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Sermon 2019-01-20 Ross Woodhouse


Philippians 2:12-18

There’s a key line in today’s text that I very deliberately want us to grab hold right at the start because it sets the scene for the whole passage. “It is God,” Paul says, “who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (v. 13). It is Paul’s remedy to disunity as a result of grumbling, disputing, grace not be shown to others by us, selfishness toward others, notwithstanding, the effect that has as our witness to unbelievers.

I want to suggest this is a deeply humbling truth that we must allow the Holy Spirit to embed into our hearts, one that should give anyone (of us) pause who is bent on having his or her own way. Because a person, who has died to self to live for Christ, does not live for themselves any longer, this person lives for Christ, imitates Christ in their conduct, attitudes and actions.

When we grasp this truth then we see how serious it is to break fellowship with others for selfish reasons. What we are in fact doing is refusing the grace shown to us in Christ, toward others, dismissing the power of his grace to us, for others. What then, does that say of grace?

God in his grace has drawn us to himself by his Holy Spirit, in his grace has forgiven us and by that same Spirit works within us to accomplish his good purpose/s.

I have a very special book in my library, “Knowing God”, J I Packer, he notes…

“It has been said that in the New Testament doctrine is grace, and ethics is gratitude, and something is wrong with any form of Christianity in which experimentally and practically this saying is not being verified. Those who suppose that the doctrine of God’s grace tends to encourage moral laxity are simply showing that in the most literal sense, they do not know what they are talking about. For love awakens love in return…and the revealed will of God is that those who have received grace should henceforth give themselves to good works (Eph.2:10; Titus 2:11f). And gratitude will move any man (or woman) who has truly received grace to do as God requires”[1]

In today’s verses, Paul gives us several pictures of Christians who are consciously motivated to honour God, are willing to submit to God, who do as God requires because they have truly received and uunderstood grace. He portrays them as obedient, committed to discipleship (growth), like stars shining in a dark immoral world; holding firmly to the word of life.

12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose.14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labour in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.

Let’s look firstly at…

  1. Our response because of Christ, is for Christ

 “Therefore…” (v.12) means we’re called to do something in response to, or because of, and in this case, it is Jesus’ example…

Jesus, who emptied himself, humbled himself, was obedient…(“therefore”) God exalted Jesus to the highest place, now, at his name, every knee will bow, every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord

…“therefore”…because of all this… “Gratitude, will move us to do as God requires”

Response of obedience

The Christians in the church had grown while Paul was around, but moreso in his absence, and his message is, that’s awesome, but don’t stop, don’t get complacent, carry on, keep your faith fresh, let God be the one that awes you into motivating what you do.

How often do we intend to do something, then we might forget or the initial motivation is replaced by another priority.  Are there instances we know (head) the right thing to do in the Lord for the sake of our relationship with the Lord or a fellow Christian, but that never materialises to action? I think we’ve all had and probably missed those opportunities. Remember obedience isn’t obedience until we’ve obeyed.

I wasn’t obeying my Dad when he told me to not try and “fix” the lawnmower, I said yes but carried on anyway. Obedience is following through with, enacting, what God requires of us. Hearers and doers!

All religions require an obedience of some kind, Christian obedience is distinct. Obedience is in response to what Christ has accomplished for us, and is the only reason or rationale we require, to obey. It’s not obedience in response to nothing.

We don’t obey out of some legalistic rule keeping sense, we don’t obey to be accepted by God – I already am through Christ – I obey because of that acceptance. So we choose to obey because we love him, we want to bless him and thank him…in response to salvation and grace shown to us…

Philippians 3:12 is Paul’s statement of how the Christian life pursues obedience

…I press on, not to be accepted, I already am, I press on because I am accepted. Obedience then is built into what it looks like to press on, to pursue the Christian life, if we want to please God.

Response of (continued) Growth

Paul says “work out your salvation…” (.12)

Work it out…pursue, produce it, cause it to happen…“continuous, sustained effort”[2]

‘Are you talking salvation by works Ross? No! Not a heresy. Paul is talking to Christians, people already saved, this is not the first act/decision for salvation, because it (ref. Eph. 2:8-9) “is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Then why is “work”, effort required on our part, when Jesus has paid the price already? Why isn’t this a cruise to the finish line?

