July 7 – Philippians 2:12-18
That “therefore” at the start of this section means everything we’re going to talk about this week is based on what we talked about last week. “Therefore” looks back to Christ’s example of humility, his glorification, and most immediately, the fact that one day every knee will bow before him (2:10). Therefore, we work out our salvation with fear and trembling. That “fear and trembling” bit is maybe off-putting to you. Why would God call me to something I’m supposed to be scared of? Observe the causation in the passage; Paul says “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you.” He’s saying fear and trembling should be there because God is there. If considering the notion that the all-powerful God of the universe is actively working in your very heart and soul right now doesn’t produce in you some sort of quieted awe, some sort of fear and trembling, then that lack of response is perhaps due to a low view of God.
Not only is Paul isn’t only saying there should be a soberness with which we work out our faith; he’s also saying our faith takes working out. Reassuringly God is at work within us to complete the work we could never complete, but note that God is doing it to his pleasure, not ours. That’s not to say this work is always displeasing, arduous, or punishing. But it is always work (and if we think back to the Garden in Genesis 2, work is what we’re made for).
Then in verse 14 Paul starts talking about something that seems, at first, to be completely different: “Do all things without grumbling or complaining.” This phrase, plus the “crooked generation” bit, calls to mind the generation in Israel’s history that wandered in the desert, a generation that was also called crooked and was known for its complaining (ex. Exodus 16:2). He’s encouraging the Philippians to work out their faith willingly, not resisting where God is bringing them and not complaining along the way like the Israelites did under Moses. Instead, Paul urges them to hold fast to God’s word, to remain faithful, and to do what it takes to flesh out their faith just as Paul is doing whatever it takes to cultivate their faith (i.e. as he is poured out as a sacrificial offering for their sake). Paul wants to get to Judgment Day, look back on the Philippians’ efforts in working out their salvation, and be proud that he didn’t labor over them in vain. This eternal focus could really reshape the way we view our daily efforts in working out our faith.
Questions for Discussion
• Can someone read Philippians 2:12-18 for us?
• What stood out to you from the passage?
• What do you think it means to work out your salvation with fear and trembling?
• Why do you think our salvation needs to be “worked out”?
• What does this passage say about our role and God’s role in working out our salvation?
• How does this passage inform the way you spend your time, resources, and energies as a Christian?
• Why do you think Paul brings up how he’ll feel about the Philippians on Judgement Day? What can this say about the end goal of the Christian life?