Philippians Study #4

Philippians 2:12-16

A Do and A Don’t

Matthew Destry – Communications Pastor

Every truth has implications. When we understand something for the first time, the next thing that we think is: “what does this mean for my life?”. Sure, not every piece of information we receive is earth-shatteringly transformational, but when revelation comes to us, it comes with a response from our lips: “what do I do now, Lord?”.

To bring some personal application to the grand story of Jesus’ incarnation and ascension in Philippians 2:5-11, Paul gives two exhortations. A “do”, and a “don’t”. To the Philippian church, in the light of all that has been accomplished by Christ, and all that is ahead, Paul issues: Do work out your salvation. Don’t grumble and complain. Two very clear instructions, with two very clear reasons why.

The first instruction to the church is to ‘work out’ their salvation. Not ‘work for’ or ‘work at’, for who can work for something that has already been given? They must ‘work it out’. Salvation is a free gift that comes with faith in Jesus, but just because it’s free does not mean it’s easy. “Faith without deeds is dead” says the book of James. If our faith is real, it will flow through from the thoughts of the mind, the intents of the heart and into the work of the hands.

Paul is very clear why this must be so: “for it is God who works in you”. When we work out our salvation, when we work with our hands to serve the Lord, the eternal and wondrous mystery of ‘God in us’ is revealed. God is working in us to will and to act according to his purposes, so the church must serve. To skip working is to skip the wonder of God at work in your heart.

Secondly, Paul issues a second decree: “Don’t grumble and complain.” This seems to make more sense than the first instruction, as we seem to know intuitively that grumbling and complaining is futile. Yet, we (and the Philippians) persist with it! We tend to think that by venting our frustration to others and calling into question the things that God has said, we will be somehow happier and more joyful. This is simply not true.

We have been called to shine like stars, and nothing will dull your lustre quicker than a grumbling spirit. We have been given the ‘word of life’ as our words to use, and from here we find words of thanksgiving and lament – Jesus used both. When we speak God’s words and remember his promises, we are better positioned to be who God has called us to be in the world.

So, Paul gives the Philippians a “do” and a “don’t”. Do keep moving and working with the Lord – keep in step with the Spirit. Don’t hold out a complaint – hold out the word of life. In these ways, we make the death and resurrection of Jesus more real to ourselves and the world around us.

Reflection Questions:

1/ What do you find challenging about ‘working out your salvation’?
2/ What strategies do you have to keep a sweet spirit, when all you want to do is complain?
3/ What are you learning and what is God saying to you during this series?