Volume 33 - Issue 2
“Work Out Your Salvation”: Conduct “Worthy of the Gospel” in a Communal Context
Commentators have customarily interpreted Phil 2:12 as a reference to “working out” one’s personal salvation.70 For this reason, the verse became a flashpoint between Roman Catholic advocates who emphasized the “working out” of personal salvation and Protestant apologists who emphasized the “working out” of personal salvation (i.e., “progressive sanctification”).71 On a lexical level, the Greek verb of this phrase (κατεργαζεσθαι) can mean “to accomplish,” “to bring about,” “to subdue,” “to cultivate,” “to prepare,” “to produce,” or “to complete” (see Rom 1:27; 2:9; 4:15; 5:3; 7:8–20; 2 Cor 4:17; 5:5; 7:10; Eph 6:13; Jas 1:3; 1 Pet 4:3).72 “This does not mean that [the Philippians] are to earn their salvation,” explains Jerry Sumney. “Rather, the sense is similar to that expressed in 1:27, where they are exhorted to ‘live worthy of the gospel.'”73 Sumney then turns in a fresh interpretive direction:
It is significant that the verb and the reflexive pronoun that modify σωτηρια are plural. This shows that the call to live out their salvation is a call to the Philippians as a community and anticipates that the matters to be raised in the following verses involve relations within the community.74
Sumney’s additional material with its stress upon the “community” does not address the traditional Catholic-Protestant debate, but rather touches upon interpretive questions raised during the last century.
In 1924, J. H. Michael published an influential article that argued that the σωτηρια of Phil 2:12 does not refer to personal salvation in any sense but to the corporate “health” or “well-being” of the believing community.75
An effective divine energy is at work in the community and if the Philippians only avail themselves of its presence, cooperate with it, and permit it to express itself in their working, the inevitable result will be not only the willing, but also the achieving, by them of the salvation of the community.76
Michael’s “communal” approach was adopted by Loh and Nida, Martin, Bonnard, Collange, Gnilka, Hawthorne, and Bruce. For example, Ralph Martin maintained, “There cannot be an individualistic sense attached to salvation here since Paul has the entire Church in view.”77 In a later work, Martin reiterated that the “salvation” of Phil 2:12 should not be interpreted in “personal terms,” but “in regard to the corporate life of the Philippian church.”78 Paul urged his readers to “work at” matters “until the spiritual health of the community, diseased by strife and bad feeling, is restored.”79
According to I-Jin Loh and Eugene Nida, “It is not an exhortation to the Philippian Christians to accomplish the personal salvation of the individual members. Paul is rather concerned about the well-being of their common life together in community (cf. 1.28; 2.4).”80 Gerald Hawthorne concurs, “Paul is not here concerned with the eternal welfare of the soul of the individual. . . . Rather the context suggests that this command is to be understood in a corporate sense.”81 “The entire church, which had grown spiritually ill (2:3–4), is charged now with taking whatever steps are necessary to restore itself to health, integrity, and wholeness.”82 F. F. Bruce agrees, “In this context Paul is not urging each member of the church to keep working at his or her personal salvation; he is thinking of the health and well-being of the church as a whole.”83
These scholars have assembled an array of evidences for their interpretive position. First, such a call to corporate health is exactly what the Philippian situation required, since apparently the church lacked full unity (Phil 2:2–4; 2:14; 4:2–3).84
Second, the wider context of Phil 1:27–2:18 emphasizes the communal nature of the directive. Conduct “worthy of the gospel” includes standing firm together in one spirit, striving for the faith of the gospel with one mind (1:27). Such conduct entails mutual love and concord, humility, and unselfishness (2:2–4). Rivalry, conceit, and self-interest are to be avoided, as well as grumbling and complaining (2:3–4, 14).
