Shine Like Stars

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Philippians 2:12-18

INTRODUCTION: We have been working our way through the book of Philippians and learning what it means to be partners in the gospel together. So far we have seen the importance of verbally sharing the gospel with others. And we have seen the importance of unity in the body of Christ for effective gospel witness. Now Paul takes it a step further and shares with us the importance of personal obedience for our gospel witness. Your life, and the way you live it have a huge impact on your witness to the gospel of Christ. (Read Philippians 2:12-18 and pray)

When I was a child, my family used to vacation in northern New Hampshire up along the Canadian border. We would rent a cabin on a lake and spend a couple weeks just relaxing, reading, swimming, fishing and hiking. But one of my favorite parts about vacationing up north was the night sky. Every night we would go outside and marvel at the beauty of the stars in the sky, far away from the city lights and distractions. The sky was that much darker, and the stars shone that much brighter than at home. It was beautiful.

Just like those stars in the northern sky, God calls you to let the beauty of Christ’s light shine through you. You are to shine like stars in this dark world as you share the gospel with those around you. And this shining like stars has everything to do with your obedience to God.

Last week we looked at Jesus’ example of humble obedience in verses 5-11. And that passage ended with a vision of the future where every knee bows before Jesus and every tongue confesses that he is Lord. Now, in light of Jesus’ example and in view of his lordship, you and I are called to obey.

Personal obedience is important not just because you belong to Christ. Personal obedience is an essential part of your gospel witness. Today’s passage gives us three important instructions regarding personal obedience and your witness to Christ. First of all, work out your salvation. Secondly, back up your witness with your life. And then thirdly, rejoice in the sacrifice. Let’s take a look at each of these in turn.

I. Work out your salvation (12-13)

First of all, work out your salvation. Verses 12-13 have to do with working out your salvation in personal obedience to God. Look at the beginning of verse 12: “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence …” (Philippians 2:12)

Paul begins by addressing the Philippians as his dear friends, literally “my loved ones.” This recalls the opening to the letter where Paul expressed his deep affection for his friends in Philippi. Paul commends them for their obedience in the past, and now he encourages them to continue in that obedience. Their obedience in the past was partly because Paul was right there with them, but now he is gone and he may not be coming back. Remember Paul is in prison facing possible execution. If the Philippians’ obedience is dependent on Paul’s being there, they are in big trouble. It’s the same way with us. Your obedience must be tied to Jesus alone and not dependent on other people.

Paul continues with this instruction in verse 12: “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13) A lot of people find these verses confusing because they go, “Wait a second. I thought I was saved by faith in Jesus, not works? What is this working out my salvation? And who’s supposed to do the working here? Is it me or is it God?”

Well, let’s take a closer look at these verses and see what they actually say. There are three important principles in these two verses: 1) You can’t work out what you don’t already have. 2) Don’t take the working out of your salvation lightly. And 3) It won’t work out unless God is already working.

   A. You can’t work out what you don’t already have

So first, you can’t work out what you don’t already have. In other words, you don’t work for your salvation; rather you are to work out the salvation that you already have.

Salvation is by faith in Christ alone. The Bible says: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) You are saved by faith. No amount of good works or personal effort will ever earn you salvation. You are saved by faith, not works, but that doesn’t mean there is no place for works in the Christian life. Faith and obedience go together. You are to work out what God has already worked in to you.

Philippians 2:12 is not talking about working to earn your salvation. It is talking about working out your salvation in obedience to God. You can’t work out what you don’t already have. Faith comes first, then obedience.

   B. Don’t take the working out of your salvation lightly

Secondly, don’t take the working out of your salvation lightly. Verse 12 says you are to work out your salvation “with fear and trembling.” Don’t take your salvation for granted. Don’t just be a casual Christian. Don’t just drift through the week without a thought to God and his commands and then come and sing songs on Sunday morning. God is awesome. He is holy. You are saved by faith, but called to obedience. Salvation is not only something you receive, but something you do. Working out your salvation means obedience. You need to work out your salvation with an attitude of awe and respect towards the God who saved you. Don’t take the working out of your salvation lightly.

