Philippians 2:12-18 – The State of the Church 2023


Text: Philippians 2:12-18
Title: The State of the Church 2023
Date: January 1st, 2023
Location: Christ Covenant Church – Centralia, Washington

12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. 14 Do all things without murmurings and disputings: 15 That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; 16 Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain. 17 Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all. 18 For the same cause also do ye joy, and rejoice with me.


Father, Your Word says that “the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” And so we ask now that you would illuminate us, fill us with the light of your Word and the oil of Your Spirit, for we ask this in Jesus name, Amen.


Happy New Year! And welcome to the Year of our Lord 2023.

  • Roughly 2,000 years ago, the Christian church was just 120 people in an upper room (Acts 1:15), and today Christianity is the dominant religion of our planet, with about 2.2 billion people identifying themselves as Christians (that is 32% of the world population).
    • After Christianity, there are about 1.6 billion Muslims (23% of the world population), 1 billion Hindus, and about 500 million Buddhists, and then a bunch of other smaller religious groups after that.
  • Christianity is the #1 world religion, and it is also far and away the #1 religion of our nation—these United States.
  • Does anyone know what percentage of our country identifies itself as Christian?
    • Roughly 70% of Americans identify themselves as Christian. That means of the 331 million Americans, 231 million claim Christianity.
    • Of that 70%, the majority is Protestant (25.4% Evangelical, 14.7% Mainline), and after that Roman Catholic (20.8%).
  • However, when you look at the laws, morality, and cultural trends in our nation, especially the sexual perversion in our entertainment, the abortion issue, LGBT stuff, woke stuff, fiscal policy, etc. I think it’s reasonable to conclude that although 7 in 10 Americans claim to be Christian, many of them are either nominal, confused, or disobedient. Or in more biblical terms, we would say that our nation is a Christian nation that is apostate. We are a nation of baptized and professing Christians who don’t go to church, don’t read our Bibles, and have not obeyed all that Christ commands.
    • Once upon time in America, Protestant Christianity was the established religion. There were recognized state churches in the early colonies. If you wanted to be in civil government, you had to be a confessing Christian. There was a time when the Lord’s Day was a day of rest from commerce and business. Church attendance was expected and encouraged if you were going to be a good American citizen.
      • There was a time in America when school children were taught the Bible, the Westminster Shorter Catechism, and learned their ABC’s using stories from Scripture.
        • For example, in The New England Primer (1690), for the letter A, you would learn the rhyme, “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all.” A was for the historical Adam, not apple. Today children are taught they are the descendant of apes.
        • For the letter J, you would say, “Job feels the rod, and blesses God.” You would learn theology as you learned your ABC’s.
        • For the letter K, “Proud Korah’s troops, were swallowed up.” You would learn biblical history as you learned your ABC’s. Today, I reckon most Christians don’t know who Korah is.
      • The very first book that was printed on American soil was a psalter. The Bay Psalm book. The book of Psalms for English speakers to sing.
  • From the beginning, Christianity has been the dominant religious force of our nation. And with that has come great prosperity, great blessing, but also great curses and bloodshed for our apostasy.
  • Jesus says in Luke 12:48, “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.”
    • To those who have been exposed to more light and truth, the judgment is far greater when they turn away to the darkness.
  • And so the State of the Church in America in 2023 is a hot mess. We are the bride of Christ, but there are still many spots and wrinkles in the visible church.
  • And so what I want to do in this sermon is a bit different than usual. I have titled it The State of the Church 2023, and what I want to do is situate our church, our little congregation, within the context and history of the broader church in America. Where do we fit in the grand scheme of God’s kingdom? Who are we in relation to everyone else?
    • In order to do this I want to start by giving a simple exposition of our text, and then spend the rest of our time making application to how we can use our gifts to further Christ’s kingdom.

Verses 12-13

12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.

