Beginning with “wherefore,” this second exhortation obviously stems from Christ’s perfect example of humility. The saints were expected both to “work out” (vv12, 13) and “shine out” (vv14-16). Paul was ready, if necessary, to be poured out (vv17, 18).
To work out our salvation does not imply earning it through effort, for this letter was addressed to saints in Christ Jesus (1:1), those already enjoying everlasting life. Rather, it means to attempt, by God’s grace, to further that work which He commenced in our hearts, that we might be more like His Son (2Co 3:18). It necessitates obedience to the revealed will of God while enjoying the presence of others and when alone (v 12). Effort is involved in this process, for “work” translates katergazomai, which refers to “the cultivation of allotments” and involves performing a work to its ultimate conclusion. The picture is of a farmer diligently working on his land with the expectancy of bringing forth fruit (James 5:7). The climax of our salvation is Christ-likeness, therefore we work toward that end, fully depending on God. This appeal assumes individual responsibility for it was “your own salvation” (v 12) that they were to work out. Humility accompanies this difficult work, for it is carried out in fear and trembling. The will (v 13) to live such a life springs from divine initiative, as His Holy Spirit brings about this desire. Thus, believers depend on divine energy, for God works to not only stimulate willingness, but also impart enabling strength (v 13). Working out our own salvation delights the Lord, for it is His good pleasure (v 13). As in all aspects of the Christian life, God’s grace perfectly harmonizes with man’s duty.
They were meant to shine out as lights in the world (vv 14-16; Matt 5:14-16). To do this, as with us, they had to be different from unbelievers, doing “all things without murmuring” and hence being content. Secondly, they were to be “harmless” or pure, like unmixed wine or unalloyed metal, free from all contamination. The Lord Jesus used the same word to describe the character of the twelve when they were sent to preach the gospel of the kingdom (Matt 10:6) – as “harmless as doves” (Matt 10:16). Thirdly, in contrast to the ungodly, they should be straight, as opposed to crooked. Scoliosis, meaning curvature of the spine, is derived from this Greek word. Unbelievers are not only intrinsically crooked, but they have a tendency to distort or twist, and so are also perverse. An example would be inferring an innuendo from a perfectly innocent statement, so twisting it into something unclean.
The believers were to remain faithful to the Word of God in their evangelistic endeavors. “Holding forth” was an expression used to describe offering wine to guests. To the spiritually dead, they were to offer the life-containing Word. Shining out would result in Paul’s rejoicing in the Day of Christ that his strenuous endeavors, likened to an athlete running or a laborer toiling, were not in vain.
The possibility of Paul’s impending execution was like a drink offering being poured out upon a sacrifice, that sacrifice being the service that the Philippians had rendered to the Lord (vv 17, 18). A drink offering was first mentioned in Jacob’s response to the Lord’s appearance at Bethel (Gen 35:14). Although drink offerings in the Old Testament were supposed to be offered to the Lord (Num 28:7), Israel had also offered them to numerous idols (Is 57:7; 65:11, Ezek 20:28).
The drink offerings consisted of wine, representing joy (Ps 104:15), and were always combined with other sacrifices, generally a burnt offering together with a meat offering and oil. As such, they were a sweet savor unto the Lord. There was always a clearly defined volume of wine, varying with the associated animal sacrifice. In comparison with the other sacrifices, the drink offering was relatively small, consisting of fractions of a ‘hin,’ – about one gallon (Num 15:1-10).
The Philippians’ service was of a priestly character (the identical word used in Lk 1:23; Heb 8:6; 9:21). The service was itself also considered a sacrifice resulting from their faith. As Paul anticipated his own death, his thoughts were only full of joy. He regarded his death as simply a small drink offering being poured out upon the much larger sacrifice of their service – wonderful humility. Both would jointly rise as a sweet savor unto the Lord. And so Paul did not consider death as a gloomy end, but instead as a joyful climax of a life-time of service.
Let us all endeavor to fulfil God’s aim for our lives, and in so doing shine brightly in a dark world for Christ.