Philippians 2:12-18: The Fruit of Obedience
Thanksgiving is here. When the dust settles from the shopping madness that ensues tomorrow, Christmas will be here before we know it. With little ones in our house, we will no doubt go through the ritual of watching our baby tear open a present only to be more interested in the wrapping paper than the gift inside. Not unlike the way we sometimes treat the gift of salvation.
Salvation in Christ is an incomparably marvelous gift that changes everything about us. But so often we’re tempted to leave it in the box, not realizing that the gift is ours and is meant to be played with (or rather, put into practice). We misunderstand the gravity of what God has done for us by sending Christ to live, die, and rise in our place. And we overlook the power of the Holy Spirit who resides in us. As a result, we risk squandering the gift and neglecting its purpose, not realizing that Spirit-empowered obedience is a necessary fruit of the gospel. How desperately we need to hear Paul’s words in Philippians 2:12-18.
Philippians 2:12-18 concludes the instructional heart of Paul’s letter that began back in 1:27 with the call to live in a manner worthy of the gospel. Here Paul helps us understand more about what that life looks like, especially in light of Christ’s model of self-giving humiliation and obedience in 2:5-11.
Paul calls us to a gospel-fueled obedience. Just as he has labored to work out his salvation in the strength of the Spirit (1:19), so now he wants the Philippians to work out their own salvation with humble submission and complete dependence upon God (2:12-13). In other words, Paul doesn’t want the church to waste their life and witness (not to mention his own investment in them, cf. 2:16) by squandering what God has done and is currently doing in them through the gospel of Jesus. They have a responsibility to respond to the gospel in ever-increasing obedience, precisely because God is the one at work in them to supply both desire and ability for doing his will.
This obedience ought to show itself in gratitude, holiness, and joy. In contrast to ancient Israel, who grumbled and argued in the wilderness as they worked out their salvation—living between the saving event of the exodus and the future Promised Land—the people of God in Christ are called to express gratitude and faith as they interact with one another, even in the face of adversity (2:14; cf. 1:27-2:4). The goal of this obedience is a holiness that reflects God’s character to the watching world (2:15; cf. 1:28). And this is possible only as they hold fast to the Word of life—the Scriptures that constantly point them back to the cross and forward to the Day of Christ, when their salvation will be complete (2:16; cf. 1:9-11; 3:20-21).
Not only is this growing obedience possible, Paul is confident that God will be faithful to do it. And so he invites the Philippians to rejoice together with him in their sacrificial service to God (2:17-18) as they “work out their salvation with fear and trembling” (2:12). For just as God was faithful to exalt Christ when he poured out his life unto death (2:6-11), so he will be faithful to exalt us as we follow his example (3:20-21). “For it is God who works in you to will and to work according to his good pleasure” (2:13).
A Spirit-empowered obedience is the joyful responsibility of God’s people and a necessary fruit of God’s gospel. If you’re in Boston’s MetroWest, join us this Sunday, Nov. 27, at Westgate Church as we explore and rejoice in this challenging and liberating message.
Update: Sermon text and discussion questions are available here: Phil 2.12-18 Westgate 11.27.11