  • So this is building off of everything we talked about last week on the Incarnation. Because Christ who is God became man, therefore, my beloved, obey Christ whether I am present or absent.
    • This is Paul telling the Philippians: “Don’t be that guy who only obeys when the manager is watching. Don’t be the kid who only obeys when Mom and Dad are in the room. Don’t be a church that needs to be micromanaged by its elders.” Obey Christ, Obey God’s Word, in private, in public, when everyone’s watching, and when nobody’s watching, because God is always watching. Obey whether Paul is presence or absent.
  • What does this obedience look like?
    • It looks like, “working out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”
    • What does this mean? Perhaps you are wondering, “I thought salvation was opposed to works.”
  • Theology Lesson:
    • In Scripture, salvation is a bigger category than justification by faith (God declaring you righteous). This is of massive importance if you want to understand how to read the Bible.
      • Justification is essential to salvation, but salvation includes other essential concepts like regeneration, effectual calling, sanctification, glorification, good works, perseverance, etc. Justification is just one part of the whole enchilada that is salvation.
      • This is how Jesus can say things like, “he that endures to the end shall be saved” (Matt. 10:22). “Be faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). In this sense, salvation is conditional upon something you do.
      • Or look at what the final judgment in Matthew 25 is based on. It based not upon whether someone believed in Jesus or not, but upon whether a nation did good works or not. The King says, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: 36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.”
      • Those are the criteria by which the righteous are distinguished from the wicked, the sheep separated from the goats. God is going to judge the world and every man according to his works.
      • And so it is proper to say, that we are declared righteous (justified by faith) apart from works (by grace through faith alone, Eph. 2:8), AND at the same time, we can say that good works are necessary and essential to salvation, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).
        • It’s not an either/or, it’s a both/and. This is how you do theology: everything harmonizes.
      • So this is what Paul is getting at when he says, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”
        • If your response to Paul is, “I don’t need to work because I am justified by faith,” Paul would say, go back, try again, you’re misunderstanding what salvation is.
    • Salvation is from beginning to end, a work of God: in which he causes someone to be born again, he graciously implants faith and righteousness in that person, and then that person works out by faith, what God has worked in.
  • Remember the whole context and theme of these verses, Paul is wanting the Philippians to be humble. And the way he cuts down our pride is by attributing to God all the good works that we could ever do.
    • Paul puts it this way in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” (I worked, yet not I).
  • Can you say that? Can you say, “I worked hard. I worked out my salvation with fear and trembling, I obeyed, and yet not I, it was the grace of God within me.” If you walk with Christ for long enough, you’ll know exactly what Paul is talking about.
    • How did you stop looking at pornography?
    • How did you stop nagging your husband and instead started to respect and honor him?
    • It was a lot of hard work that you did, and yet not you, it was the grace of God within you.
  • This is the same idea we saw earlier that, “to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
    • To live is to have the Spirit of Christ animating your good works and obedience. And that should characterize our whole life.
    • We start by grace, we work by grace, and finish the race by grace.
    • Next, Paul gives us some practical examples of what working out your salvation looks like…

