Sunday 20th September 2020

Philippians 2:12-18

Continue to work out your salvation

As a minister one of the things I get to do is to marry people. It is an amazing privilege to stand at the front of the church with two people and lead them through their vows and to pronounce them man and wife. But one thing I always endeavour to get across through the ceremony is that there is a difference between a wedding and a marriage. A wedding is about one day, a great day, but it’s one day…Marriage is about everything that follows: couples have a wedding, but they step into a marriage.

In Philippians Chapter 2 verses 12-18, the Apostle Paul is teaching about something very similar; he is teaching about the difference between becoming a Christian, or saying you are a Christian, and living out the Christian life. He describes this as the need to continue to work out your salvation…that is, the Christian life is not just about saying you are a Christian, great as that it,  it’s about everything that follows; it’s about living the life, it’s about moving forward with Jesus, it’s about working out your salvation…

Before we look at this important truth further, let’s pray: Heavenly Father, help us now as we ponder Your precious word. May we be open to all You would say to us – come to us now by Your Spirit as our Guide and Help, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

We know that the Apostle Paul’s life was turned around by the Risen Christ and that Paul went from someone who hated Christ and His followers, to one of the greatest champions for the gospel. Paul loved nothing more than preaching of the Christ he loved and the new life that is found in Him, and so he spent much time talking, preaching, encouraging, challenging, and he did a great deal of that by letter, writing letters to newly formed churches to encourage the believers and to keep them on track. Of all the letters Paul wrote to churches, his letter to the Church in Philippi stands out as one the most personal and joy filled. In our reading and focus for today, Paul is pressing home what a life in Christ should look like and he does that by:

  • Firstly, setting out his rationale, THE WHY – Why we are called to a life of discipleship and service. THE WHY.
  • Then THE HOW – How that should work itself out – what such a life should look like. THE HOW.
  • And he concludes with speaking about THE DIFFERENCE – THE DIFFERENCE LIVING FOR CHRIST MAKES.


Let’s start with THE WHY.

‘The why’ is actually wrapped up in one word that begins verse 12, the word that links this section with all that has gone before, and that word is, ‘Therefore’, and when you see ‘therefore’ in a text, it’s ‘there for’ a reason! Paul is teaching we need to begin by reflecting on all Jesus has done for us. He is pointing us back to his previous section:

Jesus, King of kings, gave up heaven, took on the very nature of a servant, came to live amongst us, willingly humbled himself to death, even death on a Cross – dying for you and for me. Jesus, the now Risen Christ, adds Paul, is now exalted to the highest place, by the Father’s side, and a time will come when every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord…[Ch 2:6-11 my summary]

Therefore, writes the Apostle Paul, because of who Jesus is and all He has done, recognise Him as your Saviour and Lord, put your trust in Him and then go and live your life for Him…THE WHY…

Paul, ever practical, now moves to THE HOW. How living for Jesus should work out in your life and mine…now comes this key sentence, this vital teaching: ‘Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling…’ (v12) Look at the key words here: continue – work out – salvation – fear and trembling…There’s a lot there, so let’s unpack that a little…

‘Continue’: that word is straightforward – it means – keep at it – Paul is talking about something we are to keep on doing, day in and day out; this is not a one off, this is  something we are to continue doing…

Continue to’…what?  ‘Work out’…Paul is very careful with his wording here and we must be very careful and very clear in our understanding. We do not work for our salvation; we are sinners saved by grace. Being ‘saved’ is a gift from God, our part is in faith and trust to accept the gift. Elsewhere, Paul writes: ‘It is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.’ Ephesians 2:8

So, we are saved through and by all Jesus has done – we do not work for our salvation, but we are called to work out our salvation…How? What does that mean? It’s about discipleship, this is our day to day walk in the Christian life.

