|THE FEAR FACTOR
Series: What A Fellowship - Part Five
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
March 10, 2015
This morning we’re continuing in our study of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. We’ve come to 2:12-30. Paul has been teaching about... fellowship.
Very quickly - what’s your final answer?
Ever feel like that? Failure in progress. Fellowship is hard. Satan doesn’t want us to win. Way too often we fail at fellowship. What we experience falls short.
And yet - Jesus died for our fellowship. Jesus prayed fervently for our fellowship. God really does desire for us to experience the kind of fellowship that we crave and that brings glory to God.
Fellowship - at the heart level - is the spiritual union we have together in Jesus. Union that is only possible in Jesus Christ. It is way deeper than just hanging out together. Or doing religious things together. Its a depth of relationship that we all crave. That we need. Fellowship that we’re created for.
One of the descriptions of Creekside that resonates is that we’re people who’ve been out in the woods - getting beat up as we’ve been stumbling around in a cold dark forest - bumping in to things - tripping over stuff. We’ve come together to gather around the warmth and light of the campfire - Jesus Christ.
We share a very unique and precious relationship. Done right God uses us in each others lives to encourage and strengthen and support each other. God uses us together in His process of healing our lives. God uses us to advance His kingdom - to share His gospel - with others around us.
As we’ve been going through Philippians Paul has been opening up to us the practical - real time - “how” of how we can experience true fellowship together in Jesus.
Coming to 2:12 - verses 12 and 13 are Paul’s Point - where Paul is going in the next part of his teaching.
Let’s read these two verse together and then do some unpacking Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
“Therefore” means we need to ask “wherefore the therefore is there for.” Meaning the therefore is therefore to remind us - to connect us back - to what Paul has been teaching.
Paul writes that - live or die - that priority never changes. Which is Paul’s attitude. Life - even death - is about… God. Doing God’s will here or in heaven. If here on earth - pour yourself into the lives of others encouraging them to trust God with their lives. Regardless of the circumstances do that. To God alone be the glory.
Paul writes that the Philippians are to be intentional about encouraging and supporting and building each other up. To love on each other. To look out for each other’s interests with the same kind of intensity that we look out for our own interests. To serve together and share the gospel with people around them. Regardless of the circumstances. To God alone be the glory.
Last Sunday Paul gave us Jesus as the example of that. The humility of Jesus. Jesus - God - Jesus Who set aside His right to act as God and took on everything that it means to be human. Jesus being fully God and fully human - being obedient to God - dying - even dying on the cross - in our place. Those are pretty harsh circumstances. Jesus does that so that we can be saved. So we can have fellowship together with God - with each other. To God alone be the glory.
So “therefore” - keeping in mind what life in Christ together is all about - “therefore, my beloved” this is how you are to live that life in real time.
Paul addresses the Philippians as “my beloved.”
They have history together. On Paul’s second missionary journey God led him to Philippi. Some of what happened there is familiar to us. Paul and Silas being imprisoned - the earthquake - the Philippians jailer and his family coming to salvation in Jesus. Lydia - the first known convert in Europe - trusted Jesus in Philippi. Paul is writing to believers in Jesus Christ. There’s an affinity here. “My beloved.” (Acts 16:12-40)
Paul commends them for their obedience: “as you have always obeyed...”
The word for obedience is “upekousate.” Its really two words put together: “upo” meaning under - and “akouo” meaning to hear. To obey is to place ourselves “under” the authority of what we “hear” - to obey the instructions we’re hearing.
Putting that together: When Paul was with them - physically present with the beloved - Paul was teaching them and they were obeying. Being diligent. Intentional. Applying. Working at living out the things that Paul was teaching them about what it means to live together in fellowship with God.
“so now” Paul continues - in the same way you were being obedient when I was in your presence - now you need to keep on being obedient in my absence. Whether I’m there or not. Keep obeying.
What happens when the teacher leaves the room? Easier to go the speed limit when the CHP is following behind us. Yes? Obedience is a whole easier when the one giving the instructions is right there. Tougher in their absence.
How do we obey? You all - just like you were doing when I was with you - you all need to keep “working out your own salvation” in my absence. Not working out my salvation. But working out your own salvation. Meaning you need to own for yourselves what you learned from me.
It is really really hard for a parent to transfer forward - into the next generation - to transfer forward our mind-set of ethics and our faith. Are we together on that?
