Ongoing Concern

By Chuck Griffin

Philippians 2:12-18 (NRSV)

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. But even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you—and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me.


Few pastors in our Western culture have been chained in prison like Paul, but I suspect most of us who have left a beloved church understand the poignancy of his message to the Christians at Philippi.

Even as we move on to new ministry settings, we want so much for those we led before. We pray their spiritual lives were on an upward trajectory as we left, and we pray they have continued in such a direction.

Paul was still able to advise the Philippians, if only in a letter dictated from his cell. In this part of the letter, Paul encouraged them to maintain that constant tension all Christians need to feel. Yes, it is God who does the work of salvation, and it is God who is at work in us to bring us toward holiness. But simultaneously, we also have work to do, reaching out toward God and each other to accept the grace so freely poured out through Jesus Christ.

As John Wesley wrote, “First, God works; therefore you can work. Secondly, God works; therefore you must work.”

Because of the value of the gift, eternal life, we are to take our very mild share of the responsibility quite seriously, enough so that we trigger both an emotional and a physical response.

Much of our work is rooted in the avoidance of evil and the pursuit of good. Paul described the dangerous people in the world as “crooked and perverse,” at this point feeling no need to define the specifics of crookedness and perversity.

With the Holy Spirit working through the gracious revelation of Scripture and within us, it should not be difficult for a committed Christian to spot what is crooked and what is perverse. That remains true today, even as the world tries to make up new definitions to suit itching ears.

Heavenly Father, as we move into the weekend and toward Palm Sunday, help us to work on our salvation to the point where we do experience fear and trembling. We know your Holy Spirit will comfort us quickly enough, giving us loving assurance we are your children. Amen.

The Work

We preach Christ crucified.

2 Timothy 4:1-5 (NRSV)

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.


Lately, when I hear this passage quoted, the focus seems to be on the people who will not put up with sound doctrine, the ones who seek out teachers who simply confirm what is comfortable.

Certainly, that’s a problem today. But it’s also pretty easy to argue that itching ears and wandering hearts have been around since the earliest days of the church. We cannot bring people to Jesus Christ simply by pointing out what stands against the Christian message.

Instead, let’s focus on what Paul told the young pastor Timothy to do. Be persistent in following God’s call, which is placed upon all Christians.

This passage reminds me of an encounter with a church member I had several years ago, when President Barack Obama was running for a second term. The parishioner revealed his political stance when he grabbed my sleeve and asked me, “Pastor Chuck! What are we going to do if Obama is re-elected?”

“Well,” I responded, “I guess we should do exactly what we should do if he loses. We will preach Jesus.”

Times may be favorable or unfavorable, and people may have a lot of trouble agreeing on our current status. But for Christians, our work remains simple.

First, we unhesitatingly declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, using the Holy Bible to expand upon that core truth. We present that beautiful message of love and grace to nonbelievers as attractively as we can without compromising the call to holiness that goes with it.

And within the church, the body of believers, we live in mutual accountability, ensuring we are growing in our faith and love.

Paul described a simple mandate, one that should be easy to remember.

Lord, help us today to consider when we last went to work for you, what fruits we bore, and what opportunities might lie before us. Amen.