Paul continues in Chapter 2 of Philippians with a “therefore.” In other words, because Christ has given you encouragement, comfort, love, the Spirit, affection, sympathy, and because of his great example of humility, sacrifice, and selflessness, obey.
Obey. Continue to obey.
This is the foremost command that Paul gives to the Philippians. The man is in prison, innocently charged; wrongfully convicted. He doesn’t call upon his church to start a campaign for justice in his name. He doesn’t ask them for assistance to obtain his rightful freedom. Paul considers only the gospel and their adherence to it – not himself. He tells them to obey.
This is what obedience to the gospel in the middle of a hate-filled, antagonistic, unjust world looks like practically:
Work out your salvation… Do not be lazy about your spiritual life. Give Christ your all with blood, sweat, and tears. Exercise spiritual disciplines like prayer, fellowship, study, fasting, communion, etc. often. Exercise your spiritual gifts and give support and encouragement to others with them often. Know what the truth is, know what you believe, and do it. Work out, spiritually. This is how you learn to obey God better.
…with fear and trembling. Be serious about your spiritual life. This being a Christian thing is not a joke. It isn’t a joyride or a ticket to an easier earthly life. Following Christ is dangerous, difficult, and daring. If you are not all in and rightly sober about your daily decisions, you will fall. Beware. You will be repeatedly, violently, mercilessly attacked by the Enemy. But be not afraid of him or those who would carry out his work. Fear only the one who holds your soul. Fear God alone and treat the gift of salvation he has given with reverence, respect, and the utmost concern and care. Be serious about your salvation.
Do all things without grumbling or questioning. Paul is not complaining. Wrongfully, innocently incarcerated, yet he rejoices. He instructs. He prays. He sings. He teaches us by his example that there is nothing worthy enough in this world to forfeit our joy for the sake of. Nothing! Not injustice. Not violence. Not betrayal. Not workplaces. Not difficult children. Not sickness. Not brokenness. Not pain. Not suffering. Not inconvenience. Not disappointment. Nothing! It’s like Paul is speaking life to us saying, “Don’t you see? This ‘rule’ against complaining is not given to rob us of the freedom to decompress or draw encouragement in the midst of difficulty. No! This command is given so we might pour ourselves out to God – the only one who can perfectly encourage, comfort, love, sympathize, and counsel by his Spirit – and trust him in all circumstances.” This command is for this explicit reason: that we might pour out our broken heart without losing our joy somewhere in between our self-defeating words of doubt and our self-pitying words of discouragement. Christ wants to build us up in faith. It’s hard to do that when we’re constantly tearing ourselves down in dejection and distress. Ask me how I know.
Obeying the “don’t complain” instruction is not about rule-keeping, brothers and sisters. It is about joy-keeping. Paul says it makes us blameless, innocent, and without blemish. He says trusting God with our pain by sacrificing our illegitimate right to complain makes us look like God’s children. This sacrifice makes us shine in the darkness of this depraved world because it makes evident our love and trust in the word God has spoken to us. Not only that, but it makes our leaders and teachers proud. Proud. Not proud of themselves, rather, proud of us for doing what they have called us to on Christ’s behalf. It gives them encouragement; a return for their investment in us. And that should give us even more joy. What child doesn’t long to make Daddy and his friends proud?
Paul is not in the business of pointing fingers and wearing us out by unkeepable standards. Paul just wants us to see what he did. He wants us to understand that sacrificing our illegitimate rights to the wrong things is a fire that leads directly to our own good. It is a fire that leads to no-matter-what-joy. It is a fire that keeps us hopeful, faithful, Christ-centered, and other-centered. This is how we survive this world without giving up. It is how he did.
God, help me obey.