“God’s Work and Ours” Philippians 2:12-13 October 17, 2010
SI: We’re studying Paul’s letter to his favorite church—the Philippian church.
Bible teachers have often called Philippians, the Epistle of Joy.
Because even though Paul was writing from a Roman prison,
he talks about the joy of Christ, rejoicing in the Lord,
and gives us great insight how believers walk through the difficult times.
Philippians has, perhaps, a higher ratio of famous verses than any other book
of Scripture. Last week we read that most famous passage about the
humiliation and exaltation of Christ—empting himself, taking on form of servant.
This week, just two verses,
but some of the best known verse about the Christian life.
INTRO: The most famous gold mine in Colorado is the Cresson Mine
in the town of Cripple Creek. It was opened in 1890 and it’s still a working mine.
Once, in the early 1900s some miners were about 1000 feet under ground,
following a vein of gold ore, when they broke into a natural chamber
40 feet high, 20 feet long, and 15 feet wide.
Every surface of this chamber was covered with gold ore crystals that were so pure,
that in just four weeks, they had extracted 60,000 ounces of gold.
A few decades ago metallurgists discovered more effective ways of extracting
gold from ore, so took all of the ore that had already been processed from
this mine, and they extracted tons of gold from it.
In the 1990s, one hundred years after the Cresson Mine opened, it was turned into
an open pit mine, has continued to be one of the top producing mines in the world.
So far, it has produced 23 million ounces of gold.
Now that image of a mine is very helpful for understanding this passage.
Because when Paul wrote: “Work out your salvation” this verb “work out”
was used by Greek writers in his time to describe the process of mining.
Here is a mine with hidden riches, veins of ore, chambers of precious metal.
And the process of mining was described as working out the mine.
The Greek historian Strabo, who lived just a few decades before Paul,
was describing the famous silver mines of Spain and used this very word—
the silver in that mine was worked out.
Paul doesn’t say “work for your salvation.”
He doesn’t say “work to be forgiven, work to be saved.”
I was talking to someone recently who is from a church tradition that teaches
you are saved by your faith in Christ plus your good works.
And I said—Prove that to me from the Bible. And he quoted this verse.
“Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”
I said, it doesn’t say work for, it says work out.
You already have it, it’s given to you by the grace of God.
But after God has given you salvation, you must work it out.
What does that mean? What does it mean to work out your salvation?
It means that when you receive Jesus Christ and are born again,
a deposit of spiritual treasure is buried in your soul.
You receive the Holy Spirit.
And with the Holy Spirit, you receive a new self, a renewed conscience.
Yes, you still have your old sinful nature. It’s still there. It’s still strong.
You still fight every day your old attitudes and ways of living.
But you also have in you this new nature. The divine nature.
And with this new nature comes new character qualities—
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, s-control.
The fruit of the Spirit. They are in seed form. But they are in there.
They are like treasure waiting to be mined and brought to surface and refined.
Salvation is like a diamond with many facets.
Salvation is the forgiveness of your sin.
Salvation is eternal life in heaven removed from the presence of sin.
And salvation is also a new life planted in you that grows towards Christ and
grows towards righteousness and that overcomes the power of sin.
God has ordained that the Christian life is a working out of all the goodness
of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit that has been poured into your soul
at the time of your salvation.
And it is worked out in your behavior and your character.
Up to this point in the letter,
Paul has very much emphasized the corporate nature of the Christian life.
He’s told the Philippians that you participate in the advance of the Gospel
by participating in the local church. You won’t be able to face trials
with peace and joy if you aren’t in fellowship with brothers in Christ.
He says that sanctification takes place, in large part, by being forced to learn
to humble yourself and get along with other Christians.
But in these verses he emphasizes, that even though this takes place in the church,
it is still up to you as an individual. Because Paul says literally:
“Work out your own salvation.” This is a working out that no one can do for you.
I can’t work the treasure out of your heart. You can’t work it out of mine.
