Calvary Road Baptist Church


Philippians 2.12-13

Here you are, in a church, and things are a little petty, a little selfish, and perhaps a little childish. Because your attention is turned inward on your internal bickering and snottiness, you have not reacted properly to the deteriorating spiritual climate in your city. Further, you are not quite aware that your church is not really mentally ready to deal with the oncoming difficulties resulting from increased hostility. That is what it was like for the church in the city of Philippi. So, the Apostle Paul, from Roman imprisonment, writes this letter to you all to encourage you to humble yourselves, to prefer others over yourselves, to treat others better than you insist on being treated yourself, so you will all come together in a spirit of unity and quit being so selfishly petty and self-centered. However, why should you? Why should you humble yourself and treat others better than yourself? Why should I yield rights and prerogatives so that you and I can be like-minded? In other words, why should I humble myself? Because the Lord Jesus Christ did. That is the thrust of Philippians 2.5-11, the passage we dealt with over the last two Sundays. The Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, humbled Himself and thereby became obedient unto the death of the cross, and then God greatly exalted Him.

The key to obedience, then, is humility. We saw that in our Savior’s life and example. People do not read God’s Word without humility. People will not sit where the ushers ask them to sit without humility. People will not sing when it is time to sing without humility. People will not dress in modest attire for church without humility. People will stay home from church or plan other events on Sunday night without humility. In short, obedience in all its forms and varieties is dependent upon humility, whether you are talking about grown-ups or teens. Having, hopefully, shown them how important humility is with respect to obedience by using the example of the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul now begins to give direction to his hopefully more humble Philippian brethren. Meaning to equip them for the rising tide of opposition that they will surely face, by focusing their attention on things more important than themselves, we now arrive at our text for this evening, Philippians 2.12-13. Please turn there in your Bible and stand with me to read God’s Word. While I read aloud, please read silently along with me, Philippians 2.12-13:

12     Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

13     For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.

As a church, you realize that you need unity. However, Paul is very clear in his explanation that unity is impossible without humility. Agreeing, you now realize that you have not been humble and ready to obey. What is next? What is next is responsibility. As Paul informed them, so I use this passage likewise to inform you; you as individuals are responsible for the spiritual condition of your church. Our people are responsible for the spiritual condition of our congregation. Paul shows this personal and individual responsibility by pointing out some things to those people that also have great application to us:


Look at Philippians 2.12:

“Wherefore, my beloved.” Here is where the history lesson begins. There can be no doubt that of all the churches Paul planted and visited, these were the people he loved the most. He thanked God for them every time he prayed for them, Philippians 1.3-4. And he misses them terribly, Philippians 1.8. There is something we should learn from this. There is nothing wrong with having a favorite. Paul had a favorite church. Our Savior had a favorite apostle. So long as your favor for someone has to do with some spiritual quality that person has in abundance more than someone else, it is proper and right to favor someone. So, because of their love for him and their history of obedience and responsiveness to him, they were his favorites.

Next, their reliability. “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence.” Folks, Paul was the man who wrote First Corinthians 4.2: “Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” Well, this was a church comprised of some very faithful believers. How appropriate would it have been for Paul to treat the Philippians and the Corinthians exactly the same? It would have been entirely inappropriate, would it not? Do you employers treat your unproductive workers the same as your productive workers? Do you give slackers and workers the same bonuses? Of course not. Then why in the world do parents who say they want to raise their children to love God and serve Christ treat all their kids the same, whether they are obedient or disobedient, whether they honor them or dishonor them? I don’t understand the reasoning at all. You have one child who is a lazy slob who won’t lift a finger to obey you, and you treat him the same way you treat a diligent and faithful child who serves God in church, and has a prayer life, and who reads God’s Word? Are you nuts? I’m not saying you shouldn’t love both children passionately. But you’d have to throw the example of the Lord Jesus Christ and the example of the Apostle Paul out the window if you treat everyone alike no matter how spiritually different they are. The Philippians were a congregation of people, much like you folks, who generally did right, who tended to obey what’s right whether Paul was there or not. Now, maybe some of you folks need a little work on that. Maybe you need to mature to the point where you serve God when I’m not around as much as when I am around, but God is working in many of our lives wonderfully. It was that kind of heart, mind, and attitude that made those folks so very easy for Paul to love. And it is those same qualities that make so many of you so easy to love. Every preacher or missionary who has ever ministered to you goes out of his way to brag on you. I am so thankful to God for you, and that is partly why. That, then, was their history with the Apostle Paul. That is why he favored them above others.


