By Dr. Harry Bultema
“Wherefore, my beloved, as ye 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 which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure. Do all things without murmurings and disputing: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; Holding forth the Word of Life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.” (Philippians 2:12-16)
Philippians is an inspired description of Christian character in its highest form. While Ephesians descries the highest Christian life, Philippians gives us the sweetest and most fragrant life of the Christian. It deals not with Christian character but with character at its best. It brims over with Christian affection. He could say, “I have you in my heart.” It throbs with fellowship and thrills with holy joy. The Christian who wrote this love letter has victory over every trial, strength for every task, holy indifference in the Savior, and the most sacred devotion to Him. If you wish to build your own character and mold the lives of others, read and ponder this sweet Epistle. In Chapter 2, he presents Christ in His deep humiliation by which He emptied Himself, not of Deity, but of the Divine glory and in His great exaltation by which He received from the Father the Name that is above every name. One day every knee will bow before Him, willingly or unwillingly, and every tongue shall confess that He is the Christ to the glory of God the Father. The first word, “therefore,” tells us the reason the Christian’s conduct and activity should be as described because of the victory and glory in Christ.
“Work out your own salvation.” Wrong translations have worked much harm regarding this statement. Luther has: “…this gives the idea that man must save himself.” Weymouth translates it, “Make sure of your salvation.” Most English translators have rendered it “work out.” The meaning is evident that believers should work out what God has already worked in. This is not imitation but the fruition of the indwelling Holy Spirit. God dwells in us and works in us. This working out is to be done with “fear and trembling” but this is not a rigorous or slavish fear. It is not fear caused by an awakened conscience nor does it have reference to the fear and trembling of Saul as God struck him to earth. Neither is it the fear of trepidation of the returned prodigal meeting his father. A sweeping statement would say that this has nothing to do with the rescue of the soul from damnation.
Paul is speaking of people that have been saved and, hence, did not need to be saved over again. Does he address them as “my beloved” and as those “that had always obeyed”? No, these Christians had been saved a long time ago. They had the hope and joy of the Gospel. They had to work out what God has worked in. They had to let the light that God had put in to shine out. The indwelling Christ was to be exemplified and reflected. Because of the hostile trio – the world, the flesh, and the Devil – they were to do this not with slavish fear but with a wholesome fear and trembling, which is holy awe and reverence.
“For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” We have to work because He works. Our work is based on His past and present work. That the Lord works even to will in us is amazing! He has renewed our will and continually energizing it through His indwelling Spirit; hence, no Christian can use any excuse for not working out toward a sinking world the in-wrought salvation of our God.
Salvation is of the Lord in the fullest sense of the word. The good work of God in us is mentioned in Philippians 1:6: “Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Christ.” He has made us creatures in Christ Jesus, moreover, the gift of faith, knowledge, righteousness, holiness and all the blessed fruit of the Holy Spirit in the world. Let us magnify His name together.
We are to smile out our salvation for we read: “Do all things without murmurings and disputing.” A murmuring person is always in the wrong in the same sense as a sinning person is always in the ingratitude, prayerlessness, impatience, wrath, all in one. Oh, that the murmuring church members might see the hideous, heinous character of murmuring. This refers to the fault-finding spirit also which has as its ingredients self-conceit and severity. Many murmurers are so accustomed to this sin that they do not realize that they grumble at all. Believers are also warned against disputing for those also are often ruinous to dual-natured personality of the Son, the Virgin birth, the Holy Trinity, and are inherently non-debatable with many other truths. God hates a contentious spirit as well as the grumbling, grudging spirit.
Christian, the joy of the Lord is your strength. Joy is the keynote of this precious Epistle. Not less than 20 times he refers to it in one form or another. This repetition shows how important joy is in the spiritual realm. Israel had to make joy in all its feasts except one. The priests were forbidden to ever murmur. There was great joy in Heaven over creation, over the coming of Christ to earth, over His resurrection, and over His ascension. There will be eternal joy over redemption. Joy is the language of the heart and it always speaks to the heart of mankind. Joy is a language the dumb can speak ad the deaf can hear. The milk of human kindness sours quickly but real joy is constant and abiding. Joy despises the present Cross and looks forward to the crown. Joy makes the weary pilgrim to sing, because the light of the heavenly home shines before his feet. Joy must never be confused with mirth and gaiety. There is plenty of mirth and gaiety in the world but little real joy.
“Among whom ye shine as lights in the world.” The believer is to let his light shine out. Paul exhorts them to be “blameless, harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke.” The Christian’s light is to burn brightly in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. Note: we are not to flee the world as hermits but He wants us to be in the midst of the crooks and perverts. The crooked and perverted nation does not refer to the Jews or Roman Empire, but the morally-warped and spiritually-perverse generation of the world as it is with us today. It stands in absolute antithesis to the Body of Christ, the Church.
The world is dark as night but the saints are God’s lights. They should shine as luminaries in this dark world reflecting the Light of the World. The night of this evil age is dark but we are the moon and the stars that gets the light from the “SON” to light up this dark generation. God forgive us for not shining more brightly. Lord, keep me shining for Thee until we behold Thy face!
“Speak out our salvation … holding forth the Word of Life that I may rejoice in the day of Christ.” The picture here is of the traveler in the dark mountains who has a lamp and he holds it before him so that he can see what is before him. God’s Word is the lamp, filled with the oil of the Spirit, and the world is the mountainous region: dark, weird and wild, but the pilgrim can lustily sing: “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light upon my path.” If believers live as Paul has instructed them, it will make for Paul’s joy in the day of Christ: the day of reward. If the saints are faithful in their life – walk, doctrine, and practice – as the result of Paul’s ministry, it will make for his joy of reward of grace. A well-rendered meaning in the last clause of verse 16: “That I have not run my race for a phantom prize, nor toiled for an elusive wage.” Paul will receive a reward according to the way in which he builds up individual believers. He has exhorted them to be active in life: “work”; to a sweet life: “without murmurings and disputing”; to a pure life: “blameless and harmless”; to a shining life: “Shine as lights in the world”; to a Biblical life: “holding forth the Word of Life.”
The picture is of a man on a dark night with a light in his hand to light up his way. The world of sin and Satan is the darkness. The evil age is the dismal night. It is especially dark and dreary in these days of war and bloodshed. It is ever so necessary that we hold forth His Word as the world’s hope. It’s beneficent rays must reach out to dispel the darkness.
My dear ones, have you the life and light of Christ in your hearts? If you say, Yes, then I make this bold statement: where is it? Light warms and some are so darkened in their understanding that they scarcely understand the simple plan of salvation. Even the smallest match flame can cause a mighty conflagration. Have you ever set others on fire for Christ? Where is your light? Have you perhaps put it under the bed of laziness or under the bushel of business? Take away all the covering and let the needed light shine.
And, my saved friends, you have no light because you have no life in Christ and no love for Him. I beseech you, accept the blessed Redeemer as your own personal Savior. You will find Him wonderful. He saves, He keeps, and He satisfies. Accept His death on the Cross, His burial, and His resurrection—He loves you!