Third, Phil 2:12–13 consistently uses the plural.85 Paul addresses the αγαπητοι (“beloved,” plural). He entreats them that as “you [plural] have always obeyed” in the past, so now “you [plural] work out your [reflexive plural] salvation.”86 Paul reminds them that God is the one working “in/among you [plural].”87 “Once again,” claim Hawthorne and Martin, “there is the strong indication that the exhortation is not to individual but to corporate action, to cooperative effort in the common life together as community.”88
Fourth, a concern for individual salvation would not be proper after the explicit command not to think of one’s own personal interests but rather those of others (Phil 2:4; cf. 2:19–21).89 “Hence,” explains Hawthorne, “it is highly unlikely that he here now reverses himself by commanding them to focus on their own individual salvation.”90
Fifth, the suggestion that humans complete their own “theological” salvation contradicts Paul’s understanding of such salvation as the divine work of God.91
Sixth, “with fear and trembling” speaks of human-ward attitudes, as in other Pauline texts (including 1 Cor 2:3; 2 Cor 7:15; and Eph 6:5). Martin therefore renders the import of Phil 2:12 as “Let the Philippians have a healthy respect for one another in the resolving of their differences.”92
Seventh, εν υμιν in Phil 2:13 should be translated as “among you” (corporately) rather than “within you” (individually). Thus, according to Hawthorne and Martin, “there is ‘among them,’ rather than ‘within them,’ an energizing force that is no less than God himself.”93
Eighth, σωτηρια and σωζειν (“salvation” and “to save”) are commonly used in the LXX and the Greek papyri to convey the ideas of health, wholeness, or well-being.94 These words are also used in “non-theological” ways in some New Testament texts: Mark 3:4 (preserving physical life); Acts 4:9 and 14:9 (physical healing); and Acts 27:34 (physical strengthening). These scholars contend that an application to corporate “well-being” is the most appropriate reading in the wider context (cf. Phil 1:19; cf. 1:28).
Other scholars, especially Moisés Silva and Peter O’Brien, have criticized this corporate interpretation of Phil 2:12. Silva has dubbed the corporate view “the new view” and the “sociological” interpretation, and he has contrasted it with his own “strictly theological” one.95 O’Brien employs this same dichotomized labeling: “Numbers of writers since the late nineteenth century . . . have contended that σωτηρια is being used in a sociological rather than a strictly theological sense to describe the spiritual health and well-being of the entire community at Philippi.”96 O’Brien insists that the arguments assembled for the “sociological” or “corporate” interpretation “do not dislodge the view that v. 12 speaks of personal salvation.”97 Silva concurs that the reasons for the “new view” “utterly fail” to convince.98
In fact, Silva fears that the “sociological view” easily lends itself “to a remarkably weakened reading of a remarkably potent text.”99 He situates the text’s “potency” in its description of the human and divine activity in the total work of personal salvation, including personal sanctification.100 He fears that the “sociological” emphasis upon the community’s well-being to the exclusion of the personal element may be an attempt to deny or resolve the human activity—divine grace tension.101 “The text itself, by its very juxtaposition of those two emphases, cries out loudly against any such attempts at resolution,” explains Silva. “And the point here is not merely that both the human and the divine are stressed, but that in one and the same passage we have what is perhaps the strongest biblical expression of each element.”102
O’Brien and Silva have assembled their own litany of arguments, which are arranged here to parallel the eight contrary arguments assembled above:
First, Gospel-worthy conduct “clearly involves them in responsibilities to one another,” yet “their responsibilities to one another or to the outside world (e.g., Phil 2:15–16) are not to be confused with the context of the eschatological salvation itself.”103
Second, the context in Phil 1:27–2:18 certainly accentuates community-oriented injunctions, “But the contextual argument per se does not inform us of the content of ‘complete your salvation.'”104 Rather, “an eschatological motivation has been set before them that will result in their heeding the apostolic injunction, that is, of pursuing unity through humility and doing everything without grumbling or arguing.”105
Third, the plurals in Phil 2:12–13 do not signify communal life, but indicate that “all the believers at Philippi are to heed this apostolic admonition.”106 O’Brien concludes, “αυτν σωτηριαν κατεργα ζεσθε is an exhortation to common action, urging the Philippians to show forth the graces of Christ in their lives, to make their eternal salvation fruitful in the here and now as they fulfill their responsibilities to one another as well as to non-Christians.”107
Fourth, carrying out one’s personal salvation does not conflict with the condemnation of minding one’s own interests (2:4), since “concern for one’s soul” is not a form of selfishness or self-absorption.108
Fifth, although Phil 2:12 describes humans “carrying out” their own salvation, the balanced tension that follows in 2:13 reiterates that salvation is the sovereign and gracious act of God.109
