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  • Josh Wredberg

A Life of Endurance (Sermon)

Philippians 2:12—18



A few years ago, I read a book about one of the heroes of the American Revolution. Because his father was an alcoholic, he was forced to leave school at age 14 to begin working and earning money. He eventually purchased three ships and became a successful merchant and trader. He joined the continental army and in 1775 led his militia to seize a British ammunition stockade. Not long after that, he joined Ethan Allen in capturing Fort Ticonderoga.


He was wounded in two different campaigns: one of which was during a pivotal moment in the Battle of Saratoga, a battle won by the Americans that’s recognized as a turning point in the war. He also helped build America’s first navy, and he led it in frustrating a British attack that may have ended the war. He was at that point considered one of the leading generals in the Continental Army.


I say, at that point, because most people don’t know any of these details about the career of Benedict Arnold. All they know is that he ended up committing treason and defecting to the British Army. One act of treachery can tarnish an entire life and legacy. All of the accomplishments and heroics were forgotten the moment he chose to defect.


His life is a sad and cautionary tale, but it’s one I think we can learn from. Throughout the history of the church, there are stories like those of Benedict Arnold. Men and women who started strong, but ended poorly. Men and women who left the starting blocks in a dead sprint, but gave up before reaching the finish line.


The apostle Paul loved this little church in Philippi. In chapter 1, he said he held them in his heart and longed for them with the affection of Christ Jesus. He’s concerned that they continue to live out the gospel. He reminded them at the end of chapter 1 that they were gospel citizens, and the goal of their life was to reveal the worth of the gospel. They were to live in a way that valued and validated the gospel. The primary way to show the value of the gospel was how they loved—they were to love like Jesus loves. That led him to share a beautiful hymn (2:5—11) about how Jesus became nothing so He could give them everything.


All of this leads to our passage this morning (2:12—18), where Paul talks about the importance of endurance. Gospel citizens endure to the end. Gospel citizens understand the value of what Jesus has done on the cross, and they do not give up, they do not stop running, they do not stop serving until Jesus calls them home. Gospel citizens understand their life says something about the value of the gospel, and if they quit before God says they’re through, it reflects poorly on what Jesus has done. But if they continue, if they endure, if they persevere, it proves the priceless value of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters, our life demonstrates the worth of the gospel when we hold tightly to the gospel until the very end. Perseverance in the faith, endurance in the race is a testimony to the goodness and grace of Jesus Christ. This passage shows us what it takes to endure until the end. We find three keys to endurance.


Endurance Requires Gospel-Empowered Effort

This passage begins with a verse that has confused a lot of Christians—a verse that has too often been taken out of context.

(Philippians 2:12 ESV) 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.

First let’s establish what this verse is not saying. We’re not being told to work for our salvation. That would be contrary to the message of the rest of the Bible. Salvation comes through faith alone, not faith plus works. The message of salvation is summarized in:

(Romans 4:4–5 ESV) Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.

We do not work for our salvation. Paul is not telling these Christians that if they work hard enough and long enough they can somehow earn right standing before God.

Because we believe salvation comes by faith alone, we sometimes shrink back in fear when someone mentions effort or work. I think Dallas Willard captures the right mindset: “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.” Grace and effort go hand in hand. Grace produces effort.

(Ephesians 2:8–10 ESV) For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, [9] not a result of works, so that no one may boast. [10] For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

We are not saved by works, but we are saved to work. We are saved apart from works, but we are saved in order to do good works. Gospel citizens know it’s impossible to earn God’s favor through any good works we do. But gospel citizens also work hard—we give maximum effort—because we’ve experienced God’s favor.


So here in verse 13, Christians are not commanded to work for their salvation, but to work out their salvation. What God has done in us is supposed to come out of us. We are not containers to store His grace within, but conduits to send His grace out. Jesus has worked His grace into us, and we are supposed to work it out.


What motivated this command was Paul’s concern that he would not be with them again. When he was with them, they obeyed well (v.12). But he’s no longer with them, and though he longs to see them again (1:8), he’s not sure he’ll get that chance before he dies. This instruction is like a father saying to his son before he sends him off to college, “Son, I won’t be with you any longer. You know what I’ve taught you. Remember it, but from this point forward you’ll have to figure it out without my help.” The Christians in Philippi have to figure out how to live as gospel citizens without Paul there to assist them.


