Monday, November 5, 2012

God Working in You

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)
The word “therefore” that begins this section connects us back to the previous sections, about the divine humility of Jesus the God-man and how He has been exalted to the place of highest glory and honor. He is our example, whose entire being displays the attitude we should have in all things. It is part of our identity, who He is in us and who we are in Him.

Paul addresses the Jesus believers at Philippi as “my beloved.” In this we see the tender affection he has for them. He has had a very strong relationship with them ever since he first arrived in Macedonia. They have supported his ministry steadily, with prayer and provision and partnership in the gospel. Though he is now under house arrest in Rome, he has every confidence that he will be with them once again, for the increase and joy of their faith. In the meantime, he wants them to continue as if he was right there with them now, and he is confident that they will be all the more diligent because of his present circumstances. What Paul desires (keeping Philippians 2:1-4 in mind) is that they would treat each other as they would him if he were now present among them, with nothing done through selfish ambition or conceit but serving one another with the humility of the Lord Jesus.

“Therefore,” Paul tells them, “work out your own salvation.” There are a couple of things to note here. First, he is not talking about their individual personal destinies. The use of “you” and “your” here are in the plural forms. He is speaking to them as the community of believers. Second, he does not mean that they are to work for their salvation, that is, in order to get saved. Salvation is a gift of God that is at work in them. To “work out” one’s salvation, rather, is to bring forth the outer expression of what is now inherent in their inner being. Salvation is not merely a theory, it produces practical results in the life of the believer. Paul is telling them to manifest outwardly what is already an inward reality, to demonstrate the life of God and the attitude of Jesus that is already at work in them. The Contemporary English Version translates this as, “discover what it really means to be saved.”

Paul adds, “with fear and trembling.” That is a combination he uses a few times elsewhere: about when he first came to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 2:1-5), about when Paul sent Titus to the Corinthians and how they received him (2 Corinthians 7:-1316), and about how Christian bondservants should live in regard to their earthly masters (Ephesians 6:5-8). It is not about abject fear or terror but about being circumspect, careful, diligent and respectful. J. B. Phillips translates it as having “a proper sense of awe and responsibility” (The New Testament in Modern Speech).

It all comes down to dependence upon God. “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” The Holman Christian Standard Bible has this as, “It is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose.” We cannot even work up the desire for these things ourselves, much less fulfill them. But God comes and creates the proper desires in us Himself. The fact that we begin to desire the things of God is evidence of His saving work in us. God enables godly desire within us and along with that gives us the divine ability to do what He desires. This is exactly what He had promised centuries earlier, through the prophet Ezekiel:
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. (Ezekiel 36:25-27)
The Spirit of God works in us to bring forth the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). This reflects the character and attitude of the Lord Jesus that Paul wants the believers at Philippi (and indeed, everywhere) to manifest. It is God’s doing through and through, His Spirit, His life, His salvation at work in us to do what we could not otherwise do. Our part is to be diligent and attentive to allow Him to bring it forth into outward expression, in faithful obedience to the Father and self-giving service toward one another.

Focus Questions
  1. What do you think are the present benefits of salvation? How do you live them out?
  2. How do you think of the fear of the Lord? As dread, or delight?
  3. How do you think of the will of God? As something you must resign yourself to, or something that releases you into His desire and pleasure?

There is Always Joy!
There is Always Joy!
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Philippi
Bite-Sized Studies Through the Book of Philippians
by Jeff Doles

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