Philippians - Lesson 6

By Curt Niccum

Philippians 2:12-18


  1. The class will recognize the value of the Old Testament for revealing how or how not to live as citizens in God's kingdom by referring to the allusions Paul makes to Old Testament teachings in this passage.
  2. The class will identify items in the beginning of chapter two that pertain to obedience and working out one's salvation with fear and trembling.
  3. The class will state how maintaining proper relationships relates to worship.


  1. Bibles for every student.
  2. The teacher may want to make a list later in the lesson. A chalkboard or overhead projector may be needed, or sheets of paper to be distribute to the class so each member can make notes.
  3. If devotional period is desired, you may need songbooks and to designate people for singing, praying, and scripture reading.


In 2:12-18 Paul calls the church to live up to their full potential as heavenly citizens based on the exmple of Christ and in contrast to the example of the Jews in the Exodus. 

Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class

Devotional Period (5 minutes)

  1. Read Philippians 2:12-18
  2. Sing up to two songs. (The following are suggested tunes.)
    1. This Little Light of Mine
    2. Let the Lower Lights be Burning
    3. Poured out Like Wine
  3. Prayer. (Some appropriate subjects for prayer are listed below.)
    1. For us to model Jesus in our relations with each other and the world
    2. For us not to be like God's people in the past who failed.
    3. Thanks for the empowerment to will and act as God would have us do

Introduction (5-10 minutes)

  1. Call the roll or have someone check it. (It is very important to know who is present so someone can check on those who are absent.) Introduce and welcome visitors, take prayer requests, and make any necessary announcements.
  2. Review last class.
    1. Q: How did we define sin last week? A: "The desire to be like God.”
    2. Q: What is the consequence of that sin? A: Separation from God.
    3. In Philippians 2:6-11 Paul uses an early Christian song to remind the Philippians of how central Christ must be to Christian living. This, in particular, related to the huge gulf created between a sinful humanity and a holy God through sin. Q: With which Old Testament character is Jesus contrasted? A: Adam. Q: What were the similarities between Jesus and Adam? B: Both were human and tempted. Q: What were the differences? A: Adam fell into temptation and sought to be like God. As a result, death came into existence and humans and the earth came under curses. Jesus, being in the very image of God yet taking on human form, did not sin and therefore reversed all of the curses, including death, for those who choose to be descended through him (through baptism where we are recreated in God's image and become his children).
  3. Preliminary discussion for this class.
    1. Last week we saw Jesus contrasted with Adam. Clearly Adam failed where Christ succeeded. Certainly there are other contrasts that can be made between the Old and New Covenants. Q: What about the people of God? Do we have any record in the Old Testament of how God's people failed to be the people they were supposed to be? A: There will be many valid answers. Most likely the experiences of the Jews in the wilderness with Moses will be mentioned. If not, guide the class in that direction as it will be important for the rest of the lesson.
    2. It is important to remember that we are not the first people awarded the status of being God's own children, God's special people. Knowledge of this past is important if we do not want to fall under the same condemnation that many of them did. History tends to repeat itself only when people fail to learn from the past.

Learning Experiences (20 minutes)

