This sermon is number 13 in a series of 24
Philippians - Part 13
"The Christian Life Turned Inside Out"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2003 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
I want you to turn with me to Philippians chapter 2, and we have been in this little epistle now for ten weeks or so, on and off, and we've been in chapter 2 for approximately half of that period. We're taking up verses 12 and 13, and I want speak to you this morning on 'The Christian Life Turned Inside Out', the Christian life turned inside out. Remember everything that we've studied and read so far, and then Paul takes up the train of thought: "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 work, or, "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".
Mark Twain, that great American author who of course you will know, I hope, was not a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ said these very true words: 'Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example'. Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example. What is the thinking behind Mark Twain's remarks? I think, probably he was saying that the annoyance of a good example is in our inability to achieve the status of that example, to accomplish the standard that that example gives to us. Of course, what greater example could we have than that given in this passage, where the Lord Jesus is spoken of as being in the form of God, yet thought it not something to be grasped to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation and emptied Himself - in many of His capacities in the Godhead, He voluntarily gave up His prerogative and right to use them, He could have used them but He didn't grasp out towards them. He came as a servant, and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and was made obedient unto death, right unto death - even the death of the cross. Then there came that wonderful glorious exultation that resulted from the depths that He went down into, where God hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: that one day at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow.
Now, that portion of Christological theology that is so glorious and majestic in its language is given to us not just for our theological pondering and contemplation. You will remember that it was given to the church at Philippi, first and foremost as an example of the humility that you and I and the Philippians are to have towards one another as Christians, and that's enshrined in the plea that was given in verses 1 to 4: 'Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory', verse 4, 'Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others'. The plea to look for others good before our own. Then the pattern is given in verses 5 through to 11, the Lord Jesus, He is that example.
Now we would be forgiven, perhaps, at the end of all those studies - and seeing what the apostle and the Holy Spirit, by inference, is requiring of us as saints, the type of humility that our Lord Jesus had - to stand back and say: 'Well, this is impossible! How could I possibly do the likes of that? Paul may plea, he may give me the pattern, but what is the process, where is the power to live a life like this?'. Now the process and the power is found, we will see today, in verses 12 and 13. Paul takes it up by saying: 'Wherefore', or 'So then, 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'. 'So then', because of what you have learnt - he's carrying on from chapter 1 and verse 27, if you look at it for a moment, where he said similar words: 'Let your conversation', or your way of life, 'be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel'.
You've to clothe yourselves in the garments of salvation that become Jesus Christ, that show forth gloriously Jesus Christ in all of His splendour and humility and exaltation, not detract from what the Gospel is meant to speak of. The same thing is really what he's saying as he's finished this great discourse on the humiliation of our Lord in chapter 2: 'So then, because of this, wherefore, even if I'm with you or if I'm not with you, you've got to obey these words that I have spoken'. Now if you look at verse 12 for a moment, in affection he calls them 'beloved' as he often does in his epistles because he's trying, if you like, to cushion with sympathy the exhortation that he's going to give to them. 'Beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only', now let's stop there for a moment, because right away we're seeing that these Philippian believers, when Paul was with them and when he in his apostolic authority gave them an instruction, they obeyed Paul. Of course, the apostles had the prerogative of God to do things like this, but I want you to see that Paul is commending them here that when he was in their midst, and he gave them a command, they obeyed it as from the Lord, without any question whatsoever. Incidentally, in the light of what this passage has already been speaking about, he's saying: 'You mirrored the humility of Christ, because He was obedient, He was the bondslave to the will of His Father, and so as I have come to you and brought you the commands of God, you have obeyed me when I have been present with you'.
So he's telling them, and commending them where commendation is due, that they did this when he was with them. But now he's going a step further, you see it in verse 12: 'But I want you to do this not as in my presence only'. The word for 'presence' is the Greek 'parousia' (sp?) that is often used of the second coming of our Lord Jesus when His presence will be with His people. But the sense is: 'I want you to do this the way you did it when I was with you, when I'm not with you'. The sense of this word 'parousia' is not just 'presence', but 'being influenced by' - or you could translate it 'being helped by'. Let's look at it again, Paul is saying: 'It's commendable that you humbled yourselves to the obedience of my commands which were from the Spirit of God when I was with you, when I was there to influence you, when I was there to help you - but I want you to go on a step further, and now that I'm not there you're to do the same. Now that I'm not there to influence you, now that I'm not there to help you, but now how much more you need to do it in my absence' - aprousia (sp?), 'ap' meaning 'away from' - 'now that I'm away from you, my influence is away from you'.
