Summary: Following his discourse on the obedience of Christ, and an admonition for the believer to possess the mind of Christ, Paul discusses what that looks like in a mature believer. This is humbling, and impossible within ourselves, but possible in Christ.
Motivated to Follow
Philippians 2: 12-18
One of the greatest means of motivation is a great illustration or example. Following the great discourse on the obedience of Christ, having provided the great example for believers to follow, Paul offers a discourse on our obligations to follow the example Christ left for us.
I will admit that following this example is humbling and overwhelming at times. However, this is not a mere suggestion, but an exhortation for obedience. If we are to mature spiritually, and live pleasing to the Father, we must strive to follow the great example Christ left for us. Let’s examine the considerations of Paul in the text as we discuss: Motivated to Follow.
I. A Spiritual Work (12-13) – As we consider the aspects of Christian life, Paul addressed our obligation to be engaged in a spiritual work for the Lord. Consider:
A. The Exhortation (12a) – Wherefore, my beloved, as ye 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. Paul refers to their obedience in the faith. The believers in Philippi had been consistent in the faith, while Paul was active among them, and even in his absence. As he mentioned their obedience to Christ, he revealed an exhortation to continue in the faith. He was pleased with their obedience thus far and encouraged them to press on as they had in the past.
It is interesting that Paul begins this exhortation with the word “wherefore.” He is actually calling them back to his previous statements. He referred to the incarnation of Christ, humbling Himself in obedience to the Father’s will by offering Himself the atoning sacrifice for sin. He admonished the believer to possess the mind of Christ in regard to obedience. Here in verse 12, Paul takes them back to the great example of obedience found in Christ.
B. The Expectation (12b) – Wherefore, my beloved, as ye 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. As they were obedient in the faith, they were expected to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. Paul does not imply that one must work to obtain their salvation as some teach. This would be a direct contradiction of his teaching in Ephesians 2:8-10. Neither does he imply that one must work in order to keep their salvation, although works present evidence of our salvation. When one considers the exact meaning of the phrase, it is easy to understand and accept. Paul speaks of “carrying out until completion; putting forth the necessary effort and energy to finish a task.” The phrase was used in reference to properly solving a math problem, mining ore and minerals from a mine, or reaping the complete harvest once a field had been planted.
Simply the change that has taken place on the inside through salvation will be manifested outwardly through our faithful obedience and service to Christ. James 2:17-18 – Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.  Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
C. The Efficiency (13) – For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Paul knew the Philippians would question how such a thing were possible. Through mere human effort and ability, it is impossible. Thankfully we are not expected to serve Christ alone. As we work out our own salvation, revealing the great transformation in our lives, we do so as God works in us according to His divine will and good pleasure. We have the ability to efficiently serve the Lord because He provides the ability to do so.
Honestly, that is a very humbling thought. In reality, all that we accomplish for the Lord is the result of His working in our lives according to His will and good pleasure. We have absolutely nothing to boast in of ourselves. If you are living in obedience to Christ, making a difference in the lives of others, praise the Lord for the ability He has provided for you to be effective!
II. A Social Walk (14-15a) – After speaking of our obligation to work, Paul dealt with the aspects of our walk. Notice:
A. The Restraint (14) – Do all things without murmurings and disputings. Having served the Lord for years, in a variety of environments, Paul knew the difficulties associated with serving the Lord publicly. Everyone would not receive their witness or embrace the faith. Some within the church would even question their true motives. It would be difficult to maintain a proper perspective, requiring restraint at times. Paul urged them to labor for the Lord and walk among men without murmuring or engaging in disputes. While all are tempted to engage in these activities at times, Paul knew such activity would mar their witness and hinder their work for Christ.