After the glorious heights of vs. 5-11 which captures in hymnody the exalted nature of Christ, Paul seeks to encourage his brethren toward continued obedience to the Lord in Philippians 2:12–18.
Working Out, Working In (2.12-13)
As Christians are working out their salvation God is working in them.
12Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,
Therefore: Lit. “So then” and ties directly back to 2.1-4. Paul is continuing his admonition of how they are look to the interests of others.
My beloved: This not a mere military call-to-arms; Paul includes his personal love for these brethren in his appeal. Paul’s commands are not burdensome, nor are God’s (1 John 5.3).
As you have…in my absence: The Philippians have been a marvelous testament to the missionary efforts of Paul. The greatest tribute a newly formed church can offer the missionary who leaves to continue his work elsewhere is to continue to obey God after the departure of the missionary. Paul encourages these brethren to further faithfulness though he is not there and may not be able to come ever again.
Work out your [own] salvation with fear and trembling: the word “own” is supplied in several English translations (KJV, NKJV, ESV). However, in keeping with his continued appeal from 2.1-4, it seems Paul is calling Christians to collectively work out our salvation (which includes not only the act of rescuing but also the state of safety). We are not only working out our own salvation; we are in this struggle for holiness together. Further, that this is a salvation which encompasses the church as a whole is seen in terms of Christ as Savior of His body, the church (see Eph 5.23) and Paul’s mention of “your salvation” (Phil 1.28). As Martin puts it: “After the great passage of 2:5-11 it would be singularly inappropriate to stress personal salvation” (116). The whole congregation, in fearful trembling before the Lord God Jesus Christ, seeks to help one another on the path to ultimate salvation when Christ returns. Not slavish terror but a reverential desire to do right.
13for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
For it is God who works in you: God is ho energon, the Energizer, in you (pl.) or among you, enabling the church’s work at salvation. God began the work; the church seeks to carry on to end what God began. Christ work of atonement is finished; we work from the cross to carry out sanctification by the Holy Spirit. “The grace of God is alleged as a motive for earnest Christian work” (Caffin 62). Not only does God give us the gift, but the means and will to put that gift into practice.
Both to will and to work: God’s inward energy impacts both the decision of the will (volition) and the practical deeds (Gk to energein). “God gives power to will, man wills through that power; God gives power to act, and man acts through that power…The power to will and do comes from God; the use of that power belongs to man” (Clarke). “So divine sovereignty and human responsibility time and again meet each other in the life of the redeemed” (Muller 92). “Paul makes no attempt to reconcile divine sovereignty and human free agency, but boldly proclaims both” (Robertson). God does all, and we do all.
For His good pleasure: Even as the self-emptying of Christ was for the “glory of God the Father” (v.11), so the Christian community cooperating with God, who is working within or among us, and with fellow Christians, who are working at carrying out to full completion salvation with one another, is for God’s good pleasure. This pleasing to God.
Blemishes Out, Blameless In (2.14-18)
Holding fast the word of life promotes a life free from impurity and ready to be a (living) sacrifice to God.
14Do all things without grumbling or disputing,
Do all things without grumbling or disputing: Present imperative. In other words, this is a command. Everything we do must be without complaining (NIV, NKJV) or arguing. We should not murmur (like Israel in the OT) or argue (like apostles in the NT—Mk 9.49).
15that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,
That we may be blameless and innocent: Herein lies the purpose why we do everything without grumbling and arguing—the preservation of holiness. Blameless means living a life which does not have an accusatory or critical finger pointed at it—to be faultless. Pure carries the idea of unmixed, like a metal which contains no alloys which could weaken it—no evil should be mixed in the Christian’s life. Together, these words provide somewhat of a commentary on living a life “worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1.27).
Children of God…twisted generation: They are to be holy children of the Father in the world but not of it (cf. John 17.15-16). Cf. Deut 32.4-5—Paul adopts and adapts a description of apostate Israel to stimulate these brethren on to faithful living. While the generation around them may be dishonest and engages in serious wrongdoing, these Christians are to be morally upright, even following after the Father who is a “God of faithfulness and without iniquity.”
Among whom…in the world: like when God created the stars to give light on the earth and shine in darkness (cf. Genesis 1.15, 18). In similar fashion, Christians are “the light of world” (Mt 5.14) which shine forth our own light (our own goodness, ideas, etc.); ours is borrowed light from “the Light of the world” – Jesus (Jn 8.12). We are “light-bearers” in a dark world; we are the vessel or vehicle through which the true Light shines forth.
16holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.
Holding fast to the word of life: Present tense means they are to continue to hold fast what they have. Here is how we “shine as lights” in the “crooked and twisted” world. We are the lamps and God’s word is the flame. Christians are lights because they hold fast and hold forth the word of Life. The world does not have life’s Word and the church fulfills her glorious God-given mission when possessing and presenting God’s word. While the world must hear the word, they must also see the light present in our lives. “Their saintly lives testify to the power of the word of life” (Muller 95).
So that in the day of Christ: Paul’s has skin in the game because they are his fruit prepared for the coming harvest. The phrase “day of Christ” is unique to this epistle. It is more commonly the “day of the Lord” but both phrases appear synonymous.
I may be proud…labor in vain: Paul, looking forward to the final coming of Christ, anticipates glorying in his “joy and crown” (4.1) and in their salvation. He does not want to be disappointed in his brethren because they have not been living a life “worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Two images capture the kind of heart-wrenching disappointment: 1) completing a race only to learn of disqualification & 2) planting crops that never produce. Both imply strenuous exertion.
17Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.
[But] Even if …your faith: “I am poured out as a drink offering” is a single word (Gk spendomai) and appears in only one other place in the NT (2 Tim 4.6) though he captures the same idea elsewhere (2 Cor 12.15). Paul is using highly figurative language to capture the possibility of his martyrdom. Paul would joyfully face a violent, bloody martyr’s death for the Philippians’ faith. If that is what it would take for their faithfulness in “sacrifice and service,” so be it. His life would then be a drink offering poured “upon” their sacrifice and service. Some see here an allusion to the fact that his audience is predominately pagan versus Jewish. Jews would pour a drink offering next to or around the altar and sacrifice; pagan rituals required pouring the drink offering over or upon the sacrifice. Paul will do whatever it takes to stimulate these brethren to faithfulness.
I am glad and rejoice with you: This scene of martyrdom is faced with glad acceptance by Paul for he pleased to have God’s will accomplished in his life. Further, as Paul has already made known, “to die is gain” (1.21). Christ is honored in and through life or death.
18Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.
Likewise…rejoice with me: These are actually imperatives. Paul charges his readers to joyfully face future suffering and persecution even as he faces potential martyrdom.
“Glad and rejoice with” are related terms (Gk chairo kai sunchairo) which should both be translated “rejoice.” Joy is here connected with a proper perspective concerning Christian service.