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8. Exhortation to Unity—A Final Word Concerning Obedience (Philippians 2:12-18)

I. Translation as It Appears in the NET Bible

2:12 So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, continue working out your salvation with humility and dependence, 2:13 for the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort—for the sake of his good pleasure—is God. 2:14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 2:15 so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God without blemish though you live in a crooked and perverse society, in which you shine as lights in the world 2:16 by holding on to the word of life so that I will have a reason to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain nor labor in vain. 2:17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink-offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I have joy and rejoice together with you. 2:18 And in the same way, you also should be glad and rejoice together with me.

II. Outline

    A. The Command to Obey (2:12-16)

      1. General Statement and Theological Rationale (2:12-13)

        a. General Statement (2:12)

        b. Theological Rationale (2:13)

      2. Specific Application and Results (2:14-16)

        a. No Complaining or Arguing (2:14)

        b. Becoming Blameless and Pure (2:15)

        c. Holding Out the Word of Life (2:16a)

        d. Paul’s Boast (2:16b)

    B. The Example of Paul (2:17-18)

      1. His Life as a Drink-Offering (2:17a)

      2. His Desire That They Rejoice (2:17b-18)

III. Context

From the very outset of his letter to the Philippians (1:1-2), Paul has argued, both by example and explicit statement, that he wants the church to cultivate the virtue of humility with a view toward corporate unity. This emphasis can be seen in his thanksgiving and prayer section (i.e., 1:3-11), the recounting of his own circumstances in prison (1:12-26), his appeal for the Philippians to live lives worthy of the gospel (1:27-30; 2:1-4), and his beautiful description of the humiliation and exaltation of Christ himself (2:5-11). Now, in 2:12-18, the final appeal of this section (i.e., 1:3-2:18), he urges them again to obey and seek unity. They are not to grumble and complain, but are to be pure and blameless, children of God without fault in a depraved world.

IV. Exhortation to Unity—A Final Word Concerning Obedience

A. The Command to Obey (2:12-16)

      1. General Statement and Theological Rationale (2:12-13)
    a. General Statement (2:12)

This paragraph starts off with a conjunction “so then” (hoste) which clearly indicates that there is an inference to be drawn from the previous material in 2:6-11. But what is the inference? The Greek term translated “obedient” in 2:8 is the noun hupekoos. The cognate verbal form for “obedience,” hupakousate, is the term Paul uses in 2:12 to urge the Philippians “to obey.” Thus the connection between 2:12-18 and the Christ hymn in 2:6-11 is that Paul wants the Philippians to obey the Lord in the same way as Jesus obeyed the Father. He obeyed completely and without reservation and so should they. We too must obey him implicitly.

It is a good thing for a person to be concerned about the will of God for their life. Questions revolving around where the Lord wants me to work, who he wants me to marry, and where I should go to college, etc. are all very important. But sometimes we get unduly stressed out about these questions when we haven’t been leading an obedient life in areas that the Bible is clear about. If you want to know the will of God in specific decisions that pertain to your life only, begin with what is explicitly revealed in Scripture and obey that. Then seek guidance on other matters.

Concerning the word hupakouo, Kittel says:

The frequent use of uJpakouvein (hupakouein) for um? [i.e., “to hear” ] in the LXX [Greek OT completed in second century BCE] shows how strongly the idea of hearing is still present for the translator in the Gr. [Greek] uJpakouvein. Hence uJpakouvein and uJpakohv as terms for religious activity are always to be thought of in the sphere of a religion which receives the divine Word by hearing and then translates it into action.133

The Philippians had received the word of God from Paul and were encouraged to translate that into action in their everyday lives. So we too are responsible to hear the word of God and put it into practice in our lives. Listen to the words of Jesus, Paul, and James:

Matthew 7:24 Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. 7:25 The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house; but it did not collapse because it had been founded on rock. 7:26 Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 7:27 The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, and it collapsed; it was a tremendous fall!

1 Thessalonians 2:13 And so we too constantly thank God that when you received God’s message that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human message, but as it truly is, God’s message, that is at work among you who believe.

