During the last article, I looked at chapter 2 of Paul‘s letter to the Philippian church to see the attitude and actions of a genuine Christian. This time, I would like to continue looking in chapter 2 to see the actions of a true Christian and the tangible results. God gets involved in our lives in a personal way in order to transform us. He already knows what the final product will look like, and in fact, He has already told us what the final product will look like, “being conformed to the image (character) of Jesus Christ”. There is no mystery to what God’s will is for mankind. He has revealed that too. In fact, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reveals what the will of the Father is, “to hear the Words of Jesus (the Bible) and to apply them”. In Philippians, Paul expands on this idea to give practical ways of doing this. There are 2 key characteristics to the lifestyle of a genuine Christian; obedience and service. I would like to explore these two aspects and look at the results of living a lifestyle of obedience and service.
I. Obedience to God and to your spiritual leaders
12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling ; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2)
Since one day, every knee will bow to Jesus and every tongue will confess that He is Lord, by force, would it not be better to go ahead and do it by choice? (see Philippians 2:5-11) Why not bow your knee to Christ today by choice, since either way, by force or choice, you are going to do it anyway? A genuine Christian chooses to be obedient to Christ every day of his life. He is obedient both in the presence of others (in this case, in the presence of his spiritual leader, as Paul was their spiritual leader) and also when no one is looking (when he is in his room at night and no one else is around . . .). In the context of these 2 verses, “work out your salvation” means being obedient to God. Notice that the text does not say “work for your salvation”. It literally means continue to the end the process of salvation that God has begun in you or in other words, the salvation that God has placed in you, show it to the world by the way that you live. You are to show or live your salvation with an attitude of respect because you know that it is God who is working in you and through you. You know that “nothing good dwells in your flesh” and it is only by the grace of God that you are a genuine Christian.
How are we able to work out/demonstrate this salvation that God has put in us? Paul explains how by giving us the power source, the Word of God.
16 holding fast the word of life . . . (Philippians 2)
The Word of life is the Word of God. According to Psalm 1, the Word of God is like the life giving river that causes the tree (righteous man) to grow and produce fruit. The expression “holding fast” literally means “keep right in front of your eyes”. The Word of God is to be your guide every moment of every single day. Do you hide God’s Word in your heart (literally imprint It upon your mind) so that you will not sin against Him? In order to do this, you must be a serious student of the Word of God. A genuine Christian is a disciple of Jesus Christ. A disciple is a pupil who learns theory and practice. The sole purpose of a student is to study theory and then apply it in practical exercises. That is your calling as a Christian. Are you living up to that call? In the book of Joshua, God gives Joshua a little piece of advice on how to lead a rebellious nation. Joshua started serving under Moses when he (Joshua) was 40 years old. He served under Moses as an apprentice for 45 years. He had seen Moses’ knowledge of the Word of God and had learned from him. He had spent most of his life as a student of the teachings of Moses (the first 5 books of the Bible). Here is what God tells this well trained theologian;
8 “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. (Joshua 1)
After all of his years of being a student of Moses, the best advice that God gives to him is “study and ponder the Law (5 books of Moses) day and night so that you can know It and live by It”. Do you hold fast the Word of life? Do you conduct your every move according to the Word of God? If you are the real deal when it comes to being a Christian, then you will meditate on the Word of God day and night. The expression “too much Bible study” will never come out of your mouth.
II. Serving God by serving others
We have already seen Jesus Christ’s example of service so now I would like to focus on the other 3 examples that Paul uses in chapter 2; Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus.
17 But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. (Philippians 2)
Paul has spent his life in serving the Philippian Christians (along with many others). He did it all with joy. A genuine Christian “pours out his life” into the lives of others by serving them with the Gospel. He does it with no hidden motives. He simply does it for the growth of their faith. He is selfless in serving others. Do you seek to “pour” your life into serving others or are you focused on living for yourself?
20 For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. 22 But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father. (Philippians 2)
Timothy invested his life in serving with Paul and serving the people around him. A genuine Christian does not seek after his own interests but instead, he seeks after the interests of Christ; serving people by training them in the Gospel. He is concerned of the spiritual welfare of others. He has a spiritual mentor and he is obedient to that mentor. He serves others like a child serves his father. He wants to be with “daddy” and is excited to help (serve) in any way that he can. Is this a characteristic in your life? Do you have a spiritual mentor who is leading and guiding you, teaching you how to serve the people around you?
25 But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need ; 26 because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. 27 For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 Therefore I have sent him all the more eagerly so that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may be less concerned about you. 29 Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard ; 30 because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me. (Philippians 2)
He was willing to serve others, even to the point of death (the same example we saw in Jesus Christ). He serves like soldier, solely focused on completing the task at hand. Everything that he did was for the work of the Gospel. We see here that a genuine Christian seeks to spread the Gospel by serving others. Service opens up the doors for the Gospel. Service is a way of life for a genuine Christian.
III. The results of obedience and service
15 so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, (Philippians 2)
God is always in the process of refining our character to make us more like Jesus Christ. In this passage, blameless means “without blemish”. It is like silver that has been refined. When silver is mined, it is mixed with the earth and is not a pretty site. It has many impurities. That is the way we are when we come to Christ. There is a lot of work to be done in us to refine us. When silver is refined, it is put over an ever increasing fire and as the fire heats up, the impurities rise to the surface and the silversmith scrapes out the impurities and turn the fire a little higher, repeating the process until he can see his perfect reflection in the silver. That is how he know that his work is done. The same things happens in our lives. God refines us as we serve and obey Him. He wants to see His perfect reflection in us. The world will take notice of this process. They will see us as children of God, above reproach and as lights in a dark and perverse world. Do you shine like a light for God to the people around you? Are you being refined on a daily basis as you serve and obey God?
17 But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. 18 You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me. (Philippians 2)
A genuine Christian has true joy in every circumstance of life. He lives for God by living for others. He rejoices when things go well and also when things do not because he knows that all that he encounters is allowed by God for his benefit (refining process). Many times, when people are preoccupied with themselves, they fall into depression because things do not go the way that they want. They are not interested in serving others, but instead, want to be served. As a result they easily disappointed. The solution for lack of joy is to choose to serve God by serving the people around you with the Gospel. You will discover the source of true joy, God Himself, and He will work wonders in your life.
My dear friend, how do you measure up to the portrait of a genuine Christian? How important is obedience to you (especially when no one is watching)? Are you lead by the Word of God in every decision that you make or do you rely mostly on your own wisdom? Do you have a servant’s attitude? Is your character being refined by God on a daily basis? May God help us live for Him and seek to serve the people around us.