As You Hold Out The Word Of Life
Key Verse 2:14-15
“Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.”
Beautiful words of encouragement to these Philippian Christians after showing them the example of the life of Christ— his humility expressed in obedience. He wants them to imitate Christ in their lives. He wants them humble and obedient. Most of all he wants them united, for that was the problem of their church. So when we read these words, “Work out your salvation” we know that he is not talking about having them save themselves, for it is established that no one can do so. He is also not talking to the individual Christians here. He is mainly talking to the church. He tells the church how to work out their salvation. In other words, he is telling the church how they should “work out” or “bring to fulfillment” the work which God had begun in them and who also wants to carry it out to completion. (1:6)
Read again verses 12-13. This then is how you can work out your salvation. To start with, you can do it without me! You do not need me to be there in order for you to finish the work which God begun in you through the gospel of his grace. This is a beautiful thing about Paul and this church. There was a time they needed him, but now that the gospel was firmly planted in their hearts and was working in their lives, Paul was sure that the Holy Spirit was working in and through them to finish the work which God had begun in them. This is not as easy as it sounds. We grow attached to the people we mentor and serve. We grow attached to our children in the faith, especially to our own children whom we raise and pray for and worry about all the time. It is hard to believe that they can continue their lives of faith without our help. Paul had been a good shepherd for them. He had taught them the word of God. He had helped them grow and mature as a community of believers who stood on the absolute truths of the word of God. He was now in prison. He could easily worry about them. But in verse 12 we see the heart of a true shepherd who encouraged them to work out their salvation in his absence as much as they would have in his presence. He trusted they would grow without his continued assistance. He trusted because he trusted God who worked in them..
Paul continues: So, here is how you can work out your salvation. First of all you can do it without me. Next, what you really need now is to continue in your obedience. You began with a life of obedience to Christ and to the gospel of his grace, and you should continue now with obedience. We talked extensively last week about the significance of obedience in the life of a Christian. Without obedience a Christian is not really a Christian. Jesus himself lived a life of obedience, (Hebrews 5:8) and called his followers to a life of obedience (Romans 1:5). We need not revisit that subject again this time, but suffice it to say that the Christian life is a life of obedience to Christ and to the gospel. What Paul was telling the Philippian Christians was simply to continue in the way of obedience they had chosen to live when they had first received the gospel. However, let’s be clear about something! Such obedience cannot be done by force, or through the coercing of others or out of one’s own sense of responsibility or obligation. Christians who do, eventually experience “burn out” and suffer terribly from self condemnation. Such obedience can only be done through the love we have for the Lord Jesus, and a deep desire to do what pleases him. (1 John 5:3; 1 John 3:22)
There is also one more way that obedience should be done as well. Paul mentions it in verse 12. He says that it should be done “with fear and trembling”. In other words, it should be done with humility, with a never diminishing and ever increasing reverence for the Lord who calls us to work out our salvation through a continued life of obedience to him and to the gospel. Often, in the course of living the Christian life, when we have tasted many blessings, it is easy to take the grace of God for granted. Often also in the course of living the Christian life, when we have experienced many suffering as well, it is easy to forget that hardship and suffering are very much gifts of God’s grace. Then it is easy to despise the grace of God. When we do, we lose sight of who we were before the Lord found us, and what he’d really done for us. Paul didn’t want the Philippian Christians to ever forget the grace of God in their lives. Once he blatantly told the Corinthian Christians: “Some of you have become arrogant…” (1 Cor. 4:18a) They had clearly forgotten the grace of God in their own lives. And when they did, they had many conflicts among themselves. Later in his letter to them, and in order to remind them of the grace of God, Paul listed what kind of terrible sinners some of them had been before God rescued them. He reminded them of the grace of God saying: “That is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:11) [Some are in need of God’s grace even now! Those who are lost to God. They need that grace to transform them.] Unless we remember what we once were, how easy it is to forget the grace of God! That is why we need to work out our salvation with “fear and trembling”. We need to work out our salvation, and continue to do so, with sincerity of heart and with reverence for the Lord who washed us and sanctified us and justified us through his blood, so that we might never forget his wonderful grace. Then my obedience can be not only in love (as we said earlier) but also in humility and in reverence as I work out my salvation in fulfilling his good purpose in my life.
