Gods Work and Our Work

August 14, 2022

Book: Philippians

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Scripture: Philippians 2:12-13

As the Lord works in us to change our desires and empower us for his good works, we need to be obedient in working out this salvation in every aspect of our life and mission.

Well, recently, my family and I went on a vacation that included a trip to Mackinac Island. That is an island located near the Mackinac Bridge, where the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan come together if you’re not familiar where it is. And Mackinaw is a beautiful little island with a Revolutionary War fort that’s built on it. It was built by the British and then occupied by the Americans because we are the champions. It’s a popular tourist destination because what they’ve done is they’ve preserved a lot of their late 19th century feel and look. Mostly the way they’ve done this is by prohibiting motor vehicles from being on the island. So everywhere you look on this island, there are no cars. You are only allowed to ride on horses or on horse drawn carriages or ride on bicycles. And they are very firm about this. It’s very, very important to them. They are very firm on this. You either have to walk, you got to ride a horse, or you’ve got to ride a bike. And since the island is too large to walk most places and because most people don’t know how to drive a carriage, that’s not a skill a lot of people have today, so most people have to ride a bike. A bike is by far the most popular form of transportation. It’s been a long time since Rachel and I have been to the island. And so what was new this time was the conversation that was happening; it had to do with e-bikes, electric bicycles. Are you allowed to have a motor inside your bike? Seems like a tricky way around things, doesn’t it? And by the way, can we just take a moment to acknowledge how lazy we’ve become as a society, that we have somehow taken the exercise out of the bicycle? It’s nuts. But half the people I asked or heard overheard talking about this said, yes, you’re allowed to have it. And then about the other half said, no, they don’t think you’re allowed to have them. I saw people on the island who had them. I just thought they were getting away with it. That’s what I thought. That was what they were doing. And so I looked it up and I got to the heart of the confusion on this. The answer is they are allowed on the island, but only if you meet two very specific criteria. The first is that you have to have a qualifying mobility disability. And the example they gave of this is somebody who, if you walk 200 feet, you have to stop to rest. That’s a mobility disability. And they have a whole lot of things that you have to do to qualify. You can’t just say you’re lazy. And the second thing, which I found fascinating, was that you’re only allowed to have a Class one e-bike. You’re not allowed to have a class two or three e-bike. Now, a class one e-bike has a motor that only kicks in once you are pedaling. Classes two and three, you can ride around like a motorcycle, pretending like you exercise. But not the class one. The class one you’ve got to peddle. Class one works with you. As you peddle, it powers. As it powers, you peddle. Which one is doing the work at any given time to drive the bike forward? I would imagine it’s pretty difficult to tell.

That’s the dynamic of life in the body of Christ that we are going to talk about today. We’re going to see God empowering us to carry out everything that He wants us to do as a church. Paul is going to explain the relationship between the obedience that we have to Christ and what Christ does in us to empower that obedience. And hopefully by the end of today, our time today, that you will have a good sense of what it means that God is at work, both in us and through us. Because Church, as a community that’s been blessed with the salvation through Christ, there’s a big responsibility on our shoulders to do what the Lord has equipped us and empowered us to do. As the Lord works in us to change our desires and empower us for good works, we need to be obedient in working out that salvation into every aspect of our lives and our mission. If that dynamic seems a little bit confusing to you, hopefully today will give you some clarity and some encouragement in this area.

We’re only going to look at two verses today, Philippians 2:12-13. Let me give you a little blueprint for how this is structured because this is one of those passages that if you misunderstand it, you can end up misunderstanding a whole lot of things, like you can end up misunderstanding the nature of salvation. And that seems pretty important, doesn’t it? First, Paul talks about his past knowledge with the Philippine church, as he’s done several times already in this letter. And then he tells the church what he expects the church to do in his absence. Here’s what I want you to do. I want you to work out your salvation in fear and trembling. And we’re going to unpack that, working out your salvation very, very carefully today. And then finally, he tells the church about God’s work, what is God doing, which will give them all the confidence they need to be obedient and should give us all the confidence we need to be obedient. Let’s start with that little personal note. “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence.” Let’s stop there for just a minute. It’s not done with this full thought, but let’s stop with that.

