‘Work out your salvation’

 

 

[Philippians 2:12-18]

 

 

                Have you been saved?  The Scripture Acts 4:12 says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”  In other words, the Bible says that only "by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth" we can be saved (v. 10).  The Bible only says that "through the grace of our Lord Jesus" (Acts 15:11) we have been saved “through faith” (Eph. 2:8).  The Bible says in I Peter 1: 9 that the goal of our faith is the salvation of our souls.  Do you believe in Jesus?

 

In Philippians 2:12, Paul said to the saints of the Philippian church: “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.”  Based on this word, I want to think about Philippians 2:12-18 under the heading “Work out your salvation.”

 

                First, I want to think about what the word "work out your salvation" means.

 

The reason I want to think about this word is because I need to make it clear.

 

(1)     The first thing that we need to make it clear is when Paul said to the Philippian church saints “work out your salvation”, he didn’t say that they should be saved by good works at all.

 

We can know this by looking at the other letters written by Paul.  For example, in Ephesians 2:8-9, Paul said, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast.”  It is entirely by the grace of God that we are saved and salvation is the gift of God.  In Romans 3:22-24, Paul says that we are justified freely by His grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  Therefore, in Philippians 2:12, when Paul told the Philippian church saints to work out their salvation, he didn’t mean that they should be saved by their own good work at all.

 

(2)   The second thing that we need to make it clear is that salvation in the Bible is past, present, and future.

 

However, among the three phases of salvation it seems that we only know the past and the future mainly.  What is the past salvation?  The past of salvation means that when we believe in Jesus Christ by the grace of God, we are already saved.   The typical Bible passage is 1 John 5:12-13, “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.  I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”  The Bible clearly says that those who believe in Jesus, the Son of God, have already obtained eternal life (salvation).  But the Bible also says that we will be saved in the future.  This is the future salvation.  The typical Bible verses are Acts 16:31 and Romans 10: 9: “They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved--you and your household’” (Acts 16:31), “That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).  These two passage tell us that if we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, we will be saved in the future not that we are already saved.  And the future salvation that we understand is that when Jesus Christ comes back, He will lead us to eternal heaven and live there eternally.  Like this what we know about salvation is that when we believe in Jesus Christ we are already saved (past salvation) and we will be saved when Jesus comes back (future salvation).  But the problem is what Paul said in Philippians 2:12 – “work out your salvation.”  This indicates the present salvation.  This doesn’t mean that we are already saved or we will be saved but it means that we should work out our salvation.  But the salvation we understand is not what people can do, but what God does.  Isn’t that right?  For example, Prophet Jonah said in Jonah 2:9, "... Salvation is from the Lord.”  Also, in Revelation 7:10, the Bible says, “And they cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”  When we look at these words, we can clearly know that it is God who saves us and it is not from our own effort and work.  But in Philippians 2:12, Paul told the Philippian church saints that “work out your salvation.”  How should we understand this Scripture?  The Bible clearly says that salvation is God's work and not our work.  Then why did Paul said to the Philippian church saints “work out your salvation”?  Did he mean that they should save by their own strength or power?  But that doesn’t make sense because the Scripture clearly says that it isn’t man who accomplish salvation but God does.  Indeed, Paul said in Philippian 1:6 that God who began a good work in them will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.  What does it mean?  It means that God who already started the work of salvation in the Philippian church saints will accomplish it until the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.  

 

What did Paul mean by “work out your salvation”?  I think in order to answer this question we first need to know clearly what salvation is.  What is "salvation"?  In the Old Testament, “salvation”, in Hebrew word "Jeshua", means to deliver from sin and a dangerous environment.  In the New Testament, "salvation", in Greek word “soteria”, means to deliver from the penalty of sin, from the power of sin, and from the sinful life and to live as the eternal heavenly people (Internet).  When I think of the question, "What is salvation," I thought of it based on Romans 5: 6, 8, 10:

 

(1)   First, look at Romans 5:6 – “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”

 

In light of this verse, salvation is God helping the helpless and ungodly like us by rescuing us from our weakness by the death of Christ and making us godly.

 

(2)   Second, look at Romans 5:8 – “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

 

In light of this verse, salvation is God justifying us (v. 9) by causing His begotten beloved Son Jesus to die on the cross because God loves us.  This means that salvation does not only mean to deliver us from the penalty of sin, from the power of sin and from our sinful life, but also to justify us.

 

(3)   Third, look at Romans 5:10 – “For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”

 

In light of this verse, salvation is God reconciling us who were Gods’ enemies through the death of His only begotten Son, and making us to be the children of God.

