We have been focusing on like-mindedness and joy. But the particular like-mindedness and joy that Paul is urging upon the Philippians is not simply something that would create harmony and happiness within the body of Christ. It also creates a dramatic contrast with the only other way of attempting to be human, the way pursued by those who are outside of Christ. Christians who are living like Christians shine like stars against the darkness of a complaining generation.
“Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain. Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all. For the same cause also do ye joy, and rejoice with me.” (Philippians 2:12–18).
Summary of the Text
Paul says that the Philippians are beloved of him, and he remarks on their past pattern of obedience to apostolic authority. As they have been obedient, he wants them now to be much more obedience in his absence (v. 12). The command they are to obey is the requirement to work out their own salvation, and to do so with fear and trembling (v. 12). The reason given why they are to do this that God Himself is working in them, to will and to accomplish according to His good pleasure (v. 13). What should this “working out” look like? We begin by doing all things, not most things but all things, without murmuring or disputing (v. 14). Notice the link between an absence of disputing and like-mindedness. Living this way sets up a dramatic contrast between them and the backdrop of a crooked and perverse time (v. 15). Such blameless and harmless sons of God would shine out as lights against the pitch blackness of a murmuring and disputing world (v 15). Paul wants them to hold forth the word of life (the gospel) so that he might have additional cause for rejoicing in the day of Christ (v. 16). Since he was laboring for the fruit of the gospel in their lives, this would be evidence that his labors were not futile (v. 16). If their obedience were to be the altar upon which Paul was to be sacrificed, he would rejoice and rejoice together with them (v. 17). If he departs to be with Christ, they would triumph together with him (v. 18).
Work Out, Work In
Paul here tells them to work out their own salvation, so let us consider this first. The reason given for them working out their salvation is that God is working in their salvation. They are to work out what God works in. It is the same root verb in both uses. As God works His will into us, and as He works His good pleasure into us, we work out that same salvation by exhibiting to the world what God exhibited to our souls.
The Pelagian says that God works in nothing, we work the whole thing out. The antinomian says that God works in everything, and we have to do nothing.
But how much of your salvation is worked into you by God? 100%. And how much of your salvation is worked out by you? Also 100%. As the great Augustine once put it, “Grant what thou commandest, and command what thou dost desire.”
If we recognize the awesome grace that is involved in this, what we work out is not going to be done in a spirit of showboating, but rather with a demeanor of “fear and trembling.”
What Comes Out in This Working Out
So Paul tells us to work out our salvation. But when we work it out, what is it that comes out? The opposite of murmuring. “Do all things without murmuring and disputing.” Any salvation that is being worked out is a salvation that is resolved to be done without moaning, complaining, grumbling, murmuring, kvetching, fretting, bellyaching, carping, fussing, groaning, grousing, whimpering, whining—and have you ever noticed how many words we have for this? Kind of like the Eskimos and snow.
The Stark Contrast
This is a living out of the gospel, the word of life (v. 16). The crooked and perverse nation is the world without the gospel, and is assumed to be sheer darkness (v. 15). When the gospel comes to people in this dark world, and they look to Christ, the end result is that they are saved, and begin to work out that salvation. The fruit of that salvation is love, joy, peace, and all the rest (Gal. 5:22). The fruit of light is that which is good, and right, and true (Eph. 5:9). The fruit of this grace is faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, and the rest (2 Pet. 1:5-8). But in this place, Paul sums up the contrast by saying that the result of working the grace of this salvation is an absence of complaining.
Think about what happens when you congregate with your unbelieving acquaintances. What do they complain about? They complain about their husbands and wives. They complain about their children. They complain about their parents. They complain about their pay. They complain about the weather. They complain about the stupidity of co-workers. They complain about taxes. They complain and complain, and are in the process of turning into a cluster of grumbles themselves.
One of the most potent evangelistic things you could do is simply express gratitude publicly for the things that they like to complain about.
Bring This Back to Christ
Remember the context here. Paul ends this passage by considering the prospect of him being sacrificed on the altar of their obedience, and he rejoices in that. When he commands them later to “rejoice always” (Phil. 4:4), he is not telling them this in the context of a minor problem like sore feet. Paul is cultivating the mind of Christ in his life, and he is urging the Philippians to do the same thing in theirs.
We have just finished considering how Christ made Himself of “no reputation” (Phil. 2:8). Did He have anything to complain about? Was there nothing in the treatment He received that was worthy of a murmuring spirit? Anguish, yes, but complaining . . . no.
And this is why we are privileged, as believers, to look straight at the cross of Christ. When we do, we also are looking at all the complaints of all of God’s elect. We see them all, but we see them all crucified.