Paul, like a doctor, prescribes them a workout plan. Every day they need to workout their salvation. Every day they need to rehearse what Jesus had done for them and determine how His salvation should shape their day. How should they respond to this situation in the market? How should they handle this problem at home? How should they deal with this struggle at church? This is what it means to work out your salvation. It takes mental energy and physical effort to live out the Gospel on a daily basis.


But this kind of daily workout is what produces endurance. It’s just like going to the gym. If you want to Run the Quay this June, but you never workout. Here’s a piece of advice. Start working out. I did that one year. I signed up, started to train, but stopped training for a couple months leading up the race. It didn’t go well. I had no endurance. If you want to endure in the spiritual race, you need daily workouts.


Not preparing for Run the Quay was a mistake, but it wasn’t a serious mistake. The only consequence was some pain in my side and being made fun of by some Redeemer friends when I finally made it to the finish line. A failure to finish your spiritual race has much more severe consequences, which is why we are commanded to do it “with fear and trembling” (v.12). Again, this can be misinterpreted. It doesn’t mean we’re always worried about our standing before God, as if righteousness is earned. That’s not what we do. But we do obey God and His Word, we do good works, and we do it all in the fear of the Lord.

The Fear of the Lord is the understanding of God’s greatness and our own weakness. It’s acknowledging that He is sovereign, and we are not. It’s a way of looking at the universe and recognizing that it exists for God, not us. This phrase, along with verse 14, points us back to the generation of Israelites who were delivered from Egypt, but they died prior to entering the Promised Land. They treated God like the false gods of foreign nations. They didn’t take His commands seriously. They acted as if His law was a suggestion. As a result, they didn’t make it to the end. They failed to endure. Brothers and sisters, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. When you understand God is God, and you’re not, then and only then will you live wisely. Gospel citizens don’t forget who sits on the throne, and they treat the King and His commands with honor and respect.


The command to work out your salvation is coupled with a reminder that makes all the difference.

(Philippians 2:13 ESV) For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

None of our good works come through our own strength. God makes our good works possible. This verse actually goes a step further. God not only makes our good works possible, but He also makes our desire to do good possible. These verses tie together two biblical truths: human responsibility and divine sovereignty. God is sovereign over all things, and we are responsible to obey Him. Both are true. Don’t erase one in favor of the other.


God’s work makes our work work. Without God’s work, we would be like a car without an engine or a house without electricity. He is the power source for every good thing we do.


Verse 13 is a verse full of hope and wonder. God is pleased to help us do what pleases Him. Think about that: God is pleased to help us do what pleases Him. If you’ve ever had a boss who was impossible to please, a teacher who was never happy, or a parent who was perpetually disappointed, then rejoice in this. God loves to help you do what He wants you to do. He doesn’t set you up to fail. He guarantees you will succeed.


God never gets sick of His children. He is always there, always helping, always working in us, through us, and for us. God doesn’t tell us to work out our salvation and then leave us to do it. He empowers us to do what He instructs us to do. The first key to endurance is gospel-empowered effort.


Endurance Requires Counter-Cultural Contentment

Because endurance is difficult, we have plenty of opportunities to grumble and question. In verse 14, Paul not only commands them not to grumble about their circumstances, but he does so in a way that points back again to that faithless generation of Israelites.

(Philippians 2:14 ESV) Do all things without grumbling or disputing.

Even though they had experienced the power of God in delivering them from Egypt, the rescued Israelites grumbled against Moses’ leadership and questioned God’s care for them.


Friends, this is easy for us to do when life is difficult. It’s easy for us to mutter under our breath, to gripe to our spouse or close friends, to question why bad things only happen to us. Does grumbling help us make it to the finish line? No, grumbling makes us want to quit. I’ve never met a person who quit without complaining for awhile first. Complaining is always the first step to quitting and walking away.


We live in a world where complaining is so prevalent, it serves as a soundtrack for our culture. The advertising that bombards us is intended to provoke discontentment. It tells us how bad our lives are and how they can be improved with just one purchase. Discontentment is fostered to such a degree that most people’s favorite pastime has become grumbling. Society seems to be devolving into smaller groups that center on shared complaints. I noticed on Facebook a private group from my alma mater called Survivors of Maranatha—they exist to grumble and complain about their college experience. Each day we venture out into the world, we’re in danger of being caught in a rip current of complaining with the power to sweep us away.


