12 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, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. 14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 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. 17 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. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.
For starters verse 12 has always been a little bit of a confusing verse for me, “work out your own salvation”. Working out our own salvation sounds contradictory to the gospel, and if you only read verse 12 I can see where some people get confused. We can know that Paul is not speaking of salvation by works because in verse 13 he says that it is God who brings forth the desires and the efforts of working out our salvation and that He does it for “his good pleasure”. It is not efforts of human origin but of spiritual origin. The work of salvation was finished with Jesus’ death and resurrection, the continuing work we have in our salvation is becoming more like Jesus and I believe that is what Paul is speaking about. Like Chris said in Part 2 of this series Jesus is the ultimate example of how we should live as a community of believers.
I have generally read this section of scripture on it’s own, and it can stand on it’s own, but it is given a fresh meaning when you look at it in context of living in community. Verses 14 and 15 are a few of my favorite verses, “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, among whom you shine as lights in the world…” Let that sink in for a minute, re-read that five or six times. Doing all things without grumbling or disputing goes straight back to being willing to humble ourselves and serve each other. If everyone put away their pride, attitude, and jealousy and served everybody else in the community we would have nothing to grumble about or dispute with each other over. How would the world see that? Paul says we would shine like lights in the world. That would be mind boggling to see a community of servants. We live in a society that demands to be served. We measure our career success by how many people we have “under us”. But the Bible is constantly telling us we have it backwards, and the greatest thing we can be is a servant. Even the savior of the world came to serve, not be served (Mark 10:45). Are we more deserving of service than the Son of God?
I didn’t mean to cut Paul off in mid-sentence, but he continues to say that along with shining as lights in the world they should be found “holding fast to the word of life”, and if they accomplish that he can know that he did not labor in vain. Paul, following Jesus’ example (1 Corinthians 11:1) , exemplifies the humility and service we have been discussing in saying that even if he was to be poured out as a drink offering he is glad and would still rejoice. He is basically saying even if he had to sacrifice his life, and left no legacy he would still rejoice in the faith of the Philippians.