This is just a quick little note, but I think it’s worth looking at briefly because it sets the relational context here. There is quite a lot of instruction in this letter from Paul to the church. He tells them to do a lot of things. In fact, the imperatives, the commands are going to increase. Now that we’re starting to get into the second half of the letter, he’s going to tell them to do a lot of things and in a ‘don’t tell me what to do’ Society like we live in today, it’s worth noting that a truly biblical worldview includes a healthy amount of instruction and guidance and even exhortation from other Christians. That’s part of what it means to follow Jesus, is to have other people speak into our lives. If you have parents who love Jesus, you have probably noticed that they have a lot to say about what you should and shouldn’t be doing. Have you noticed that? Have you noticed that? Hopefully, hopefully what happened is, as you’ve gotten older, they taught you the art of biblical discernment instead of just telling you what to do. They offered guidance and showed you how to think in making decisions for yourself. That is a that is a good pattern for everybody who matures, but it’s particularly good for those who are growing in their understanding of Christ and how to live for Christ.

The thing about a Christian walk is, we never actually arrive at a place where we don’t need that guidance. You never get to a place in life where you say, I don’t need this kind of guidance anymore. I’m done. We never get to a place where we don’t need help from other people, particularly others, who are more mature in the faith than we are. And that’s because of two things, I think. Now I’m giving you my opinion here. This is not coming from the passage, but I think there’s two reasons for this need for constant guidance. Our need for guidance, I think, comes from the incredible depth of the knowledge of God that we have in the Scriptures, and the relentless temptations and trials that we live in that we face as we live in this broken world. I think those two things combine. Because I, on my own, cannot possibly hold in my brain at one time all of the knowledge that comes from the Scriptures. I need others who know the Scriptures too, to be able to reference into my life those things that God has said. And because I live in a world, in a body with a mind that is compromised by sin, I need others to help me see the places where I’m weak, where all the dangers in my life lie. I need someone who can see those things with me. The person who says, you know, I’ve arrived. I don’t need anyone. I don’t need anybody to speak into my life. I got all the guidance I needed in my past. I’m there. I’ve gotten there. That person is claiming to now have all knowledge and to be free of all sin. That person does exist, but he only existed once and it turns out he’s God. And so what we need actually is for others to point us to that one. We need someone to show. The rest of us are going to need guidance toward and ultimately, we need guidance from that one Jesus Christ, the man with the perfect knowledge and the sinlessness. The guides in our lives who will help us the most are the ones who are going to point us to Jesus. They’re going to consistently point us over to Christ. That’s what Paul is doing when he writes to these churches. That’s what he’s doing here in this letter, Paul is going to give guidance and he’s going to do it by giving some commands, some imperatives.

There’s something else I want you to notice about this introduction here. His commands come from a place of love and past knowledge. We know they come from a place of love because he’s already told us back in chapter one, verse eight, he says that he, “yearns for them with all the affection of Christ Jesus.” And now here he’s appealing to their past relationship where he saw that they were obedient to Jesus. He remembers being with them and seeing them live in a way that was obedient to Christ. And so he’s going to command them, but he understands that they want this because he’s building on past obedience. I know you want to be obedient, so here are some commands that will help you in the direction that you are already going. In other words, he is commanding Christians. He’s commanding Christians. He’s not commanding worldly unbelievers who have rejected Christ. The commands of Scripture are for those who want to be faithful to the Lord. They guide Christians into that faithfulness. They aren’t intended to make non-Christians behave. They aren’t. They’re intended to give guidance to those who are being sanctified in their walk with Christ.

I would suggest to you this morning, Church, that you need to have past knowledge of the people you speak to. You need to know them. You need to know the spiritual state and the desires of those people in order to speak to them effectively. Boy, I tell my non-Christian friends that they should stop sinning and change their attitude because the Bible says so. And I tell them that the Bible says so and it doesn’t work. Yeah. It’s not going to. It’s not going to work. If you put gas into a car without an engine, would you be surprised to see that it doesn’t move? Same thing. It’s the same exact thing. But the point is, past knowledge of someone’s heart and convictions, and a present understanding of that person’s desires is required to guide that person effectively. And that’s what Paul is doing here. He’s speaking to what he knows about these people. So here’s his first command to them: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”. Wait a minute. Hold on now. Is Paul telling me that to be saved I have to work to create my own salvation, that I need to do that because I’m so afraid of God that I’m actually in fear and trembling before God. So I’m trying to package together and pack together something. Here’s my salvation. I’ve worked it out for you, God. Is that what he’s saying to us here? That’s not what he’s saying to us here. That’s not what’s going on here. You see how off the rails this verse could go if you just took it out of context. This is why we why we work so hard to take the Bible in context here at Calvary. This is what we read so carefully.