Sixth, “with fear and trembling” is directed God-ward, and “denotes an awe and reverence in the presence of the God who acts mightily.”110
Seventh, Silva argues (based upon 2 Cor 4:12) that εν υμιν with the verb ενεργεομαι should be translated as “in you” rather than “among you” in Phil 2:13 (cf. 1 Cor 12:6; Rom 7:5; Col. 1:29).111 O’Brien adds that “God’s inward working in the believer is a recurrent theme in Paul’s letters.”112
Eighth, O’Brien responds that Paul normally uses σωτηρια of personal, eschatological salvation (including, he argues, in Phil 1:19 and 1:28).113 Silva also highlights the characteristic Pauline usage of σωτηρια: “out of nearly twenty occurrences of this noun in the Pauline corpus, not one instance requires the translation ‘well-being’; the vast majority require—and all of them admit—the theological sense.”114
Some of the leading advocates of the competing positions have, at times, taken a step back and have acknowledged that a false dilemma may be created in the minds of some. For example, although Silva contrasts a “sociological” reading and a “strictly theological” one, he ultimately concedes that a complete distinction between “the well-being of the community” and “the question of individual salvation” is simply impossible.115 He adds, “. . . one must again underscore that the personal salvation in view manifests itself primarily in healthy community relationships.”116
A few scholars have attempted to mediate between the so-called “sociological” interpretation and the so-called “theological” interpretation. Markus Bockmuehl maintains that “it is best not to reduce the term salvation too readily either to the individual and spiritual or to the corporate and social realm.”117 Although “the individual concern is safeguarded,” “the corporate dimension is clear.”118 “Three facets must be affirmed together,” insists Bockmuehl. First, the New Testament notion of salvation “encompasses deliverance from all forms of evil.” Second, salvation “directly addresses both individuals and the body of Christ which together they constitute and to which they belong.” Third, God’s work of salvation includes present and future aspects.119
Gordon Fee asserts, “There has been considerable, and probably unnecessary, debate over whether salvation in this passage refers to the individual believer or the community of believers.”120 “But that is a false dichotomy,” he retorts.121 Fee asserts that O’Brien and Silva “are basically (correctly so) critiquing a view that waters down the term salvation somewhat to be more sociological.”122 “Unfortunately,” continues Fee, “their rebuttals tend to place more emphasis on the individual than the context [in Philippians] seems to warrant.”123 Fee insists that this is an “ethical” text that concerns “working or carrying out in their corporate life the salvation that God has graciously given them.”124 He concludes that the passage is “a call to individually work out our common salvation in our life together.”125
Ben Witherington argues for an “eschatological reality” behind Phil 2:12, but one that may also include “a social dimension or implication.”126
In short, the appeal to unity is based on what God has already done and is doing in them and in their midst to bring about their salvation. Working out salvation means, among other things, continuous strenuous effort working harmoniously together as the body of Christ.127
Carolyn Osiek similarly contends that “salvation” “is certainly not to be understood only in the eschatological sense,” “yet that dimension must be included.”128 “Paul is speaking of their total well-being, including their spiritual prosperity now and in the future.”129 “It is not so much individual salvation as communal eschatological success that is envisioned. This is not to deny the individual aspects of the concept, but neither Paul nor his contemporaries thought primarily in individual terms. The collective good is the principal referent.”130
It seems that the strong points of the so-called “sociological” view are the recurring plural verbs and pronouns, but especially the wider communal situation and corporate context of Phil 1:27–2:18. On the other hand, the strengths of the so-called “theological” view are its insistence that seeking personal salvation is not inherently “selfish,” the divine orientation of “fear and trembling” within the argument of Phil 2:12–13, and especially the customary “theological” sense of σωτηρια/σωζειν within Pauline thought.131 Might it be possible to combine some of the insights of the two views and form a coherent understanding of Phil 2:12 within its wider context? Can the σωτηρια/σωζειν word group be used in ways that are both theological and community-oriented?
Although Michael, Hawthorne, and Martin cite uses of σωτηρια and σωζειν as references to well-being and physical health in the New Testament, the LXX, and in the Greek papyri, they do not cite pertinent uses of the word group in the Apostolic Fathers.132 Perhaps these overlooked materials reveal a weakness in a purely “sociological” view: a “health or wholeness” of the community disengaged from a “theological” understanding of “salvation.”133 At times, the Apostolic Fathers use σωζειν and its cognates in manners that are clearly mutual/reciprocal or corporate/communal, yet still manifestly “theological” as well (rather than mere references to physical health or “sociological” well-being).