We can help each other, but God has called you to it personally.
He’s called you to mine the treasures of salvation he’s hidden in your own soul.
So how do you do it? How do you work out your salvation?
Paul says that three things are necessary—Obedience, Fear, and Confidence.
Let’s look at each.
In order to work out your salvation . . .
MP#1 The direction of your life must be obedience.
“Therefore, my dear friends,” Paul writes, “as you have always obeyed—not only in my
presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation.”
It’s clear that Paul equates obedience with working out your salvation.
He puts them side by side in this verse.
Obedience is to be the consistent direction of your life.
Paul says: Whether I’m there or not there—no matter who is watching—
especially when other people aren’t watching—you must obey God.
Obedience must be the direction of life.
That means you can’t pick and choose what to obey.
If you are saying NO to the Lord to one specific area of your life,
then you are not working out your salvation,
no matter how obedient you are in all the other areas.
Obedience in some things doesn’t cancel out the effects of willful disobedience
in other things. In fact, it’s the opposite. Willful disobedience shuts down
the gold mine. It keeps you from working out the treasure of Christ.
In the Apostle Peter’s first letter he says to Christian husbands:
“Be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner
and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.”
Do you see what’s implied in that statement? If you are mean and disrespectful
toward your wife, if you refuse to obey the Lord in the area of marriage, then your
prayer life is going to shrivel up. You aren’t going to be able to pray.
You aren’t going to get the blessings of prayer.
Another example: Paul says to the Ephesian Christians—
“Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Once again, there’s an implication:
If you refuse to obey the Lord’s commands about alcohol, even if you are obeying
him in other areas, you won’t be filled with the Holy Spirit.
If you are coping with the pressure of life through excessive drinking
(or anything else for that matter) excessive TV watching, shopping, exercising—
then it doesn’t matter if you are obeying other commandments—
you won’t be working out your salvation.
The gold mine of the Holy Spirit’s filling will be cut off.
One more example: From the book of Hebrews. Written to Jewish believers.
“Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will
see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to
cause trouble and defile many.”
If you refuse to obey the Lord in the area of relationships and forgiveness,
if you refuse to make every effort to live at peace with certain person in your life,
if you entertain bitter thoughts towards that person—
Then it doesn’t matter if you are obeying God in every other area,
if you are coming to church every Sunday and giving tithes and offerings.
You will not grow in holiness, you will miss the grace of God,
and bitter, troubling, defiling things will grow instead of the fruit of the Spirit.
Why does it work this way? Why does it do you no good if you are obeying
God in lots of things, but refuse to obey him in a few particular things?
Because, Paul says:
“It is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”
God is working in you. He’s working in particular areas of your life.
We’re all different. We all have different areas where God needs to change us.
And it’s in those areas of particular obedience, those challenging areas
that he especially wants you to work out your salvation.
For every individual Christian there are certain laws and commands of God
that you never have a hard time obeying. Being a Christian in those areas is easy.
There are some Christians who don’t have a temper (part personality, part grace).
The command not to let the sun go down on your anger—they never have!
But there are other commands of God that they struggle mightily to keep.
Those are the places where God is especially working.
Those, we might say, are the veins of gold he wants you to focus efforts on.
Let me ask you a question: Where is God working on your life today?
Do you feel at times your spirit checked—
some habit or practice you know is wrong,
some attitude or way of thinking that is must change,
some area in your life where you know you must submit.
That is where the Lord is working, that is where he wants you to obey.
Where is God working on your life today?
If you can’t answer that, then you can’t work out your salvation.
Because that’s the area of obedience where he wants you to focus.
In order to work out your salvation, the direction of your life must be obedience . . .
MP#2 The tone of your life must be fear and trembling
“Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”
This point is going to give us problems.
Because we don’t talk about the fear of the Lord any more.
When’s the last time you told your children that you wanted them to fear the Lord?
You’ve probably told them that you want them to trust God, follow the Lord,
obey they Lord, give their lives to Christ—but not fear the Lord.
