In our last post we talked about balancing confidence and humility. It seemed to have struck a chord. Why? Because it is the best way to lead our lives at home, with friends and in our work place or careers. Knowing who you are and what you offer the world, while combining that with an authentic sense of humility, is a real beautiful balance to hold.
As we move further into Philippians 2 we discover another balancing act in our faith journey; one between God’s work of salvation in us, and our work of figuring out what it means to be saved.
Verses 12 & 13 bring together what some may think are two opposing ideas; two contradicting thoughts. However, when we take a closer look, we can see that they actually compliment each other really well. Paul says these two phrases together…
“continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling…”
“for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”
First thing we see is that salvation isn’t something we just kind of get and then do nothing with; Paul says that we need to work it out…figure it out. Some see this and quickly assume that we work at receiving God’s gift of salvation. That is NOT the case at all. NT Wright comments on this theme by saying, “’working out your salvation’ isn’t earning salvation, it’s figuring out what this business of being saved means in practice.”
Paul includes this phrase to help the Philippians and us realize that we have a responsibility to figure out what our new life in Jesus looks like in the real world. It’s kind of like getting a new tool or a new game or a new musical instrument. They’re great gifts and can be quite costly, but if all they do is sit on a shelf or hang on a wall or get stored in a cupboard, what’s the use. You gotta pull out the instructions, put the tool to use, invite friends over to play the new board game, take lessons to learn how to play this new guitar or piano. We must do that with the gift(s) God has given us. They’re free to receive, but take some work and wrestling to figure out how they benefit our lives.
Let’s be clear, God’s gift of salvation is his doing, his initiative, his work in us. 2:13 affirms that. If you read 2:13 along side 1:6 you’ll see that these two verses are very similar, it’s because they are. In both places Paul is instilling in us that God is the one who starts, continues and finishes whatever work he is doing in us. The balance of course comes when we do our part, ‘work it out with fear and trembling’
Paul then turns to a community issue. As we keep reading through this letter, we see that every new layer is another way for Paul to address what is close to his heart, a healthy biblically functioning community. This rings true in 2:14. Paul gives this simple, yet effective piece of advice: “don’t complain & grumble”. Where does this come from? One, there was probably some issues of conflict arising from time to time, which are very normal in any kind of community, even the healthy ones. However, where the phrase originates from is Exodus 16 & Number 14. Paul reaches back into Israel’s history to teach this new church a lesson. “Don’t do what they did.” Israel got caught complaining and grumbling about their journey through the wilderness, even when they knew it was God’s way to save them from Egypt. So Paul borrows this theme to help the Philippians avoid any of the same mistakes their spiritual forefathers and mothers found themselves in.
Finally, why is Paul really saying all this? Why the reminder of how to balance God’s work in us and our work to figure it out? Why deal with issues of conflict that may have either been happening already or just beginning to rise up? Because Paul’s greatest desire was that this early church would SHINE. That’s right, shine. Read the whole text together…
12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life.
When we accept God’s gift of salvation, take the time (ongoing) to figure out how to live out our faith in Jesus, and then do that, both as an individual and as a community, Paul says that we SHINE. Why do we need to shine? Because the world has lots of dark and broken places in it, and the church is the community of faith that can and will shed light in and on those places.
Jesus said in John 8:12 that he is the light of the world. He also says in Matthew 5:14 that we are the light of the world. At first glance you’re thinking that Jesus is talking from both sides of his mouth, but then you start to piece it together – Jesus is our light, and his light shines in and through us so that we shine his presence into our world. Paul just takes this a step further by challenging us as a community to live in such a way that we SHINE brightly.
Think about these 2 questions:
Can we have this balancing act of receiving God’s gift freely (no religion), while at the same time working at figuring out how to live it out ?
Will we let God work in us and through us, so that more and more, our lives bring fresh air and bright light to a broken & dark world ?
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small(er) group questions:
After reading through Philippians 2:12-18, what are some impressions or questions that resonate with you?
How would you describe ‘working out your salvation’? Is it worth the effort and why? What does it look like for you?
Why do you think Paul quickly balances what he says in 2:12 with his statement in 2:13?
Look at 2:13 & 1:6. How similar are they? Would you say Paul is trying to get a point across? Why are these two verses so important for us?
Paul goes back to Israel’s past in 2:14 (don’t complain or grumble).
– why is this simple instruction so crucial to community?
– why is it so important to learn from our past (both in our families and in church history)?
“You will shine like stars”
Why does the world need us to shine?
What does that look like?
How can we do this humbly and gently without any form of arrogance or condescension?
This has implications for us as individuals and for us as a church community. How so?