In his book, You Can Make A Difference, Tony Campolo tells the true story of two men who were traveling together on a train out of Victoria Station in London. Twenty minutes into their journey, one of the men had an epileptic seizure and if you’ve ever seen this happen they you know how frightening such an attack can be. The man stiffened and fell heavily out of his seat onto the floor of the train. When this happened his friend immediately took off his own jacket, rolled it up, and put it behind the stricken man’s head. Then he blotted the beads of perspiration from his brow with his handkerchief and talked to him in a quiet manner to calm him down. A few minutes later when the seizure was over, he helped lift his friend gently back into his seat. Then he turned to the man sitting across from them and said, Mister, please forgive us. Sometimes this happens two or three times a day. And then, in the conversation that ensued, the friend of the epileptic explained,
My buddy and I here were in Vietnam together, and we were both wounded in the same battle. I had bullets in both my legs and he caught one in his shoulder. For some reason the helicopter that was supposed to come for us never came to pick us up. My friend here picked me up and he carried me for three and a half days out of that jungle. The Viet Cong were sniping at us the whole way.
Understand, he was in more agony than I was. Repeatedly I begged him to drop me and save himself, but he wouldn’t let me go. He got me out of that jungle, mister. He saved my life. I don’t know HOW he did it and I don’t know WHY he did it…but he did. Well, four years ago, I found out that he had this epileptic condition, so I sold my house in New York, took what money I had, and came over here to take care of him.
Then he looked at his friend and said,
“You see, mister, after what he did for me, there isn’t ANYTHING I wouldn’t do for him.”
Now, you and I can certainly understand this man’s actions. I mean whenever people sacrifice of themselves for us its only natural for us to be grateful. In fact, the greater their sacrifice the greater our desire to respond by doing something for our benefactor. This morning we’re resuming our sermon series study of Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi and if you look back at the eleven verses prior to today’s text in chapter 2 you find that much-loved passage that describes Jesus’ death and resurrection. Most scholars believe this text was actually sung as a hymn in the early church. In verses 5-11 Paul quotes the lyrics to this hymn which said that Jesus Christ,
“…being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, …but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…He humbled Himself and became obedient to death-even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8 ) “
I think these verses can serve to remind us that there is a very real sense in which all of us who are Christians were once like that soldier in Vietnam. For, before we met Christ we were wounded and dying due to our sin. And when I read the words of this early hymn I get this mental picture of Jesus coming to earth and in essence carrying us out of the jungle. As Paul QUOTED these words perhaps he was remembering the prophet Isaiah who said that the Messiah would,
“…TAKE UP our infirmities and CARRY our sorrows…He would be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities…and the punishment that brought us peace would be upon Him. (Isaiah 53 )”
Well, Paul goes on to write our text for today and say that, like the grateful vet in this story, we should do something with our lives in response to Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf. After quoting this hymn, in verse 12 Paul says, Therefore…In other words, SINCE Jesus gave His life for us because He humbled Himself and became obedient to death…here is how you should live. Then he goes on to describe exactly what he means…by listing three life principles that all truly appreciative Christians should embrace. Let’s look at them together this morning. They are found in verses 12-18 of chapter 2. Take your Bibles and follow along with me as I read:
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,
13 – for it is God Who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.
14 – Do everything without complaining or arguing,
15 – 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
16 – 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.
17 – But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you.
18 – So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.
Did you catch those three principles? The first is found in verse 12 where Paul says that truly grateful disciples will…
1. …work out their salvation with fear and trembling…
Now, this principle can be hard to understand so let’s take it apart a bit and look at the first phrase-the part about working out our salvation. Exactly what does Paul mean with these words? Well, of course he’s NOT saying that we have to work to EARN our salvation. We know this because Paul was writing to Christians. Remember? He called them saintsin the first verse of this little letter. And later, in chapter 3 verse 20, he refers to them as citizens of heaven. So these people could not work FOR their salvation since they already HAD it.
We also know this is not what Paul meant because in his other writings he so obviously demonstrated his understanding that salvation was a gift. Paul knew our salvation was not a work OF mankind FOR God…but a work OF God FOR mankind. In Ephesians 2:8-9 he said very clearly, For by grace are you saved through faith and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God-NOT AS A RESULT OF WORKS, that no one can boast.Paul realized that salvation was not a reward for the righteous, not the wages for our work but a gift for the guilty because of the grace of God. Salvation does not come because of what we do but because of what Jesus has done not because of the efforts of our lives but because of the efficacy of His death. We experience salvation not by purifying our heart, not by perfecting our life, not by performing certain duties, not by providing certain services but by simply believing in Jesus Christ and receiving Him into our hearts and lives. Salvation IS first and foremost a gift. We do not WORK to earn it. We simply receive it.
