Philippians 2:12-18 – Work Out, Do All, Pour Out
Paul is not one to beat around the bush or leave us wondering what it really is he’s talking about. He’s straightforward. His logic is unrelenting and often lacking any hope of a loophole. Philippians 2:1-18 gives us one of the clearest pictures of Christ’s sacrificial life outside of the Gospels. The angle that Paul takes on Christ’s life is what distinguishes his writing from the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – Paul holds up Christ’s life against our own. This was by no means revolutionary. Part of the intent of the writers of the four Gospels was to recount Christ’s life and teaching so that we could follow. Paul has been given the task of taking this to the next level. It is not only part of his focus, it is his focus.
Paul gives a brief, very practical look at the life of the believer after salvation has occurred. He uses three key phrases in his description: work out, do all, and pout out. We will work our way through all three and unpack how the focus of each phrase points to our own depravity, Christ’s example and sanctifying work, and how that work moves us to action.
I am going to avoid the obvious corollary of this phrase with physical working out. I want us to focus on how we are working out our salvation. Paul commands us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. If you have grown up in church, you’ve heard this phrase thrown around and maybe even explained as though we are simply to have an awe or reverence for God. It is something that cuts much deeper than that. This idea of fear and trembling is an almost nagging, nervous fixation on the fact that there is someone watching you. Paul uses the phrase on other occasions to describe the feeling of a worker being watched by a boss.
This concept is far hard for us to grasp. Most of us came to Christ to get out of feelings of guilt and shame that have plagued us because of our bad choices. Some of us even use Christ as a shield to block any idea that we are actually doing wrong because He loves us and will forgive us. Paul wants to grate against this idea. He wants to disrupt the flow of our lives. He wants us knowing and thinking about our relationship to God constantly.
Paul would have no reason to make such a point if we didn’t naturally go the opposite direction. The pattern of our lives moves in the way that is most comfortable for us. We do what we do for the sake of our own safety, security, and pleasure. Most often we don’t think about the consequences at all. We simply don’t want to deal with the weight of our decisions. In doing so, we have followed the wide and crowded path that leads to destruction. This is what Christ has saved us from, and we are to keep in mind that there is One who has saved us in order to bring us onto the narrow, difficult path of life. We would be wise to remember the ever-present, all-knowing God that we claim to serve.
I want to be very careful here. I am not saying that God is looking over your shoulder waiting for you to mess up so He can zap you. Nor is He watching and waiting for you to get comfortable to He can blast you with a tempest. But if we neglect to acknowledge His presence we are in danger of stagnation and retardation in our faith. We end up drifting away from Him instead of running to Him. Christ’s life set the example for this pursuit and acknowledgement of God. How many times does Christ leave a crowd of people to get time alone with God? How many times does He leave the banquet tables of the religious elite to dine with outcasts? How many times does He go to the sick, diseased, and demon-possessed? Christ was driven by an understanding that God was ever present. There is an acknowledgement in Christ’s life of the God who was governing all things. We must follow His example.
This next phrase is one that must be approached with a slight footnote. Doing all things without grumbling or questioning is not a command to never stand for anything, never have an opinion, or never fight for something. The key that we often miss in this passage is found at the beginning of verse 16, “holding fast to the Word of truth.” I’ve met many a person in the church who hold fast to their own opinions, their own tradition, and/or their own preference making them feel overwhelmingly justified in their argument or defiant position. When we hold fast to the Word, we tend to let go of our own preferences. This points back to verses 1-4 in counting others as more significant and looking to the interests of others. This is what holding fast to the Word helps us to do.
Here is where Christ’s example must be seen clearly in order to kill what is evil within us. Christ did not hold to His personal preference. Christ did not want to drink the cup of God’s wrath that was prepared for Him at the cross, but in humble obedience He suffered and died. Seldom do the preferences that we tend to complain or grumble about have to do with our life or death. They might revolve around the color of the carpet, the food at the potluck, or even the style of music in the service but not how we die. Christ held fast to the Word and will of God to the point that before His captors during an illegal trial He gave no defense despite their obvious lack of condemning evidence. Christ’s example was being silent like a lamb before slaughter, what minor inconvenience stands before you that gives you the right to complain and argue?
Paul makes his final appeal for us to live like Christ, and he makes it very personal. Paul was constantly persecuted for the sake of Christ. He had suffered much, endured much, and risked much for the sake Christ. Paul felt confident that he had run in such a way that Christ was glorified in his life, and that his life was set apart as it were like Christ’s was. Obviously, Paul knew his own brokenness and need for Christ, but he also saw himself as an example pointing to Christ.
Paul relates to his labor for the Gospel as being poured out, and anyone who has been in Gospel ministry can relate to this. Christ, Himself, related to this. The thing that I love about this final phrase is Paul’s challenge to the church to do the same. It is not just for vocational ministers, missionaries, or staff to pour themselves out but for all Christians. Pouring yourself out means that whatever is inside of you is emptied to the last drop. Paul uses this same phrase in relation to his death. Pouring ourselves out calls us to die for the sake of Christ. All of us. Everyone who calls themselves “Christian” are called to die. This shows two things: our unswerving devotion to Christ and our understanding that true life is not relegated to our time on earth. There is no greater example of this than Christ.
May we all seek to hold fast to the Word in hope that our eyes may be opened to Christ’s example. May our hearts be sensitive to our own depravity and brokenness. May we repent and turn to Christ to save us and change us as we grow in Him. I love y’all more than you know. Grace and peace,