Many years ago, I was talking to a woman. This is many years ago, maybe a couple of decades ago now, maybe 15 years ago or something. I was talking to a woman in the church. She was upset about something that happened to the church. Did you know that people get upset about the church? Anyway, so she was upset about something that was happening in the church and she was going to leave. And when I asked her why she was going to leave, she said, and I’ll never forget this. She said, God tells us to work out our own salvation. That was her answer, meaning she was really hitting the ‘our own’ part there, meaning I don’t need anybody else. That’s why I’m leaving the church. I’m doing it on my own. You won’t be surprised to hear that Paul doesn’t mean that either. What he does mean is very challenging. Very challenging. This great gift of salvation that we have received by grace, through faith in our Savior, Jesus, must be applied to every area of our lives. It must be applied. The gospel is not a truth that we mentally accept and then go on with our lives however we like. True salvation in Christ comes through such an eye opening, radical heart change that it will resolve every time in a lifelong works project. As James asks us in chapter two of his letter, what good is it if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? And of course, the answer there is no. There’s something wrong with that faith. If someone claims to have salvation in Christ but isn’t embarked on a mission to pursue Christ and to live for Christ, that person is not saved by Christ at all.

But the one who is, whose spiritual eyes are open and whose heart has been transformed, and who trusts in Jesus for salvation, that person needs to see that that salvation gets worked out into every part of their lives; that no part of who they are as a person goes untouched by this salvation, this gospel that God has given to us.

At our house, we eat natural peanut butter because we’re hippies like that. That stuff with the oil on the top. We don’t want that pre-mixed stuff. Not in our house, no, sir, we want oil on top of ours. We want every time we open a jar for it to be like a little part time job. That’s what we want. We want to work that in there. You have to really mix that stuff. You know what I’m talking about. It takes forever, it seems like, to mix that stuff. You risk carpal tunnel syndrome, for like 10 minutes to really, really work that stuff down in because if you don’t mix it evenly; if you don’t mix that oil from the beginning into every part of every part of that jar, what happens? Those parts stay hard, don’t they? Those parts create a layer of dry, inedible peanut butter at the bottom that everyone else will save for Dad while they open up another jar. That’s what happens. The point is if you don’t work the oil in, there are going to be hard places.

Salvation by grace, through faith in Jesus is going to have a transformative effect on every aspect of our lives and every aspect of the mission that we have as individuals and as a church in this world. You can see what that looks like practically by looking at all the other commands of scripture. Next week, we’re going to talk about not grumbling and complaining all the time. Some of you, like, oh I’m not coming next week. No. Last week, we talked about what it means to not be conceited. Right. Not to be selfish. These aren’t just moral instructions. This is the application of the Gospel into the life of the believer; that’s taking salvation by grace, through faith, and applying it to all the different aspects of our lives. It’s an application of the Gospel. We serve each other humbly and sacrificially because we’ve been saved by a Lord who served God humbly and sacrificially. That gospel works into the hardened areas of our lives. No place remains without the oil of salvation. And that makes us every day a little bit more and more like Jesus.