A mutual/reciprocal use of σωζειν within the community of believers is fairly common in the Apostolic Fathers.134 This emphasis of the Apostolic Fathers upon the mutual/reciprocal “saving” of others and the community-orientation of σωτηρια may seem rather foreign to Paul (or the New Testament in general) at first glance. But a quick perusal of Rom 11:13–14; 1 Cor 7:16; 9:22; 1 Tim 4:16; Jas 5:19–20; and Jude 22–23 readily reveals that Paul and other New Testament writers could speak of a mutual/reciprocal “saving” of others. Admittedly there are definite (and even significant) theological differences between Paul’s epistles and various Apostolic Fathers.135 But this (later) linguistic evidence at least confirms that the σωτηρια/σωζειν word group could be used in ways that were both theological and other-oriented, at least in a mutual/reciprocal sense.
Two further examples in the Apostolic Fathers may cast additional light upon the interpretation of Phil 2:12. Both of these passages stress a “corporate” application of σωζειν, rather than merely a reciprocal/mutual use. First, Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians (in a passage available only in a Latin translation of the original Greek) instructs the church to tend to a fallen elder and his wife: “As sick and straying members, restore them, in order that you may save your body in its entirety (ut omnium vestrum corpus salvetis). For by doing this you build up one another” (Pol. Phil 11.4).136 A quick survey of modern English translations reveals a diversity of renditions, including “heal,” “make whole,” “preserve,” and “save.”137 In any case, it should be noted that the idea of “saving” the body is explicitly tied to the concept of “building one another up” in Pol. Phil 11.4. Moreover, throughout Polycarp’s short epistle, this notion of “building up” carries the idea of “spiritual edification” in faith and truth (Pol. Phil 3.2; 12.2; 13.3). Thus “saving” the body in Pol. Phil 11.4 must include both a corporate reference and a theological connotation.
Second, 1 Clement 36.1 declares, “This is the way, dear friends, in which we found our salvation (σωτηρια), namely Jesus Christ, the High Priest of our offerings, the Guardian and Helper of our weakness.” The next paragraph goes on to exhort,
Even the smallest parts of our body are necessary and useful to the whole body, yet all the members work together and unite in mutual subjection, that the whole body may be saved (ει ς το σω ζεσθαι ο λον το σω μα). So in our case let the whole body be saved (σω ζε σθω ου ν η μω ν ο λον το σωμα) in Christ Jesus” (1 Clem. 37.4–38.1).138
Ehrman’s recent English edition of 1 Clement manifests the ambiguity of the verb σωζειν. In both occurrences, he provides alternative readings within the text itself: “But all parts work together in subjection to a single order, to keep the whole body healthy [Or: safe]. And so, let our whole body be healthy [Or: be saved] in Christ Jesus.”139 Other English translations waver between “saved” and “preserved.”140
1 Clement 38.1–4 continues with this admonition:
And let each man be subject to his neighbor, to the degree determined by his spiritual gift. The strong must not neglect the weak, and the weak must respect the strong.141 Let the rich support the poor; and let the poor give thanks to God, because He has given him someone through whom his needs may be met. Let the wise display his wisdom not in words but in good works. The humble person should not testify to his own humility, but leave it to someone else to testify about him. Let the one who is physically pure remain so and not boast, recognizing that it is someone else who grants this self-control. Seeing, therefore, that we have all these things from him, we ought in every respect to give thanks unto him, to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Thus the Corinthian recipients of 1 Clement would “save” the corporate body (37.4–38.1), even as the individual members served one another (38.2). All the while they were to credit their strengths and “spiritual gifts” to God alone (38.3–4). Therefore, a theological foundation undergirded this corporately shared σωτηρια. God was at work among them, even as they worked out their corporate σωτηρια, a “salvation” that was ultimately centered in their mutual Savior, Jesus Christ (36.1).
