June 30, 2010 David Balzer

Philippians 1:27-2:30: Working it out to the end

Before I went to college I spent some time teaching with a guy named Stuart. Stuart won a bronze medal in the shotput at the 1986 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games. And he’s a man-mountain. He’s still competing, as well as being a chaplain to the Australian Athletics team.

And before he arrived, a friend and I had been lifting weights for about a year. Pretty regularly. But not setting the world on fire either. And we weren’t really IMPROVING.

It wasn’t long before Stuart joined us. He was the weights EXPERT. A real GYM RAT. And he said we weren’t getting stronger because our muscles were USED TO the workload. We’d been doing the same routine for too long.

If we wanted to improve we needed to FATIGUE the muscles. Work them BEYOND what they were used to. Shock them into building more muscle tissue.

And so he introduced us to PYRAMID SETS. The idea was you’d start with something light on the bar. And do as many reps as you could. Say – 15. Then two helpers would add some weight to each side. And you’d try again. This time you might get 8 repetitions. And they’d add some MORE. This time you might only be able to do 3. And again. And you’d strain to do ONE. Each time you were working your muscles to FATIGUE. Until they couldn’t lift any more.

But that was only HALF the pyramid. Then they’d start taking the weights OFF again. And you’d repeat the process. You might do three. Then 5. Then last of all, you were just lifting THE BAR up and down. It was hilarious to watch, because by this stage, you’re muscles were so exhausted, you’d be struggling and straining. Just to lift up this thin metal bar with no weights on it at all.

And the idea was to completely fatigue the muscles/ WORKING IT OUT. RIGHT TO THE END. Don’t give up. Keep it up. That’s the only way to make progress.

And we only had to look at Stuart for inspiration. He was about 6 ft 4. Had arms the size of my legs. Legs the size of my body. And a chest the size of a large gum tree. If it worked for HIM, then we could follow his example.

And we kept it up … for a while.

1. Working it out to the end – unity for the gospel (1:27-30)

And these verses from Paul to the Philippians have a similar sentiment. The same sort of encouragement. But this time to do with the Christian life. Working it out. Right to the end. Look at Ch 2 v 12.

(Phil 2:12 NIV)  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,

You’ve started on the journey. God has SAVED you. Given you a new life. A new purpose and direction and future. Now work it out to the end. Don’t give up. Don’t HALF do it.

The Christian life isn’t about ONE DECISION. Deciding to follow Jesus, and then continuing to do exactly what you USED to do.

Or putting your feet up because you know you’ve got ETERNITY worked out, so you can just take things easy…. Are YOU ever tempted to think like that?

If that’s YOU, then Paul’s got a message for you. If the gospel really IS true. Then God should have FLIPPED YOUR WORLD ON ITS HEAD. The gospel will have CONSEQUENCES. It’s going to mean changes. And you’ve got to WORK THOSE CONSEQUENCES OUT.

And when it comes to the Philippians, Paul’s emphasis is on THEIR UNITY. Or LACK of IT. The consequences of their salvation will be seen in HOW THEY GET ON WITH EACH OTHER.

That’s his theme right through these verses. Look back to Ch 1 v27.

(Phil 1:27 NIV)  Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm IN ONE SPIRIT, contending AS ONE MAN for the faith of the gospel

When things are tough. And the world is beating you down. Your strength to stick at it/ comes from the strength of your relationships. The relationships you have with your Christian brothers and sisters.

And that’s a strength that people NOTICE. Look at how Paul continues. V28.

…contending as one man for the faith of the gospel {28} without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is A SIGN TO THEM that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved–and that by God.

Our strength and unity sends the message that WE’VE got something the world DOESN’T. We’re HEADED somewhere the world ISN’T. And we’ve got a TREASURE that’s worth MUCH MORE/ than an EASY LIFE in THIS world.

Do you KNOW that? Are you LIVING that? Is that the message YOUR LIFE is sending?

2. Expressing Unity Through Humility (2:1-4)

But Paul’s not saying we need to BUILD this unity. His point at the start of Ch 2 is that if you’re a Christian, you’re ALREADY UNITED with other Christians. Look there in v1 of Ch 2.

(Phil 2:1 NIV)  If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,

If you’re a Christian, then you’re ALREADY UNITED to other Christians. And he gives four reasons.

Firstly, because we’re all united with CHRIST.

Secondly, we all know the comfort of GOD’S love.

And third, we all experience the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

(It’s a bit like his benediction at the end of 2 Corinthians – (2 Cor 13:14 NIV)  May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.)

Paul’s fourth reason is a bit harder to work out. “If any tenderness and compassion”. He could be talking about what we receive from God. Or about what we feel for each other. But I think he’s actually talking about the Philippians’ relationship with PAUL.

He’s saying, “You all know the compassion and tenderness I have for all of you, and vice-versa. Then make my joy COMPLETE. By doing what I’m asking.”