  1. Read 2:12-13.
    1. It is important to define some of the terminology here. Q: First and foremost, what does "salvation” mean?
      1. A: (Certainly the general consensus of the class will be along the lines of "eternal salvation” and "being with God in heaven.” This is certainly correct, but will be too limited in the minds of many.) "Salvation” for Paul goes beyond heaven. Salvation is the state of those who have been redeemed, and it therefore includes life in the here and now, not just the hereafter. Q: Have we already seen Paul discuss salvation in terms of life here on earth? A: Yes (Philippians 1:19, translated as "deliverance” in the NIV). There Paul associated salvation with glorifying Christ in his body (1:20).
      2. We should then keep open the idea that Paul's reference to salvation here deals with choices made on earth that include the physical actions of our bodies. Q: After all, what physical action of Christ that brings glory to God has Paul just finished using as the supreme example (2:6-11)? A: Christ's death on the cross.
      3. Thus, in the context, working out our salvation probably refers to physical actions with spiritual consequences.
    2. Q: Second, what does "fear and trembling” mean? A: Here a number of answers are possible. For those remembering the words of the Old Testament, their full force will be stressed. (Interestingly enough, those taking the words with their full force typically associate it with an attitude before God, whereas in the Old Testament that is never the case.) Paul uses this Old Testament phrase in a different manner. In the few occurrences of these words, obedience is the common theme, and the fear and trembling is directed towards other people in a sense of repentance and humility. (See 2 Corinthians 7:15 and Ephesians 6:5.) Since Paul deals with relationships in Philippians, the fear and trembling most likely represents our attitude towards others in light of the cross.
    3. Have someone read 1 Corinthians 2:2-3. How then might these definitions of "salvation” and "fear and trembling” affect the interpretation of the passage? Q: Is this suggesting that my salvation depends upon obedience? A: Yes, and this fits exactly the pattern presented to us with Christ (2:8). Q: Does this mean my salvation also hinges upon my willingness to approach others who have hurt or mistreated me with an attitude of abject humility and a level of anxiety that could be described as "fear and trembling”? A: Yes, and this fits exactly the pattern presented to us with Christ (2:7-8) and the opening exhortation of the chapter. Read 2:1-5. Note that here are concrete ways Paul offers us for "working out our salvation with fear and trembling.”
    4. In other words, sometimes working out my salvation means doing what seems unpleasant and perhaps even unjust to me in order to fix broken relationships because I have learned from Christ the importance of valuing others above myself. In practical terms, actually putting the life of the cross into practice may mean periods of pain and tears. Those who have tried to fix a broken relationship, whether with a family member, friend, or coworker, recognize that it is not easy. It comes with anxiety, stress, and emotional pain. It often does produce fear and trembling. Still, by thinking the way Christ did on the cross, for putting his attitude into action, my broken relationships may be healed. How wonderful! Yet not every relationship gets healed just because I did the right thing. If I "get crucified” instead, my glory continues to remain with Christ if my suffering is with Christ (Philippians 2:9-11 and 3:10-11).
    5. Of utmost importance here is realizing that we are not working on this alone. God works with us both to aid our "thinking” like Christ and putting that thought into action (2:13). Still, it requires our response. God makes the action possible, even probable, but we must ultimately do it. Jesus himself recognized this when he prayed, "Not my will, but yours be done.”
  2. At the beginning of the class we noted that God's people had failed in the past. The Old Testament, of course, was the Bible of the church. Christians, even Gentile ones, would have been well versed in the Old Testament. For Paul, it was a major source of his teaching, but also served as a reminder of the importance of truly being the people God had called the church now to be. Paul uses examples from it for both chastising and encouraging Christians. (See for example 1 Corinthians 10:1-10 and Romans 15:4.) God had called many people to be citizens of His kingdom long before Christ came in the flesh. The Old Testament is therefore of value for understanding our citizenship. Have the class read Philippians 2:14-18.
    1. Q: What language in these verses can you find that has parallels in the Old Testament? A: Almost everything comes from the Old Testament. (You may want to make a list in front of the class for assisting further discussion.)
      1. "Do everything without complaining or arguing.” The word "complaining” here is the word used over and over again to describe Israel's rebellion against God in the Greek Old Testament. It was a word that New Testament authors could use with great effect (see also 1 Corinthians 10:10 and Jude 16 for examples). Q: What happened to the Israelites in the wilderness whenever they "grumbled”? A: They died. This is a serious offense indeed!
      2. The first part of verse 15 alludes to Deuteronomy 32:5 and other passages where Moses and God disown the Israelites because of their stubbornness. Jesus himself used this language to contrast those who were rejecting his message ("a crooked and perverse generation” or sometimes simply "this generation”) with those who would receive it ("children”).
      3. The latter part of 2:15, "in which you shine like stars in the universe,” comes from Daniel 12:2-3.
      4. Verse 17 reflects on Jewish sacrifices, in particular in the pouring out of the libation offering to God. Paul sees his ministry among the Gentiles as a priestly service to God.
    2. So what does this mean? Q: Of what importance is this high concentration of Old Testament language? A: This is extremely important because Paul, by presuming knowledge of the Old Testament, can say a lot in very few words.
      1. Q: What is he saying when he says, "Do everything without complaining or arguing”? A: Certainly the natural meaning of these words is included, but Paul clearly intends us to understand more. This supposedly "minor” rift between two Christian ladies at Philippi Paul places on the level of Jewish rebellion in the desert! The church should take note and listen lest dire consequences result (which Paul will indicate further at the end of chapter 3).
      2. Q: What is Paul saying when he speaks of being blameless children "in a crooked and depraved generation”? A: There are two answers to this: 1) the concept of being "blameless” relates to our sacrificial worship of God, and 2) the "generation” language separates us from those who would rebel against God and pay the consequences. This leads to another important question. Q: When Moses and God spoke of "this generation,” did they refer to those outside Israel or those inside? A: Those inside. Q: So what import would that carry in this discussion? A: Paul does not contrast Christians with pagans, but Christians who follow Christ wholeheartedly and those who put on a good show but actually rebel against Christ's will. Refusing to fix broken relationships thus becomes exceedingly serious. God's "children” will follow his example. The only other option is to belong to "this crooked and depraved generation” who are not his children (Deut. 32:5).
      3. Q: What is Paul saying when he says, "in which you shine like stars in the universe”? A: Paul now contrasts the church with the world (but only after implying that many "in the church” actually belong to the world). God's people are not to be like those in the world. Indeed, our lives should stand out in stark contrast to the lives of those in the world. (The word translated "universe” is the same for "world.”) Those recognizing the Old Testament context of this wording realize that eternal life hinges upon our being "wise” and "leading many to righteousness” (Dan. 12:2-3). Q: How does holding grudges and allowing relationships to remain broken lead many to righteousness? A: They can't. Q: What must be done? A: A ministry of reconciliation. Broken relationships with others breaks our relationship with God.
      4. Q: What is Paul saying when he refers to being poured out like wine in his ministry to the Philippians? A: It summarizes all Paul has said to this point about self-sacrifice. Chapter one has already shown how Paul chooses self-sacrifice for the good of the Philippian church. For Paul, the health of the church, comprised in part of its relationships with each other and the world, is a part of his service to God. (See also Romans 15:16). If the church is whole, united, working together as one, Paul's worship is acceptable to God. Healthy relationships equal healthy worship. (See also Matthew 5:23-24, where the issue is not if you have something against another, but if another has something against you!)
    3. Q: So then, why does Paul rejoice and call for the Philippian Christians to rejoice with him? A: For the same reason he does so in chapter one, it is because God is victorious in self-sacrifice.
    4. The world is wrong. True happiness does not come in "getting my way.” "God just wants me to be happy” is not justification for sin or for running over people, but the ultimate challenge to self-sacrifice. "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God,” Hebrews 12:2 (NIV).

