Chapter 2:9-18 (ESV) - Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.
Question to consider: Think of a time you have faced great difficulty. How did God use it to help you grow in your faith or as a way to point others to Christ?
After humbling Himself and becoming a servant to all by doing the work of the Law for us, Christ was exalted to the right hand of God. Every knee will bow to Christ whether in love and gratitude or as the conquered, but one day there will be no more sin and death. Until that day, Paul desired that the church at Philippi and throughout time stand united in Christ.
In the same manner as Christ has served all believers, Paul was asking the Philippians (and us) to serve one another for the good pleasure of God even if Paul was not there to spur them on. The work of salvation was done by Christ, and as people who belong to Him, we have received the Holy Spirit who daily works in us to sanctify us and conform us to the image of Christ. As Paul wrote earlier, He who began a good work in us would carry it on to completion on the day of Christ Jesus.
Because the work being done in us is an act of God, Paul exhorts us in this passage to treat this act with fear and trembling rather than grumbling or disputing. I think the idea here is similar to Paul’s word to Ephesus that we are saved by grace through faith as a gift of God to do the good works He has prepared for us to do. It is easy to become self-focused when we experience hardship or injustice, but our suffering transforms into reverence and awe when we realize that God has allowed it to refine us in our faith and to make us shine as lights in the world.
As an example of this, Paul rejoiced at the privilege of being persecuted and facing death for the sake of the Gentile believers at Philippi. He even invited them to rejoice with him in this. The whole reason Paul was in prison was for preaching that Christ had brought salvation to the Gentiles. This infuriated the Diana worshipers in Ephesus who were economically impacted by the believers who rejected idolatry and taught others to do the same. Even more so, it infuriated the Jews in Jerusalem who refused to accept that the Messiah came to save Gentiles as well.
As long as we sin and are living among others who sin, there are going to be conflicts and hardships. Paul is asking us to view those conflicts and hardships as people who are being used by Christ as a light to the world. How much are we willing to endure for people to be able to see Jesus?
Dear heavenly father, thank You for giving us Your Spirit to daily refine us and bring us closer to You. Please help us to view our suffering in this world as Your awesome work to shine the light of Christ all around us. Amen.