Verses 14-15

14 Do all things without murmurings and disputings: 15 That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;

  • Of all the things that Paul could have said about good works and salvation, he chooses to say: Don’t complain.
  • The great sign that Christ is working in you, is that you don’t complain. We don’t grumble when things get hard.
    • Instead, we give thanks (1 Thess. 5:18). We rejoice always, and again I say rejoice (Phil. 4:4)! We count it all joy when we fall into various trials (James 1:2). If you try to do that, you will find it is hard work.
    • Being thankful is a workout! Your flesh don’t like that. But it is this choice to be thankful, instead of grumbling and complaining, that Paul says, makes us standout. We “shine as lights in the world.”
  • If want to be a witness in Lewis County, a city set upon a hill for all to see, all we have to do is stop complaining and arguing.
    • If we do this, we will stand out, because there is nothing more natural to fallen-sinful men, than to play the victim, to feel bad for ourselves, to blame other people for our problems.
    • This is Adam and Eve in the garden, fingers pointed everywhere, and this is what our flesh naturally does.
  • But is that what Christ did? No. And it’s not what true Christians do.
  • Christ took responsibility for things he did not do. Christ owned the sins of the world, so that you and I could be forgiven. And if Christ has done that for us, then how can we go on grumbling and complaining and blaming other people?
  • This was the sin of the Israelites after God miraculously brought them out of Egypt, they grumbled and complained because they didn’t like the menu: Miracle bread from heaven, sick of it. Miracle birds, taste like chicken, we’d rather have leaks and onions and be slaves in Egypt.
    • Ingratitude is the first step towards apostasy.
    • Romans 1 says that ingratitude is where homosexuality and lesbianism comes from. “Because they were not thankful…God gave them up unto vile affections…” (Rom. 1:21-28)
  • Paul warns in 1 Corinthians 10:10-11, “Don’t murmur, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed by the destroyer…because those things happened to them as an example for us and they were written down for our admonition.”
  • What is the state of the church in 2023? Do Americans ever complain? Do Christians complain? Do we ever murmur and get into stupid arguments?
    • We do.
  • God hates that. God hates ingratitude. So workout your salvation by giving thanks. This will be how we shine as lights in our region.
  • Finally in verses 16-18, Paul tells us how we can conquer that grumbling spirit within us: “Ye shine as lights in the world [as you are]…

Verses 16-18

16 Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain. 17 Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all. 18 For the same cause also do ye joy, and rejoice with me.

  • What causes Christians to shine is the light of Christ within them.
  • And the way that Christ gets inside of us is by us holding forth the Word.
    • “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, And a light unto my path.” (Ps. 119:105)
    • Jesus says in John 6:63, “the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.”
  • The only way to shine, the only way to conquer grumbling with gratitude, is by taking hold of God’s Word. And when that Word gets inside of you, You will glow like stars in the heaven. The Word glorifies us. You finish your Bible reading and prayer, and come down like Moses with your face shining. This is what we want!
    • To behold Christ in the Word, without a veil, and to be utterly transformed by it.
  • Remember back in Genesis 15, when God told Abraham to number the stars? What did Abraham see when he looked up?
    • The Bible says, he saw you. God said to him, “So shall thy seed be.” And Galatians 3:29 says, “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
      • Christians are stars. “Ye shine as lights in the world”
    • Daniel 2:3 says, “And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.”
  • Do you know what stars do in the Bible?
  • Stars govern the world. Genesis 1:14 says, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years… the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.”
    • The Old World was governed by angels, but the New Creation of which we are apart, is governed by the saints who rule with Christ.We are seated with him in heavenly places.
    • And so if we would shine as lights in the world, if we are going to judge angels as Paul says in 1 Cor. 6:3, then we need the entirety of Holy Scripture within us. We must become one with the Word. This is what it means to hold forth the Word of life. To possess it until it possesses you.
  • If the Philippians do this, Paul will rejoice. He will rejoice that his labor has not been in vain, even if is he poured as a drink offering upon their sacrifice (even if he dies).
  • So that’s our text: Work hard by grace, don’t complain, read your Bible, shine like a star. We could stop there. But let’s take a few extra moments to talk about where our church is right now.

Where does Christ Covenant Church fit into the broader picture of Christ’s kingdom?

