Philippians 2:12–30comment (0)
March 24, 2011
By Cecil Taylor
Related Scripture: Philippians 2:12–30
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Dean, School of Christian Studies, University of Mobile
LIGHT UP THE WORLD
Based on Christ’s “mind,” i.e., His attitude of humility, Paul called the Philippians to live a life that would honor God in time and eternity.
Whether Paul was present or absent, they had to “continue to work out … [their] salvation.” This does not suggest anyone must work for salvation. The historian Strabo referred to “the working out” of once famous Spanish silver mines. Using the very word Paul used here, he meant miners were getting out into use what was already securely in their possession. Paul’s readers were not to work salvation into their lives but to work it out of their lives in daily saved behavior. “Fear and trembling” resulted from recognizing that it was God to whom they owed this responsibility.
“Working out your salvation” involves avoiding “complaining,” i.e., discontented muttering, and “arguing.” Arguing (“dialogismos”) appears in the New Testament only in a negative sense for evil thoughts or untrusting anxiety. “Without complaining” forbids an outward act; “without … arguing” forbids an inward attitude.
The previous two items kept the Philippians from their own highest development and greatest service to others. To reach their highest potential, believers must become (this verb suggests a gradual process) “blameless” in others’ sight. Christians must take care not to open themselves to criticism. They must become “pure” in their own sight. Sadly many a professed Christian is pure publicly but vile privately. Christians must be “without fault” in God’s sight.
To render their greatest service, believers must live a straight life in a godless culture. This world is “crooked,” bent out of straight, i.e., its will always crosses God’s will. It is also “depraved,” bent out of shape, i.e., warped and twisted at heart. Believers must not isolate themselves but stand in the center of a world blacked out by sin and “shine like stars” so men can steer accurately by them. This they do by “holding forth” or “holding up” as a torch the gospel that gives life. Picture the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor holding forth the Torch of Freedom. Shining also involves speaking, because life without a word is an uninterpreted parable. People may know a believer’s life is different. They will never know why unless he or she tells them.
On Judgment Day, Paul wanted to present the Philippians to Christ as proof that he did not live and work for nothing. The Philippians’ faith was both a sacrifice, i.e., an offering, and a service, i.e., priestly service in presenting the offering. On their sacrifice thus laid on the altar, Paul was ready to pour out his life as a drink offering, crowning the sacrifice. To him, it would be all joy. They, too, should rejoice — probably because it would win for him the martyr’s crown.
Paul could not go to Philippi, so he intended to send Timothy to help the Philippians and bring back to him a good report. Paul sent Timothy because he cared for the Philippians as he did. Others looked out for themselves, but Paul knew Timothy’s character well from his labor side by side with him in the common cause of the gospel.
The Philippians sent a gift to Paul by Epaphroditus. He stayed in Rome to help but fell ill and almost died. Knowing the Philippians worried about them both, Paul purposed to send Epaphroditus home with word of their well-being. In describing Epaphroditus, Paul chose each word carefully. In faith, Epaphroditus was a brother; in work, a cooperator; and in the conflict with Christ’s enemies, a fellow soldier.
As the Philippians’ “fully authorized messenger,” he went to Rome to “minister to … [Paul’s] needs.” Now he was homesick and heartsick with worry, because he knew word of his illness distressed his friends in Philippi. God’s mercy to Epaphroditus in healing him was mercy also to Paul. Epaphroditus deserved a hero’s welcome. In coming to Rome, he risked his life, not from Roman fever or the emperor Nero’s wrath but to do for Paul what the Philippians could not do in person.