Your Work And God's

Introduction: Think of Jesus Christ (vv 5-11) It is not normal to start a meal with a dessert, nor would we begin a book in the middle. When we come to a Bible reading which has as the first word "therefore", we have to look back, to see what has been argued. We saw last week that there was a considerable amount of disagreement in the Philippian church. People stood on their own importance. They did not put the gospel first in the fellowship. They did not make the cross the pattern for their attitude to others. Into that situation of disagreements and self-importance, Paul directs the Philippians to consider Jesus. He is the reason for the 'therefore'. They are to think of Jesus in humble obedience, laying aside so much to take flesh, and even to die on an accursed cross. They are to think of him now exalted, reigning in the highest place, to receive his rightful acknowledgement from all, whether they will do so willingly or unwillingly. Hesitantly I offer you a visual aid. Let me explain the hesitation first. Long ago stained glass perfomed a function for those who could not read. In that situation stained glass is similar to pictures in a children's bible story. However, two-dimensional images, just like three-dimensional images, have a potential for being worshipped, something forbidden by the second commandment. And whereas the words of scripture are inspired by God, pictures and statues however good are at one further stage removed. So for God's honour's sake they are often rejected by Christians. We meet in a building with some particularly artistic stained glass. Perhaps sometimes, without meaning to, and certainly with no intention of worship, your eyes have strayed to the large window behind me. The bottom level of the window is meant to express Christ as both the source and the flowering of all that is worthwhile in humanity. The next level is meant to represent the life of an ordinary Christian, with the cross at the centre. On the left he is unbinding a sinner, on the right returning to the Lord with nothing of his own, simply faith. The next level is our visual aid. It represents the present reality which we shall see clearly when we die: the ascended Jesus Christ is triumphant, seated on the throne, with his feet on the orb of the world. He rules for ever, drenched in a cascade of the Spirit. On the left a saint is rising to glory, and on the right Mary, holding the dead Jesus, reminds us of his suffering. As Paul writes:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2.5-11)

That is the glorious vision that Paul offers them. A vision of obedience. Both, Christ's humble obedience to the Father, and the obedience of the whole creation to the King of Kings. It is in this context that we will be looking at the subject of our obedience. There are three headings: first, OUR OBEDIENCE IS GOD WORKING; secondly, OUR OBEDIENCE WILL MARK US OUT; and thirdly, OUR OBEDIENCE IS A CAUSE FOR REJOICING. First, OUR OBEDIENCE IS GOD WORKING (vv 12-13) When you were at school you no doubt knew what it was to work when the teacher was looking over your shoulder. We all know the obedience that comes from being in the presence of authority. The Philippians were having to learn an obedience that would keep them going even when Paul was not with them. He wanted them to obey God in their church relationships, putting the gospel first and making the cross the pattern for their behaviour. He starts with obedience to himself. They had come to faith through his ministry. Apparently they had a good record of responding to what he taught them. Look at what is says in verses 12 and 13:

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed--not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence--continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

If Paul was there with them they wouldn't have carried on in that unloving manner. Even though he isn't there they still have to obey. They have to live out the faith for themselves. Paul calls this "working out their salvation". It is like when people get married, they enter the state of marriage, but have to live out their marriage in daily life. There are responsiblities to being married. If people are not careful, they can be married in name only. Their marriage can be a pretence. When we are saved we need to learn how to live obediently. Whether we are a new Christian or one who has been a Christian for a long time, we need to learn how to live obediently. God knows whether we have been faithful or not. God knows whether our salvation is in name only. Living out the faith for the Philippians, that is, working out their salvation, meant obedience in the matter of their behaviour to one another. If verse 13 didn't follow verse 12 they might have thought, 'Oh dear, how can we ever manage this. Personal relationships are too hard for us.' "I could never cope with that woman...He always gets on my nerves...God's requirements are too much for us. That is too much responsiblity." But verse 13 takes some of the pressure off. Being a Christian is working hand in hand with God. God's way of working in us, is to make us want to be obedient. We think we are changing ourselves, but God is changing us. I can hear sermon after sermon but until God works in me to change my will and my action nothing much is likely to happen. I could have David Holloway or someone else ringing me up daily to check on me. "Have you had your quiet time? Are you growing in obedience to God?" You could have your home group leader or someone ringing up each day. You could spend much time examining your conscience each day, and that would be good. For a time in our own strength maybe, we could keep going and appearing to change. But it is God who has to do things. God is the great changer. If we are unmoved by God, we're not going to be moved by Paul. What about us at Jesmond Parish Church in the particular area that Paul is addressing? How are we obeying the command to humble service of each other and Christ-likeness? Are all the relationships in our church fellowship right? There may be grudges borne from things in the past. We may have been wronged, or passed over, or mis-judged. But God wants our humble selfless love for each other, like that of Jesus Christ. We may have been the ones who have been judgmental, harsh, or stubborn. But God wants our humble selfless love for each other, like that of Jesus Christ. To be a bit more specific as an example, when it comes to the time of year for home group organisation for the new year my heart sinks. I have known people leave the church because I have changed their home group in the wrong way. Yet God is at work because the vast majority of people settle in quickly. God is at work because so many look "not only to their own interests, but also to the interests of others." Of course home group organisation is a fairly humdrum example. I have no infallibility about which is the right group. God was at work in the Philippian church making them his servants, God is at work in JPC. It is God who has complete demands on our obedience in the big decisions that matter. We are known as a church that teaches the Bible: I wish it were true that we are known as a church where we all seek to obey the Bible's teaching, where all are growing like Christ. So God needs to change us to will and to act according to his good purpose. Perhaps there is an area in our hearts that says 'I don't want to be obedient about that particular thing'. In fear and trembling we ought to ask ourselves what does that say about who is in control? What God wants is for us to will and do his good purpose. Secondly, OUR OBEDIENCE WILL MARK US OUT (vv 14-15) If the balance has tipped for a moment in the direction of God's responsiblity for our obedience, it swings firmly back in the next two verses, verses 14 and 15:

