Philippians 2:12-16

Philippians 2:12‑16  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 10
It is ever profitable to lead the minds of the saints to the scriptures themselves for instruction, so that every truth should have their direct authority. We find ourselves happy in reading the word, when we are able to catch the leading thought of any part of it, so as to carry it along with us. On this account it is hoped, a few remarks on the above passage, simply expository, will not be out of place.
We hardly know how much we are all suffering from the traditional use even of the scriptures themselves. There can be little doubt but that the quotation of isolated texts at first arose from subjection to the scriptures as authoritative, even as we find the Apostles themselves, in their writings, elucidating the principles they were unfolding, by an appeal to the scriptures of the Old Testament in the briefest manner possible. But this appeal was never intended by them, to set aside the legitimate meaning of the words so quoted in the connection in which they stand. Now there are several current texts quoted, either in support of favorite dogmas or used so carelessly as hardly to convey any meaning at all, which when taken in their context have great force. Surely we cannot but detect the wiles of the enemy in this, who knows truth to be our only power against him; and if he can vitiate it, he gains great advantage over us.
The text -"Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling," is one often used to prove man to be a co-worker with God in his salvation, and to nullify the truth that salvation is all of grace and of God. It is asserted from these words, that those who have believed on Christ have after all to fear and tremble, lest he should leave them, or they should lose him, statements entirely subversive of the peace of the gospel. A single glance at the context, at once shows that this is wretched sophistry. It is not addressed to us as an isolated precept, but most remarkably connected with what goes before and what follows it. The sentence begins, "Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation, &c." The word "wherefore" throws us back farther, in order to trace the mind of the Spirit in the Apostle, and there is evidently a connection between "my presence" and "my absence," and "work out your own salvation." Then if we look to what follows, we have the reason for the fear and trembling; not lest God should cast them off, but "for it is God which worketh in you, both to will and to do of his good pleasure." And then follows some special application, and that the great end they ought to keep in view was to manifest the relationship between God and themselves, and in very deed to show forth that they were sons of God, in the eyes of men, by their blamelessness and harmlessness.
But let us, for a little, advert to the general scope of this epistle. Philippi was endeared to the Apostle by many solemn recollections. It was the first European city he visited, after being forbidden by the Holy Ghost to preach in Asia. His visit was signalized by the conversion of Lydia, his own hardships, and the remarkable conversion of the jailer. Paul was now in prison, the Philippians were left to other care; blessed indeed of its kind, but of a lower order than that which was apostolic. This however had its advantage -it should throw them more immediately on God; and this was what the Apostle desired to do. There might have been an undue leaning even on himself, so as to prevent their souls immediately resting on God. We so often put the channels of blessing in the place of the fountain, that God in his wisdom deprives us of the channels, that we may come at once to the fountain-head. Yes, poor wretched creatures of sense, we desire to have something visible and tangible, and thus keep away our souls from happy dependence on God.
We find the Apostle led to thanksgiving on their account, for their fellowship in the gospel from the first day even until now. And his confidence for their continuance, was not in his own apostolic authority nor even in the present care of their bishops, valuable as both were, but in God. They might have looked to Paul as having begun the good work in them, but Paul looked higher. He knew, unless God had gone out before him, his ministry would have been in vain. Its fruits might have lasted for a little moment, and then withered. He was confident of this very thing, that he which had begun the good work in them, would perform it until the day of the Lord Jesus Christ. This was the point to bring their souls to, that it was God's work and not Paul's, and therefore not dependent on his personal presence. If they were looking to Paul, there would be no steadfastness in them in the time of trial. Now that this was the leading thought of the Spirit in this epistle, will be more apparent by noticing another portion of the first chapter. The Apostle knew full well the nourishing and cherishing love of the Lord Jesus, in providing for the edifying of His body by means of suitable ministry, until we all come together unto a perfect man. He therefore places ministry in the light of a real blessing, when used as the means of Christ's own providing and not put in the place of Christ himself. The higher the blessing, the greater has been our power of corrupting it. After speaking of his own desire to depart, and be with Christ, he turns himself to their condition and says, "Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you. And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all, for your furtherance and joy of faith; that your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again. Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel." He longed to serve them, -he greatly desired to see holy progress among them, but he did not desire that such progress should be the effect of personal influence, but of the consciousness of God's having begun and still continuing the work in them. There might have been order, or even energy of service, produced by the presence or authority of the Apostle; but the Apostle knew how far more solid that would be which was the result of grace working in them, and therefore he seeks to establish their souls in it, showing them the mind of Christ as that which it was their privilege to have to act on. And it is on this he grounds his exhortation, "Wherefore, my beloved," in Phil. 2:1212Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. (Philippians 2:12). He first seeks to associate their souls with Christ:—"If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, fulfill ye my joy." The Apostle uses no personal influence -he leads their thoughts to their permanent blessings in Christ, which did not at all depend on circumstances. Their consolation in Christ did not depend on the Apostle's presence; the very way of putting this with an if, showed that he fully reckoned on their readily acknowledging that there was consolation in Christ. His desire for their being like-minded he knew would only be attained by their having the mind of Christ. There might be, and necessarily would be, much personal attachment to Paul, but they might have the mind of Paul and be outwardly kept together thus by unity of doctrine, but Paul desired that their like-mindedness should be the result of living grace.
