It's Your Turn

Philippians 2:12-13

Two Sundays ago, we were reminded of the importance of being humble towards one another, placing the needs and priorities of others over our own. Paul told the church members at Philippi to be humble towards one another (Phil 2:1-4). Then he pointed to Christ as our leading example of how to do this. (Phil 2:5-11)

Now he returns to telling the church at Philippi to treat one another with humility. Having given us the supreme example of Christ, he tells us to follow his example and be like him. Just as he submitted to the Father to become a servant of all and to suffer and die for the sins of others, so we must also humbly submit to God and one another and persevere through suffering as we follow Christ.

Let’s take a closer look at how Paul explains our responsibility in following Christ.

You must take responsibility for your own spiritual growth.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed … work out your own salvation …

“Therefore” connects us back to Paul’s previous description of the humiliation and suffering of Christ, which – of course – though severe and traumatic, ended in triumph. So, because Christ did all this, we should do what Paul is about to say as a result.

“My beloved” simply reminds us how deeply Paul loved and appreciated the believers in the church at Philippi. This was important to say, here, because he was asking them to do hard things. He was asking them to be willing to suffer as Christ suffered, which could seem cruel, harsh, and uncaring. So, he assures them of his affection and love for them.

“Work out your own salvation” is Paul’s command or instruction. It is what he is calling believers to do. Work out means to “bring something about, to do, to exert effort” – like what we envision when we say, “I worked out at the gym” or “I worked out a difficult relationship issue.”

This command calls us to take an active interest and role in our spiritual growth and response to difficult circumstances. We must choose to cooperate with God, as Christ also chose to submit to the Father. Such change and cooperation are not automatic. We must not take a passive approach, just waiting on God to do things.

Your own contrasts you / us with Jesus Christ, described previously in Phil 2:5-11. The implication here is that Jesus Christ did this for himself, now you must do your own. But your own what? Salvation.

Salvation here refers not to forgiveness of sins (for Christ didn’t need salvation) but to deliverance from the evil and suffering of this life which comes when we’re doing God’s will. So, the goal here is not to somehow work out or bring about our forgiveness of sins, as though we must somehow earn God’s forgiveness. Instead, the goal is to navigate our way forward through the suffering we experience for Christ so that we come out on the other side of our suffering victorious for Christ.

In other words, we are responsible to make godly and wise choices to respond to our suffering in courageous and humble ways rather than passively sit back and let life happen. We are responsible to trust in Christ and then know what Christ teaches, making deliberate choices to do what he says in reliance upon him.

When you are in the presence of godly influences.
not as in my presence only …

Here Paul refers to those times when he was with them, such as when the church started or when he revisited them afterwards. In such times, they would be more inclined or motivated to behave well and serve faithfully as a church. It would be more natural for them to persevere joyfully through suffering because Paul, their example and spiritual mentor, was with them as a motivating example providing personal accountability, observation, and input.

When you are away from the presence of godly influences.
but now much more in my absence …

Here Paul refers to those times (which were most of the time) when he was not actually with them, when he was assisting or starting other churches or was – as in this case – imprisoned hundreds of miles away. He wanted them to remain just as faithful and motivated to persevere joyfully through difficult circumstances whether he was with them in person or not. In fact, he says, “now much more,” which means that he wanted them to be even more faithful and joyful when he was away than when he was present.

Because you are ultimately accountable to God himself.
… with fear and trembling …

The reason for remaining faithful and joyful in Paul’s absence was that though Paul was a very personal and real figure in their lives, they were ultimately accountable and answerable to God himself. This is what “fear and trembling” refers to – the real awareness that God is actually present and should be acknowledged as such. It was God who had forgiven their sins and made them his children. It was God who they served. And it would be God who they would answer to at the final judgment.

When my mother was a young girl, her parents went away to spend the day with some friends. One of their friends had recently obtained his pilot’s license and was going to take them for a ride. In their absence, they placed my oldest aunt in charge.

After my grandparents left the house, my mother (the youngest of three girls) challenged her sister’s authority by choosing to jump up and down on their parent’s bed like a trampoline. Aunt Linda urged her to stop and come down, but Mom only persisted. Little did she know that the weather forecast had changed their parents’ plans and they had returned home for the day. Grandpa appeared around the corner of the room to see my mother jumping and yelling on the bed.

Like my mother, we can also live as the old saying goes, “When the cat’s away, the mice will play.” Yet, we must always realize that no matter who your church leaders and spiritual mentors may be or where they may be at the moment, God is never “away.” He is always there and we are always, accountable to him.

God is working in your life regularly to make this possible.
for it is God who works in you …

Paul goes on to say that we are not only always accountable to God for our actions, but God is always active and at work in our lives as well. “Who works” may also be translated as “who is working,” and it describes God as continually, regularly, persistently involving himself in your life in an active, intentional way.

The word works here is a different word than used of us in “work our your own salvation,” said previously. This word is energeo, which – similar to our word energy or energetic – means “to be in action, to function, to bring about, to produce, to operate, to be active.” This means that God is always at work, bringing about the change you need to become more like Christ and to persevere through your suffering with joy. How does he do this?

He makes the desire possible.
both to will …

First, he is actively at work in your life to bring about the desire to be humble and persevere. This is what “to will” means; it refers to your desires and motivations. It means that God is actively bringing about a change in your desires and motivations so that you will want to be humble and want to persevere through difficulties, as Christ also desired to do.

He makes the ability possible.
and to do for His good pleasure.

Second, he is actively at work in your life to bring about the ability to be humble and persevere. This ability is more than just the ability, but it is the actually doing, too. It is more than God giving you the ability alone but it is God also succeeding at getting you to persevere in doing his will, what he most desires for you. So, Paul is urging the believers to cooperate with God who is always present and at work in their lives, enabling them to humbly and joyfully persevere through their trials.

Conclusion

As followers of Christ, it’s easy to point to the difficult circumstances and people in our lives as the reason why we aren’t experiencing joy and why we’re not engaging deliberately with humility in close relationships within our church family. But Paul teaches us a better and different way. He teaches us to step forward like Christ and submit to the Father like Christ. Yes, you may suffer – and you probably will somehow – but being proactive rather than withdrawing is the only way forward.

In fact, if you have believed on Christ as your Savior, then not only do you have an obligation to step forward but you have the assurance of knowing that God is actively at work in your life, persistently working to bring about such change in your life. As you do what is right, you will find that God will bring about genuine, Christlike change in your life. You will find that you are not changing yourself but you are cooperating with God who is changing you.

What is your next step in following Christ? No matter what difficulties or challenges you are facing, let me encourage you not to withdraw spiritually but to take new steps forward in humility to obey Christ.

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