Holding Fast the Word of Life – Philippians 2:16-18

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Grace Bible Church

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Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

May 30, 2004

Holding Fast the Word of Life

Philippians 2:16-18


We have been studying Philippians 2:14-16 the last couple of weeks and have learned about the importance of not grumbling and disputing and of having a character that is blameless, innocent and above reproach. The better that you are doing at these things, the better you are proving that you are indeed a child of God who is living in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation among whom you appear as a light in the world. Even so, these things are not always easy to do. In fact, without the Holy Spirit’s help, they are impossible to do. Why? First, we do live in the midst of a crooked and perverse society and it is very easy to given into its pressures and do what everyone else does. Second, we come out of that society when we are saved and our natural inclination is to either continue in or go back to our old habits.

This morning we are going to see what Paul says is necessary to change and keep from going back to our old ways of life. In fact, if you do it, I can guarantee that you will change and your character will become noted for being blameless, innocent and above reproach, for only the child of God can do it. However, before we look in depth at Paul’s instruction concerning this, it is important that we understand the flow of this passage to make sure we do not take anything out of context. Follow along as I read Philippians 2:14-18

Do all things without grumbling or disputing; 15 that you may prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, 16 holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may have cause to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. 18 And you too, [I urge you,] rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.


In the near context, the all things refers specifically to all those things that are part of working out your salvation as stated in verse 12. In the greater context, the all things refers to the command in 1:27 to conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel. These are “all things” related to living out the Christian life including the unity and humility that is to exist among Christians that Paul talks about in the first four verses of Philippians 2.

The idea of “without grumbling” (NAS), “complaining” (NKJV & NIV) or “murmuring” (KJV) describes both the low tone used in whispering a complaint or talking in secret, and more open verbal complaining. The idea of being “without disputing” (NAS, KJV) or “arguing” (NIV) here speaks of not arguing against God or of being proud and contrary to others. Grumbling is the starting point for disputing. What starts out as something muttered under our breath is given more voice as our attitude gets worse. As your complaints are shared with those sympathetic to you, greater voice is given and soon you become argumentative with whomever you believe is the cause of your troubles or you have taken on as your adversary.

The Christian is to be without grumbling and disputing in both their relationship with God and with others. God takes grumbling against Him as a very serious sin because it is the outward evidence of a heart that does not trust Him. It denies God’s goodness, omniscience and omnipotence while proclaiming that you think you know better than Him what is best. Remember God’s response of judgement against the children of Israel for their continual grumbling after He had freed them from their slavery in Egypt.

When we remember who God is, what He is like and what He has done for us, all reasons for grumbling and disputing against Him cease. God loves us and proved it for all time and eternity at Calvary (Romans 5:8), and nothing can separate us from that love (Romans 8:38,39). God is good, and because He is also sovereign, true Christians can be confident that He will do what is best for us – Romans 8:28 declaring “and we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” That is why Paul was able to be joyful even though he was imprisoned and had other Christians purposely doing things thinking they would cause him distress. We can also be joyful in our circumstances whatever they may be.

As we saw last week, the purpose of not grumbling and disputing is to give proof of our character and relationship to God as well as impact those around us. As Christians we should be noted for our godly character. As you mature in Christ, you should be increasing in your obedience to the principles and precepts of our Lord’s commands. This is done out of our love for Jesus (John 14:15). This in turn results in your character becoming blameless, or “without fault,” in relation to personal holiness. Holiness is being set apart from the world and walking according to God’s commandments.

As you mature in Christ, you should also become marked by “innocence,” which in this context means having a character unmixed with evil or guile and therefore pure. God desires us to be wise in what is good, and innocent in what is evil (Romans 16:19). Such increasing maturity also results in being above reproach. The Christian should live in such a way that he brings no disgrace, or blemish upon himself or our Lord.

