Dear young people,
Your calling as a child of God is to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Now, you must not misunderstand the word of the apostle Paul. He does not mean that you are to work for your salvation or to work at your salvation. No, that would mean that you are working in order to earn or to merit salvation. That surely is not the meaning of the apostle Paul. Notice very carefully, he says, “work out your salvation…” This means that, in the first place, by implication you are already a child of God. Thus, you are already saved from your sins and you inherit eternal life. You are already in possession of salvation. Therefore, to work out your salvation means to live out your Christian life in obedience and love to the Lord, fleeing youthful lusts and cleaving to the Lord your God. This is illustrated in your own family life. As a child of your father and mother, you need not earn your way into your family because by virtue of your birth, you are a son or daughter of your parents. But, as a child of your parents, you want to obey your parents out of love and gratitude to them for raising, feeding and clothing you. One of the ways in which you are moved to work out your salvation is by recognising that you are a child of God, implying that certain godly behaviour is expected of you and this is pointed out in verse 15.
Negatively, according to verse 14, you are to do all things without murmuring and disputing. To murmur is to complain within oneself or to speak under one’s breath. It is to have a discontented and unhappy spirit. Immediately our thoughts turn to the murmurings of the children of Israel in the wilderness. Their journey was characterised by murmuring: they complained against Moses and in fact, they were complaining against God for the lack of water, meat and food for them. Oh, they said that they would rather die in Egypt than to die in the wilderness. What did this murmuring reveal about their spiritual condition? According to Hebrew 4.6, it reveals a heart of unbelief. That generation died in the wilderness for the Lord was not pleased with that generation. There is another thing that ought not to characterise the child of God – disputing. The fruit of murmuring is disputing, which is to argue, debate and strive. In the same chapter, the apostle already exhorted the saints that nothing should be done through strife or vain glory. These concern self-interests and when our desires are not met, we are unhappy and we quarrel and ght. Did not the apostle James say that these wars and fights come because of the lusts within you? James 4:1-4, “From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.”
Why does the apostle forbid murmuring and disputing among the saints? This does not work out the salvation of God’s people, in fact, it works the opposite. That entire generation that murmured against God died in the wilderness because of their unbelief. God’s people must be characterised by contentment with the ways of the Lord, whole-hearted trust in God and possessing the assurance that God will be with them. Only then, are we working out our salvation with fear and trembling.
The result of obeying this exhortation is to achieve the result that “you 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, upholding forth the word of life…” To be blameless means that no one is able to charge you with sin. If you live a godly life, you will receive all kinds of accusations. Did not the apostle Paul said that they who live godly shall suffer persecution? To receive accusations does not mean that you are certainly to be blamed. When you receive these accusations, it is very important not to engage in self-pity or to conclude that you have sinned; what you must do is to evaluate them one by one and judge them on the criteria whether you have sinned in those instances. You are not blameless if others rightly accuse you of sin.
Furthermore, also note that to be blameless does not mean that you are sinless. We cannot achieve sinless perfection while we have this body of sin. Notice the emphasis upon the word blameless is not so much as what you feel in your hearts but rather what others see in us through our behaviour. When we are living a life that is characterised by blamelessness, we are pure and innocent from our sins that we are accused of. This is the idea of the next word “harmless” which the apostle uses. Literally, the word means “pure, unmixed”. This is a description of a character that is marked by integrity and innocence of purity, and sincerity. By such living and impeccable behaviour you would be without fault and no one would be able to censure you.
The apostle wants us to know that we do not live in a friendly environment. He reminds us that we live in a crooked and perverse nation. The idea of those two words means that the nation is characterised by people who have wandered away from God. This is the result of rejecting the revelation of God in the creation of this world being understood by the things that are made. They ought to have seen the invisible things of God, namely his eternal power and Godhead. And thus, they were without excuse. Instead of glorifying him as God, they were unthankful and became vain in their imagination and their foolish hearts were darkened. As a consequence, they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into images of corruptible man and beasts. Therefore God gave them over unto uncleanness through their own heart’s lusts unto vile affections: women with women and men with men and doing that which is unseemly in the sight of God. God gave them over to a reprobate mind and they are filled with unrighteousness, fornications, wickedness, covetousness and maliciousness. This wicked world is characterised by those who depart from the living God because they have rejected the revelation of God. One thing that must impress us is that we are not living in a Christian friendly environment but in the company of those who hate God.
