“At the heart and centre of the gospel stands the truth that there is no salvation at all apart from the Lord Jesus Christ. ‘Christianity is Christ.’ Anything which may represent itself as Christianity but which does not insist upon the absolute necessity and cruciality of Christ is not Christianity at all. Unless He is the heart and soul and centre, the beginning and the end of what is offered as salvation, it is not Christian salvation, whatever else it may be. —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, (Baker Book House, 1979) p. 149
“Do all things without grumbling or disputing…” —Philippians 2:14
This is now the third encompassing command we come to in Philippians, but whereas the first two were like verbs, this one is like an adverb. Let me splain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.
The first encompassing command opens the body of the letter: “live as citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27, my translation). Every other command in this letter falls under this one. It is encompassing. The second approaches the Christian life in general from another direction. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (2:12). The whole of the Christian life is encapsulated in both of these commands. They are encompassing as verbs; all you are to be doing as a saint is summed up in them.
But the third encompassing command functions like an adverb. The first two tell you what to do. This command tells you how to do it. How are you to live as citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ? By not grumbling or disputing. How are you to work out your salvation with fear and trembling? Again, by not grumbling or disputing.
One thing this adverb-command does is show just how encompassing the first two encompassing commands are. Sometimes we try to compartmentalize the Christian life, discipleship, and piety, as though they were part of our lives. But here Paul calls on the Philippians to “do all things without grumbling or disputing” (emphasis mine). Working out your salvation means doing all things without grumbling or disputing. Living worthy of the gospel means doing all things without grumbling or disputing. All things. The adverb tells you that the verbs involve everything.
For those who have died with Christ and risen to newness of life, the Christian life is the only kind of life they are to live. Discipleship, following Christ, is to be all encompassing. Your life doesn’t have bins. To live is Christ. Prior to Christ, your living was death. Now you live, and all that living is to be a living worthy of the gospel, working out your salvation, doing all things without grumbling or disputing.
Grumbling is contrary to the gospel. Disputing is a failure of discipleship. If you want the fuller splanation, listen below.
“It is just here that we all tend to go astray. Although we have the open Bible before us we still tend to base our ideas of doctrine on our own thoughts instead of on the Bible. The Bible always starts with God the Father; and we must not start anywhere else, or with anyone else. The Bible is, ultimately, the revelation and the record and the explanation of what God has done for the salvation of man. The Bible is the revelation of God’s gracious purpose towards a world of sinful man; it claims to be such, and the revelation is in its every book. This is what accounts for its extraordinary unity. Its controlling theme is what God has done, what God has promised to do, what God began to do, what God has actually done, what He is going to do, and the amazing outcome of it all. And that is precisely what the Apostle is doing in this section of our Epistle. He is not giving expression to his own theories or ideas, but writing about what God has revealed to him.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, (Baker Book House, 1979) pp. 40, 41
“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.”—Philippians 2:12–13
“The Doctor” says of these verses,
“I venture to put it to you, it is perhaps one of the most perfect summaries of the Christian life to be found anywhere. It was one of those perfect pictures which we tend to find so frequently in the writings of this Apostle. He was very fond of stating the whole thing over and over again; he liked to give a summary of the Christian life, and here is one of the most pregnant statements which even he himself ever made.”Lloyd-Jones, David Martyn. The Life of Joy. Baker Publishing Group, 1989, p. 160.
As glorious as these two verses are, they have troubled many sola-affirming Protestants. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone and here Paul is telling us to work out our salvation! Keep calm. Carry on. There’s no need to drop sola Scriptura at this point in order to keep the others. Working out the meaning of just two words should work out any difficulties you have with “working out our salvation.”
I’ll only briefly deal with the first here. Paul instructs these saints to work out their salvation. He does not tell them to work it up. He does not tell them to work it in. Paul does not tell them to work for their salvation. He tells them to work it out. We have an aversion to salvation and works ever being put into a concoction together, but we need to be more sophisticated chemists than that. While abhorring Galatian-chemistry involving salvation and works, we need to practice Philippian-chemistry involving salvation and works.
