Bible Topics
in the Christian Library

Philippians 2:12-18

John L. Kachelman, Jr.


I. General notes on the context.

1. In chapter two Paul shows his readers how they can have joy in spite of other people trying to rob them of it.

2. The key concept of having joy in spite of others is found in the phrase "selfless sacrifice." Repeatedly he challenges his readers to develop this sacrificial quality thus insuring joy.

3. To illustrate this sacrificial life Paul pointed to Christ--He set aside His own rights and thought only of man's good; He came to minister and die for many. It is this mind (attitude) which we must possess today! 

4. After the example of Christ, Paul uses "wherefore", or "so then" (v. 12) to introduce an application of what was just stated.

5. We find here an urgent appeal or exhortation for believers to develop the attitude of Christ which results in joy. "I urge you!" (NASV, v.18).

II. As Paul exhorts his readers to possess this joy he uses several concepts which have been stated before.

1. The urgency of developing the attitude of Christ is seen in the repetition of certain points. Pay close attention in this chapter to the oft repeated commands of "sacrifice" and "character."

2. But as Paul develops this application he takes us to a new step--not only must we develop attitudes and character traits, but we must be willing to SHARE our joy with others. Thus the urgency in verse 18.

3. Consider this application -- Christ as the supreme example -- this is to be the conduct which follows His steps, the life which follows the faith, the duty which follows the doctrine (John 12:26).

4. Study these following points which come from the application.


I. What lifestyle should one live after considering the example of Christ?

A. A life that is in full obedience to God's Will (v. 12-13).

1. A constant theme of the Bible is obedience assures joy in one's life (Ps 1:2; 36:8; 146:5; Pr 16:20; 29:18; Ac 8:8, 39; 16:34).

2. The world tempts us to believe that we can find joy and happiness by other means that God's Will -- BUT God says that such is impossible (Pr 3:3-4).

3. The obedient life acts in two ways:

a. First, there is a personal duty which must be performed (v. 12). The person must do something in response to God's commands.

b. Second, there is an implicit trust in God (v. 13) to fulfill His promises.

c. NOTE: The order is imperative -- before God's mercy can act there must be some definite response on our part!

4. Paul indicates how God works -- "in you." From within our attitudes change and we desire to respond to the will of God.

a. The way in which this is done -- "to will" -- God will not coerce obedience. He invites and suggests

b. Notice the way God works today:

1) Through the Bible (1 Ths 2:13) -- As we read the Word of God, we understand what we must obey. Such works only in the lives of those believing.

2) Through prayer (Ep 3:20) -- When we kneel in prayer we open opportunity for growth and resolve to change.

3) Through suffering (1 Pt 4:12-19) -- This helps us to grow in trust and confidence of God's power.

5. Let us seek to be FULLY obedient to God!

B. A life that is in contrast with the world (v. 14-15).

1. Consider the traits of the world: murmuring, disputes, blameful, harmful, crooked, perverse, and in darkness.

2. The key word is "without" (v. 14) -- The Christian is to live opposed to these traits. "Unsaved people complain and find fault . . . society is twisted and distorted, but the Christian stands straight because he measures his life by the Word of God, the perfect standard. The world is dark but Christians shine as bright lights. The world has nothing to offer, but the Christian holds out the Word of life" (Wiersbe).

3. There is to be a dramatic contrast because of our walk (Gal 5:25; Mic 6:8).

C. A life consistent with God's Will (v. 16).

1. "Hold forth" -- Constant dedication, laboring to the point of exhaustion. Halfhearted saints will not do God's work! Such carries the idea of holding out a light for another to see his way clearly.

2. Thus we are to live every part of the day holding out the gospel's light to others by the way we act, talk, and move.

3. One night, off the Florida coast, a terrible gale was blowing. The wind was so violent that it shattered a panel of glass in the side of the lantern of the lighthouse which had been set to guard that part of the treacherous shore. The keeper had no other glass to cover the gap and shield the lamp, and doing his best he fixed in a sheet of tin. In the storm there was a ship trying to find harbor. Not finding the light that he knew should be there the captain got confused and ran his vessel on to the rocks, where boat and all hands were lost. Why? Because the lighthouse had one dark part!

Luke 11:36--Oh, the damage, even the shipwreck, we may cause to another soul and life, if by some unjudged habit, some wretched inconsistency, some slack behavior, some "part dark", obscuring the light, we bring loss to others.

