Philippians 2 B: The In’s and Out’s 0f the Christian Life
Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi is known as a letter of ‘joy’. It is a missionary ‘thank-you- letter’ for a gift from the church. As a missionary, Paul then reports on the progress of his work while under house arrest in Rome awaiting trial.
But more than just a missionary report and a thank-you note- Paul’s letter contains instructions in how to live the Christian life with joy in spite of unfavorable circumstances and people who will not treat you favorably. People who irritate you; criticize you; and in general make your life difficult.
Paul has introduced two types of ‘mind’ or attitude we must develop in order to count it all a joy when we fall into various trials. In unfavorable circumstances- Paul exhibits the ‘single mind’ which enables him to learn how to be content, in any given situation. He believes God has a reason and purpose for the situation and circumstances so Paul is looking for what God is up to- where He is working and what the Lord wants Paul to do. The second type of mind or attitude we need is a ‘submissive mind’. So in the first chapter, it is Jesus first. In the second chapter it is others second and yourself third. The acronym J.O.Y. is a good way to remember this: Jesus first, Others second and Yourself third. Easy to remember- very difficult to do.
In the second type of mind- the submissive mind, Paul has presented Jesus Christ as our supreme example. I agree with Paul and know this is true. However, how in the world do we do this? How do we go about living our lives this way? Thinking more highly of others than ourselves sounds like a great principle- the problem is I have a trouble doing this in everyday life. Jesus Christ is our example- but I cannot copy His example, try as I might. He is our pattern- for sure. But how do I go about living the life Paul writes about here? This is the question.
Paul knows when he was present with the church at Philippi- obedience was easier because of his presence. When the teacher is in the classroom, obedience is enforced easier by the very presence of the teacher; however, when the teacher leaves the classroom- what happens? Perhaps, my mother, who was a teacher, understood this behavior and taught me to pray (as she did) to have a conscious awareness of God at all times. If we really believed Jesus is with us at all times, shouldn’t this alter our behavior in terms of obedience?
The next two verses require us to study what this means and how we are to go about living these truths out in our lives. It is called by many: the ‘in’s and out’s ‘of the Christian life.
Paul writes: “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed- not only in my presence, but how much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you to will and to do His good pleasure.” (Phil. 2: 12, 13)
Wait a minute, you are thinking, is not salvation a gift? “For by grace are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2: 8, 9) James on the other hand tells us another truth: “Show me your faith without works and I will show you my faith by my works. ( James 2:18) Does this seem contradictory and is Paul now adding to the confusion?
Salvation is a gift of God. It cannot be earned by works. It is all of God. On the other hand, salvation is both a gift and a task. God’s grace is received by faith. And God gives us the faith as a gift. Once saved- always saved. But the Christian life is lived in the same way it was received. Paul writes this in Colossians: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, overflowing with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2: 6, 7) We are to live by Gods’ grace through faith from beginning to end. Sanctification is a part of the salvation process. You could say we are saved in three stages: I have been saved. This is justification which takes place immediately upon being saved. I am being saved- the sanctification process at work. I will be saved which is the glorification and final stage when we get to heaven and see Jesus and then we will be like Him.
James is saying if you are saved, the evidence will be in the works. Genuine saving faith results in works. James uses Abraham’s offering of his son Isaac on the altar. Of this work James says: “You see his faith and actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.” (James 2: 22) * Abraham was not saved by faith plus works. He was saved by a faith that works. Paul would agree as he writes in Ephesians 2:10” We are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God has ordained for us to walk in.”
Grace flows into us like the sap from the vine into the branch. If Jesus is providing a spring of water welling up to eternal life, as He told the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), then we can look at this as grace flowing to us like water from the water faucet through the hose. Grace is gushing from its source, God, but it comes through the hose of faith. If I am not experiencing God’s grace there must be a kink in my hose, blocking the grace. What can block God’s grace? Sin. Wrong attitude. Complaining about circumstances that are not favorable. Selfishness. Neglect of spiritual disciplines. Disobedience. The Christian is life is based on a relationship. Relationships take work, maintenance, or we drift apart. Relationships mean two parties have something to do- God has His part and we have ours. This is not about salvation- it is about sanctification. It is about a relationship which takes time and effort on your part to maintain- just like any relationship does. The number one reason a person will quit doing business with another is – they perceive the business and their employees were indifferent to their needs. Marriages fall apart for the same reason- two people begin living separate lives and grow apart. It takes work to maintain relationships in business and in life. The Christian life is a relationship between a person and God.
So in the case of the submissive mind, Jesus is our pattern. However what is needed is not a pattern only, not just inspiration. We can be inspired by a person who we admire. But unless that person can enter into our lives and share his or her skills we cannot accomplish what they have accomplished. We need more than an example on the outside, we need the power on the inside.
