Good morning church! As we continue our series on a ‘Joy-filled Life’ from the book of Philippians, we will see today how the breathtaking view of Christ’s obedience to the Father which we read in last week’s passage now informs us to live in obedience every single day. Let’s read from Philippians 2:12-13.
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
It was the most nervous Sunday School class for me! When I was probably in 3rd grade, I remember being part of a Sunday School class taken up by a lady from church who was close to my family.
Initially, it was exciting because she was a familiar face to me but then it turned into anxiety because midway through the class she told everyone “I know someone who has been very disobedient to his parents”. Immediately my joy turned to sorrow and I was sweating.
I didn’t want to be called out…that also in front of my friends. As she was going to announce who it was – my heartbeat started racing – and finally, she said that the person was her “son”. Phew! What a sigh of relief. Now the reason I got so stressed that day was because my greatest concern was that I didn’t want to be embarrassed before my friends.
Similarly, we sometimes view obedience as something to make us look good or bad before people. So we spend a lot of time trying to appear to be “obedient followers” in front of others. But what if we saw our obedience as something that our heavenly Father wanted from us? What if we recognized that God is deeply concerned about our obedience?
Our obedience matters to God! And it matters for our joy in Him too.
Three things about obedience from this passage that I think it’s important for us to know:
- Obedience involves total surrender (v12)
- Obedience is a response to God’s grace (v12)
- Obedience is a miracle of God (v13)
1. Obedience involves total surrender (v12)
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence
The word obedience is something that we’ve overused in our church culture and even at home. So we sometimes think of obedience as obeying rules and disobedience as not obeying rules. But the word “obedience” whenever it’s used in Scripture describes surrender and submission. I’m surrendering myself to heed to what this authority is commanding me to do.
Paul was imprisoned far away from the church at Philippi while this letter was written. The church was having issues within themselves where members were getting into arguments while from the outside they were being persecuted. Paul – being their spiritual father in the faith, what does he tell them to do?
as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence
That’s why I used the word “total surrender” because I think it captures the idea to be obedient not just when your spiritual family is around but also when they are absent.
Each day there are many people who come to Mumbai from different cities far away from their homes and families. I can imagine the pressure of temptation that they feel because they’re tempted to think that since they are all alone, they can now let their guards down. They think they can do whatever they want and probably not get caught.
And it’s not just those who come from other cities but you can be living with your family in Mumbai itself but due to college or work schedules spend hours outside of the home. Maybe you get to meet your family only early morning or late evenings.
Even with the church you probably only get to meet them once or twice a week. For the remaining time you’re living by yourself. And I can understand the pressure of temptation that people face to do things in isolation – in secrecy – in private that no one knows about.
When I was new to believing in Jesus, one brother told me something that stuck to my mind. He said “Most of the time people live restricted and self-controlled lives because they’ve got family around or because they’re afraid of getting caught.
But the moment they go to another city or country for studies or college, that’s when they are really tested because they think that even if they compromise there’s no one who would know”. There’s a real danger to living in isolation.
Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. (Proverbs 18:1)
It can be relationships that we are in right now that our family or church has no idea about. It can be images and movies that we watch on a computer screen. Or it could be conversations and jokes that we have with our colleagues and college friends that we know are dishonouring God but we would never mention this before our family and friends. In our sinfulness, there is a tendency and an urge to keep a private, secret life.
Both me and Saju even though we are elders here – I wanted to tell you guys that there’s a need for us to fight this battle every single day. We are in no way taken off the hook.
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation, he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
I’m really thankful to God for a loving wife who shows me grace and applies the gospel daily & for brothers and sisters who encourage me to fight this every day.
One thing that has helped me grow as a believer has been this truth – for a believer in Christ, there isn’t a concept of private life. Why? Because all of our life – every single part of our life is owned by Christ. There’s no room for a secret stash. And this is something very important for us to consider.
If we want to really obey Christ, the question is – are we willing to fully surrender everything? Even our private life and that would mean bringing that to the light and sharing it with a trusted brother or sister who would urge you to repent and go back to the gospel. And let me tell you it’s freeing to confess and repent. We end up feeling enslaved and miserable when we conceal.
Not only is obedience total surrender
2. Obedience is a response to God’s grace (v12)
work out your own salvation with fear and trembling
The first question that came to my mind when I read this was – Is Paul talking about working for salvation? Is he telling that we should have good works to get saved? No, he’s not contradicting what he said in Ephesians 2:8,9
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast
Rather, what Paul is saying here is that because you are saved…because you have experienced and received God’s grace through Jesus, you need to obey with seriousness and reverence. We are not working for salvation but we are working out of salvation. True obedience is an outflow…it’s a result…it’s a response to the grace of God.