Well, Paul himself says….(3:12-13) ‘I strain, I press on, I make a hard effort in this Christian walk’, for what? The goal of the prize. Prize? = being eternally in the presence of God….not because we can affect our own eternal salvation but because we do not want to allow any complacency, any apathy in, we do not want to treat with contempt what Christ has done for us…

Col. 1:29 “To this end, I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me”…he’s working hard![3]

Therefore salvation is a past event, a decision, but also a present and continuous, work, that God is doing in us for our future (see 1 Cor 1:18), when we are committed, and submitted to him and his purposes.

Response of Reverence

…“work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (v.12)

The Amplified version helps us with this verse: “…continue to work out your salvation [that is, cultivate it, bring it to full effect, actively pursue spiritual maturity] with awe-inspired fear and trembling [using serious caution and critical self-evaluation to avoid anything that might offend God or discredit the name of Christ].” (Phil. 2:12)

Our response, because of Christ is one of reverence = honour and respect that is deeply felt but outwardly demonstrated. The Bible records reverence as the automatic response of people who encounter the awesomeness of the Lord God[4]

Similar to obedience, reverence is in the form of our actions; we reverence Christ through our serving him, by pushing back on sin and pursuing holiness.

Every opportunity when we read the word, worship him, we gather like this, prayer, consider his goodness – is an opportunity to reverence Christ. Reverence is the natural response of a heart that has been transformed by the Holy Spirit.[5]

“…for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose”.

Note the 2 reasons God works in us: 1. to will, 2. to act (work)…both go together.

We can have the willingness but not the working, every intention but not the effort. We can do all the working (act-ing) but resentfully & begrudgingly.

But God, by Holy Spirit, works in us, to (both) will and back that up with effort (work).

Why?…for his good purpose, which is? To do everything to please him[6].

But verse 13 does raise a question. If (when) God works in us to will and to act for himself…(not to be confused with, against our will) what am I responsible for? Doesn’t God do it all?

Firstly: It’s our will, but he works (in) it. Secondly, & here’s a key text to help us, 2 Cor. 8:16-17. “Thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same concern I have for you. For Titus not only welcomed our appeal, but he is coming to you with much enthusiasm and on his own initiative”.

God is the creator of our will, but our will, and our work are our responsibility.

To summarise this first main point:

Jesus, who he is, and what he has done, and (our) glorifying God… is our incentive for:


…continued growth – not cruising, but working hard!


…willing and working for God’s Good purpose – head, heart and hands working together to please God

We “who have received grace should henceforth give themselves to good works”[7]

  1. Our witness for Christ

We’ve established that our incentive for working out our salvation is because of Christ, & for Christ

Here Paul informs us how we go about working out our salvation, what’s our responsibility?

14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing,15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”

Now I think this is a throwback to verses 3-8 of chapter 2. Paul talked about selfish ambition, humility, valuing and preferring others above ourselves ….grace shown to us, becoming grace shown to others by us. Now the teaching is, work out your salvation (do everything) “without (pointing to just two areas) grumbling or arguing”.

Philippians in many ways is Paul’s thesis on the how and why for Christians there is no need for grumbling, and disputing (thoughts that are questioning negatively about how difficult things are, like ‘God, you’re not doing a very good job of directing my life. I can’t see any good in what you’re doing here God’)[8]

Of all people, Paul would have been the one to grumble…however…

Philippians 4:11-12 “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances…I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…”

A little old lady walked into a department store one day and was surprised when a band began to play and an executive pinned an orchid on her dress and handed her a crisp $100 bill. She was the store’s millionth customer. Television cameras were focused on her and reporters began interviewing her. “Tell me,” one asked, “just what did you come here for today?”  The lady hesitated for a minute and then sheepishly answered, “I was on my way to the Complaint Department.”[9] Embarrassing eh?!

Principle is simple: love hard to love people, without grumbling. Don’t argue, or dispute over or about stuff, show humility, serve without grumbling about it. Be others oriented, Christ-honouring people!

Maybe some of us have this past week, or even come today, like that lady who went to the department store, ready to air your complaints and give someone a piece of your mind. But God meets you at the door and pins His Word on you: and says: ‘When we conquer grumbling and arguing and disputing and get these under control

…(we) become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life.

