Sermon: Complete on the Day of Christ (Philippians 2:12-18)
Since Philippians 1:27, Paul has been exhorting the Philippian believers to live worthily of their gospel citizenship. To do this, he has brought us from one concept to another through a very tightly written section of Scripture. So, he began by exhorting Christians to stand together in unity (Phil. 1:27), but then he defined the unity (Phil. 2:2) not as utter sameness, but as “humility” (Phil. 2:3). As the perfect example of humility, Paul wrote of Christ, who “humbled himself by becoming obedient” (Phil. 2:8). Just as Paul had defined unity in terms of humility, he defines humility in terms of obedience.
Now, in Philippians 2:12–18, he picks us the idea of obedience (“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed…”; Phil. 2:12) to address a lingering question: on what basis should the Philippians believe that they will succeed? In Philippians 1:6, Paul had expressed his utter confidence “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ,” but how could he be so confident? The Philippians are in the midst of deep suffering, where Paul is not able to be present to encourage them (Phil. 2:12), so what hope could they possibly have of persevering all the way to the end?
It is here that Paul enters into one of his richest meditations on human responsibility, divine grace, and new covenant promises of perseverance for believers in the midst of suffering. If the Christ hymn of Philippians 2:6–11 is the chief theological example in this letter, then Philippians 2:12–18 provides this letter’s chief theological exhortation.