(Greek words can be viewed using the Symbol font)
Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
May 9, 2004
Man’s Work; God’s Work
Context: This morning we come in our study to Philippians 2:12,13. This is a
passage that is, as Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it, "perhaps one of the most
perfect summaries of the Christian life to be found anywhere," and at the
same time, it is one of the more frequently disputed passages of Scripture. Like
so many other passages, the major reason for the disputing is that men too often
dissect Scripture and put the pieces into their theological boxes instead of
taking in the whole meaning within its context first.
Since we do not want to repeat that error, let us read through these verses
and then set their context. "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."
The opening word of verse 12, wste / h‘ste,
which is translated as "so then," "therefore," or "wherefore" points us back to
what Paul has just said in the previous verses which in turn point us back to
the foundation Paul lays in chapter one. The immediate context is Paul’s
declaration of God’s future exaltation of Jesus in which He is given the name
which is above every name and at which every knee should bow, of those in
heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. As I pointed out
last week, this declaration of Jesus being Lord is more than just a recognition
of Him as "master," but is a reference to Him also being recognized by the very
name God used of Himself in Exodus 3. Jesus is also the great "I am." The
covenant name of God, Yahweh, is also used of Jesus. This in turn brings glory
to the Father. To summarize, in view of the fact that Jesus is going to be
glorified in such a state, we should live in a certain way and recognize God’s
work in His children for His own purposes and good pleasure.
The greater context goes back to 1:27, "Only conduct yourselves in a
manner worthy of the gospel of Christ" which is the basis and reason for
"standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of
the gospel." Because the Christian lives with an eternal purpose in view,
the immediate circumstances, whatever they may be including persecution for
Christ’s sake (1:28,29), cannot keep the believer from peacefully and joyfully
bringing glory to Christ’s name by their manner of life and attitude. On a
personal level this is seen in Paul’s own response to being imprisoned and
having others purposely seeking to add to his distress (1:12-26). Paul focused
on what God was doing in the midst of the circumstances and therefore was able
to be joyful and praise God despite the personal hardships. God was still at
work and accomplishing His will. The same is still true for we who are believers
In the larger context of the body of Christ, conduct worthy of the gospel of
Christ is seen in their unity. Paul points out in 2:1,2 that because there is
encouragement in Christ, because there is consolation of the love, because there
is fellowship of the Spirit and because there is affection and compassion,
believers should be of the same mind, maintain the same love, be united in
spirit and intent on one purpose. The key to this unity is humility demonstrated
by regarding others as more important than yourself and looking out for the
interest of others and not just your own. Jesus is the supreme example of this
humility. He set aside aspects of His deity, left the glories of heaven and
became a man in order to die on the cross as the payment for our sins. He
regarded us as more important than Himself and looked out for our interests and
not just His own. God’s exaltation of Jesus placed Him back in His proper place
in Heaven with the fulness of deity.
The broader context here then is that Paul is writing to the Christians in
Philippi and commanding them to conduct themselves worthy of the gospel of
Christ being unified with one another because their beliefs and purposes were
the same, because of the working of the Spirit in each of them, and because of
the mutual love we are to have for one another in Christ. The result was to be a
humility toward one another that follows the example of Jesus Christ, who has
been exalted back to His position at the right hand of the Father and who will
be exalted further when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is
Lord, to the glory of the Father. The same command and its ramifications apply
to we who are Christians today.
With that in mind, we come to the overview of verses 12 & 13.
"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
The major disputes about the meaning of these two verses arise from those
that insist that man must somehow earn his salvation instead of relying on God’s
grace to which reckons a man’s faith as righteousness, and from those that teach
a Christian becomes more holy through a passive submission to the Holy Spirit.
Both of these views are contrary to the context, and hence, to the meaning of
Remember first that Paul is writing to people that are already Christians
here. The idea of "work out your salvation with fear and trembling" cannot be
gaining salvation from sin. Paul is writing to the "saints in Christ Jesus
who are at Philippi" (1:1). These are those that have participated with him
in the gospel from the first day until now (1:5) and who are "partakers of
grace" with Paul (1:7). Paul’s prayer for them in 1:9-11) contains nothing
about them being saved, but only for their continued growth in Christ. His
command to them in 1:27 to "conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the
gospel of Christ" would have no meaning if they were not already Christians.