4. May we be careful to demonstrate this consistent life!

D. A life devoted to each other (v. 17-18).

1. Once again we note the stress upon sacrifice -- Christ has demonstrated that joy comes from submission and devotion to others.

2. The world's philosophy is just the reverse: "Fight all to get what you want and only then will you be happy!"

3. We are given a second illustration of sacrifice -- Paul. He was willing to sacrifice himself and knew that such would result in a pleasing act of God.

4. "Joy" (v.17b) -- literally, "I congratulate myself, count myself privileged." Thus Paul was happy because he could sacrifice himself to others! He viewed this as a privilege!

5. A suggested paraphrase: "I want you find your joy in that which I have found my joy, the joy of selfless sacrifice for the good of those you love in Christ."

6. Carefully note the stress upon fellowship: "And you too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and SHARE your joy WITH me" (NASV, v. 18).

II. In what way can this application of Christ's example produce joy?

A. When such attitudes are shown they encourage others to be faithful to God (1 Ths 1:7-8; Hb 13:7; Jas 5:10).

B. Whenever there is a sharing of this joy we will be active in expressing love, edification, and consolation to each other (Ro 14:19; 15:1-3).

C. When such attitudes are lived in daily life they will produce joy because we are Christlike (1 Pt 2:21-24; 4:13).

III. Brief listing of practical lessons gleaned from this passage. 

A. If you do not experience joy, it is possible that your lifestyle is not as it should be.

B. If you do not find joy it may be that you are not "sharing" your joy in fellowship activities.

C. Paul's words in v. 18 are emphatic -- we will be held accountable IF we do not obey!

D. Joy results from performing two basic responses:

1. Obeying God's will in daily living.

2. Sharing (fellowship) with one another.

E. God desires salvation for all men (Rv 22:17), but all He will do is suggest and invite. Let all be eager to accept.

F. Our influence and example are crucial to the world's reception of the Truth.

1. "More people have no other conception of Christianity than that they actually see in the lives and doings of professed Christians. They do not go to Jesus Christ, and look at the truth as he speaks it out and lives it out; they do not yield up their minds and hearts to his teachings and come under his guidance, and let him take them forward into the knowledge and fellowship of the 'law of the Spirit of life', as revealed in the Scriptures, but they watch Christians, and draw their inferences and reach their conclusions from the type of character which they illustrate -- 'they are the Bible the world reads and studies' (Lipscomb).

2. "A boy returned home one evening from a revival meeting where he had obeyed Christ for salvation. With jubilance he said to his sister, 'I have a new heart!' She replied, 'Is that so? Let me see it!' This is precisely what the world is asking of those who claim to be reborn by the Spirit of God. We say we have a new heart in Christ, but the world asks to see the new heart" (Blair).

3. "Light" -- literally, "luminaries." We reflect the light of Christ as the moon reflects the light of the sun.

G. Christians should never be like the world in the abuse of the tongue! (v. 14-15).

1. James 4:11 -- "The want of love for each other is that which prompts us to express adverse judgements regarding others. We are all especially prone to make excuses for those whom we appreciate and love; to excuse, justify and forgive them for their weaknesses; and to criticize, condemn and flay those whom we dislike. Such a disposition is sinful . . . One may speak evil of another unjustly criticizing his actions, words, life; by taking up evil reports originated by others against a brother and giving them further circulation. All such censorious activity is sinful and wrong" (Woods).

2. James 5:9 -- "The verb denotes fretfulness, impatience with others; the disposition to blame others for one's distresses . . . fretful, morose, quarrelsome, disposed to blame their brethren, easy to take offense, and quick to find fault with others, all of which made their own lives miserable, and created serious problems for others . . . It is easy to become a chronic grumbler. It requires but few brains, and but little intelligence. It is the surest way to lose any friends one may have. Those who practice such are condemned" (Woods).


I. Paul's exhortation for all to share joy is greatly needed. 

1. He gives us clear instructions as to how we can apply the great example of Jesus Christ.

2. This lesson applies to ALL members of the church.

II. Is your lifestyle in harmony with what we have studied in the lesson?

Copyright 1998 by John L. Kachelman, Jr. may be reproducted for non-commercial purposes at no cost to others.

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