The problem was that Paul suspected, and I think rightly so, that the Philippians obedience was dependent upon the great apostle's presence, bodily, with them. In one sense it was easy for them to do what Paul said when Paul was there, and when Paul's eyes could see and ears could hear what they were doing and what they were saying. But now Paul is saying: 'You got to be not dependent on me, but realise more your dependence on Christ; because faith is the dependence upon things not seen' - aprousia - 'things that are not present, when you're away from any godly influence whatsoever, when you do the will of God' - and he's going on a step further to encourage them by saying that all is sufficient to do the will of God is the presence of Christ in you.
Of course they were discouraged, as we saw in weeks gone by, that the apostle was in prison. They were liable to be cast down because their leader was gone, and Paul is trying to encourage them: 'No, you're not dependent upon me, you're not just to be obedient when I'm with you, and when my influence and help is given to you, but all the more it's needed now when I'm not there! When the world is looking on and they're looking to see if this is real or it's just enshrined in some kind of hierarchy of apostolic authority, men looking to men!'. You see the Philippians were in danger of becoming what I have called 'proxy Christians'. They tended to lean on Paul too much. They leant on his strength, they were bold in his presence, but now that he's away they're weak, they're fearful in his absence. Really, if we could colloquialise it in our language, we could say Paul was saying: 'Look, you've got to learn now to stand on your own two feet'.
Not that we need to be independent of one another in the body of Christ - we know that that can't be the case - or that we don't need one another...this epistle, if it's saying anything, it's saying the opposite: there needs to be this unity of love and dependence on one another. But what Paul is saying is that the actual intrinsic crux, the centre of the gravity of our faith and how we live in an outward sense to the world around us, has to be dependent alone on Christ - because all around us changes, where He changes not. You see, you can be dependent on your wife's faith, if it's stronger than yours you can be dependent on that. You can be dependent on your husband's leading in the home, and because you know he's a strong Christian you depend on his decisions and his leading rather than ultimately depending on God. Those two things are not wrong in themselves, but it is what they are to the expense of depending upon God chiefly.
You can depend on your church's reputation. We've always believed the truth, and we stand foursquare on the word of God and the gospel of God, and somehow you put your head on that as a pillow of faith and rest - but if I was to ask you what would happen if these four walls, and the people that really are the church of Jesus Christ, were dispersed and gone overnight, and there was no Iron Hall or whatever assembly you belong to, where would your faith be? How would you be identified in the world around you? What would your witness be? People sometimes think, when there's no Pastor, that a work can't go on - I think this is the error that we see right here in the Philippians, that they thought that this one man could do everything. Other churches we see fall around the seams when the great personality that founded them, or that everybody gathered to, dies, passes on - the work depletes and diminishes because they're looking to a man.
Some say that 'The Pastor, the workers, missionaries, let them work out my salvation for me. It's enough that he does the praying, he does the reading of God's word and the witnessing, I'll pay towards his support - but he can be my proxy'. I'm not saying anybody's doing this here, I'm only trying to illustrate to you that this is the danger the Philippians were in danger and peril of falling into, where they were saying: 'Let this man Paul be my security and work out my salvation. When I've a problem I go to Paul, when there's a problem in the church we go to Paul, when we need some guidance we go to Paul'. Some go a step further, and in a more spiritual capacity say: 'Well, I won't look to a man to work out my salvation for me, let God be Christian for me. Let God be Christian for me'. In other words, 'I will do nothing, it's enough for me to be saved, now let God do the rest'. That is equally as bad, and I'll tell you why: because the result of those two attitudes is that neither of those people work at or work out their salvation, because they're relying on props.
I wonder have you any props today, or who's helping you, or who you're relying on, or whose influence really makes you tick and keeps you going - but if that person, or that influence, or that help was no longer there, well, who knows what could really happen? Or perhaps even recently those props, or helps, or influences that you have had have been taken away, and sometimes God does that in order to let us see that we're not to rely on any of these things, even good things! We're to rely wholly and completely on Him.
Now there are two applications that we could give to these two verses this morning. There is a church application, because as a church Paul felt that they were in danger of using him as a prop, so God took their prop away and God put him in prison, God locked him up. We know from chapter 4 and verse 2 that there was potential division within the assembly, and that was an occasion that likely, if Paul was with them, they would have went to Paul right away and Paul would have sorted it all out. He would have worked out their salvation, their deliverance from this problem, and their witness would have been safeguarded in the society, and there wouldn't have been a split in the church, and the Christians wouldn't have been backbiting and fighting and all the rest. But Paul is not with them, and it is God's way, Paul is saying, that assembly problems are dealt with from within. But we know, and we have known through church history, that assemblies tend not to do this, but they run to their leaders and they appeal to their leaders.
