Chapters and verses in the Bible are great in one sense. They certainly make it easier to find passages. But often times, they interrupt the flow of the authors’ thinking, and make us think that they are starting entirely new thoughts when that is not the case.
This is certainly the case with this passage. I was going to just cite verses 12-18, and realized it was simply impossible. Because all of this comes down to one thought: living lives worthy of the gospel. The whole point Paul is trying to make is that we live lives worthy of the gospel by living in unity with one another. And in order to do that, we need to follow the example of Christ who laid down everything for us, putting our needs above his own in order to save us.
And it is at the end of this thought that Paul goes on to say,
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, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. (12-13)
So often we take these verses and apply them individually to ourselves. But once again, Paul is talking to the church as a whole, and is saying, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling because it is God who is working in all of you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”
In other words, Paul is saying, “God has given you all this salvation by the sacrifice of his Son. Now make the most of this salvation you have received. Know that God is working in you, the church, to desire the things he desires and to act according to the purpose that he has for you as his body.”
But we can’t live out that purpose if we are constantly fighting one another, bickering, and as Paul says in another passage, biting and devouring one another (Galatians 5:15).
And so Paul tells us,
Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life–in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. (14-16)
When the church is fighting itself, the world looks at it and says, “What makes them different from us?”
But when the world sees a church where people love and serve each other, when they see a church where there is no bickering or complaining, all of a sudden, we become bright lights that make them wonder, “What makes them so different? I want what they have.”
And so Paul tells the Philippians, “My desire is that you will be those lights so that when I stand before Christ, I can point to you with pride at what you have become.”
He then concludes by talking about his own attitude toward them, saying,
But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on a sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me. (17)
In other words, “It’s no burden for me to do the things I have done for you. I myself am merely working out my salvation just as you are. And I rejoice with you at all that God is doing in you. So don’t grieve or worry that I’m in prison for the gospel, but rejoice with me. And as we work and rejoice together, this world will see our light.”
How about you? Is that your attitude? Are you seeing God work not only through you, but through you and the brothers and sisters God has put around you? Are you seeing God work out his purposes as you walk together in cooperation and unity? Are all of you together shining the light of God that those around may see your good works as a church and glorify your Father in heaven? Or do those around you see a people like themselves, always bickering and fighting?
May we all as a church work out our salvation with fear and trembling that the world may know the Lord who loves them and gave himself up for them.