How to Work out Your Salvation (Philippians 2:12-18)

The then Bishop of Durham, Dr. Brooke Foss Wescott, was making a train journey. In those days carriages contained separate compartments for six people and he sought out an empty compartment then settled down for a read. Just as the train was about to depart, the door opened, and a young girl in Salvation Army uniform jumped in. After she had settled herself into her corner she realized she was sharing the compartment. With his purple clerical shirt,  white collar and oversized silver cross, she was sharing the compartment with a real live bishop. She hadn’t long been a Christian, and was keen to win others for Christ.  Presently she leaned across to the bishop, who was reading, and said very abruptly, “Excuse me, are you saved?”

This short, but unexpected question caught Dr. Wescott by surprise, and he said in his kindly way, “Pardon me, but what did you say?” She thought, “There, he doesn’t even know what I’m talking about!” and so explained, “I simply asked if you were saved.” The bishop’s face disappeared behind his book and his eyes twinkled merrily for a moment; then, leaning toward her he asked her, “Excuse me, my dear, but do you mean sotheis or sezosmenos or sozomenos?” The girl’s face went blank, then puzzled, then startled. Finally she blurted out, “I don’t know what you are talking about. I simply asked you — were you saved.” “Yes, my dear,” replied Dr. Westcott, “I asked you which ‘saved’ you mean. Did you mean ‘I was saved’ or ‘I will be saved’ or ‘I am being saved’?” And for the rest of the journey this Greek scholar explained to this young believer the wonder and immensity of God’s salvation — past, future and present.

In the preceding verses, we have this ancient hymn of praise about how the Lord Jesus Christ became for us the supreme example of self sacrifice, but how do we become like him? The answer is given in Philippians 2:12-30 in the examples of Timothy and Epaphroditus that follow. Please turn with me to Philippians 2. Notice first of all,

1. Recognize the Process Behind our Salvation

“continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13)

Note the progression: We are called to work out what God is working in. Because as Bishop Westcott pointed out to the young lady in the train, there is a past, a present and a future dimension to salvation. We have been saved from the penalty of sin by the cross (past tense) – this is our justification;
we will be saved from the presence of sin – (future tense) – that is our glorification in heaven.

And we are being saved from the power of sin (present tense) our sanctification on earth, as we cooperate with the Holy Spirit. Our English word “energy” comes from the word translated “works” in verse 13. It is literally God’s divine energy at work in us and through us! The same Holy Spirit who empowered Christ to defeat Satan, cast out demons and raise the dead, indwells us also.. This process is not about imitation (trying to be like Jesus) but rather by incarnation – indwelt by the Holy Spirit. In his letter to the Galatians Paul writes,

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

The principle here is that God must work in us so that He can then work through us. Salvation is the work of God from beginning to end. Recognize the process behind our salvation.

2. Realize the Purpose of our Salvation

“continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling… Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure,
“children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.” (Philippians 2:12, 14-16)

Now please understand we are not being told to “work for our salvation” but rather work it out. The Christian life is not a series of ups and downs, however much it may feel like it at times. It is rather a process of “ins and outs.” God works in, and we work out. The verb “work out” carries the meaning of “work to full completion,” such as working out a problem in mathematics. In Paul’s day it was also used for “working a mine,” that is, digging out all the valuable ore possible; it was also used of “working a field” to get the greatest harvest possible.

God’s purpose is Christlikeness, that we “be conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29). There are struggles in life, but God will help us to “work them out” because he “works for our good” (Romans 8:28). We each have tremendous potential, like a mine or a field, and He wants to help us fulfill that potential.

What “tools” does God use, by His Spirit, to help us reach our potential? Principally the Scriptures. God promises “you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.” (Philippians 2:16). The “word of life” refers to the scriptures, specifically, “the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation” (2 Timothy 3:15).

The scriptures are central to our faith and essential for our growth to maturity. They are literally the Makers Instructions, the Sword of the Spirit. There is no dichotomy between word and Spirit. The word of God is the only truly inspired and infallible element of our Sunday services, foundation of our Sunday club programme, of our home groups, of our pastoral care, our evangelism. That is why we must hear, read, mark, learn, obey and inwardly digest them.

