Living a Life of Joy 5) Shining with Joy

Shining with Joy

Text: Philippians 2:12-18

 

This morning we’re going to take two words in our passage and stick them together. The first is the word ‘shine’ in verse 15, where Paul talks about how we are to ‘shine like stars in the universe.’ The idea there is that we are to stand out, we are to be noticeably different. The second word is ‘rejoice’ in verse 18, where Paul talks about how even in our suffering we ‘should be glad and rejoice.’ This morning I want to combine those two ideas and talk about shining with joy. The thing that should make us stand out in this world as followers of Christ is our joy. It’s not that we’re ‘shiny happy people,’ as the B52’s put it, but that the joy that we have in Christ leaks out for the world to see. This morning we’re going to look at how we are to shine with the joy of our salvation, how our joy shines in the darkness of our world, and how we are to even shine with joy in suffering.

 

1) Shining with the Joy of our Salvation

So let’s start with how we are to shine with the joy of our salvation. In verse 12 Paul says, ‘12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. (Phil 2:12)’

a) What ‘working out your salvation’ means?

Sometimes Paul uses some pretty unusual phrases, and that idea of ‘working out your salvation’ is a beauty. What does Paul mean by that? Does he mean that we need to add to our salvation? That God does his bit and then we have to do our bit – that’s what the Roman Catholic Church teaches.

i) Christ’s work of Salvation

Firstly, it’s helpful to look at the context. Paul starts with the word ‘therefore,’ and it’s always helpful to ask what the ‘therefore’ is there for. What Paul says in our text this morning flows out of what Paul has just said in the previous verses. You can only understand ‘working out our salvation’ in light of Christ’s work of salvation. Paul beautifully outlines Christ’s work of salvation in verses 6-8. Jesus made himself nothing. Jesus became a servant. Jesus became one of us. Jesus humbled himself. Jesus obeyed his father. Jesus died on a cross. And Jesus did all that so we could been saved from our sin through faith in him. Our salvation is not found in our work but in Jesus’ work. Our salvation is not because of the things that we have done, but the things that Jesus did. We have to understand ‘working out our salvation’ in that context.

But when Paul says ‘therefore’ he’s also thinking of verses 9-11. In verses 9-11 we read that, because Jesus obediently humbled himself to death on a cross, God exalted him to the highest place, and gave him the name above every other name. And because Jesus is Lord every knee will bow and every tongue confess. We have to understand ‘working out our salvation’ in the context of Jesus’ authority as the Lord of the universe.

ii) We work out Christ’s salvation

So in light of Christ’s work of salvation let’s take another look at what Paul means. Firstly, Paul doesn’t tell us to ‘work for your salvation,’ and he doesn’t say, ‘work toward your salvation,’ or even ‘work at your salvation.’ Rather he says ‘work out your salvation.’ His point is that if you have put your faith in Jesus and his death on the cross you have already been saved. Through faith in Jesus’ work on the cross God has already worked salvation in your life, now all you have to do is work it out. Paul’s point is that we are to live out the salvation that God has already given us, we are to work out Christ’s salvation in our lives.

When I googled ‘working it out’ I got a lot of images of really muscled people… and that’s Paul’s point. In Christ God has made us spiritually healthy. But if we don’t work out we end up becoming fatter and slower and we get more and more unhealthy. Paul wants us to pump some spiritual weights, to do some spiritual push-ups, to get on a spiritual cross-trainer. We need to work out Christ’s salvation in our lives.

Theologians call this process of working out our salvation, sanctification. God makes us right with him through faith in Jesus Christ, what theologians call justification, but that’s only the beginning of our new life in Jesus Christ. Once we are saved we start to change. We start to realize that God’s love for us means we should love others. We realize that God’s grace towards us should result in us being gracious towards others. We realize that God’s generosity towards us should result in our generosity towards others. ‘Working out your salvation’ means becoming more and more like Jesus Christ. Jesus has saved us, now Paul wants us to work that out into our daily lives. And he explains ‘working that out’ in two ways.

- Obedience

Firstly, he talks about obedience. Basically what he’s saying is ‘as you have always obeyed, just keep on doing so.’ We work out our salvation by obeying Jesus. That’s why Paul connects these verses to the previous verses. We obey Jesus because Jesus has been exalted to the highest place, the place of all authority and power. We obey Jesus because he is our Lord and Master. We are saved by believing that Jesus is God in the flesh, the Second person of the Trinity, and we work out that belief by humbly submitting ourselves to him, by living in obedience to him.

