What is the Meaning of Philippians 2.12-13

“Christian Progress: Work Out As God Works In”

Philippians 2:12-13

INTRODUCTION What is the Meaning of Philippians 2.12-13

Phil. 2. The year is quickly coming to a close and pretty soon we will be trying to remember to write “2017” on all our cheques. Some of us have just begun to remember to write “2016.”

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But when the new year rolls around many people make New Year’s resolutions. The most common one has to do with health. Getting in shape, losing weight…that kind of thing.

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And as you’d expect, every January, health club memberships increase…exercise rooms become crowded with the New year’s resolution crowd. And if you were in the fitness business, you would know that by March the vast majority of the new years resolution crowd will be gone.

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“They don’t see results as quickly as they think they will,” says one club director. “People don’t realize it takes a lot of work and perseverance to get in shape,” he says.

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You know…We live in a push-button, instant-everything society. Fast food, microwave it, text it…everything is instant. Our world and our culture teaches us to demand things now.

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However, that’s not the way it is with the Christian life. If you don’t see the results you want in your progress as a Christian, you can’t just throw in towel by March.

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No, you must obey and work on obeying and you know that! The Christian life takes continued sustained effort, day in day out…week, month year…a lifetime of faithfully following Christ, obeying His call on your life.

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Paul in our passage today is urging the Philippians to this end. And the way he encourages us is by encouraging us to adopt the same humble mindset as Christ. Christ, verse 8, obeyed His Father even to the point of death on the cross.

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Now, Paul encourages us to have that same humble mindset of obedience. Christ obeyed, you follow Christ, you obey.

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Philippians 2:12–13 12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

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Christ obeyed to the point of death … Now therefore, you obey too. “Obey how, Paul?” Obey by working out your salvation. “Why Paul?” Because v. 13 it’s God who is at work in you.

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You work out your salvation, because God is working in you. Working out what God works in. That’s sanctification, that’s Christian progress, that’s our growth in Christ.

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So I’d like to preach on Christian progress: work out as God works in.

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Now, there is a tension in these verses. And that tension has to do with our relationship with God.

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What is the relationship between my responsibility …as it says there verse 12 to work out my salvation… That’s my responsibility. What is the relationship between my responsibility and God’s sovereignty, His control?

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Because it says verse 13 it is God who is at work in you to will and to work. He is at work to give you the willing and the doing of His good pleasure…, so how am I to work it out but God is the one working in me, even to want to do it all and to get it done?

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Is it “God will help us along, but it’s really up to us”; or is it … “Our responsibility is simply to rest in God’s grace, to let him do the work?” Or is it, “God helps those who help themselves?”

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It’s none of those. It’s this: “Because God works is working in us, we work out our salvation.”

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Growing in Christ is not “let go and let God” or “pull myself up by my bootstraps” and do it myself. No, growing in Christ is this: because God works in me, I work it out.”[1]

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  1. My obedient work of Christian progress (v.12)

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    First, in verse 12…My obedient work of Christian progress. What is my work?

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Philippians 2:12 12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling;

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Whether Paul is present with them or absent from them, Paul wants them to obey. This is very Moses like.

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God told Moses that Moses would not enter into the Promised Land but that he would die before entering it. And Moses delivers Deuteronomy to them telling them how they should obey the Lord when they enter it.

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Just like that, Paul who’s in jail … is saying whether he’s here on earth with them or not, whether he is ministering among them or not, he wants them to obey.

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He said this before in 1:27, “whether I come and see you or remain absent…” remember, it’s like, “Hide the contraband, here comes the pastor…” Paul wants to know that his beloved…his dear friends… are obeying whether or not he’s around.

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In fact, much more in his absence, he wants them obeying.

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APP: Look, if I lived at your house, would you do things differently? How would you treat your spouse? If I lived with you, would you treat your brother or sister like that? How would you train your children? Would you change anything? If you really think you’d change things just because I was there, that doesn’t make for a happy pastor.

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What does delight the heart of a pastor is if you obey all the more in my absence! Specifically he wants there to be unity in the church family. You see that in verse 2 be of the same mind, same love, united in spirit and verse 14…do all things without grumbling or disputing.

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TRANS: The truth is, Paul couldn’t be with his dear friends and he trusted that they were going to obey even if he wasn’t there.

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But obeying by doing what exactly? Last part of verse 12 … Working out their salvation … specifically by showing their humble unity toward one another, but this also applies to our Christian growth in general.

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EXP: Paul doesn’t say “work for” or “work at” or even “work toward,” but to work out your salvation. To “work out” is one Greek word that simply means to bring to completion.

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Bring to completion your salvation. To bring it to completion requires that it first be yours. Paul says “your salvation.” You can’t work out something that you don’t have.