But the Bible also teaches…and Paul affirms here…that Jesus has not only graciously saved us FROM something in the future. He also saved us FOR something in the here and now. Eternal life in heaven is not the only benefit of our salvation. Let’s look at the exact meaning of the word, work outand you’ll see what Paul is getting at.This little word is translated from the Greek word katergazesthe…and it was the same word the Roman historian STRABO, used when he gave an account of the once-famous silver mines of Spain. Strabo wrote of WORKING OUTthese mines,meaning that the owners were to operate the mines in a manner that would garner the utmost value from them. Understand-the mine’s owners already had the mines in their possession. But now they were to derive the full benefit of their ownership by WORKING OUT all the ore from the various shafts and tunnels. This same Greek word was used in Paul’s day to refer to a farmer working out his field in order to reap the greatest harvest possible. The seeds had already been planted. The crop was already growing. Now it was time to go out and harvest the crop. The farmer WORKED OUT his field so he could gather a maximum harvest.
So one thing Paul is saying here is that as Christians we must strive to get the greatest potential benefit from our salvation. God puts tremendous capacity for good in our lives-like the mother load in a silver mine or a field full of ripe crops-and He wants us to realize that capacity to its fullest. It is as if Paul is saying, Don’t stop halfway; don’t be satisfied with partial benefits when it comes to your relationship with God. Get the full benefit of the gospel.I believe God is using Paul here to teach us that once we have received His gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ, there is so much more for us to discover. We are to grow and mature. We are to bring our salvation to its proper conclusion.
You know many Christians look back on a mountaintop experience of faith when they first met Jesus and became believers. And…tragically, for many of us that’s it. We never grow from that point. But true discipleship doesn’t stop there. It goes on. It is not just a one time experience…but rather a succession of forward growth. As someone has said, discipleship is a long obedience in the same direction. The Christian life is not just a one time commitment. It is an ongoing walk. As Paul writes in Colossians 2:6-7, As you receive Jesus Christ as Lord…SO WALK IN HIM…rooted and built up in Him. God wants to continue His saving work in us everyday-refining, strengthening, making us more into His likeness. Discipleship is a lifelong process. So Paul urges us here to get on with that process-to continually strive to work out our salvation-to mine all the benefits we can from it-to constantly seek to grow and mature and be more and more like Christ. Oliver Cromwell, once wrote this motto in the front of His Bible: He who ceases to be better, ceases to be good. I think that ought to be branded into the heart of every Christian. We must all strive to be better and better and better as we WORK OUT our salvation.
Note that Paul then goes on to give us a hint as to HOW we are to motivate ourselves to do this. Look at the next phrase in verse 12. He says we must approach the task of WORKING OUT our salvation with a particular attitude. We are to do this with what? [fear and trembling.] This phrase means we are to recognize Who God is and who we are…we are to acknowledge His sufficiency and our impotency and thus our total dependence on Him. This FEAR he is talking about then comes from the realization that without God we cannot be victorious in life. As Paul goes on to say in verse 13, …it is God Who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose. In other words, He provides us with the will and the power to WORK OUT our salvation-to do anything good or true for His kingdom.
You see there is a BIG DIFFERENCE between TRYING TO LIFE FOR Jesus and ALLOWING Jesus to live THROUGH us. What Jesus wants to do is to come into our lives and help us-enable us — to live out His will. He doesn’t just ASK us to do what He would do. He offers to come in and possess us so that He can enable us to do what we could never do ourselves. So, when we refuse to live in ways that please God…when we give in to temptation to sin…we are denying the will power and strength that God offers. We are saying, God-no thanks-I would rather sin. I would rather not WORK OUT the fullest benefit of the salvation You have provided through Your Son.