If they were not already Christians, they could not have the encouragement of
Christ or the fellowship of the Spirit and therefore could not have the same
mind, maintain the same love, be united in spirit or be intent on one purpose
(2:1,2), and humility as described in 2:3-8 would be out of the question.
Paul is writing here in 2:12,13 to the believers in Philippi that have become
"beloved" to him. They cared for Paul very much as evidenced by their supplying
for his needs and sending Ephaphroditus to minister to him. In many ways, they
had become somewhat dependent upon Paul, and his being imprisoned and unable to
come to them was distressing. Paul is using the example of God’s working both in
his own life and in Christ’s life to encourage them. They have already shown
obedience to God without Paul being present and they need to continue in that
same vein and work out their salvation with fear and trembling. They needed to
continue to mature and evidence the faith they professed. Paul’s admonition here
is in keeping with his earlier prayer. They had already done well, but they
needed to keep on and do even better. To "work out their salvation" was to bring
it to maturity or completion.
The greatest encouragement for them to do this was the fact that though this
was something they were to do, it would not be done by themselves. It would be
God working in them both to will and to work for His good pleasure. This is what
God was doing in Paul’s life even while He was imprisoned. This is what God did
in Jesus Christ’s life that even though He went through great humiliation in
doing God’s work, the Father had now highly exalted Him. They could take comfort
and encouragement in these examples set before them. Though Paul desired to see
them again (1:25), it was also entirely possible that he could die before that
could happen (1:20-23). Paul was encouraging them that even if they did not see
Paul again until heaven, they would make it and be successful because God was at
work and would accomplish His will in them.
Let’s now look at each of these phrases a bit more in depth to see how they
fit within the context of this overview.
Man’s Work – vs. 12
"So then" – points us back to the context and examples of both
Paul and Jesus Christ as I have already explained.
"My beloved" – brings out the close nature of Paul’s
relationship to the Philippian believers. These two verses are not just great
theological truths, but they are set squarely in the context of this close
relationship between Paul and the church God used him to found in Philippi.
There is a strong bond of affection between the two.
"Just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now
much more in my absence." The Philippian believers were marked by their
obedience to the Scriptures and what Paul had taught them of Jesus Christ. This
is one of the reasons that Paul expressed such thanksgiving at his remembrance
of them in chapter 1. They had participated with him in the gospel from the
first day of their salvation to the present (1:5). Paul was confident that God
would finish the work He started in them both because that is the nature of God
and it was the response he had seen in them since, in his imprisonment and in
the defense and confirmation of the gospel, they had been partakers of God’s
grace with Paul (1:6,7).
Paul was not present with them, yet they continued in their faithfulness to
the Lord and toward Paul. As soon as they had opportunity they sent a gift and
Ephaphroditus to help while he was imprisoned (2:25-30; 4:10-18), and from
Ephaphroditus Paul learned of their continued obedience to the Lord. Nothing is
more encouraging to a teacher than to hear that his students are putting into
practice the lessons learned when he is not around. That is when a teacher knows
they have been successful. The Philippians did this. No wonder Paul referred to
them as his "joy and crown" (4:1).
Work Out Your Salvation – This is a key phrase to understand.
"Work out" is from katergazomai /
katergazomai and means to "do," "accomplish," "bring about." It is a present
middle imperative and so is a command in which the individual is actively
involved in an action in which something else is also acting upon. The
individual is neither passive nor working by themselves but in conjunction with
something else. The sense then is that this is something you continue to "work
out" to its completion. It will take a sustained effort to accomplish this.