This spirt of discontentment that characterizes our culture is a clear sign of brokenness. Our world is described as “crooked and twisted” (v.15). Those two words come from Deuteronomy 32:5, and they describe the generation who complained so much God condemned them to die in the wilderness.

(Deuteronomy 32:5 ESV) They have dealt corruptly with [God]; they are no longer his children because they are blemished; they are a crooked and twisted generation.

We are warned not to be like these people who longed for something other than what God provided.


We don’t often think of complaining in the way it’s being described here. We think it’s no big deal, but complaining about our circumstances and questioning God’s care are a big deal because they undermine the gospel of Jesus Christ. When Christians complain we testify that God is either too weak to provide for us or He’s too mean to care for us. We sing, “All I Have is Christ” but we act as if He’s not enough. Those who do not know Jesus should be discontent—they are missing the one thing they desperately need! But we who know Jesus should be the most content people on the planet.


When we live with contentment, we demonstrate the value of the gospel. We possess the only thing that matters, so we don’t focus on what we don’t have. Contentment is noticeable.

(Philippians 2:15 ESV) 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.

Contentment in Christ makes us shine like lights in the darkness.

When God chose the nation of Israel to be His representatives, they were to be a “light to the nations.” Their trust in God, even when life was difficult, would be attractive to unbelievers. But Israel failed, and they failed because of their discontentment. They looked just like all the other nations. Everyone was bent on doing whatever they needed to gain what they thought they were missing, all with the goal of finding happiness on their own, apart from God. God sent Jesus to do what Israel failed to do. God told Jesus,

“I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6 ESV).

And Jesus was a light to the whole world. In spite of leaving heaven and coming to earth as a slave, Jesus never grumbled or questioned. He was content in a situation where everyone else would have complained.


As His followers, we too are supposed to shine like lights, but this only happens when we refuse to complain. Contentment in Christ is one of the most powerful witnesses to the Gospel. In the book of Daniel, a prophecy is made about a wise people who “shall shine like the brightness of the sky above” and their lives will “turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (Daniel 12:3). Christian, the single greatest impact you may have on this world is a refusal to complain, a refusal to grumble when life is difficult, a refusal to question God’s love and care when your world seems to be falling apart.


When the words of Daniel were written, navigators used the position of the sun and stars to navigate. They didn’t have GPS, so they looked up at the night sky, memorized the relative position of the stars, and used those stars to find their way. Content Christians are stars in the night sky which can lead a person home. Our lives can help them see what they’ve been unable to see. The distinctiveness of lives that are unblemished by complaining and single-minded in faith are a compelling apologetic for the grace and mercy of God.


There is a distinctly missional thrust to these verses. We don’t endure by pulling ourselves out of the world. We live “in the midst” of the world, we are “among” those who don’t believe (v.15). What stands out most clearly is our refusal to complain. Think about how much complaining happens at your job, in your classroom, at your family gatherings. What if you simply refused to complain? Would others notice? Of course they would, and when they asked, you would have a great opportunity to let them know you have no reason to grumble because your Father is the King, and He cares for you. God’s children don’t grumble because their Father rules and reigns.


Imagine if you discovered the Fountain of Youth. You bottled some of it up and visited your grandparents in the nursing home. As you entered their room, they were complaining about old age and were anxious about the future. Would you join in their complaining? Or would you take out the bottle of healing water with a smile and offer it to them? No need to complain anymore. You have the solution. Look at how verse 16 begins: “holding fast to the word of life.” Many versions translate it “holding out the word of life.” We have the word which brings life, we don’t complain. We hold it out, inviting others to take it.


Brothers and sisters, when our voices join the chorus of complaints around us, our light is diminished and our gospel is hidden. We’re like a candle placed under a basket. But when we’re content in circumstances where complaining is almost expected, then people will wonder why. That’s when we hold out the word that brings life. We have the source of life, the fountain of eternal joy—why would we ever complain?

Are you grumbling about something right now? Maybe it’s a difficult situation at work or a frustrating circumstance at home. A lot of Christians spend their days complaining about politics. Is that you? Are you questioning God’s plan or even God’s care? The command (v.14) is to do “all things” without grumbling and questioning. Not some things, not just the big things, but all things.