The absence of grumbling and disputing and the presence of being blameless, innocent and above reproach give positive proof that you are indeed a child of God. You have a special relationship with the Creator of the universe because through His grace and your faith in Jesus Christ, you have been adopted into His family. You can approach Him as a child would come to their father – with great respect and propriety, but also with intimacy, even being able to call Him, “Abba,” “daddy.”

Such character is in sharp contrast to the world we live in which is marked by crookedness and perversion. The vast majority of people do not live a straight life according to God’s standards, but deviate from that according to their own desires. Many of them go further and are perverse because they twist and distort the truth and lead others astray. In the midst of this world lives the Christian, who by contrast to their evil darkness is a light in the world.

How is the Christian to accomplish all of this? By what Paul says in the first part of verse 16. Holding fast to the word of life. We are going to look at that phrase in detail in a moment, but first I want us to finish this overview of this passage by looking at what Paul says here in verse 16-18 about his personal interest in and response to their behavior in “working out their salvation.”

Paul’s Interest & Response

– vs. 16-18

    His Personal Interest – vs. 16

As mentioned back in our study of Philippians 2:2, Paul has a personal interest in how well the Philippian believers were doing in their walk with Christ. As they conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ (1:27) by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit and intent on one purpose they will make his joy complete or full (2:2). What Paul says here is an expansion of that same theme. As they work out their salvation with fear and trembling (2:12) by doing all things without grumbling or disputing and proving themselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation among whom they appear as lights in the world (2:14,15), and hold fast to the word of life, then he will know that his work among them has not been in vain. He will have a reason to glory in the day of Christ.

The “day of Christ” is only specifically mentioned here in the book of Philippians. All three references to the “day of Christ” speak only of the believer’s status before the Lord. In 1:6, Paul speaks of His confidence that “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” In 1:10, Paul prays for them that their love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that they may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ.” Here in 2:16, Paul is looking forward to being able to present them before Christ as the fruit of his labor for the Lord. The phrase is apparently a reference to the “Bema” seat judgement Paul speaks about in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 and 2 Corinthians 5:10 in which the works of believers are judged by Christ, so this is not an equivalent of the “day of the Lord” in which Jesus returns as a “thief in the night” to bring judgement against His enemies (1 Thess. 5:2-4).

The idea of Paul taking “glory” in the Philippians is not an allusion to sinful pride in his ministry among them. The word used here, kauchma / kauchLma, can be used for sinful boasting, but it can also be used to express great joy, which is why the KJV & NKJV translates this as “rejoice.” The verb form is used in Romans 5:2 & 3 and translated as “exult,” which Paul does both in hope of the glory of God and in his tribulations since they are used by God to bring him to maturity in Christ. Paul will have great joy before Christ if the Philippian believers have followed what he has taught them and are living for Christ.

That is the same desire that any good pastor will have toward those he has ministered. It is my desire with you. From the personal standpoint, I want to know that my labor among you has not been in vain. I want to know that the Lord has used my effort to make a difference. In addition, I want you to walk worthy of the gospel of Christ for your own sake, but as you do, then I can also rejoice in you in the day of Christ, for then I know that I have also pleased Him. Much like any teacher with a student or any parent for their child, there is the desire for the child to do well because it is best for them, but when they do well, it is also a source of a proper pride for the teacher or parent. That was Paul’s desire for the Philippian believers, and that is my desire for you.

    His Personal Response – vs. 17

Paul goes on in verse 17 to address his personal response that was true regardless of anything they did. “But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all.” This is another first class conditional statement like the ones we saw in 2:1. It refers to something that is true. The actual meaning here comes out in English if this were translated as either “But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, (and I am), I rejoice and share my joy with you all” or “Since I am being poured out as a drink offering . . .”.

The reference to being a “drink offering upon the sacrifice” goes back to the Old Testament system of the worship of God through sacrifices. Among the types of sacrifices was the drink offering, also known as a libation. The priest would pour out wine or another specially prepared liquid upon the altar or in front of the altar. One of the differences between a libation offering and an animal sacrifice offering is that the libation was always completely used up in the sacrifice whereas in many of the animal sacrifices, part of the sacrifice would be given back to the worshiper.