That’s four areas in which the Philippians are ALREADY unified. The encouragement of being in Christ. The love of God. The fellowship of the Holy Spirit. And their relationship with Paul.

And then Paul goes on. That’s the unity. It’s already there in STATUS. But it also needs to be there in REALITY./ Unity is there in IDENTITY. But it also needs to be EXPRESSED.

Take Dean, and Spence, and Mike Turner, for example. They’ve got something in common, but you couldn’t tell just by looking. They’re united in status and identity. But you’d never tell.

Until they all pulled on their Parramatta jerseys. And their beanies. And started making excuses about why Parramatta lost AGAIN.

The unity is there in STATUS. But it just needs to be EXPRESSED.

And that’s Paul’s point. Your unity as Christians is there already. Work out the CONSEQUENCES of that unity. Work out how to SHOW it. V2.

(Phil 2:2 NIV)  then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.

Four areas in which unity is SEEN.

Just like there are four FOUNDATIONS to their unity in v1. So there are four EXPRESSIONS of that unity. Same MIND. Same LOVE, Same Spirit. Same PURPOSE.

Same mind doesn’t mean we should all be CLONES – think identically. It’s more about setting our minds on the same PRIORITIES. Think about the world in the SAME WAY. Have the same MINDSET.

And then there’s “same LOVE”. Give EVERYONE the same concern as you give yourself. No LEVELS of attention. Or concern. No VIP’s. SAME LOVE.

And same Spirit. It’s literally “together in soul”. Not just your mind, but your whole being. Pointed in the same direction as everyone else.

And that’s the fourth area. Same PURPOSE. Same priorities. And agenda. Paul’s saying don’t form cliques, or splinter groups. Don’t take sides. Don’t be divisive. Mend bridges, don’t break them.

But HOW? How can you GET that ONENESS? It’s all very well WANTING it. But how can you work TOWARDS it?

Those ideas are so huge, it’s hard to see any step-by-step process for improvement. But that’s just what Paul gives us in v3.

(Phil 2:3-4 NIV)  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. {4} Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

If the final goal seems too big. (Same mind, spirit, purpose) Take it a step at a time. Every conversation you have with your brothers and sisters. Every action. Every phone call. Every event.

Ask the question. “Am I doing (or saying or thinking) this out of SELFISH AMBITION? Is there CONCEIT? Am I considering others better than myself? Am I looking to the interests of others?”

In other words, don’t work to YOUR agenda. Don’t build YOUR OWN empire. Don’t assume YOUR idea is always the best one.

And forget selfish ambition. Don’t go on a committee, or accept a job / just because it will push you further up the ladder. Don’t take on extra work, or work back late/ just because that’s the way to be SEEN, and noticed.

Humility is the road that leads to unity.

3. An example to follow (2:5-11)

And Paul’s got the perfect example. The perfect training partner. To look up to. To inspire you.

Like my friend and I lifting weights. We needed an example to follow. An inspiration to aim for. Like Stuart.

And that’s just what Paul gives us. He points out the ultimate instructor. And it’s not Stuart, or your home group leaders, or me. The best example ever is Jesus. Look at v5.

(Phil 2:5 NIV)  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

And then he goes on to describe what Jesus’ attitude was like. Firstly his attitude as God in heaven. Verse 6.

(Phil 2:6-7 NIV)  Who, being in very re God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, {7} but made himself nothing, taking the very re of a servant, being made in human likeness.

God the Son was equal with God the Father in every respect. He had every privilege. The ultimate position. The ultimate happiness in his friendship with his Father.

But he didn’t cling onto ANY of it. He was prepared to give it all up. Because his Father asked him to. He took off the royal robes. The jewels. He left the crown on the shelf. The royal sceptre in the closet.

And he became one of us. A limited, finite, vulnerable, frail human being. For the SAKE of human beings. For the SAKE of his Father’s glory.

Selfless, sacrificial, slavery to the extreme. That was the attitude.

But that wasn’t the end. That would be ENOUGH of an example to follow. But look at his attitude AS A MAN. Verse 8.

(Phil 2:8 NIV)  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to — even on a cross!

When you thought that was as low as God the Son could go. He went EVEN FURTHER. He was arrested and mocked. Whipped and spat on. He suffered one of the most painful s ever invented. Endured the shame and the ridicule of his own people. The lowest of the low.

Extreme, selfless, sacrificial, slavery. That was the attitude.

And that’s the attitude WE’RE to have. “Have the same attitude as Christ Jesus”.

4. A king to bow before:

And so, because he had this attitude. his Father gave it all back. He restored all the stuff he had before. With INTEREST. Look at v9.

(Phil 2:9 NIV)  Therefore God EXALTED him to the HIGHEST place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE SHOULD BOW, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, {11} and EVERY TONGUE CONFESS that Jesus Christ is LORD, to the glory of God the Father.

So, not only is Jesus OUR EXAMPLE TO FOLLOW. But he’s also our KING to BOW BEFORE. Our LORD to SERVE.

