Philippians 2:12-13 “Work Out Your Salvation”

Pastor Joshua Hall; Faith Presbyterian Church, Quincy, IL; May 24, 2020.

Please Note: This is the entire service.


Paul has been telling us of the glory of Jesus Christ. In my last message we examined the text in which God promises that one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord! What a great and joyful day that will be! All the saints are looking forward with great anticipation to the day when our beloved Lord and Savior is recognized by every government, every nation, every tribe and every person as the Lord and King over all the universe! In that day there will be no more sorrow for those who belong to Christ. In that day there will be no more hunger, no more sickness, no more abuse, no more sin, and no more suffering! For when Christ is recognized as king, there is peace and prosperity! When his kingdom is fully established there will be justice, there will be life, and there will be love. 

And remember, Christ is given the name that is above every name precisely because he humbled himself, left heaven and became a man, and even went to the cross to save us from our sins! He is worthy of our praise, our worship, our devotion, and our very lives! Now Paul is going to tell us how we should live in light of these glorious truths.

Follow along with me as I read Philippians 2:12-13 from the English Standard Version:

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.

This is the Holy Word of God. Let us pray…

Beloved, Paul continues in this passage with the words, ‘therefore, my beloved’. Do you know that you are loved this morning? God loves you, the apostles love you, I love you, the saints love you, you are loved! You may not always feel loved, but you are the beloved child of God, the brother or the sister to every other child of God! You are loved! And it is from this position as beloved that you are best able to hear and understand the wonderful words which follow in the text. But before we go any further, I want to remind you of what Paul wrote earlier in this same letter, in Philippians 1:6 (ESV) And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Beloved, if God has started a work in you, he will complete it! That’s a promise! God never abandons any work which he begins, ever! So if you have come to know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, if you have been born again, if you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit, then you are saved, and God’s never going to quit working on you! I take great comfort in this promise.

But God’s work in us does not mean that he does not work through us. And if God works through us, then he does not merely work in us. What do I mean when I say that God works through us? I mean that we are responsible to participate in the work which God is doing. We aren’t like loaves of dough in the oven being cooked to heavenly perfection all while doing nothing, we are children of our heavenly Father who are learning actively how to behave in a manner worthy of our great name as children of God!

So the apostle writes, “as you have always obeyed, so now, not only in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling”.

Beloved, we have work to do. The work we are called to do is a work God is doing in us and through us. But it is a work which we also must do. We are in God’s school, he is training us, and we must obey. Paul told the Philippians that they had always obeyed God’s commands while he was around, and now he urges the Philippians to continue obeying the Lord in his absence. 

We aren’t much different than our children. I learn a lot about myself watching the way my kids interact with the world. Sometimes they do things when they think I am not watching that they would never do in front of me. They only think I won’t find out. 

But the Philippians were apparently tempted to do things in Paul’s absence that they would never have done while he was with them, and perhaps we too are tempted to do things when we are with unbelievers or by ourselves which we would never do with our Sunday school teacher. 

So Paul reminds us that we should not care about what our Sunday school teacher thinks us of more than we care about what God thinks of us. He pointed the Philippians to this simple truth, God watches over us all. We are never going to pull anything over on God. He is present, he is holy, and he knows all that we do. And he rewards the righteous and disciplines his beloved children who disobey. So for this reason, and because the day is coming when Christ will be recognized by everyone as Lord and Savior, Paul urges us to live as though Christ is indeed our Lord and King! We are to obey him with fear and trembling!

Now beloved, I can just hear it now, someone will say, Pastor Joshua told us that we are to be afraid of God! And that doesn’t sound like the kind of God I would want to worship, it doesn’t sound like a God of love! And no one wants to hear a message about how we should serve God with fear and trembling! We will never grow a church with a message like that!

But beloved, Paul had no problem telling the Philippians both that they were the beloved children of God in whom and through whom the Lord had not only begun a good work but would finish it. And he also had no problem commanding the Philippians to obey the Lord both in his presence and his absence, and to work out their salvation with fear and trembling!

God is not a simple God. He is not a harsh, distant and unloving Father whose only good attribute is his justice and righteousness. But he is also not a God of unconditional acceptance and tolerance who puts up with our sin while affirming us in our brokenness! No, beloved, God cares about us too much to either give us the law without grace or to give us affirmation without justice! For neither of these describe the wonderful love of God!

So what is God’s love like? It is a love which sent Jesus to the cross. It is a love which overwhelms sinners and wins them from enmity toward God to adoption as God’s child. It is a love which envelops us, transforms us, renews us, trains us, disciplines us, comforts us, defends us, protects us, provides for us, cleanses us, indwells us, and flows through us! It is a love which causes us to love God as our Father who chastises us when we rebel yet who comforts us when we fall. We should fear the Lord! And we should run to him as our loving Father who always accepts us, forgives us, and loves us!

So the apostle Paul urges us to work out our salvation. He does not command us to save ourselves, nor to add to our salvation a plethora of holy works, but rather to work out what God has placed within us, to cooperate with what God is doing in our lives. We are to actively participate in God’s work of redemption. For the apostle goes on to write, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

We must work out our salvation for we dare not work against our heavenly Father who is working within us. Who would want to make God angry? Who would like to be disciplines by the hand of the Almighty? Even though we know that the loving discipline of God is better than the kisses of our enemy, we should rather want God’s blessings than his chastisement!

For it is God who works in you. When we serve the Lord or others, we must give the glory to God. He is the one who is at work within us. He must get the credit! We did not choose God, God chose us! We merely respond! 

The apostle points out two ways in which God is at work in the saints. First, God works in our will, and second, in our works. You see, it is God who gives us the will, the desire, the volition to do good works. God changes the hearts of his children so that we become increasingly more loving, increasingly more humble, increasingly more like Christ who humbled himself and considered others as more important than himself. God is the one who changes our hearts! So we should look to God in prayer, asking him to change our hearts, to give us the heart of Christ which loves others as Christ loved us! For apart from Christ we would be unable to truly count others as more important than ourselves. The love of Christ is far superior to any love of any fallen human being, for our natures were corrupted when Adam and Eve sinned, we are by nature children of wrath according to Ephesians 2. The world may teach that people are basically good. They are half correct. We were created good, but in Adam and Eve we all sinned, and now our nature is corrupted. Our love is not unselfish, it is tainted with selfishness. But in Christ we see true love. And God is at work in you and me, and in all the saints, giving us the will to do the things we ought, in short, God gives the saints an ever increasing love for God and for one another.

And second, God is the one who works in us to do the good works he has prepared for us. When you and I serve the Lord by volunteering at church, or visiting the sick, or calling the lonely, or doing any number of things for others, we must recognize that for the saints, it is God working through us to love others. This does not mean that the lost never care about their neighbors, but it does mean that only believers who are filled with the Holy Spirit can do the works which God does through them. However, there is a type of Christian love which the unbeliever does not have. There is a type of Christian peace and joy and life which the unbeliever has not yet experienced. And from this depth of love and joy and peace which come from the indwelling Holy Spirit comes the will to do the works of God and even the works themselves. So we must not only ask God to grant us the love of Jesus Christ for our friends, neighbors, and even our enemies, but we must also thank God for answering our prayer when we do good works out of love for God and others, for these are the evidence that God is indeed at work in and through us to the glory of God.

Let us pray…

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