In essence, Paul says that he rejoices that he can be used by God for the service of their faith. It was a sacrifice on Paul’s part to do this ministry for, as he points out in 1 Corinthians 9:6-18, he rarely gained for himself from his ministry. Though he had the right to be paid for his ministry, he earned his living with his own hands and preached the gospel without charge so as not to be a burden on those to whom he was ministering. Paul did not want anything to unnecessarily hinder them in hearing, receiving and responding to Christ Jesus. He was set to be a sacrifice for the service of their faith.

Paul rejoiced in God’s continual provision for him, but even more so he rejoiced that he was being used to bring the Word of God to others. The personal circumstances did not matter to Paul as long as God was being glorified. He desired to share this joy with them, which is part of the purpose of his letter to them. He wanted them to know his own joy in what he saw God was doing.

    His Personal Encouragement – vs. 18

Paul also desired them to join in with his rejoicing. “And you too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.” A simple call by Paul for them to join with him in his joy over what God was doing in his life, and for them to share with him what God was doing in their life. While the call is simple, the accomplishing of it would require of them to have the same perspective on life as Paul. That is the same challenge for each of us today. Can we rejoice as Paul did in what God was doing despite your own sacrifice or any tough circumstances we might be in at present? Are you aware of what God is doing? Or has your focus become distracted either by your situation or your own selfishness?

To be able to rejoice as Paul did in being a sacrifice in the service of the faith of others while in the midst of difficult circumstances requires us to be mature in our walk with the Lord. Those are the very principles we have been learning from Paul since we first looked at his command back in 1:27 to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. The final lesson of this section in doing this is “holding fast the word of life.”

Holding Fast the Word of Life

– vs. 16

In the context here in verse 16 we find that it is by “holding fast the word of life” that we will be able to fulfill all of the commands of this passage. If we hold fast the word of life, we will conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. We will be of the same mind, same love, united in spirit and intent on one purpose with other believes. We will do nothing from selfishness and empty conceit and humbly consider others as more important than ourselves. We will look out for the interests of others instead of just our own. We will have the attitude of Jesus Christ who humbled Himself to pay the sacrifice for our sins. To the degree that we hold fast the word of life, we will do all things without grumbling or disputing while proving ourselves to be blameless and innocent children of God who are above reproach and who are lights in this dark world we live in. In addition, if we hold fast the word of life we will also be able to rejoice even as Paul did in what God is doing regardless of our personal circumstances.

What then does it mean to be “holding fast the word of life”?

    Holding Fast is epecw epechô which is a compound word literally meaning “upon to hold” and hence in its usage here“to hold fast,” “give close attention to,” “hold forth,” “give heed unto.” It is used in the sense of “give close attention to” in Acts 3:5 of the lame beggar who gave his attention to Peter and John after they told him to “Look at us!” He was hoping to receive something from them, but he got more than he could have imagined when the healed him. The word is used in 1 Timothy 4:16 in the “give heed to“sense. Paul commands Timothy to “take heed to yourself and to the doctrine” (NKJV). The idea is to pay attention to how he was living and keep it in line with what he was teaching. That is the same basic idea as here in Philippians 2:16. “Holding fast” is to heed, that is, to pay attention to and then not stray from it. The “it” being the word of life.

Some have interpreted this passage as the idea of “holding forth” as in presenting the word of life which is how the person is a “light in the world.” That interpretation has a logical flow to it, however, if that is true, this is the only passage in the New Testament where the word takes on this meaning. In addition, Paul’s comment about them being “lights in the world” is directly in relationship to the contrast between their lives as being blameless, innocent and above reproach and the manner of the world which is crooked and perverse. The emphasis in the passage is on their being a light by how they live, not on them just holding a light, the word of life.

