There was a family who, as many times happens, had trouble getting along with their neighbors. They argued back and forth and finally one of the neighbors was about to go on vacation. They hoped that this might reduce the tension between the two.
After one family left on vacation the one still at home noticed that their dog had gone from their fence into the neighbor’s fenced yard. Not only had the dog gone into the neighbor’s fence, but by the time they saw the dog it had the neighbor’s pet rabbit in its mouth and was shaking it.
When they finally got their dog back into its pen they discovered the neighbors pet rabbit was dead. So this incident would not cause more tension they decided to clean the rabbit up, give it a bath, dry it off with a hair dryer, comb it and put it back into the rabbit cage. They thought that this would cover up any more problems that could arise between the two families.
When the other family retuned from vacation they went into their back yard. There was screaming coming from the neighbors when they went to their back yard where the rabbit cage was. They ran to the back yard and asked the neighbors, “What is wrong? Did your rabbit die?”
The neighbors told them that before they left on vacation the rabbit died and they buried it in the garden. Now the rabbit is back in the rabbit cage again.
Sometimes we need a lesson in Christian conduct. Paul knows that when he writes the Philippians. He wants to give them guidance in their Christian conduct. That is what Paul does and he tells them about living the Christian life. Paul has just finished presenting about the example of Christ. How Jesus went from being clothed in all the Majesty of God then stooping down, taking on humanity, Christ humbled himself in obedience, even obedience to the point of death on a cross.
The passage on the obedience of Christ, the great example of Christ is connected to this passage that we are looking at here. Read Philippians 2:12-18
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 according to his good purpose.
14 Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15 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 16 as you hold outc the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. 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.
We see in Vs. 2 the word therefore. This whole passage is connected to the example of Christ. Paul is saying to the Philippians, Jesus Christ is God and he humbled himself as no one ever has. He became obedient and demonstrated the greatest example of humility. That word therefore means, now live under that Lordship of Christ who was exalted. Paul gives this kind of command.
Before we think that Paul has brought a harsh command we need to look at the way Paul brought this command. He says, “My dear friends.” So here is Paul giving this example of Christ and then, in a manner of love, uses Christ’s example to tell the Philippian Christians that they need to be living under the Lordship of Christ. They need to have the right Christian Conduct in their life. Paul is motivating them inn love, to a deeper level of obedience.
Paul says to them, Vs 12, You have always obeyed. Paul refers to their obedience in the past. Paul knew well of their past obedience. He had ministered in their midst and they had taken care of him. He had seen them take their stand for Christ. So Paul reminds them of that in the past they had been obedient and faithful to Jesus.
Then we come to a phrase in Scripture that might startle some of us. Paul says, “Work out your salvation.” We ask ourselves, work out our salvation? Is this the same Paul who wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God? He has talked about salvation by grace all this time and now Paul says work out your salvation?
Paul is not talking here about initial salvation. He is talking about one who became a Christian and now goes on in the Christian life. He is talking about salvation in the sense of living the Christian life. There are three aspects of salvation that the Bible speaks of. Salvation past, that point in time when we become a Christian. Salvation present, that is after we become a Christian and we go on living the Christian life. That is what Paul is talking about here. There is also a salvation future. That time that we spend with God in heaven. That glorification time is salvation future.
Here Paul is speaking about salvation present. We sometimes refer to this as sanctification. He says work out your salvation. We don’t become Christians through doing good works. It is by the grace of God, by putting our faith in Jesus Christ. But once we become Christians, then we have the need to grow in our Christian lives by the good works that we do. We never want to make the mistake of thinking that becoming a Christian is the end result. That is only the beginning. Once we put our faith in Christ and become a Christian then we only begin to live the Christian life. We must do our good works and grow in relationship from the faith that we have in Christ.