 

Then what is "salvation" in Philippians 2:12?  I think this present form of "salvation" is "eternal life.”  In other words, I think Paul said to the Philippian church saints ‘work out your eternal life’.  The reason I think this way is that the future salvation means that when Jesus comes back to earth in the future He will lead us to eternal kingdom and enables us to live in heaven forever.  At the same time, since we have already been saved by faith in Jesus, based on the words of 1 John 5: 12-13, we already have eternal life in Jesus.  Therefore, when we understand “salvation” as “eternal life” in the past and the future salvation, I think we can consistently comprehend the words "work out your salvation" in Philippian 2:12.  In other words, the word "work out your salvation" can be interpreted as ‘work out your eternal life.’  If we apply this word to us, what the Bible is telling us is ‘Live your life like those who have eternal life.’  In summary, the Bible is telling us to live like the heavenly people.

                Second, I want to think about what it means to live like those who have eternal life, like the heavenly people.

 

                The heavenly people, those who have eternal life obey the twofold command of Jesus.  Look at Matthew 22:37-39: “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'”  What it means to live like those who have eternal life and like the heavenly people is to love our God with all our hearts, with all our souls, will all our minds and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Who makes this possible for us?  Look at Philippians 2:13 – “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”  The Bible says that it is God works in us to will and to act according to His good purpose.  This means, God gives us desire to do good and power to do good (Park Yun-sun).  How does God give us the desire and power to do good?  It is by the indwelling Holy Spirit who bears the fruit of love (Gal. 5:22-23) so that we can love our God and our neighbors with His love.

 

But what is the problem?  The problem is that we don’t live by the Spirit (Gal 5:16) but rather against the Holy Spirit and follow the fleshly desire (v. 17) and do the acts of the sinful nature (v. 19).  Among the acts of the sinful nature are “idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions” (v. 20).  This problem was also in the Philippian church.  How can we know that?  It is because Paul mentioned the two names Euodia and Syntyche and told them to agree with each other in the Lord (Phil. 4:2).  Also Paul told the Philippian church saints to be like-minded, to have the same love, to be one in spirit and purpose and to do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit (2:2-3).  Also, in Philippians 1:15, Paul said that some preach Christ out of envy, rivalry and not sincerely, supposing that they could stir up trouble for Paul while he was in chains (1:15, 17).  That was why Paul told the Philippian church saints to continue to work out their salvation with fear and trembling (2:12).  In other words, Paul told them to always be obedient to the Lord in fearing God (Ps. 2:11) and with a humble frame of mind (Pfeiffer) as those who had eternal life whether they were with Paul or not because they had received the love of Christ’s redemption (Park Yun-sun).  I hope and pray that we may all live according to the indwelling Spirit’s guidance by loving God and loving our neighbors as those who have eternal life.

 

                Then how did Apostle Paul exhort the Philippian church saints to love their neighbors specifically?  I thought of three things:

 

                First, Paul exhorted them to do everything without grumbling or disputing.

 

Look at Philippians 2:14 – “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.”  This is what Henry Nouwen said in his book "A Spirituality of Living": ‘Grumbling makes us to be obsessed with failures and disappointment, to complain about the loss.’  I sympathize with it because I actually focused on my failures and disappointment when I was grumbling.  I also complain about the loss.  I looked at my meditation on Deuteronomy 1:27 (“and you grumbled in your tents and said, 'Because the LORD hates us, He has brought us out of the land of Egypt to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites to destroy us”) under the title ‘A sin of grumbling’.  The reason why we grumble is because of our unbelief.  Look at Deuteronomy 1:32 – “But for all this, you did not trust the LORD your God.”  This unbelief is the bitter root of grumbling.  That’s why we ask “Why?” question and show our victim mentality when we face difficulties.  But Paul told the Philippian church saints “Do all things without grumbling or disputing” (Phil. 2:14).  This shows that in the Philippian church there were grumbling and disputing.  Actually when we look at what Paul said in Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit”, we can tell that there was grumbling and disputes in the Philippian church.  And the cause of grumbling and disputing was empty conceit (v. 3).  If there is anyone in the church who is thinking himself or herself higher that he or she actually is and is pursuing vain glory, then there will be grumbling and disputing in a church.  It seems that the Philippian church was like that.  That was why Paul told the Philippian church saints to do everything without grumbling or disputing (v. 14).

 

Why did Paul say that to the Philippian church saints?  Why did he say to them to do everything without grumbling or disputing?  This was the reason in verse 15: “so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.”  This world we live in is a crooked world.  People are not walking on the right path that God has commanded them to.  Instead, they are walking on the crooked path.  However, they think that they are walking on the right path.  This world is denying the God’s absolute truth and considering the lie as the truth.  And they minds are twisted.  That’s why their words and actions are twisted.  How should we Christians live in this crooked world?  We are to live in this crooked world, manifesting the light of Jesus as the blameless and pure children of God (Phil. 2:15).  In order to do that, we must do all things without grumbling and disputing.

 

                Second, Paul exhorted them to hold fast the word of life.