"Your" is eautou”
/ heautou is an emphatic form of "your" that actually has the sense of
"your own." The importance of this word is that it places emphasis on the fact
that your salvation is something that is between you and God personally. God
saves you as an individual, and you mature in Him as an individual. God may have
used many other people in your life who have become important to you, but
ultimately, none of them are essential. God’s normal plan is to use other people
in your life, but you can still become mature in Christ even if no one else
helps. This also means that you cannot blame any lack of maturity on anyone
"Salvation" is swthria / s‘tLria
and is the common word for deliverance, preservation and release. It is often
used in the New Testament as a reference to deliverance from sin and its
The phrase, as has already been pointed out, is being applied to those who
are already Christians, and so is not a reference to bringing about your own
salvation through one’s own effort, but rather a sustained effort by the
individual to bring about the ultimate completion of their salvation. Paul makes
it very clear in many other passages that salvation cannot be earned, but comes
only by the grace of God – Ephesians 2:8,9 – "for by grace you have been
saved through faith: and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a
result of works that no one should boast." (See also Romans 3:24,28; 4:16;
10:9,10; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:5). The sense of this phrase is that you are to
bring about the completion of your salvation by showing forth its fruits. This
is sanctification which is the outworking of what God has done in you in saving
you from sin that is manifested in your ever changing life as He conforms you
into the image of His son.
If I can use a rough analogy appropriate for today’s recognition of you moms.
You became a mom when you gave birth to your first child, but you have continued
to work out your motherhood as you have done those things that are in keeping
with being a mom. That child has changed your life completely because you now
have a different belief about what your life is about compared to when you were
single without children. Your actions as a mother are a direct result in your
change in belief in purpose and responsibility. It is because you are a mom that
you do what you do. The Christian is to live their life in the way that is
pleasing to God not to become a Christian but because they are a Christian.
There are three corresponding aspects to salvation and sanctification which
cover past, present and future. The root word for sanctification means to be
"set apart." At initial salvation God’s grace is extended to a person, and their
faith in Jesus Christ is reckoned to them as righteousness. They are justified
and set apart to God. They were saved and sanctified. As a Christian matures in
Christ and walks in holiness they are further removed from sin and set apart to
God as they are conformed into the image of Christ. They are being saved and
sanctified. When a Christian is finally with the Lord, they are fully delivered
from all sin and set completely apart to God. They will be saved and sanctified
– which is glorification. A Christian is saved from sin and its judgement by
God’s grace through faith in Christ. A Christian is being delivered from current
sin as they are being conformed into image of Christ. A Christian will one day
receive the fulness of salvation when they enter eternity and become like Christ
in both position and reality.
"Fear & Trembling" in this context is not the fright that comes
from experiencing something beyond your imagination such as the guards as Jesus
tomb who saw the angel and "shook for fear of him and became like dead men."
Neither is this terror like the non-Christian will have at the return of our
Lord (Luke 21:26). That is the fear of those who are facing their judgement and
doom. Christians do not have that because Jesus has already paid the price of
our sin and removed God’s condemnation from us. This is the proper humble and
reverential fear that all godly people should have toward the Lord. It is the
"fear of the Lord" that is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10). The proper
reaction of those who are humble and have a contrite spirit is a "trembling" at
God’s word (Isa. 66:2) as Who has spoken and what He has said is considered. For
the Christian, the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit go
hand in hand (Acts 9:31).
The Christian’s fear of the Lord is the same as a child has toward a godly
father. There is no fear of rejection, but there is great respect for him and
fear of disobeying his commands because he will correct and discipline. Hebrews
12 tells us that God deals with believers as with sons whom He loves and
therefore disciplines and chastises as needed. As His sons then, we strive to
walk carefully in discerning His will and following His commands. We pay
attention to what He says because we desire to obey, honor and glorify Him and
not offend and grieve Him. Obedience begins with carefully listening to the
instructions given. If you are not spending time in God’s word and in prayer,
then you are not listening to His instructions.
