Philippians: The Joy and Suffering of the Furtherance of the Gospel Part Eight
Keith R. Keyser, Gilbertsville, Pa., USA [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
Chapter 2 verses 12-30: THE MIND OF CHRIST LIVED OUT AMONG BELIEVERS
The world runs on the principle that man is the measure of all things. People habitually think of themselves first, and trample on others in order to exalt their own interests. In these verses Paul moves on to exhort the Philippian saints to behaviour that is like Christ and unlike the wicked generation from which they have been saved. He assures them that God’s sanctifying power is already at work within them to live in keeping with their salvation, v. 13, and he presents three real-life examples of the Christ-like selfless mind, demonstrating that such an attitude is attainable in the Christian life.
Verse 12 commences with ‘where-fore’, pointing the reader back to Christ’s work as described in verses 6 to 11. This great salvation demands a certain manner of living from its recipients. They are instructed to develop the new life within them. To ‘work out what God has worked in’, as the old adage has it, or, as one writer puts it, ‘Work out here has the sense of bringing to completion. It is not a matter of working for salvation. We could never do that. The very word salvation (which means “rescue”) signifies that we cannot save ourselves (cf. Jn. 15. 4–5; 1 Cor. 15. 10; Eph. 2. 5, 8), but we can and must live lives that show God’s saving power that we have made our own’.1 Believers are saved to live differently than the world.
The Proper Attitude produced by the Gospel
This outworking of the Christian life is to be done ‘with fear and trembling’, v. 12, for the Lord is a holy God. It is a fitting exhortation today considering that irreverence is the hallmark of the modern world. Even within evangelical circles believers often approach God and spiritual things with an overly familiar and casual attitude. From the priesthood’s inception, what befell Nadab and Abihu showed that a cavalier approach to the Lord would result in death, Lev. 10; see also Uzzah, 2 Sam. 6. 6-7. In Corinth some of the saints were disciplined with illness and others by death due to their impertinent behaviour, 1 Cor. 11. 30. Likewise, Ananias and Sapphira were slain by the Lord for lying to the Holy Spirit, Acts 5. 1-11. Motyer sums up the proper attitude for Christians drawing near to God, saying, ‘There is a fear of God of which we know all too little and which we lose at our peril – a godly fear, growing out of recognition of weakness and of the power of temptation; a filial dread of offending God. This is not the fear of a lost sinner before the Holy One, but the fear of a true child before the most loving of all fathers; not a fear of what he might do to us, but of the hurt we might do to him. This last area of sensitivity is the deepest and would secure the values of the other two, for there is no failure in the lives of those to whom the Lord has given his full salvation which does not pierce directly to the throne of heaven’.2
The New English Translation accurately captures the thought of verse 13, ‘For the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort – for the sake of his good pleasure – is God’. The Almighty is working within the saints to engender the right desires after righteousness and performing His will. This working is effective and will not fail, as one writer indicates, ‘God’s working is effectual working: he cannot be deflected from his course nor fail to achieve his purpose. With our daily catalogue of failure and our not infrequent despair of ourselves, what unspeakable comfort lies in this truth!’.3 As part of their status as new creatures in Christ Jesus, 2 Cor. 5. 17, believers’ minds are irrevocably altered to bring them into line with God’s thoughts. As Vine remarks, ‘This accordingly is an encouragement to two things, (1) to work out our salvation, (2) to do so with fear and trembling – an encouragement both to dependence on God and to holy awe. God’s grace and power and our freewill are both in view’.4
An Uncomplaining Testimony to the World
Verses 14 and 15 present a stark contrast between Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church. First, Christians are to be free of ‘murmuring and complaining’, v. 14; 1 Cor. 10. 10. The liberated Israelites were barely out of Egypt when they began accusing the Lord of dereliction of duty by starving them, Exod. 16, dehydrating them, Exod. 17, bringing them against enemies that in their view were unbeatable, Num. 13, and so forth. Rather than be thankful, throughout the wilderness wanderings they questioned God’s goodness at every turn. Second, believers are to ‘become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world’, v. 15, NKJV. Ancient Israel never achieved these characteristics, Deut. 32. 5; in Christ, however, this kind of life is normative. Christians are to be a testimony to God’s transforming power and unfailing goodness. Furthermore, their manner of living is a way of ‘holding forth the word of life’, v. 16.