  • Let me return to some statistics:
  • Of the 2.2 billion people on our planet who profess Christ, and of the 231 million Americans who profess Christ, we fall into the single largest religious category in America, which is Evangelical Protestant (1/4 of our nation).
    • Now within that category of Evangelical Protestant, you could further subdivide by denomination, and we are theologically what you would call: Presbyterian and Reformed. Our denomination is called the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches (founded in 1998).
      • Presbyterian refers to your form of church government and Reformed refers to your theological outlook.
      • There are about 2.2 million Presbyterians in America, and our denomination accounts for only about 10,000 of those. There are around 10,000 members within CREC churches.
      • Our church averages about 100-120 people each week, and there are currently 72 members.
    • So in the grand scheme of Christ’s Kingdom, our church is just a percentage of a percentage numerically.
    • And that should both humble us and inspire us. Humble us because we are small, and inspire us because if God could turn 120 disciples into 3,000, and then 5,000, and then countless millions today, what could he do with our faithfulness many years from now?
    • What kind of church and state will our great grandchildren inherit?
    • What do we need to do now, so that they don’t inherit a mess because of our unfaithfulness?
    • Well let me give you 3 things that our church should aim for:

Three Things To Aim For in 2023:

  1. Prioritize Worship on the Lord’s Day Over Everything Else.
    1. In my experience, Christians tend to think that the most important spiritual activity is their daily private individual devotions.
    1. I am all for daily private individual devotions (I don’t leave home without it). You should all do that. But it is far more important to worship God with all the saints on the Lord’s Day because this is what God commands us to do. Remember the Sabbath, keep it holy. Do not forsake the assembly (Heb. 10:25)
    1. Psalm 87:2 says, “The Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.”
      1. The gates of Zion are the doorway to the church, the entrance to worship.And God loves those gates more than all the other dwelling places of His people.
      1. So rather than thinking that the order of importance is:
        1. Private Worship
        1. Family Worship
        1. Sunday Worship (Reverse that.)
      1. Prioritize this gathering more than anything else you do, because God deserves it. He is glorious and worthy of all our praise.
  2. Prioritize Family Worship In Your Home.
    1. If you are the head of your household, God has assigned to you the task of bringing your children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Gal. 6:4).
    1. And so Fathers especially, should be leading here. If you don’t know where to start, start in the shallow end with something short, simple, and consistent.
    1. It could be as simple as reading one Proverb, and then praying together as a family. Takes 2 minutes. If you don’t know where to start, start there, and build on that.
    1. In the months ahead, the elders and I will be visiting you, and one of the questions we will ask is how is Family Worship going? What are you doing? Do you need help with this?
    1. We want every household in our church to be reading Scripture, praying together, and my last application for us: singing the psalms.
  3. Prioritize Singing the Psalms.
    1. You might have noticed that almost every song in our service today is from the Psalter. That is intentional.
    1. The Psalms are God’s inspired songbook for the Church. When Paul says in Ephesians and Colossians to sing Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, that is a reference to the 150 Psalms in your Bible, not the uninspired manmade hymns that people write today.
      1. And we know this because He says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; [how?] teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”
      1. The songs that people write today are not “the word of Christ,” they are not inspired by the Holy Spirit. But the psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs that we find in the Psalter are. They are superior to anything man can write today.
      1. And Paul says, we should have all 150 of those psalms dwelling in us richly so that we can teach and admonish one another by them.
      1. And so our church is going to do this. It’s going to take many years, but we have to start somewhere if we want our children to have them in their blood.
      1. So prioritize singing the psalms in your private devotions, in family worship, on your commute. It will radically change your life. We are going to resource you in how to do this.


All of us are going to die, and this whole life is a preparation for judgment day. When you are laying on your deathbed, minutes away from seeing Christ face to face, what do you want to have stored up in your heart?

  • What was in Christ’s heart when he was on the cross?
    • “My God, my God, why hast though forsaken me?” That’s Psalm 22.
    • “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” That’s Psalm 31.
    • What did Jesus sing with his disciples before his passion, it was almost undoubtedly Psalm 113-118, “the stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.”
    • For 6 hours, Jesus hung on the cross, and he had the Psalms upon his lips.
    • What will you have in your heart when you walk through the valley of the shadow of death? As your pastor, I want you to have to the Word of Christ, the psalms of our Lord treasured up to sing. Cause that’s what Christ had in his.
    • In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.