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life

God is giving us the changes that make our obedience possible, but we must be totally involved. We do not simply 'Let go and let God'. Here Paul is offering the Philippians practical teaching about how to get their church where it should be. Their behaviour must become different. If they will be obedient in the matter of being Christ-like, they will be marked out for God. They will stand out as different from the world around them. The fact that change comes from God could have meant they just left everything to God to improve the relationships in the church. Their prayers could have been directed for the benefit of those others who needed to change. What Paul says to them is that they must do things. They must get down to it. They are to do everything without complaining or arguing. Complaining suggests the grumbling and murmuring of the people of Israel in the Old Testament. Never satisfied, their critical hearts showed them to be self-centred. Criticism comes so readily to us. Part of our system of education is to encourage our critical faculites. We see people's faults almost straight away, and cannot see their good points till long afterwards. At one level it is right that we are making judgments for ourselves, and even pointing out things that are wrong, but we need to be careful that our valid criticism doesn't sour us and consume us. In the church there is a fine line between helpful debate and complaining argument. To me the context of this passage is still within the general teaching on behaviour in the church, so first of all we don't complain and argue with each other in the fellowship. But the scope of the passage goes wider: the behaviour of Christians is to stand out in the world. Christians are to contrast with their surroundings because of their contentment. I read of a poor believer several centuries ago. He sat down to his meal and found that he only had a little bread and some water. His response, 'What? All this and Jesus Christ, too?'. He was contented because what really mattered was provided for. We can be more contented when we get a better perspective on life, and a better perspective on what we have in Christ. Do everything without complaining or arguing. So if you are starting work at a new job, this is the way to begin. If the demands at home are suddenly heavier because of an aged relative, this is the counsel of scripture. If at work or in the family we have already blotted our copy book many times over, it will stand out all the more if we allow God to change us. 'Do everything without complaining or arguing so that you may become blameless and pure.' I suppose personality types may come into play. For those of an "Eeyore-ish" disposition, who almost relish the sound of a squeaking door, and would rather have lemon juice than orange, there is more to learn and change, than for those who wake up in the morning with a great big smile on their faces. But we do not need to be at the mercy of our personality. God can change these things for the better, and make strengths out of weaknesses as many can testify. As an example my wife ought to try and imagine how much worse I would be if I wasn't a Christian. Taking the new nature that God gives us is part of our daily warfare. We are children of God, so we need to become like our Father. We are not to be full of criticism for others, and at the same time we are to remove from ourselves all just reason for criticism from others. That is to be blameless and pure. It is perhaps impossible to imagine ourselves for this life in such a state of purity. It would certainly mark us out as different from the world. Baptist minister and media personality Steve Chalke tells the story of the difference between teenagers of today and young people in a previous generation. An older man told him 'When I was 15, all I wanted to be was like my dad, and to have a suit like his'. By the time Steve was 15, the last thing any teenager wanted was a suit like their father's. What Christians want is to be like their heavenly Father, or rather, the sacrificial Son Jesus Christ. Christ-likeness is to mark us out. That is in personal behaviour and in offering the word of life. The church is not the place for people who are unwilling to become like him. Thirdly, OUR OBEDIENCE IS A CAUSE FOR REJOICING (vv16-18) We have seen how our obedience is God working, and how our obedience will mark us out, and give us something to offer other people. In the next few verses Paul adds another factor to their obedience. He looks forward with anticipation to seeing Christ. He longs that his missionary work will not have been in vain. We look again at verses 16-18:

as you hold out the word of life--in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labour for nothing. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.

In the sacrificial system, when offering up a larger animal sacrifice a small drink offering was poured out with it. Paul is doing two things. He is complimenting the Philippians that what they offer to God will be a great spiritual offering. It will be hard for them, the Christian service coming from their faith, but he is confident that they will make it. Secondly he thinks of himself, in jail for Christ. He may indeed be poured out, literally killed, a small add-on to what they are achieving for God. Whether that happens or not he will be rejoicing, even in his hardship, if their sacrificial obedience shows the reality of their faith. If they go on in the faith he will be full of joy. Paul wants them to make sure that his ministry is not in vain. He wants them to give him the joy of responding to his teaching with faithful service. Maybe you have been instrumental in someone coming to faith. It's the most natural thing to rejoice when they persevere as Christians. On the other hand, just as the Philippians should give this delight to Paul, maybe we could think of the joy in store for those who led us to Christ, when they hear that we are persevering. What we do as a church in this kind of sacrifice and service will be acceptable to God. The world may not regard a life of humble self-sacrifice as worthy of praise, but God does. It is the life that Paul chose for himself. It is a life that gives rise to rejoicing. Conclusion There was the church in Philippi, troubled by discord. So many insisting on their own rights. Paul tells them to sort it out. He gives them one absolutely compelling reason for obedience: Jesus Christ. Jesus gave up the rule and glory of God to become a servant. Instead of following whatever desires of his own he might have had, he chose to say No to his own desires and No to using his power for his own advantage. We too are servants, servants of Jesus Christ, but also servants of each other in the church. That is our work and God's. This time let's hear Paul's words with our eyes closed, without the distraction of the window:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2.5-11)

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