Furthermore, Paul was not only addressing the individual Christians. He was also addressing the church community of believers. When we work out our salvation as a church family, we should also do so “with fear and trembling”. It means we should also do so with the grace of our Lord in mind, with reverence and humility. God himself called us together and he did so for his own good purpose. According to verse 13, his intent was to fulfill his good purpose in and through us individually as well as a church. He brought us together from different backgrounds, different walks of life, different cultures, different races and different everything and he bound us together, different as we may be, as a family in Christ— a family who share his love and grace and every thing else. We cannot forget that grace on which we stand together, nor the love that he puts in our heart for one another. Nor can we forget the reason for which we have all been called together, to serve his own purpose, to share the gospel of our Lord with the world in which we live in. To do so requires us to put aside our differences, to humble ourselves before one another, and to work together for the Lord’s purpose with fear and trembling.
Read verse 13. “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” Paul wanted the Philippians Christians to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. In that sense he wanted them to continue living in obedience to the gospel, as God himself continues to work in them to bring what he began in their lives and church to completion. “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” Last week we talked a lot more in detail about this verse. But here I want to say that Paul wanted to assure them that as they submit themselves to the will of God, and live in obedience to the Christian life they were called to live, God would never be too far from them. Paul assured them that in fact it is God himself who is working in them every step of the way to ensure that their salvation is being perfected, that the purpose of God in their lives is being fulfilled. It is as if Paul was telling them these words in verses 12-13: “Express the works of your salvation through your continued obedience with reverence, until God himself fulfills his purpose in you. And be assured that God is the one working in you, to make you willing and able to obey and to serve him.” Surely these words give us great comfort, for God who calls us to serve his purpose does not expect us to obey and to fulfill his will all on our own. It is God himself who enables us to do so through his grace and by his own power.
So far Paul has told the Philippian Christians what to do. Now he tells them what they should not do. Read verses 14-16. “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life— in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.” It is amazing that Paul instructs them to do everything without complaining or “grumbling” or arguing. Why might he be saying this to them? Because that was the problem in that church among some of the members. The Philippian church was not a church riddled with problems of immorality. But it was certainly troubled with problems of division and disunity and some disharmony among some of the members. He had already commanded them towards oneness and unity in a couple of occasions in the letter. He had appealed to them on behalf of Christ and his humility. But this is the first time that he openly addresses a problem that may have occurred in the church more than once, which had probably caused friction and eventual arguments that led to subtle divisions that were harming the church.
“Do everything without complaining [or grumbling] or arguing” and for good reasons. First of all, grumbling usually is a sign of rejecting the sovereignty of God in one’s life and one’s circumstances. The Israelites were the first to grumble in the desert when they grumbled against Moses in their sufferings. But here is what Moses told them: “You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord” (Ex 16:8b) All grumbling and complaining is usually perceived as against the Lord and his sovereignty in our lives. All that we are and all that we have is from the Lord. Whatever the Lord does, whatever we have in our hand, in our lives, whatever is given to us, whatever life deals to us, circumstances, situations, are all under God’s sovereign control. The Bible tells us that all things come from God. John the Baptist confessed that “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven.” (John 3:27) Even the things that we perceive as no good, are given to us under God’s sovereignty. The Philippian Christians were no different. Some of them were in better circumstances than others. While some had nobler duties, others had menial ones. While some had much to do, others had little to do. While some worked very hard, others were perceived as working too little. Whatever the case may be, it did not matter. What mattered in the church of the living God, is that we do everything that the Lord has allotted to us without grumbling or arguing. We can only do so when we have accepted that the Lord Almighty is Sovereign over all things, and that he and not men nor situations are in control. When we perceive men or things to be in control, naturally we want to grumble and complain under our breath. That usually creates hostilities, and hostilities creates arguments and arguments ruin the work of God. Paul commanded them to do everything, everything without complaining or arguing.