- Fear and Trembling

Secondly, Paul talks about fear and trembling. This isn’t an attitude of nervous insecurity, terrified that we might lose our salvation. Rather it’s a deep awareness of our need for Christ’s work of salvation. It’s being keenly conscious of the fact that we can’t save ourselves. It’s understanding that our only hope is to cling for dear life to God’s promises. Again, we have to connect our understanding of these words to the previous verses. We work out our salvation with fear and trembling because the cross of Christ is our only hope, because Christ is our Lord and King.

b) How working out our salvation is accomplished

So if that is what working out our salvation is, how is it accomplished, how do we do it? If Paul was thinking about how we can earn our salvation you’d expect a big list of things that we should be doing, but he doesn’t do that. Rather he says, ‘13 …it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. (Phil 2:13)’ Paul is describing the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit in our lives here.

i) God works on our wills

Firstly, according to Paul, God works on our wills. Before the Holy Spirit starts working on us we are inherently selfish. Even when we helped other people in need it was to fill some desire, or need in our own lives. But when the Holy Spirit starts to work in our lives we begin to change, and one of those changes is we start to desire what pleases God. One of the things that proves we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit is that we start to want to do God’s will. This isn’t a desire to appear religious, or a desire to appear to be a good person. Rather it’s a desire to honour God, and love and serve other people. When you have this desire it won’t feel like a sense of duty, it will be a joy. And it’s mysterious because it doesn’t make any sense. Often there won’t be anything in it for you, there won’t be any thanks, or praise, or acknowledgement, you just want to do what pleases God, in fact pleasing him becomes your greatest delight, your greatest joy. Only the Spirit can change people whose desire is for what makes them happy to people who desire what pleases God.

ii) God work in our actions

Secondly, Paul says God works in our actions. The Holy Spirit doesn’t just change our desires, he actually works in such a way that people will see it. And that’s Paul’s point in this passage, what the Spirit works in us has to work out of us. When the Spirit changes our desires, we start to work out our salvation in practical everyday ways. We start to behave like Jesus. And that’s not just because of our efforts, but because of the Spirit’s activity in us and through us. Paul says elsewhere that we are saved ‘9 not by works, so that no one can boast. (Eph 2:9)’ Rather we are saved ‘10 …to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Eph 2:10b)’

iii) God’s good pleasure

Thirdly, Paul mentions God’s good pleasure. Basically, God changes our desires and our actions so that we will do his will, that we will serve his purposes, that we will desire and do the things that bring him joy. And the things that please God are so ‘good’ only because the Spirit has changed us so that living a life of joy is living our lives to please God.

The truth is that if you are doing stuff by your own effort then it will never please God, but if your desires and your doing is the work of the Holy Spirit within you then it brings great pleasure and joy to God. What should fill us with joy is not only Christ’s work of salvation on our behalf, but also the work of the Holy Spirit as we work out Christ’s salvation in our everyday lives. What should fill us with joy is the desire to love the unlovable, to be gracious to the undeserving, to be generous to the needy, not only because God  was loving and gracious and generous towards us in Christ, but because God is changing us into loving and gracious and generous people by the power of his Spirit within us. What should fill us with joy is not just being saved, but working out that salvation in our everyday lives.

 

2) Shining with Joy in a Dark World

Paul’s second challenge to us this morning is to shine with joy in the context of our dark world. I mentioned in the introduction that Paul’s point is that as followers of Christ we ought to stand out, we are to be noticeably different.

a) The darkness of the world

So first we have to establish the backdrop that we are living our lives against, the darkness of the world. Paul tells the Christians in Philippi that they are living ‘15 …in a crooked and depraved generation… (Phil 2:15b)’ I’m not sure how the Roman citizens in Philippi may have reacted to that. I’m sure they would say they were more enlightened than previous generations, they had peace, wealth, clean running water, the best communication and transport system the world had ever seen, amazing architecture, and some of the best philosophers the world has ever produced. And yet you didn’t have to dig very far to find the dark side of Roman society. Rome’s beauty and prosperity was driven by inhumane cruelty. Slaves, women, gladiators, and even children were treated as property to be used, abused and discarded without a second thought. And the truth is our generation isn’t much different. We often look at the achievements of our society and its positive elements, but the truth is we too live in a crooked and depraved generation, at least as far as God’s concerned. We see the darkness in our society’s attitude toward life, whether that’s abortion or euthanasia. We see the darkness in our society’s attitude towards sex, the prevalence of pornography, homosexuality and the sexual abuse of children. We see the darkness in the commonness of addiction, like drugs, alcohol, gambling, and food. The truth is we live in a dark world, a world defined by sin, by brokenness, and rebellion against God.

b) Shining like lights

And it’s in this context that Paul tells us to shine like lights. Paul says that as followers of Jesus Christ, or as God’s children (as Paul puts it in our text), we are to ‘15 …shine like stars in the universe. (Phil 2:15c)’ When we go outside on a clear night the stars don’t shine so bright against the glow of the city lights, but when Paul looked up at the night sky in his day the stars would have been spectacular. As God’s children we are meant to stand out like stars on a pitch black sky. And Paul talks about how we are to stand out in two specific ways.

