Don’t Depend on Me

The words of Philippians 2:12-13 provide a ready-made invitation to discuss the intricacies of the theological connections and distinctions between the sovereignty of God and the free will of man. Paul tells the Philippian believers to work out their own salvation, while God simultaneously works in them to accomplish His will. Both sides of the conversation are present, but was this Paul’s purpose? Was he really attempting to raise this discussion and settle it all at once?

As I read these verses, I am inclined to see a different emphasis, one that hinges on the words wherefore, and then your own, and then much more in my absence. Allow me to explain.

In the preceding verses, Paul portrays the ultimate humiliation of Christ followed His ultimate triumph (Phil. 2:5-11). He provides this ultimate example of humility to illustrate the kind of humility he expected them to display toward one another (Phil. 2:1-4 and Phil. 2:14). When he urges them to “work out their own salvation,” it seems that he is urging them to work towards the kind of humility among themselves that Christ both demonstrated at the cross and offers to work out in their corporate life together (Phil. 2:5).

So the salvation Paul mentions in Phil. 2:12 does not seem to be a reference to individual rebirth. Not here. Instead, it is a kind of corporate salvation – referring to the congregation in Philippi as a group. When he says “your” salvation, “your” is plural instead of singular. Instead of being a reference to the individual rebirth, it apparently refers back to the cooperative unity that requires Christlike humility which he urged them to pursue (Phil. 2:1-4). Pursuing this would deliver them from disappointment at the coming judgment seat of Christ. It would also deliver Paul from disappointment as their spiritual mentor (Phil. 2:16)!

He urges them to be more diligent about persevering together in humility in his absence than when he was together with them.

Ultimately, Paul urges the members of the church at Philippi to persevere in cooperative humility through personal differences in two particular settings. The first setting is when he was present with them. The second setting is when he was absent – far away from them. In fact, he urges them to be more diligent about persevering together in humility in his absence than when he was together with them (Phil. 2:12). Why? Because they naturally would have given a measure of attention to cooperate when Paul, the apostle and their mentor, was with them observing them in person. But when he departed, the accountability of his first-hand observation was removed.

Is this not a clear goal of discipleship? Mentoring young believers and churches to a place where they learn to live in light of the judgment seat of Christ on their own initiative, not relying on their mentor to hold their hand for every step? Instilling in them the fortitude necessary to depend upon God for themselves in practical ways, not relying on you inordinately, but relying on God? Yes, this is a very clear goal of discipleship, and I believe that this desire is what Paul expresses in Philippians 2:12-13.

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Click here to listen to a more thorough look at Philippians 2:12-13 by downloading the sermon entitled: “It’s Your Turn – Overcoming Selfish Living.”

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