Philippians 2:12-13 Devotional
Philippians 2:12-13. 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, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose.
Reflection. As we get going, 2:12 begins with a “therefore,” indicating that Paul’s imperatives flow from what has preceded. But we must look further back than the Christ hymn and how it informs Christian living (2:5-11), which we considered over the last two weeks. I would suggest that this “therefore” ties back to 1:27, where Paul exhorts believers that their faith is much more than merely professing Christ or taking the label of ‘Christian.’ We read in 1:27 that those follow Christ must live in accord with the gospel. But what does a “worthy” faith look like? Over the past few weeks - from 1:27 to 2:11 - Paul has been expounding that theme. We have considered how believers should suffer for Christ, share their gospel comforts, and humbly serve others as they emulate Christ. You can read more about that in the previous devotionals. For now let us consider 2:12-13.
Firstly, a life worthy of the gospel is consistent. Our public and private persons should be one and the same. “Whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence” (1:27), and “Not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence” (2:12). Paul exhorts believers to allow the gospel and Jesus’ lordship to reach into every corner of their lives. He is cautioning against a superficial or shallow faith, one which looks solid but lacks substance. I think it was C. S. Lewis who defined integrity as ‘unsupervised goodness.’ Similarly, a genuine faith will involve unsupervised gospel obedience. This brings us to our next point.
Secondly, the Christian life is seen in obedience, “as you have always obeyed” (2:12). If we look a few verses back we note that Christ was “obedient” (2:8). There is an uneasiness in my wing of the Protestant church regarding talk of obedience and works. But Paul did not share these sentiments. Rather he insists on ongoing obedience, both in public and private, as you “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (2:12). This is not the place to open up a debate. Clearly, Paul is not calling believers to work for their salvation, but rather he writes to see it worked out in their lives. This idea is evident in his earlier prayer that Christians be, “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ” (1:11). We also see it later in the letter, where Paul describes faith as pressing on and striving (3:12-14), holding on or living up to what we have already obtained in Christ (3:16). We must stop thinking of obedience as the impossible and proud, even pharisaical, attempts to achieve our own righteousness before God. This leads well into our final point.
Thirdly, “it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose” (2:13). This is an echo of what is probably Philippians most quoted verse, “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (1:6). In the mysterious economy of salvation, our works and obedience are God’s. They are expression of his will, purposes and power. Yet, as we saw in 2:12, Paul insists obedience on the part of believers. This mystery explains how Paul can praise God while celebrating the Philippians’ partnership and praying for them (1:3-8). We might be forgiven for thinking that God’s power undercuts the need for prayer; or that human effort and obedience to the gospel demands deny the gospel of salvation through faith. But Paul did not struggle with these realities. So let us remember that it is God who works in us to fulfil his good purposes, as we work out our salvation in obedience. This is all to the glory and praise of God (1:11).