 

Look at Philippians 2:16 – “holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.”  Here, "the word of life" refers to “the gospel.”  And “holding fast” means “offering something for others to take” (MacArthur).  At the same time, this word also means "hold firmly" (Walvoord).  What was Paul trying to say to the Philippian church saints?  He tried to say that they should hold fast to the gospel and to preach the gospel to others.  This is what Park Yun-sun said: ‘...  Christians should demonstrate through their being and action that the gospel gives the life and power” (Park Yun-sun).

                            

How can we actually demonstrate through our being and action that the gospel gives life and power?  It is precisely by “being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.  Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (vv. 2-4).  So Paul said in verse 14 to the Philippian church saints, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.”  When they do all things without grumbling and disputing, they could be able to live the blameless and pure life as the God’s children and shine the light of Jesus Christ in this crooked world.  And the Bible tells them to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, the word of life, to others.  What is strange is that in Philippians 1:5, Paul already told the Philippian church saints “in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now” but why did he told them to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in 2:16?  I think the reason was because the Philippian church saints were participating in the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but they were unable to stand firmly in the gospel and live a worthy life of the gospel.  In other words, they should have preached the gospel of Jesus Christ humbly without the grumbling and disputing but with the same mind and the same love.  And such shortcomings didn’t help the Philippian church saints in preaching the gospel, Paul told them to do all things without grumbling and disputing and then to preach the gospel, the word of life.  Why then did Apostle Paul exhort the saints of the Philippian church to preach the gospel, the word of life, to others? Look at Philippians 2:16 – “…  so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.”  The reason is that when the Philippians church saints preached the gospel of Jesus Christ to others, Paul wanted to have reason to glory that he didn’t run and toil in vain when Jesus will come back again (His second coming).

 

In Paul's letter to the Thessalonian church, this is what he said to the church saints: “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you?” (1 Thess. 2:19).  Paul told them that they were his hope, joy, and the crown of glory.  In Philippians 4:1, this is what Paul said to the Philippian church saints: “Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.”  The saints of the Philippian church were Paul’s joy and crown.  In particular, they reason why Paul desperately wanted the Philippian church saints to shine the light of the gospel in this crooked and rebellious world as God's blameless children was so that they could be his crowns of glory at the return of Christ Jesus.  This reminded me the hymn “Heralds of the Light, Be Swift”: (1) Her-alds of the light, be swift, haste your go-ing; Shat-ter the fet-ters of night.  Peo-ples still with-out the truth wait un-know-ing.  Beam forth the Gos-pel of Light.  Her-alds of Light, speed a-way!  (2) Do the work of God, with pow'r of His giv-ing; He your Com-pan-ion will prove.  Tell the love of God for all peo-ple liv-ing.  Beam forth the Gos-pel of Love.  Her-alds of Light, speed a-way!  (3) Bear the truth of God, the fire of His al-tar; Faint not in age or in youth.  Cross-ing seas and moun-tains, rest not, nor fal-ter.  Beam forth the Gos-pel of Truth.  Her-alds of Light, speed a-way!  (4) North and South and East and West, go, o-bey-ing, God your sup-port in the strife.  For the dead and blind in sin, go forth pray-ing.  Beam forth the Gos-pel of Life.  Her-alds of Light, speed a-way!  (Chorus) Let shine the bright Gos-pel ray.  End the night of sin, Let the bright-ness in!  Her-alds of light, speed the day (Internet).  I hope and pray that all of us may love all those souls who don’t know Jesus Christ with the affection of Jesus Christ and shine the light of the gospel, the word of life.

 

                Third and last, Paul exhorted them to share their joy with him.

 

Look at Philippians 2:17-18: “But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all.  You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.”  Paul had joy.  Although he was in prison at the moment when he was writing to the Philippian church saints because he was preaching the gospel, he had joy.  Although there were those who opposed him (1:28) and Paul was suffering because of his enemies (v. 29) he rejoiced.  In fact, this is what Paul said in Colossians 1:24 – “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions.”  This is what he said to the Corinthian church saints in 2 Corinthian 7:4 – “Great is my confidence in you; great is my boasting on your behalf I am filled with comfort; I am overflowing with joy in all our affliction.”  In Philippians 2:17, Paul wrote the letter to the Philippian church saints, saying that he would rejoice even though he was being poured out as the drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of their faith.  Here, "a drink offering" was a drink that was poured out on the sacrifice.  What Paul said was that he would rejoice even if his own blood was being poured out on the sacrifice for the saints of the Philippian church (Park Yun-sun).  In one word, Paul said he would rejoice even if he was martyred.  And he wanted to rejoice with the Philippian church saints (v.17).  So he said to them, “You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me” (v. 18).

 

                We should be rejoicing for loving one another and live Christian faith together within the same church.  Also, we should all rejoice together even though we may suffer in preaching the gospel not only with our mouths but also with our lives.  We must rejoice in the Lord not only as we participate in the gospel but also even we get martyred.  This is the life we should live specifically in love with each other.  This is the life that we work out our salvation.  I hope and pray that we may be faithful in working out our salvation until we meet our Lord face to face.