The apostle Paul has presented the Lord Jesus Christ as the great example of humility. But how do we go about practicing it? How can we hope to be as humble as our Lord?
Paul isn’t asking us to “reach for the stars” by giving us a goal that is so awesome and difficult that it’s frustrating and hopeless. He is telling us that a humble, submissive attitude and lifestyle are a process, and that God wants to give us everything necessary to develop them in our lives.
I. ENCOURAGEMENT TO GROW (verses 12 and 13)
Paul begins by encouraging us to grow. The words “work out your salvation” in verse 12 don’t mean “work for your salvation”. The Greek word translated “work out” means to “work to full completion”. The word was used in Paul”s day for “working a mine shaft”, getting all the precious ore out of the mine that you possibly can. It was also used for “working a field” so that you could get the greatest possible harvest. God wants us to become Christlike. There will be problems along the way, but God wants to help us “work them out”. Our lives have tremendous potential. He wants to help us get all we can get out of our lives. God is a God of variety. No two flowers are exactly alike, no two snowflakes are the same, and no two fingerprints are identical. All of us are called to be like Christ, but we must also be ourselves.
II. ENCOURAGEMENT TO BE WITNESSES (verses 14-16)
In verses 14 and 15, Paul compares the life of the believer with the lives of those who live in the world. Many people think that Christians are always negative and fighting against something. That’s sad because we should be known as positive people who promote what is good and right. One newspaper columnist stated that he wondered if we Christians are really loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us. Are we feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting those in prison? Jesus told us to do these things in Matthew chapter 5 in His Sermon on the Mount.
If we went through life each day without complaining, how would that affect others around us? They would enjoy being around us, wouldn’t they? We would be an encouragement to them and God would be able to shine through our lives. Two small children were seated on an airplane and they weren’t happy about it. Their cries of complaint filled the cabin of the airplane. Just before takeoff, a flight attendant stopped next to them and said with a big smile, “What is all that squawking up here?” After charming the fussy 3-year-old and his younger sister for a few minutes, the flight attendant bent down and whispered very seriously, “I must remind you, this is a non-squawking flight”. The little ones became unbelievably quiet. That made everybody feel better. It’s a long journey when you have to sit in the squawking section. I’m sure that God would like to remind us every morning that He wants this day to a non-squawking day.
This kind of problem happens in churches and among Christians also. A specialist was called in as a consultant by the board of a church that was having a lot of disagreement over a small issue. Two committees had given conflicting recommendations on how to redecorate the church building. One committee said that it should be painted white. The other committee insisted that yellow would make it look more attractive and up-to-date.
Both groups wouldn’t give in, and there were angry speeches and many harsh words. The specialist listened to their heated arguments until he finally said quietly, “Here’s my advice to you. Don’t paint it white; don’t paint it yellow; paint your church black! That would be an appropriate color for a church board that is having such a shameful quarrel!”
The members of the committees were put to shame. They now realized that their arguing and hateful comments had grieved the Holy Spirit. After some calm reflection and discussion, a peaceful agreement was reached.
In verses 15 and 16, Paul reminds us that we are God’s children and He wants us to shine as lights in this sinful world. Beatrice Tice tells of a tenement district in New York City where a boy in ragged clothes was seen with a small piece of broken mirror in his hand. Holding it high in the air he moved it slowly back and forth, watching the narrow slit of a window above him as he did so. “What are you doing?”, a man suddenly demanded as he shook the youngster roughly by the shoulder. “Like most boys in this neighborhood, you’re probably up to some mischief, aren’t you?” The boy looked up into the stern face of this man and said, “See that window up there? Well, I have a little brother who has a room on that floor. He’s a cripple. The only sunlight he ever sees is what I shine up to him with my mirror!” The man was ashamed that he had spoken to him so harshly, realizing that the boy was doing a kind deed by reflecting the sun’s rays to his lonesome brother in that dark tenement building.
We don’t have to be preachers or specially trained people to shine for Jesus. We can radiate His light to others by the thoughtful way we talk, live, and love. In verse 16 Paul tells us that if we follow these principles from God’s Word, then we’ll have the joy of knowing that our lives were not lived in vain, and our unselfish efforts will have eternal results.
III. A REASON TO REJOICE (verses 17 and 18)
In verses 17 and 18, the apostle Paul gives himself and the church at Philippi another reason to rejoice. Paul rejoices in spite of the fact that he is being “poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of their faith.” Paul established the Philippian church, and their growing faith has been the result of his sacrificial love for them and service to them.
The “drink offering” or “libation” that Paul speaks of was not an offering that was offered by itself or separately. It was an offering of wine which was poured on or around another offering. The wine represented Paul’s blood. Paul was writing this letter in a prison cell in Rome, and he knew that very soon he would be put to death because of his faith in Jesus Christ. But the main sacrifice for which he was being poured out as a drink offering was the Philippian church’s’ testimony and service to God that would continue on after his death. This was the source of Paul’s joy as he writes this letter to them, and he wants them to share in this joy together with him. Joy comes in this life from sacrifice and service to God, and from looking forward to the day when we’re promoted to glory.