The second word is “salvation.” Our problem here is that we confuse Christianese with Biblical language. Biblical and theological language are not the problem, though people sometimes complain of them as though they are. No one complains when the football commentator speaks football. If you love the game you learn the language. Yes, we need to define our terms and help people along, but many complaints about Biblical language in the church are really just evidence that the church is full of people far more interested in other games.
However, we are fluent in Christianese. Rather than speaking the foreign language of the Bible as heavenly citizens, we impose a foreign language on the Bible. And the sneaky thing about Christianese, is that it so often is just right enough to get you confidently wrong at some critical junctures. When Christians today hear “salvation” they think narrowly when most often the Scriptures speak broadly. Christians think only of the beginning of the race, when the Scriptures are speaking of the whole of it—from start to finish with all the sweat and exertion in-between. Perhaps I’m being a bit unfair. Maybe just as many Christians think of the end of the race as well. But most leave out the race itself. We are deists concerning God’s new creation. God has wound us up. Now we are on our own till the alarm sounds.
The Bible speaks of the salvation of the saints in all three tenses. We were saved; we are being saved; we will be saved. Salvation is not simply something that has happened to you. It is happening to you and it will happen to you. Salvation involves not just your regeneration, justification, and adoption. It also includes your sanctification and glorification. More than that, your salvation stretches further back than your experience. Your salvation stretches from eternity to eternity, from election to glorification.
So when Paul tells these saints in Christ Jesus (1:1) to work out their salvation, he is clearly referring to the nowness of salvation, assuming a past, advancing to the future. Paul is assuming regeneration, justification, and adoption in the past and calling for sanctification in the present towards glorification in the future.
What is sanctification? It is what Paul spoke of in 1:25, it is “progress and joy in the faith.” It is, as Jerry Bridges speaks of it with his various book titles (and very Biblical ones mind you), The Pursuit of Holiness, The Discipline of Grace, and The Practice of Godliness. Sanctification is the saints being sanctified. It is our growth in holiness, godliness, obedience, and discipleship.
But have I not just narrowed a term that I said was broad? Salvation remains broad; it’s the working out that is the narrow part. This part we call sanctification. Sanctification is working out your salvation past toward your salvation future. The salvation you are to work out is God’s salvation—the whole of it; but the working out of it is narrow, it is part of it.
Now, if you’r estill bothered, I have only two things for you at this point. The first is my weak words, linked below. The second is God’s strong word. When the Word causes you to stumble, it will be the word that steadies. Keep reading. When the Word confuses, it will be the Word that clarifies. Keep reading. The salvation you are to work out, is worked out for this reason, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (emphasis mine).
“The whole message of the gospel is introduced by this word ‘grace’. Grace means that in spite of everything I have been saying about man, God still looks upon him with favour. You will not understand the meaning of this word ‘grace’ unless you accept fully what I have been saying about man in sin. It is failure to do the latter that explains why the modern conception of grace is so superficial and inadequate. It is because man has an inadequate conception of sin that he has an inadequate conception of the grace of God. If you want to measure grace you must measure the depths of sin. Grace is that which tells man that in spite of all that is so true of him God looks upon him with favour. It is utterly unmerited, it is entirely undeserved; but this is the message of ‘Grace be unto you.’ It is an unmerited and undeserved action by God, a condescending love. When man in sin deserved nothing but to be blotted out of existence God looked on him in grace and mercy and dealt with him accordingly.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, (Baker Book House, 1979) pp. 40, 41
“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, so that…” —Philippians 2:9–10a (emphasis mine)
With Philippians 2:5–8 we stumble onto the ground of Christ’s humiliation. In 2:9–11, we are carried up to the heavens of Christ’s exhalation. Like Moses, we stumble onto the burning bush—God come down. Then, like Isaiah, we are carried up to heaven, to see Christ seated on His throne.
