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Working Out the Working In

How the church displays what God is doing in its midst
This sermon is part of the sermon series "Harmony and Humility in the Church". See series.


Let's suppose that our music minister Daniel and I get together for lunch to talk over some of the special services we're planning this month. We agree to meet at a coffee shop.

We walk in, and I get ready to signal "two" to the hostess, but she's not looking at me. She's looking down, because the manager is scolding her. We hear him say, "How many times have I told you not to seat people until the table is cleared? Wait until it's bussed and wiped! That's not too hard to remember, is it? Don't let it happen again!"

He walks away, and I signal her "two." She grabs a couple of menus and says, "Follow me." As we walk toward a table, she says, "He's such an idiot. He got promoted to manager last month, and he thinks he's such a big shot. Well, he's not; he's turning everybody off. Two waitresses have quit, and I know two more who are thinking of it. I'm talking to a temp agency. Here's your table. Notice it's cleared off!" The hostess leaves.

Soon our waitress comes by. "Hasn't your busboy brought water yet?" she asks. "Tsk! I don't know why I have to do his work and mine, too. Alex, can you get some waters and table settings here!" Then she says to us, "I'll give you a couple of minutes to look over the menu, and then I'll come back for your order."

The busboy comes by with the waters and table settings. As he's laying them out, he says, "She's supposed to share her tips with me, but I think she's stiffing me. When I clean up her tables, I see what people ordered. I know what kind of tips she should get. She's supposed to give me a percentage of that, but I think she's stiffing me. I've half a mind to let her set her own tables." He leaves.

In a minute the waitress comes back and asks, "What will you have?"

I order a Cobb salad and Daniel asks about the pot roast: "Is it good?"

"It's okay."

Daniel decides to order the BLT instead.

"What do you want to drink?" she asks. Daniel orders a Diet Coke, and I ask for coffee. Pretty soon she's back with his Diet Coke, but no coffee.

"They forgot to start a new pot. I have to do everything around here. It'll be a couple of minutes on your coffee."

Our table is not very far from the cooking area. When the plates are ready, the cooks put them on the shelf for the waitresses to take to the tables. We overhear two waitresses arguing at the shelf: "That was my hamburger order you took. Wait for your own order to come up. Next time you take my order I'm going to sneak some Tabasco into your spaghetti sauce, and then see what kind of a tip you get!"

Just then another waitress comes up to the shelf and complains to the chef. "What's taking so long on my meatloaf? Let's get some efficiency in there. Man, what do they teach you in cooking school?"

We finish our lunch and we leave. We had talked through some of our business, but ultimately decide to meet again a week later to finish up. Out in the parking lot, before we get in our cars, we pick the time and place for next week.

"Where shall we have lunch? Shall we come back here?"

"No. We don't want to come back here. They're fighting and complaining, bickering and squabbling. They don't like each other, and they don't like working here."

We see another coffee shop about a block down the street. "Why don't we meet there next week?" I suggest.

"Yeah. Let's meet there; anywhere but here."

Next week we walk into the second coffee shop. The manager is talking to the hostess, but he stops to greet us. "Welcome, gentlemen. Two for lunch? LuAnn will seat you right away."

He finishes his conversation with the hostess: "LuAnn, you're doing a great job. You have a good way with the customers. Keep checking to see that the tables are cleared before you seat them. The family that just left—they told me what a great help you were in getting the booster chair for their child. Good work."

She takes us to our booth, and as we slide in, she says, "Enjoy your lunch, gentlemen." Our waitress comes by, and notices that we don't have any water or table settings. "Oh my," she says, "let me get those for you. The busboy for this section is doing double-duty today. One of our other busboys called in sick, so he is trying to cover two sections. We're all glad he's such a hard worker." Then she says to the busboy, "I've got these. You go ahead and clear Judy's table."

She asks us for our drink orders; Daniel orders his Diet Coke, and I order my coffee. In a minute she's back with his Diet Coke, but no coffee. "Our coffee's so popular, it goes fast. The pot was down to about 1/2 inch. I could've brought that to you, but I wanted to make you a fresh pot. It'll be just a minute."

We order. I order the Cobb salad again, and Daniel asks about the chicken potpie. "One of my favorites," the waitress says. "Flaky crust, big hunks of chicken. You'll love it."

For dessert, I notice they have a new item, so I ask Daniel if he wants to split one.

The waitress comes by, and I say to her, "Ma'am, we'd like to share one of these desserts."

"Oh, I don't blame you," she replies. "I'm always tempted when I bring one of those. If you notice that one of the bread pudding squares is missing when I bring the plate, that's because I usually taste one in advance to make sure it's just right for my customers."

After lunch, we head out to the parking lot. Daniel and I look at each other. "Hey, this is a nice place. Let's keep it in mind for next time."