   C. It won’t work out unless God is already working

And then thirdly, it won’t work out unless God is already working. Look at verse 13: “…for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13) You can’t earn your salvation on your own. And you can’t work out your salvation on your own.
Remember, God is the one who began this good work in you, and he is the one who will carry it on to completion. (Philippians 1:6) In fact this is the reason you are to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, because God is working in you.

In other words, this isn’t a game. The God who created the universe is alive and working in you. And because God is working, you need to be working too. You are not only partners with each other in sharing the gospel, but you are partners with God in working out the effects of the gospel in your life.

Notice that God is working in you “to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13) God is working on changing both your desires and your actions. God wants you to will and to act according to his good purpose. God has a good purpose for your life, but you need to live it out.

You can’t work out what you do not have. Don’t take the working out of your salvation lightly. It won’t work out unless God is already working. In other words, God’s work comes first. But we still need to work. And it is God’s work that empowers our work.

Why does all this matter? Because the gospel is at stake. If you say that you are a Christian, and yet you do not obey Christ, then you deny by your own life that the gospel has the power to save. That’s our first instruction this morning. Work out your salvation. Personal obedience is an essential part of your gospel witness.

II. Back up your witness with your life (14-16)

That leads us to our second instruction. Back up your witness with your life. As Christians we must reflect Christ. We can’t say one thing and do another. Too many people have been turned away from Christ because of hypocrisy in the church. Your life must match up with your testimony. What’s the old saying? “Your actions speak so loudly, I cannot hear what you are saying.” Personal obedience is an essential part of your gospel witness. You must back up your witness with your life.

   A. No complaining or arguing (14)

And Paul starts with a doozy here: no complaining or arguing. Look at verse 14: “Do everything without complaining or arguing.” (Philippians 2:14) Not do some things without complaining or arguing. Not do most things without complaining or arguing. Do everything without complaining or arguing. That pretty much rules it out. Any complainers here today? You may want to make Philippians 2:14 your next memory verse!

That word “complaining” actually means “murmuring, whispering complaints, muttering under your breath.” So not only is out and out complaining prohibited here, but even that muttering under your breath is out of place for a believer in Christ.

This was the problem of Israel in the wilderness, wasn’t it? God worked amazing miracles for them in Egypt, he delivered them from Pharaoh, he parted the Red Sea, he provided food for them in the wilderness, and what did they do? Grumble grumble, whine whine, complain, complain complain. How about us today? God sent his Son Jesus to die for you. He forgave all your sins. He gives you his Holy Spirit to live within you and to guide you. He gives you new purpose and direction in life. He hears all your prayers and answers according to his wisdom, power and love. And what do we do so much of the time? Grumble grumble, whine whine, complain, complain complain.

Why do we waste so much energy complaining? Complaining makes you unhappy, and it makes everyone around you unhappy. Do you really want to back up your witness with your life? Then do everything without complaining or arguing. Trust me, people will notice the difference.

   B. Stand out from the world (15)

Secondly, stand out from the world. Look at verse 15: “… so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.” (Philippians 2:15)

As Christians we are to stand out from the world. God calls you to be “blameless and pure, children of God without fault.” The idea here is not that you will be perfect or sinless, but that you live your life in such a way that no one can criticize you or question your status as a child of God. We are children of God, but too often we act like we are children of the culture. We blend in. We allow the world around us to conform us to its image rather than let God work within us to conform us to Christ’s image. How can you back up your witness with your life, if your life is indistinguishable from those in the world around you?

And what is the world around you? The Bible calls it “a crooked and depraved generation.” We live in a dark world that has left the light of God’s truth far behind. The world doesn’t care what God says about marriage or purity or worship or the words we speak. The world declares independence from God and operates by its own set of rules.

God calls you to “shine like stars” in the midst of a dark sky. You are in the world, but you are not of the world. Can you imagine a night sky without any stars at all? That’s what this world would be like if as Christians we simply blend in with the world. You need to stand out from the darkness around you.

Complaining, arguing, impurity – these all turn out the light and keep us from fulfilling our mission of sharing the gospel effectively in the world. If you are going to back up your witness with your life you need to stop complaining and arguing, you need to stand out from the world.