Application (10 minutes)

  1. It is important that the class understand that our salvation hinges upon how we treat other people (and not on how other people treat us). It is easy to associate being saved with baptism, faith, grace, and good works, but it is when we get down to the particulars that sometimes the broader concept of salvation gets away from us. "I don't drink; I don't chew, and I don't date girls who do” may adequately reflect a basic understanding of the Christian life, but heavenly citizenship entails so much more.
  2. Paul invokes passages from the Old Testament in Philippians 2:12-18 to make two things clear.
    1. We can lose our citizenship just as kingdom people in the past did. Arguing, complaining, holding grudges, and refusing to give up one's own rights and privileges for the benefit of others are tokens of worldly citizenship. Note the works of the flesh enumerated in Galatians 5:19-21. It is easy to believe that sexual immorality, witchcraft, drunkenness, and other similar sins will keep one from inheriting the kingdom of God. It is less easy to recognize hatred, discord, jealousy, selfish ambition, dissensions, and factions as sins equally deplorable and foreign to God's kingdom.
    2. Paul has higher expectations of those in Philippi, and by extension we have higher hopes for those in this class. We are God's people. We are God's children. Our citizenship in heaven is firm if we work out our salvation - this particularly includes self-sacrifice for and humility towards others. This requires me to swallow my pride and to do everything necessary to fix those broken relationships in my life, precisely because this is what God did for me through Jesus Christ.
  3. Every time I have the mind of Christ in this world, I obey God, I work out my salvation with fear and trembling, and I proclaim the victory of the cross. More specifically, every time I do whatever it takes to fix a broken relationship by having the mind of Christ, I obey God, I work out my salvation with fear and trembling, and I proclaim the victory of the cross. That is offering acceptable worship to God.
  4. Do you have a broken relationship in your life? Then you need to attempt fixing it this week. It will not be easy. It may require fear and trembling, but the result is your salvation, and perhaps the salvation of another.

Assignment (1 minute)

  1. Each class member should read 2:19-30.
  2. Challenge the class, as they read this passage over the next week, to look for ways Timothy and Epaphroditus have already put Paul's teaching and the mind of Christ into action.

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