We have attempted to establish that the σωτηρια/σωζειν word group can be used in ways that are both “theological” and community-oriented. We will later bring this evidence into the context of Phil 1:27–2:18 and nuance the insight by arguing that Paul focuses beyond the corporate “salvation” of the body (as in Pol. Phil or 1 Clem.) by emphasizing the Gospel-centered salvation they shared together in Christ, both individually and communally. For Paul, “working out salvation” refers to conduct “worthy of the Gospel of Christ” in a communal context (1:27–28). But first, we must address other simplistic dichotomies that have obscured the interpretation of Phil 2:12, including the nature of “fear and trembling.”142 Most interpreters choose sides between a God-ward fear combined with a “theological”/individual σωτηρια or a human-ward fear combined with a “sociological”/corporate σωτηρια.143
Michael and Hawthorne argue that “fear and trembling” are human-ward attitudes in this specific context, since “working out” one’s salvation was tied to corporate health. Hawthorne maintains that “Paul is the only NT writer to use this phrase [“with fear and trembling”] and never does he use it to describe the attitude people are to have toward God—only the attitude they are to have toward each other or toward their leaders (1 Cor 2:3; 2 Cor 7:15; Eph 6:5).”144 Thus “with fear and trembling” in Phil 2:12 refers to the “healthy respect” the Philippians were to manifest toward one another in the resolution of their differences.145
Silva and O’Brien, however, insist that the phrase “with fear and trembling” is a God-ward attitude, and they question the evidence for Pauline uses of the phrase in a human-ward fashion.146 Paul described his preaching in Corinth as occurring “in weakness and in fear and in much trembling” (1 Cor 2:3–4), but “not because he felt nervous before an audience or embarrassed by a lack of oratorical skill.”147 Rather, “he was profoundly conscious of the divine Spirit within him and around him, which gave his preaching its power to awaken faith.”148 Bockmuehl also maintains that “an ultimate reference to God or Christ is likely” in Phil 2:12, since the phrase “fear and trembling” is usually reserved for a “due reverence” manifested “in the presence of God and his mighty acts.”149 The primary force of a God-ward view is its recognition of the logical flow between Phil 2:12 and the explicit reference to God which follows in Phil 2:13: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you.”150 F. W. Beare, therefore, contends that “with fear and trembling” speaks of “the awe inspired by a true sense of the divine presence.”151
Nevertheless, the construction of only two contrasting options (corporate σωτηρια with human-ward fear or individual σωτηρια with God-ward fear) is simply a false dilemma. God-ward fear and trembling are perfectly compatible with a communal emphasis in Phil 2:12. By O’Brien’s own acknowledgement, “the readers are to fulfill the injunction to work out their own salvation with the utmost seriousness, precisely because God is mightily at work in their midst.”152 Witherington combines a God-ward orientation with a communal outlook by noting that “God will hold them accountable for their behavior and social relationships.”153 Witherington does not provide any parallel examples, but 1 Cor 3:17 seems to be illustrative. 1 Corinthians 3 examines ministry in the context of the corporate assembly, which it describes as “God’s temple” (3:16). Paul then warns: “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you [plural] are that temple (1 Cor 3:17).”154 Marion Soards comments, “This verse is often contorted and applied merely to matters of personal piety, but the concern is much larger than with the fate of an individual or some individuals. This ‘warning’ has implications for the life of the individual believer, but never outside the context of the community of faith.”155
One can certainly manifest a proper awe and due reverence for the living, holy God because of his righteous oversight of the community as well as the individual. From this standpoint, Paul beseeches the Philippians: “Complete your [shared, common] salvation ‘with fear and trembling’ [of the God who watches over his community], precisely because it is God who is at work among you [plural], both to will and to work for [his] good pleasure.”156 In this manner, a logical coherence between verses 12 and 13 is readily demonstrable.
The verses that follow may reinforce this community-oriented interpretation.157 “Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Phil 2:14–15). Unlike the Israelite community in the wilderness wanderings, the Philippians were not to murmur and dispute among themselves (cf. Exod 15–17; Num 14–17; 1 Cor 10:1–13).158 If they refrained from such grumblings and quarrels, they would become (γενεσθε) “blameless,” “flawless,” and “faultless” children of God.159
Paul adds that the Philippians were to “shine” as pure lights in the world, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation (Phil 2:15). This verse echoes the rebuke of Israel in Deut 32:3–5:
For I will proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he. They have dealt corruptly with him; they are no longer his children because they are blemished; they are a crooked and twisted generation.160
Deuteronomy continues with descriptions of Yahweh’s judgment: “The Lord saw it and spurned them” (Deut 32:19). The Holy One promised to “heap disasters” upon Israel (Deut 32:23). “So I will make them jealous with those who are no people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation” (Deut 32:21). As the people of God, therefore, the Philippians were to approach their communal relations, including the tendency to grumble and quarrel, “with fear and trembling” before the Lord who heaps disasters” upon his disobedient children.