When you're complaining and arguing, you drive the crowd away; when you're grateful and gracious, you draw them in. That's true in a coffee shop, and it's just as true in a church.

When a visitor sees the members of a church loving and caring about each other, the visitor says, "God is in this place." When a church is grateful and gracious, it glows for the gospel.

Paul gives this same encouragement to his friends in a small church in Philippi. Be grateful and gracious to each other, he writes. Let there be no complaining or squabbling among you. You're God's family; you're his children. You're brothers and sisters with the same Father. Let others see what the family of God is like so that they'll want to be part of it.

Harmony draws unbelievers to the gospel.

When a church lives in harmony and humility, two things happen. The first result is that unbelievers are drawn to the gospel. They see something different, and they're drawn to God's life. When a church is grateful and gracious, it glows for the gospel.

When you're grateful and gracious, instead of complaining or squabbling, you shine like stars holding out the word of life. When you live in harmony and humility, you glow for the gospel like bright stars on a dark night.

The visitor or unbeliever sees how we treat each other, and they're drawn in because they never see that kind of love and kindness and gentleness anywhere else. Everything else around them is crooked and perverse, harsh and hurtful. They don't see that kind of love and kindness in their families—they see spite and arguing, anger and hate, shouting and cruel comments. They see that this family is different.

They don't see that kind of gentleness and graciousness at their work. There they see cutthroat ambition and cattiness, underhandedness and deceit, crudeness and harassment. This place is different. They see something they don't see anywhere else, and they're drawn to God's life. When we're grateful and gracious we glow for the gospel. We shine the life of God into a dark world, and we draw people into God's family.

Harmony guarantees gladness.

There's a second result. A grateful and gracious church not only glows for the gospel, but it also guarantees gladness. It produces joy all around. The absence of complaining and squabbling, the awareness that we are God's children, and the evidence of God's life bring joy to everyone.

Paul goes on to say that the Philippian church will bring him joy if they life gratefully and graciously together. The church's harmony will confirm for Paul that his ministry has been successful. Even if his imprisonment results in death, he'll feel like a part of what they are offering to God. If they live with gratitude and grace toward each other, he'll be happy because he'll know he didn't labor in vain among them.

Paul seems to say: If I know that you're grateful and gracious to each other—not complaining or squabbling, but instead showing what God's children are like and drawing others in—then I'll be glad. When I get to heaven on the day of Christ, I'll joyfully point to you as the result of my work.

It's possible he may die soon. That's what he means in verse 17 when he compares himself to a drink offering. When a sacrifice was offered to God, it was put on the altar and the fire beneath it created an aroma that rose toward the heavens. It was customary to pour some wine or oil on the sacrifice—to add a drink offering—to complete the fragrance or aroma. With that in mind, Paul says: Maybe my imprisonment will result in my death. But if that's the case, it'll simply be my last small part added to what you have become before God. And I'll be so pleased."

A church that lives in harmony and humility brings joy to the leaders and to everyone in the congregation. A grateful and gracious church glows for the gospel and guarantees gladness.

The good news is that God will help us have it. God himself is working that in us, in order that we can work it out among ourselves. He's puts in us the desire and ability to live in harmony and humility. We work out what God is working in.

That's how Paul begins this section of his letter in verses 12-13, and we want to end there. He starts off by saying: Translate into reality what God is already doing in your heart. Work out what God is working in. Notice his words: he doesn't tell them to work for their salvation. He doesn't say: Work on your salvation. He says, "Work out the salvation that is in you."

We don't work for our salvation. You don't do something to please God so that he will save you. Your salvation is a gift that comes to you freely when you trust in Jesus' death to pay the penalty for your sins. No work of your own could ever balance out your penalty. The only way you could ever be saved is for Jesus to step in with his sinless life and pay your penalty for you. If you trust him for that, God gives you salvation—a free gift that you didn't work for or earn.

But once you have your salvation, you must live it out. You work out the salvation that is inside you. God will help you do everything he wants you to do. You'll find you have a desire inside to do it; God gave you that desire. And you'll sense you have the ability to do it; God put that ability there. That's what Paul means when he says in verse 13, "it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." God works in us to will and to act toward the good purpose he has for us—to live in harmony and humility.


As we continue working out what he's working in, as we do all things without complaining and squabbling, we'll continue to shine like stars in a dark world, showing his life to others and bringing joy to ourselves.

A grateful and gracious church glows for the gospel and guarantees gladness.

Donald R. Sunukjian is professor of homiletics and chair of the Christian Ministry and Leadership Department at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California.

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Sermon Outline:


I. Harmony draws unbelievers to the gospel.

II. Harmony guarantees gladness.