Living in Obedience to Jesus

Norbert Lieth

Philippians 2:12-16 begins, “Wherefore, my beloved…” With these words, Paul is referring to the humble mind of Jesus in verses 5-11. The encouragement that Paul gives the Philippians lies in having the mind of Jesus. He is and will remain our greatest example. He is our point of orientation. We are encouraged by Him to have His mind. Just by looking at Him, we become independent of other people. When we look at Jesus, the desire to be like Him increases in us. This is why He said, “I am meek and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29). We do not look at ourselves in the shadow of those around us, but we see ourselves in the light of the One who humbled Himself on the cross, the eternal God who is exalted above all measure.

Just imagine if we all had the mind of Christ and we would orient ourselves alone by Him. The margin of the King James Bible gives the following parallel verses, “For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15). “And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us…” (Ephesians 5:2). “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked” (1 John 2:6).

This is the picture that the apostle gives to the Philippians, “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence” (Philippians 2:12).

When I am out later than usual with my wife, we often received a call from our children with the question, “When are you coming home?” They usually asked this question, not out of concern for us or because they missed us, but because they could do what they were not allowed to do when we were home for a little longer—like stay up later or play longer.

Every married couple that takes their task seriously will always be a little concerned and ask themselves, “What are our children doing now that we are not there?” And this is why parents call home sometimes and ask, “What are you doing now? Are you being good? Are you not quarreling? At 8:30 you have to go to bed.” Some children live a Christian life as long as they are in their parents’ house, but when they leave it they go their own way. What a blessing it is when a young Christian leaves his parents’ home, goes abroad and becomes independent from his parents, but does not cease to be a Christian. This is how it was for the apostle Paul. His beloved, who were his spiritual children, did not let themselves be deceived in his absence. The fact that Paul was not there did not result in less obedience among the Philippians, but they lived an independent life; they made room for the urging of the Holy Spirit, who was in them.

If a person is obedient in the presence of his boss, this is praiseworthy; but when the one concerned is as obedient in his absence, this is a clear sign of truthfulness.

Further, Paul writes, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12b). After the encouragement, Paul admonishes the Philippians to carry on working in this way. The word for “work out” actually means “complete” or “accomplish.” It is also used in farming, in the sense of tending and cultivating; like the tearing out of weeds, explains Jean Köchlin.

It is not about salvation through works or being afraid of losing one’s salvation, but taking care of the salvation we have received and working on it constantly. In our lives this should be continual, with all seriousness (with fear and trembling), realizing what we have already received. Our lives should look like a well-cared for field of flowers, from which the weeds are continually removed.

We must note that Paul is addressing a whole church. The church should work in harmony on salvation; she must not tolerate weeds. Even complaining and negative thoughts should be stopped. “Do all things without murmurings and disputings” (Philippians 2:14). “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (verse 13).

And yet it is strange. The apostle praises the church; he challenges her to work out the salvation she has received, in practice with total commitment, with fear and trembling. And now he takes the wind out of her sails and says that it is God which works in us to will and to accomplish according to His good pleasure. It is as though you would say to a puppet, “Move, get up,” and yet simultaneously, “You can only get up if I pull the strings; you are only a puppet.” Are we God’s puppets? No!

Paul says this in connection with his absence. He is expressing his wish that the zeal that they have, the obedience, even in his absence, is worked by God because He is always present. It is not Paul who through his continual presence brings them to obedience; God does it, who is also there when Paul is absent.

The Philippians are born-again children of God; the Holy Spirit urges them to do what pleases God, and God will stand by them. Could they still be disobedient if God works in them according to His will and good pleasure? Of course! Just as the Philippians could be disobedient in the presence of Paul, the believer can also be disobedient in spite of the present working of God. God basically works in every believer the will. If the Christian responds, then God also works in him “to will and to do of his good pleasure.” David, for instance, prayed for his son Solomon in 1 Chronicles 29:19, “And give unto Solomon my son a perfect heart.” God heard David’s prayer.

Let us take a practical example. We have a lot of time in the evening, and maybe a movie is on TV which interests us. And yet we feel the urge to use our time differently; perhaps to pray, to study the Bible, or to visit someone in need. This wish is from the Holy Spirit, and we will receive joy and blessing if we follow through on it. If we do not give in to this urge—and this is possible—then we have in disobedience given in to the flesh and not the urging of the Spirit of God. Then our conscience will punish us. That is why it says we should not grieve the Holy Spirit.

We all have the fervent desire to be obedient to God, and it is God that works this in us through the Holy Spirit. It is about doing the will that God works in us through the Holy Spirit, and then to experience that God stands by us.

Next, Paul writes, “Do all things without murmurings and disputings” (Philippians 2:14), challenging us to cooperate when making decisions. What is it like in our church? Matters are often discussed with complaints, doubts and murmuring. The result of this is the opposite of what Paul describes in the next verse, “That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15).

When our actions are without murmuring and disputing, then the result will of necessity be the opposite: as soon as we murmur and argue, as soon as discontent, doubt and complaining rule us, then we commit a crime against our spiritual stand and become vulnerable and open to criticism; we become guilty and lose our ability to shine.

Why is the world twisted and upside-down? Because it has no orientation; because it does not know the way; because it has no light and gropes in the dark. We are to be guiding lights to the world, but we can only be this if we hold fast to these spiritual principles. How will we show the world the way, if we are discontented with our own way?  How will we teach the world faith, if we ourselves doubt? How will we teach it spiritual unity, if we are not united?

And so Paul writes, “Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain” (Philippians 2:16). When we live according to spiritual principles, we can hold forth the word of life, and on the “day of Christ” we shall receive a reward. This would be a proof of the successful work of the apostle Paul, and a confirmation that his labor had not been in vain. Hence, the Lord will praise him for it. Paul was working for this praise. There is such a thing as a healthy pride and a joyful expectation, which encourages our service. In 2 Corinthians chapter 1, we find a suitable parallel:

“For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward…As also ye have acknowledged us in part, that we are your rejoicing, even as ye also are ours in the day of the Lord Jesus” (verses 12, 14).

The expectation of the return of Jesus is our encouragement to lead a Bible-oriented life. Paul says this in Philippians 2:12-16:

1. Jesus is our example, by whom we orient ourselves. 2. We should live an independent Christian life, even without the constant guidance of others. 3. We are requested to work out our salvation and to take care of it. 4. God will help us, because He is omnipresent. 5. We should do everything without murmuring. 6. This results in our being light to a lost world. 7. And this once again will be our praise on the day of the return of Jesus.

Midnight Call - 10/2017

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