i) What we’re not

Firstly, as God’s children we are defined by what we’re not. Paul mentions 5 things that we aren’t to be, and it’s an interesting list. Paul writes, ‘14 Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure… without fault… (Phil 2:14-15a)’ As Christians we are to be defined by the fact that we do things without complaining, and without arguing, we are to be without blame, without impurity, and without fault. As God’s children we don’t complain about our circumstances in life, because we know that God is in control of our circumstances and he is using them to not only bring about his purposes in this world, but also for our ultimate good. And as God’s children we don’t argue with others, because as we saw last week we ‘humbly consider others better than ourselves. (Phil 2:3)’ And as God’s children we are to live such lives that we can’t be blamed of wrong-doing. Elsewhere Paul writes that God chose us ‘4 …to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Eph 1:4b)’ In fact, even though we are holy and blameless in God’s sight through faith in Jesus (Col 1:22), Jesus is working out our salvation as he purifies us, so that we are ‘27 …without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Eph 5:27b)’ And when Paul says we are to be pure he means exactly that. There’s to be no darkness in us, only light. There’s to be no sin in our lives, only what pleases God. There’s to be no accommodation with the world. As God’s children we are to be different. As the Holy Spirit helps us work out our salvation in our everyday lives, our everyday lives will be different from the everyday lives of those around us. We will be conspicuous by the fact that we don’t complain about our circumstances, that we don’t argue our point, that we don’t think or act like everyone else. Children of God shine like stars because we’re different.

i) What you do

Secondly, as God’s children we are defined by what we do. And again it’s interesting, Paul says as God’s children we will shine like stars in the universe, ‘16 as you hold out the word of life… (Phil 2:16a)’ That phrase ‘hold out’ can also mean to ‘hold fast’ to something, and I think Paul has both ideas in mind here.

1. Holding fast to the Word of Light

Firstly, as God’s children we are to hold fast to the Word of Light. As God’s children we cling to God’s word. What makes us stand out is not only our deep respect for the Bible, but the fact that we trust in God’s word, we trust in his promises, we apply it to our lives, we pray that God’s word will change us and transform us.

2. Holding out the Word of Light

But not only that, as God’s children we hold out God’s word. We proclaim the word, and not just the word with a little ‘w’, but the Word with a big ‘W’. As God’s children we proclaim Jesus Christ. We stand out because we proclaim the Good News about Jesus.

I want to ask you this morning: how much do you stand out as a child of God? Do you shine like stars in this dark world? Are you different? Are you different in the fact that you don’t complain about your circumstances? Are you different in the fact that you don’t argue your point of view with others, not because you don’t think you’re right, but because you are humble? I wish I could say that was true for me! Are you different in the fact that you have integrity, that you only speak the truth, and you only do what is right? Are you different because you’re pure? How bright do you shine? The danger is that the lights of this world make the light of Jesus barely noticeable in our lives, like the view form Mt Coot-tha. But we are filled with the glory of Jesus, so let’s shine like stars, let’s stand out with the brilliance of God’s glory and grace in Jesus Christ.

 

3) Shining with Joy in Suffering

Paul’s final challenge for us this morning is whether we shine with joy in suffering. He finishes, ‘17 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. (Phil 2:17-18)’ Paul describes his suffering like ‘being poured out like a drink offering.’ According to Numbers 28 every day the priests were to offer 2 lambs and as part of that offering they would pour a litre of wine over the sacrifice. Paul uses this imagery to describe his personal suffering, his imprisonment, in two ways.

a) His Suffering was for them

Firstly, Paul sees his suffering for them. Paul is in prison because of his commitment to proclaiming and explaining the gospel. And even if it means his death he will continue to encourage the believers in cities like Philippi. Paul was pouring out his life for the Christians in Philippi. I wonder how willing we are to give our lives for the sake of our brothers and sisters? Are we willing to sacrifice our money for the work of the church? Are we willing to sacrifice our time to encourage others? Are we willing to sacrifice our energy to help people in need? Are we willing to pour out our lives for the sake of others?

b) His suffering was for God

Secondly, Paul saw his suffering as an act of worship to God. The point of pouring wine onto the sacrifice was so that the smoke would be a pleasing aroma that would go up to God. Paul gives his life as an act of worship to God. That’s what it means to be a Christian. In Romans 12 Paul writes, ‘1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. (Rom 12:1)’ We sacrifice our lives, our time, our effort, our money, our very best, in order to worship God, in order to honour him, in order to give him the glory.

No one finds joy in suffering, that’s just weird. But we do find joy in suffering that encourages and grows God’s people. We do find joy in suffering that honours and glorifies God. We find joy in giving our lives to seeing God’s Kingdom come. Paul is filled with joy, he is glad and rejoices, because he gets the opportunity to serve God and God’s people. And he wants us to feel the same way. He wants us to be glad and rejoice in the fact that we get to serve God and God’s people. I want to ask you: Do you find your joy in giving your life for the sake of others? Do you find joy in giving your life as a living sacrifice to God?

 

It sounds so weird doesn’t it, but that’s what makes us stand out in this world, that’s what makes us so different, the fact that our lives are all about Jesus Christ. Our joy is found not just in the fact that we have been saved through faith in Jesus, but in the fact that God is at work in our lives through the Holy Spirit working out our salvation in our every day lives. It is our joy to stand out and be different, to shine like stars in the darkness. Instead of complaining about our circumstances or arguing about stuff we are filled with joy, that’s how weird we are. In fact, we are so weird that we even rejoice in our suffering, especially when we are pouring out our lives for the sake of others and for the glory of God. I want to ask you one last question this morning: as you work out your salvation with fear and trembling, as you stand out in the crowd, as you suffer for the sake of the gospel, are you shining with joy? Amen.

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