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ILL: You are to work out your salvation, making Christian, spiritual progress, becoming more like Christ. We’re to work out our salvation. Work it out…

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It’s like working a gold mine. You can’t mine out gold that is not in there already. And when you work it out, you want to work it all out! It’s hard work, takes a lot of man power and effort, but the reward is great!

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“Working out our salvation” is simply a phrase that refers to us mining out the riches of the salvation that we already have.

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And how much more eternally valuable are the riches that we work out of our salvation? God has saved us from our sin; let’s mine the riches of that and begin to show it. Conquering fear and worry, being bold to witness for Jesus, having a glorious sense of His presence in prayer, having an experiential feast when you read His word and you’re changed as you behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ…your face shining like Moses’ face so much that the lost look and wonder, “Where’d that joy come from!?”

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This is salvation is a gold mine!

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The atoning death of the Lord Jesus on the cross paid in full your sin debt against God. His resurrection proved it’s all paid for.

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God has shown to you true Christians his love mercy and grace by purposing in eternity past your ultimate conformity to the image of Christ, your resurrection, and ultimate inheritance. He has elected you and chose you before the foundation of the world; he has known you before you were born and had a plan for you before time began. He then sent his son the Lord Jesus to make an atonement on the cross, to extinguish God’s wrath and your guilt before him. Christ substituted himself and he was separated from God that you and God might be reconciled together.

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He delivered you from the power and the penalty of sin and he restored you to fellowship to Himself. He cleansed you from your sin and redeemed you from destruction, he washed you thoroughly from the stain of your sin and gave you freedom from the law and from sin’s power while forgiving you and dismissing all of your sin and throwing it behind his back.

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When you trusted in Christ, he credited to your account righteousness that was not your own, the righteousness of Jesus Christ himself; God’s eternal, fire-y wrath is no longer upon you and your guilt is extinguished before him. Through the cross and through trust and repentance of sin, you partake of his life, eternal life and you are heirs to his glory.

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He has adopted you as one of his own children; he has given you peace, sanctification, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, who now indwells you and he is your down payment of the promised future resurrection. He has sealed you for that day and anointed you and has caused you to be born again. You are now regenerated and converted to the faith and because of these things you can have confident expectation of glorification and future resurrection when you will be conformed to the magnificent image of Christ in both body and spirit.

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…. “It is Finished” loud He cried…oh what love for me He died!…what a complete salvation!

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This is a gold mine … the eternal goldmine of our salvation that God has worked in His people. And our job is to bring that to its completion on earth. To work it out in our life and character. To grow in Christ.

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And so the term “salvation” in Philippians 2:12 has more to do than just the initial point of salvation. It includes that but it also includes the growth in Christ today and the glorification in the future.

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So there is a sense in which I was saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved.

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I was saved from the penalty of sin… That’s justification, I was declared righteous in God’s sight by trusting in him. I am being saved from sin…that’s sanctification, my Christian progress on this earth away from sin and toward Christlikeness. And I will be saved, that’s glorification, when I am totally saved from the presence of sin…when I’m resurrected or raptured and I get a new body, rewards, and I reign with Christ.

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Today, we’re to work out the salvation that God has worked into us. Bring it to completion. Your salvation is heading somewhere, to glorification, and you’re to begin working it out, to bring that to completion.

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ILL: We can liken working out your salvation to working out of a marriage. The day of your wedding is like the day of your justification. The moment after the “I do’s,” begins the process of working out your marriage, strengthening your marriage, growing as a married couple…that’s like our Christian progress … all the way until your golden or even you diamond anniversary, like Mr. and Mrs. Menu celebrated…that’s like our glorification.

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Married couples need to bring to completion what was begun. The marriage needs to flourish and grow! Just like a marriage begins, grows, and comes to a completion, so also salvation begins, grows, and comes to completion.

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Jesus was resurrected, ascended and exalted; and if you follow Christ, you will follow Christ and you too will be resurrected, ascended and exalted. And so today, if you never work out the riches of this salvation in your life, are you a Christian?

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If you never mine out gold from a gold mine, is it really a gold mine? Is gold in there?

If you never mine out the riches of this salvation that’s in you, is salvation really in there?

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If you don’t long for that day when you will sit with Jesus on His throne, and want that now, are you a Christian? A Christian mines out the gold mine of his salvation and brings it to bear in his life, however slowly it might be.

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1 John 3:2–3 2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. 3 [do you have that hope? ok…] And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

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Marvel … that He, whom the heavens cannot contain, and in whose sight are not clean, should bother Himself to work His wonderful salvation into such sinful flesh? The weight of such a thought is too much for the human mind to bear.

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So how cautious ought we to be to work out what He has worked in? How careful, how serious, how eager…

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Like gold miners who get a share in the gold … “Look men, you go down in there and get some gold, it’s all yours! Just grab a shovel!”

