Today’s reading: Phil 2
First, I would like to point out that Chapter 2 of the letter to the Philippians is one of the most moving pieces of Scripture. It’s worth reading again, meditating on and praying over.
There are several passages to make note of.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men.
I recently heard a priest who got deeper into the translation of this passage. A more literal translation of this verse is:
Because he was equal to God did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited for his personal gain rather he rendered it void taking the form of a slave.
This passage is saying something that we tend to know but not really understand. Jesus is God and because he is God he does not need aggrandizement. Jesus doesn’t need to use his divinity to gain honor or respect, so he (in a sense) surrenders it, to become a man. It should impress upon us the dramatic step God took for our salvation. Also, as we are adopted sons and daughters of the Father we should realize that this is possible for us too. This is what it means to be holy. To emulate Christ in all things including the surrender of ourselves, our pride, our need for recognition and become humble a servant of our fellow man.
Second, we address the famous verse, Paul writes:
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.
Frist, what is clear is that salvation is something that must be worked out and is not something that finished. Thus, the idea of “once saved, always saved” is refuted. Again, we can accept that stylistically we may refer to two aspects of salvation: justification (an initial moment of salvation in the past) and sanctification (the working out unto perfection of the human person). Justification may happen once but sanctification must be done over time.
Also, notice that this working out salvation is tied to obedience. Paul basically says you have always been obedient so continue to be so even when he is not there. In fact, one translation for the word faith in Hebrew is obedience. This implies that there is a supplication aspect to faith, the humbling of oneself. In the old covenant, this obedience was to the law. In the New Covenant, this is a different type of obedience, it is obedience to the demands of love.
Finally, notice what the passage says about works, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” This short sentence says a lot. It shows that the will, the desire to do good works, is itself a grace given to you by God and the doing of good works is God working through us. This helps address the question of why works can be meritorious. Even the desire to do them is a gift of grace from God. At all points we are being held up by Him, we are being moved forward by him. As to good works not that the verse does not go so far as to say that God causes (or forces) us to do good works. Therefore the verse implies free will.
Finally, notice the amazing consistency we have seen in Paul’s theology on works in the last few days. He teaches that we are one body of Christ. He says that he makes up what is lacking in Christ’s suffering with his own body. He says that God “began a good work in us” and that “we suffer for his sake” and finally that we must “work out our own salvation”. All this fits together to show that our suffering / good works are meritorious because as we are part of the body of Christ our suffering were gathered together by Jesus when he was on the cross. In gathering them to himself Jesus transforms our suffering and works from finite meritless actions into infinitely holy works. I want to stress that this is literally anything and everything we do. My writing this article out of love for others is obedience to faith is a good work that is united to Jesus on the cross. Tonight when I cook dinner for my kids, that is a suffering (albeit a small one) that again is made meritorious because of my connection to the body of Christ. We as brothers and sisters in the body are truly God’s co-workers when we live out the Christian life which is another reason why Paul repeatedly implores all Christians to do so.
Tomorrow: Phil 3