Paul tells us a way we are to live out our Christian life. He said we are to live out our Christian life with fear and trembling. Paul is not giving us a picture of someone standing knock-kneed and trembling before God. He is talking instead about a legitimate fear and reverence of God. When we live our Christian life we must do so holding a healthy respect for the holiness of God. That is what Paul means by working out your salvation with fear and trembling. To always have a reverence and remembering that God is almighty. Living this way will take away all arrogance. It would cause us to be aware of pride and take away self-righteousness when we live out our salvation with fear and trembling, remembering the righteousness of God.
Paul begins to bring the other side to this truth. Not only does he call on us to work out our salvation, but he reminds us Vs 13, “It is God who works in you to will and act according to his good purpose.”
In other words that while we as believers are doing good works, the Holy Spirit dwells in our lives and we need to be submitting to Christ so Christ can work through us. When we love our enemies it is Christ through us loving our enemies. God who works in you to will and act according to his good purpose. So are we to do good works as Christians? Yes. Is it us who does these good works? No, not really. It is Christ in us working through us. Here is a balance of two truths. Our own good works and God working through us.
You know before you become a Christian God does not work through you. He may work on you, but not through you. Have you ever had the experience when you meet someone and begin to tell them about the message of Jesus Christ? You tell them and they respond that is amazing that you would bring that us. They say, It seems like in the past two weeks I have run into several people who have told me what you are telling me. That is God working on that person. The Holy Spirit is doing a work of conviction in their lives.
When you become a Christian God is in you. You accept Christ and the Holy Spirit dwells in your life and God works through you to bring about these good works he has prepared for you. Paul balanced two truths. These truths represents our human freedom as individuals, yet it keeps in mind God is sovereign and all-powerful.
Paul has more to say about the Christian life. He says that you need to live out your Christian life before the world around us. In Vs. 14 he tells the Philippians that they are to do everything without complaining or grumbling. Grumbling is not worthy of the Christian calling. The theme in Paul’s letter is joy. The opposite of joy is grumbling. If we are going to live for Christ it must be out of joy and not out of complaining. It is not the first time in the Bible that we see mention of grumbling among God’s children. Even in the Old Testament the children of Israel while wandering in the wilderness would complain, even when God was good to them. We need to be careful that we don’t serve God in an attitude of grumbling.
Our attitude is to be that of joy. If we complain and grumble then it is a sign of an inward spiritual problem. If we do what we do out of grumbling or complaining than we are not truly as God wants us to be. It is only when we have a joy in what we do that we are as Christ would have us to be. We need to be right with God and that means having joy in our life.
Paul draws a contrast between the world and the church. Paul talks as shining as lights before the world. He begins to talk of the world. He says the world is crooked and depraved. Here is Paul talking nearly two thousand years ago about the culture that he lived in. It was depraved and crooked. Paul knew very well the condition of Philippi. He had been there. He had been arrested for casting out a spirit from a fortuneteller who was gaining people profit. He was arrested and beaten for preaching the gospel there. He knew they were living in a crooked and depraved city.
Even today we can say the same descriptions hold true for the society around us. I would not have to spend too much time to convince you that the community that we live in is filled with a system that goes against God. All you need to do is pick up the newspaper or watch the news to find out that there is corruption around us. Paul says in his day they had that and in our day we have that as well.
If we have that then what are we to do? Paul says, Vs 15 we are to live as lights before this dark world. The more darkness that prevails the more opportunity we have to shine as Christians. That is what Paul tells them to do, shine as stars.
We live in a city that is filled with streetlights. If you get away from the city out into the country where there is no city illumination you look up in the sky it is so black, so dark. You notice in the dark sky it seems like the stars are shinning brighter. When you see the sky away from all the lights you say, I never realized there were so many stars and they shine so brightly. Because we live in a world filled with depravity that gives us the opportunity to shine brightly for Christ.
As a matter of fact that is how I first recognized the need for the gospel. It wasn’t at a Christian college but at a secular university where darkness was as dark as it could be. In this I saw several individuals shining for Christ in stark contrast to the world around them. I could see the difference because the world was so dark.
We live where the darkness prevails. At the same time it becomes an opportunity to shine our lights. Wherever we go, work, school or in the marketplace we have an opportunity to shine our light for Jesus. We can be on the cutting edge. The conditions the Philippians are in are also much like what we have, darkness around us. It is an opportunity to shine like stars against a dark sky.