Now don't get me wrong, there have to be leaders within the church, and as we've gone through Corinthians we've seen that very clearly: that there ought to be overseers. But we also saw, particularly in that passage to do with discipline, chapter 5 if memory serves me correctly, that there are things that ought not to even be brought to the oversight - because God's way is that those things be dealt with first and foremost between you and your brother who has offended you or you who have offended them. Do you see that? These things ought to be sorted out primarily, and you might say idealistically, from within and between those who are the offended parties.
Now you can see how, I think, in church history, the clergy and laity system evolved - where men felt: 'Well, I can't sort this thing I myself', and they ran to a cleric or to a religious leader, and so esteemed that religious leader that they were exalted over the ordinary people. Men like Diotrephes, who loved to have the pre-eminence; like the cult of the Nicolatians, who esteemed this laity and clergy division between ordinary people and those who are in the pulpit, those who are the ministers. Now this was simply because the early believers found that it was generally easier to appeal to a noted preacher or teacher for help than to cast themselves wholly upon God, and look into the word of God through prayer for a way ahead.
You might think: 'Well, what are you getting at?'. Well, let me personalise it, it applies to the church, but it applies to all of us here today because we can just make ourselves naked before the face of God in His word at this particular moment, when we just ask the question: who do you run to first of all when you need help? Where do you go first? Do you go to your spouse? Your parents? Your best friend? Your solicitor? Your banker? Your Pastor? Or do we go to God? Do we rely on others? It's not that we don't need others. Now some people will argue, and maybe this is what's going over in your head at this moment: 'Well, that's alright, but ordinary people are too ignorant to settle these matters. The ordinary people can't sort these things out, you have to look to other people'. Well I would agree with you that there are certain circumstances, and that's why there have been leaders appointed within the church - but ideally, and let me say that the word of God, although you might think it's idealistic, it was given to men and women who are equally as fallible and sinful as you and me, and they were expected to obey it! They, in Philippi, have the word of God and have the Spirit of God, and we have the word of God and we have Spirit of God, and can I ask you: what more do leaders have than the word of God and the Spirit of God? They don't have any more! I grant you, God gifts them in peculiar ways at times - you might say very peculiar! - but nevertheless God has given us all the word of God and the Spirit of God to be led in these particular differences and issues that may arise. But what is usually lacking is the necessary humility, and here's Paul's point, to wait on God - and if necessary, God's leading doesn't go my way, to humble myself before God and to take it! I think that's where the loophole comes, and we all fall foul.
It's not that we ignore other's advice and judgement, but what Paul is saying is that we're not to be reliant on that, we're to be relying on God. When we're reliant on God, verse 14, we'll do all things without murmurings and disputings, we'll be blameless and harmless as sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation among whom ye shine as lights in the world. We will be seen to be something different: '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'. Paul is speaking personally now, he's saying: 'If you do this, I'll not regret all the effort I put into you at the judgement seat of Christ, because I'll get a greater reward!'.
Now I want to spend the remaining moments that we have on the personal application of these two verses. It's twofold, verse 12: the Christian's workout; and verse 13: the Lord's work-in. The Christian's workout, let's look at that first of all. 'Work out your own salvation', now people say: 'Well, here it is, proof that salvation is by works. You can preach all you like about grace and faith and so on, and doing nothing to be saved, but here it is in black-and-white: work out your salvation'. Now is this text talking about the saving of your soul from eternal damnation? It's clearly not, because if you look at it, it says: 'work out your own salvation with fear and trembling', it doesn't say: 'work for your salvation with fear and trembling', but 'work it out'. Work it out!
There was little girl once listening to a preacher who was preaching on this text, and saying it's not by grace, it's not by faith - you need grace and you need faith to help you along the way, but you've got to meet God half-way. He was really saying that it's not by grace alone that we are saved - and the little girl tugged the arm of her mother, and said: 'Mother, how can you work it out if it hasn't got in?'. How can you work it out if you haven't got it in? Do you see the difference here? It has to be in before you can work it out. This is the primary difference between Christianity, Bible believing Christianity, and the religions of this world - because religion is an attempt to work in, rather than let God work something in, you're trying to work the thing in.
It's the difference of trying to affect a change inside you, rather than allowing God to be the cause of the change from without into you. It's the difference between effort rather than grace. What Paul is really saying is that this salvation has been given to you as a gift, it is the divine life that is in you, Christ's very spirit has been implanted in your spirit. He said on another occasion: 'For me to live is Christ, my life is the life of Christ resurrected!'. Now he's exhorting these Christians: work out that salvation, work out that life day by day.