We can train our children - guide them - discipline them - educate them. We can bring our children to AWANA and youth group. We can disciple them and share our lives and relationship with Jesus openly with them. Doing all the good and sacrificial things that a parent should be doing. But the only way that any of that plays forward into their lives is when they own it for themselves.
Paul writes: “You did good when I was with you. But now I’m not. This is your faith. You need to work out your own salvation.”
Let’s be careful. A lot of really good people have gotten really messed up by miss-understanding Paul here. Doesn’t it almost sounds like Paul is saying that we’re suppose to work for our salvation?
Hang on to something. Salvation ultimately breaks down into three parts. The first part of salvation is justification. That’s when we initially come to trust in Jesus our Savior. When we’re put into a right standing before God. Our sins forgiven. The penalty for sin is paid and that payment is applied to our lives. Justification - just as if I’d never sinned.
If I’m justified before God and drop dead. I’m in heaven. Done deal.
The next part of salvation is sanctification. Salvation isn't just what we’re saved from - like fire insurance. Salvation is what we’re saved to. Salvation is also about the awesomeness of life in Christ. We’re saved - justified - made right before God - done deal. But salvation goes on. Sanctification is a process - learning to live justified through the experiences of life - that’s what Paul has in mind here in verse 12.
Finally - third - comes glorification - which will happen - our spending eternity with God in glory.
Maybe you’ve heard about the two canal tenders - ditch tenders. The guys that take care of the irrigation canals around here - doing what needs to be done so the farmers get water. Providing there’s water. Maintenance being one of those things.
Two canal tenders were working in a canal on one of those days when it was 110° in the shade. No breeze. Full sunlight beating down on these guys working at clearing out stuff that’s clogging up the canal. There they are digging away. A little ways off - sitting under shady tree - drinking a nice cold ice tea - is their supervisor.
One canal tender says to the other canal tender, “Why are we down here killing ourselves working in this hot sun and that guy is up there sitting in the shade drinking that cold ice tea?”
“I don’t know. Why don’t you ask him?”
“I will,” said the first canal tender. So he gets out of the ditch. Walks up to the supervisor and asks him, “Why do you get to sit up here in the shade while we’re down there working in the hot sun?”
“Well,” said the supervisor. “It’s a matter of experience.”
“Experience? What do you mean by that?”
The supervisor takes his hand and puts it up against the tree and says, “Hit my hand as hard as you can.” At first the canal tender is reluctant because he knows he’s going to smash the supervisor’s hand. But the supervisor insists. So the canal tender takes a powerful swing at the supervisors hand. At the last instant the supervisor moves his hand. The canal tender smashes his own hand into the tree.
“Do you understand?” Asked the supervisor.
“I think so,” said the canal tender. So he goes back into the ditch. The other canal tender asks him, “What did he say?”
“He said it was a matter of experience.”
“What did he mean by that?”
The canal tender looks around for a tree. Of course there’s no tree in the ditch. So he stuck his hand up in front of his face and said, “Hit my hand as hard as you can.”
Most of us seem to learn the hard way - “the school of hard knocks.” Experience comes as we go through life - a process of coming to understand how life works. That’s what Paul has in mind here. Our own intentional working at learning how to live obedient to God through the drama of life.
Work out your salvation is about learning - understanding in the school of hard knocks - processing how our faith works out in the day to day experiences of life.
Paul writes that we are to do that with “fear and trembling.”
A couple of years ago when I was in High School our family took a trip round the country in our dodge van - stayed in city parks and fields and parking lots. Very low budget. Things we’d probably get arrested for today. Hugely memorable.
One of the things we did was visit guys that my dad knew from when he was in army. One of guys lived in a small town just west of Milwaukee. He and his wife happened to be morticians. Their home was on two levels. Downstairs was the mortuary. Upstairs was their house. The night we were there they took us out to show us the town.
When we got back to their house - dark because of the power outage - we pulled up to the hearse entrance - which had this kind of southern motif - colonnades - French doors. We pulled up to the hearse entrance - where they normally would have brought in the bodies. Opened the French doors - with the sheer white curtains blowing in the wind.
We’re standing in the pitch black funeral parlor and the wife says, “Let me go get a light.” A few minutes later she’s coming down the stairs - wearing a white dress - carrying a lit candelabra. I kid you not.