Paul felt the success of his own life was intertwined with that of the Philippians. Paul said to them, how you live your life is going to make a difference. It will determine whether I did all that for you in vain or if it is really going to count for something. Paul was willing to sacrifice his own life. But not just for any reason, but for a purpose. That those Philippian Christians would be truly living their lives for Jesus Christ.
What Paul is expressing is often on the hearts of spiritual leaders that pour their lives into trying to equip Christians. If those Christians become cool and distant to the things of Christ then they feel that they have run for nothing, that it is all for not. That is what Paul was expressing. Only when the Philippians were really living for Christ was all that he did, all that he sacrificed going to be worth it.
When Paul stands at the judgment seat before Christ and those Philippians were receiving their reward and hearing Jesus say, “Well done good and faithful servant it” would all be worth it. We need to be running as a torchbearer would run. Holding his torch and not being distracted by any difficulties around us. We need to live shining before this dark generation.
Paul also speaks about Christian conduct in terms of rejoicing. In Vs 17 –18 he speaks about this rejoicing. Why is Paul always rejoicing? Why does he make a big deal out of joy? Is it because everything is going his way with all the circumstances the way he would have planned them? It is just the opposite. Paul is in prison. Everything has gone against him. He does not know how his trail is going to come out. As far as Paul knew he is going to be martyred. He is there in prison facing the possibility of death, yet his true joy came from the strength of the Lord.
That is why Paul knew joy. It is only when our joy is in the Lord that we really experience joy. Paul uses an unusual term. He says, Vs 17, I may be poured out like a drink offering. I remember once on an evangelistic crusade and as we went around telling people about Christ one of the leaders prayed that we would be poured out as a drink offering. I was thinking yes, that must mean that we pour ourselves out for Christ. Little did I know what this actually meant. Paul was using this phrase to speak of his own martyrdom. When he said, even if I am being poured out like a drink offering, he was referring to, even if he is martyred. He might be killed for the cause of Christ yet he said even in this I am glad and I rejoice with all of you.
To know what Paul was refereing too we need to look at the Old Testament and the sacrifices that were in place. In Numbers 15 it is explained that there is a sacrifice on the alter. On that sacrifice the priest would pour out a wine drink that would be poured out on the altar along with the sacrifice to go up to God. Paul was saying your faith is the sacrifice and my own martyrdom is like the drink offering being poured out. He said in the midst of all this I am glad and rejoice and he said I encourage you, I urge you to rejoice in the same way.
If we want our Christian conduct to make a difference before this dark world then we must do so with joy. Even when the circumstances aren’t going our way it is time to live our Christian lives with joy. All throughout the Old Testament and New Testament God’s people are always linked to joy. If you read the Psalms you see the joy of the Lord is linked closely with being near to the presence of God. Truly walking in the ways of God is interlinked with knowing joy. That is our goal of Christian conduct. That we live so close to Christ that we will experience joy even in the midst of difficult circumstances.
It is OK as Christians to express our joy that others see this. It is OK too if we are outwardly reserved in our joy. But the key thing is that we are experiencing Christian joy. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that somberness is equivalent to the nearness of God. It says just the opposite. That the joyful life is interlinked to a true relationship with God. We need to remember that joy should be a part of our Christian life. It needs to be a characteristic for all Christians to experience joy. Even having joy in the midst of suffering.
That is what makes Christian joy different from the joy the world offers. The world offers a kind of joy that if you have all these material things and a high status you can experience joy. But Christian joy comes in the midst of suffering and troubles. That is the difference in the true Christian joy we seek. It will last because it is based on a relationship with Christ.
As Christians we need to remember that our lights must shine before a dark world. If we are not truly living close to Christ then our lights are not shining. It becomes dim like the lighted sky of a city and you do not see much. When we really live for Christ our light becomes very bright before a dark world. This begins when you put your faith in Christ. Christian conduct is first and foremost based on a relationship with Christ.