This Philippians 2:12-30 Bible study contains commentary, outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, and applications. Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group studies.
Philippians 2:12-30 Bible Study Commentary And Questions – Lights in the World
I. Christian Living Applications (12-18)
A. Examine yourselves (12-13)
B. Live as lights in the world (14-16)
C. Maintain joy in all kinds of situations (17-18)
II. Paul’s plans to send Timothy and Epaphroditus (19-30)
A. Timothy commended (19-23)
B. Paul’s hope to go by himself (24)
C. Epaphroditus commended (25-30)
I. Christian Living Applications (12-18)
- What does it show about the Philippians that they obeyed whether Paul was there or not?
- What does it mean to work out your salvation?
- Why with fear and trembling?
- What is the relationship of this instruction to the previous passage?
- How does verse 13 relate to verse 12?
- How can knowing that God is also at work in us help believers?
- Why does God do this work?
- Share an example of a situation that tempts you to grumble or complain.
- Explain the phrase “prove yourselves” from verse 15. Prove to whom?
- How can you shine as a light in the world? Share an example of a way to shine the light.
- What is the word of life? How can you “hold fast” to it?
- What do Paul’s running/toiling refer to? Why were these not in vain? What kind of life is in vain?
- What is the world toiling after? What about you?
John 14:15 – If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
James 1:22 – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
2 Corinthians 13:5 – Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!
Lamentations 3:40 – Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord!
James 5:9 – Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.
Matthew 5:14-16 – You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Verse by Verse Commentary
1. The Philippians obeyed – In verse 12, Paul gives quite the compliment to the Philippians.
He says that they “have always obeyed.” And they have obeyed whether or not Paul was physically present with them. That is the mark of true obedience. Many children may act obedient when their parent or teacher is present, but then when they are alone their behavior may be markedly different. A person who is truly obedient to God obeys no matter who is or isn’t watching.
Application: Is your behavior different when others are around compared to when you are alone? If the answer is “yes,” then you also need to evaluate why that is the case. If you act one way in front of one group and another way in front of another group or by yourself, then most likely your motivation is wrong. It could be that you are motivated by a desire to please others or look good instead of wanting to please God.
2. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling – The command here to “work out your salvation” goes back to verses 10-11. In those verses, we saw that every person will one day bow the knee to Jesus and confess He is Lord. This will either happen voluntarily now or if people refuse to bow themselves, then one day God will force them to. If a person is not saved judgment in hell will follow their forced acknowledgment of Christ. And that is why Paul says to “work out your salvation.” In other words, “make sure you are saved!”
Application: Every believer should periodically perform a self-examination. Do not rely on a decision that you made when you were a child or raising your hand during an altar call. I do not mean that those decisions are not valid. Once a person is saved, he is always saved (John 10:27-30). However, many people are not saved and think they are (Matthew 7:21). Some people are living sinful and selfish lifestyles while saying, “I am safe. I prayed the salvation prayer.” Jesus said that “every good tree bears good fruit” (Matthew 7:17-18.) If you are saved, there should be fruit in your life. Do you have a love for God? Do you have a lifestyle of obedience? Do you have a passion for the lost? Is your life typified by hatred of sin and a desire for holiness? Are you repentant when you sin? These are just some of the questions you should ask yourself when you examine your spiritual condition.
The most vital question you can ever ask yourself is “Am I saved?”
There is a test that we can give ourselves in 1 John 3:9, “No one born of God practices sinning.” So the test is “Am I practicing sin?”
We should use this test to examine our own lives to see where we fall short. Examine to see if our heart truly belongs to God. If we find that we are practicing sin, we must fall on our knees before God, repent, and STOP practicing sin. We could title this verse, “give yourself a spiritual self-exam.”
So I would ask, have you given yourself the self-exam? Have you really looked hard at these Scriptures and evaluated your actions by them?
A lot of times when people go for checkups, the doctor will tell them they are unhealthy. They are overweight. They are not eating well. They are not exercising well. The patient says, “yeah, yeah, yeah.” Then on the way home, he buys a couple of Monster burgers, an order of French fries, and a large soda. He arrives home, plumps himself down on the couch, and flips on the TV. He continues in his same lifestyle until what happens? He has a heart attack. I hope none of you will be like this patient. Perform this self-exam and then change your lifestyle accordingly. If none of us make any applications from this, we have wasted our time studying this chapter.