    The Word of Life is a reference to the Scriptures and who they reveal. The word, logoV / logos, is the medium by which God has chosen to reveal Himself and His will to mankind. God spoke through the prophets and then through His Son, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1,2), which is why John also gives Him the title of logoV / logos in John 1, and in 1 John 1:1 he even uses the title “Word of Life” for Jesus. Jesus’ teachings have been written down for us in the gospels and then expanded on and explained in the epistles written by Jesus’ apostles. These lay the foundation for our being part of God’s family (Eph. 2:20).

The term life here, zwh / zôL, refers to spiritual life which is received when we are “born again” through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. We who were born dead in trespasses and sin are made alive together with Christ by God’s grace (Eph. 2:5). This is eternal life which will allow us to dwell with God forever.

It is not that the Scriptures themselves bring life, but they reveal life to us if we will follow it. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their error in this in John 5:39,40 “You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me; 40 and you are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life. The Scriptures are the word of life in the sense that they reveal the means of life by faith in the person who is the Word of Life, Jesus Christ our Lord. 1 John 1:1-4 puts it this way. “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life– and the life was manifested, and we have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us– what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.”

To hold fast the word of life is to pay attention to the Scriptures so that you might know and diligently follow the one who is our source of life. This moves knowledge of the Bible beyond a mere intellectual understanding into the realm of actively applying what is says to our lives, for its commands and their precepts are given to us by the one who made us alive. When you add to this the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the Christian has an even greater reason and ability to know and follow what God has revealed in His word. It is the action of the Holy Spirit that makes the word of God living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12). Jesus put it this way in John 6:63 “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” You cannot live the Christian life based on your intellectual, physical or even financial abilities for “the flesh profits nothing.” The Christian life can only be lived successfully by knowing and following what Jesus says as recorded in the Scriptures.

Jesus put it this way as He concluded the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:24-27. “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock. 25 “And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and [yet] it did not fall, for it had been founded upon the rock. 26 “And everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act upon them, will be like a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand. 27 “And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and it fell, and great was its fall.”

Are you like the wise man or the foolish man? Are you holding fast the word of life?

Practical Applications

Let me give you a few illustrations of this principle in action so that you can actively apply it in your own life.

Paul says to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel (1:27) Jesus said in Matthew 10:38, “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.” Taking up your cross is the same idea as Paul put forth in Romans 12:1 of being a living sacrifice for Christ.

You serve as an elected public official and have just been given a court order that you may not publically acknowledge God in your job. If you do not obey the order, you risk not only your job, but also your reputation and financial hardships. Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore choose to do what Daniel did (Daniel 6). Though he has lost his position and in a sense is in the Lion’s den, he has kept his faith and has glorified God. What do you do when others seek to prevent you from publically declaring your faith in God?

Paul says to humbly regard one another as more important than yourself and look out for their interests and not just your own. Jesus said in John 13:34 that we are to “love one another as he has loved us.” Jesus’ example of love was the sacrifice of His own life so that His followers would be saved from their sin.

Not long ago I heard the story of a pastor whose daughter was in need of an organ transplant. Her younger brother was the best match to be a donor. The boy considered the request and agreed. His only question as they prepared him for surgery was how long it would be before he would be with Jesus. He thought that in being the donor he would die. In his simple faith, he trusted Jesus for the care of his soul and would give his life for his sister.

I don’t think anyone here has been asked for that kind of sacrifice, but do you love enough to fulfill 1 John 3:17. If you have the world’s goods and see a brother in need, do you meet the need or not? Yes, it will cost you and it could even be substantial, but in holding fast to the word of life, the consideration is not your financial loss, but your spiritual gain in being used by God in someone else’s life. Does the love of God dwell in you? Jesus said that we are seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and then all the cares of this world; food, clothing, shelter, will be added to us (Matt. 6:33). Why then be so concerned amount amassing and protecting material things?

George Mueller of Bristol, England lived by a simple faith that God would provide, not only for him, but the thousands of orphans he took care of over his many years of ministry. He simply prayed for the Lord to provide his daily bread and willingly shared whatever he had. At times it may not have been much and there might not have been anything left, but neither he nor the children ever went hungry.