But what are we doing in this environment? What is God’s purpose in putting us in this environment? What is our calling? Your calling is that you shine as lights in the world. You are light. You shine because God has commanded the light of the gospel to shine in your hearts through our Lord Jesus Christ to give the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4:6). First, the light that you have as young people is not inherent for you were originally darkness as you have sinned in Adam. But thanks be to grace of God that you possess the light of the gospel so that you are no longer in darkness but in the light. Secondly, this gospel is light because this gospel is the person of Jesus Christ, in whom there is no darkness at all. He is the only begotten Son of God and He came to teach us the glory of God. The glory of God is the shining forth of all the attributes of God – His almighty power, His omnipotence, and His sovereignty. So, the gospel teaches us about the Almighty God and His attributes. God is love and in His great love for us He sent Jesus Christ to die for us on the cross and whosoever believes in Jesus Christ shall not perish but have everlasting life. This is the gospel. Young people, you shine as lights in this world because of you have believed in Jesus Christ. To use an illustration, the torchlight shines because of the battery that is in it. The torchlight by itself does not shine; it needs a set of batteries. Christ is those set of batteries so that you as the torchlight is able to shine.
As you shine as a light in this crooked and perverse generation, you are holding forth the word of life. First, this life is eternal life. Eternal life is the knowledge of God through Christ and is given to those who believe in Jesus Christ. This life is not living in the way of sin but living in the intimate fellowship with God and His Son Jesus Christ. This intimate fellowship takes place when we abide in Christ through the Word of God that dwells in our hearts. We abide in Christ through the obedience of His Word as God communes with us through His Word. How do we receive this eternal life? Jesus Christ promises us in His Word that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. We are given eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore, to hold forth this Word of Life does not refer to the work of the minister of God preaching the Word of God but rather you as young people hold forth the Word of life by living a godly and holy life. This passage is all about working your salvation through your Christian conduct. And so how are you holding forth the Word of life? Firstly, you hold forth the word of life through your speech. You speak in a way that testifies to others that you are a child of God, and no one is left wondering whether you are a Christian. Dear young people, are you as light shining in this crooked and perverse nation? Do others recognise that light and stop and ask you what is that special something about you that is not found in others? When others ask you what your secret is, do you give praise and glory to God? Secondly, to hold forth the word of life means that you speak the gospel. When was the last time you told others about Christ and the way to salvation? Did you tell them the promise of the gospel, that whosoever believes in Jesus Christ shall not perish but have everlasting or eternal life? When was the last time you called upon others to repent and believe the gospel? Remember, you hold forth the word of life through your Christian conduct and the gospel that you present to others.
Finally, the apostle makes his appeal to us to obey this Word on the basis that you are the children of God. Dear young people, let us pause here and just meditate on the fact that you are the children of God! What a great privilege and honour the Lord has given unto you – you are sons and daughters of God, God’s own family! But lest you become conceited and have the wrong idea, you must be reminded that you are the children of God only by the grace and mercy of God, not because of anything that is in you. You do not merit anything with God because you are undeserving and you are born as children of wrath and are dead in trespasses and sins. Furthermore, you walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air (Eph 2:1-2). As children in the family of God there is a certain behaviour that is expected of you that reflects who you are.
This appeal is personal: that the apostle may rejoice in the day of the coming of Christ. And what is it that will cause him to rejoice? It is this, that there are fruits to the labours of the apostle. This fruit comes about when the Philippian saints live as children of God in their conduct. So too is my rejoicing when I see you as God’s covenant youth live a life that is blameless and pure, as children of God and in this way holding forth the Word of life. Then, you will be working out your salvation. Amen.