God’s Work – vs. 13
For it is God who is at Work in you. In verse 13 Paul transitions
from our responsibility with the statement "for it is God who is at work in
you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." The transitional
preposition here, "for," is important because it ties what Paul has just said
about them working out their own salvation with the fact that it is God who is
at work in them. These two facts go together and should not be separated. Those
who reject or diminish God’s sovereignty do not like this, but it is the truth,
and fits perfectly with the comfort and encouragement that Paul was giving to
the Philippian believers. They were to do their part in obeying the Lord and
thereby working out their own salvation with fear and trembling, but they could
be confident that they would succeed because it was God who was working in and
through them to accomplish His will and good pleasure just as He had done in
Jesus’ life and was doing in Paul’s life. This the reason that Paul could say
back in 1:6 that he was "confident of this very thing, that He who began a
good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus." God is at
The word work here, energew / energe‘,
is where we get our English word "energy," and it means "to work," "to do," "to
be operative," "to put forth power" and "to effect." While the Christian is
responsible to put forth effort in obeying God, the reality is that whatever the
Christian accomplishes including changes in his own character are due to God’s
work in him. Paul makes numerous statements showing his dependency upon God even
as he labored in God’s service. In 2 Corinthians 3 Paul speaks about his labor
among them and its effect upon them then adds in verse 5, not that we are
adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our
adequacy is from God who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant . .
." . Paul had previously told them (1 Corinthians 15:10) that he was what he
was by the grace of God and that though he had labored even more than all of
them, it was not him, but the grace of God in him that accomplished anything.
Paul warned the Galatians (3:3) that they were foolish if they thought they
could perfect themselves (mature in Christ) through the flesh (works of the
I pointed out earlier that "working out your own salvation" was in the middle
tense. It was work you did but which also required some other participant in the
action. That other participant is God, and without Him, you cannot accomplish
Both to will and to work for His good pleasure is what God is
going to accomplish in the life of the Christian. The purpose of everything that
exists is to bring glory to God, or as Paul puts it here, "His good pleasure."
All of creation exists for the pleasure of God. However, that is contrary to
man’s own sinful bent. Man wants his own good pleasure. We want our will to be
done and we work hard to accomplish our own goals. How then does a man change
from working for his own pleasure to working for God’s? God changes us from the
inside out. He changes our heart from one bent to satisfy our own will to one
that becomes increasingly bent to satisfy God’s will and work for His good
pleasure instead of our own. As our will is changed so then is our work and its
God begins this change in us through the Holy Spirit convicting us of sin.
This is part of our initial salvation, for salvation is from sin to
righteousness. If you have never found your own sin to be repugnant, then there
is good reason for you to question your salvation. Escape from Hell and going to
heaven is a result of being delivered from sin. If there is not some point at
which you turned from sin and called on God to be merciful and forgive your sin
through Jesus Christ, then there is no salvation. For the Christian, the desire
to reject evil increases as we grow in Christ. Sinful things we used to do and
found pleasurable lose their attraction and become increasingly repulsive to us.
It is not that we do not sin, but we find that sin contrary to our desires even
as Paul did in Romans 7.
God also changes us by increasing our desire for holiness. His call for us to
be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16) becomes less of a chore and more of a
pleasurable desire. Reading the scriptures is a discipline of a holy life, but
the greater your maturity in Christ the more this discipline is a joy. You find
that you agree with David’s expression in Psalm 19 that the word of God becomes
more desirable than even much find gold and is sweeter than honey dripping from
the honeycomb. Self discipline is needed as you strive for personal holiness
much as a runner disciplines himself in training that he might run well and win
(1 Cor. 9:25), but as you grow in Christ that pursuit of personal holiness
becomes less of a chore and more of a pleasure as you forget what lies behind
and reach forward to what lies ahead in pressing on toward the goal for the
prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (3:12-14). Your change in will
results in a change in purpose and even a joy in the work to gain that purpose
which is now God’s good pleasure.
It is this internal change that God works in us that is the basis for God’s
promise in Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the
desires of your heart. The Psalm continues, 5 Commit your way to the
Lord, Trust also in Him, and He will do it. 6 And He will bring forth your
righteousness as the light, And your judgment as the noonday.
Once these verses are understood, the practical application of them in daily
life is obvious. The Christian is saved from their sin by God’s grace through
faith in Jesus Christ. There is no work you can do to earn that salvation.
