Lesson 17: "Be Blameless and Harmless. . .in the Midst of a Crooked. . .Nation." (Philippians 2:15)
Paul's Prison Epistles. This is lesson #17. In our last lesson we began in Phil. ch. 2 and read eleven verses. Paul told "all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons" (1:1), that they should as a congregation be likeminded, have the same love, be of one accord and of one mind (2:2). They were not to be SELF CENTERED. No strife or vain-glory! Let each esteem other better than themselves (v.3). This same mind was also in Christ Jesus, Paul said (in v.5). Jesus is our example, he was obedient unto death (v.8).
Let's start this lesson with a reading. We'll start with v.12 in Phil. ch. 2; are you ready? Please put your eyes on the text. We're going to read seven verses, Phil. 2:12-18, inclusive. Here we go, beginning in v.12. "Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling: for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Do all things without mur-murings and disputings: 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; holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither labored in vain. Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all. For the same cause also do ye joy, and rejoice with me."
Alright, , back in ch. 1, you remember: Paul told the Philippian brethren, he was praying for them. Paul told them about his circumstance at Rome. He was in chains; but, even there progress was being made. The gospel was being preached. Paul was in a strait betwixt two. He didn't know if he would be beheaded or released and he said in effect: whatever the Lord wills, I'm ready. Then, toward the end of ch. 1, Paul began to admonish the Philippians, i.e. encourage his brethren, activate them, stir them, stimulate them and move them to greater and higher things. He said, be of one mind, stand fast, strive together for the faith of the gospel (v.27). Then in our last lesson (2:1-11), Paul continued his energizing admonition: he said, be like Jesus. Have the same mind in you that was in Christ Jesus. Then, v.12, where we just read: "wherefore." What does "wherefore" mean? It means: ON ACCOUNT OF THIS. In other words, it is a preposition connecting this to what he had already said, i.e. what Paul is saying here in the verses we just read relates back to the material we just covered in our last lesson. On account of this, their conduct, their behavior, their conversation (if you will); i.e. on account of this, Paul feels good about the Philippians. He commended them, really. They had always obeyed in the past (v.12). Not only when Paul was with them; but, he knew they obeyed and were just as dedicated when Paul was not there. The Philippians were not hypocrites; their conduct was not superficial, they were not just acting when Paul was watching. Of all the people Paul ever wrote to, he had less criticism of the Philippians than any other. Yet, please observe, even to those who were obeying; Paul's joy and Paul's crown (he called them over 4:1), Paul continued to encourage and admonish to keep on keeping on. Does that tell you something about the doctrine of: once saved—always saved? Paul was saying, don't let up! Keep obeying! "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling [end v.12]." Now, what did Paul mean, "work out your own salvation?" Did he mean: you go to your church, I'll go to mine? Certainly not! Paul was speaking to those who were already of one mind. Paul was speaking to some of the most united, most dedicated Christians that he knew. So, what did Paul mean: "work out your own salvation?" Did he mean, just whatever suits you? Of course not! Bro. Horsley, I can worship with instrument music or I can worship with out it! Bro. Horsley, I can worship where they take the Lord's Supper every Lord's day or I can worship where they don't take it at all. Bro. Horsley, that stuff is just not that important to me; I can worship at home by myself or I can go to an assembly of 100's. You see, what they are saying is: they do it their way. It doesn't matter to them what the Bible says. It doesn't matter to them what ambassador Paul wrote to the Philippians. If you try to call their attention to what the Bible teaches, they ask: doesn't the N.T. say; "work out your own salvation?" They think: this is teaching them to do it their way. Just what ever strikes their fancy. Now, if they insist on doing it their way. God will let them do it their way. They'll be lost; but, they can do it their way. Bro. Horsley, how can you be so judgmental? Notice, Paul said to the Thessalonians (listen now): "because they received not the love of the truth...God shall send them strong delis- ions, that they should believe a lie..." (II Thes. 2:10-11). You see, those who promote such self-centered practices think that, that's all right. It's ignorance. It is delusion! They don't have a love of the truth, as Paul said in Second Thessalonians. Brethren, we are free moral agents. We can do it God's way or we can do it our way. You can obey, or you can