Now, the phrase translated here ‘your own’ is plural. It’s not singular. You might remember back in chapter one, Paul said he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion in the Day of Christ Jesus. And at that time, we noted that the ‘in you’ there is also plural. So he’s referring to the good work that God is doing in the church all together as a group. Remember when we talked about that? But I said at the time that though the focus is on the church as a whole and what God is doing among us as a whole, there is a sense in which we can apply these verses to ourselves individually because we are part of the church, and the church is made up of individual people. So the transformation that God is bringing about in the church is happening on a macro level, but it’s also happening in this micro level in my heart. The same is true here. The command is for the church to enact this salvation in every way that we are called to as God’s people. But that gets done not just by making group decisions, but by personally growing in Christ. We need to be searching our hearts for the places that are inconsistent with our salvation. Do you ever do that? You never just take a time to look at your life. Personal inventory. How am I inconsistent with this? Salvation by grace through faith, this new life that I have in Christ, where are the areas this is not yet touching? Where the oil, the gospel, has not yet pierced into the hardness of my life. Collectively, it means that we need to speak truth. The truth of the gospel to each other. Helping each other find those places where we are not yet enough like Christ. And then making decisions where we say, All right, this is the salvation we’ve been given. How do we as a church honor the Lord the most in the resources that He’s given us and the choices that we make as a church? It means we continue in the work of spreading the gospel that was begun by Jesus. So we go with the message of salvation, with a sense of urgency, knowing that salvation comes only through Jesus. And we do this work, this work that we’ve been given, this salvation work, if you will, or gospel work, we do it with a sense of fear and trembling. Now, this is not the fear of God’s rejection or God’s disappointment in us. This is the fear of a holy reverence before God who accepts sinners only by grace.  Except me because I’m good. He saved me because I needed saving. This is a powerful God who has saved me by his grace. Of course, I serve him in reverence. We work out this salvation before God because he commands it, and we know the God who saves us by his grace from his judgment, is not to be ignored. Or trifled with. Or taken lightly. That’s our work. That’s our work. Let’s look at God’s work.

For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. When I mentioned the e-bike earlier with the rider and the motor working in harmony to drive the bike forward, I’ll bet you pictured yourself as the rider. And God is the motor. And I’ll bet you saw it that way first because that’s how I saw it, too. That’s how I was thinking about it this week. It’s how I pictured it. But the more I thought about it. The more I realize that that’s actually backwards, because the motor of the bike turns on as the rider pedals, the rider gives the initial power and then the motor responds to that power. The rider sets the course and the motor just goes where the bike goes. If you’ve ever wondered why there are people in the world who live for the glory of God, who spend their lives pouring themselves out for the purpose of the mission of Jesus, here is your answer. It’s because God works first. That’s what happened. God worked first. Paul has every confidence that the Philippines will continue to work out their salvation because God is at work in them and among them. He who began a good work in you will complete it. Do you remember that? That’s chapter one verse six. God began the work and he’s not going to stop until it’s done. Here, Paul expands on that. Work out your own salvation because God has begun working and is continuing to work. Ok.

So what does God’s work look like? Well, it looks like two things. It looks like: to will, and to work. God works in us to will and to work. So God’s work is to give us both the ability to work out our salvation into every aspect of our lives and in our church, and the will to want to do that. The miracle of saving faith is not just that you have the hope of eternity that comes with forgiveness of your sins. The miracle includes a mind and heart that actually desires God. It’s part of the miracle of what God performs in us. He actually makes us want. You know how some things switch in your life from I have to or get to, switches to I want to. Now, that’s kind of like naps, right? Remember when your naps were like when I  younger, I had to take a nap. And now as an older adult, I get to take a nap and I’m pretty excited about it. Right? Right. There’s a there’s a switch that takes place. That’s human maturity. With spiritual transformation, God changes our will to want to press righteousness out into every aspect of our lives. I didn’t want that before. I didn’t desire God to be in control, to have dominion, to be sovereign over every place in my life, in every dark alley and every thought and every deed. I didn’t want those things. And then God changed me, first by changing my wants. He made me will. Spiritual transformation, God changes our will. That spiritual maturity. The fact is, without this work of salvation and new life in Christ, we would not want God’s will on our own. We wouldn’t want it. In fact, we can’t. We’re incapable of pleasing God, apart from a miraculous work of salvation in our hearts. I’ve had people say to me, I don’t want to live my life according to a book. I don’t want to live my life according to a book. And I say, I know, why would you? I know you don’t want to. Unless there’s a work of God in your heart. To change your will, you will never want his word. You will not respond in faithfulness. You have a spiritual mobility disability. If you’re sitting there now, right now thinking, I don’t want to be here, I don’t want this Jesus stuff. I’m only here because someone brought me. I’m only here because my family makes me come. I’m only here to make another person happy. I’m glad you’re here. But there’s a reason you feel that way. There’s a reason.