The Bible in Luke 7 has an interesting story of Jesus being invited to a house of a Pharisee. A woman from the city who was known for her sins heard this and brought an alabaster jar of ointment and came to the house. She stood behind him weeping and wet his feet with her tears and wiped it with hair and kissed the feet and anointed it with the ointment.
Now according to the culture of that day, it was improper for a woman to do this in a public setting. On top of that everyone seated out there knew this woman was a sinner. And Simon the Pharisee thought to himself – “If Jesus really was a prophet, he would’ve known what sort of woman this is who is touching him – she is a sinner”.
Jesus knew what he thought in his heart and told him this parable “a moneylender had two debtors – one who owed him 500 denarii and the other who owed him 50. When they could not repay the debt, he cancelled both of their debts.
Which of the two do you think will love the moneylender more?” Simon said, “I think it’ll be the one whose larger debt was cancelled”. Jesus said, “that’s correct”. “When I entered your home, you didn’t give me water for my feet but she wet it with her tears and wiped it with her hair.
You gave me no kiss but from the time I came, she’s not ceased kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, her sins even though they are many are forgiven – for she loved more. But he who is forgiven little loves little”.
The seriousness and obedience that we show toward God is often a reflection of how much we think we have been forgiven. If we think we had a massive debt over us and that was cancelled through the what Christ has done, then our obedience would be quite serious and radical! But if we think that our debt was small and minute, that would, in turn, be the love and obedience that we show to Christ.
But not only is obedience total surrender, not only is it a response to grace but
3. Obedience is a miracle of God (v13)
for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Now, this is might be slightly confusing for us. In the last verse, this is telling us to “work out our salvation” – meaning we need to actively obey God because of grace. But in this verse, it’s telling us that it’s God who actually works in us!!
Wait a minute? Am I the one to obey? Yes. Is God working in me to make me obey? Yes. How does that work?
During our honeymoon is when I learnt how to float for the first time. My wife being a good swimmer decided to help me out a little. So we found a shallow bed of water where we could practice how to float. She told me to lie flat on my back, lift my feet up and then I would float. But the moment I did that, I started sinking.
The next time I did that, I frantically started paddling with my hands and feet and still sank. This continued for almost half an hour and about the time when I almost decided to call it a day, she told me to calm down and allow the water to handle the weight of my body. She told me to lean back and calmly rest on the water body and before you know it – I started to float!!!
And similarly, I think when it comes to obedience –
- God empowers us to obey. He gives us the TOOLS which will allow us to obey Him.
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3)
- When we obey – we are actually cooperating with Him – submitting to His final authority and acknowledging that He knows better than us
- Then we actually see how God carries us forward, strengthening us to complete obedience.
It’s like floating on water. Who is the one causing us to float? It’s actually the water. We are just cooperating with the buoyant force that is allowing me to float. Obedience is active, intentional, radical but as we are obeying God we’ll see how we are able to do it only because He empowers us to do the same.
Sometimes we wonder why is it that we are not experiencing that kind of intimacy with God. We wonder why aren’t we experiencing the powerful presence of God as we ought to. And the question we need to ask ourselves is “have we been obedient to God?”
Me and Glen were having this conversation yesterday. Imagine two scenarios. One where we live our lives for our own selfish goals and pleasures and maybe we do gain the riches and luxuries of the world.
The other scenario where we probably don’t gain the riches and luxuries and where everything doesn’t go our way but instead as we are obeying God and surrendering to His will we are experiencing His power and might in such an amazing way not just in our lives but also around us! I would choose this over the former any day. There is a thrill in obedience!
And God has given us a few TOOLS to help us live out a joyfully obedient life:
1. We are His children through Jesus Christ. Sin no longer defines us. Even though we sin, even though we mess up but we can go back to God and find restoration. If you are experiencing distance from God due to your private, secret life – I want you to know that you can turn to God in repentance. He is your Father who is waiting for you with open arms.
2. He has given you the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not a weak spirit that is there within you. For he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 1 John 4:4 He is God and has brought God’s power and presence into your life. He will enable you to wage war with sin and struggles. We need to yield to Him in prayer and surrender.
3. We have brothers and sisters to help us fight. If you’re a man,I would encourage you to find one or two brothers who love the Lord with whom you can share your “private life, secret stash” and have them hold you accountable. If you’re a woman, find one or two women who love the Lord who can hold you accountable. Brothers, I want to tell you and encourage you that there is immense power in the prayers of brothers and sisters that deeply care for your spiritual health. Spiritual battles have been won. Sin has been fought with. People have been redeemed when men and women have come together to seek divine help. He will definitely answer!!