Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg

with Tom Fuller


Faith Applied

Philippians 2:12-18

Matt. 10:16   ?Look, I?m sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as serpents and as harmless as doves.?

The Lord recognized that once entering His kingdom, we return to our lives in a dark place. The world and this age do not look kindly on the Christian, even as it didn?t the Christ Himself. The world is a dangerous place for Christians?both in the temptations to pull us away from our task and the attacks to push us off our mission.

Jesus says we like defenseless sheep among wolves. To exist in this environment, He wants us to be really good and really smart (in all the good ways). Innocent means ?unmixed.? We represent Jesus by reflecting Him, acting like Him, speaking as He would?even thinking with His goodness. But we also need to be strategic in how we stay on mission, even if there are those that want to harm us.

This idea carries into Philippians 2. Paul tells his friends that they have a purpose, one more important than their petty squabbles and too vital to be stopped by external opposition. He tells them they have work to do on themselves so they can continue to perform their work, real work, for the kingdom of Jesus.


?You?ve listened to me before, when I was with you, so listen to me now when I?m away? is kind of what Paul is saying. You know, there?s an important lesson for us here as well. There is a lot of Paul bashing going on these days. Paul is accused of being misogynistic, and anti-Semitic. He was neither, by the way. Paul was given a very special mission by Jesus: to declare the gospel to the Gentiles. He got it directly from the Lord Himself. The things he went through and the letters he wrote were recognized by the people who received them as having been inspired by the Holy Spirit. So as we study his words, though he is absent, we too should listen for it is God speaking through him.

So what does Paul tell his friends to do? ?Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.? First off let?s clear up a big misconception about this verse. Paul is NOT saying to ?earn? your salvation through works. The word ?work out? here means to work something to its full completion. You don?t leave a fence half built and a house without a roof. So too, with salvation, God planted the seed of the Holy Spirit in your life which begins to sprout and grow?changing your character from the inside out. You have the responsibility to create a good growing environment for that seed and to cooperate with God as He grows that seed by transforming your character to be like His.

Paul wants his friends to take personal ownership of that transformation?to make it theirs, and not just live the Christian life vicariously through the lives of others. You might be tempted to just sit back and let the more active members of your church, or your pastor ? do all the work. But God has a mission for each of us. We do this in ?fear and trembling? because that mission is important?vital even?to God?s overall plan.

How do we that? You probably know most of the answer:

  • Have an active conversational relationship with God
  • Check in with Him regularly on how that transformation is working, or not
  • Get feedback from the Word and from Bible teaching
  • Practice your new character on others by employing Philippians 2:3-4 and God?s agape love, then make adjustments as needed
  • Apply the new life God has given you to your own life ? it?s important
  • Look for changes in your attitudes, motivations, values, and actions that moves God?s kingdom forward
  • Be an example of the new life to the world around you
  • Stick to it no matter what happens to me or you!

In all this, don?t think you are alone, working on your salvation by yourself with your own strength:


This verse doesn?t mean that God is doing it all for us, but it means He empowers us to do what He wants for us to do. There are two parts to this: motivation and action. You have to want to do something before you can do it. This is often our problem as Christians. As one guy puts it: ?our ?wanter? is broken.? Paul goes into great detail about this in Romans 7:21 ?When I want to do what is good, evil is with me.? So even when we have the realization of what God wants, we can?t seem to do it. Paul ends Romans 7 this way: ?What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this dying body? 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!?

So in Romans 7, and here in Philippians 2, we see God at work on our motivations that lead to actions. That?s our value system. As a disciple you should look for God adjusting your value system as you continue in that active conversational relationship. God is motivating you, then also empowering you. The Greek word suggests that God is ?at work? giving you the ability to do ?His good purpose.? This is also translated ?His good pleasure? and that might be what?s in view here. God promotes His value system in our minds and His agape love through our actions because He likes to do it. He loves to help others do well. Isn?t that cool?

So how does that work out? Let?s find out. Part 1 is in verses 14 ? 15.

14 ? 15

There are two aspects to this, both involving how the motivations and actions empowered by God impact your environment. The first is to stop letting the self and the flesh ruin your witness.

Back in 1:27 Paul encouraged his friends to be representatives of heaven by standing fast, contending for the gospel as one, and not being afraid of opposition. But part of that involves looking at how we relate to each other. We talked a bit last time about how ?grumbling and arguing? comes about: when the self and pride assert themselves in a competition to be better than others.

When the world sees that, they dismiss Christ. Now Paul isn?t telling them to be perfect, but as God motivates us and as we cooperate with His work in us, we should generally see a character change that leads us to focus less on ourselves and more on doing what God does, which is helping others to also come to trust and rely on Jesus.

He says that we are then ?blameless? ?faultless? and ?pure.? The three words mean ?free from defect? which exists because Jesus gave us His righteousness, ?unmixed? because we have been set apart from the values of this age, and ?without spot?. Again, it isn?t that we live such perfect lives, but that we have such a perfect Savior who died for us and gives us His life and is continually working to transform us into His character.

That?s what we should focus on, instead of getting ahead and being seen as something important.

We live in a ?crooked and perverted generation? which means that the world is in rebellion against God and His character and doesn?t understand or accept the gospel. So as we exhibit His agape love and His selfless character, we stand out like stars on a dark night.

The second part is in verse 16

16 ? 18

Paul says ?hold firmly to the message of life.? To ?hold firmly? comes from a Greek word that can mean: ?to focus on,? ?to hold up or delay?, or ?to hold forth, or present.? I agree with Thayer?s Greek Dictionary that this last definition is the most likely for this passage. Think of the gospel as a light. You hold that light out so others can see it. So the Philippian?s action of reflecting the character of Christ and presenting the love of God through the gospel as a ?shining star? is presenting the message to the world.

That?s Paul?s goal. That seems to be the mission God gave him for this church. And it?s a good goal. We shouldn?t worry as much about buildings, bucks, and bodies?about church programs and what style of worship is best. We should be concerned about reflecting Christ?s character in our relationships in such a way that the gospel message goes out effectively. Paul?s invested a lot of time and effort into instilling this, and wants to make sure that his efforts are having an effect.

And even if his Roman trial ends up with his being executed, the effort he?s put into the Philippians makes it worth it. Paul describes it as a drink offering, which brings to mind the Old Testament sacrificial system. In Numbers 28:7 the priests were required to pour out a quart of beer as a drink offering for each lamb offered as a sacrifice in the morning and in the evening.

Basically Paul is saying that the suffering he and they are undergoing is worth it and in fact brings joy. This seems pretty counterintuitive. But you know, serving Christ is that way. Suffering brings joy because somehow God works that suffering for His glory and uses it to bring people into eternal life.

So in summary:

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