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How eager we’d be to get up each morning and get to working out our salvation, mining out the riches of His salvation in us?

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Fear and trembling.

And so we’re not surprised that we’re supposed to bring to completion, work out our salvation, grow in Christ … with fear and trembling! This is an expression used elsewhere in Paul’s writings to refer to reverence and respect. Reverence or respect for what?

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You need to have a healthy fear of disobeying God. “Obey” Paul says, by working out your salvation. This is the plan of God. Could you imagine being found by God as not doing that, when He supplied you with all the riches of salvation? It should move you that you could actually disobey the eternal God “in whose sight the heavens are not clean!” And look at those heavens, sun, moon and stars in their courses above…

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Isaiah 66:2 2 “For My hand made all these things, Thus all these things came into being,” declares the Lord. “But to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.

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TRANS: Bring to completion your salvation with fear and trembling, with a reverence for God and a fear of disobeying Him. Why? Verse 13…Because God is at work! A failure to go forward in the Christian life, uncomfortable though it may be, is to resist the living God.

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And the reason we work at it like this is because God is at work … So secondly, the divine work of Christian progress. I work out … and now I work out because God is working in. Not “God helps those who help themselves” but “I work out because God is working in.”

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  1. The divine work of Christian progress (v.12)

Philippians 2:12–13 12 …work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 [why? ] for [because] it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

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Here, Paul is emphasizing who it is who is at work in you. It is God who is at work in you. He it is who is at work… God is the one who is a work in you.

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The word for “work out” back in verse 12 means “to bring to completion.” But this word in verse 13 is a different word from work. It means to be participating in some activity. Sometimes it has the focus of energy or force. In fact, it’s the word from which we get our word “energy.”

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So the idea is that God is energizing you …God is energizing you. Not was energizing you, not that He is occasionally energizes you, no no … He is continuously energizing you, unceasingly energizing you.

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And for what? To will and to work, the verse says. God is energizing you to will for His good pleasure. God is working in you right now everyday, at every moment to give you the willingness of His good pleasure. And He is working in you right now everyday to give you the working or the power for His good pleasure. He energizes you to want to do His will and to give you the power to do His will.

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For any action, you have to have 2 parts: the will to do it, and the doing of it.

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ILL: God energizes you to have the will and the power for His good pleasure. It’s like a machine. A machine needs energy to accomplish a task.

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If I just pull my popcorn machine out of the cupboard and put the popcorn in there, it’s not going to pop the popcorn if I don’t plug it in. But if I plug it into the wall, it’s got power and so it pops popcorn. Energy continuously flows to the popcorn maker to give it the willing and doing … of my good pleasure … it’s making popcorn!

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Similarly, God continuously flows his energy … God is at work in you … He is all the time energizing you to enable you to grow toward Christlikeness.

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The power that is toward us who believe … Eph. 1:18 tells us…is the power of the strength of his might which he brought about in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right in the heavenly places far above all rule authority and power and dominion every name that is named not only in this age but also the one to come.

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It’s that kind of power that is constantly energizing the believer to be like Christ today.

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The power that raised Jesus from the dead is the same power that saves you from your sin and is the same power that enables you to work out your salvation today.

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So there’s no room for saying, “Woe is me… I’m just waiting for God to work in my heart… Maybe I’ll get power today to obey him maybe I won’t I don’t know…God, why don’t you deliver me from this sin…”

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If I plug my popcorn maker into the wall and it doesn’t work, I usually don’t doubt that there’s power available there. The problem would be with the machine.

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It’s the same with our Christian lives. If I’m having problem with some sin, it’s not God’s fault, He’s constantly energizing me to have the will and the power to be like Christ. The reality is that I’m resisting His work in some way, or I’m not being diligent in the gold mine to work out the nuggets.

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APP: And so I would recommend that you have spiritual projects. Set some goals for your spiritual life. Maybe you need to set a goal that you have family devotions five times a week. Or maybe it’s let’s all go out for pizza if every reader in our household has her or her Bible time every day this month.

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Or maybe you don’t like the rewards and so journal your prayer time or set a goal for verse memorization. Or maybe you want to work on a particular characteristic, like humility or joy and you get your Bible out and study a ton of verses and make notes and pray over those, memorize them, and watch God energize you to be that kind of person.

And pray for your own growth. “Lord, make me like Jesus today!” “Because if you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time!”

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CONCLUSION What is the Meaning of Philippians 2.12-13

How about this for a New years resolution? Walk with God every day. Read His word, pray, grow in areas of obedience. Work out this salvation as God energizes you and work out this salvation because God is energizing you.

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Go to BibleTrove.com Home Page from What is the Meaning of Philippians 2.12-13

Go to New Testament Books Page

Go to Philippians Main Page

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  1. Moisés Silva, Philippians, 2nd ed., Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 122.

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