Of course 'salvation' has many meanings, and I think it could almost be understood in this verse as meaning your progressive sanctification, as you strive toward the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus - ultimately your reward in heaven. Not salvation, but your reward that you will get at the judgement seat of Christ. This can't be speaking about salvation, because it's not talking to individuals in the first place, it's talking to the assembly, it's talking about how they are seen outwardly - really that's what 'salvation' means in its literal sense, that when you move from Egypt into Canaan, people see that you've moved from the slave market of sin into the land of promise of God. They can see the difference! You're saved in their eyes because they see it! That's what he's talking about.
Well, how is your workout going, Christian? How are you working out what God has implanted in you? Let me tell you a very interesting story: one of the most remarkable characters in the United States history was a man called George Washington Carver. He was born a slave, and on one occasion he was traded as a little boy for a horse. Let me read an account: 'Years ago before the slaves were free, a little six month-old negro boy was stolen with other slaves from his owner. Moses Carver, who lived near Diamond Grave, Missouri, became a professor eventually in Tuskagee University. He held degrees of Bachelor and Master of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacture and Commerce of Great Britain. He was also a musician, he once toured the mid-West US as a concert pianist. He was a painter, he had exhibited at the world's greatest fairs - but the most surprising thing about him was his ability to make things out of nothing'. Wait until you hear this! 'He was able to paint out of clay, he could make marble out of wood shavings, starch, paste, vinegar, ink, shoe blackening; caramels out of sweet potatoes' - could you do this? 'He made butter, oil, cheese, dye, face powder, breakfast food, printers ink, pickles, instant coffee, axle grease, and 276 other things out of peanuts'. In spite of his background Professor Carver said, listen to this: 'When you do common things in an incommon way, you will command the attention of the world'.
That's what Paul is saying, when your life has changed so that you work out your salvation in such a way that the world stands back and sees you doing everyday, mundane, ordinary things, but with the glory and humility of Christ, they will take note. Professor Carver was recognised and registered as a genius, a real genius, but he didn't profess to be a genius. In fact he attributed all his success to God, this is what he said: 'Whatever I did I was doing it because God had already placed the possibility of it in my nature. I'm only doing what God told me to do'. He's doing, literally, in the physical realm what Paul is exhorting these Christians in Philippi to do in the spiritual realm - to dig deep, and to dig out what God has put in there! To work it out, and you know that right across this world there are vast resources of natural wealth and minerals that lie within the earth, and they are being taken out day by day, and at a rate of billions of pounds and dollars per year - but there's no miner can work under the earth for gold or diamonds or copper, which has not already been put down under there by the Creator of the universe! He can only work out what God has put in!
The ancient scholar Strabo, who lived in 64-62BC, was a Roman who wrote in the Greek language. In one of his accounts of the famous silver mine in Spain he refers to this phrase 'working out', and he uses identically the same phrase as Paul uses. What Strabo was describing where the Romans who operated an exploiting system and got, if you like, raped and exhausted totally the utmost value of those mines of everything that was in them. Now they owned them all, but they still exhausted everything they could out of them! That's the sense of this word. I tell you believer: God has put within your spirit a power that is greater than all the hydrogen bombs that this world could ever imagine. Paul's question is: are you working it out? The Greek word that he uses is 'categoismai' (sp?) - it's a working with diligent labour, the sense is 'fully developed maturity'. It's saying don't stop half-way, don't be content with partial salvation, follow your salvation to its ultimate conclusion. It's the working out of a maths student with a formula until he gets the conclusion arithmetically - he gets the answer, and he stays at it until he gets it!
In verse 13 the word he uses for 'work' is a different word: 'God worketh in you'. The work that God does in us is a word that we get our word in English 'energy' from. It's talking about the power that was put in you when you were first regenerated and saved. God has put this supernatural power in you, but you're to get that power within you and you're to work at it and work on it and work it out! Do you see the difference? Maybe it's confusing you. Well, let me illustrate it like this: a beautiful sun in the sky on this February Lord's Day morning, and as it comes down you maybe have even noticed that the little spring flowers are even now starting to sprout. That is a source outside of the flower, it's an 'energae' (sp?), if you like, an energy like the word in verse 13 that God works in us, what He's put in us. It's coming down from the sun, and that little flower imbibes it, but that little flower starts to work with what God has given it. It works out petals and pollen, and perfume and fruit, and all sorts of beautiful colours, because it takes what God has given it and it works it out.