Furthermore, a complete severance between God’s working “in” and “among” the Philippians may be another cul-de-sac on the dead-end street of over-simplification.161 “If God operates τοθε λειν ‘within the community,'” queries T. J. Deidun, “how else could he possibly do so than by intervening in the hearts of individuals?”162 Silva inquires how “God works in the midst of people if not through personal transformation. To state that the passage refers not to individual sanctification but to the church’s well-being already assumes a conceptual dichotomy that is both false and lethal.”163 One might add, in turn, that if God works within individual “hearts,” such work will inevitably manifest itself in the communal life
of the εκκλησια as well.
Finally, associating the “eschatological” quality of σωτηρια with individual salvation alone does not fully capture Pauline theology either (Rom 5:9). “The salvation of which he speaks is here, as always, the eschatological fulfillment of the hope of the gospel, the winning through to the goal, the attainment of final blessedness,” insists F. W. Beare.164 But then Beare adds, “Paul is not speaking here of individual salvation; as throughout the epistle, he is concerned with the Philippian church in its corporate life and its corporate activity.”165 According to Phil 1:27–28, “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” becomes a sign of “your [plural]” salvation, “and that from God.” 166 This contending together for the Gospel would also be a sign of their opponents’ ultimate “destruction,” thus highlighting an eschatological perspective (Phil 1:28; cf. 3:18–19). In the mean time, the Philippian believers were to anticipate the eschatological coming of their mutual Savior, who would transform their humble bodies and conform them into his glorious body (Phil 3:20–21).
Gordon Fee remarks that Phil 2:12 “has long been a difficult passage,” especially to those who “tend to individualize Paul’s corporate imperatives.”167 Our examination of this “difficult passage” has revealed that “salvation” can be both “theological” and at the same time community-oriented. And the Apostolic Fathers can be called to the dock as the first witnesses. Moreover, a strict divorce between the “working out” of personal salvation in individual sanctification and the “corporate health” of the believing community tears asunder what Paul has wed together.
According to Richard Melick, “the individuals of the group were to live consistently with their salvation. If they did so, the group problems would be solved.”168 But the apostle probably did not see the individual-communal connection as blandly as Melick implies. The community can be a sanctifying means of God’s transformation of the individual; the individual is to be concerned for the “completion” of his or her own salvation but also that of others in the community; the individual personally is to become more Christ-like, and so is the body corporately as a whole. Salvation is necessarily and vitally personal yet simultaneously shared in common with the body of fellow-believers. As G. B. Caird quipped, “Salvation in the New Testament is always an intensely personal, but never an individual, matter.”169
This reading makes sense of the wider discussion of Philippians 1:27–2:18. Paul deftly weaves this paragraph together, so that a thematic thread links conduct “worthy of the Gospel” (1:27), standing firm in unity for the faith of the Gospel (1:27), the humble consideration of others in unifying love (2:1–4), the humble obedience of Jesus (2:5–11), the required Philippian obedience in Paul’s absence (2:12), and the “working out” of their common salvation (2:12).
“Completing” or “carrying out” salvation includes communal conduct built upon the common foundation of salvific blessings in Christ (Phil 2:1–2). Using a series of first class conditionals, which assume the protasis for the sake of argument, Paul refers to the Philippians’ “encouragement in Christ,” “comfort from love,” “participation in the Spirit,” and “affection and sympathy” (Phil 2:1).170 The Philippians were to move from this foundation of shared salvific blessings to the goal of “being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Phil 2:1–2). By doing so, they would “make full” (πληρωσατε) Paul’s joy (Phil 2:2).