James 1:22 But be sure you live out the message and do not merely listen to it and so deceive yourselves. 1:23 For if someone merely listens to the message and does not live it out, he is like someone who gazes at his natural face in a mirror. 1:24 For he gazes at himself and then goes out and immediately forgets what sort of person he was. 1:25 But the one who peers into the perfect law of liberty and sticks with it, and does not become a forgetful listener but one who lives it out—he will be blessed in what he does.

Thus Paul commands the Philippians to obey, that is, “to work out their own salvation.”
But it is not the bark of a drill sergeant that is in mind here. The reference to the Philippians as my dear friends (agapetoi mou) softens the command, not in terms of its importance, but in terms of the context in which it is given; it comes from someone who loves them. Paul also referred to the Romans in the same way, and despite the Corinthians’ proclivity to give the apostle “nightmares,” he loved them too (Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 15:58). If you want to impact a person, they need to know how much you love them. This is especially true when circumstances in their life are difficult. As someone once said, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care!” The Philippians knew how much Paul cared for them.

Paul was not “buttering them up,” as it were, when he made the comment, “just as (kathos) you have always obeyed (hupekousate). He did not make this comment solely to win their favor, but rather from his perspective, their consistent obedience was a fact. They had obeyed not only in the initial reception of the gospel (Acts 16:14, 32-33), but ever since that time as well (approx. ten years). Again, as far as Paul was concerned, they had always obeyed (cf. 2 Cor 7:15; 10:6; 1 Thess 2:13; 2 Thess 3:4; Philemon 21).

But the obedience of the Philippians should not only [be] in my presence but now even more in my absence. Though the mention of presence and absence in this verse links it up with similar thoughts in 1:27, there are nonetheless some ambiguities in the meaning of the phrase as a whole. Some commentators take the phrase with the imperative “continue working out”134 and “presence” as a reference to Paul’s proposed future visit (2:24). In this case Paul is saying that they should not obey just because he’s coming to see them (cf. 1 Cor 4:21; 2 Cor 13:1-3).135 Some scholars, however, say that the term “presence” looks back to Paul’s founding of the church in Acts 16:15, 33, and the church’s obedience to the gospel during that time.136 But to confine the term “presence” to just that occasion is to miss the force of the always in the expression as you have always obeyed. Others argue that the comment is simply general and has no specific relationship to any past or future visits. The Philippians should obey whether Paul is ever among them or not.137 But this seems to miss the force of the now. The term “now” seems to indicate that their problems were due in part to the absence of the apostle and that when he was actually with them in the past they did not have some of those struggles.

Paul says that whether he is with them, as he was in the past, or whether he is absent, as he is in the present, they are to continue working out (katergazesthe) [their] salvation (eauton soterian) with humility (phobou) and dependence (tromou). This passage in conjunction with verse 13, together form a powerful comment on the Biblical view of sanctification and together deliver the death blow to many faulty understandings concerning the growth process of the Christian.

Just as the proper understanding of 1:19 depends to a large extent on the meaning of soteria, so also here in 2:12. The correct understanding of this passage depends largely on the meaning one sees in the word soterian. There are basically three options: (1) a corporate view focusing on salvation as the “health of the entire church; (2) spiritual salvation; (3) some combination of the two.

Martin and Hawthorne138 are typical of those who argue (quite cogently) in favor of the first alternative, namely, soteria means the health of the Philippian church community (#1). They point out that (1) Paul has just finished speaking against individualism and urging the Philippians not to look out solely for their own interests; (2) the verb katergazesthe means to “work at,” or “achieve” a meaning that fits better with the idea of corporate health and unity than one’s personal salvation; (3) the verb katergazesthe and the reflexive pronoun eauton are both plural, not singular; and (4) the term soteria can mean “health” or “well-being” (Acts 27:34).

