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Fulfilling The Good Purpose of God

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me. (Philippians 2:12-18)

Working Our Salvation With Fear And Trembling

In the first section of Philippians 2 (v. 1-11), Paul appeals to the Philippians to imitate the humility of Christ. In today’s passage, he continues his appeal to the Philippians to live a life that leads to the salvation of God in time and eternity. His comments in verse 12 highlight the special relationship he has with the Philippians. He calls them “my dear friends” who always obeyed him. It is based on that particular relationship bathe in obedience that he pleads with the Philippians to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. Paul uses the Greek katergazesthai for “work out.” The Greek word has the idea of bringing a project to completion. The intent here is to encourage the Philippians to finish their Christian race and not stop imitating Christ until they are called from labor to reward. Paul puts a qualifier for how they should work out their salvation. He wants them to do so with fear and trembling. The two words fear (phobos) trembling (tromos) are “used to describe the anxiety of one who distrusts his or her ability completely to meet all requirements, but religiously does his utmost to fulfill his or her duty.” Paul understands that salvation is free. However, it requires humanity’s cooperation and acceptance. Once accepted, the person must “work out” that salvation until that person is transformed into the image of Christ. That is consistent with what James says in James 2:17, that faith without works is dead. In verse 13, Paul reminds the Philippians it is God who is at work in them to will and to do of his good pleasure. Paul uses the Greek energein for “work” and “do.” The Greek energein is always used for the action of God. It is also used to highlight practical human actions. What Paul is saying is that “God's action cannot be frustrated, nor can it remain half-finished; it must be fully effective.”

It is God who initiates the salvation process. The continuation of that process is dependent on God. Without God’s help, there can be no progress in goodness; without his help, no sin can be conquered, and no virtue achieved. The end of the process of salvation is with God, for its end is friendship with God, in which we are his, and he is ours. Therefore, the work of salvation is begun, continued, and ended in God. In verse 14, Paul admonishes the Philippians to do everything without grumbling or arguing. Paul uses the unusual Greek word goggusmos for grumbling. “It is the word used of the rebellious murmurings of the children of Israel in their desert journey. The people murmured against Moses (Exodus 15:24; Exodus 16:2; Numbers 16:41). Goggusmos--pronounced gongusomos--is an onomatopoetic word. It describes the low, threatening, discontented muttering of a mob who distrust their leaders and are on the verge of an uprising. The word Paul uses for arguing is dialogismos, which describes useless, and sometimes ill-natured, disputing, and doubting.” In verse 15, Paul indicates the reason that the Philippians should do everything without grumbling and arguing—“so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation. Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky.” The word translated blameless is amemptos and expresses what the Christian is to the world. His life is of such purity that none can find anything in it with which to find fault. It is often said in courts of law that the proceedings must not only be just but must be seen to be just. The Christian must not only be pure, but all must see the purity of his life.”

Paul uses the Greek akeraios for “pure.” The word literally means unmixed, unadulterated. It is used, for instance, of wine or milk that is not mixed with water and of metal that has no alloy in them. When used of people, it implies unmixed motives. Akaraios expresses what the Christian is in himself or herself. The point is that Christian purity must issue in a complete sincerity of thought and character. In that same verse, Paul reminds the Philippians they should live as children of God without fault. The NRV says without blemish. The Greek word for blemish is amomos. It describes the way God sees Christians in light of the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. “This word is specially used in connection with sacrifices that are fit to be offered on the altar of God. The Christian life must be such that it can be offered like an unblemished sacrifice to God.” As Christians live a life that is blameless and pure, they will be lights in the world. The word used for lights is phosteres. That same is used in the creation story of the lights (the sun and the moon), which God set in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth (Genesis 1:14-18). Jesus also calls believers, “light of the world” (Matthew 15:14).

All of this is predicated upon Christians holding firm to the word of life (v. 16). Then he will be able to boast that his ministry (labor) to the Philippians was not in vain. He uses the Greek kopian for labor. That word has two possible meanings. It can mean to labor to the point of utter exhaustion. It is also used to describe the toil of the athlete's training. Paul may be saying that he prays that all his missionary labor among the Philippians will not be in vain. “For him, the greatest prize in life was to know that through him, others had come to know and to love and to serve Jesus Christ.” In verse 17, Paul uses another picture to elaborate further on his point about his spiritual investment among the Philippians. He says, “even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith. Pauline scholars agree that “Paul had a special gift for speaking in a language that people could understand. Again and again, he took his pictures from the ordinary affairs of the people to whom he was speaking.” In the previous verses, he uses images from the Athenian game; now, he takes one from the most typical kinds of heathen sacrifice, which was a libation, where was a cup of wine was poured out as an offering to the gods. Paul here looks upon the faith and service of the Philippians as a sacrifice to God. He knows that his death may not be very far away, for he is writing in prison and awaiting trial. So he says that he is quite ready "to be poured as a libation upon the sacrificial offering" of their faith. In verse 18, Paul confirms his willingness to make his life a sacrifice to God. He sees this as a crowning achievement, which in Philippians 1:21, he calls his gain. Such a mindset compels him to say that he rejoices with the Philippians, though he is facing an uncertain future while awaiting trial before Caesar. He closes the passage by entreating the Philippians to rejoice with him because of the shared faith they have in Jesus Christ.


Paul uses many keywords to highlight the Christian characteristics the Philippians should cultivate. The idea is for believers to be totally sold out for Christ. Some may think that Paul’s expectation of the Philippians is unrealistic. However, this has always been God’s expectation of his people. God wants us to be blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”

We cannot fulfill the purpose of God if we do not shine like stars in the sky among this worldly generation. We are indeed the light of the world. The passage reminds us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling so that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on our behalf will not be in vain.

Jesus did not die at Calvary so that we can live like the world. He did not take the form of a servant so we can be engrossed in sinful disobedience while allowing the darkness of the world to eclipse our light. We are followers of the Way. The Way is revealed to us in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Those who follow the Way (Christians) have a higher calling. Thus we work out our salvation with fear and trembling in consistency with this higher calling.

In the end, we should offer our lives as a drink offering to the glory of God. That may lead to persecution and even martyrdom. Yet we are to rejoice because we know that we are racing for an unperishable crown. The sacrifices we make on earth will be our sacrificial offering to the Lord. Therefore, we rejoice because we know the life we live in Christ is not in vain.


Blessed Lord, give us the strength of character to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

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