3. For it is God who works in you – Although we are supposed to examine ourselves and make sure we are saved, Paul does not say to “work hard for salvation.” Salvation is always given as a gift of God through faith by grace. Salvation is God’s work on our behalf. Jesus accomplished it through His death and resurrection. If you try to work to earn God’s merit, whatever you do will never be enough.
In these two verses, we see once again the dual truths of man’s responsibility and God’s sovereignty taught side by side. God gives salvation, but we should make sure that we have truly received it by genuine faith.
4. Do all things without grumbling or disputing – Sometimes verses contain deep theological truth that is difficult to understand and requires much thought and study. Other times it is simple application. This verse falls into the latter category. Every person can read this verse and know what it means (hint: it means that we should not grumble or argue.) But doing it, is another thing.
I can think over my life and remember certain things that have “set me off” and caused me to complain. Here are a few examples:
- Not being able to find something I need where I thought I put it (for example a tool or document.)
- Things breaking like computers, phones, or door knobs. I like things to go smoothly and don’t enjoy fixing things.
- People who are annoying, divisive, or demanding.
- Just missing the bus or the train.
- Inept and sinful governments.
I could go on. What is something that happens that tempts you to complain?
God’s word is clear here. God does not want us to complain. Ever! About anything! It says to do “all things” without grumbling. Our sinful natures mean we have a bias toward complaining. It is much more natural for us to complain than it is for us to be thankful. Words of complaint flow far easier out of our mouths than words of appreciation.
Application: How can we better control what we say to make sure we don’t complain? What is something that you sometimes complain about that you can thank God for now? How can we train ourselves so that gratitude will flow more easily than words of complaint?
5. Among whom you shine as lights in the world –
The Philippians lived in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation and so do we. Our mission from the Lord is to “shine as lights.” Jesus told the disciples that He is the “light of the world” (John 8:12.) And another time He said “you are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14.)
God calls us to be Christians, followers of Christ. We are to live differently than the worldly people around us. Instead of pursuing materials, money, fame, achievement, and pleasure, we pursue Christ. He is our authority. He is our standard. He is our pearl of great price.
The world is falling head over heels into relativism, which evil teachings like evolution only contribute to. Similar to the time of the judges people do what is right in their own eyes. Traditional standards of right and wrong are being eroded before our eyes as people celebrate sin in many forms. Sin is not only tolerated but it is promoted. And those who condemn it are labeled as bigots and are persecuted.
Against this backdrop, those who follow Christ live in stark contrast to the world. When we uncompromisingly follow His standard, we shine His light to a lost world. No, we don’t walk around with actual halos. But our actions show people a better way, the Creator’s way. The Word of God is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path, leading people in the right way. In a similar way, your actions can lead people to God.
Application: If a neutral observer had unrestricted access to watch you live your life 24/7 would they conclude that you are much different from an unbeliever? Would they know you are a follower of Christ only through observing your actions?
6. Holding fast to the word of life – As we just read, we live in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. All around us people are preaching relative truth. They argue that what is right and true for one person is not for another. Standards constantly shift with the times. Views of basic concepts like gender and marriage have drastically shifted in the last ten years. What is going to anchor you? How do you know anymore what is wrong and what is right? Many people simply follow the media’s new flavor of the day. But Paul gives the solution. We must hold fast to the word of life.
God’s Word is our anchor. He is our absolute moral standard. Not only does He give us direction, but He also strengthens us to “run” the race for Him. There may be times of doubt. From the very beginning, Satan tried to cast doubt into Adam and Eve’s hearts saying, “Did God really say?” If they had held fast to the word of life, they could have resisted the temptation. But Eve allowed the seed of doubt to grow in her heart.
We must regularly come before the Lord through His Word and renew our minds. Do not let the seed of doubt grow within you. Hold fast to the anchor. Then you can stand immovable no matter how much the sands of culture in this world shift, swallowing up the foolish in the ever-changing quicksand of moral relativity.
7. I did not run in vain or labor in vain – After conversion, Paul invested his life in preaching the gospel, making disciples, and planting churches. He used his time and gifts for building God’s kingdom, focusing on things with an eternal value. It is only natural that Paul did not want to see his efforts wasted. Hoping to have fruit that remained, he encouraged the Philippians to hold fast. Although Paul was not directly responsible for others’ behavior if the people he ministered to fell away then he would have felt that he was laboring in vain. In order for his efforts to be proven worthwhile, the Philippians had to carry on in their faith.