   C. Hold forth the word of life to others (16)

And thirdly, you need to hold forth the world of life to others. Look at verse 16: “… as you hold out the word of life – in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.” (Philippians 2:16)

When God tells you no complaining or arguing, and when he calls you to be blameless and pure, this is not personal obedience just for your own sake, but it is part of your gospel witness to a watching world. You are to shine like stars “as you hold out the word of life” to others.

The gospel is the word of life, but Jesus Christ is also the Word of life. And so you are to hold out Jesus in the gospel to those around you. The gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. (Romans 1:16) It is only the good news of Jesus Christ that brings light and life and salvation. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world … let your light shine before men.” (Matthew 5:14) So you and I are to shine like stars in the universe as we hold out the word of life for others to believe.

Notice that Paul relates the Philippians’ obedience to this command to his own reward at the day of Christ: “in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.” (Philippians 2:16) Picture an Olympic runner training day in and day out, year after year, qualifying for the Olympics, running a strong race, and then getting disqualified at the last moment. Paul says to the Philippians: “Don’t let me run or labor for nothing. I shared the gospel with you so that it would make a difference in your life, and so that you would make a difference in other people’s lives. If you don’t live out the gospel in your own life, and share it with others, then all my work is in vain.”

Have you ever spent a lot of time trying to help someone – praying with them, counseling, exhorting, encouraging – and after all that time and effort they still reject God in their life? You wonder at the end of it all, was it worth it? Now you know it was still the right thing to do, there is still a reward from God for your labor, but that’s not the reason you did it. You did it because you wanted to see that person’s life changed. You wanted to see them give their life over to Jesus. You wanted to see their life make an impact for eternity.

Someone shared Christ with you. And they wanted to see your life changed. They wanted to see you give your life over completely to Jesus. They wanted to see your life make an impact for eternity. And like Paul they want to be able to say on the day of Christ that they did not run or labor for nothing.

Personal obedience is an essential part of your gospel witness. You need to work out your salvation. You need to back up your witness with your life.

III. Rejoice in the sacrifice (17-18)

And finally, you need to rejoice in the sacrifice. Look at verses 17-18: “But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.” (Philippians 2:17-18)

   A. Pour yourself out in service to others

Paul told the Philippians in verse 5 that they should have the same attitude as Jesus. Here in verse 17 he shows that he has the same attitude as Jesus. Jesus emptied himself in obedience to the Father. Paul pours himself out in service to the Philippians.

In the Old Testament a drink offering of wine was often poured out in conjunction with the sacrifice on the altar. (see Numbers 28:7) Paul pictures himself as the drink offering being poured out on the sacrificial service of the Philippians. He has given everything for the Philippians. He has poured himself out for them and for the gospel. He has given his all.

As a Christian, God calls you to pour yourself out in service to others. The Christian life is not a solitary life of obedience to God. It is a community life of serving each other out of obedience to God.

   B. Mutual sacrifice, mutual joy

It is also a life of mutual sacrifice and mutual joy. Look at the end of verse 17 into verse 18: “I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.” (Philippians 2:17-18)

People, it should be your joy to pour yourself out in sacrificial service for each other. Don’t resent the sacrifice. Don’t resent the service expended for others. Be glad and rejoice together.

We have been talking about being partners in the gospel. We now see that partnership in the gospel is expressed in many ways. We share salvation together as we believe the gospel. We share in evangelism together as we spread the gospel. We share in Christian growth together as we obey the gospel. We share in sacrifice together for the gospel. And we share in joy together on account of the gospel. We are partners in the gospel, partners in sacrifice, partners in joy.

CONCLUSION: Personal obedience to Christ is an essential part of your gospel witness. And in these verses God gives you three motivations to obey Christ. 1) God is working in you to will and to act according to his good pleasure – that’s love for God. 2) The world is watching your life as you share the gospel – that’s love for the unsaved. 3) Others have poured themselves out for you in the gospel – that’s love for the body of Christ.

Work out your salvation. Back up your witness with your life. Rejoice in the sacrifices you make for others. Shine like stars as you hold out the word of life to a desperate and watching world.

© Ray Fowler

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