Second Reformed Church

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"Work Out Your Salvation" Sermon: Philippians 2:12-18

“Work Out Your Salvation”

[Philippians 2:12-18]

September 14, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            In the section before this morning’s reading, we looked at the hymn of Jesus’ humility and the call on us to live lives of humility patterned after the example of Jesus’ life.  In this morning’s text, Paul instructs the Philippians and us in what this looks like.

            He tells us:

            First, we are to be fruitful in our salvation.

            Second, God is our hope for being fruitful.

            Third, sin mars our witness.

            Fourth, we are to always be proclaiming the Gospel.

            Fifth, we are to always be ready to give all for the Gospel.

            “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,”

            First, we are to be fruitful in our salvation.

            There is a phenomenon – a common phenomenon – where we start well – in faith and in other matters – we start strong, working hard to do what we need to do – what we are called to do – but then we get lazy – we don’t think it matters – we assume someone else will pick up the slack. 

            If we think about a job we have or have held in the past – we may have begun our work diligently, working above and beyond expectation, but, eventually, we saw we didn’t have to try to impress – we didn’t have to work so hard to get our work done – to be accepted at work, so we began to let things slip – to take short-cuts – to do just enough to get by.  We probably all know people who have “progressed” like that.

            Paul compliments the Philippians on how well they responded to the preaching of the Gospel – how it filled them and how they responded by going out and working hard with the gifts and blessings that they had been given – both among each other and in the proclamation of the Gospel, but they had begun to get lazy.  Sin had slowed down their progress in the faith.

            Paul urges them to continue in the obedience to God and His Word that they first obeyed – as they obeyed when he was with them – not to slack off – not to get lazy, but to continue to work hard to obey God until He called them home.  Paul tells them to continue to be fully obedient to the Word of God.

            And really, we can’t be partially obedient, can we?  That’s like being partially pregnant.  We are either obedient or disobedient.  Are we striving after being obedient to the Word of God with everything we are?  What is our excuse if we are not?  There is no part-time Christianity.  There is no retirement from Christianity and obedience to God’s Word.

            Paul tells them to “work out [their] salvation.”  And that is not the same as “earning” their salvation – Paul is telling them – and us – to work out the salvation that we have.  Paul is telling us that receiving salvation is only the beginning.  If we have been saved by God, we are to work hard to be fruitful in our salvation.  We are to prove our salvation’s reality by the way we live, and we are to grow it through obedience and through receiving the means of grace in the Sacraments and through the hearing of the Word of God read and preached.  We are to exhibit the humility of Jesus as we live obedient lives to the Word of God and proclaim the Gospel to all people.

            And we are to do so in “fear and trembling.”  That is, we are to have the right, respectful awe of God as we seek to follow Him in obedience and to follow after Him and His Will seriously while fighting temptation to sin against God.  We are to make a “continuous, sustained, strenuous effort” (O’Brien, Philippians, 279) to wholly follow after God’s revealed Will – just as we pray we will do in The Lord’s Prayer.  We do not become Christians and lay down – we become Christians and work harder than we have every worked – to follow after God’s Will in all things and to resist the temptation to sin.

            That is an enormous call on our lives, but it is the call every human has received – it is just that Christians have the hope to do as God has commanded us.

            “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

            Second, God is our hope for being fruitful.

            Because Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, all humans are born sinners, unwilling and unable to desire to obey God, much less to actually obey Him.  As Paul quotes from the Psalms:  “as it is written:  ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one’” (Romans 3:10-12, ESV).

            Yet, Christians have been enabled to obey God, as Ezekiel prophesied, “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God” (Ezekiel 11:19-20, ESV).

            Christians still sin, yet, God indwells us, and God is working in us – to make us into the Image of Jesus – and He is working in us that we would desire to obey His Will – and He is working is us – enabling us to be able to do His Will.  So, our hope is in God – our Savior – He Who dwells in us and is transforming us into the Image of His Son.

            As Paul explains as he writes about the gifts of the Holy Spirit:  “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6, ESV).

            Our hope to be obedient – to bear fruit consistent with the salvation that God has given us – is given to us by God.  God indwells us and makes us desirous – willing – to obey God.  And God gifts us and enables us to do those things which He has commanded us to do.  That is a great and sure hope we have!

            Do we see, then, why sin is so heinous?  God has saved us, changed us, is transforming us, makes us want to obey Him, gives us the ability to obey Him, and then, when we sin, we turn our backs on everything God has done for us – all that He has done for us simply because it pleased Him – not because He owed us anything for any reason – and then we choose to disobey God and sin.

            Our salvation is all of God.  Now that He has made us desirous and enabled us to be obedient, whether we bear fruit consistent with salvation or choose to sin is on us.  Although God saves us Himself for Himself, the work of the Christian life in one where we work with God for His glory and our joy.

            “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation,”

            Third, sin mars our witness.

            The world does not understand how we, Christians, can be both sinners and justified at the same time.  How can we be sinners and legally ruled innocent?  It does not make sense to them.  So, when we proclaim the Gospel and tell others that Christians are called to treat each other as equals and love each other, and then the world see us sinfully arguing with each other – grumbling against each other – they doubt out witness – they laugh at the Gospel.

            Grumbling and arguing was a problem in the early Church – as much as they gathered together as One Body of Christians – rich and poor, slave and free, Jew and Gentile, male and female – there were times when they got on each other’s nerves and allowed it to snowball into grumbling against each other and arguing sinfully.

            It was not just the Philippians:   Peter wrote to the Christians in Greece and Turkey, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9, ESV).

            Paul wrote to Timothy – probably in Ephesus, “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling;” (1 Timothy 2:8, ESV).