It does not seem likely that given the focus on corporate unity and “togetherness” in the passage that option #2 is likely. On the other hand, Silva has made an excellent case for the traditional view that what Paul is espousing here is personal renewal and its evidence in the community of believers (#3). Thus, his view is a combination of #1 and #2. We will summarize his arguments here: (1) in light of the view of Martin, Hawthorne, and others, the question arises as to how God works in the midst of people if not through personal renewal. To assume a conceptual dichotomy between the two is both false and lethal. Therefore, Paul is arguing for personal renewal as evidenced in corporate holiness; (2) while the translation of soteria as “health” may be possible, it is not probable. In the nearly twenty occurrences of the term in Paul, it invariably carries its technical theological sense. The evidence, therefore, favors the technical theological sense here; (3) the argument that concentration on one’s soul is improbable in a context dealing with selfishness, is tantamount to making the false equation between concern for one’s soul and selfishness; (4) if the term soteria is taken as personal salvation this does not mean that Paul is teaching salvation by works. The term can refer to more than initial or forensic justification, however. It can refer to the process of living out the Christian life and producing the fruit commensurate with being in right relationship with God. Thus “in the particular context of Philippians 2, the outworkings of the believer’s personal salvation take the form of corporate obligations within the Christian community: the duty of seeking the good of others.”139

Therefore, in the context of the community, the Philippians are individually to work out their own relationship with God, with humility (phobou) and dependence (tromou). Though these are combined in terms of human relations (1 Cor 2:3; 2 Cor 7:15; Eph 6:5) they are here used in reference to our posture before God. We are to live before God in reverence and trembling in light of our weakness and struggle to live out his commandments. The Christian is to be humble before his God and dependent on him for help in living out his will (cf. Phil 1:6).

    b. Theological Rationale (2:13)

Verse 13 begins with the conjunction for (gar) and introduces the theological rationale for the command in v. 12; verse 13 supplies the reason for obeying the command to work out our own salvation. The reason is because the one bringing forth (ho energon) in you both the desire (to thelein) and the effort (to energein)—for the sake of his good pleasure (huper tes eudokias)—is God.

The expression the one bringing forth is actually a participle in Greek, namely, ho energon from which we ultimately get our English word “energy.” The present continuous sense of the expression denotes God’s continual, uninterrupted work of moving us along to greater and greater growth in love for God and men (cf. John 15:1-2). The sphere of that work is in you (en humin). The prepositional phrase en humin can mean “among you,” as for example in 2:5, but here it carries a more restricted sense of “in you,” i.e., in your hearts. As we said above under v. 12, God often works in us before he works through or among us.

God’s continual “working” in us relates to two very important areas, namely, the desire (to thelein) or “will” to do what is right, as well as the effort (to energein) or “energy” to do it. This is an amazing statement. Though he doesn’t specifically mention it, the apostle can be thinking of none other than the Holy Spirit who lives in us in fulfillment of the new covenant (Jer 31:31-33; 2 Cor 3:4-18). The Spirit indwells us permanently (2 Cor 1:20-21; Eph 1:13-14), fills us for worship (Eph 5:18), enables us to surrender our lives (Rom 7:6), delivers us out of sin (Gal 1:4; 5:16-24; Rom 8:2-3, 13) and generally enables us to understand Christ (Rom 1:16; Eph 1:18; John 16:13-14). He is a Spirit who is constantly working to glorify Christ and create unity in the body of Christ—undoubtedly one of his primary efforts within the Philippian church (cf. Eph 4:3140). Thus the Philippians were to come in “humility” and dependence” upon God as they worked out their salvation. They were to be careful not to become arrogant as if some of them were better than others (cf. Phil 2:3-4; 3:7-11). The Spirit is the One who would work in them to carry out God’s will; they were totally bankrupt in and of themselves (cf. Eph 2:1; John 15:6). He not only gave them the desire to do God’s will, such as seeking the needs of others ahead of themselves (as Jesus did in 2:6-11), he also have them the energy or will to do it. God has provided such a complete salvation! One of the primary means that God has established for us to experience such empowerment is prayer. Paul has already mentioned this in connection with his desire to exalt Christ in his body (1:19-20), but he will mention prayer again near the close of the letter (4:6-7).

By way of summary, then, verse 12 talks about obedience to God and verse 13 talks about the grace of God in our hearts. The tension that exists between these ideas should not be minimized lest we fall off one side or the other. We cannot say, “It all depends on me. This makes Christianity just a list of do’s and don’ts.” This negates v. 13. Yet, on the other hand, we cannot sit around waiting for God to do something, all the while disobeying the explicit teaching of Scripture. This is to deny the imperative in v. 12. The informed Christian who knows the Lord through his word, and in prayer, will say with the apostle Paul:

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been in vain. In fact, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God with me (1 Cor 15:10).