Paul said: “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.” In other words, if they were to live lives that obey and please God as his true children, then they would have to completely avoid grumbling and complaining and arguing. They would have to do everything in life without grumbling. Paul wanted them somehow to prove to the world in practice what they were already in grace. They had been in the grace of God already the blameless and pure children of God in a crooked and depraved generation. That much they were because in Christ Jesus they had been transformed into the children of God. But that is not enough! Even our Lord Jesus wanted the world to see and to know that his disciples were his disciples, and that they love one another. Likewise, Paul wanted these Christians to show the world that they are in practice what they were already in grace. He wanted them to shine like stars in the universe. To do that, they would need to completely avoid complaining, grumbling and arguing among each other. That is so hard to do. But we are Christians. And we know the poison of grumbling. Grumbling is not just another sin. It is indeed a poison to the soul. It begins with a small whisper, a small voice of discontent, a small voice of complaint against an injustice, a voice of grief. And that small voice has a way of growing louder and louder in our hearts until it becomes a torrent, a flood of anger and complaining that cannot be shut down. Eventually it cannot but spill over into the lives of others and destroy both the guilty and innocent in my life. If a non-believer complains it is normal, he or she is expected to. But if a Christian who knows the grace of the Lord complains, it is a tragedy. Every one of us knows how poisonous the voice of grumble and complaint is in the heart. For that reason Paul commands us to do everything without complaining or arguing. We have a good reason to reject the poison before it is allowed to set in. We ought to reflect the grace of God and practice who we are— that is, his children who shine his grace in a corrupt world.
We should do everything without grumbling for many reasons. But the greatest reason of all is found in verse 16a. “as you hold out the word of life.” There are two ways of looking at this verse. One is as you “hold out” the word of life, and as you “hold fast” the word of life. Either way is important and true to what Paul is trying to tell the Philippians and us. He is talking about the word of God in our hearts. How can we either hold out or hold fast to the word of God in our hearts if our hearts are consumed with complaining and grumbling? We cannot. It is true. When the heart is consumed with complaining about anything, if the word of God is not firmly rooted and established in that heart and in the foreground of that heart, the word of God will take a back place in the heart to make room for the emotions that flood the heart. We are not called to live by our emotions, nor to be swayed by the tides of our emotions. We are called to live by faith, and to hold fast to the word of life— to the word of God.
There is nothing stronger and more stable than the word of God upon which we build our lives. Jesus taught us the words of life. He left us with the words of life to hold to. He told us to hold on to his words to abide in them, to take root in them to mature in them and to bear fruit through them. This is what should be at the center of our hearts always— the word of God. Paul understood that if they held fast to the word of life, they would overcome their desire to complain about anything and everything. Usually the word of God itself has the power to soothe the heart and to comfort all our troubles. Christians who have the word of God in their hearts have no tolerance for any kind of complaints in their own hearts. That’s how the early Christians overcame persecution and even loved their tormentors! Likewise, Paul also knew that if these Philippians did what they were called to do, that is if they “held out the word of life”— that is, preaching and teaching the word of life— the word of life would consume their time and any complaining would find no room in their hearts.
Read verses 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 uses the metaphor of “being poured out like a drink offering.” Israelite priests, after placing burning sacrifices on the altar, would then pour wine onto them (Lev 23:18,37). This wine or “drink offering” was the final act that made the sacrifice acceptable to God. In a sense also, this drink offering was completely consumed, evaporated as if it was never offered. It was like a quiet invisible offering, done for the eyes of God alone, done in secret, for Christ and for Christ’s glory. No one needed to see nor to know that Paul’s life was being poured out like an offering for the sake of the church and more importantly, for the sake of Christ whom Paul loved and for whom he was giving his life. Paul knew that, and that was enough! The Philippians also knew that, but they didn’t need to be sad. Rather they needed to be happy for him as their offering was in concert with his own offering, and together their offerings were really pleasing to God. Paul hoped that they themselves would work together with one another as well as they worked together with Paul himself. Paul acknowledged that they had already offered a sacrifice and service to God by faith. Together with his offering, their offering and sacrifice was pleasing and acceptable to God. It is amazing that Paul did not think much about himself, but about Jesus and his church. He was offering his life willingly for that work. So he basically tells them: “It’s a privilege to die for the Lord, even if I rot in prison and no one knows about it!”
Today we revisited 12-13 and looked newly at verses 14-18. Paul really wanted them to work together for God’s purpose without complaining or grumbling or arguing. It was the only way they would show themselves as the children of God in a corrupt world and shine like stars in the universe. He wanted them to hold fast to and hold out the word of life to a dying world around them in a united front showing themselves the children of God. To him that was the best kind of sacrifice they could make as they continued working out their salvation through humble obedience. Lord deliver us from a complaining heart. Give us an obedient heart. Work in us as a church community to hold fast to and to hold out the word of life to the world around us that they may know we are your children. Accept our lives as an offering as we live lives rooted in the gospel of your grace.