Many are the business men who learned to live on what they needed instead of what they made allowing them to give vast portions of their income to the Lord’s work. Henry Crowell, founder of Quaker Oats, worked his way up from giving 10% to the Lord to over 60%. R.G. LeTourneau ended up living on 10% and giving the Lord 90%. William Colgate eventually gave all is income as did Albert Hyde who invented Mentholatum. The issue here is not how much you give or the percentage, but rather your trust of God to provide for you as you first seek His kingdom and righteousness.

Paul says we are to be without grumbling and disputing and instead be blameless, innocent and above reproach. Jesus said that men will be held accountable for every careless word they speak (Matt. 12:36). Often it is tempting to join in with the world and join in their complaining or listen to their gossip. There is also the pressure to speak ill of other people in the effort to either promote yourself to seek revenge.

In June 1865 the United States Grand Jury indicted Robert E. Lee and others for treason. At a gathering of friends, a Southern Pastor expressed in terms of decided bitterness, the indignation of the South at this indictment of General Lee. General Lee politely turned the topic of conversation and then later privately admonished the Pastor saying, “Doctor, there is a good old Book which I read and you preach from which says, ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.’ Do you think your remarks this evening were quite in the spirt of that teaching?” The Pastor made apology for his remarks after which General Lee added, with a peculiar sweetness of tone and manner, “I have fought against the people of the North because I believed they were seeking to wrest from the South dearest rights. But I have never cherished toward them bitter or vindictive feelings, and have never seen the day when I did not pray for them.”

Whatever you think of the civil war, Robert. E. Lee, was a Christian man who demonstrated it by being without grumbling or disputing and being blameless, innocent and above reproach in character though he had lost all he had owned and so many dear friends and family. What little thing provokes you to complain?

The Christian life is lived successfully by holding fast the word of life, but to do that you must know the Bible, believe it, and obey all that Jesus has commanded (Mt. 28:20). If you are not already having a daily devotional time, may I suggest you begin by simply reading one chapter of Proverbs per day and then pick out one verse to apply to your life. You can also pick up the Daily Bread in the back of the church or see me for other suggestions. If you have not been discipled and personally shown how to walk with Christ, see Ed Colon, Diane Harris or myself and we will partner you with someone who can. God does not mean for you live the Christian life alone, that is why every Christian is to be part of a local body of believers. Let us each help one another hold fast the word of life and in that way prove we are indeed children of God.


Sermon Study Sheets



Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.

Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned and look them up later. 2) Count how many times references are made to the “word of life.” Talk with your parents about the word of life and how you can hold fast to it.


Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.

Why do Christians struggle to walk with the Lord and be without grumbling & disputing and instead be blameless, innocent and above reproach. What is the context for Philippians 2:16? What are the “all things” in 2:12? What is grumbling and disputing and why are the so bad? What does it mean to be blameless, innocent and above reproach? How are Christians to be lights in the world? What is Paul’s interest in their manner of life? What is the “day of Christ”? How could the Philippians be a cause for Paul to “glory” and what does that mean? How does Paul view his service to the Philippians? What is his attitude? How do you view your service for God to others? What is your attitude? What is necessary for people to be able to have Paul’s attitude? What does it mean to “hold fast”? What does “word” refer to? What does “life” refer to? What does it mean to hold fast the word of life? How is that practically accomplished? How are you doing at it? What are the benefits of holding fast the word of life? What is the difference between the wise man and the foolish man (Mt. 7:24-27)? Judge Roy Moore has taken up his cross. What is your cross? How do you practically show love to others? George Mueller trusted God. How well do you trust Him? Robert E. Lee responded with grace. How do you respond to personal injuries?

Sermon Notes – May 30, 2004

Holding Fast the Word of Life – Philippians 2:16-18





Paul’s Interest & Response

– vs. 16-18

His Personal Interest – vs. 16

Day of Christ


His Personal Response – vs. 17


His Personal Encouragement – vs. 18


Holding Fast the Word of Life

– vs. 16

Holding Fast

The Word of Life


Practical Examples



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