the challenges towards spiritual effort and maturity in service and mentions two men who are examples of just the type of growth and maturity that he is urging them to pursue, Timothy and Epaphroditus.

In essence it seems that Paul is again putting our goals into focus by giving us important examples. He has already done this twice. In the last part of chapter one Paul spelled out his own life as an example of the type of results he expected from the prayer he made for the folks at Philippi. First the standard and then an example. And again, in the initial verses of chapter two Paul challenges his readers to live lives reflective of how Jesus lived. Then he spent verses 6-11  in an amazing description of Jesus life and service. First the challenge and then the glorious example of the Christ.

It is as if Paul is saying, here is my challenge about how you should live and serve. Here then is an example of what that looks like. Then he eulogizes Timothy and Epaphroditus. And we might respond, “Well, that good because I don’t think I can be someone like Paul and none of us can really match the life and service of Jesus, but maybe I can be a little like a Timothy or Epaphroditus.

Notice what Paul has to say about Timothy as we read 2:19-24. “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 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. I hope therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.

Paul says that he has no one else like Timothy. He takes a genuine interest in their welfare. He reminds them that they know about Timothy’s service along side Paul. He had proven himself faithful like a son, working with his father. This is high praise indeed.

Paul was sending Timothy to them to let them know how Paul was doing. He was waiting for the decision regarding the charges against him and would send Timothy as soon as the verdict was reached. He was also sending Timothy to them so that he could return to Paul or send word to him and give him good news about how the church in Philippi was doing. And the reason he would choose Timothy to do the job was his confidence in Timothy as a Christian worker, who was working out his salvation and living a life that shone like a star in the dark world of Rome.

Notice what Paul has to say about Epaphroditus as we read 2:25-30. But I think it necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, who is your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. 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. 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. Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honour men like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give.”

I am sure you noted Paul refers to Epaphroditus as his brother, his fellow worker and fellow soldier. He was a serving brother and he shared in the ministry as a worker and then as a soldier in the battle in which Paul found himself. Epaphroditus was a warrior for the kingdom of God. High praise indeed.

And when Paul refers to him as the messenger of the church sent to care for him, he uses a word which means not just messenger but could also be translated apostle. Paul also notes the caring nature of Epaphroditus shown in his being in distress because his illness had caused his friends back home to be concerned for him. He got homesick at that point it appears. He longed for them.

Paul makes clear his pleasure in the service of Epaphroditus when he tells the church to honour people like him because he almost died for the work of Christ. He points out that Epaphroditus risked his life to give the help the church wanted to provide for Paul. And Paul wants us to emulate both Timothy and Epaphroditus.

Let us all work with God by doing everything without complaining or arguing so that we may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which we shine like stars in the universe as we hold out the word of life.

This is a challenge fit for someone just like you. This is written to you both in the singular and the plural just as it was for the folks who made up the church in Philippi. So, let’s make every effort to work out our salvation as God works in us to enable us to so prosper in our spiritual lives. You are not in this alone, but you must work with God for it to happen. Joyfully enjoin the battle! Work out your salvation into every area of your life – and SHINE FOR JESUS!

Ron MacKinnon

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