Don’t Miss the Joy! Chapter 7
Finding Joy in Living Out the Mind of Christ. (Phil 2:12-18)
It is a wonderful and even transformative thing to spend time thinking about the mind of Christ, reading books about how to “be transformed” by the renewing of our minds, and listening to music to help us imbed these thoughts within us. But the Christian life is not just about our thinking. It’s about our living out what we’re thinking. That is where the reality of the Christian life really meets the road.
We live out what we put into our minds. Our thoughts drive our actions. We do not do anything, at least anything of significance, if we haven’t thought about first, (unless we are toddlers). If you are parenting a toddler (and really, even older children) it’s an act of futility to ask them “why did you do that?” when they do something disobedient. They will look at you with either impish or innocent eyes and say, “I don’t know.” For some reason that escapes me we think that children are rational in their actions and thoughtful in their behaviors.
But maturity should bring a certain intentionality and thoughtfulness to our actions. We act a certain way as thinking people because we are thinking a certain way before we act.
During a training event in our church done for our local community, a law enforcement agency came and walked us through an “active shooter” event. They taught us a number of helpful and fascinating things, but one of the things that stuck with me was the comment “your body will never go where your mind hasn’t gone first.”
Now the implication of that comment was to encourage us to plan an escape route and even practice it. We all did that before we left the building. It was a very practical lesson in human nature.
We are always acting out something that is pre-programmed into our minds. When Paul tells us in Romans 12 that we are to “be transformed by the renewing of our minds,” he was pointing to something like this. We need to think through our behaviors, our actions, and our “living out” the Christian life. Then, our bodies will follow what our minds tell us to do.
In Philippians 2:12-18 we see the implications of living out thinking like Christ. Our joy comes as we connect thoughts with actions. According to this text, we are to live out of faith, as we:
- Work out our own salvation
- Hold out the Word of life
- Pour out ourselves in service
WORKING OUT OUR SALVATION
Now before we react to this on the basis of “we are saved by grace through faith and not our own works,” let’s carefully hear what Paul is saying, and not what he isn’t saying.
Paul ISN’T saying that our salvation depends on us. It does not. “It is God Who is at work in you to will and to do His good pleasure.” The very fact that you WANT to work out your salvation is evidence that you have a salvation to “work out!”
Richard Melick in his commentary on Philippians says that this phrase is actually a play on words. We are to “work out” what God has “worked in.” (NACC, Melick, p 111)
So, this isn’t God leaving it up to us to get ourselves to the “finish line” of eternal life. That was bought and paid for on Calvary. It is a completed work of redemption and the ransom has been paid.
IN fact, Paul’s presumption of the Philippians faithfulness in obeying Christ is stated in verse 12, “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed…” He assumes their past obedience. This is just carrying it forward into real life.
The New Living Translation says, “Put into action God’s saving work in your life.” That captures the idea of this passage with simplicity. “Working out” salvation simply means, “don’t leave what has happened to you in the realm of theory.” One commentator has it, “put boots on what you know.” Walk it out. Live it out. Work it out.
There are two aspects that need consideration to understand this relationship between what God does and what we do. First of all, this is about our RESPONSIBILITY.
Now there is something about that word that makes some recoil. “Responsibility? Are you going to talk about my duty now?” Well, actually, yes. We have a responsibility, a duty if you will that we must keep in tension.
Yes, there are places in the Bible that makes us sound like passive instruments in God’s hands. We “abide” in the Vine. He is the Potter, we are “clay.” Doesn’t sound like vine branches or lumps of clay have much of an active role in the process really.
But then the other side of this is while we are branches attached to the vine and clay in the Potter’s hand, we are also ambassadors, soldiers, watchmen, children. All of these are positions of responsibility. (Briscoe, p 71)
Alongside the word responsibility we see the REALITY of working out of salvation. Paul was a realist about the Christian faith. We move it into fanciful or casual categories. We want to emphasize Jesus’ word telling the disciples (and by inference, us) that we are His “friends.” But if we treat Jesus with the same level of casualness that we treat our friends, then our relationship with Him will bear no fervor, no great Spirit-empowered deeds, and little or no life at all.
The reality, we are reminded here, is that our salvation is to be worked out like a runner works out on the track, or by laboring for the Lord. “Running” and “laboring” define Paul’s understanding of what it means to “work out” our own salvation with fear and trembling.
Another word in this phrase that needs some attention is the personal pronoun “your.” Work out “your own” salvation. That means how it is going to look for you to do that and for me to do it are two different realities. We need to be careful not to judge another person as they are “working out” their salvation. There is a lot of latitude and liberty in the Christian life, and what may be an important part of your own spiritual discipline may not be applicable to other believers.
