Light Up the World
Explore the Bible Series
March 27, 2011
Lesson Passage: Philippians 2:12-30
Many years ago, I played basketball. The game became my passion. Despite my very limited talent, I spent hours in the gym, drilling, dribbling, shooting, and conditioning my body: endless wind sprints, “machine guns”, and running bleachers. At night I rubbed my feet with sandpaper to toughen the skin, trying to avoid blisters, and I carried a basketball everywhere I went. Mom disapproved of bouncing a basketball in the house; so, when the weather turned bad, I dribbled in the garage for hours. During winter months I played on our driveway “court” until my hands cracked and bled. For some reason my dad decided against buying me a pair of “Chuck Taylor” Converse All-Stars; so, for months I saved my money to purchase the coveted shoes. The shoes did not improve my game very much, but, when I reached junior high school and high school, I had some good coaches. One, in particular, excelled at teaching the game to young men.
All of my coaches knew how to teach the game, in theory. They patiently (sometimes not so much) taught various strategies and principles, principles I soaked up with relish. The man who taught me most about basketball had a particular quality that made him an effective coach. He not only taught with verbal instructions and diagrams on the blackboard, but he demonstrated his points, on the basketball court. In particular, I remember his efforts to teach me how to play passing lanes in a zone defense. He hitched up his gym shorts, assumed a good defensive posture, and demonstrated the positioning and footwork needed to guard the opponent. To this day, I never watch a basketball game that I don’t think of that coach. He taught the players by formal instruction and practical example. In my own imperfect way, I use this method with my students at the college. We spend much of our class time rehearsing historical data, but I also try to model, for my students, the work of a historian.
Paul evidently understood the importance of teaching by example. After the matchless Christological statements, in Philippians 2:1-11, the apostle encouraged his readers to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. But how does this “working out” look in real life? Two useful examples emerge from the epistle, Timothy and Epaphroditus.
Christian teachers must use great caution, as Paul does, in encouraging disciples to become like Christ. Certainly, believers should follow the teaching and example of the Master; yet, some precautions are needed. Human beings are not like Christ. Christians are not God; that is, we do not possess the same character and power that were embodied in the Lord. He had divine resources only available to disciples in a reflective, derived sense. Put differently, we often hear the familiar refrain, “What would Jesus do?” The sentiments expressed in this phrase seem noble, but the point is, I’m not Jesus. Timothy and Epaphroditus provided helpful examples to the believers in Philippi.
I. A General Admonition (vv.12-13) “work out your salvation with fear and trembling”
A. “Work out your own salvation”: The Bible teaches the critical, initiatory character of God’s grace, in the work of redemption (“for it is God who works in you, both to will and work for his good pleasure’); however, this affirmation does not preclude human responsibility to exercise faith and exert the will to grow in grace. Paul called his readers to vigorous exertion to work out salvation.
B. “with fear and trembling”: profound gratitude and reverence should characterize every step of the believer’s pilgrimage. These qualities exclude sinful presumption concerning one’s standing in grace.
II. Two Practical Guidelines (vv. 14-18)
A. “Do all things without grumbling or questioning” (vv. 14-15): Apparently, some of the Philippians murmured against one another and their leaders, not unlike the complaining of the ancient Israelites. Paul realized that such petulance reflected disrespect for the Lord. Like innocent, trusting children, the Philippians must safeguard their witness in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. Church dissention dims the light of the gospel witness of God’s people.
B. “Holding fast the word of life” (vv. 16-18): Much of the New Testament remained unwritten; so, it seems Paul had in mind the word of God as preached by the apostles and later entrusted to pen and parchment. The Philippians must, as Paul saw it, hold fast to these things as one might safeguard a precious treasure. Furthermore, the apostle anticipated a day when he would make an account for his labors as a minister of the gospel, and he hoped that his labors might prove genuine when tested by the judgment of God. Some commentators believe Paul’s reference to being poured out as a “sacrificial offering” refers to the possibility of martyrdom. Despite this apparently dismal prospect, Paul felt only joy, not despair.
III. Two Sterling Examples (vv. 19-30)
A. Timothy (vv. 19-24): A native of Lystra, this young man grew up under the influence of a godly mother, Eunice, and Lois, his grandmother. It seems like he became a Christian during Paul’s First Missionary Journey, and, when Paul returned to Lystra, sometime later, he asked Timothy to travel with the apostolic band. The apostle had Timothy circumcised because the young man’s mother was Jewish. At times, Paul entrusted Timothy with important, delicate assignments to troubled churches: Corinth, Philippi, and perhaps Ephesus. The young assistant also helped Paul write at least six of the epistles, and he attended Paul during the apostle’s Roman imprisonment. In our lesson text, Paul commended Timothy as a faithful servant of Christ.
1. “I have no one like him who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare” (v. 20): This verse does not denigrate all other Pauline assistants (like Silas, Titus, or Luke); rather, it highlights the special relationship Timothy enjoyed with the Philippians. Sadly, Paul did not trust the motives of some of his fellow Christians because they sought their own interests, not the concerns of Christ.
2. “You know Timothy’s proven worth” (v. 22): Time had revealed the proven character of this trustworthy servant of Christ. Like a father would trust a son, so Paul depended on Timothy.
B. Epaphroditus (vv. 25-30): Almost certainly a Gentile believer, Epaphroditus lived in Philippi, and, during the apostle’s imprisonment, this gracious man brought a gift to sustain his friend. He grew gravely ill sometime after arriving in Rome and Paul feared the poor man might die. Thankfully, he recovered, and Paul sent him back to Philippi. Like Timothy in the previous paragraph, Epaphroditus received high commendation from Paul.
1. “my brother”: implies a deep spiritual relationship between Paul and Epaphroditus.
2. “fellow worker”: refers to their partnership in the gospel.
3. “fellow soldier”: this military imagery denotes a common disciplne and combat against the forces of evil.
4. “your messenger”: the Philippians had sent Epaphroditus on a critically important mission of mercy to meet the physical needs of Paul.
5. “minister to my need”: Paul used the word from which we get our English term “liturgy.” His service to Christ was a kind of spiritual sacrifice to God.