Work it Out!
March 15, 2020
Work It Out! 3.15.20
This week has been a difficult week. That are several events that have happened and are happening that give room for concern. This coronavirus is a mess. The media certainly likes talking about it a lot. I don’t know where all this will end with this virus. The Lord knows. The Lord is in control. The stock market really has really done poorly recently. Very badly. I imagine that many of you have been feeling considerable worry about this. And then in the life of our church specifically we had a funeral this Wednesday for Wally Thomsen. Both Wally and his wife Nancy have been members here at CBC for a long time. Wally was a dear Christian brother, a good man. To lose a longtime member like that, someone who has been as important to Pierre as Wally has, is very hard. A difficult week for our church.
I was tempted to pause our exposition of Philippians this week and instead to focus on how Christians should respond to the public panic that is occurring. I chose not to do that. I’m not saying I won’t do that in the future. I might. I think there are sometimes when there is some pressing social issue going on that pastors should immediately address. Take the Sunday after 9/11. I think that would have been a very good time for pastors to address that issue head on. Nevertheless, I’ve chosen to not do that for this week. This week I chose to stick with the passage I had prepared to preach from.
What God has for us this week is a very powerful passage. It does not touch upon anxiety, fear, and social unrest. No. In some ways, I was disappointed with the text that we had for this week. However, the more I studied it, the more God opened my eyes to see the relevance of the passage for our current situation. What we need during times like these, dear friend, we need to see God. We need to have our minds focused not upon our lives, our circumstances, our situation. If we do that too much we become overcome with stress and anxiety. What we need is we need to see reality from God’s perspective. We need a God-centeredness about us, not a man-centeredness. We need to be focused upon God, not man. What this passage teaches, dear friend, is that sanctification, the work of salvation, is all about God. God from beginning to end.
Go ahead and turn with me to Phil 2:12. We will read through v. 15.
The passage reads,
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
There will be two points to this sermon. The two points are this: “Our Work” and “God’s Work” Very simple. Two points. Our Work and God’s Work.
I get my first point, “Our Work,” from v. 12. Let’s read it one more time.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling
I get my first point, “What do we do?” from v. 12. Paul begins this verse with a “therefore.” What Paul is doing in v. 12 is he is transitioning from his discussion of Christ’s humiliation and exaltation, a topic that we discussed for the past four weeks, to a new topic of discussion. That new topic of discussion extends through 2:18. If you’ll notice in the ESV, there is a new section heading at the top of 2:19. This next section 2:12–2:18 will take up our concern for the next few weeks. We are going to run into more commands than we did in our previous section. In our previous section (2:6–2:11) Paul did not give a single command. It was all theology about Christ. In our section (2:12–18), Paul gives 5 different commands. The first command we run into in this section occurs in v. 12. The command in this verse is this:
Work out your own salvation
But before Paul gets to that command, he has this long introductory comment that he prefaces his command with. He says,
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so no, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence
Paul is giving us personal details here about his desires for the Philippian church. Paul, as we know from our study of Philippians 1, is in prison. He is away from the Philippians. The distance for Paul has made his heart grow fonder. He deeply loves this church. He deeply wants this church to obey the Lord’s commandments. As he is away from them, he wants them to be a church that loves and obeys Jesus Christ. That’s what Paul is saying with this introductory comment.
The way he wants them to manifest their obedience, the way that Paul wants us to manifest our obedience is by, look with me towards the end of 2:12, “work out your own salvation.” That is what Paul wants the Philippians to do while he is away. That is what Paul wants us to do. That’s the command. So, answering the question that I used for this point, “What do we do?” We work out our salvation. As the title of my sermon indicates, “Work it out!” Work out your salvation.
At first glance, though, this command seems to rub against some of our Protestant distinctives. “But, Pastor, I thought we were saved by grace alone through faith alone, not by our own works? If we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, how is it that Paul can say we should work out our salvation?” Excellent question, dear brothers and sisters. Excellent question.
I want us to look at this text very closely. Look down now down at v. 12. What Paul says is, “Work out your salvation.” He does not say, “Work for your salvation.” Paul does not say that. Paul is not teaching here in this passage that we earn our salvation or work for it. “Salvation” is the passage is something that the Philippians already have. Notice that. For the Philippians to “work out their salvation,” they must first have this salvation. You cannot work something out
unless you possess it. The Philippians already have been saved. They have salvation. Now that they have it, Paul says for them to work it out.