When’s the last time you described another Christian as a God-fearing person?
Do you see what I mean? We’ve lost this language.
Christians of previous generations used to talk this way.
I’ve been reading the biography of George Whitefield, and his role in the
Great Awakening. Christians would often describe a sermon or a worship service
or a church as full of the fear of God.
They would sometimes literally tremble as they heard the Word of God.
Paul says that if you are going to work out your salvation,
it must be with fear and trembling. This must be the tone of your life.
The fear of the Lord is unlike all other fears.
It’s a fear that’s compatible with happiness.
Proverbs 28 says: “Happy is the man who fears the Lord.”
You can’t say that about other fears. If you are fearful about receiving a bad
report from the doctor, you could never say that fear makes you happy.
And the fear of the Lord is also compatible with security.
That’s really hard to understand, because the heart of all other fears is uncertainty.
You imagine all sorts of bad things. You fear the unknown. You fear the worst.
But do you remember that lovely thing David said about fear of God in Psalm 3?
“The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fears him and he delivers them.”
There is a calm and a peace that is the fear of the Lord.
And the fear of the Lord is compatible with love.
Psalm 118 says: “Let those who fear the Lord say: His love endures forever.”
That’s a little easier to understand. Because all of you who had good fathers
know that you loved your father and at the same time you feared him.
Many boys could say the same about a good coach. Loved and feared him.
The point is that the fear of the Lord is not a fear that paralyzes or demoralizes you.
So what is it, exactly. The Bible describes the fear of the Lord in so many
positive ways, that it’s impossible to sum it up in a single word or phrase.
But in this passage, Paul is talking about obedience. And he’s saying that
if you are going to work out your salvation, and bring out and develop all
the treasures of salvation that God has buried in your soul, then you must obey.
And one of the great motives for obedience is the fear of God.
There are other motives for obedience.
There are other reasons Christians are to obey the Lord—
love and gratitude, future rewards—the Bible gives us all those reasons.
But the fear of God is a big motivator, and one that we are to cultivate in our souls.
Do you ever think about these things? God is the sovereign ruler of the universe.
God will bring every human life into judgment at the end of history,
God will give every person what he deserves.
Your life will be on display on the day of judgment—yes, even Christians.
What did you do with the life I gave you? What did you do with your new life?
Did you live it for me? Did you use the blessings of new birth for my kingdom?
God will not be mocked—that whatever a man sows, that will he also reap.
All of this ought to make us tremble and it ought to make us obey.
God is the one with whom we have to deal. There is no escaping God.
There’s an interesting example of this in the life of John Calvin.
Calvin started out in Geneva, but he had a very hard time there.
The people hated his ministry. The fought against his attempts to reform church.
So he went to Strasbourg and things were great. He was very happy there.
For three years the people responded positively to his preaching and ministry.
Then William Farel wrote to Calvin and urged him to return to Geneva.
Calvin wrote back and said: Why should I go back to a place where there is so
much conflict and bickering? Why should I put myself in the middle of all that
antagonism when thing are going so well in Strasbourg?
But he ended his letter with these words:
“I am well aware that it is with God that I have to do.”
Are you vividly aware every day that it is with God that you will have to do?
As you think about all your blessings as a Christian, the new birth, the Holy
Spirit, the hidden treasures of Christ—do you think, I’ve got to answer to God.
He’s going to ask me—What did you do with the treasure I gave you?
Did you work it out? That ought to make you fear and tremble.
But let’s not stop there.
In order to work out your salvation, the direction of your life must be obedience,
the tone of your life must be fear and trembling, and
MP#3 The mood of your life must be confidence
If the Christian life was all obedience and fear and trembling
we would be pretty grim people. But the thing that causes us to fear—
is the very thing that gives us confidence.
“Work out your salvation with fear and trembling,
for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”
God is working in your life. You can work hard to mine the riches of salvation,
knowing that God is at work—and that should give you confidence.