“work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”

The commandment is to “work out your own salvation.” Does this directive from Paul seem to be completely contrary to what he has written elsewhere? Remember, in Romans 4.5 we are told that salvation comes to those who do not work, but to those who have faith in Christ. In Ephesians 2.9 we are told that salvation is not of works. In Titus 3.5 we are told that salvation does not come from works of righteousness. What’s going on here? Doesn’t Paul teach that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone? Doesn’t he teach that all you have to do to be saved is come to Jesus Christ? Where does this “work out your own salvation” come from? My friends, salvation actually encompasses everything from a sinner’s sins being forgiven at the beginning of his Christian life, to that believer in Christ being given power to overcome sins during the course of his Christian life, to that same person actually being delivered into the presence of God in heaven at the conclusion of his Christian life. The question we need to ask ourselves is this: “Is Paul referring here to the entire salvation package, from beginning to end, or is he referring to one specific aspect of salvation? Or, is there something else at work here?” The fact that Paul is writing to Christians who are members of the church at Philippi is evidence sufficient for us to know that he is not describing for us here how those folks are supposed to come to Christ and become Christians. They have already come to Christ. Therefore, what Paul is dealing with here is not how a lost man is saved from his sins to become a Christian, nor necessarily how a Christian, a person who is already saved, is supposed to deal with the issue of sin in his own Christian life. Remember Philippians 2.4: “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.” The context suggests that Paul is not exclusively addressing any individual’s salvation or spiritual growth, but that he is here encouraging the healthy display of their Christian lifestyle in the Christian community of their congregation.[1] In other words, we cannot fully obey this directive to work out our salvation with fear and trembling unless we cooperate with each other in our congregation in doing so. Thus, this directive is aimed at all of us together. Imagine a platoon of soldiers who are called to attention by their sergeant. He then orders them, “Forward, march!” That directive is issued to the entire platoon, but for the platoon to do what they are told, each soldier in the platoon must do his part in relation to the others. So here, we are directed to work out our own salvation, which we can only effectively do as an entire congregation. Paul is dealing with corporate Christianity at this point.

After the commandment to “work out your own salvation” comes the concern: Paul indicates that it should be accomplished “with fear and trembling.” May I vent some frustration, here? I get more than just a little exasperated when I hear some preacher say things that are just not true. I don’t care whether it’s John MacArthur denying the importance of the shed blood of Jesus Christ, or Jack Hyles denying the eternal sonship of Jesus Christ, or Billy Graham denying that Jesus Christ is the only Savior of sinful men’s souls, I’m going to cry out against religious apostasy, both in the fundamental Baptist camp and outside it. We need to hold everyone’s feet to the fire who says things not true. Before I get too far off track, let us take careful note of this phrase, “with fear and trembling.” Amazingly, preachers and commentators frequently insist that this phrase refers to a person’s attitude toward God. Now, don’t get me wrong. The Bible teaches that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and I don’t have any problem with that at all. But is that what this phrase is referring to? Let’s see. This phrase is used three other times by Paul in the New Testament.

First Corinthians 2.3: “And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.”

Second Corinthians 7.15: “And his inward affection is more abundant toward you, whilst he remembereth the obedience of you all, how with fear and trembling ye received him.”

Ephesians 6.5: “Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ.”

Interestingly, each of these verses shows very clearly that the “fear and trembling” had to do with the emotional experiences of people toward other people, whether of Paul toward the Corinthian church as he preached to them and taught, or to the Corinthians as they received Titus, or as Christian slaves in obedience to their masters. I am persuaded that careful scrutiny of these verses and their contexts shows that “fear and trembling” describes the behavior of someone who is humble toward another whom he respects or has a desire to minister to or serve. Interesting. You are to work out your own salvation with others in your congregation. The “fear and trembling” reinforces our understanding that working out your own salvation takes place in the context of humility and a desire to minister to and serve other Christians. That should be your concern in working out your salvation.

Let me state to you that Paul has reminisced with those wonderful Christians, and has reminded them of his love for them and of their own history of obedience to God and to him. However, what we have just begun to consider, and what we will take up again when we next visit this passage, is the matter of a Christian assuming responsibility for the outworking and display of his own salvation. Please do not leave here today thinking that coming to Christ for the forgiveness of sins is something that you or anyone else can do apart from the sovereign grace of God, because that is not what this verse teaches or what I have said. What I have pointed out is that after a sinner comes to Christ and through believer baptism becomes a part of the church congregation (not mentioned in our text but certainly taken for granted as true), Paul directs us to “work out your own salvation.” I take that to mean that you are assigned awesome responsibility by God in the outworking of your salvation and in displaying victory over sin in conjunction with the rest of us in the body. Remember, Paul is advancing the notion of unity in the congregation. The phrase “fear and trembling” strongly suggests what other scriptures bear out, that working out your own salvation and gaining and experiencing victory in your life as a Christian, is not something you only can do or that you are to do alone, in isolation from other Christians. So much for so many evangelicals who think they can live for God and honor Christ in their lives without faithfully attending and being a part of church.