The way we can understand this passage is by seeing this reference to “salvation” as a reference to sanctification. In the Bible, the concept of “salvation” is a past reality, a present reality, and a future reality. We were saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. Salvation is past, present, and future. Look with me at Phil 1:6. Paul says there,
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
If you look closely, Paul specifies three parts of salvation in this passage. The first part is referenced when Paul states, “he who began a good work in you.” Salvation has a beginning. For the Philippians, this reality has already taken place. God began (past tense) this work in the Philippians. Next, there is an ongoing aspect to salvation. Paul says God “will bring it to completion.” This “bringing to completion” is a process. That process is called sanctification. That is the part of salvation that Paul deals with in our passage, Phil 2:12. Then, the final part of salvation, is this “completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” That is yet to come. God will complete his work when he once for all glorifies our earthly bodies at the future resurrection. That’s coming. That has not happened.
End of Digression
Turn back to 2:12 with me. When Paul tells them “to work out their salvation,” he is referencing the Philippians sanctification. He is referencing the current, ongoing work of salvation in their lives. In this process of God brining their salvation to completion when Jesus returns, the Philippians play a part. That part is to work out their salvation.
In sanctification Christians are called, as evidenced here, to work hard at their salvation. We are called by God, here in this verse, to work it out. We possess it and we are supposed to show both God and man that we have it by living it out. We are not working for salvation. Let me be very clear about that. This working out our salvation is not an earning our salvation. It is the living it out. It is the making it evident. It is living in holiness, godliness,
What this working out of salvation prohibits is passivity in the Christian life. There is this common Christian refrain that you hear in some Christian circles that this idea of working out your salvation really rubs against. It’s the idea of “Let go and let God.” I don’t know where this statement comes from. But it’s not helpful. It’s misleading. There are times when we must wait on the Lord. Totally. That’s true. But we don’t passively wait. We pursue patience. We strive for it. We fight for it.
We can never be passive in our Christian lives. Ever. This life is always a battle. It’s always a war. The Bible says the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking to devour us. Our sin nature is always with us in this life. We must always fight it. There are always struggling brothers and sisters. We must constantly serve them and seek to meet their needs. The Christian life is a life that is opposed to passivity. We strive, work, and labor. We do not sit back and wait.
The way we do this, Paul says in 2:12, is “with fear and trembling.” Paul’s reference here is in the context of 2:10. Look with me there. As I mentioned last week, there is coming time when all people, both Christians and non-Christians, will bow before Jesus and recognize that he is who he says he is. He is YHWH. Because that is true, what that means is that we don’t approach our salvation lackadaisically. There is a time of coming accountability. There is a time when the sovereign rise Lord will hold us accountable for the choices we made as Christians. That time should serve to motivate your obedience. We should have a healthy fear of God. We should not be carefree. accountable, by the sovereign rise Lord, This fear and reverence
The best way I can illustrate this is by sharing a story with you from my time at Dallas Seminary. Towards the end of my time in Dallas, I was required to take comprehensive exams for my doctoral program. These comprehensive exams occurred over the period of a whole month. I had to take four written exams and then if I passed those I had to undergo an oral examination. I had some colleagues of mine take these exams before me. Some of them passed. Some of them didn’t. If you didn’t pass, you had to study for an extra 6 months. If you failed them twice, you had to add another 6 months of study. The professors gave you a period of 8 months to study. I studied very hard during these 8 months. Everyday I went to my office early in the morning, studied until lunch, went back after lunch, studied in the afternoon. I did this for eight months. When the exams came, I lost weight, didn’t sleep well, and was very stressed. I ended up passing the written exams and had my oral exam. Four of my professors around the table grilling me about whatever they wanted to regarding theology. By the grace of God, I passed. I share this story not to boast. I would never do that from this pulpit. Rather I share with that story to illustrate the power of a healthy fear. During my studies I greatly feared failure. I did not want to stay in Dallas for an extra six months. I did not want to fail my family. Delayed passing meant delaying my job. I did not want to do that. I feared more than anything having to tell my wife that I did pass. That thought stayed with me all through my studies. That motivated my studies. That fueled them and ultimately propelled me to success.
