Philippians 2:12-18 Sermon – Press on in Shining the Light

Shine as Lights in the Darkness

Introduction: I was reading news this week and saw an article. The title was “Researchers have created an embryo containing both human and mouse cells in a major advancement of genetically modified organisms.”

It is called a human-mouse chimera. And apparently there are examples of human-pig and human-monkey and pig-monkey chimeras among others. It is a blatant blurring of the lines of God’s creation. The article was not calling out the scientists behind this as being unethical or dangerous, but commending them for their so called “major advancement.”

The world is getting to be a darker and darker place. God’s natural design is being twisted, and perverted.

In this backdrop, God calls us to shine as lights in the darkness.

Philippians 2:12-18 – 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. Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.

I. Press on in sanctification (12-13)

A. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling – This verse is very often quoted. It is a great verse, of course. But what does it mean?

It is often understood to mean we should examine ourselves and make sure that we are genuinely saved. The idea of “working something out” can mean this. We work out math problems. We work on a puzzle. This interpretation conveys the idea that you should evaluate your own salvation as a mental exercise, looking at Scripture and asking the vital question, “Am I saved?”

I wrote about this in a Bible study before and found my old notes. Here is a quote of what I wrote.

“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!”

Every believer should periodically perform self-examination. Do not rely on a decision that you made when you were a child or raising your hand during an altar call.”

However, I realized while studying this passage again that my previous understanding was wrong. Isn’t it amazing that no matter how much we study the Scripture He is still teaching us? And our understanding of the Word and of Him keeps growing. That is why our theme this year is to press on! None of us have reached the level of knowledge, or the level of sanctification which we should.

So yes, we should perform self-evaluation. That is healthy. But that is not really what Paul is saying in this passage.

The original Greek word comes from the word “katergazomai.” This is actually a command with a continuing emphasis. It means to “keep on working out to completion, to ultimate fulfillment,” or to “continually work to bring something to fruition.”

This refers to the process of sanctification. A famous Chinese proverb says that “every journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” That is the idea here. Salvation is the first step. After that, a believer needs to practice obedient daily living following Jesus. Sinful habits and lifestyles should be rejected. A love for Christ and for others should be growing.

Simply put it means that believers should GROW! A person should not place faith in Christ and then make no effort to obey Him. A person should not pray a sinner’s prayer and then remain the same.

Ephesians 4:1 says that we should “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.”

We see this fits with the context because Paul says in the first part of verse 12 that the Philippians have obeyed in his presence. Now while he is gone, they need to continue to work out their salvation through diligent obedience to what they have been taught. And Paul stresses the same idea in verse 16 when he says to hold fast to the word and to run.

A believer works out his salvation through obedience, and also through perseverance. We are to persevere to the very end. The Christian life is filled with “already but not yets.” We already are forgiven, but are not yet perfect. We already are friend with Jesus, but do not yet see Him face to face. We already are a new creature, but are not yet completely rid of the old. We already have eternal life, but are not yet with God in heaven.

Therefore you cannot quit now. You cannot give up. You cannot stop following Jesus. You must persevere. You must press on. Paul talks about this even more in the next chapter which is our key verse for they year, “Not that I have already obtained this… I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Many people raise their hands in church and make a decision for Christ, but do not finish the race. Many people pray the salvation’s prayer, but do not obey God.

Jesus said that a good tree bears good fruit. Asking yourself “Am I saved?” is a very important question, the most important question you can ever ask. But this is not a mental puzzle to solve.

Instead the answer is proved through fruit, the fruit of daily obedience to Jesus, the fruit of perseverance, the fruit of sanctification. All of which are made possible only through His grace and dependence on Him.

With fear and trembling

This shows us the attitude which we are to have in pursuit of sanctification. Why should we have this attitude? It may be helpful for a moment to consider the opposite attitude. The opposite would be something like glib and flippant. In other words, God wants us to take it seriously. Salvation is important.

Isaiah 66:2 – To this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.

Proverbs 1:7 – The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

The fear and trembling does not mean that we hide in the corner shaking with depression at our certain doom. Its a healthy, reverent fear for God Almighty, who sits on His throne. He is the King of Kings and the Lords of Lords. He is the judge and we will stand before Him.

But be very clear. This work does not save you! Let me say that again. This work does not save you! Paul is not saying that you must work to get salvation. That is made very clear in the next verse.

B. God works in you – For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Is salvation 50/50? Fifty percent God, fifty percent us? Is it 90/10? Ninety percent God, ten percent us? Neither. It is 100% God. Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us salvation is a free gift. A free gift is not something you can earn or work for.

