Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Gleanings in Philippians ~ Do What Israel Didn't Do: Phil 2.14-15 (Part I)

Paul, in this passage is reiterating an exhortation that he has been making since Philippians 1:27. He is exhorting us to obedience in the Christian life. Now he relates this to our purpose in life in this passage. All around us people are desperately searching for purpose in life, and very often they are looking for it in unhelpful places. The bestseller of a few years ago, The Purpose Driven Life, testifies to the fact that people are looking for purpose out there.

One of the glorious things about the Bible is it tells us what our purpose is, and it is wrapped up in the glory of God, and it is only experienced by faith in Jesus Christ. Paul, to summarize, here says that you are on earth to do as a congregation what Israel didn’t do.

God wants us to understand our purpose in life. That’s clear, because He tells us what our purpose in life is in so many different, striking ways repeatedly in the Bible. Paul is saying that your purpose in life is to congregationally — together as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ gathered into one local church, living and ministering together — you are to do congregationally what Israel failed to do. Paul is talking in this whole passage about how our obedience and our sanctification play into God’s great purpose for our lives. Paul is telling us that God wants us to obey from the heart in the community, and in doing so to experience a fullness of joy.

I want to look at three things for us in this passage, but we’ll only look at one today and save the other two for later today, Lord willing.

I. Christians are not to grumble and sinfully question.
Look back at verses 12 and 13, there he has asked us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, because God is at work in us both to will and to work for His good pleasure. And we said there that what Paul is getting at is that in our sanctification— in our change, our becoming mature in grace— we are to live out the salvation which God has given and we are to work out the sanctification which God is at work in us working by His Holy Spirit in such a way that we pursue godliness. In verses 14-15, he is specifying how he wants us to pursue godliness: first: “Do all things without grumbling or questioning.”

That language comes from Israel in the wilderness, in Exodus 15 and 16. God has brought them miraculously across the Red Sea on dry land. He has spared them from their enemies. He has liberated them from their bondage and slavery to Pharaoh and they come to this place where the water was bitter. They name it Marah, because of the bitter waters, and then in verse 24, “ the people grumbled against Moses, saying, ‘What shall we drink?’” They grumbled about the bitter water, and they questioned Moses and the elders, who were God’s appointed spiritual representatives to them.

And then in the next chapter, Exodus 16:2-3, Moses says about the whole congregation: “The whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, ‘Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’” They grumbled, and they questioned.

God is not saying that His people don’t have the right to ask Him a question, but He is saying that sinful questioning is wrong. Questioning that disrespects the authority that God has established over them, which does not trust in God’s kind and loving, beneficent, sovereign providence over his people is sinful questioning of God.

Paul is saying to the Philippians: “don’t do that.” Israel grumbled against God, and they questioned their spiritual leaders, and it brought about dissention in the congregation.

In Philippians 2:1-4 Paul had been talking about petty rivalries, squabbles in the congregation, divisions, and broken relationships. And what’s he saying to the Philippians? Don’t do what Israel did. Don’t grumble. Don’t sinfully question.

He’s really drawing out two things about the kind of obedience that he wants the Philippians to express that the children of Israel didn’t. He’s talking about obedience from the heart, and he’s talking about obedience in the community. The children of Israel would have said, “Yes, we are God’s people. We are the nation that God has chosen.” But their grumbling and their questioning showed that in their hearts they were not submissive to God.

Paul is addressing that in Philippians 2:14. He’s saying, God wants you to obey Him. He wants you to embrace His commands. He wants you to pursue godliness from your heart— not grudgingly, merely outwardly, grumbling all the way. He wants you to obey from the heart, and He wants you to do it in the whole congregation— in your relationships with one another. He wants your obedience to be experienced and expressed in the community, unlike the children of Israel did in the wilderness, where some started grumbling, and what happened? It was like an infection, and it spread to the point that in Exodus 16 that Moses says, “The whole congregation grumbled.” And Paul is saying not to do that. Don’t be like Israel. Only by God’s grace, with Him working within us to “will and to work His good pleasure” can we do this.

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