If you’re struggling with grumbling, remember everything you have to be thankful for. Gratitude kills grumbling. Remember what we studied last week about God’s love for you displayed in Jesus Christ. Meditating on the work of Jesus can help you live with counter-cultural contentment. And contentment is key to enduring to the end.


Endurance Requires Joy-Producing Sacrifice

(Philippians 2:16–18 ESV) 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. 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.

The apostle Paul doesn’t know if he will see them again because there’s a strong possibility he’ll be executed for his faith.


If there was ever a reason to quit it would be this. Quitting the race could spare his life. If not quitting, at least complaining about how he has been unjustly persecuted. But he does neither. In fact, he says hess glad and rejoices and encourages them to be glad and rejoice with him. Why is he glad in this circumstance? Because he understands his purpose in life, and he realizes his sacrifice is a small price to pay to help others finish the race. What motivates Paul is not comfort or security, but seeing the Gospel transform lives. He has seen the faithfulness of these Christians, and because of their faith he knows his time, effort, and sacrifice have made a difference. It’s all been worth it.


He pulls from the Old Testament (v.17) to describe a sacrifice made to the Lord. It’s actually the combination of two sacrifices—theirs and his. Due to his ministry, they have offered their lives as a sacrifice to God, like a lamb upon the altar. He is glad to join his life to theirs, like a cup of wine poured out on the sacrificial lamb. In other words, he will give his life if it helps them give their lives to God. His joy comes from seeing their commitment to God.


Think about what he’s saying. He is glad to die as a martyr if his death encourages them to finish strong. There is a way to approach death that allows you to say, “Don’t mourn me. Rejoice with me that my job is finished. And follow me as an example.” Can I particularly encourage some of our older members? How you finish matters. Younger brothers and sisters are watching you—they’re watching how you prepare to die, and your example can help them finish strong. If they see you joyfully sacrificing your life for others even as your life fades, it will help them endure. We need you. Don’t think your ministry is over just because you don’t have the strength and energy you once had.

What better thing to have engraved on your tombstone than the phrase “Mission accomplished.” This is why Paul can rejoice in the face of death. His mission is accomplished.


Conclusion

When I was in high school, I acted in a couple different plays. We would start rehearsals early—usually 3–4 months before the first show. In the early rehearsals, we had our scripts and would read from them as the director worked on blocking the stage. Details like when a person entered the scene, where they walked, and what direction they faced. As the weeks wore on, we would have different deadlines, like when we needed lines memorized and when we would try on costumes.


Overshadowing everything else was one date—opening night. Everything we did focused on that first night when the crowd would file in, the curtain would open, and the lights would come up.


In verse 16, the apostle Paul mentions a day that overshadows everything else. It’s the third time already in the letter he’s mentioned “the day of Christ” (1:6, 10). This is the day we’re waiting for. If we only rehearsed but never made it to the performance, it would be tough to endure all those long nights on stage. If this life went on forever and ever, endurance would be impossible. But it doesn’t—we anticipate the day of Christ.

The day of Christ’s return and reign, the day of His glory and judgment, this day makes endurance possible. This is the ultimate finish line. When life gets tough and you’re tempted to quit, remember the Day of Christ is not that far off.


Psychologist Anna Lee Duckworth gave a fascinating TED talk about a subject she’s studied for years. Her talk is called, “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.” In her talk, she defines grit this way: “the ability to persevere in pursuing a future goal over a long period of time and not giving up… It’s sticking with your future, day-in, day-out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”


A marathon, not a sprint. As gospel citizens, we’re running a marathon, the finish line is the day of Christ, and we need God-given, Spirit-infused, Gospel-empowered grit. We need grit so we don’t quit. Ask God for grit to endure until the end, and trust Him to give it to you. After all, it pleases God to help you do what pleases Him.


We need grit to finish the race, but we won’t always need grit. On the Day of Christ, when we finally make it home, the place of our true citizenship, our days of running will be done, our need for grit will be no more. In the meantime, let’s live with gospel grit as gospel citizens. When we live with gospel grit our lives testify to the goodness and grace of Jesus Christ and the infinite glory of His gospel.


This sermon was originally preached at Redeemer Community Church in 2020.

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