The desire for God starts with God. He pedals, and by his powerful Holy Spirit, he brings our hearts and minds alive in Christ. And then the motor of our obedience in our hearts responds to that powerful movement – that is the Christian life. If you don’t want to live your life right now to please and honor God, then I’m not certainly here to tell you to do that. Because you can’t. What I would tell you is that you are spiritually in danger. If you don’t want Christ, you are spiritually in danger. You were made to glorify God. You were made to enjoy him forever. You’re made to find your fullness of life in Him. But your sin not only separates you from the Lord, it lies to you. Your sin lies to you. It tells you that you’ll find joy in other things, that you don’t actually need God. You are a slave to sin with a mind and a heart that is blinded from the truth. But you won’t be able to see it. It hardens your heart against him. It makes you think that there is nothing to fear. There is every reason to fear a holy God if you reject and ignore him. If you live a life free of God, let me tell you, you are not free. You are chained. You are chained to your skin. You sit under God’s judgment and you’re not even aware of it. But if you are feeling the pedaling. If you are feeling the pedaling of God’s powerful work in your heart, I would say to you this morning, respond. If you are feeling the draw of the spirit on your heart, say, I do need salvation. I need to be restored. I am trapped in my sin. I would tell you respond. God has made a way for us to be set free of our sin. Jesus died to pay for our sin, to pay for your judgment. Don’t harden your heart against him. Put your trust in him. And once we trust in Jesus; once we put our faith in Christ and we respond to the peddling of God, then we can truly work. Then we can actually work. Throughout our lives in Christ God continues to unfold his will. He shows us what He wants of us. He takes us in directions we never thought we’d go. When you start to respond in faith to this salvation by free gift of grace and your life is transformed, you end up in places you never thought you would be. I remember worshiping with brothers and sisters in Christ in a tent village in Haiti right after the earthquake. As a 33-year-old mission’s pastor thinking, How on earth did I get here? How did this happen? This is amazing. I did not see this coming. And that was a great experience. But they’re not all great experiences, are they? In fact, some of the places that God’s will and work will take us are excruciating to our bodies and to our minds. Plans get flipped, families get split, dreams get reassigned when we follow Jesus. Those things that we thought were so important begin to fade away. And those things that are important to God become greater in our lives. Those things God loves become the things that we love. Because increasingly our wills become conformed to the will of God. What I want is what God wants. God, show me what you want. Because it’s what I want to want too. How can Paul sit in a prison cell and rejoice? How can he do that? How can he sit in a prison cell and rejoice at the fact that the gospel is spreading because he’s sitting in a prison cell? People are coming to faith in Jesus, and it required him to suffer. How can he be happy about that? It’s because to live for him is Christ. And to die is gain. God’s will is all that matters. If we are faithful to do what God has willed and worked in us to do, we will know that we are serving for God’s good pleasure, which increasingly will become our good pleasure. Church, this is my hope and my prayer for our church here at Calvary. This is what I want for us, that we would not be content with anything less than the thrilling and dangerous pursuit of doing everything God has called us to do in response to the salvation that we have in Christ. That we would not be content with anything less than doing exactly what God wills for us. I pray that we would not settle for lesser pursuits, that the full joy of bringing the pleasure to God by synching our wills to His will is the thing that we would want the most in our lives.

Saint Augustine wrote a prayer. And he said, our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee. I hope that’s our prayer, too. I hope you feel that restlessness. And I don’t just mean for missions. I don’t just mean that a lot of times we talk about being restless for God. We’re talking about missions and big projects and ministries and things, and it certainly includes that, but that hardly exhausts what it means to work out our salvation with fear and trembling before the God of grace. I want us to pursue the will and the work of God in every marriage and every family relationship that we have. That we would not stop until the oil of the gospel is pressed down as much as we can into these areas. I want to see the young people of Calvary set a course to please the Lord in every aspect of their lives in high school and then into college. And then they give themselves over to the will of God in the face of tremendous pressure to conform to the world for the rest of their lives. That’s what I would want to see. I want to see the single mother and the widow and the refugee and those struggling to meet their needs, find rest and hope in the church community that’s dedicated to doing good to all, especially to those of the household of faith, like it says in Galatians six. It’s a big command, but it’s a heart command that God gives us, and then He gives us the will and the want to be able to do that work. I want to see the men of this church overthrow their addictions to pornography. And I want to see the women of this church overthrow their addictions to gossip and to slander, and to no longer allow a little bit of the world to remain untouched by the gospel in their lives. That’s what we want as a church. We can put forth this effort. We can, Church. Not in our own strength. Not because of our own ability. But because the God who saves us has not left us without his power. By His Spirit, the Lord is at work to will and to work in us. Let’s be restless until every area of our hearts and minds are conformed to Christ. Would you pray with me?

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