Application: It should be the goal of each of us to bear fruit that will last the test of time. Whatever God has called you to do, you should establish it in such a way that it will continue even after you are gone. If you are called to orphanage ministry, what will happen to that ministry if something happens to you? Will it continue? If you are leading a Bible study, will it continue if you can’t lead anymore? Will your children still follow God once they grow up and you can’t make them go to church anymore?
8. Even if I am poured out as a drink offering – This statement is a euphemism for martyrdom. Paul was in prison when he wrote this epistle, expecting that at any time he might be executed for his faith. While he was very willing to give his life for Christ, he did not want to see it given for nothing! In some respect, the Philippian church was his legacy.
9. Mutual rejoicing – In Romans 12:15, Paul said to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.”
Normally when someone talks about rejoicing, they share the good news. The birth of a new child, a wedding between believers, an answer to prayer: all of these are reasons to rejoice. But here Paul mentions his potential martyrdom. He was able to rejoice even facing potential death, knowing that he faithfully lived out God’s calling for him and that there was fruit that would last. In turn, he asked the Philippians to also rejoice with him.
Paul’s attitude here reminds us of when he was singing praise songs to God in prison with Silas (Acts 16:25.) Rejoicing in the midst of trials is a sign of close fellowship with and reliance upon God.
Application: Are you able to rejoice amid trials? What is a trial you are facing now that you can rejoice in?
II. Paul’s plans to send Timothy and Epaphroditus (19-30)
- Why did Paul think so highly of Timothy?
- What does the phrase “kindred spirit” mean?
- What was the problem with the other people Paul might have sent?
- What does the word “worker” convey about the life of a believer? How about a soldier?
- Why is Epaphroditus called “your messenger”?
- Did the Philippians know him? How do you know?
- How did Epaphroditus’s healing affect Paul?
- Why should they hold him in high regard?
- What does this verse tell us about how we should treat Christian workers in general?
- What is one Christian worker you know whom you could encourage and support?
1 Corinthians 10:24 – Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.
Romans 12:10 – Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
Verse by Verse Commentary
1. Timothy – Timothy was a faithful disciple and close partner of Paul. Paul and Timothy teamed up to travel throughout the Middle East in order to make disciples and establish churches. Often when Paul could not visit a church himself, he would send Timothy as a proxy. Timothy had proved himself to be trustworthy. Here Paul gives him a big compliment, saying that “I have no one like him who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.” Many people, even ministers of the gospel, served with layers of their own motivations. Perhaps they sought popularity, financial return, or other ulterior motives. Timothy was not like that. He selflessly cared for those to whom he ministered, proving that he was in it for them and not for himself.
Application: From Timothy, we learn the importance of servant leadership. A leader should lovingly and humbly serve the flock. A minister of the gospel should not serve for money or recognition or any other motives, but purely to help God’s people.
2. Epaphroditus – Epaphroditus was evidently a member of the Philippian church who had come from them as a messenger to Paul to minister to him in prison. He also very possibly brought a monetary gift to Paul to support his ministry. Not much is known about him, except what is written here. He was a “fellow worker” and a “fellow soldier.” Paul says that he “risked his life” to come and minister to him. Traveling long distances at that time was dangerous enough. But going to offer help to a “criminal” whom so many hated made his trip of love even more dangerous.
While visiting Paul, Epaphroditus came down sick. His sickness was very serious and he almost died. The Philippians were naturally very worried about their dear brother when they heard the news so Paul decided to send him back to them.
Epaphroditus’ story reminds us that there are many kinds of workers serving in God’s kingdom. Not everyone is a Paul. Not all are called to be upfront or famous. In the body of Christ, there are many types of people with many gifts and many callings. Paul’s ministry would not have been nearly as effective without faithful people like Epaphroditus helping and encouraging him along the way. For every effective pastor, there is a group of other believers serving behind the scenes. Some teach Sunday School. Some business people give offering and share in their communities. Prayer warriors give their time to fight spiritual battles on their knees. Those with the gift of hospitality invite others to their home or make meals for the sick. There is a need for every type of gifting in building God’s church.
Application: Are you actively serving the body of Christ and building God’s kingdom? Share one way you can support or encourage others who are serving God (like Epaphroditus did) this week.
3. Honor such men – Churches should not “over-exalt” pastors. They should not be raised up on a pedestal above others. The hand is not exalted over the foot, right? Every believer’s role is important. Men like Epaphroditus who serve in a more complementary role should be respected as well.
Application: Share one thing from today’s lesson that you can apply in the coming week.
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