I taught a Bible study last night on this passage from Philippians 2. The entire passage an be read here. In order to understand this lesson better, we need to take a brief look at the context, what comes before this passage in chapters 1-2. What are the signs that a person already has attained salvation according to what we see in chapters 1-2? Notice that the verse does not read “work for your salvation”. It reads “work out your salvation”. You are not working to attain it. You already have it. What is the proof?
- 1:1 – you have been transformed from a sinner to a saint. As Jesus calls it in John 3, you have been born again.
- 1:5 – you begin to live out the Gospel in your daily life.
- 1:7 – you begin to preach and teach the Gospel to others as the Lord brings opportunities.
- 1:28 – you begin to have opponents who oppose the Gospel and take it out on you because you are the messenger.
- 2:1-4 – you do relationships much differently than you did before. You now seek to serve others instead of using them for your own benefits.
So, these are practical signs that salvation is already in you. Now Paul encourages us to work out that salvation on a daily basis. What does this actually mean? I am so glad that you asked! The verb work out is a Greek word formed from two other Greek words. Understanding the meaning of all 3 of these words will help us understand what the Apostle had in mind when he wrote this and what the readers understood. Here is the original Greek word:
When we put all of this together, the phrase, “work out your salvation” has the idea of bringing to light (to the outside) what is on the inside. Exposing what is there to everyone else. How do I do it? What are things that could keep me from being able to do it? What happens to me when I do work out my salvation? Are there any Biblical examples of this? These are all wonderful questions and I am so glad that you asked them.
I. How do I do it?
In order to work out my salvation, I must know what my part in the process is and what God’s part in the process is. The apostle begins with our part and then moves to God’s part. First and foremost, I must be obedient to my spiritual leader without hypocrisy. I must obey him/her as he/she leads me in the process of discipleship. I must be obedient when he/she is present and also in his/her absence. In fact, even more so in his/her absence because whether my leader is present or absent, the Lord is always there to see. If I am obedient in my leader’s presence only then I become a hypocrite and cover up the salvation that is within me or give a distorted view of it to the people around me. Not only do I have to be obedient without hypocrisy, I must also have the right attitude, with fear and trembling as verse 12 of chapter 2 teaches. In this context, fear does not mean that I am afraid of punishment. It means that I am aware of the awesome responsibility that I have been given and out of respect, I do not want to make mistakes, giving a distorted view of the awesome salvation that is in me. The same goes for trembling. I am in awe of the task before me. What is it that will keep me from distorting the picture of what salvation really is? The answer is found in verse 16. I am to hold fast the Word of life. I must be led day by day by the amazing Word of God. In order to be led by the Word, I must be in the Word day and night so that I know how to act, when, where, why etc. I must be a great student of the Word of God. If I am not a great student of the Word then I will always be in danger of becoming hypocritical and having a bad attitude. What is God’s part in the process? Verse 13 teaches us that He is the One who began the work of salvation in you and He will continue that work until the end. He will always do His part. I have to do mine and we work together as a team to manifest a correct view of what salvation is to the world around us. Working in you and you working out your salvation is the will of God for your life. It is His pleasure to do this in you and through you. If this is the case, what are the things that I need to avoid because of their devastating consequences?
II. What should I avoid?
There are a couple of things that will distort what salvation really is if you take part in them and allow them to be a part of your life. The first thing, according to verse 14 is grumbling. The idea behind grumbling is having secret displeasure in your heart. In the context, your spiritual leader asks you to do something and you do it but in your heart you do not agree with him/her and you do not let him/her know this. You begin to grumble to yourself and then you start grumbling to those around you. You begin to get other people to grumble against the leader. The next step is disputing with that leader. Now, the church is no different from the world because this is the kind of stuff that happens in the world. Salvation changes us from the inside out and now you are telling the world that salvation does not have the power to maintain you, to keep you living different from the rest of the world. When you start down this path, the Holy Spirit within you begins to scream at you that what you are doing is wrong. You are making Him feel uncomfortable because He is Holy and you are exposing Him to unholy things. Ephesians 4:30 teaches us that when we do things that are against the nature of the Holy Spirit within us, we grieve Him. We make Him very uncomfortable and He will let us know quickly. When He starts letting us know, we now have a choice, either listen to Him and stop or stop up our spiritual ears and keep doing what we were doing. I Thessalonians 5:19 calls this “quenching” the Spirit. He is still yelling but our hearing gets softer and softer. In I Corinthians 10:1-13, Paul deals with some other things that lead to grumbling and disputing. Notice the progression here.
- Desiring evil things. We are always going to be tempted. This is not the same thing as being tempted. This implies what we do with temptation. Once we are tempted, we allow those thoughts to take root in our minds and that leads us to desire evil things.
- Idolatry – those evil things that you partake in become an idol to you. They begin to control you. You now obey them instead of obeying God.
- Immorality – as sin progresses, it leads you to greater sin. It is a spiral staircase.
- Trying the Lord – as you obey sin and its lusts more and more, you begin to put the Lord to the test, in a very bad way.
- Grumbling – finally, this downward spiral is going to lead you to be discontented with your spiritual leaders and you are going to grumble against them, getting others to join you and causing division.
So, if I am wise and I hold fast the Word of life and avoid a bad attitude, grumbling, disputing, and quenching the Spirit then I will work out my salvation. What does that look like practically?
III. What are the results?
The results of working out my salvation are seen in verse 15. I actually prove my salvation. I demonstrate it. I manifest it for all to see, undistorted. I will be blameless. God will begin to remove my faults one by one. I will become like Daniel from the Old Testament. His enemies investigated every aspect of his life and they could find nothing against him. Finally, they just had to make something up in order to try and get him punished. I will be innocent, a child of God, above reproach shining like a light to all the world. I will be a living testimony of the God of my salvation. This is exactly what Christ has called us to be, the light of the world. He shines His light in us and we shine it to the world around us. This is God working in me and through me. Do we have any practical examples of people living like this?
IV. Biblical Examples
Yes, we do have Biblical examples of what it looks like to work out your salvation.
- Paul uses himself as an example. In verse 17, Paul teaches us that he is pouring out his life by investing in the lives of his disciples. In this case, he is talking about the Philippians. They were pagans when he came to Philippi. He shared the Gospel with them and started the discipleship process. He is continuing the process by writing to them and instructing them in the faith. They are one of may churches that Paul is doing this for. Working out our salvation means investing our lives in others sacrificially, serving them with great joy and teaching them to do the same.
- Timothy is the next example that Paul uses. Timothy is also a servant as is Paul. Timothy was mentored by Paul. Timothy is obedient to his teacher, Paul, both in his presence and also in his absence. Timothy is genuine in his walk with the Lord and in his service. He has proven his worth in the ministry. He has dedicated his life, at an early age to serve in the Gospel.
- Epaphroditus is the final example that Paul uses. Epaphroditus has dedicated his life to serving, coming to the point of death in the ministry for the furtherance of the Gospel.
All three of these men are examples of what it means to work out your salvation on a daily basis. They are giving an undistorted view of salvation to world. As people see the salvation within, they want to know about it and it gives us a chance to preach the Gospel to them, starting them on the same process of receiving salvation and then working it out daily. Are you doing your part to work out the salvation that is in you? Are you living a life that is blameless and above reproach? What would people find out about you if they followed you around on a daily basis? Do you hold fast the Word of life? What is your attitude toward your spiritual leaders like? Do you have spiritual leaders? Are you like Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus? What changes do you need to make so that you can work out your salvation on a daily basis? May the Lord help us work out our salvation daily.