The question for you here today who claim to be Christians then is, “Is there any work in my life? Am I working out anything related to my salvation, or having to do with gaining victory over sin? Is there any monumental work being performed by me in the spiritual arena? And, am I faithful in attending church where I can get this done in and around other Christians under the leadership of my pastor?” If the answers to those questions are “No,” you should say, like the astronauts once said, “Houston, we have a problem.” In Philippians 2.12, the Apostle Paul, writing by inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God, penned these words to the Philippians: “as ye have always obeyed.” Isn’t that an amazing record of a group of people’s lives. Their lifestyles, as seen from a human perspective by Paul, and as seen from a divine perspective by the Holy Spirit of God, was a lifestyle of obedience. Friends, saved people, as a rule, are obedient people.

This evening, in the time that we have remaining, I want to speak to you here whose lives are not characterized by obedience, but by its opposite, rebellion. If obedience can be likened to compliance, then rebellion can be likened to defiance. Obedience means to do what you are supposed to do, while rebellion means you do not do what you are supposed to do. And your life, which is not characterized by obedience to God, is, on the contrary, characterized by rebellion toward God, at least with respect to your attitude if not your outward actions.

Three observations related to your rebellion:


To you rebellion is no big deal. To you rebellion is a small thing. It’s really nothing to be considered.

However, consider Adam’s rebellion against God in the Garden of Eden.[2] Though you have given the matter little thought, if any thought at all, you don’t see that Adam really did anything that was all that wrong by eating the forbidden fruit. God told him not to, to be sure. But he wanted to eat the fruit, so he did, just like you do what you want to do.

As well, consider Saul’s rebellion against God in the war against the Amalekites.[3] God told him to kill every man, every woman, every boy, every girl, every infant, and every animal of the Amalekites. In doing this, God sought to use Saul and the armies of Israel to take vengeance against a wicked and sinful people who had resisted the will of God by opposing the Israelites in their wilderness journey to the Promised Land centuries earlier, and were their enemies still. However, Saul left the king of the Amalekites and the choicest animals alive.[4] Why did Saul do that? Why, because he wanted to. And you see little wrong with what King Saul did. His behavior does not horrify you at all. After all, he did what he wanted to do, regardless of God’s will.

Again, consider the fifth of the Ten Commandments. “Honor thy father and thy mother.”[5] As a building block of Israelite society, God commanded that children honor their parents. Not at all like the Egyptian children of nobility treated their parents, God wanted His people to be different, to be unique, and to have solid families as a building block for a solid society. However, you smart-mouth your mother. You back-sass her. You badmouth your father behind his back. But it’s no big deal. He didn’t let you do what you wanted to do. Rebellion to you is a small thing.

Fourth, consider wives rebelling against their husbands. Some father deals with his wicked son by saying, “That’s it. Until you show respect for me and your mother, you are out of here.” Then, while dad is at work, mom is secretly washing the boy’s clothes, stuffing him full of food, and giving him money. Why did she do that? Because she wanted to. It did not matter that her husband is God’s designated head of the house. She chose to rebel against her husband because she wanted to, no matter the damage her rebellion might cause. Rebellion is a small thing to you.

Do I need to say anything about the father who provokes his son to wrath, despite the fact that God warns him not to?[6] Do I need to say anything about the worker who does just exactly what he wants to do, despite what the foreman tells him to do?[7]

In each of these cases we have little examples of rebellion. But who cares? It’s okay to do what you want to do, even if you are in rebellion. Why so? Because you think of rebellion as just doing what you want when it’s different than what someone else wants. Nothing more than that. No big deal.


You think Adam’s decision to eat fruit he was told not to eat wasn’t really that big a deal. But do you realize that all the pain and all the suffering in all of mankind since that moment in time is the direct result of that one act of rebellion? Think about these two verses:

Romans 5.12: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.”

Romans 6.23a: “For the wages of sin is death”

According to God, rebellion is sin and sin is punishable by death.

You think King Saul’s decision to leave Agag the Amalekite king alive and the decision to leave some of the choice animals alive was okay. You think the fact that King Saul did almost what God wanted him to do means he did good. However, listen to God’s estimation of Saul’s incomplete obedience, which is disobedience.

First Samuel 15.22b-23a: “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.”

Amazing. “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft.” When you rebel you are behaving in a manner that is of the same essence as witchcraft. You might as well be conjuring up spells on people, worshipping mother earth, and consorting with the devil himself. It’s the same kind of rebellion.