      2. Specific Application and Results (2:14-16)

Having made a general statement regarding obedience (v. 12) and the grace of God which enables us to obey (v. 13), the apostle now moves to apply his teaching to the specific situation at Philippi. The Philippians are not to grumble or complain. They will become pure and blameless as they obey and Paul will have confidence before God that he is not running in vain.

    a. No Complaining or Arguing (2:14)

Paul says that in light of the humility and dependence required before God the Philippians are to do everything without grumbling (goggusmon) or arguing (dialogismon). The term goggusmon occurs only three times in the New Testament outside of Phil 2:14.141 In John 7:12 the term is used to refer to the whispering or secretive talk engaged in by the people regarding the person of Jesus: “There were many in the crowd “grumbling” about him, some said he was a good man and others said he was a deceiver.” In Acts 6:1 the Grecian Jews “grumbled” against the Hebraic Jews (i.e., strife was developing) because widows among the Grecian Jews were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. The complaining and divisiveness was quickly cut off, however, when the apostles dealt with the issue. They understood that such attitudes are lethal to church unity and witness. In 1 Peter 4:9 the apostle commands the various christians in the churches to offer hospitality to one another and to do so without grumbling. One can see from the examples in Acts 6:1 and 1 Peter 4:9 the close connection between this word and selfishness ambition which we saw in 2:3.

The term arguing, dialogismon occurs 14 times in the New Testament and is never used in a purely favorable light (cf. Luke 2:35). It appears in conjunction with the antagonistic thinking of the Pharisees as they opposed the ministry of Jesus (Luke 5:22; 6:8) and the self-centered, arrogance of the disciples (Luke 9:47) as they “reasoned” about who would be the greatest in the kingdom (i.e., immediately after Jesus had predicted his death [Luke 9:45])! Further, James refers to those who despise the poor as “judges with evil thoughts.” In Luke 24:38-39 the term refers to “doubts” in the minds of the apostles regarding Jesus’ resurrection. Further, Paul tells Timothy that men are to lift holy hands in prayer and to do so without “disputes” (1 Tim 2:8). Thus the term signifies contentious behavior probably connected in some way with an arrogant attitude. The Philippians, Paul says, are to do everything without this kind of attitude.

To anyone who has ever read the Old Testament in some detail, especially the book of Numbers, the use of the two words grumbling and complaining evokes images of the “grumbling” and “complaining” done by the Israelites in the desert (Exod 15:24; 16:2; Num 11:1-6; 14:1-4; 20:2; 21:4, 5). And this is exactly what is in the apostle’s mind. In fact, in 2:15 he quotes verbatim Deut 32:5 in which Moses talks about the corruption of the Israelites. The question that surfaces, however, in the discussion of 2:14-15 is, “how is Paul using the Israelite imagery?” Does he mean to say that: (1) the Philippians were grumbling with God as the children of Israel did; (2) they were grumbling with one another; (3) the Philippians, and so all Christians, are in a period of “wandering” as it were, until the second coming of Christ and they should thus surrender to Christ; (4) he sees himself as parallel with Moses and the Philippians as parallel with the children of Israel. In this last case the Philippians are grumbling against him as the Israelites did Moses. There appears to be very little in the passage or book as a whole to commend this final suggestion, i.e., #4. The answer probably lies in the manner in which one unites the first three suggestions. Paul is not unfamiliar with the similarities between Israel’s wanderings and struggles and those of the Christian church, as 1 Cor 10:1-13 demonstrates (#3). In some measure he undoubtedly sees a parallel between the Philippians and the Israelites. The parallel provides the foundation for the application of the OT to his readers. The specifics of the that application, however, seem to be that the Philippians were grumbling at one another, and perhaps their leaders (1:1), and thus ultimately at God—as the One who provided the leaders. Paul says that they are not to do this. The implication is that God will chasten them if they persist in this disobedience (cf. 1 Cor 10:1-10, and v. 11), though such action on God’s part remains only an implication from the OT context.

    b. Becoming Blameless and Pure in a Fallen World (2:15)

Paul wants them to do everything—not just some things—without grumbling or complaining so that (hina) they might be blameless (amemptoi) and pure (akeraioi), children of God (tekna theou) without blemish (amoma). Some commentators argue that the terms “blameless” and “pure” refer to the future when Christ returns to judge. This interpretation is ruled out, however, on the grounds that Paul is talking about their present character in light of their role in a crooked and depraved generation. Paul is not referring in this text to some future eschatological period, but instead to the “here and now.”