Fear here is the Greek “phobos.” Think phobia. Fear that haunts the recesses of our minds. It tugs at us and breaks into where we live life. Affects our response to life.
Let’s be careful. Paul writes about fear and “trembling” “Trembling” is the word “tromos” - trembling in astonishment - going weak at the knees because of what we’re confronted with. Specifically this: “For it is God who works in you.”
That’s the heavens declare the glory of God - God. God our creator. God who is timeless - sovereign - unbounded - complete. So beyond our comprehension.
The Almighty Holy God who condescends to allow us to know Him. In our rebellion and sin - our total unworthiness. That God gives to us the privilege of living in relationship with Him. Justified. Sanctified. The hope of eternity with Him.
That God is the God who is at work within us in order to accomplish whatever He wills and whatever it suits Him to accomplish.
Paul writes - with fear and trembling - meaning with a sobering and respectful awe of God that should knock us off our feet - off our little pedestals of pride and self - learn to live daily in obedience to God.
Putting all that together: What does it mean to work our own salvation with fear and trembling knowing that its God at work within us?
In verse 12 - when Paul writes “work out your own salvation” - its all about the blood sweat and tears of living life.
Here in verse 13 the word for “work” is different. Its “energeia” - the word we get the English word “energy” from. Paul’s point is different. In verse 12 - we are to work - the process of living out the daily stuff of life in obedience to God. In verse 13 - the energy for that work - the power behind it - comes from God.
I can turn on my computer - press that little button on the front - tap all the keys on the keyboard - move the mouse all over the place - look furiously productive - even delude myself into thinking I’m accomplishing something of real and lasting value. But nothing’s going to happen unless its plugged in - connected to the power source.
When people need healing - physical - or because there’s deep down woundedness in their lives. When there’s hard stuff going on in our families or at work or at school. When we’re trying to live like God instructs us to live. When we want to do great things for God and His kingdom - obey His commands. Build great buildings. Launch great ministries. Its just a lot of work - blood sweat and tears - unless its God at work within us.
Do you see what Paul is getting at here? Its God’s will. He desires to create His incredible life within us. He desires to supply to us all of the energy - all the power - all that we need to live life as God has created life to be lived. It pleases God to do all that - to supply all that we need and to work within us to make all that happen.
God supplies the energy - what we need to live life. Sin is like a switch. When we sin we cut ourselves off from God’s work in our lives. Ungodly living does not produce Godliness. Why? Because by our sin we cut ourselves off from the working of God within us.
On the other hand - godly behavior produces godliness because godly behavior keeps us connected to God.
Let’s be careful. We’re not talking about justification. But sanctification. What it means to work out the salvation that’s already ours in Christ.
We eat to live. Some live to eat. But eating is essential. Generally keeps us alive. Same with breathing. Important to breathe once in a while. Right? Exercise is essential. Move it or lose it. Exercise leads to physical development. No Pain. No gain. Exercise takes intentional effort. Commitment. Discipline. Not always fun. But seriously important if we want to live healthy. That’s the way God has designed our bodies to work.
Spiritually its the same. All the essentials - prayer - Bible reading - memorization or meditation - marination - study - worship - service - sharing our faith. The daily - regular - intentional - commitment to doing what it is that people who follow Jesus do. The choice to be here on Sundays.
All of that is crucial - essential - work on our part that must be done. Not to be saved. But because we are living out our salvation.
But Godly behavior - in place of sinful behavior - when we choose obedience - to do what keeps us connected to God. That daily obedience opens us up to His energia flowing in us and through us - according to His will - according to His purposes - for His glory.
Are we together?
That’s Paul’s point. The way to work out our salvation - to learn to live life as God intends - is with fear and trembling to bring our own hearts before God - our commitment to obedience that gives Him the opportunity to do the work that He alone - the living God can do in us and through us. In my absence you all need to own that for yourselves.
Going on to Our Rejoicing. Verses 14 to 18. Specifically - what is it that Paul will rejoice in and how that affects us. Let’s read these verses and then do some unpacking.
Verse 14: Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.
Verse 14: Do all things without grumbling - without complaining against each other - or even against God - or questioning - arguing with each other with selfish motives. If God really has a hold on our hearts - if we really understand who we are before God - how could we ever grumble or argue with each other?