As the word of life’s effects are manifested among the Philippians, the future divine assessment of Paul’s work among them would not be considered vain at Christ’s judgement seat, v. 16. That the apostle feels a deep connection to them is evidenced by his willingness to sacrifice his life for them, v. 17. It is the first of three examples of Christ-likeness that he puts before their minds for sake of emulation. In so doing, he describes their faith as a sacrifice. Paul is willing to pour out his life like a drink offering if it can augment their presentation to the Lord. This sacrifice might take place by instantaneous martyrdom, Phil. 1. 21-26, or by daily self-sacrifice over the period of his life among them. History demonstrates that the latter course was the one appointed for the apostle; nonetheless, he was prepared to give his life for them if needed. Likewise, believers are to progressively pour their lives out in service for one another.
Christ’s Mind lived out in His Saints
Timothy, Paul’s able co-worker, is the second Christ-like example presented to the Philippians. Martin points out their close relationship: ‘I have no-one else like him (lit. “of equal soul”) is a tribute of high praise from the apostle, and puts Timothy in a very honoured position as a key man on whom Paul depended . . . The LXX of Psalm 55:13 (54:14), “a man mine equal”, shows that it is used of close human friendship. The sense of the passage seems to be that of all his Christian friends in the place of his confinement . . . there is no-one who shares so intimately Timothy’s deep concern for the Philippians’.5
As a son labouring with his father, Timothy served with Paul in the family business, the Lord’s work. As Motyer says, ‘Obedience and evangelism are the normative poles of Christian slavery’.6 Consequently, he could be trusted to look after the Philippians’ spiritual well-being.
A Familiar Example from a ‘Hometown’ Son
At this juncture, a sceptic might assert, ‘Yes, Paul, but after all, you are an apostle and Timothy is your personally-trained lieutenant. You fellows are spiritual supermen! Surely you don’t expect ordinary people to exhibit this type of mindset – looking after other’s needs, esteeming others as better and all of that’. Anticipating this objection, he brings one of their own to the forefront, Epaphroditus. This man jeopardized his health and life itself in his service for the Lord. Paul refers to Him as ‘my brother’, v. 25, expressing their connection in God’s family. Secondly, he is ‘my fellow worker’, v. 25 NKJV, showing his association in the Lord’s work. Thirdly, he is a ‘fellowsoldier’, v. 25, demonstrating his camaraderie in spiritual combat against the world and the devil. He is also connected to the Philippian assembly as their ‘messenger and he that ministered to my wants’.7
Having no recourse to e-mail or telephones, they kept in touch with Paul by sending one of their trusted members, who then served with the apostle on behalf of the Philippians. His faithful ministry led the messenger into dire illness. Yet in keeping with his Christ-like mind, during his sickness he was not concerned for himself, focusing instead on the worrying effect that news of his malady would have on his fellow-saints in Philippi, vv. 26, 30. Upon returning to Philippi, he is to be given the respectful appreciation of the Christians, v. 29.
Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus collectively demonstrate the practical outworking of the Christ-like mind; such an attitude is a genuine part of the Christian life. Putting others first is not merely the duty of spiritual heroes like Paul and Timothy; rather, it is part of the outworking of the mind of Christ in all of His people. Believers must think the Lord’s thoughts after Him by considering our brothers’ and sisters’ needs and well-being before our own. It is not only an attainable lifestyle, it is also an essential part of living for God and doing His will.
- D. A. Carson, New Bible Commentary : Philippians. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP, 1994; elec. ed.
- J. A. Motyer, The Message of Philippians. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP, 1984, p. 128; elec. ed.
- ibid, p. 129.
- W. E. Vine, Collected Writings of W. E. Vine: Philippians. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997; elec. ed.
- Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1987, p. 132; elec. ed.
- J. A. Motyer, The Message of Philippians. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP, 1984, p. 138; elec. ed.
- 'Messenger’ renders apostolos in this verse – i.e., the same word for ‘apostle’. Sometimes this word is used in the New Testament for one who is a specially selected witness and emissary of the risen Christ (e.g. ‘the twelve’ or Paul). In other passages, like this one, it refers merely to a messenger sent out by an assembly.
AUTHOR PROFILE: KEITH KEYSER is a commended full-time worker, married with a young family, and is in fellowship in the assembly meeting at Gilbertsville, Pennsylvania. He ministers throughout North America and spent some time in Spain. He also regularly writes material for assembly magazines.