Salvation is through God’s grace. He started the work in us. We learned this in Philippians 1:6, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

Salvation is God’s work. He saved us. He took the initiative. And He continues to work in us after salvation.

These two verses side by side show us very clearly two truths that are often held in tension throughout the Bible.

#1 God is sovereign.

# 2 People are responsible. We are responsible to respond to what God has done on our behalf by placing our faith in Him, repenting, and then persevering in obedience.

Theologians and Bible scholars have debated for centuries how these two truths work together. We may never solve it this side of heaven. But we must nonetheless stand firm on these two truths.

II. Press on in shining the light – Verse 15 tells us that we should “shine as lights in the world.”

Paul described the world as a “crooked and twisted generation.” The darker the world is, the brighter the light will shine. If the world at Paul’s time was a crooked and twisted generation, then how much more it is now! Almost every time I read the news, I am reminded about just how dark the world is. Here are some of the dark things going on in the world:

  • A police officer brutally kills a man named George Floyd by putting his knee on his neck for nine minutes.
  • Rioters loot stores, set buildings on fire, and have killed people who tried to stop them.
  • Abortion, homosexuality, and transgender behavior are all growing quickly.
  • Meanwhile in some areas of the world, especially Europe, churches are rapidly closing.
  • Violence, hatred, bigotry, and every manner of sexual immorality seems to be growing.

This is the backdrop of 2020. The light of Christ can shine brightly through us to a lost world. Verses 14-15 gives several ways to do this

Do all things without grumbling or disputing

Our words are important. Our words are often the first thing people notice about us. Is your life characterized by a joyful response to difficulties or do annoyances set you off? Take for example Covid. I am sure many of you have faced extra trials related to Covid. Some of you were quarantined and treated unfairly because of your skin color. Others have had very unpleasant trips to the visa office. When you are treated unfairly, how do you respond?

The word “grumble” in Greek actually sounds like what it means. Basically it is an unpleasant mutter sound that we make when we are complaining. All of us do this sometimes. Maybe we complain in our houses when we cannot find a tool or item that we need. Maybe we grumble when something gets broken. And maybe when we go out and about in public, we act the same way.

Grumbling, complaining, and argumentative words are a bad testimony to the world around us. God commands us to do ALL THINGS without grumbling and disputing.

And God will hold us to account for our words.

Matthew 12:36 – I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.

Maybe today the application for you is very simple. Perhaps you have gotten into the habit of grumbling. And grumbling may even be hurting your testimony. If so, then take that to God now. Ask Him to forgive you for your sinful words and to give you speech which will light the way to Christ.

Children of God –

If you are saved, then you are a child of God. What does that mean?

It means you are not a child of the world!

Jesus said in Matthew 5:48, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Like Father, like son. God calls us to be in the world, but not of the world. You cannot shine as a light if you are acting the same as everyone around you.

Have you ever heard of the duck test? From wikipedia, the “test implies that a person can identify an unknown subject by observing that subjects characteristics.”

This is the duck test: If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.

If you love the world, pursue the things of the world, talk like the world, and act like the world, then probably you are a child of the world.

But if you talk about Jesus, love Jesus, and act like Jesus, then probably you are a child of God.

Question to consider: 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?

Shine as lights

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.

In 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.

III. Hold on to the Word of life and press on in the race

A. Hold on to the Word of life

As we just read, the world is evil. It was evil at the time of Paul and it is evil now. 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? If culture’s standards change by the minute, then how does a person 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.

Many years ago I heard an illustration which gives five ways to hold on to the Bible. It is called the HAND OF THE WORD.

Hearing – (Romans 10:17) The first way we can get God’s Word into our life is by hearing it. What can we do to hear it? We can go to church and Bible study to listen to teaching on the Word. We can ask questions of our Christian friends. We can listen to sermons online. The most important point is that we continually put ourselves in position to listen to God’s Word being taught.

Reading – (Revelation 1:3a) Reading the Bible is the most basic way to understand it. It is great to listen to other mature Christians, but growing believers must have their own relationship to God and their own personal time to read the Bible for themselves. Jesus Himself often went off by Himself to pray and commune with God (Mark 1:35, Luke 5:16, 6:12). When we read the Bible we need to remember that the goal is not to “get through” a certain number of pages, but to understand more about God and how to serve Him.

Studying – (Acts 17:11) Studying goes deeper than simply reading. It is examining the Scriptures with a purpose. It could be studying a specific topic like prayer. Or it could be trying to find an answer to a specific question like “what is God’s will for me in marriage?” The goal is not rote recitation of facts and figures like we may prepare for exams in school. But one day we will face a heavenly “exam” to see how well we understand the Scripture and most importantly how well we followed it.