Here is the first part of the two part solution: It is “God who works in you, both to will and to act according to His good pleasure.” It is not by imitation- but by incarnation. This is the truth Paul wants us to understand. Paul writes in Galatians 2: 20- “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet, not I, but Christ liveth in me…” The source of power has come to reside in us in the person of the Holy Spirit. This is Christ in us. The Christian life is not intended to be a series of ‘ups and downs’ – it is a process of ins and outs.
God works in us. We work out. We develop, cultivate the submissive mind by responding to the divine provisions and power God has made available to us.
What is God’s purpose in all of this? God wants us to achieve Christlikeness. Knowing an exterior pattern to follow would put us in the impossible situation of trying in our own self efforts to accomplish what Jesus had accomplished God supplied us with the power. And how did Jesus accomplish what He did on earth? He said He did nothing by himself. Jesus never operated independently of the Father. This what Satan tempted Jesus to do in the wilderness during his 40 days at the beginning of his ministry. (Matthew 4) Jesus on earth always depended on the Father.
I believe we understand we have the Holy Spirit within us. And Paul is clearly telling us this truth: God must work in us before He can work through us. Ephesians 2:10 tells us God has a plan for each of us. You realize God has given us story after story of how he works in individuals until He gets us to the place where He can use us. He worked in Moses for 40 years on the backside of nowhere as a shepherd tending his father-in-law’s herds. Moses had tried to serve God in his own self efforts and the results were a disaster. He killed an Egyptians soldier to protect a Hebrew slave and became wanted man on the run, living in obscurity for 40 years. We see God use time and circumstances over and over in the Bible to work in us what He needs to work in us to prepare us for the work He has ordained for us.
In fact- this is where the relationship is developed. God is more interested in you than the work He has prepared for you.
Now we come to recognize the energy and power God is working in us has competition that does not want to give up- our old nature, the flesh, and the devil are also at work. Paul prayed in Ephesians 1: 18-20 that the ‘eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He called you; the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints and his incomparable great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of His mighty strength which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at his right hand in heavenly places.
Really? Do we really have this power? Yes. We have this power – how do we use it? What tools does God use, by His Spirit, to work in our lives? God uses time, circumstances and people to get our attention. These three seem to form the arena in which we work out our salvation with the following tools:
- The Word of God. The Word of God is alive and powerful! It is life giving, life changing, and life sustaining. God’s energy is released in our lives through His Inspired Word. The same word that spoke the universe into existence can release divine power into our lives. We must receive the Word. To receive the Word of God we are told to receive it with meekness (a teachable spirit) the engrafted Word of God which is able to save our souls. We welcome it. It is light upon our path. It guides us, it encourages us, it convicts us, and it changes us. We must not be hearers only- we must be doers. ( James 1) When we trust God’s Word and act upon it in obedience- God’s power is released in our lives. His Word goes forth with power to accomplish that for which it was sent forth. The Holy Spirit wrote down the promises of God for us in His Word. He then gives us the faith to lay hold of these promises. My father-in-law, Houston Sipes, used to tell his salesman when he came in and reported a band director had promised him their business always said: “Get it in writing.” We have it in writing. We have his sure Word.
- Prayer. Prayer is another tool God uses to work in our lives and it goes with His Word. The Word of God and prayer go together. Archimedes understood the power of leverage and said if he had a place to stand outside the world and a lever long enough he could move the world. In Acts 17 listen to what the enemies of Christ and Christianity had to say: “These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also.” How did these few turn the world upside down- it was the power of the Word of God combined with prayers of faith based on the Word of God. They had the Word of God as a fulcrum and the lever of prayer reached all the way into heaven where our Lord Jesus, Our True High Priest intercedes for us while the Holy Spirit groans within us when we do not know how to pray. We must make time each day for daily Bible reading and prayer. These are two tools God will always use.
- Suffering. The third tool is one we wished we could escape. The Spirit of God works in a special way in the lives of those who are suffering for the glory of God. The fiery trials Peter said we should not consider strange burn away the dross of everything insignificant. There is nothing like suffering that drives us to the Word of God and prayer, so that all three tools work together to provide the spiritual power one needs to live a life with a single mind and submissive mind.
What is my part in working it out with fear and trembling? Working it out has the connotation of an ongoing, continual work to bring something to completion. We do this by actively pursuing obedience in the process of sanctification. Paul will describe himself as one who has not already obtained it, but is pressing on toward this goal of Christlikeness.
Here is an excellent illustration of how this relationship between believer and God works. It comes from Jerry Bridges’ “Pursuit of Holiness.”
“A farmer plows his field, sows the seed, and fertilizes and cultivates- all the while knowing that in the final analysis he is utterly dependent on forces outside of himself. He knows he cannot cause the seed to germinate, nor can he produce the rain and sunshine for growing and harvesting the crop. For a successful harvest, he is dependent on these things from God.
