God Works on Our Will by His Word
Philippians 2:16 is an exhortation to “hold fast the word of life.” This “holding” means to fix on, to pay close attention to, not deviating from this word. And the “word of life” that we must lock onto and never let go of is the Scripture. The other place this phrase appears in the Bible is in 1 John 1:1 “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – that which we have seen and heard we proclaim to you.” John here calls the revelation of God in Jesus Christ that comes through the word of his proclamation (which was subsequently written down in Scripture) “the word of life.” It is the word that transmits the life of God to those who hold it fast. Paul himself gives us a glimpse of how this transmission takes place in II Timothy 3:16 where he describes all of Scripture as “breathed out by God.” So the life-giving breath of God is breathed into Scripture by the Spirit. And when a believer holds fast to this word they are breathing in this divine, creating, transforming, sustaining, equipping, quickening breath by the that same Spirit.
The flow of Paul’s thought in the previous verses drives us to this word with a renewed sense of urgency. Verse 12 has called us to obey our exalted Lord by working out the precious salvation we have received. This daily developing of our salvation, vs 14 shows us, concerns more than our external behavior, but focuses on the attitudes of our heart. Christ-honoring obedience requires doing the will of God from the heart (Romans 6:17; Eph 6:6). Because what comes out of the mouth is an overflow of what is going on in the heart of a believer (Matt. 15:18), working out our salvation means “doing all things without grumbling and questioning” but instead “doing all things with rejoicing and thanksgiving” (Phil. 4:4,6).
Right in the middle of these two verses, one summoning us to the fight of faith and the other directing this fight to the domain of our will (heart), stands the gospel of vs 13. We must daily work out our salvation. And we can do this daily working out because God is at work in us to daily work in us. And this God-work targets both our willing and our working. So God works in us at the level of our will. Which, as the Psalmists recognized, is exactly what we so desperately need – unite my heart O God, enlarge my heart, incline my heart, search my heart, purify my heart – this is the way they teach us to pray! Change my heart O God! And Paul celebrates in vs 13 that this fight is indeed a fight of faith – it is a daily depending on God for what He alone can do and what He will surely do. Namely, work on our will.
The power of vs 16 in this flow of thought is that here Paul answers the “how” question. The way God works in us, and the way He works in us at the level of our will, is by His word. God works in us both to will and to work as we hold fast the word of life. This is the place we go (never leave!) to receive God’s promised life-giving work.
The rest of Scripture reveals a stunning portrait of the life that God works in us by His word. Here is a beginning study:
(1) We hold fast to the word for the sake of our faith since faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17) See also Romans 12:3.
(2) We hold fast to the word for the sake of our joy since “I have spoken these things to you that my joy may be in you and your joy may be full” (John 15:11). Psalm 19 tells us that it is the precepts of the Lord that rejoice the heart.
(3) We hold fast to the word for the sake of our light since “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path (Ps 119:105). See also II Pt. 1:19.
(4) We hold fast to the word for the sake of our freedom since “if you abide in my word…you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31). See also Ps. 119:32.
(5) We hold fast to the word for the sake of our holiness since Jesus asked the Father to “sanctify them in your truth, your word is truth” (John 17:17).
(6) We hold fast to the word for the sake of our fruitfulness since it is when our delight is in the law of the Lord and on His law we meditate day and night that “you will be like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in season, and its leaf does not wither” (Ps. 1:2-3).
(7) We hold fast to the word for the sake of our hope since “whatever was written in the former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope” (Rm. 15:4). See also Psalm 119:49.
(8) We hold fast to the word for the sake of our love since Paul urges Timothy, “to charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine…the aim of our instruction is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (I Tim. 1:5).
(9) We hold fast to the word of the sake of our healing since “He sent forth His word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction” (Ps. 107:20). This is how Paul instructs Timothy to think of deliverance happening as well. As men are faithful and able to teach the word, instructing and correcting the congregation, “God may perhaps grant them repentance, leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil after being captured by him to do his will” (II Tim. 2:25-26).
(10) We hold fast to the word for the sake of our wisdom since “the sacred writings are able to make you wise unto salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.” Indeed “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (II Tim. 3:15-16). See also Ps. 119:24, 97-100, 130.
This is just some of what it means that Scripture is alive, it is active, it is able and it is at work in us as we hold it fast. This is the life-giving work God has appointed His Word to perform in a believer. God works on our will by His word. May we fight the fight of faith, taking up the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God, and hold it fast.