The term blameless (amemptoi) occurs five times in the NT. In Luke 1:6 Zechariah and Elizabeth’s piety is regarded as “blameless” in terms of the manner in which they kept “all the commands and righteous requirements of the Lord.” In 1 Thess 2:13 Paul prays that the love the Thessalonians have for each other may overflow so that their hearts will be strong, blameless in holiness before the Lord. In this passage amemptoi is inextricably bound up with love for other Christians. The term is also used twice in Philippians. In 3:6 Paul refers to his former Pharisaic way of life under the Law as “faultless” or “without blame.” The sense of the term in 2:15 is “to be beyond reproach” (cf. Job 1:1; 4:17).142 If the Philippians continue to grumble and complain they will give occasion for outsiders to find fault with them and their gospel. Instead they are to give no reason for accusation; they are to be blameless.

The term pure (akeraioi) is related to the verb kerannumi which means to “mix” or “mingle.” The noun akeraios (note the negative prefix a) was used to refer to undiluted wine or unalloyed metals.143 It occurs only three times in New Testament. In Matt 10:16 Jesus wants the disciples to be as wise as serpents and as “innocent” as doves. In Romans 16:19 Paul says that he wants the Romans to be wise about what is good and “innocent” about what is evil. In Phil 2:15 it refers to the opposite of grumbling (goggusmon) or arguing (dialogismon). The “purity” that Paul has in mind in Philippians is broad and covers every area of their lives, but it specifically has in focus the need to refrain from in-fighting and divisive behavior. Thus, as the Philippians—and therefore all Christians—grow in blamelessness and purity they will truly reflect their lineage as children of God (tekna theou) without blemish (amoma; see Eph 5:27; Jude 24). They are to reflect the attitude and values of their Father (cf. John 1:12; Rom 8:16; Gal 3:28; 1 John 3:1, 2) without blemish.

Thus Paul wants the Philippians not to grumble and complain, but to be blameless and pure. They are to be innocent in respect to all such behavior. They are to live lives unified around Christ even though they live in a crooked (skolia) and perverse (diestrammenes) society. The generation of people among whom the Philippians lived on a day to day basis were regarded by the apostle as crooked (skolia). The term is used three other times in the New Testament. In Luke 3:5 it is used metaphorically (i.e., morally) to refer to the straightening of crooked roads, i.e., the crooked state of affairs, so that the coming of the Messiah to Israel would not be hindered. The generation of Jews who rejected the Messiah were regarded as a corrupt (skolia) generation of people under the judgment of God (Acts 2:40). In 1 Peter 2:18 Peter refers to certain masters as “corrupt,” meaning that they are unjust and harsh in their treatment of slaves (cf. 2:19).144 The term perverse (diestrammenes) occurs in Matt 17:17 where Jesus refers to his generation as “perverse” because of their lack of faith and stubborn unbelief. Paul accused Elymas of perverting the right ways of the Lord because he tried to turn the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, from the Lord (Acts 13:10). He also warned the Ephesian elders about men who would arise in their midst to pervert the truth or teaching about the Lord in order to draw men after themselves (Acts 20:30). The two terms crooked and perverse together in this context are taken directly from Deut 32:5. The difference in Phil 2:15 is that Paul refers to the unsaved world in Philippi as “crooked and perverse” whereas Moses referred to the Israelites (i.e., God’s people) as “crooked and perverse.” Paul probably has in mind the people in Philippi who are trying to oppose the church (1:28) or the legalists of chapter three who are perverting the gospel (3:2ff).