But you know this fear that Paul is talking about also comes from our realization that if we don’t obey God, if we don’t work out our salvation by living in ways that please Him we know we will grieve and disappoint Him. As followers of Jesus we love God and we want to make Him proud of us and you know when we really love someone, we’re not afraid of what that person may do to us; we are afraid of what we may do to him or her. The fear of love is not the fear that we may be punished by the other person; it is the fear that we may wound the heart of the other person. And so the fear Paul is referring to is the Christian’s apprehension that by his or her sinful actions he may wound God, and in essence crucify Christ all over again. You see, when Jesus died on the cross, He was dying for the sins of ALL mankind. I Peter 1:24 says that, He Himself bore OUR sins in His body on the tree…Hebrews 7:27 says that He made this all encompassing sacrifice …once and for all.That means when Jesus died, He died not only for the sins that had BEEN committed up until that point but also for all FUTURE sins…your sins…my sins. As He hung on the cross He felt the pain caused by our acts of rebellion against His will, those sins that we commit even now in 2001, and when I think of that it DOES cause me fear. I mean imagine our ability even now to cause Jesus to feel pain as He hung on calvary’s cross 2000 years ago! There’s an old song by Ray Bolz that expresses this apprehension. The words to the chorus refer to Jesus and pose this haunting question:
Does He STILL feel the nails…every time I fail?
Can He hear the crowd cry ‘CRUCIFY!’ again?Am I causing Him pain? Then I know I’ve got to change!I just can’t bear the thought of hurting Him!
Paul is reminding us here that, if we allow it to, this fear of disappointing-hurting God-can motivate us to steer clear of sin.
In this month’s issue of Moodymagazine there is an article that tells of a gay man who became a Christian but he admitted his difficulty in giving up his gay lifestyle. A few weeks after his conversion he called the pastor who had led him to the Lord and said, I can’t resist anymore. I’m going to go ‘cruising’ tonight.Oh…said the pastor, at a loss for words. Well, don’t you think that’s wrong? asked they young gay man on the phone. Of course I do.said the pastor. Then what should I do?the man asked. The pastor replied, What do you think that someone should do who by God’s mercy is counted as righteous as Jesus Christ? Not much more was said, but the young man later reported that when he hung up the phone, he picked up a yellow legal pad. And, he began to write, line upon line, the gracious truth the pastor had shared with him: I am as righteous as Jesus Christ…He filled a legal pad with this simple expression of what Christ’s mercy alone accomplishes for the worst of sinners. That night he did not cruise for a romantic partner. Renewed with faith in what God’s mercy alone can accomplish he was stirred to a deeper love for God and fresh obedience. We CAN avoid sin. We CAN work OUT our salvation and experience the fullest benefits of following Jesus when we realize what our salvation cost God…and say YESto the will power that He offers.
And then a second way Paul says we should show our gratitude to God is by doing everything…
2. …without grumbling or complaining…
We must work out our salvation. We must obey God. But we must NOT do so with a negative attitude. In other words, Christians must not be whiners when it comes to obeying God. Now, the Greek word for grumblinghere does not refer to a LOUD, vocal complaining. No — it’s more of an under the breath kind of rumbling sound that you can hear coming from a crowd of people if everyone is doing it. We could simulate it this morning if I were to say that my sermon will go about three hours longer. A good example of this attitude from the Bible is seen in the book of Exodus when the people of Israel obeyed God on their desert journey but they did so but with faithless murmurings and grumblings.
It’s also a word that is based on the Greek word from which we get our word dialogue.Now, dialogue in itself is not necessarily a bad thing but the Greek word here refers to more of a disputing type of dialogue like Satan’s conversation with Eve when he suggested that God was lying to her. Paul is saying here that God does not want us to dialogue-to argue-with Him. He wants us to listen to Him and to do what He says. He wants us to obey Him but happily. He doesn’t want our grudging obedience. This reminds me of the story of a little boy who was STANDING on the couch was told to sit down. He refused. His mother whacked him on the leg and said, I told you to sit down. He still refused. Once more she whacked him, and this time he DID sit down. But with his arms crossed, he looked at his mother and said, I’m sitting down on the OUTSIDE but on the INSIDE I’m standing up!