            We are to give the world no reason to turn away from the call to believe the Gospel.  If the way we treat each other causes a non-Christian to dismiss the Gospel, we have sinned.  And we are to be seeking to obey God’s Will with joy and diligence, because He has saved us and gifted us to be able to accomplish all that He has called us to do.

            We are to emulate the humble life of Jesus Who is innocent and was unjustly condemned by the world.

“among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.”

            Fourth, we are to always be proclaiming the Gospel.

            We have been chosen and called to be lights to the world – to be those who point to God the Savior and His Gospel.  We are to be all about showing others that there is salvation in Jesus Alone.  We do that, as Paul explains, by telling others what the Word of Life is – what the Gospel is – the only way to be spiritually raised from the dead, made right with God, and survive of the Judgment at the end of the age.

            What do we say to our friends – especially our non-Christian friends – when they ask us why God would allow the continuing violence in the Middle East.  Why would He allow women and children to be slaughtered?

            Do we say that the problem with the world is the sin we, humans, brought into it?  Do we tell them we don’t know the specific reasons why certain things are happening in the Middle East and elsewhere, but we know that humanity’s choice to sin has corrupted everything and we are born at odds with God?  Do we tell them that the most important question we can ever find the answer to is, “How can a person be right with God?”

            Do we tell them that there is an answer – only one possible answer – God came to earth in the Person of Jesus, lived a perfect life under His Law, died for the sins of everyone who would ever believe, and physically rose from the dead and ascended back to His throne?  Do we tell them that their only hope for this life and the life to come is to believe in the historical facts of Jesus and have faith and believe in Him as Savior?  Do we tell them that Jesus will pay the debt for their sin and make them right with God?

            Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16, ESV).

            We have been made lights to shine out the Word of Life – the Gospel.  Don’t hide your light under a bushel!  Don’t buy into the lie that we ought to keep what we believe to ourselves.  Right now, the first Amendment guarantees our right to free speech – before it is taken away – open your mouth!  Work out your salvation.  Do the good works that God has called us to do.  Be obedient to the Will of God.  Be different so the world notices and we can point them to Jesus and God will receive the glory.

            When we shine as lights to the world – holding forth the Word of Life – the Gospel – God is glorified as we proclaim His One Way of Salvation.  As we tell others – we – the Body of Christ – rejoice and glorify God that the Word of Life is going out from person to person.  We rejoice and glorify God for the work that He does to save people and to transform us into His Image.  We see the worth of the work we have been given to do as we rejoice and glorify God that our labor has been profitable to the glory of God.

            We understand that, don’t we?  If we tell our children not to put their hands on a hot stove, and they listen to us and obey us, we rejoice and glorify God that our work has proved itself and because our children have been saved the pain of burning their hands on the stove.

            If a pastor preaches the Word of God, and we, in turn hear the Word of Life preached and respond appropriately to it – if we believe – if we do those things that God has called us to do – it is to the glory of God – and the pastor will rejoice and glorify God for the work that God gave him to do and the fruit that it has borne.  So, Paul looked forward to seeing the obedience of the Philippians that at the end of the age he would rejoice in the work God set before him and the fruit that it bore to the glory of God as the Philippians obeyed the Word of God delivered by Paul to them.

            Peter wrote, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12, ESV).

            Work out your salvation – not to gain salvation but in obedient response to the salvation we have received – do the good works that God has set before you – obey His Will – and people will still condemn us as evil, but – at the end of the age – they will glorify God – they will bow the knee and acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Savior – the One they denied – and they will glorify Him for our witness to Him and His Gospel on earth.

“Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.”

            Fifth, we are to always be ready to give all for the Gospel.

            Remember, at the time Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians, he did not know if he would survive his encounter with Caesar – and we know that he was executed sometime after presenting the Gospel to Caesar.

            Yet Paul encourages the Philippians and us to remember that our purpose in this life is to Glorify God and enjoy Him – especially as we put forth the Word of Life – as we advance the Gospel – as we tell others the Way to Salvation.  Whatever else happens in our lives is small peanuts in comparison with our obedience to advance the Gospel by telling others.

            And Paul tells them that if it is God’s Will that he be “poured out” – that he would be sacrificed for the Gospel and put to death after meeting with Caesar – he was glad and willing to die for the Gospel – and he commends to them and to us – that we ought to be willing – and glad – to die if it is for the sake of the Gospel.

            That is a hard message, is it not?  We don’t want to die – and we shouldn’t.  But we ought to be willing to die for the sake of the Gospel if it is necessary.  If we are told to keep our mouths shut or to renounce Jesus, then we must suffer at the hands of ungodly men in humility and to the glory of God. 

            Do you remember what we read last week?  “And being found in human form, [Jesus] humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross” (Philippians 2:7b-8, ESV).

            We are called to have the same humility.  To seek the advancement of the Gospel, and if it should cause us our lives, so be it, because we must be obedient to God in proclaiming the Gospel.

            Remember what happened to Peter and what he said:  “And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, ‘We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us.’ But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him’” (Acts 5:27-32, ESV).

            Let us work out our salvation – seeking to obey God more and more as we joyfully advance the Gospel to His Glory – let our obedience to the Will of God be the fruit which proves our salvation and growth in the faith before men and causes them to look to Jesus.  Let us live lives of humility, treating each other as Christ has taught us to treat each other – not giving the world an excuse to dismiss the Gospel.  And may our lives be for Christ and our deaths be for Christ, as God would best be glorified, and as the Gospel would best be portrayed in our lives.

            Let us pray:

            Almighty God, we thank You for saving us and enabling us to love and obey You and to love each other.  Help us to be humble as Your Son lived before us.  Help us to strive to be obedient to Your Will at all times and in all ways.  Help us to stand strong for You as a witness to Your Gospel wherever we may be.  And may You be glorified in each one of us, as we live and as we die.  For this is our joy and our glory.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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