Are you a kid who sasses your mother? Witchcraft! Are you a wife who rebels against your husband’s wishes when he’s not around? Witchcraft! Are you a father who refuses to teach and train your child, who disappoints your child by being inconsistent and ungodly? Witchcraft! Are you a worker who refuses to give it your best on the job? Do you play games with the new foreman? Do you passively rebel and do exactly what he says, even if you know it isn’t what he means and will cause problems for him? Witchcraft!

Do you understand that I am not saying you are a witch for being rebellious? However, Samuel the prophet of God pointed out that rebellion is as witchcraft. They are sins that are of the same essence and spirit. In other words, when you rebel against what you know to be the will of God you are doing, in essence, the same thing as that vile and reprobate woman who conjures up from the pit all the demons of darkness to work her spells and to tell her fortunes.

Rebellion is wrong. Rebellion is wicked. Rebellion is never benign. It is always malignant and destructive. It always wreaks havoc. Proverbs 17.11 reads, “An evil man seeketh only rebellion.” So, don’t engage in your rebellious mind games and then try to convince yourself you are not evil. God says you are evil. All rebellion is evil. Even your kind of rebellion is evil.


Rebellion is sin. And sin is punished by God. Second Thessalonians 1.6-9 describes for us what the punishment for rebellion, as well as every other sin committed against God, will be:

6      Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you;

7      And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,

8      In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:

9      Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.

Three things I want you to notice about the rebellious:

Verses 6-7:   6      Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you;

7      And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,

Understand that it is a righteous thing for God to punish the rebellious. So, if you are rebellious you have every reason to fear. God will someday rain down wrath on you, righteously.

Verse 8: “In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Notice the rebellion in this verse. Flaming fire will be used by God to take vengeance on you who do not obey the gospel of my Lord Jesus Christ. Ponder that. Since rebellion is a natural part of your life, of course, you have not obeyed the gospel of Jesus Christ. Of course, you have not taken note of the Son of God’s crucifixion for your sins, His death on that cross, and His burial. Neither, then, have you taken real note that He rose from the dead. And why have you not taken note of these things and trusted Jesus Christ? Because that would require obedience and you have only rebellion in your nature.

Verse 9: “Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.”

Having already pointed out the flaming fire to you, let me now focus your attention on two words in this verse: “Eternal” means everlasting, forever.[8] “Destruction” does not mean annihilation, but implies the loss of all things that give worth to existence.[9] The Bible reveals that your sinful soul will exist forever in a place called in scripture the lake of fire should you die without Christ. Forever God will there take vengeance on you with flaming fire because of your rebellion, because you refused to obey Him, because you did not obey the gospel of His Son Jesus Christ.

You think about what I said, Mr. Rebellious. You consider the rebellious mind games that you play. You think they are cute. You think rebellion is clever. You think you’re getting away with something. But you’re getting away with nothing. Rebellion in all its forms is a shaking of the fist in the face of God. He hates rebellion and intends to punish it. How will God punish your rebellious refusal to obey the gospel? With flaming fire for eternity. You saw the verse yourself. Do you want to continue in your rebellion? Fine. I stand on God’s side of this issue. Rebellion, in all its forms, from the wife who undermines her husband when he’s gone, to the smart-mouthed teen who talks back to his mother, to the witch who conjures spells and consorts with demons, rightly deserves the judgment and wrath of Almighty God. I say, rightly deserves it.

But if you’re here this evening a rebel who’s pricked in your heart, who’s come to be sorry for your nasty rebellion against God, and who seeks the salvation from sin and from rebellion that only Jesus Christ can provide, then I have some great news for you to consider. Romans 5.19 says, “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” Adam’s rebellious disobedience plunged us all into sin. But the obedience of Jesus Christ on the cross provided a way for every disobedient rebel to be saved from his sins.

As we stand and sing a song of invitation, let me urge you to respond to the gospel call and trust Jesus Christ as your Savior where you stand. Not every sinner is saved. Most sinners are not saved. Perhaps you will be one rebellious sinner who is saved. At the conclusion of our service, after we have celebrated birthdays and anniversaries in our customary way, I invite you to come to my office so you and I can sit down and discuss how Jesus forgives sinners of all their sins, perhaps even your sins.

[1] Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter To The Philippians - NICNT, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), page 235.

[2] Genesis 2.16-17; Genesis 3.1-6; Romans 5.12

[3] 1 Samuel 15.1-23

[4] 1 Samuel 15.8

[5] Exodus 20.12; Ephesians 6.2

[6] Ephesians 6.4; Colossians 3.21

[7] Ephesians 6.5-7; Colossians 3.22

[8] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 606.

[9] Ibid., pages 606-607.

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