Many times that is the kind of obedience we give to God. We give our money to His work but we don’t do so willingly-definitely not cheerfully. We look at our need to observe a daily time of Bible reading and prayer as an unpleasant chore. We take a meal to a needy family or visit a church member in the hospital but we mumble under our breath the whole way. Too many times we follow Christ with a frown in our hearts. We WORK OUT OUR SALVATION but we grumble and murmur as we do so. And the worst part of this kind of behavior is that the lost world around us notices our attitude. As a result they tend to perceive of Christians as joy-LESS, negative, complaining people. And no one likes to be around a grumbler or complainer. Some folks like the British novelist J. B. Priestly (by his own admission), spread negative germs by their bad attitudes. He once declared: I have always been a grumbler. I am designed for the part-sagging face, weighty underlip, rumbling, resonant voice. Money couldn’t buy a better grumbling outfit.Have you ever been around a sourpuss like that? We all have. It is not a pleasant experience. Negativism steals joy…the joy that our world so desperately needs and it also spreads…and grows like a snow ball rolling down a hill.
Years ago Barry Siegel wrote a satirical article for the Los Angeles Timesentitled,World May End With A Splash.It shows how ridiculous it is to let negativism take charge. He writes:
Alarmists, worrying about such matters as nuclear holocaust and pesticide poisoning, may be overlooking much more dire catastrophes. Consider what some scientists predict; If everyone keeps stacking NATIONAL GEOGRAPHICS in garages and attics instead of throwing them away, the magazine’s weight will sink the continent 100 feet some time soon and we will all be inundated by the oceans. If the number of microscope specimen slides submitted to one St. Louis Hospital laboratory continues to increase at its current rate, that metropolis will be buried under 3 feet of glass by the year 2024.
If beach goers keep returning home with as much sand clinging to them as they do now, 80 percent of the country’s coastline will disappear in 10 years. It has also been reported that pickles cause cancer, wars, communism, airline tragedies, auto accidents and crime waves. You see, about 99.9% of cancer victims had eaten pickles some time in their lives so have 100% of all soldiers, 96.8% of communist sympathizers and 99.7% of those involved in car and air accidents. Moreover those born in 1839 who ate pickles have since suffered a 100% mortality rate and rats force-fed 20 pounds of pickles a day for a month ended up with bulging abdomens and loss of appetite.
This is humorous satire, but isn’t that the way it is when grumbling and complaining are allowed to run wild? This is why Christians must learn to do all things without grumbling or disputing.
Charles Swindoll writes,We have no more right to put our discordant states of mind into the lives of those around us and rob them of their sunshine and brightness than we have to enter their houses and steal their silverware.Many of us must learn to pray with David that God would ..restore the JOY of our salvation and give us a willing spirit to do His will.
For only when that happens, as David discovered will we, …teach transgressors their ways and [will] sinners will turn back to God.(Psalm 51:12-13 ) So, in this text Paul says we must respond to Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf by working out our salvation, obeying God happily with a joyful, positive attitude, and then he says one other thing.
3. We must shine like stars in the universe as we hold out the word of life.
In other words we must take every opportunity to share our faith. By the way, I disagree with the lyric of that old children’s song that says, this LITTLE light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine?It’s a cute song but not at all accurate. We are never called to be LITTLE lights in the Bible. We are commanded to be stars and stars may look small from our perspective but they are not. They are huge suns millions of miles in diameter.
So, in this text and others God is calling us to be bold, blazing, light-giving stars in a world where people live in darkness! Our relationship with God and the difference He makes in our lives is not to be something that we hide. We are to SHINE. You know, it is easy to forget how bad the situation of our lost friends and family members really is. The Bible says that without Christ they are,prisoners in the domain of darkness.(Colossians 1:13 ) without real hope in the world.(Ephesians 2:1 2 ) headed for hell and judgement.(II Thessalonians 1:8-9 ) It also says they are spiritually dead in their trespasses and sins.(Ephesians 2:1) enemies of God and cut off from Him.(Colossians 1:21 ) On the outside our lost friends may look as if they have it all together but inside they are dying spiritually and they need the WORD OF LIFE that we can bring. So, having experienced salvation, should motivate us to share that good news any chance we have. We must seize every opportunity we have to give an answer for the hope that is in us.(I Peter 3:15 )
A pastor was once flying home from a conference. He was dressed very informally and didn’t look like your typical minister. Well, he settled into the last unoccupied seat, next to a well-dressed businessman with the WALL STREET JOURNAL tucked under his arm. The minister, a little embarrassed over his casual attire, decided he’d look straight ahead and, for sure, stay out of any in-depth conversation. But the plan didn’t work. The man greeted him, so, to be polite, the pastor asked about the man’s occupation. The man replied,I’m in the figure salon business. We can change a woman’s self-concept by changing her body. It’s really a very profound, powerful thing.The man was obviously very proud of his work and the company he worked for.
