2:12-18 So then, my beloved, just as at all times you obeyed not only as in my presence, but much more, as things now are, in my absence, carry to its perfect conclusion the work of your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God, who, that he may carry out his own good pleasure, brings to effect in you both the initial willing and the effective action. Do all things without murmurings and questionings, that you may show yourselves blameless and pure, the spotless children of God in a warped and twisted generation, in which you appear like lights in the world, as you hold forth the word which is life, so that on the day of Christ it may be my proud claim that I have not run for nothing and that I have not toiled for nothing. But if my own life is to be poured out on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and I do rejoice with you all. So also do you rejoice, and share my rejoicing.
Paul's appeal to the Philippians is more than an appeal to live in unity in a given situation; it is an appeal to live a life which will lead to the salvation of God in time and in eternity.
Nowhere in the New Testament is the work of salvation more succinctly stated. As the Revised Standard Version has it in Philippians 2:12-13 : "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God's at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." As always with Paul, the words are meticulously chosen.
Work out your own salvation; the word he uses for work out is katergazesthai ( Greek #2716 ), which always has the idea of bringing to completion. It is as if Paul says: "Don't stop halfway; go on until the work of salvation is fully wrought out in you." No Christian should be satisfied with anything less than the total benefits of the gospel.
"For God is at work in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." The word Paul uses for work and do is the same, the verb energein ( Greek #1754 ). There are two significant things about it; it is always used of the action of God, and it is always used of effective action. God's action cannot be frustrated, nor can it remain half-finished; it must be fully effective.
As we have said, this passage gives a perfect statement of the work of salvation.
(i) Salvation is of God. (a) It is God that works in us the desire to be saved. It is true that "our hearts are restless till they rest in him," and it is also true that "we could not even begin to seek him unless he had already found us." The desire for the salvation of God is not kindled by any human emotion but by God himself The beginning of the process of salvation is awakened by God. (b) The continuance of that process is dependent on God. Without his help there can be no progress in goodness; without his help no sin can be conquered and no virtue achieved. (c) 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. The work of salvation is begun, continued and ended in God.
(ii) There is another side to this. Salvation is of man. "Work out your own salvation," Paul demands. Without man's co-operation, even God is helpless. The fact is that any gift or any benefit has to be received. A man may be ill and the doctor able to prescribe the drugs that will cure him; but the man will not be cured until he takes them and he may stubbornly refuse all persuasion to take them. It is so with salvation. The offer of God is there; without it there can be no such thing as salvation. But no man can ever receive salvation unless he answers God's appeal and takes what he offers.
There can be no salvation without God, but what God offers man must take. It is never God who withholds salvation; it is always man who deprives himself of it.
When we examine the chain of thought in this passage, we see that Paul sets down five signs of salvation, as we may call them.
(i) There is the sign of effective action. The Christian must give continual evidence in his daily life that he is indeed working out his own salvation; day by day it must be more fully accomplished. The great tragedy of so many of us is that we are never really any further on. We continue to be victims of the same habits and slaves of the same temptations, and guilty of the same failures. But the truly Christian life must be a continual progress, for it is a journey towards God.
(ii) There is the sign of fear and trembling. This is not the fear and trembling of the slave cringing before his master; nor fear and trembling at the prospect of punishment. It comes from two things. It comes, first, from a sense of our own creatureliness and our own powerlessness to deal with life triumphantly. That is to say, it is not the fear and trembling which drives us to hide from God, but rather the fear and trembling which drives us to seek God, in the certainty that without his help we cannot effectively face life. It comes, second, from a horror of grieving God. When we really love a person, we are not afraid of what he may do to us; we are afraid of what we may do to him. The Christian's great fear is of crucifying Christ again.
(iii) There is the sign of serenity and certainty. The Christian will do all things without murmurings and questionings. The word which Paul uses for murmurings (goggusmos, Greek #1112 ) is unusual. In the Greek of the sacred writers it has a special connection. 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 ( Greek #1112 )--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 questionings is dialogismos ( Greek #1261 ) which describes useless, and sometimes ill-natured, disputing and doubting. In the Christian life there is the serenity and the certainty of perfect certainty and perfect trust.
(iv) There is the sign of purity. Christians, as the Revised Standard Version has it, are to be blameless and innocent and without blemish. Each of these words makes its contribution to the idea of Christian purity.
(a) The word translated blameless is amemptos ( Greek #273 ) 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 the purity of his life must be seen by all.