However, belief in Christ will result in a different understanding of and
purpose to life. It is no longer about yourself, but about God. As you strive to
conduct yourself in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ there will be a
change in attitude and how you live. You will become increasingly marked by the
same humility that was in Christ resulting in regarding others as more important
than yourself and looking out for the interests of others instead of just your
own. In keeping with your belief that Jesus Christ is Lord you seek to obey Him
regardless of anyone else around. In other words, though teachers and being
accountable to others is helpful in living the Christian life, the reality is
that even in the absence of any other Christian, you are to be obedient to our
The result of all this is that you work out your own salvation with fear and
trembling. In holy reverence for the Lord you do your part and put the effort in
to bring your salvation to maturity or completion. You practice the disciplines
of godliness which includes personal Bible study, prayer, turning from evil to
holiness, and service. This is your responsibility as you cooperate with God as
He molds you into the image of His son. You must actively work toward personal
holiness in your life in conjunction with God’s working in you.
There is no question that God will do His part to change your will and work
to His own good pleasure. It is really only a matter of what you will have to go
through as God does His work in you and how useful you will be to Him.
Those who actively cooperate will mature rapidly in Christ and be greatly
used by Him. These are those that strive to live holy lives and seek out God’s
will through Bible study, prayer and Christian fellowship and are quick to find
ways to serve the Lord.
Those that actively resist will be chastised by God in order to correct them
and make them what they need to be. These are people that generally only do what
they are forced to do. Perhaps they come to church regularly and they might be
buttonholed into some church project, but usually only because others expect it
Then there are the many that are passive. They have fallen victim to the 19th
century holiness philosophy of "let go and let God." They mistakenly believe God
will someday make them holy without effort on their part. Some even go so far as
to believe that effort on their part will hinder God’s work in them. They will
do what they are told, but not much beyond that. They will be of limited value
to the Lord and risk His rebuke because Rev. 3:16 makes it clear that the Lord
does not like those that are lukewarm.
You will not grow in Christ by sitting around watching TV, or by pursuing all
your many personal hobbies, or by working lots of overtime, or by amassing a lot
of material wealth. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these unless
they are in competition with what you need to do to mature in Christ. Do you
spend time in regular personal Bible Study? Would you know how do that if you
did try? Do you spend daily time in prayer? Are you actively turning away from
evil and establishing habits that are holy? Do you have to be asked, or do you
volunteer and seek to serve the Lord with your gifts? Are you taking advantage
of programs for your spiritual growth that are offered? Have you been through at
least basic discipleship? If not, then see Diane Harris or Ed Colon and get
scheduled to go through it. If so, then have you helped someone else through it?
God will fulfill His work. Are you doing your part in that work?
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives.
Here is some help.
Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the
sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children –
Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the
sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times the word "salvation" is
said. Talk with your parents about the three aspects of salvation discussed.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
What is both the near and general context of Philippians 2:12,13? How do we
know that vs. 12 is not talking about a non-Christian becoming saved? State in
your own words an overview of what Paul is saying in verses 12 & 13. Support
your statement. Describe the relationship between Paul and the Philippian
believers. What is the importance of their obedience to Christ both in Paul’s
presence and more so in his absence? What does Paul mean to "work out your
salvation"? Support your answer? What is the importance of "your" in that
phrase? What are the three corresponding aspects of salvation and
sanctification? What other theological terms describe the first and third
aspects? How is the "fear and trembling" of the Christian before God different
from the non-Christians? What is God’s work in you? How does He accomplish this?
Describe this change in your own life? What are your own habits of godly
discipline? Describe your cooperation with God working in you? What is the
result? Does anything need to change? If so, what and when will you change it?
Man’s Work; God’s Work – Philippians 2:12,13
Man’s Work – vs. 12
"just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much
more in my absence."
Work Out Your Salvation
katergazomai / katergazomai
Fear & Trembling
God’s Work – vs. 13
for it is God at work in you
Both to will and work for His good pleasure