Nonetheless, to the degree that the Philippians heeded the admonition of the apostle they would shine (phainesthe) as lights (phosteres) in the world. Fee is probably correct in seeing the imagery of Daniel 12:1-4 behind Paul’s comments here. The Daniel passage reads as follows:

12:1 “In that time there will arise Michael the great prince who affords protection to your people. There will occur a time of distress such as has not occurred from its beginning up to that time. But in that time your own people will escape—all those found written in the book. 12:2 Many of those who sleep in the dusty ground will awake—some to everlasting life, and others to reproach and everlasting abhorrence. 12:3 But the wise will shine like the brightness of the heavenly expanse. And those bringing many to righteousness will be like the stars forever and ever. 12:4 “But you, Daniel close up these words and seal the book until the time of the end. Many will dart to and fro, and knowledge will increase.”

Verse three is the key verse for the analogy Paul is drawing. Just as the wise in Daniel’s revelation of the future flourish during a time of distress so the Philippians will shine as stars in the world/universe. The term lights (phosteres) refers to any shining object and the term world (kosmo) indicates the context in which the Philippians’ witness will be carried out.

    c. Holding Out the Word of Life (2:16a)

The phrase by holding on (epechontes) to the word of life (logon zoes) indicates the means by which the Philippians will shine in the world. They will do so both by their behavior and also by holding out the word of life to those around them who are ignorant of God’s salvation in Christ. Some commentators, in fact many commentators, take the term epechontes to mean “holding on,” as we have it in the text of the NET Bible (check the note, however, for the alternate renderings of “holding out” or “holding forth”). This, however, in my judgment, is not the sense of the term here. It is better for several reasons to understand the verb to mean “hold out” and not “hold fast to” the word of life. There are five reasons: (1) the term probably never means “to hold on.”145 It virtually always means “to hold out or toward (Luke 14:7; Acts 3:5; 1 Tim 4:16; Acts 19:22);”146 (2) Paul is discussing their role in the world as reflecting the character of God; they are his children. They are “in the midst” of a crooked generation, and they “shine” as stars in the world/universe. Thus, the context is one which stresses their active role in the world, an idea which lends itself more easily to the notion of witnessing than trying to hold on to something; (3) in the Greek text the expression “holding [out/on to] the word of life” immediately follows the term “world” which indicates that witnessing is in view; (4) the expression “word of life” seems to be better understood in terms of the word which brings salvation to others; and (5) Daniel 12:3 underlies Phil 2:15c-16a. Recall that Philippians 2:15c reads: “in which you shine as lights in the world….” This corresponds to Daniel 12:3a where Daniel says “But the wise will shine like the brightness of the heavenly expanse.” Phil 2:16a reads: “by holding [out/on to] the word of life.” Daniel 12:3b says: “And those bringing many to righteousness will be like the stars forever and ever.” The emphasis in Daniel 12:3b is on people bringing others to righteousness which more easily fits an evangelism emphasis in Phil 2:16a.147

    d. Paul’s Boast (2:16b)

In a somewhat striking turn the apostle gives the second reason he wants them to obey. It is so that (eis) [he] will have a reason to boast on the day of Christ that [he] did not run (edramon) in vain (kenon) nor labor (ekopiasa) in vain (kenon). Drawing on athletic metaphors of running (cf. 1 Cor 9:24-27) and perhaps the OT image of the Servant of Isaiah, the apostle wants the Philippians to know that their obedience will be proof at the return of Christ that he did not labor for nothing, i.e., in futility. His boast will be their purity and blamelessness before the Lord (cf. Phil 4:1). As Thielman says:

Here and elsewhere, Paul describes his apostolic labor as a race in which he runs and which, if stumbling blocks do not intrude, will result in a prize (1 Cor 9:24-27; 2 Tim 4:6-8; cf. Gal 2:2). These stumbling blocks may include Paul’s own faithlessness to his call (1 Cor 9:24-27), hindrances placed before him by other Christians (Gal 2:2), or, as here, the faithlessness of the churches whom God had placed in his care.