disobey. The Philippians obeyed. Isn't that what v.12 (here) says? The Philippian Christians obeyed. It DID make a difference to them what God said. They were NOT doing it THEIR way; they were doing it God's way. Now, Paul said to those people: "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling... do all things without murmurings." Do God's good pleasure (end of v.13). See that? Then what did Paul mean when he said: "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling?" What did Paul mean? You see, there are times, my friends, we don't know how to handle certain situations. It might involve your marriage, your children, your finances, your relation to civil government or something else. Does it matter? Yes sir! It matters. Should we get concerned about it? Yes sir! It's important. Applying your Christianity to these everyday things is important enough to cause you to fear. If disobeying God in these matters is important enough to cause one to be lost, it is important enough to cause one to tremble. Paul is saying, it's that important. It is important that you do it the way God would have you to do it, according to God's instruction; NOT whatever I happen to like (my self-centered self). You see, this is the difference between humanism and Christianity. Humanism says, do what ever feels good! But, Christianity says, obey God. Do it God's way. Every day! Your salvation depends on it! "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." Pray about it! Consult the Bible about it! Find out the truth on that matter. And, brethren, that takes work, W-O-R-K. It might be a four- letter word; but, Paul said put some effort into it. Work on it! It takes WORK to grind tapes and study like you are doing. Surely you can identify with this. Did he say you must please everybody? NO SIR! It may not please your spouse, (your children, your government) it may not please the press, it may not even please your self-centered self. But! It better please God! Then somebody says: Oh, Christianity, it's all right; so long as it doesn't interfere with business. Brethren, Christianity is our business. It is- our vocation! It is our salvation. And, THAT is a fearful thought. That is a trembling thought. Don't murmur about it! Don't, argue and dispute about it! (v.14). Do it God's way. Why Paul? "That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God [i.e. Christians], without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation..." (v.15). Oh, yes, BUT everybody else is doing it! Does that make it right? Paul said the Philippians were in the MIDST of a crooked and perverse nation. You know, things haven't changed much; have they? Crooked? Have you ever heard about bribery, or extortion, or bank robbing, or stealing, or scam artists in your neighborhood? Crooks? Car stealers, car-jackers? Some will rob a convenience store and kill the clerk for $50. Vote buying, writing cold checks. Are there any crooks in your neighborhood? Like I said, things haven't changed much. Paul said the Roman province of Macedonia was a "perverse" nation. Perverse? What's that? PERVERTED! Do we have any perverts today? What about sexual perverts? What about crooked law enforcement officials? crooked judges? What about those who corrupt God's word? RELIGIOUS PERVERTS (if you will)? Those who manufacture the doctrines and commandments of men? They think, in their delusion, they are working out their own salvation; when in fact, they are working on their own destruction. Isn't that a trembling thought? But, notice in v.15, Paul said it is possible to be "blameless and harmless" right in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation. That doesn't sound much like that: everybody's doing it! philosophy, does it? Paul said the Philippians were like lights shining in the world. That's the end of v.15. Do you see it? The Philippians were like the moon or a bright star on a dark night. Study that phrase: "among whom" just a moment. The Philippian Christians stood out like a bright light on a dark night. How did they do that, Paul? V.16, "Holding forth the word of life..." Do you see that? What is the "word of life?" Obviously, this phrase means the words that can give life, the gospel (if you will). The apostle John said in his book: I John, in referring to Jesus: "our hands have handled, of the Word of life." (I John 1:1). What were the Philippians doing? They were teaching the gospel in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation. It is possible. This is what Christians do! "The sons of God" (v.15). Do you remember John 1:12, John prologue? The sons of God are born "not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:13). Christians are born "of the water and of the Spirit." It's the way we enter the kingdom, (John 3:5). The Philippians were "sons of God." They were in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation. And they shined like lights in that dark world. Paul appreciated them! Paul commended them. Paul rejoiced with them (v.16-17-18, here in Philippians).