Yet the farmer knows that unless he diligently pursues his responsibilities to plow, plant, fertilize, and cultivate, he cannot expect a harvest at the end of the season in a sense, he is in a partnership with God, and will reap its benefits only when he has fulfilled his own responsibilities.
Farming is a joint venture between God and the farmer. The farmer cannot do what only God can do and God will not do what the famer should do. “
This the essence of our relationship with the Lord as born-again believers. He wants us to grow up to be like Christ. Christlikeness is our goal- the pursuit of holiness. Sanctification is a joint venture. A partnership. And like all relationships it takes effort on our part. Work it out with fear and trembling Paul says. Salvation is all of God. Sanctification is a joint venture.
Fear? A healthy fear of offending God with disobedience combined with an attitude of respect and awe of His power and majesty are necessary. Think about the fact we have a personal relationship with Almighty God; the God who spoke everything into existence is your Heavenly Father. He knows your name, He loves you unconditionally. He loves to spend time with you. Trembling reminds me of my weakness. Ever try to lift that weight one more time- and your muscles are so weak and fatigued- you are physically shaking and you strain to lift it one more time. It is what Paul is talking about when he describes himself as ‘straining.’
Notice one more thing about this scripture- it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good pleasure. Did you notice will comes before act?
It is the will ultimately that decides whether we will pursue Christlikeness and Holiness or sin and disobedience. We know in the Bible the heart is denoted as the mind, the will and the emotions. In the original creation of man, all of these worked in perfect harmony. Reason led the way in understanding God’s will, and consented to God’s will and Adam and Eve delighted in doing so. Then sin entered into man’s mind and soul and these three faculties began to work at cross purpose. Our understanding was darkened. Our desires became entangled by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.
When we are born again- our reason is once again enlightened, our affections and desires are redirected to God and our wills thus subdued to His will. This is all true. But it is not all true at once. It is a growing, maturing process. Our minds must be renewed. (Romans 12) Our affections must be set on things above. (Colossians 3) And we must submit our wills to God. (James 4)
Solomon told us that wisdom, understanding and discretion will guard us from evil ways. Proverbs 2. All three of these are qualities of our minds. How do we acquire them? “For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth comes knowledge and understanding.” (Proverbs 2:6) Who does God give those qualities to? To those who receive His sayings, who inwardly treasure His commandments, who delight in His Word and meditate in it day and night; who pray for wisdom and understanding and who search for it in His Word like it were hidden treasure.
Does this describe our daily activity?
It is obvious from the very beginning God has said listen to me and obey me and you will be blessed. Don’t listen, don’t obey and you will have troubles and peace will allude you.
The protective influence of the Bible comes as a result of diligent, prayerful and purposeful intake of Scripture. The Word of God will guard your mind, your heart, and will transform your mind, where this mind which is in Jesus will be in you.
In the final analysis, it is God who works in us to will and act according to His good pleasure. But we are expressly told by Paul to work it out ourselves. Our responsibility is like that of the farmer’s – we must do our part. We must guard our minds and our wills and our emotions. Guard what enters into your mind and what influences your emotions. “Guard your heart with all diligence for out of it flows the springs of life. (Prov. 4)
It takes time. So we need patience.
It takes the Word of God stored in our hearts so we might not sin against God. We need daily intake of scripture. We read for the purpose of obedience.
It takes prayer- for prayer releases the power of God .When prayer is based on the promises of God we have tremendous leverage that can move mountains.
It takes suffering- for suffering burns away the dross of insignificant things in our lives, the world and our flesh said we needed in order to be happy. Blessed (happy) are the poor in spirit.
As we do our part, we will discover the Spirit of God does his part in making us more like Jesus.
How long does this take Lord? How long? Long enough to get you where God wants you to be- to do what God wants to do through your life. It took God – 40 years with Moses.
It is an ongoing process until we see Jesus.
Martin Luther King’s greatest speech on August 28, 1963 was the I Have a Dream speech. There are 200000 people gathered at the Washington Monument. Celebrities include: Tony Bennett, Charleston Heston, Bob Dylan, and Mahalia Jackson. King is nervous, the crowd is boisterous. King has a prepared speech about the Constitution, the Bible and the Declaration of Independence. His talk is not going well. Mahalia who is standing close by tells him: “Martin, tell them about the dream.” King would later say in that moment it all came to him.
I have a dream- do you? I have faith in this dream because God has given it to me. One day I will see Him and will be like Him. God has worked in me and you to will and to act according to his good pleasure. If you or your loved one is in a fiery trial right now- you have to have a dream that God has given you. You have to keep that dream alive- do not throw away your confidence. God will provide what you need when you need it.