Traversing Philippians 2:6–11 is like going directly from the Dead Sea to Mount Everest. This text takes one as far below sea level as it does above it. In verses 6–8 we are plunged as low as hell (experienced by Christ on earth mind you). In verses 9–11 we are lifted as high as heaven. Christ humbles Himself to be an earthly servant. God exalts Him as heavenly Lord.
And yet, as high as we come in verse 9, we have not yet reached the peak. From verse 9 one can both look back to the valley, and higher up to the summit. If we ask why Christ was exalted, from verse 9 we can see two different answers. The “therefore” looks back to the grounds of Christ’s exaltation. The “so that” looks forward to the goal of Christ’s exaltation.
Why is Christ exalted? Here we are not simply told that Christ humbled Himself and that God exalted Him, but that God exalted Christ because Christ humbled Himself. Christ’s exaltation was a necessary conclusion and consequence of His humiliation. Because the valley was so deep, God will have the mountain so high.
Why is Christ exalted? As we look up to the cloud covered summit, the answer is stunning. Christ is exalted so that He might be exalted.
“…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” (Philippians 2:10–11; emphasis mine).
Just as Christ humbled Himself so that He might humble Himself (2:7–8), God exalts Christ so that Christ might be exalted. Christ’s humiliation is complete. It is finished. But His exhalation has not yet come to its fullness. There is nothing lacking in Christ. Rather, the exhalation that lies ahead is the inescapable manifestation of Christ’s absolute authority for creation’s universal recognition and confession. Christ’s exhalation involves His resurrection, ascension, session, and return. One of these is not yet. The first three are towards the purpose of the last one. Christ was exalted so that He might be exalted. Come Lord Jesus!
“Furthermore, because man is in this relationship to God he is also in a state of enmity against himself. He is not only engaged in this warfare against a God who is outside of him;but he is also fighting a war within himself. Therein lies the real tragedy of fallen man; he does not believe what I am saying but it is certainly true of him. Man is in a state of internal conflict and he does not know why it is so. He wants to do certain things, but something inside him tells him that it is wrong to do so. He has something in him which we call conscience. Though he thinks he can be perfectly happy whatever he does, and though he may silence other people, he cannot silence this inward monitor. Man is in a state of internal warfare; he does not know the reason for it, yet he knows that it is so.
But in the Scriptures we are told exactly why this is the case. Man was made by God in such a way that he can only be at peace within himself when he is at peace with God. Man was never meant to be a god, but he is for ever trying to deify himself. He sets up his own desires as the rules and laws of his life, yet he is ever characterized by confusion, and worse. Something in himself denies his claims; and so he is always quarrelling and fighting with himself. He knows nothing of real peace; he has no peace with God, he has no peace within himself. And still worse, because of all this, he is in a state of warfare with everyone else. Unfortunately for him everyone else wants to be a god as well. Because of sin we have all become self-centred, ego-centric, turning in upon this self which we put on a pedestal, and which we think is so wonderful and superior to all others. But everyone else is doing the same, and so there is war among the gods. We claim that we are right, and that everyone else is wrong. Inevitably the result is confusion and discord and unhappiness between man and man. Thus we begin to see why the Apostle prays that we may have peace. It is because of man’s sad condition, man’s life as the result of sin, and as the result of his falling away from God. He is in a state of dis-unity within and without, in a state of unhappiness, in a state of wretchedness.”
—D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, (Baker Book House, 1979) pp. 38, 39
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5–8).
All of Scripture is God’s holy, authoritative, inspired, inerrant word, profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness, but with Philippians 2:5–11, we come to a most holy place. Like Moses with the burning bush, one feels they stumble onto it. We thought we were simply walking along, then suddenly we are confronted with God manifest on earth. Perhaps, rather than saying we stumble onto it, we should say we get caught up into it. That’s exactly what Paul appears to have done, He does so frequently in his letters. It is as though at the mention of Jesus Christ and His humility, Paul gets carried up. He doesn’t get carried away. He gets carried up. It is one thing to be distracted by chasing rabbits. Those are unnecessary endeavors. It is another to be distracted by chasing a unicorn. Remaining focused on a lesser thing when confronted with transcendent glory is no virtue.