Let's read some more! V.I9-30, the end of the chapter. Phil. ch. 2, beginning in v.19. Have you got it? Here we go! "But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state. For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's. But ye know the proof of him, that, as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel. Him therefore I hope to send presently, so soon as I shall see how it will go with me. But I trust in the Lord that I also myself shall come shortly. Yet I supposed it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labor, and fellow soldier, but your messenger, and he that ministered to my wants. For he longed after you all, and was full of heaviness, because that ye had heard that he had been sick. For indeed he was sick nigh unto death: but God had mercy on him; and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I sent him therefore the more carefully, that, when ye see him again, ye may rejoice, and that I may be the less sorrowful. Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness; and hold such in reputation: because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me."
Now, if you get the picture here; I conclude that Paul sent this letter to the saints in that city, it's addressed to the elders and deacons, i.e. all Christians in Philippi; Paul undoubtedly sent it by the man Epaphroditus (mentioned here in v.25). I had a little trouble with v. 28; the KJV says: "sent," S-E-N-T you might notice. "Sent" to me carries the past participle idea, thus, implying that Epaphroditus had already departed and (therefore) could not be the one who delivered this letter. However, some of the Greek scholars interpret this differently. One translates it: "I am all the more eager to send him." But, the big thing is this, in v.19 (where we just read), Paul doubled back in his letter (back to about 1:26). What I'm saying is: Paul temporarily dropped or interrupted his admonition warnings, i.e. his pep-talk designed to arouse and excite his brethren on to higher and greater things; to come back to the basics of his communication dealing with his own circumstance there in that Roman prison and his co-workers. The last part of v.25 is in effect Paul's resume or recommendation of Epaphroditus. This man Epaphroditus, I would assume was a member of the Philippian church. He is mentioned only twice by name, here and in 4:18. Paul identifies him as his brother in v.25; which means that Epaphroditus was a Christian. It does not mean Paul's brother in the flesh. He was Paul's companion in labor; or in other words we would say he was a preacher, performing the same service as Paul. Thus, Paul called him a fellow soldier (v.25). He had been sent from the Philippian church to deliver some kind of support to Paul (according to 4:18). He undoubtedly stayed with Paul for a season and assisted Paul in his bonds in whatever way he could. Paul said (end of v.25) "he... ministered to my wants." Either on the way to Rome or after he arrived, Epaphroditus got sick. His disease or sickness is not identified other than to indicate the severe nature of his ailment (v.27), "he was sick nigh unto death." You might observe, Paul classifies this work as the work of Christ (down in v.30). In the last of that verse, Paul says: Epaphroditus did not regard is own life; i.e. even under life threatening circumstances, this man's concern was for Paul, for doing his job as a minister and for the welfare of his brethren back in Philippi which he knew by some source had already heard of his health problem and Epaphroditus knew this would give those brethren grave concern. What does that tell you? "Each esteemfed] other better than themselves" (back up in v.3). They practiced what they preached. Paul at that, time was sending him back to Philippi to relieve their anxieties and to thank them for their gift. However, Paul planned to send Timothy shortly (v.19); i.e. In the near future. Partly as a matter of communication and partly because Timothy would be a strong encouragement to the Philippian congregation. Timothy was well known to the Philippians. He and Luke had been there, you will remember, back when Lydia and the Philippian jailer were baptized (Acts ch. 16). Paul commended Timothy very highly. Paul said to the Philippians: "ye know the proof of him [v.22]." Now, read this again! And as you read; try to read a little between the lines. Why was Paul sending Epaphroditus that day and then planning to send Timothy in the near future, also? I think it had to do with Paul's hearing(s) before Nero. Undoubtedly, Paul's status with the court was pending and he expected the emperor's verdict very soon. Paul said he would send Timothy (v.23) "so soon as I shall see how it will go with me." In the next verse, Paul expressed hope he himself would soon come to see the Philippians. I would like to encourage you to re-read it again. See if you can find any more gems, AND, so-long for now, Have a good day!