Memorizing – (Psalms 119:9,11) Memorizing God’s Word is a very important way to overcome temptation. Even Jesus Himself dealt with temptation by reciting God’s Word (Matthew 4:4-10). There will be many times when we will face temptations or need to make quick decisions, but won’t have a Bible nearby. And even if we have a Bible it is sometimes hard to know where to look for an answer. It is really helpful to memorize verses on a wide variety of topics so that we can have them in our mind and know what God wants us to do in whatever situation we face.

Meditating Psalms 1:1-3 says, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the path of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not whither. Whatever he does prospers.” (Joshua 1:8).

5 Ways to grasp God's Word

Meditation is the key to all of the other methods. It is similar to an artist admiring a painting. It is when we think over God’s Word to try to find out what it really means and how we can apply it in our lives. We should make it a habit to meditate on the Scriptures we have learned not only while reading or hearing, but even throughout the day as we go about our daily business.

If you practice these five methods, you can hold on to the word of life. He will be your anchor, your absolute moral standard. Not only will He give you direction, but He also will strengthen you 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 heart 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.

B. Press on in the race

So that in the day of Christ I may be proud that 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. Paul did not want to see his efforts wasted. Hoping to have fruit that remained, he encouraged the Philippians to hold fast. In order for his efforts to be proven worthwhile, the Philippians had to carry on in their faith. If after Paul’s imprisonment and death the Philippians gave up their faith, then it would have felt like his work was in vain.

Application: It should be the goal of each of us to bear fruit that will last the test of time. A few weeks ago when I shared GICF’s theme message for the year, we talked about the importance of having a life vision. Just as Noah and Paul and Jesus had a clear calling, so should we.

Do you know your life vision?

Is it written down?

If you haven’t yet written down your calling, then I would encourage you to do that. Knowing it is the first step. It gives you something clear to work toward. The next step is doing it. Here we see Paul pressed on so that he did not “run in vain or labor in vain.”

Whatever God has called you to do, you should do 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?

Will your children still follow God once they grow up and you can’t make them go to church anymore?

If you are leading a life group in Guangzhou, what will happen when you leave? Like Paul, you want the members to hold fast and remain faithful. And you would want the life group to continue training and discipling believers once you have left China. Will it? Have you trained up another leader to step in?

The same is true for young adults ministry and for campus ministry, for SMU. Some great things have been going on. But what will happen in one or two years after the leaders leave?

You do not want to run or labor in vain. You should be striving for fruit that will last and a ministry that will on going long after you have left China and even the world.

In verse 17 Paul mentioned that even if he had to give his life for his ministry to them, he is glad. The fruit in them was worth all the sacrifices.

Fulfilling God’s calling in your life is not easy. Many sacrifices will be necessary. Will you press on?


I am sure most of you are familiar with what has been happening around the world the past two weeks. On May 25th, a police officer heartlessly killed an unarmed black man, George Floyd, who was begging just to be able to breath. It was inexcusable and wrong.

Since then protests have erupted around the world. Many of these are peaceful. But there are also cases of more violence, looting, murder, and vandalism. It is also inexcusable and wrong.

The hurt people are experiencing from the pandemic is being worsened. It is a time of deep division, bitterness, and animosity. The world can be a very ugly place.

That brings us to the question. When we see these things happening in the world around us, what should we do? I believe the text today gives us three answers.

1. Press on in sanctification. It is easy to see problems in others. But what about the problems in ourselves? What about our own prejudices? What about our own disobedience to God? What about our own failures to love our neighbor as ourselves? We have to work out our own salvation, obediently bringing it to completion. Your focus should first be you. And my focus should first be me. Don’t put the finger at others. Point at yourself and ask God to help you grow into the person he wants you to be.

2. Press on in shining the light. When you are obedient to the Lord, you can then shine the light. The light shines brightest when the world is darkest. The world is very dark now. Believers need to step up. We need to love through word and action. We need to show compassion. We need to show that in Christ we can be united whatever our color. We need to preach the gospel because Christ is the real solution to these problems.

3. Press on in the race. Do you want to change the world? We change the world by building God’s kingdom, by sharing the gospel, by winning souls. Ultimately, this is the calling of each of us. Who can you share with this week? Who is hurting and needs the light of Christ?

More Bible Studies
Join Our Newsletter

We want to help you study the Bible, obey the Bible, and teach the Bible to others. We have therefore created a library of almost one thousand (and growing) inductive Bible studies, which are available for free. This takes a lot of time and hard work.

Help us continue to create Bible study resources by supporting Study and Obey for as little as $1.


Sharing is caring!