And when he had set before them the mind which was in Christ Jesus, to call out the grace of Christ which was in them, then it is that he addresses them in the passage before us: -Wherefore, my beloved, as there is always consolation in Christ -always fellowship of the Spirit, as these essential blessings do not depend on ministry of any kind, but on oneness with Christ, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his own good pleasure. It is man's way always to give the glory to the instrument, it is of the Spirit to lead away from the instrument to God himself. And what true blessedness it is to realize the simple truth, that all things are of God. He may use a hundred channels of blessing, because he delights to make others share in his own blessedness, -that of communicating blessing to others. It is more blessed to give than to receive. And for this reason God puts us, who are properly only receivers, into the place of givers. But he has not left the real and essential blessedness of his saints to any uncertain channel of blessing. He may even in judgment remove all these channels, still he remains himself to work in them, both to will and to do. It was indeed a most happy thing, that the obedience of the Philippians had been more marked in the absence of the Apostle than even in his presence. This had not been the case in the Churches of Galatia. The personal presence of the Apostle had been a healthful check on the entrance of error there. But when he had gone from them, they were not so cast upon God as to be able to know the value of truth, so as really or zealously to contend for it. "Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth? they zealously affect you, but not well; yea, they would exclude us that ye might affect them: but it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing, and not only when I am present with you." This helps us much to estimate the healthy state of the Philippian Church; the presence of the Apostle there, had helped them to make everything a question of obedience to God; at Galatia they had been content to walk before the Apostle. His absence had a very different effect on the two Churches. In the one instance, they became careless about the truth; in the other, more entirely cast upon God, so that their obedience increased. There is a double action as it were, destructive of the sense of individual responsibility; the one arises from the teacher setting himself between the soul and God, and the other from the much greater facility there is in those taught to walk unto well-pleasing before men, rather than before God. How important therefore the words -"your own salvation. " The sense of it leads the soul immediately to God, and keeps it in a healthy state of dependence on him. It leads the soul to a sense of actual power -"God worketh in you to will and to do of his good pleasure, therefore do all things without murmurings and disputings, that ye may be blameless and harmless." Blessed dependence indeed, which leads the soul into consciousness of divine power for action. It does not measure the difficulties then by its own, but by God's strength. And it only presumes to act on the warrant of acceptance, yea that the very action is intended to show it forth, that ye may be (not to make to be surely, but to show that we are) the sons of God in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, holding forth the word of life.
There is one other remark in connection with this, and that is that the Apostle showed them that his service among them had no reference to himself personally. If he had confidence that God who had begun the good work in them, would continue it until the day of Jesus Christ -after Paul's ministry had long been ended -he looked also to his own ministry in reference to that day,—"that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither labored in vain." It was not that they might walk before him, but that they might walk with God. It was for this that the Apostle labored; and he would keep their eye steadily set where his own was set, on the day of Christ -the day of discovery -the day which would prove every man's work of what sort it is. May the Lord deepen in the saints the sense that God worketh in them, that they may act under a more solemn sense of their individual responsibility to him. -Amen.
The Christian Witness 7:327-332 (1840).