So, we are to “work out” salvation. Second, we are to
HOLDING OUT THE WORD
Now in thinking about the translation and meaning of this phrase, I have leaned back into some different versions of the Bible. “Holding out” the word of life can mean several things is the translation that most agree on. It can mean:
1). “Hold it out” as an offering to those without life
2). “Hold it fast” as in clinging tightly to it
3). “Hold it forth” as in allowing it to be reflected in your lifestyle.
While each of these have warrant, I tend to lean on the latter translation as the better of the three. I do so, actually, because of what occurs before the command to “hold forth” the Word.
Tying back to the first imperative to “work out” our salvation, Paul now shows us what that should look like. As God works salvation INTO us, we are to be “lights that shine” in a “twisted (crooked, perverse) generation.”
In other words, our lives should look very different since we came to Christ. Of the ways we demonstrate that difference, we see three:
1). Don’t complain and argue
Complaining says, “I didn’t get my way.” Arguing says, “I’m going to get my way.” Both are rooted in selfishness and self-centeredness. While you may argue for your rights, you sacrifice your light when you do so.
Now this is not to say you shouldn’t complain if there’s a fly in your salad at a restaurant. You shouldn’t just eat the fly. But neither should you make the waiter feel like a fly!
2). Don’t murmur and dispute
“Murmuring and disputing” has a lot to do with how we relate to each other, which in turn has a great deal to do with how the community around us perceives us. Churches for too long have been known as centers of conflict, and personal vendettas, and pools of gossip.
Frankly, nothing dims the light of the Gospel and steals our joy like conflict and broken fellowship in the church. We have nothing to say to a lost and broken world. Jesus said, “They will know that you are My disciples when you love one another.” When we are “murmuring and disputing” we deny the witness of the Risen Christ among us.
3). Be blameless and pure.
This was the goal of completion of the Philippian’s and of our character. We are not hearing this as Paul asserting perfection among them, but a striving toward being “blameless” and without reproach from outsiders. But further they were to be “pure” in the privacy of their own hearts before God.
A life lived like this will truly shine and light the world in a “crooked and depraved generation.” We are to stand out more and more as different from the world we live in. We are not crooked. We are not depraved. We are not morally bereft or bankrupt. They were to “cling tightly” or “hold fast” to the Gospel which saved them, and their joy would come as they become known for that.
So, they were to “work out” their salvation with fear and trembling. They were to “hold out” the Gospel through their relationships with each other and with God Himself. And third, we are to
POUR OUT OUR LIVES
Paul continues to clearly lay out the pathway to joyful and contagious Christian living. It stands is tremendous contrast to the way many seek to live and orient their lives.
The remarks in this last section seem to indicate and look toward Paul’s impending martyrdom. He knew his life was on the line as he waited in prison. His appeals were over and if it was the desire of the court, he would be executed.
Paul lived every moment of every day with the executioner’s sword poised over his head. Some of us feel that way, I think, in our current crisis with COVID-19. But Paul said “even if…” Even if I am “poured out” like a drink offering.
A drink offering was always poured over a sacrifice already given to God. It was a done deal before the drink offering was poured. Paul’s “sacrifice” was his Gospel-centered service to the Philippians. His service was his sacrifice.
And it was one he made gladly…. even (his words) joyfully! He said, “Even if I am poured out…” This is a very interesting Greek word that he uses. In Greek it is “spendo.” It sounds just like “spend” in English. When you go shopping you “pour out” (“spendo”) your income.
Paul saw life as he possessed gladly “spent” on the Philippians. Jesus was His joy. They were his life. His pride was in their continuing steadfast in the faith. His ministry to them was his offering. Paul said, “whatever happens (even if) I rejoice” and then he turned to them and said, “and you should rejoice and be glad with me.”
If the orientation of our lives is getting and keeping, we will miss the joy. Every time. Philippians teaches us that joy comes, not from our abundance, but from our willingness to release all on the sacrificial altar of ministry to Jesus Christ as we pour out (remember, “spendo”) our lives for others.
As we look for the true source of joy, this is a large part of the puzzle. Are you giving…pouring out your lifetime, energy, resources—for others? Or are you hoarding and keeping these gifts God has given you to spend on yourselves.
If your answer is the latter, this explains why nothing you do brings joy. We work out our salvation; we hold out the Word of life; we pour out of lives in service to others in Jesus Name.
And God will make certain that joy is “worked in” to our hearts. Matt Redmond wrote a song called “Shine” inspired by the words we have looked at in this section. His song says,
“We will shine like stars in the universe,
holding out your truth in the darkest places.
We’ll be living for your glory.
Jesus, we’ll be living for your glory.
We will burn so bright with your praise, O God,
and declare your life to this broken world.
We’ll be living for your glory, Jesus.
We’ll be living for your glory.
Like the sun so radiantly sending light for all to see,
let your holy church arise. We will shine” (“Shine,” Matt Redman, © 2006 Thank You Music).