But WHY should we do that? Why follow JESUS? There are plenty of GOOD MORAL EXAMPLES around. Like Mother Theresa. Or Billy Graham. Or Mahatma Gandhi. OTHER people to your behaviour on.

But noone who DEMANDS our obedience. Who DESERVES our imitation. Because Jesus is the ONLY ONE whose BEATEN . The only one the Father has exalted. And so, he’s EARNED our respect, and our allegiance.

Listen to how v12 follows on from 10-11. We sometimes miss the connection because of the headings.

(Phil 2:10-12 NIV)  that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, {11} and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. {12} Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–… continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,

Follow Jesus’ example – not just because it’s a GOOD one, but because he’s WON your allegiance. He DESERVES it. He’s on the throne. Bow before the king.

Keep obeying. Keep building unity through submission to others. Keep confessing that he is Lord. Keep doing it. Don’t give up. Work it out to the end.

But I’ve had enough! I can’t do any more!

But you might be thinking “Imitating Jesus is an IMPOSSIBLE goal. How am I EVER going to measure up?”

Or perhaps you’re a bit further along. “I’ve been struggling along for years. I don’t seem to be making much progress. I’m not sure I can keep it up for much longer!” It all seems a bit pointless.

And yet if you’re struggling with your eyes on Jesus, I’m confident you WILL continue. Keep plugging away. Working out your salvation to the end.

Why am I so confident? Is it because of your brilliance and godliness? No! What about your excellent work ethic and never-say-die attitude? Nope.

Maybe it’s the support of your church family. Or your role-models? Or the excellent preaching you hear every week?

All of those things are of some use. But they’re not where my confidence comes from. It’s got very little to do with ALL of these things. And EVERYTHING to do with God.

You see, it’s not JUST you whose working it out. God works WITH the Christian to accomplish his plans. And he NEVER runs out of strength, or patience, or enthusiasm. V13.

(Phil 2:12-13 NIV)  …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.

God finishes what he starts by ENERGISING, or EMPOWERING us, to do his work. He doesn’t do it INSTEAD OF us. He works IN us. Through his Holy Spirit.

It’s His Spirit who gives us the strength to keep going when all you get is discouragement, or put-downs.

It’s his Spirit who takes away your desire for the things you USED to love, and replaces it with a joy you’ve never known before.

It’s his Spirit who takes off your filthy rags of anger and rage and lust and bitterness and selfishness. And gradually replaces them his fruit. Fine clothes of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, humility, and self-control.

God works IN us and WITH us to achieve the beautiful music of a life lived according to his will and his good purposes.

I read a story about a mum who took her young son to a piano concert. He was just learning. and she wanted to inspire him. It was to hear a famous Polish pianist called Ignacy Paderewski.

After they arrived, mum spotted a friend and walked down the aisle to have a chat. The little boy saw his chance to explore. And off he went.

He eventually EXPLORED his way/ right through a door marked “NO ADMITTANCE.” When the house lights dimmed and the concert was about to begin, the mother returned to her seat and discovered her son was missing.

Suddenly, the curtains parted and spotlights focused on the impressive Steinway grand piano on stage. In horror, the mother saw her little boy sitting at the keyboard, innocently picking out “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” The audience gasped in horror.

At that moment, the great piano master made his entrance, moved to the piano, sat down next to the boy, and whispered in his ear, “Don’t quit. Keep playing.”

As the boy continued, Paderewski began filling in a bass part with his left hand. Soon his right arm reached around to the other side of the child and he added a harmony above the tune – a counter melody.

Together, the old master and the young novice worked some magic. They turned an uncomfortable situation into a wonderfully creative experience. The audience was mesmerized.

That’s the way it is with God. What we can accomplish on our own may not be much. We try our best, but the results aren’t exactly graceful flowing music. But with the hand of the Master, working through his Holy Spirit, we can work out great things.

Next time you start to wonder whether you’ve got the guts, or the patience, or the enthusiasm, to keep going. Listen carefully. You can hear the voice of the Master, whispering in your ear, “Don’t quit” “Keep playing.”

Sometimes all you’ll be able to hear is your own wrong notes. No matter how hard you try, nothing seems to sound any good. You just don’t seem to be making any progress. But that doesn’t mean God ISN’T sitting beside you. Playing along. Doing his stuff.

And with God’s power working in you, His purposes will be served. His glory will be seen.

And look at the wonderful picture of a group of people who are following Jesus’ example like that. Verse 15.

(Phil 2:15-16 NIV)  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…

Shining stars. Wouldn’t that be a GREAT description of us as a church?! Western Blacktown – shining like stars in the Western Suburbs. Holding out the word of life.

Shining the attitude of Jesus as you FOLLOW HIS EXAMPLE. As you SERVE HIM AS KING. And as his Spirit empowers you to WORK OUT YOUR SALVATION RIGHT TO THE END.

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