Words matter. God used them to create the world (Genesis 1:3). Jesus used them to give life to the world (John 6:63). The apostles used them to save the world (Acts 11:14). That being said, deeds also matter. Not all speaking is voicing words. Talk must be walked for consistent witness. The old saying is true, “Your actions are speaking so loudly I cannot hear what you are saying.”
Believers speak up for God in the midst of a warped (crooked or bent due to dryness) and crooked (twisted or perverted) generation by the witness of their lives. Paul addressed this calling to the Philippians following the beautiful hymn about the selfless Christ (2:5-11) and preceding the examples of selfless Timothy and Epaphroditus (2:19-30).
His Children Work Out What God Works In
Philippians 2:12, 13
The word therefore causes the reader to go back to Paul’s call for unity and selflessness (2:2-4). By his salvific power God had worked into the believers encouragement, comfort, common sharing, tenderness, and compassion (v. 1). These Christian virtues are most evident when they are lived out. Paul seemed confident that the Philippians, whom he referred to as dear friends (beloved) and children (vv. 12, 14), would obey (hear) him whether he was with them or not.
One way God’s children speak up for him is by working out what God has worked in. Like a person who worked yeast into dough, God worked salvation into the believers’ lives. The word for work in both verses is where we get the English ergonomic (as in an ergonomic chair). But what God worked in, believers must work out—in fear (phobia) and trembling (trauma or profound reverence). This is somewhat of a paradox in the Bible. God does the providing of our salvation. But we must do the partaking. Certainly God made salvation possible, but there are what are called “The Imperatives of Salvation” (essay by Seth Wilson in Learning from Jesus). We are not saved by anything we do (Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8). Yet, we must do many things to be saved (Matthew 19:17; Luke 10:27, 28; Acts 2:38; 16:31). Perhaps the unspoken entity here is the Holy Spirit. It is God’s Spirit working in us that unites the divine and the human efforts in salvation. Divine enablement goes hand-in-hand with human responsibility.
His Children Avoid Grumbling to Gain Their Witness
Sometimes we speak by what we do not say. We do not grumble (murmur from discontent as in Exodus 16:7, 8, 12) nor do we argue (dialogue with evil thoughts). Grandma used to say, “Sometimes the best thing to say is to say nothing at all.” When we hold our tongues (James 3:1-12) we can be blameless (above reproach) and pure (without deceit or defilement). When people notice our restraint, we might just gain their ears. Being without fault (spot; blemish; not diluted; a technical term to designate something amiss in a sacrifice) takes stumbling blocks out of the way of our witness.
If the Philippians could avoid grumbling, two things would result. First, they would shine like stars as they would hold firmly to the word of life. The simile is easily understood. Stars make their presence known though they are millions of miles away. But there might also be a vague reference to the Abrahamic covenant here as well (Genesis 15:5; Hebrews 11:12). Regardless, believers can hold firmly (as in giving someone a cup from which to drink) the message of life by not grumbling.
A second result would be that Paul could appropriately boast about the church when Jesus returns (the day of Christ). Paul’s ministry with the Philippians would not be compromised in any way. Their witness by what they would not say would cause Paul to realize that he did not run or labor in vain.
Paul was not asking too much of the Philippians. He was glad to spend and be spent for them (see 2 Corinthians 12:15). He expressed this in terms of a drink offering on the sacrifice that the Philippians had put forth. Paul used this self-disclosing metaphor more than once (2 Timothy 4:7). He seemed overjoyed to be used by God this way. In fact, in these last two verses Paul used a form of the word joy four times (glad and rejoice). He was filled with joy, and he wanted the Philippians to be filled with joy, too. There are few joys greater than that of putting one’s head on the pillow at night knowing that, on that day Christ’s mission was advanced through speaking up by “being.”
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Lesson based on The Lookout’s Scope and Sequence ©2018. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.