(b) The word translated innocent is akeraios ( Greek #185 ), and expresses what the Christian is in himself. Akeraios ( Greek #185 ) literally means unmixed, unadulterated. It is used, for instance, of wine or milk which is not mixed with water and of metal which has no alloy in it. When used of people, it implies motives which are unmixed. Christian purity must issue in a complete sincerity of thought and character.
(c) The word which is translated without blemish is amomos ( Greek #299 ) and describes what the Christian is in the sight of God. 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.
Christian purity is blameless in the sight of the world, sincere within itself, and fit to stand the scrutiny of God.
(v) There is the sign of missionary endeavour. The Christian offers to all the word of life, that is to say, the word which gives life. This Christian missionary endeavour has two aspects: (a) It is the proclamation of the offer of the gospel in words which are clear and unmistakable. (b) It is the witness of a life that is absolutely straight in a world which is warped and twisted. It is the offer of light in a world which is dark. Christians are to be lights in the world. The word used for lights (phosteres, Greek #5458 ) is the same as 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 ). The Christian offers and demonstrates straightness in a twisted world and light in a dark world.
This passage concludes with two vivid pictures, which are typical of Paul's way of thinking.
(i) He longs for the Christian progress of the Philippians so that at the end of the day he may have the joy of knowing that he has not run or laboured in vain. The word he uses for to labour is kopian ( Greek #2872 ). There are two possible pictures in it. (a) It may paint a picture of the most exacting toil. Kopian ( Greek #2872 ) means to labour to the point of utter exhaustion. (b) It may be that kopian ( Greek #2872 ) describes the toil of the athlete's training and that what Paul is saying is that he prays that all the discipline of training that he imposed upon himself may not go for nothing.
One of the features of Paul's writing is his love of pictures from the life of the athlete. And there is little wonder. In every Greek city the gymnasium was far more than a physical training-ground. It was in the gymnasium that Socrates often discussed the eternal problems; it was in the gymnasium that the philosophers and the sophists and the wandering teachers and preachers often found their audience. In any Greek city the gymnasium was not only the physical training-ground but also the intellectual club of the city. In the Greek world there were the great Isthmian Games at Corinth, the great Pan-Ionian Games at Ephesus, and, greatest of all, the Olympic Games, held every four years. The Greek cities were often at variance and frequently at war; but when the Olympic Games came round, no matter what dispute was raging, a month's truce was declared that there might be a contest in fellowship between them. Not only did the athletes come, but the historians and the poets came to give readings of their latest works, and the sculptors, whose names are immortal, came to make statues of the winners.
There can be little doubt that, in Corinth and in Ephesus, Paul had been a spectator of these games. Where there were crowds of men, Paul would be there to seek to win them for Christ. But, apart from the preaching, there was something about these athletic contests which found an answer in the heart of Paul. He knew the contests of the boxers ( 1 Corinthians 9:26 ). He knew the foot-race, most famous of all the contests. He had seen the herald summoning the racers to the starting-line ( 1 Corinthians 9:27 ); he had seen the runners press along the course to the goal ( Philippians 3:14 ); he had seen the judge awarding the prize at the end of the race ( 2 Timothy 4:8 ); he knew of the victor's laurel crown and of his exultation ( 1 Corinthians 9:24 ; Philippians 4:1 ). He knew the rigorous discipline of training which the athlete must undertake, and the strict regulations which must be observed ( 1 Timothy 4:7-8 ; 2 Timothy 2:5 ).
So his prayer is that he may not be like an athlete whose training and effort have gone for nothing. 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.
(ii) But in Philippians 2:17 Paul has another picture. He had a special gift for speaking in language that people could understand. Again and again he took his pictures from the ordinary affairs of the people to whom he was speaking. He has already taken a picture from the games; now he takes one from heathen sacrifice. One of the commonest kinds of heathen sacrifice was a libation, which was a cup of wine poured out as an offering to the gods. For instance, every heathen meal began and ended with such a libation, as a kind of grace before and after meat. 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, as the Revised Standard Version has it, that he is quite ready "to be poured as a libation upon the sacrificial offering" of their faith. In other words what he is saying to the Philippians is: "Your Christian fidelity and loyalty are already a sacrifice to God; and if death for Christ should come to me, I am willing and glad that my life should be poured out like a libation on the altar on which your sacrifice is being made."
Paul was perfectly willing to make his life a sacrifice to God; and, if that happened, to him it would be all joy, and he calls on them not to mourn at the prospect but rather to rejoice. To him every call to sacrifice and to toil was a call to his love for Christ, and therefore he met it not with regret and complaint but with joy.