That's what Paul is saying: to work out with God has worked in, with conscious effort. Not to 'let go and let God', as we often hear, but to take hold of God by His grace and to work out what He has worked in with fear and trembling, realising the potential that we have to sin and to fall into sin, realising the necessity that we have of God and His grace and His power - but in that trembling obedience, and that phrase 'in fear and trembling' is always used in the New Testament of obedience, yet we obey God and go forward to maturity! Not to a partial salvation, but to enter into the fullness of everything that God has already worked in us.
Can I ask you: how are you working out as a Christian? Well, verse 13, let me encourage you as we close, talks about the Lord working in: 'For it is God which worketh in you'. The emphasis in the Greek language is especially on the word 'God'. 'It is God which worketh in you', it's not just your own doing. You don't have to rely on your own strength - thank God for that, for I have very little strength, and the Lord has reminded me in the week that has gone by: 'If thou fail in the day of adversity, thy strength indeed is small', and it is. But isn't it wonderful to know that God has worked into us an 'energo', an energy, where He's not only our holy companion but He is in us, the Lord of the galaxies, the King of the constellations, the One who has created the continents, who carved out the seabeds and filled them with the rains, the God of the centuries and the ages is at work in us!
What pattern is He working to? Oh, my friends, it's the pattern that He gave us in this very chapter: 'For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren'. I wonder do people look at you and say: 'God is at work in that man or woman'. I'm led to believe that in the area of Pasadena, California, Albert Einstein years ago moved out his residence there. He lived in a modest and unpretentious home. Immediately he moved out that house became the object of great interest, and people drove past it in their cars, and they walked by it on foot, and they stood outside it - why? Why all the interest? Because Albert Einstein was at work in that house! What attention should we give to the fact that God is at work in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure, carrying out His eternal will?
I'm almost finished. Just listen to me for a moment, because I'm conscious that there could be people here struggling with sin and temptation. Trying to be humble, trying to do what is written down in this passage that the Lord has given us as an example. Well, you have to die, and allow, in obedience, Christ to live out that life in you - but it's not without your cooperation. Let me illustrate it this way: in the city of New York, when they were building one of their east river bridges, during the construction the engineers were sinking the deep cassions - which, if you don't know, is a watertight chamber in which underwater construction can be done in a dry space - trying to put this down under the water level, and they encountered a sunken hulk, and old barge that just wouldn't budge no matter what they did, it had become so securely embedded in the river that the engine's cables were all powerless to remove it. At that point of defeat in the operation, when they thought there's no power that can move this, there was a young man who was fresh from technical engineering school, and he said: 'Well, can I have permission to look at this case?'. After studying the problem he asked for permission to try his plan. When he was given a permission he got an even bigger barge, and he put it on the water surface right at the spot that the barge under the water was buried. He took chains and fastened these huge chains under the water to the sunken hulk of the barge beneath the ground. Then they all watched in astonishment, because as the tide began to rise in the river there came this irresistible energy and power as the surface barge rose with the swelling tide, and lifted the submerged wreck - why? Because the young engineer made use of the limitless natural power of the ocean tides.
Paul says: 'Child of God, work out your salvation and make use of the power that God has put in you, and is working in you, to fulfil His will according to His good pleasure'. I'll tell you, if you have a God-linked life, that doesn't mean you meet God half-way and He'll meet you halfway, it means this: you give all and God will give all - His power will be demonstrated to the world all around that He is working in you, for we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus. That word 'workmanship' means 'poem', we get 'poem' from it in our English language - and think of it: God is transposing a poem through your life, my life, combining them altogether. One day He will combine every child of God together in glory in a great symphonic poem of praise to the glory of the divine Creator who is worthy, and He's worthy of it now as He will be worthy of it then.
How are you working out your salvation? Maybe it hasn't happened too much yet, but can I encourage you to know what God has worked into you, and that you'll go away today and begin to work it out.
Our Father, we thank Thee for putting such a dynamic power deep within our hearts that is the very resurrection power that raised our Lord Jesus from the dead. But Lord, I must confess, and I don't believe that I'm alone, that I have not worked that power out to the best of my ability, but Lord, oh one day what that will be when that power will be transfigured in all of its ability. Oh Lord, when this corruption shall give up into incorruption, and we will shine for the glory of Christ for all eternity. Lord, help us as we see that day approaching, to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, and that in us You will do Your work according to Your good pleasure. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the thirteenth tape in his Philippians series, titled "The Christian Life Turned Inside Out" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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