So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13).
Paul exhorts regenerate persons, “Work out your salvation.” The verb translated “work out” (κατεργάζεσθε) means to achieve, to accomplish, to do (Gingrich, 1983, p. 105). Paul gives persons endued with grace this exhortation. “That grace itself engenders moral facilities and stimulates moral exertions. Because grace is given, man must work … [T]he salvation bestowed by grace is to be carried out … ” (Vincent, 1968, p. 65). Paul tells the Philippians their salvation “is a process in which they themselves, far from remaining passive and dormant, take a very active part. It is a pursuit, a following after, a pressing on, a contest, a fight, a race” (Hendriksen, 1974, p. 120) “The verb describes not the spirit in which the work is done, but the aim and the issue—‘carry through’” (Eadie, 1977, p. 129). It applies to the working out of good or evil. In Philippians, Paul uses the concept to describe the life of the Christian.
“The believer is called to self-activity, to active pursuit of the will of God, to the promotion of the spiritual life within himself, to the realization of the virtues of the Christian life, and the personal application of salvation. He must ‘work out’ what God in His grace has ‘worked in’” (Muller, 1972, p. 91). That is, believers must work out the implications of the principle of new life placed in them by God.
Paul also tells believers they are able to work out the implications of their salvation. “This is a serious task, to be performed in no self-reliant spirit, but with reverent caution and dependence on God” (Vincent, 1968, p. 66). You work out the implications of your salvation because God is the one working in you. This second word for working is the word from which we derive the English energy or energize. God energizes believers to work out the implications of salvation. This word “seems always to have the idea of effective working” (Nicoll, 1961, p. 441). The word means “works mightily, works effectively” (Lightfoot, 1965, p. 116).
The posture of Paul in this text is, therefore, one of victory. It is victory by way of work; it is victory by way of struggle. It is victory by way of setbacks; it is nevertheless still the way of ultimate victory. Paul urges the Philippians to fulfill their duty before God. “The inducement and the ability to engage in it are inducement and ability alike from God … Engage in the duty because God prompts and enables you ” (Eadie, 1977, p. 132).
Paul goes on to speak of “God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” Calvin (1972) says, “There are, in any action, two principal parts, the will, and the effective power.” God is working in the believer in both areas. “The powerful inward working of God affects both the will and the work, the decision of the will and the practical deed” (Muller, 1972, p. 92). “God so works on the moral nature that it not only intellectually and theoretically approves what is good (Rom. vii.14-23), but appropriates God’s will as its own. The willing wrought by God unfolds into all its positive and determinate movements of the human will to carry God’s will into effect” (Vincent, 1968, p. 65).
God’s good pleasure is the keeping of the moral law. God renews the will and empowers regenerate individuals to carry out His will. “He brings, therefore, to perfection those godly affections which he has inspired in us, that they may not be ineffectual, as He promises Ezekiel, ‘I will cause them to walk in my commandments’” (Calvin, 1972, p. 254-255).
God works in believers both to desire and will God’s good pleasure and to carry out His good pleasure. He does not leave believers without the ability to work out the implications of their salvation. Philippians 2:12-13 is truly God News!
Copyright © 2020
Calvin, J. (1972). Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries (Vol. 11). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Eadie, J. (1977). A Commentary on the Epistle of Paul to the Philippians. Minneapolis: James & Klock.
Gingrich, F. W. (1983). Shorter Lexicon of the Greek New Testament. Chicago: University of Chicago.
Hendriksen, W. (1974). Exposition of Philippians. Grand Rapids: Baker.
Lightfoot, J. B. (1965). Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Muller, J. J. (1972). The Epistles of Paul to the Philippians and Philemon. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Nicoll, W. R. (Ed.). (1961). The Expositor’s Greek Testament (Vol 3). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Vincent, M. R. (1968). The Epistle to the Philippians and Philemon. Edinburgh: T & T Clark.