The Command to Work Out Their Salvation
Paul described salvation as a past event (Eph 2:8–9) and as a future consummation (Rom 13:11).
Personal salvation brings with it responsibilities which Paul related to Christians’ obedience. The responsibility was to live in accord with their salvation, letting the implications of their relationship with Christ transform their social relationships. Paul really meant, in the first place, that they were to act like Christians.
To live like Christians, the Philippians were to have an attitude of obedience.
In addition to obedience, the Philippians were to be sober. The precise words are “fear and trembling.” These words reminded them of their relationship to God and that they were to conduct their lives with a seriousness and reverence due him.
In order to promote harmony and unity, he told the group to work out their salvation. That position has some difficulties, however, as well as some strengths.
Further, the group would have had difficulty changing without the individuals devoting themselves to the task of personal change as well.
Paul must have meant the individuals of the group were to live consistently with their salvation. If they did so, the group problems would be solved.
The reason the Philippians were to work out their salvation was the soberness of realizing that God worked in them. The text emphasizes God. Using a play on words, Paul said they were to “work out” because God “works in.” God’s work in them provided both the motivation and the ability to do his good pleasure.
Paul warned of the dangers of murmurings and arguing. Paul knew that selfishness and vainglory led to complaints.
The combination of the two seemingly different ideas of “work out your salvation” and “do everything without complaining” could have come from his realization of Moses’ disappointment with Israel, who failed at both these points.
The fact is, the Philippians had the possibility of being blameless among a crooked generation.
it was a concern which affected the moral life of the church and its witness to the world. Paul implied that if dissension stopped the church would be on its way to purity of life and action
Paul looked for the completion of the Philippians’ character. They were to become pure and blameless. The terms speak to the moral nature of their lives. They were to have complete Christian character, and they were to have no offense in relation to others.
Paul’s statement, “children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation.” This statement explains the first so that “without fault” incorporates “blameless and pure.” They were children of God already; Paul hoped they would become blameless.
This consistent character is particularly striking when viewed against the backdrop of the world. Two metaphors describe the contrast between Christians and non-Christians. First, using the words of Deut 32:5, Paul described the world as distorted and depraved.
Thus Paul meant that the world was morally crooked, distorted by its failure to understand the word of God. The ministry of the church, then, was to provide a straight model for distorted lives.
The second metaphor comes from astronomy. The Philippians, with their unblemished moral character, shone like stars in the universe. Even with their imperfections, they were the light of the world to those in darkness. This mission was accomplished by their holding out the word of life.
By their lives, the Philippians were actually holding fast to the gospel. By so doing, their lives also became the measuring rod and illumination of the world around them.
He urged them to progress in their lives so that his efforts would be profitable. Looking to the day of Christ, the day of judgment, he wanted to have fruit from his labor. Using athletic imagery, he stated he wanted not “to have run … for nothing.”
The sacrificial terminology of these verses supplies another metaphor to explain. Three words recall the sacrificial system: “poured out” (spendomai), “sacrifice” (thysia), and “service” (leitourgia). “Poured out” refers to a drink offering that accompanied the sacrifices. “Sacrifice” was the actual offering, and “service” accompanied the offering. These last two appear to combine to speak of a sacrifice; the first, “poured out,” definitely referred to a procedure of pouring a drink offering either before or after the offering itself.
Rather than being discouraged about his circumstances, Paul had great joy.
In this section, the mind of Christ occurs in the thoughts of Paul. He urged the Philippians toward the goal of blamelessness. As for him, he was happy with his service to them and with them. If Christ’s act were one of sacrifice, Paul’s life was too. It was “poured out like a drink offering” along with those whom he loved so much.
Paul’s commands provide the tone and organization of the text. He urged the Philippians to stand true, to have the mind of Christ, and to work out their salvation in obedience. Above all, they were called to be like Christ.