Gospel Effort (Phil. 2:12-18)

Publié le 2 mai 2021 dans Traductions

Sermon by Pastor Samuel Niblack

The letter to the Philippians is filled with much encouragement, gratitude, and joy. And what stands out clearly in these verses is the encouragement to obey: “Obey”. Work. Try. The Greek word « energy » comes up  several times. Like a coach who goes to motivate his team that is leading at half-time, « don’t give up. »  The Christian life is not without effort. But we will see this morning how Paul encourages and  motivates these Christians to obedience.

You know the expression: « The carrot or the stick »… Should you motivate people with the threat of punishment or the promise of a reward? Or even better, a carrot on a stick…

When we think of faith and religion, most people have this unenviable image in mind. People are  motivated either by the promise of an illusory reward, never really attainable, or by the threat of  punishment. « I want neither, I want to be free, so no thanks to religion. » I’ll grant you, that’s how religions work. But the gospel obedience, the character transformation that Paul teaches, is different. 

Let’s look at 1) the mechanism of obedience, 2) the motivation for obedience, and 3) the joy of  obedience.  

1) The mechanism of obedience  

When you look for a new car, you open the hood to see the engine. I had a friend who was an  engineer if he saw a new gadget, a new tool, he would take it apart to see how it worked… What is  the mechanism that pushes us to obey? Is it the carrot? the stick?  

2:12 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,  

Work out your salvation. It surprises us that Paul would say such a thing. Is the mechanism based on merit? Doesn’t Paul usually insist that you don’t have to work for your salvation, because you don’t deserve your salvation? So, what is he saying?  

Paul does not say work for your salvation, but to work it out. Like a couple saying, we would like to work on our marriage. It doesn’t mean they have to work to be married, they already are, but they want to deepen their love, their communication. So, in that sense, a marriage is worked on. Or a  teacher who would say to his students: Work on this math exercise: the student already has the exercise, he already has the principles, he just has to apply them to find the right result.

We already have salvation, eternal life, the love of the Father. It would be dangerous to think that we deserve  these things by our obedience (Jehovah’s Witnesses have done what the French educational system and job market have — they set 144,000 places available in heaven; the best 144,000  practitioners will get their place. It’s a way to motivate the troops, but…  )

With fear and trembling. It is still very surprising that he speaks like this in a very joyful, encouraging epistle. Is it possible to be joyful and fearful? This fear makes us think of the stick. Does obedience come mainly from a fear of judgment? But this is rather an expression that means respect and seriousness, that does not forget the greatness of God.  

You would agree that an effective obedience mechanism would be one that produces sincere obedience at all times, not just when being observed. You’ve all seen cars that slow down right in  front of the speed camera and then speed off again. That’s not really obeying the law. Or, you do well when the boss is watching and slack off when he leaves the room. Paul encourages obedience not only in his presence but also when he is away. Christian behavior should be practiced at all times, not just when the pastor is watching, or the parent is there, not just on Sunday mornings. (These are also pertinent questions for our youth: when you leave home, will you continue to obey the rules?)  

So, if the mechanism is neither the carrot to be earned nor the stick to be feared, what is it?  

In v13, we get to the real mechanism. Work out your salvation, implement your salvation, for it is God who produces (same word work) in you to will and to act. The energy comes from God. We lack the will, the desire, but God changes our will. Sometimes the will is there, but the action is not. God produces the action. This is the most powerful mechanism. Everything by grace. God produces the initial will to believe in Jesus, God produces the will to follow him. « Not I, but through Christ in me! »  


2) The motivation for obedience  

2:14-16 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure,  “children of God without fault in a perverse and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among  them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.  

 » without grumbling or arguing… » (It’s like Paul is anticipating French culture ) Does this describe your heart, your home, your workplace? Here Paul is not giving us a to-do list, but rather an all encompassing attitude. Do all things without murmuring…that you may be pure and blameless. It’s  like a key to everything else. What does it mean to be doing everything without murmuring and  hesitation? (Hesitations = complaining and arguing.)  

It helps to know that this expression,  » grumbling or arguing « , like the phrase  » perverse and crooked generation « , refers to the story of the generation of the Jewish people in the desert with Moses.  They did everything with murmurings and complaints. Why? Because they refused to believe that God could save them, that his word was reliable; so, every obstacle, every glitch, every giant was a sign that God had abandoned them. The opposite of doing everything with murmuring and complaining is doing everything with faith and trust in God.  

So that you may become. The motivation is to be children of God and to shine as torches in the  world, carrying the word of God. As in Matthew 5:16, our obedience allows us to shine, to reflect the  character of the Father.  

You will be able to spread the word of God if your behavior stands out from the rest without murmuring and hesitation.  

3) The joy of obedience  

The text ends with a fourfold joy! « I rejoice », « I rejoice with you all ». « Rejoice likewise », « rejoice with me ». Gospel obedience (in oneself and in others) brings joy. It is a good test to see if you are moving forward with the right mechanism and motivation. 

Yes, there is work, there is effort, there is sacrifice needed. But it is a sacrifice, a service done with  joy. Let’s dig into the image that dominates verses 16-18: sacrifice, libation. We had seen in Leviticus that there was the main sacrifice, to which we could add a supplementary offering (grain, liquid, etc).  Paul uses this image to describe his ministry. He tells the Philippians: Your obedience, your efforts to  please God, to live the Gospel, is the main sacrifice, and my ministry, (even if it costs me my life) is the complement.  

With this image, Paul greatly values their obedience, their efforts. A Christian in Philippi might ask  himself: « What are my little struggles, my little efforts to be humble, my stuttering attempts to spread the Word of Life to my colleague this week, next to the apostle Paul…? He testifies every day, he’s in prison for his faith, he preaches to large crowds, but me…? » But Paul says, no it’s a team effort, it’s a joint project. That’s why it’s joyful (like a player who scores a goal, he puts in the final shot, but it’s the whole team that worked together, and the whole team rejoices).  

Do you know that joy, the joy that says: no more carrot or stick, I am a child of God, he produces his will in me, he uses my transformed life to touch others? Test yourself this week… what comes easier: murmuring/complaining or joy and gratitude?