Paul enriches this metaphor with one drawn from Isaiah. In Isaiah 49:4 the Servant of the Lord expresses dismay that he appears to “have labored to no purpose,” to “have spent [his] strength in vain for nothing”; but he also expresses his confidence that his reward is in the Lord’s hands. Later the prophet promises that in the final day, when God creates new heavens and a new earth, his people “will not toil in vain (Isa. 65:23).148

B. The Example of Paul (2:17-18)

      1. His Life as a Drink-Offering (2:17a)

Paul now moves on from the image of the athlete and Servant of the Lord to more intense images—images which may allude to his death. He says that he is being poured out (spendomai) like a drink-offering on the sacrifice (thusia) and service (leitourgia) coming from their faith (pisteos). It is more likely that the apostle is drawing from the OT sacrificial system here, though some scholars argue that he simply has in mind the drink offering often performed in pagan religions. Most scholars take Paul’s words as ultimately a reference to his death, and that is certainly possible (cf. 2 Tim 4:6). It may also be that what Paul has in mind here is simply the sacrificial nature of his ministry arising as a result of the faith of the Philippians. The fact that he is suffering as a result of their faith (i.e., the mission to the Gentiles) is further evidence that he is not running his race in vain.

      2. His Desire That They Rejoice (2:17b-18)

Paul says that even if he was being poured out as a sacrifice as a result of their faith, he has joy (chairo) and rejoice[s] (sugchairo) together with [them]. And in the same way, [they] also should be glad (chairete) and rejoice together with [him] (sugchairete). Thus we return to the example of Paul himself who no matter what the circumstances experiences joy and calls others to rejoice with him.

V. Principles for Application

    1. Christians should obey the Lord whether other people are watching or not. Paul told the Philippians that he wanted them to obey whether he was present or absent (2:12). We obey an omnipresent and omniscient God (Jer 32:17) and it is not conditioned on whether the appropriate Christians are present, e.g., the pastor or other Christian leaders.

    2. We must be careful to hold verses 12 and 13 in the proper tension. It is misinformed to think that obedience totally relies on me; “I was saved by grace, but now I have to work to grow.” That fails to understand verse 13. On the other hand, it is bad theological reasoning to conclude that I must wait for God to do something before I can act. This is to neglect the command in verse 12. Do everything in the strength the Lord provides through his Spirit in you, the encouragement of his Word, people, and prayer.

    3. If grumbling or complaining is a habitual sin in your life, then take steps now to move away from the mindset in which it fosters. Learn to replace it with thanksgiving to God and the encouragement of others (Col 3:16). Tell a friend whom you trust and with whom you can pray. Continually ask God for strength to obey and forgiveness when you fail. He is faithful (Isa 41:10).

    4. As Christians we are the light of the world, irrespective of what wattage we might be (Matt 5:16). Plan to do at least one thing this week with a person who does not know Christ. Ask God for an opportunity to serve them and share Christ with them. “Hold out” the word of life so that God can enlighten them!

    5. Remember, as you just learned from the apostle Paul, Godly character and ministry to others, both the saved and the unsaved, is costly and involves sacrifice. Don’t give up. Remember the words of Jesus who defined his life as that of a servant: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

133 Kittel, TDNT, 1:224.

134 The negative particle not (mh) goes better with the command “continue working out.”

135 Cf. Hawthorne, Philippians, 99.

136 Cf. Martin, Philippians, 114.

137 Cf. Silva, Philippians, 141.

138 Martin, Philippians, 115-16; Hawthorne, Philippians, 98.

139 Silva, Philippians, 138; 135-42.

140 Francis Foulkes, Ephesians, The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, vol. 10, ed. R. V. G. Tasker (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 110.

141 The verb occurs eight times: Matt 20:11; Luke 5:30; John 6:41, 43, 61; 7:32; 1 Cor 10:10 [2x].

142 Cf. BAGD, 45, s.v. amemptos.

143 O’Brien, Philippians, 293. Cf. Kittel, TDNT, 1:209-10. Kittel suggests that the connection with the verb keraizw (“to harm” or “ravage”) indicates that akeraios means unharmed or unravaged, e.g., a city’s walls before a siege. In a figurative sense, then, the term means “that which is still in its original state of intact-ness, totality or moral innocence.” It means innocence and harmlessness as opposed to deceit and cunning.

144 See BAGD, s.v. skolios, #2.

145 Hendriksen, Philippians, 126, in f.n., 107.

146 BAGD, s.v. epecw, #2.

147 See Fee, Philippians, 247-48; cf. Martin, Philippians, 120-21.

148 Frank Thielman, Philippians, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 140-41.

Related Topics: Fellowship, Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Sanctification, Leadership