This is the locus classicus, the definitive text of Christology in the Scriptures, and we don’t come to it directly. Paul doesn’t take up the subject matter of Christology. He stumbles onto it, and then He gets caught up into it. Paul is writing to the Philippians about unity and humility and suddenly, we are caught up with Him into the mystery of the God-man.
This is the glorious danger that all true discussions of Christian ethics and discipleship are liable to. One should always feel they are on the verge of tripping into the Trinity or being caught up into Christology. It is a danger one should readily welcome and plunge into. If our discussions of discipleship avoid this glorious danger, they fail. They fail to be an expression of our living as heavenly citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ, the gospel of the God-man (Philippians 1:27).
While we cannot replicate the gospel, we should imitate it. We cannot live the gospel, but we should live gospel-shaped lives. The gospel not only provides a river of life, it shapes the banks in which that river is meant to flow. Pondering the mysteries of the incarnation of our Lord, the hypostatic union, Christ’s humiliation and exaltation, is not simply as practical as church unity, it is essential to it.
“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel…
…complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” —Philippians 1:27, 2:2
Unity isn’t a collection of helium-filled balloons, held together only by strings in a hand swinging playfully about. Unity is like the wall of a stone fortress, rooted in the earth, prepped for battle. Unity isn’t a thing you play with; it is something you fight with. I fear that when the church preaches and pursues unity, she goes for fun and floaty balloons rather than an anchored and strong fortress, and balloons are so easily popped.
Mark Dever has said that what you win them with is what you win them to. A self-evident corollary of this, though perhaps not as catchy, is this: what you unite your people with is what they are united by. That’s a bit of a tautology, but unfortunately the obvious is only obvious to us as an equation. Weak glue is easily broken. “Man” as a glue is like using Elmer’s for mortar in a stone cathedral. Much church “unity” is nothing more than children gathering around some shiny new balloons. If you want to break it up all you need is a pair of scissors. Further, Helium is faddish. As the balloons fall the crowds disperse. Cue the creative clowns to continually twist things to the people’s delight.
The major problem is that man is trying to create a unity instead of working out and living according to the unity that God has created. Richard Philips has said that perhaps the best way we can deal with the alleged problem of unity is to deny that there is one. The saints have long confessed that the church is “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.” After commending the Ephesians to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” Paul goes on to say that “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:3–4, emphasis mine). God is the only glue that can hold the church together. By Christ’s blood we are mortared.
It is critical then, that as you read Paul’s call for unity in Philippians, you realize that these commands don’t float. They are anchored. The gospel is their source, the gospel determines their shape, and the gospel is their purpose. Unity is by the gospel, in the gospel, and for the gospel.
To me of the major tragedies of the hour, and especially in the realm of the church, is that most of the time seems to be taken up by the leaders in preaching about unity instead of preaching the gospel that alone can produce unity.
If all the churches in the world became amalgamated, it would not make the slightest difference to the man in the street. He is not outside the churches because the churches are disunited; he is outside because he likes his sin, because he is a sinner, because he is ignorant of spiritual realities. He is no more interested in this problem of unity than the man in the moon.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
“‘Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.’ No two words are more important in the whole of our faith than ‘grace’ and ‘peace’. Yet how lightly we tend to drop them off our tongues without stopping to consider what they mean. Grace is the beginning of our faith; peace is the end of our faith. Grace is the fountain, the spring, the source. It is that particular place in the mountain from which the mighty river you see rolling into the sea starts its race; without it there would be nothing. Grace is the origin and source and fount of everything in the Christian life. But what does the Christian life mean, what is it meant to produce? The answer is ‘peace’. So there we have the source and there the estuary leading to the sea, the beginning and the end, the initiation, and the purpose for which it is all meant and designed. It is essential for us, therefore, to carry these two words in our minds because within the eclipse formed by grace and peace everything is included.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, (Baker Book House, 1979) pp. 36, 37