If you are not reading your Bible daily, if you are not studying your Bible weekly, if you are not applying your Bible constantly, you won’t be holding firmly on the word of life. You cannot hope to grow to know God, become mature in Christ or be effective in your witness. The choice is yours. The contrast is stark. Notice how in 2:14–15, Paul contrasts the life of the believer with the lives of those who do not yet know Christ. Unsaved people typically “grumble and argue”, while Christians rejoice. Society around us is “warped and crooked,” but we are to be blameless and pure. The world is dark, but Christians are to shine like stars in the sky. The world ultimately has nothing permanent to offer us, but we have hope, meaning and purpose to offer the world through the living Word of God. Without Christ, life is a hopeless end. With Christ it is an endless hope. We are not admonished to retreat from the world. The church was never intended to be some kind of spiritual isolation ward. It is only as we are confronted with the needs and problems of the world that we can be its solution, or begin to fulfill our destiny and become more like Christ. The local church is literally the only hope of the world.

The imagery in verse 16 is also lovely. When you think of an evangelist, what comes to mind? A man in a drab raincoat carrying billboards on his front and back with terrifying verses of scripture, calling out to passers by who pretend not to hear, trying to hand out tracts that nobody takes. Most people will cross the road to avoid him. That is not the image here.

You cannot give something away unless you open your hand. You cannot share the gospel with clenched fists. The word “hold” in verse 16, in some translations “hold forth” is a word used to describe the way wine is offered by a servant to guests at a banquet. As the Apostle Peter says, we must witness “with gentleness and respect”. Our world desperately needs Christ and it is our highest calling, greatest privilege and ultimate purpose – to know Jesus and to make Jesus known. Everything else is secondary. Or to be more blunt, “rubbish” by comparison (Phil. 3:8).

Recognize the process and the purpose of our salvation.

3. Rejoice in the Promise of our Salvation

“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. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.” (Philippians 2:17-18)

What is the promise of salvation? Two things are promised here that we don’t usually put together – suffering and joy. Paul compares his suffering to the Old Testament priest pouring out the sacrificial drink offering (Numbers 15:1–10).
It was very likely Paul would soon be executed. But this did not take away his joy. His saw his death as a priestly ministry, on behalf of Christ and His church because he knew he had completed his mission.

The faith of the believers in Philippi and elsewhere gave him joy. “Sacrifice and service” are the hallmarks of authentic spirituality (Philippians 2:7–8, 21–22, 30). When Jesus returns, we will see that our labour was not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58). But we do not have to wait for the return of Christ to experience this joy. It comes as we recognize the process behind our salvation. Realise the purpose of our salvation and rejoice in the promise of our salvation.

Dr Billy Graham is 96 years old. He is probably the best known, most loved and well respected Christian in the world today. In January 2000, leaders in Charlotte, North Carolina, invited their favorite son, to a luncheon in his honour. Then a spritely 81 year old, Dr Graham initially hesitated to accept because he struggled with Parkinson’s disease. But the Charlotte leaders said, “We don’t expect a major address. Just come and let us honor you.” So he agreed.

After some wonderful things were said about him, Dr. Graham stepped to the rostrum, looked at the crowd, and said, “I’m reminded today of Albert Einstein, the great physicist who this month has been honored by Time magazine as the Man of the Century. Einstein was once traveling from Princeton on a train when the conductor came down the aisle, punching the tickets of every passenger. When he came to Einstein, Einstein reached in his vest pocket. He couldn’t find his ticket, so he reached in his other pocket. It wasn’t there, so he looked in his briefcase but couldn’t find it. Then he looked in the seat by him. He couldn’t find it. The conductor said, “Dr. Einstein, I know who you are. We all know who you are. I’m sure you bought a ticket. Don’t worry about it.” Einstein nodded appreciatively. The conductor continued down the aisle punching tickets. As he was ready to move to the next car, he turned around and saw the great physicist down on his hands and knees looking under his seat for his ticket. Several minutes later the conductor made his way back through the coach and saw Einstein in a terrible fit, on his hands and knees, looking under the seat for his ticket. “Dr. Einstein,” he said, “I told you not to worry. We trust you.” Einstein looked up and said, “But you don’t understand. I don’t know where I’m going!”

Billy Graham continued, “See the suit I’m wearing? It’s a brand new suit. My wife, my children, and my grandchildren are telling me I’ve gotten a little slovenly in my old age. I used to be a bit more fastidious. So I went out and bought a new suit for this luncheon and one more occasion. You know what that occasion is? This is the suit in which I’ll be buried. But when you hear I’m dead, I don’t want you to immediately remember the suit I’m wearing. I want you to remember this: I not only know who I am, … I also know where I’m going.”

Do you? Lets pray.
With grateful thanks to Warren Wiersbe and his commentary on Philippians “Be Joyful”