Philippians 2: 12-30
I have been challenged many ways this week. I have learned a great deal about myself as well. Just now I prayed for God to open our minds AND our hearts. I have learned that I do pretty well with the Observation and Interpretation parts of bible study. I have admitted before that I enjoy the more academic side of bible study. I have realized that’s because I don’t do so well with the Application parts! As much as my dear friend likes to ask “what does that look like”, I struggle with transferring the interpretation to how it’s supposed to play out in my day to day life. Not always because I can’t find the answer, but because I can, and I don’t like the exposure that my life does not live up to it! This week was one of those weeks. And of course, it was my turn to teach! But as hard as it has been for me this week, it has also been good. I have been humbled, stretched, and challenged in very specific ways, and have already seen some fruit from the struggle, so that’s encouraging!
Why do I bring this up? Well, sometimes when we read Paul’s letters, it is hard to keep it all straight. If we are not paying attention to our grammar rules and composition lessons, it might be hard to find the applications in his letters. He does, however, leave us clues. Our passage this week starts with one such clue: THEREFORE. Having described the mind of Christ in verses 5-11, as well as giving us a breathtaking description of Christ’s obedience, Paul encourages the Philippians to apply it. The word “therefore” signals the conclusion of the illustration, and the beginning of the application. Here’s what you need to know, and now, here is what that looks like in your life.
Paul tells the Philippians to obey, like they already have been, but to continue doing it even though he is not there with them. He tells them to work out their salvation. Is he telling them to EARN their salvation? No! The phrase is actually a mathematical term describing the solving of a problem. This working out of their salvation is actually referring to their sanctification – their process of becoming more Christ-like. He calling us to make externally-visible the internal changes God is making in us. But he also points out that it is God who is making the changes! We should be manifesting these changes in our day to day lives in such a way that shows our respect and awe towards God, or as Paul puts it “with fear and trembling.” This is not the cowering in a corner afraid we are going to be beaten kind of fear, but the 13-year-old girl meeting the New Kids on the Block trembling and fear at meeting who she thinks are the most amazing people on the planet! How much more so should we be filled with fear and trembling when we consider the transcendent holiness of God?!
So what does that look like? If the therefore we started with is referring back to the previous section where Paul describes Christ’s obedience, then the only logical assumption is that it looks like obedience. Obedience to what God is doing in us and through us. Obedience to the entirety of his Word. We were asked to evaluate the evidence in our lives that we are working out our salvation. Examples of obeying the Lord when it wasn’t easy? For me that looks like this – what I am doing right now. Standing in front of a group of lovely women, sharing what God has taught me. Growing in the fruit of the Spirit? I desire to be more gentle with my children – I will tell you more about that in a minute. Fighting sin using the sword of the Spirit, loving the saints, sharing the gospel, daily quiet times with the God and his Word, prayer. All of these are great inventory-type questions we should be evaluating regularly. Not for a sense of accomplishment, but more like taking our temperature, gauging where we are at. Our sanctification, our maturity, is Paul’s goal, and it will not be complete until these broken, sinful bodies are made new again. I hope that you have had some time at your tables to maybe share some ideas of what these different things look like. They won’t look the same for everyone, but maybe if you are lacking in one, someone else’s’ idea will spark something in you.
He goes on to talk about grumbling and complaining. Given that he has just spent time imploring them to be like minded, it makes sense that he would tell them to not grumble and complain. Nothing leads to disunity more that these. My kids and I have been going through Numbers in our devotions, so I was glad to see the example from Numbers 11 this week. Here we have a great example of how complaining can disrupt unity. God has just burned the outlying parts of the camp because the Israelites were complaining, and together they all cried out to Moses , who prayed, and Lord allowed the fire to die down. Not long after, my translation calls them the rabble, had a craving and began to grumble, which spread discontent, and then everyone was complaining again.
The devotion guide I use with my kids points out that when we complain about our children, our spouses, our church leaders, our friends, or anything it is sin. Not only is it a sin against the one you are complaining about, ultimately it is a sin against God because you are saying you don’t like they way He is running things! It is a manifestation of our rebellion, not our salvation! Why should we seek to eliminate grumbling and complaining from all we do? Because that will look VERY different than the world around us, wouldn’t it? If instead of putting our needs and desires first, instead of doing whatever we want and complaining when it doesn’t turn out right, we obey the Word of Life, and live out our salvation by following Christ’s example, we can’t help but shine in the darkness. We can’t help but reflect Christ’s glory and power to the world around us.
Earlier I mentioned trying to be gentler with my children. Yesterday, they both did something wrong, and I never would have known about it if my son had not come to me, very contritely, and confessed his sin. I talked with him, confronted his sister, and the three of us calmly discussed what their consequences would be. About a half hour later, he came back out and asked if his consequences would be more severe if he admitted he had done the wrong thing more than once. I admit, I was a bit flabbergasted. The worldly side of me was screaming in my head, “What are you doing? You already confessed, why are you confessing more!?” I told him the consequences would be the same, and thank you for being honest with me about what happened. Again, a little bit later, he came again and said he had actually done it more than twice. Now I was really confused. But then I realized something. I had handled the situation very differently than other times he had been caught in the same sin. My old reaction was one of offense and exasperation. I would more often than not devolve into an angry diatribe on why that was not okay. This time, I had stayed calm, gentle, and lovingly explained that their sin was not just against me, but God, and that they needed to seek His forgiveness as well. And I told them I loved them. My poor, Autistic son did not know what to do with that. He thought I didn’t understand fully what he had done because I was not yelling at him! My heart broke, and yet rejoiced at the same time. Here was an opportunity for me to display to my children the power of the Gospel, not only to forgive their sins, but to change my reactions as well!
When we live our lives with the Gospel on display, by the power of God in us and through us, we as individuals, and so much more as a church, are able to shine the reflection of God’s grace and holiness to the world around us. And all of it is not accomplished by our imitation of Christ, but by his incarnation- his indwelling Holy Spirit shining out of us.
Lord Jesus, help us to not only open our minds, but to open our hearts. Mold us and shape us into better reflections of your image to the world around us, that you may be glorified. Amen.