One of my favorite things to talk about is reading the Bible. But I think it’s very important that you know why you should read the Bible. It’s not about a checklist or memorizing a list of rules. We read the Bible because it shows us truth. We read the Bible to know who God is and what He’s doing. From that, we know who we are and what we are supposed to be doing.
Knowing the Word was just as important to Paul. Right after his magnificent poem about Jesus and His example of living, he continues shaping the way the Philippians should live and he wraps it all up with one phrase, “holding fast to the word of life.” This is the only hope we have of making it.
Work it out
Paul introduces this new thought with “therefore” because it’s all based on the life that he just told us about. The life that Jesus lived is the basis for what coming’s next. Philippians 2:12-13 says, “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.”
We are working out our salvation. It’s inside us; after all, we are a new creation. But God doesn’t intend for us to rest in the fact that our eternity will be spent with Him; He wants us to fellowship with Him now. He wants us to participate in the work that He’s doing.
Paul doesn’t see his absence as an issue in the spiritual formation and maturity of the Philippians believers. He wants them to continue on even more in his absence because what they really need is the work of God. They need to see God, not Paul. We need God’s presence; not the presence of a certain believer. God will give us the desire to become like Him. He is inviting us to participate in the work that He’s already doing.
This whole thing isn’t hanging on us. As in the whole story, God is already active; He’s moving toward people. He’s doing a work in us and around us that we get to participate in because we are now in Christ. But we do have a part to do. We have to work it out. We see the example of Christ and we are called to emulate it. In the next chapter of Philippians, Paul shows a small part of how this has played out in his own life. We also see this outlined by Peter in 2 Peter 1:3-11.
Our attitude in working out our salvation is supposed to be fear and trembling. Not because we’re terrified. Not because it falls through if we let God down. But we should take participating in God’s work seriously. We’ve had an encounter with the living God. We have taken on His name, become part of His family. There is nothing that we do that is more important than taking up and living into our union with Christ.
God does this work because it gives Him pleasure. He delights in us. He is forming us into His family, one day to stand just like Jesus (1 John 3:2). Not because He has to because He doesn’t have to. He wants to. We aren’t sneaking in the back door of the kingdom, hoping to not be noticed and kicked out. We are adopted, permanently positioned in the family of God.
Shine as stars
This working out of salvation means that we stand different from the world around us. After all, if the Creator God who made the universe now lives in us, we surely can’t be the same. That will leave a mark. Paul continues, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,” (Philippians 2:14-15). The command to do all things without grumbling or disputing has a purpose; it displays who we are as God’s children. But it’s based on the work that God is doing in us. If God is at work in us, He is near. He is present. He never leaves. Paul’s personal situation is a jail cell. He’s not passing on something to the Philippian believers that he’s not believing and living.
I hesitate to even say this because it feels strong so hear me say it to myself first. Do we really believe it? Do I believe, when I’m sitting in my version of a jail cell, that God is at work? Do I believe that it’s possible for me to work out my salvation, even here? Isn’t that where the grumbling and disputing come from? We don’t actually believe that God is near. We’re not sure that He won’t leave. We’re not sure we can trust God so we grumble. We’re not sure that God will provide. We’re not sure that God is looking out for us, so surely we have to do that part.
But when we lay out this letter, we find that Paul has banked his whole life on the story that God cares for Him and is present even in that jail cell. He believes it so much that he’s encouraging other believers to be lights in the world. He reminds them that this absolute trust in a caring God changes how they live. They stand, again embracing the life of Jesus who is the light of the world (John 8:12).
The world around them is crooked and twisted. The world we find ourselves in isn’t suddenly worse than the conditions that believers have always lived in. Instead of moaning about the culture, perhaps we should consider that the darkness is what allows us to see stars. The whole world will be lit up with the light of Jesus one day. There will be no need for sun or lamps because God will be our light (Revelation 22:5). In the meantime, our light shines in the darkness of a perverted generation, calling others to the light of Jesus.
Pour ourselves out
We can’t do what we just talked about on our own though. I do not always believe that God is here, at work, in my version of a jail cell. I don’t always see Him in my questions and doubts. Holding fast to the word is the only way that this can be accomplished. I have to remind myself of God’s promises and His characters. I have to see the stories of His faithfulness in the lives of the believers that came before me. If I do not do this, I will quit. If the Philippians quit, Paul’s work will be in vain. They won’t be those lights in the world; they won’t be participating in the work that God is doing.
Philippians 2:16-18 says, “holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.”
Paul is there standing in the gap. He’s pouring himself out as a drink offering on the offering of their faith. He’s modeled the life of Christ for them and they are continuing what he showed them. The sacrifices in the Old Testament all pointed forward to Jesus who would come to offer “for all time a single sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:11). Now we lay our own lives over the life of Christ and become sacrifices as well. Romans 12:1 tells us to present our bodies as living sacrifices.
The drink offering was poured out while an offering was already burning. Paul’s life wasn’t taking the place of their own offering; it accented their sacrifice. And he rejoiced with the Philippians in spending his life this way and told the Philippians to rejoice with him as well.
We are here to give our lives just as Christ did. We always operate not to get from God but because God gave to us. We see the pattern of Christ and we model our lives after it. We lay down our lives because Jesus did. Paul shows in this book how he is doing the same thing that he is asking the Philippians to do.
Our lives should provide a pattern that others can follow because we are patterning our lives after Jesus. Our lives should be the drink offering on the sacrifice of others because we are served with them, sacrificed for them, loved them.
We will only remember this when we hold fast to the word of life. We need to see the life of Jesus. We need to hear His words and see how His work continues in us. We need to remember His promises and how they shape the way we participate in what He’s doing.
I’m writing through Philippians as we study it in our local Friday morning setting. Here are the previous sections.
Part one: defend and confirm
Part two: the fellowship of suffering
Part three: Christ: our model of humility