Study Notes from Philippians by Dr. David Nelson

Philippians 2:12-18: Shining Like Stars in the Universe

By Dr. David Nelson

In the letter to the Philippians, Paul shared how his sufferings resulted in the advance of the gospel. He wrote to exhort the church to solve their internal problems so that they could bond together as one man for the advance of the gospel. Churches today need to work together for the advance of the gospel even in the midst of suffering and hardships.

12Therefore, 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, 13for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

14Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. [1]

In the previous section, Paul exhorted the church to embrace the mind of Christ. Through selfless humility, Christ obeyed God to the point of death on the cross. God honored Him with the highest name. The lesson is clear: God honors those who in selfless humility take the position of a servant. In view of this, Paul exhorts the church to embrace a servant’s heart in relation to one another and God would use them as godly examples in the city of Philippi. They would become stars shining the glory of God in dark Philippi.

The lesson of this text is when believers through selfless humility serve one another, God will use them like stars in the universe, shining God’s glory upon a dark world. Let’s look at three steps for becoming godly examples in the world.

First, believers are to build good relationships with one another (2:12-13). Paul was confident that they would obey his directives whether he was there or not. His exhortation to them was to work out their internal problems with one another. The actual wording is “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (2:12). He has already addressed them as saints in 1:1, so this is not speaking about salvation from sin, but he is focusing on an aspect of their sanctification. There were arguments, grumbling, self-seeking, and conflict (2:2-4; 4:2). How could they be a good witness to the world when they had such problems? God has not only given to us His Holy Spirit for transformation, but He has also given to us other believers in the body of Christ. As we relate with one another and endeavor to be Christ’s witnesses in the world, we sometimes have conflict with one another. They were to work out their differences “with fear and trembling.” This meant that they were to work out their differences with humility and mutual respect. When people are proud and not humble, it is difficult to solve interpersonal conflict, but when brothers and sisters meet one another with humility as servants, they are ready to work out their differences.

In marriages, business, and neighborhoods, conflict can be experienced and can become devastating. A man and a woman who were once passionately in love with one another and vowed to love each other to the end, decide to give up their marriage due to conflict and personal differences.

God’s answer is to approach one another with humility and respect. He is ready to work in every person’s heart to give them the will and the desire to do His good pleasure. He is already working in each person’s life. When believers humble themselves and face each other to work out their differences, God will step in to give them the desire and ability to please Him. Doing this is not always easy, but the Lord is there to help.

Second, believers are to live a blameless life in a depraved world (2:14-16). Paul exhorted them to do everything without grumbling or disputing. The opposite of grumbling is thankfulness and the opposite of disputing is listening to one another and respecting one another’s thoughts and opinions. The purpose of this kind of attitude is that we would become blameless and pure. In other words, they would become godly examples for others to follow.

We live our lives “in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation.” The thinking and behavior of the world stands in opposition to God’s will and truth. The words “in the mist of” demonstrates that believers are not to isolate themselves from the world, but are in the middle of the rest of the world. Through “holding fast to the word of life” we can continue to be a good testimony. “Holding fast” means to stand firm on God’s promises and His truth. By doing so, we can be godly examples in the world.

By doing so, Paul would rejoice on the day of Christ, because his efforts in Philippi were not in vain. If the Philippian believers lived as godly examples, Paul would receive a reward for his service. Otherwise his labor and sufferings there would be for nothing.

Third, believers should be ready to sacrifice themselves for one another (2:17-18). Paul was ready to die (“even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith”) for their spiritual development. Even if he was martyred for their faith, he would rejoice. They should also rejoice with him. Jesus said that the world would know us as His disciples by our love for one another. Just as Christ loved us in sacrificing Himself for our sins, so too we should love one another sacrificially.

Thus, through developing good relationships with one another, living a life of gratitude, and sacrificing ourselves for one another, we, too, can be like stars in the universe, shining forth the glory of God to the world that desperately needs God’s salvation and hope.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Php 2:12–18.


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