Do you remember at school in maths class, you were often told to show your ‘working out’. That is, show how you got your answer to a maths problem; show your thought process, your hard work, the steps taken to get from problem to answer. Such ‘working out’ implied effort, discipline, perseverance, understanding…

In the same way, ‘working out’ our salvation implies something similar on our part:  it implies effort, discipline, perseverance, staying on track…it points to diligent study of the Scriptures, a committed prayer life, working to understand the truths of the gospel, moving forward with Jesus, serving Him day in and day out…’Continue to work out your salvation…’

And do that, the working out, ‘with fear and trembling…’Is that what we might have expected Paul to say? It sounds more like punishment than blessing! It sounds like the way I used to feel in school when I couldn’t remember my 12 times tables or I had forgotten to learn my spellings! ‘fear and trembling…’ But what Paul is doing is reminding us of a truth that runs through the Bible and the truth is this:

  • Living as God’s people is a serious business.
  • It is not to be treated casually or flippantly…
  • God deserves and commands our respect – the Bible calls this ‘fear of the Lord’.

Psalm 2:11 ‘Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling.’

Proverbs 1:7 ‘Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’.

Paul is saying, when it comes to how we live out our Christian life, remember who it is you’re serving. As one of our hymns reminds us, we serve a holy God: ’Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty’…Having this right view of God will keep us both humble and motivated, but then Paul adds these wonderful words that remind us, praise God, we are not on our own in this:

For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose’ v13 

We can breathe a sigh of relief, it’s not all up to us, and isn’t that a very good thing!

God has promised His help, by His Spirit at work in your life and mine; in this Paul is saying, ‘Be energetic in your life of salvation because it is God’s energy that is inside you, deep within you, no matter what age you are, or what gifting you think you have or have not…’

And haven’t we witnessed the outworking of exactly that in this congregation through some of our more senior members; senior members who even into their nineties, could be still prayer walking, witnessing, serving with that inner drive and energy, continuing to work out their salvation, praise God…

God Himself willing and working, through us, at what will give Him the most pleasure…




Paul pulls things together with a couple of word pictures to further encourage us in our walk. Firstly, he reminds the believers that, in Christ, in living for Him, ‘You shine like stars in the universe’ (v15). You have heard me say this before – never underestimate one life lived for Christ, yours. When you live for Him that makes a difference. You are bringing some of Christ’s light to this often dark world; every time you follow His lead as you reach out a helping hand, every word of encouragement you say, every time to tell someone about following Jesus and what He means to you, you spread His light around…

Paul’s second picture is more difficult for us today to understand although the Philippians would have grasped it straight away. Paul employs the picture of sacrifices on an altar (V17).  ‘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.’ Paul is saying, yes the Christian life is about sacrifice and service, and at times it can be very tough, and Paul knew more than most how tough and challenging it could be,  but he emphasises we are in this together, and as we work out this Christian life together so that is a cause for gladness and for rejoicing.

The difference between a wedding and a marriage: A wedding is about one day – an occasion – a great day – but it’s one day. A marriage is about everything that happens after that – couples have a wedding – but they step into a marriage.

The difference between becoming a Christian, or saying you are a Christian, and living out the Christian life, stepping into the Christian life:

  • There’s THE WHY OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE: We live for Christ in response to all He has done for us – the finished work of the Cross.
  • There’s THE HOW OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE: Our calling to continue to ‘work out’ our salvation; to keep at it, persevere, keep on the move, growing, learning, serving…being energetic in our life for Christ…and we can do that because His energy is at work in us…
  • And there’s THE DIFFERENCE IT MAKES: Bringing the light of Christ to this often dark and restless world. Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world’, but He also said, ‘You are the light of the world…’

It will not be easy and like Paul, at times we may feel we are being ‘poured out’, but it is the best way, the only way to live, ultimately it is the way to true joy and rejoicing. Today, tomorrow, the next day, trust in Christ and live your life for Him, and may the Lord continue to bless you as you ‘work out’ your salvation with Him and for Him, and to Him be all the praise and glory. Amen.