The pastor commented, You look my age…have you been at this very long? I just graduated from the University of Michigan’s School of Business Administration. They’ve given me so much responsibility already, and I feel very honored. In fact, I hope to eventually manage the western part of the operation.So, you work for a national organization?the pastor asked.
Oh yes. We are the fastest growing company of our kind in the nation. It’s really good to be a part of an organization like that, don’t you think? The pastor nodded approvingly and thought, Impressive. Proud of his work and accomplishments….why can’t Christians be proud like that?And his own pride began to swell a little. Well, the business man looked at the pastor’s casual clothing and asked,And, what do you do?Rising to the competitive brag-swapping that was beginning, the pastor said,Well, it’s interesting that we have similar business interests. You are in the BODY-changing business; I’m in the PERSONALITY-changing business. We apply ‘basic theocratic principles to accomplish indigenous personality modification.’
Not wanting to admit he had been outdone, the business man replied, You know, I’ve heard about that….but do you have an office here in the city? Oh we have many offices. We have offices up and down the state. In fact, we’re national. We have at least one office in every state of the union, including Alaska and Hawaii.The business man had a puzzled look on his face. He was searching his mind to identify this huge company that he MUSThave read or heard about, perhaps in his WALL STREET JOURNAL.The pastor went on…As a matter of fact, we’ve gone international. And Management has a plan to put at least one office in every country of the world by the end of the business era.
The pastor paused and said,Do you have that in yourbusiness?Well, no. Not yet.he answered. But you mentioned management. How do they make it work?The pastor replied, It’s a family concern. There’s a Father and a Son…and they run everything.It must take a lot of capital, he asked skeptically. You mean money? the pastor said. Yes, I suppose so. No one knows just how much it takes, but we never worry because there’s never a shortage. The Boss always seems to have enough. He’s a very creative guy….and the money is, well, just there.
In fact those of us in the Organization have a saying about our Boss, ‘He owns the cattle on a thousand hills.’Oh, he’s into ranching too? asked the businessman. No, it’s just a saying we use to indicate his wealth.the pastor replied. The man sat back in his seat, musing over our conversation. What about with you? he asked. The employees? They are something to see, the pastor said.They have a Spirit that pervades the organization. It works like this: the Father and Son love each other so much that their love filters down through the organization so that we all find ourselves loving one another too. I know this sounds old-fashioned in a world like ours, but I know people in the organization who are willing to die for me. Do you have that in yourbusiness? Not yet, he said. Quickly changing strategies, he asked,But do you have good benefits?They’re substantial, the pastor said, with a gleam in his eye.I have complete life insurance, fire insurance — all the basics. You might not believe this, but it’s true: I have holdings in a mansion that’s being built for me right now for my retirement. Do you have that in your business? Not yet, he answered, wistfully and then he countered, You know, one thing bothers me about all you’re saying. I’ve read the journals, and if your business is all you say it is, why haven’t I heard about it before now?That’s a good question,the pastor said. After all, we have a 2000-year-old tradition. Wait a minute!he said. You’re right,the pastor interrupted… I’m talking about the church.I knew it…You know, I’m Jewish.Want to sign up? The pastor asked.
Now most of us don’t come close to being this creative when it comes to sharing our faith. But all of us do have GOD-given opportunities like this every day to hold forth the word of lifeand if we are truly grateful for all Christ has done for us…if we really understand what our faith can mean in someone’s life then we will SHINE LIKE STARS…every chance we get.
In closing, let’s do a little personal evaluation or soul-searching. Ask yourself these questions: Are you living in such a way that shows your gratitude for all Jesus has done on your behalf? Are you as close to God as you could be? Are you getting the MOST out of your relationship with God? Or is there a lot of un-mined potential in your Christian walk? When you feel God leading you to do something, do you obey Him with a JOYFUL attitude? Or like many disciples do you whine and grumble under your breath.?
Are you shining? Are you holding forth the word of life that the lost people around you need so desperately? You know, I believe that if we really understood all that Jesus has done for us…then there wouldn’t be anything we wouldn’t do for Him. This morning is there something God is leading you to do? Perhaps His Spirit is convicting you and you realize your need to rededicate your life to Him? He may be leading you to join our church. Some of you may not be Christians and this morning God has shown you your need to respond to the word of life that we have discussed. Any decision you have to make we encourage you to make publically by coming forward as we stand and sing.