It’s not just up to me. I can mine the riches of the Christian life,
in the confidence that God is at work in my life.
You have to work. But God is at work. That should give you confidence.
Back in chapter one, Paul says it even more plainly, verse 6.
“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you
will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
What’s our confidence? That God is at work and he won’t stop working.
Many believers think the Christian life is like a rowboat.
If I’m going to grow as a Christian and make any progress,
it’s just a matter of rowing really hard.
Whenever there is a sin in my life that is weighing me down,
or some area of obedience that I sense God wants me to grow in—
the answer is, just work harder.
Just pray more, read the Bible more. Just get more serious. Just do it.
And, of course, that only works so long before you get prideful or discouraged.
You have to either lower your standards and convince self doing ok,
or you just collapse under your failures to live the life God has called you to.
On the other hand, many believers think the Christian life is just drifting.
I’m in the boat. I just go to church and sing some songs and just go through the
basic motions and trust that God is going to make sure I drift in right direction.
I actually had a person once tell me this about her children.
They prayed to receive Christ. Now they’re in.
We’ve checked off that big thing. Now basically just live lives wait for heaven.
It’s a Christian life of no growth, no challenges, no responses to God.
But working out your salvation is not rowing and it’s not drifting—it’s sailing.
Is sailing work? Yes, it’s lots of work. When I was very young, my dad had little
wooden sailboat. We used to take it out on the Tennessee River, Wilson Lake.
And it was lots of work—setting the sail, working the rudder, tacking,
knowing when to duck so wouldn’t get hit by the boom.
But sailing is not relying on own power, it’s capturing the power of the wind.
That’s the Christian life. It’s not rowing, it’s not drifting. It’s sailing.
And the wind is God’s work in you.
How are you living? How are you working out your salvation?
Are you just rowing really hard, trying to do right and make progress.
Is that your answer to all your struggles—just try harder to be like Christ?
But you can’t say you really are experiencing any joy.
Are you drifting?
Can you even remember the last big struggle or victory in your walk?
Are you experiencing anything new? Are you working out treasures of Christ?
Or, are you trying to discern where the breath of God is blowing in your life?
Where’s he working in your challenges, in your relationships, even in problems?
Robert Murray McCheyne once used this very image of sailing to refer to trials.
“Spread the sail when the breeze of adversity blows,
and let it drive your vessel onward on its course.”
God’s at work in your adversity. Relational. Financial. Emotional.
Hoist your sails. Ask him what he’s doing. You might not know exactly.
Might say, God, I don’t know what you are doing—
But yes, you do know in the big sense, he’s working in you.
He’s completing the good work started in you by his Spirit. Sanctifying you.
If you are talking to him and your heart is open, and you aren’t content
to just drift through your trial, or try to power through it with own effort—
be confident that through him your troubles will lead you to veins of pure gold—
treasure chambers of spiritual peace and joy with Jesus Christ.
I ran across a quote by Samuel Rutherford recently:
“Whenever I find myself in the cellar of affliction, I always look about for the wine.”
Here I am in a dark cellar, but I’m not going to curl up and do nothing.
I’m going to start poking around in the corners: What do we have here?
A fine old bottle of wine. Let’s just get this cork out taste some of this cheer.
Of course, the wine is Christ and his work in you.
Maybe that word picture is more helpful to you than mining gold,
or hoisting your sails, if you’re in the cellar, look about for the wine.
The wine is there because the Bible says it is. It says God is at work in you.
Don’t give up. Keep working out your salvation because God is working in you.
What better place do we see that than in the Lord’s Table.
Who did the work that made it possible for us to come? Jesus Christ did.
He did the great work of our salvation.
His Holy Spirit worked in our hearts, and is still working.
But what does the Lord tell us to do before we can come?
Examine your hearts. See if you discern the Lord’s body.
Be reconciled to your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Repent of your sins. Determine if areas of obedience calling you to pursue.
Renew your commitment to him.
So let’s come and do that now.