That is what Paul is saying here. Our obedience, our working out our salvation, must be accompanied with a healthy sense of fear regarding our accountability to Jesus. You will be held accountable by Jesus for your decisions, dear Christian. You will. Because of that, you must repent of carelessness in the Christian life and you must work out your salvation.
Now we transition to our second point. The second point is this: “What’s the basis of the command?” With this question we’re asking for the theological foundation of the command. What is it? What’s the basis of our working out our salvation?
I want to show you in the text where I am getting this from. Look with me at v. 13. What word does v. 13 begin with? It begins with “for.” In v. 12 Paul gave us the command. The command was work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Now, in v. 13, he provides the basis of our effort, the basis of our working, the basis of our striving. That basis is indicated with this “for.” Verse 13 is providing us with the basis of v. 12.
That basis is God. God’s work in our lives is the basis of our belief. Dear friend, let me be very clear here. This is something that we need to hear this morning. The reason why we are Christians, the reason why we strive to follow Christ is not ultimately because of us. It’s not ultimately because we want to or because we choose to. The ultimate reason for why we work for Christ is because of God. Our work, v. 12, is established upon and caused by God’s work, v. 13.
Willing and Working
Look what Paul specifies God produces in our lives. Verse 13 specifies that God works in the Philippians, in us two realities. The first reality that God produces in us is the desire to live for him. Verse 13 says, God works in you “to will.” This is a reference to desire, wants, feelings. If you desire God this morning, that desires is not in you because of your own free will. No. What Paul is teaching here is that desire is in you because God worked it in your heart. You want to live for God this morning because God worked that desire in your heart.
Not only does God work in us godly desires, he also works in us the work itself. This is the second work that God produces in us. Look again at v. 13. God works in you “to work.” So, let’s say you go home and obey v. 12. Let’s say you, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Your obedience there, your work there, that was God’s work. Although you did it, the real reality, what Paul is saying here, the real reality is that that was God’s doing. It wasn’t your doing, even though you did it. God’s gets the praise for your good actions because God is the one who worked it in you.
This is what this passage is teaching. Anytime you do something that glorifies Christ, God gets the recognition. Why? Because really, ultimately, truly, it is God’s work. It’s not your work. You get no praise. You get no recognition. It’s all God. It’s all God. If you obey, it is because God produced in you the desire and execution of your obedience
Now why does God work in us this working of his grace? Why? Why does God produce in us obedience? Look with me at the end of v. 12. We have this small prepositional phrase at the end of v. 13. It says,
for his good pleasure.
Despite it’s relative briefness, this little prepositional phrase has massive theological importance. With this phrase Paul is telling us why God works in Christians the desire for working out their salvation and the working out of their working out their salvation. It is all for the Father’s good pleasure.
Why does God save Christians? Why does God produce in Christians the desire and the effort of obedience? Why? Because he wants to. Because it makes him happy. It’s all about God, brothers and sisters. It’s all about him.
This point ties in perfectly with my sermon last week. Last week I concluded my sermon by covering the end of v. 11. Look with me there. I argued that that little prepositional phrase at the end of v. 11, “to the glory of God the Father,” indicates for us what the end result will be of
every knee bowing and every tongue confessing that Jesus is Lord. The result is that the Father will be glorified. God the Father will be exalted forever and ever.
God delights in his name being glorified. He delights in producing in us his work. It makes him happy. That’s why the universe exists, that’s why God saves us, that’s why god produces in us his work. Is because he delights in it.
What this passage brings us face to face with is the God-centeredness of God’s work in our lives. God works in our lives, ultimately, because he delights in it. Let me say that again. Ultimately, God works in our lives because he delights in it. I am not saying that we therefore standby and do nothing. No. I have tried to show, over and over again, that verse 12 calls for us to respond to the gospel in a radical and fervent way. However, that is evidence of God’s work. We do that because God produces that in us, not because we’re smart, good, or intelligent. God’s work in our lives involves v. 12 but it is based upon v. 13. Our work is established upon and based in God’s work.
What’s true of our approach to understanding salvation through a God-centered lens, needs to be true of how we view the world. Many of you are struggling this week. I know that. Dear friend, we have hope. God is in control. God reigns. We must view life through this lens. We must constantly fight to remember that God is at work, that God is in control, and that God loves us. God wants our vision of reality focused upon him—his goodness, kindness, and righteousness—not on the things of this world. God wants us to have a God-centered approach to viewing salvation and all of life.