Verse 15 - that you - in contrast to grumbling and disputing - both of which come from hearts focused on our selves and not God - in contrast - that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life,
One of the joys of our Fall Family Retreat Camp is being up in the mountains away from city lights. Ever see the night sky without all the city lights? Pitch black sky with brilliant points of light - stars - piercing the darkness?
Complaining and arguing - corruption and perversity - a self-centered - self-gratifying - self-justifying life - are status quo in the crooked and twisted times we live in. The pitch black darkness of evil on a rampage.
Godly people live differently - or we should. Live obedient - with God in control of our heart - and we shine in contrast to the darkness around us.
Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. …let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works - think obedience - and give glory to your… Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
It’s a light bulb moment. Choose obedience - do what is necessary to stay connected to God - and God’s energeia flows through us. We shine and He gets the glory. To God alone be the glory.
Verse 16: so that in the day of Christ - the day of Christ meaning the day when Jesus comes back for His Church - for us. The day when Jesus will examine our works - our faithful obedience. The day when we’ll receive or not receive reward - blessing - based on how we’ve lived for Him
...so that in the day of Christ I - Paul - may be proud - like a parent who’s child just scored the winning goal - gave the valedictorian speech - got elected president - it could happen - “That’s my child” proud - that I did not run in vain or labor in vain - all of what I taught you - pouring my life out for you in Philippi - it will be worth it
Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith - even if I’m a prison in Rome and even if I’m executed - I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.
Paul in 1 Corinthians - chapter 2 - He explains his heart attitude in ministry. Paul writes, “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. - I didn’t come arrogantly but in humility - For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling - does that sound familiar? - and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power - God’s power at work through me - so that your faith - what God is doing in your own hearts - would not rest on the wisdom of men - not on what Paul thinks or believes or Paul’s authority as a theologian and a Apostle - not my faith but your own faith - but on the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5 NASB)
Do you hear where Paul’s heart is at? Paul - living in fear and trembling before God - isn’t winning people to his side with disputing and arguing - by pushing himself - but with humility - allowing God’s transformation of his own heart to set the example for how his brothers and sisters in Christ apart from Paul are to live humbly - obediently - together before God - by God’s power - for God’s glory.
That’s what he’s saying here in Philippians. I’m pouring myself out for you - sacrificing myself in service for you. And its worth it. I rejoice - because you're living the life - because I can see God at work in you. I rejoice - because when Jesus comes back and we all stand before Him I’m gonna be busting the seams on my toga. Because the salvation you’re living out is not about me - but about you and God.
How greatly will we rejoice together before Jesus when we stand there and celebrate His work in our lives. To see others there that God has used us in some small way to lead them to Him - used us in some way to encourage them to own their own faith - to obediently follow Jesus. On that day we’re going to rejoice together - start now - because of the celebration we’ll share in Christ.
Coming to verses 19 to 30. Paul shares Two Examples of this with us. Actually they’re two individuals that Paul holds up as examples for us. Two ordinary people like us - living examples of what Paul has been writing about - about what God can do in our hearts and lives.
In verse 19 he begins with Timothy. I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.
Second example - Epaphroditus - verse 25: I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow…
If he had died away from you that would have been hard for me to take.
I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.
The church in Philippi had so much respect for Epaphroditus that they sent him as their representative to Paul in Rome - a journey of great danger and hardship - even the risk of death. A journey requiring courage and dedication and character. Paul describes Epaphroditus as a brother - a fellow worker - a fellow soldier. The kind of comrade that you could trust your life to. He’ll watch your back. He’ll be there for you.
In Rome, Epaphroditus - this courageous brother in Christ - was homesick - longing for the church in Philippi - deeply concerned for the people there. Paul sends him home. With him he may have carried this very letter of Philippians. Paul writes, “So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men...” Epaphroditus is what it looks like to work out our own salivation - to live daily in obedience to God.
Processing all that… Two questions to think about.
First: What are you working at? There are tons of options in this life. Opportunities are seemingly limitless. Of what we can be committed to - participate in - be caught up in. Is what you’re working at - putting time and effort into - is that helping you grow closer to God? Opening you up to His working and power in your life? To live life more in sync with what He has for you in life? Or not?
Second: Who are you rejoicing in? Who are you pouring your life into? When we stand before Jesus who will you bust the seams on your toga over? Maybe that’s a spouse or a child or someone here or at work. Who is your Timothy or Epaphroditus?
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.