In the previous passage, Paul has held up Christ as an example of humility, now he calls them to holiness and perseverance.
12. Paul commends the Philippians for their obedience to his teaching, not just in his presence but in his absence as well. This is instructive for us. It is important to be faithful, but to be faithful when no one is watching is more honorable.
In order to encourage their growth in Christ he offers the following advice: “work out your salvation with fear and trembling”. The word suggests accomplishment. Paul even uses it in Eph 6:13 in a military context to accomplish heroic feats (Farley). Christ has provided salvation and we are to live up or fulfill what He has accomplished. Paul then adds “fear and trembling”. This is to remind us that we accomplish this task in humility knowing that we are unworthy of such a great salvation.
13. The Orthodox NT does a good job with this verse: “for God is the One Who energizes in you both to will and to energize for the sake of His good pleasure.” The energies of God are His grace. Members of the body consent to cooperate with this energization and our works are transformed by God’s energies. Our works open us up to more of God’s grace (John 1:16). In a sense because what we do is being energized by God, our works become Christ’s works.
Chrysostom: “Mine object in saying this, says Paul, is to relieve your anxiety. Both the eargerness and the working at it are a gift; for if we have the will, the He energizes the willing, He increases our willing…He does not deprive us of free will,…but He shows that by being rightly purposed we receive more eagerness in the will…For it is His will that we live as He desires we should; and if He desires it, He Himself both energizes in us to this end, and will certainly accomplish it.”
14. Immediately Paul warns of grumbling and disputings. Why does Paul warn against this? How does it affect working out your salvation? Does it affect God energizing us? As one person said in class, this voids out everything that has been accomplished in us. We quench the Holy Spirit. We may obey but do so grudgingly not with fear and trembling or humility. Paul warns against this often and is usually suggestive of the attitude that Israel had when wandering the desert. The constantly murmured against the God ordained authority in their lives. It is the rebellious questioning of God’s goodness (Farley), or obeying but grumbling the whole time (Chrysostom).
15. Here Paul gives us the result of “working out our salvation”. The words blameless, unsullied, and without blemish are words of worship and sacrifice. The offerings of the OT were required to blameless and without blemish. Our lives are offerings to God. We are constantly to offer ourselves to God without blemish. This stands in contrast to the world around us.
16. Paul encourages them once again to hold onto the Gospel. This is probably an encouragement to not to apostatize, but to continue the process of “working out your salvation”. Apostasy in the face of persecution was a deep fear and concern of the early Christian. This healthy fear often motivated their Christian life, for they were not only preparing to meet the Lord but perhaps to meet their executioners. They prepared their hearts so that they would stand firm if they were called to witness to the death.
17 & 18. Again the words of sacrifice and worship. In the OT one of the sacrifices was drink offering and it was poured out upon the altar of God. (Num 15:4-5 & 28:7) The Philippians are the sacrifice and Paul is the drink offering completing the sacrifice (Farley). Again, the life of the Philippians is spoken of in terms of worship: sacrifice and service. Service is from the Greek “leitourgia” where we get our word for liturgy. Sacrifice characterizes the nature of true worship. For worship is ultimately offering “myself” to the “Father”. The result of worship is found in vs. 18---rejoicing.
This whole passage because of its worship language gives insight into worship as a paradigm for our lives. One member of class brought this example of the Divine Liturgy to our attention. We prepare ourselves with humility and repentance; our hearts our open as we hear and receive the Word of God; we offer ourselves and the whole world to the Father; we receive Christ’s body and blood with fear, faith and love and our transformed by God’s grace; we go forth rejoicing.