That’s the purpose!

Paul prayed that the Philippians might be blameless. He described himself as holy, righteous, blameless (see 1 Thess. 2:10) but never perfect or sinless, so what is he suggesting for Christians?

I want to take you to Psalm 19 (12-13) to where I think the solution is:

But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults 13 Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression.

David says to God, forgive those sins I’m not aware of, but are in me nonetheless and keep me from that sin that is deliberate (wilful), where I know what I’m doing and I’m prone to doing it anyway, keep me from being unrepentant.

Being blameless is not being sinless or being without fault, but when we keep short accounts with God – as the saying goes, when we have a habit of confessing our sin, known and unknown, then we can be blameless, forgiven before God.

Blameless has the nuance of moral integrity as seen by others. That means it points to our outwardly observable behaviour, but includes our attitudes. The principle is: nothing we do as followers of Christ should give an occasion for questioning who we are or the God it is we claim to believe in and follow, eliminating the possibility of others asking, “I thought he was a Christian! How can he be a Christian and live like that?”[10]

Grumbling is like the loose tongue that speaks and complains and criticises and tears down so easily, and has a constant bad attitude toward others and God…perhaps it is one the most difficult things to get under control, and why Paul mentions it specifically.

Now bear in mind here that blameless and pure, shining like stars is specifically connected to grumbling and arguing…such was the significance of these two areas, sins in the life of the church. I want to suggest the core of Paul’s message is: get these two things under control, because they are essential to your unity, your relationships, your witness to the world.

The “crooked world” we live in does a good job of the loose tongue, and of the spirit of grumbling, and negativity and pessimism, therefore, individually and as a church if we want to shine, be like ‘stars’ – “the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14) – it is essential for the sake of our witness, that we seek to…

…”hold fast to the word of truth”, allow Christ, his word, his truths, his Spirit to guide us…

How do we overcome, conquer these sorts of negative attributes, to be free of grumbling, and arguing and having a stink attitude toward others constantly that cuts across any sense of unity God wants for the church?

…when our Christian life truly corresponds with the gospel – the word of life – it, the word (powerful word…) in conjunction with the Holy Spirit, and our willingness to change, eliminates these attributes…

1 Corinthians 15:1-3. Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

How does the word help us overcome grumbling etc and help us be content?[11]

  • 1:6; 1:23…word promises our outcome is certain
  • 2:5-11…word shows us rewards for obedience through Christ
  • 1:12…words shows our seeming setbacks advance the gospel and glorify God
  • 3:8…word teaches us we already have everything in Christ
  1. Our service for Christ

We’ve come to the final sequence of verses…following all that Paul had urged and encouraged the church in a response because of Christ, for Christ; our witness for Christ (holding firmly to the word)

If the church is able to catch this and conduct themselves accordingly…Paul concludes…

And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labour in vain.17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.

He can confidently stand before Christ at the end, and know his work and ministry, was not in vain. Even if it meant giving his life, which it did eventually, he was glad about that, he rejoiced in that, which is what we do as people of faith.

If people are in heaven on that day, rescued from hell, gathered before the throne of Christ to sing His praises for all eternity, because of your witness, wouldn’t you say, “Any effort, suffering, hardship and sickness I went through for the sake of the gospel was worth it”?[12]

He would die for their faith. Sacrifice his life, poured out, for their faith. Such was his love…so others’ and Christ-focussed was he

For love awakens love in return…and the revealed will of God is that those who have received grace should henceforth give themselves to good works (Eph.2:10; Titus 2:11f). And gratitude will move any man (or woman) who has truly received grace to do as God requires”[13]


[1] Packer, Knowing God, 152

[2] From:

[3] 1 Tim 4:16 ”Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers”

[4] Num. 20:6 – Moses falling facedown; Judges 13:20 – Manoah and his wife (Samsons parents) fell facedown; 1 Chron. 21:16 – David and the elders fell facedown.


[6] see Heb. 13:21

[7] Packer, Knowing God, 152

[8] Disputing is wrongly and inappropriately questioning God.



[11] see also Matt. 5:11-12


[13] Packer, Knowing God, 152