Sunday School Lesson for September 28, 2003
Background Passage: Philippians 2:12-30
Focal Teaching Passage: Philippians 2:12-18
The Call to Obey (2:12-13)
Following his appeal to the life and work of Jesus, particularly His condescension and death on the cross, Paul made a strong appeal for his brothers and sisters in the Lord to continue their lives of Christian obedience. In the same way that Christ was obedient to the will of the Father, even "to the point of death" (v. 8), the believers at Philippi were summoned to faithfully follow God’s will even more fervently in light of Paul’s "absence" from them. In conjunction with the call to obedience, Paul exhorted the community of disciples to "work out" their "salvation" with "fear and trembling." There are at least two emphases in view here:
That this was to be done with "fear and trembling" indicates that humility was to be in evidence among them. Such a spirit of complete trust and reliance upon the sufficiency of God’s strength should characterize the entire community of believers.
As they obeyed and lived out the practical implications of their faith in Christ, the Philippian believers were to remember that God Himself was at "work" in and through them "both to will and to work for His good pleasure." Thus, they were never to lose heart in the effort to be faithful to their Lord. This statement reminded the Philippians that God had taken the initiative to save them. Such was ample testimony to the richness and depth of His grace and the sufficiency of His saving power. Now, they were to cooperate with His divine purposes through obedient service to His kingdom as He powerfully worked in them to accomplish His will. They were, therefore, to be "true to his purposes, handling the gift of salvation with utmost care. After all, they were God’s showcase (Eph. 3:10), and the way they handled their salvation reflected on the God who gave it" [Melick, 111].
The Practical Outworking of Obedience (2:14-18)
Having called his brothers and sisters to obedience, Paul provided them with a series of practical exhortations to follow so that God would be glorified among them and the transforming reality of the gospel could be displayed. Paul’s intention, therefore, was to see to it that the Philippians were summoned to "set their own house in order so that God’s purpose for them as a witnessing community may be fulfilled" [Martin, 113]. It is also clear that the problems being experienced among the brethren at Philippi would be alleviated by conformity to these commands.
Ultimately (v. 16), Paul hoped that at the Second Advent—"the day of Christ"—the genuineness of the Philippians’ faith in Christ would be finally revealed. That is, by their faithfulness and endurance they would show themselves to be the true children of God. This fact would confirm for Paul that his ministry among them resulted in lasting fruit for Christ—"I did not run in vain or toil in vain."
Finally, Paul spoke of his "joy" in serving Christ, even in his chains and under the threat of death. Note that his experience of joy came to him at the very time he was being "poured out as a drink offering" in the "service" of Christ and His people (v. 17). This dramatic language of sacrifice may indicate that Paul believed his death—the emptying of his life for the sake of Christ—was imminent. Yet, even in such trying circumstances he could offer praise to God, and could "urge" his brethren to "rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me" (v.18).
Major Themes for Reflection and Application
One: Obedience When No One is Looking—Paul encouraged his brethren to be obedient and faithful to God in his absence (2:12). Think about how one’s real character is revealed when no one is looking. Reflect upon your own actions when there is no accountability.
Two: The Hard Work of the Disciple—According to 2:12-13, sanctification involves not only the work of God, but also the work of the believer. See if you can list some of the works believers must perform in order to grow toward Christ-like character. In light of these verses, is there really such a thing as passive belief?
Three: In the World, Not Of the World—No one needs convincing that the world of our day is both crooked and perverse (2: 15). Yet, isn’t it interesting that Paul does not call upon his brethren to boycott, protest, or remove themselves from the world. Rather, believers are to be shinning lights in the world. What does this say about the "herd mentality" of modern Christians whose desire is to create a Christian sub-culture and, thereby, isolate themselves from the world? What’s wrong with this mind-set? How does such behavior actually work against the gospel and compromise its integrity?
Four: Finishing the Race—In the final analysis, what is the ultimate proof of one’s salvation (2:16)? Hint: Consider the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:13.
Five: Pouring Out in Order to be Filled—In this chapter we have studied how Jesus "emptied" Himself (2:7) and how Paul was "poured out" (2:17) in service to His Lord. What does this imply about the nature of the Christian life? Are we, likewise, to empty ourselves in sacrifice to the service of our King? If so, in what way are we to do this?