This community orientation continues into the subsequent verses: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil 2:3–4). Paul then introduces Jesus himself as a paradeigma of humble, self-giving love (2:5–11). The “kenosis” passage reminded the Philippians that the kerygmatic truths of the Gospel not only motivate a grateful response but also actively shape the believer’s other-oriented, cruciform life. Therefore, “the behavior which is required of those who are in Christ and who wish to be like him conforms to the attitude which he showed in becoming like us.”171
Moreover, the apostle commences the entire discussion of Phil 1:27–2:18 by thematically urging, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27a).172 The material immediately following this paraenetic injunction establishes the communal context of such Gospel-worthy conduct: “so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents” (1:27b–28). The following verse describes a two-fold effect: “This is a clear sign to them [their opponents] of their destruction, but of your [plural] salvation, and that from God” (1:28). If the Philippian believers stood firm together as a community, their unity would become a public testimony of the eschatological salvation that they would share in common (1:28; cf. 2:14–15). At the same time, the living and holy God who watched over their affairs was the same God who would bring eschatological destruction upon their adversaries (1:28).
In the material following the exhortation to “work out your salvation,” Paul exhorts the Philippians to do all things without complaining or arguing (2:14).173 As a result, they would be “blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (2:15).174 This text seems to echo Paul’s introductory prayer that the Philippians would be “pure and blameless for the day of Christ” (1:10). Paul accordingly urged them to hold fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ he might boast that he had neither run in vain nor labored in vain (2:16).175 The apostle desired that the Philippian community would shine as a bright testimony through their irreproachable conduct, which would be made fully manifest in the eschaton, when he would stand before the tribunal of Christ to give an account of his Gospel stewardship (2:15–16).176 Paul thus aspired to receive a positive verdict upon his apostolic ministry (cf. Isa 49:4 LXX).177 Even if great sacrifice were required,178 Paul rejoiced, and he urged the Philippians to share in his joy (Phil 2:17–18; cf. 2:2).179
Through it all, God’s gracious initiative was at work in and among the Philippians, both in their believing and suffering (1:29) and in their willing and acting (2:13). Therefore, the sovereign God who was ever at work was to be contemplated in reverent fear and holy trembling (2:12). The result would be the “working out” of the salvation they shared together in Christ, through a manner of life “worthy of the Gospel” in a communal context (1:27–8; 2:12–13).180
- “Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”
- Cf. the translation “work for” in the jb and njb (Roman Catholic translations). By contrast, J. Warren (an evangelical) highlighted a passage in Strabo that describes the Roman imperial exchequer’s “working out” the Spanish silver mines, in the sense of operating, not acquiring (J. Warren, “Work Out Your Salvation,” EvQ 16 , 125). Warren further argued that the “out” prefix (ÎºÎ±Ï„Î±Ì) does not refer to “exteriority” but to “thoroughness,” as in wearing “out” a coat, tiring “out” a horse, or burning “out” a candle (ibid., 128).
- BDAG; EDNT; MM; PGL; TDNT. See especially the six-fold, consistent use in Rom 7:820.
- Jerry L. Sumney, Philippians: A Greek Student’s Intermediate Reader (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2007), 53. See also Bonnie B. Thurston and Judith M. Ryan, Philippians and Philemon (SP; Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2005), 94.
- Sumney, Philippians, 53.
- J. H. Michael, “Work out Your own Salvation,” Expositor 12 (1924): 43950. Michael acknowledges that he was not the first to argue against an individualistic interpretation of Phil 2:12 (ibid., 440). For example, the year before Michael’s article was published, J. H. Burn (himself borrowing from others) argued that the interpretation of Phil 2:12 as an exhortation to “promote earnestly the welfare of each other” deserved “more attention” (J. H. Burn, “Philippians ii.12,” ExpTim 34 , 562).
- Michael, “Work out Your own Salvation,” 23.
- Ralph P. Martin, Philippians (NCB; London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1976; repr., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), 102.
- See idem, The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians (TNTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 115.
- I-Jin Loh and Eugene A. Nida, A Translator’s Handbook of Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians (New York: United Bible Societies, 1977), 67.
- Gerald F. Hawthorne, Philippians (WBC; Waco: Word, 1983), 98 (italics original).
- Gerald F. Hawthorne, Philippians (rev. and expanded by Ralph P. Martin; WBC; Waco: Word, 2004), 139.
- F. F. Bruce, Philippians (NIBCNT; Peabody: Hendrickson, 1989), 81.
- “The state of the Philippian church needed just this call” (Martin, Philippians, 103).
- Sumney, Philippians, 53.
- Bruce describes “the reflexive pronoun of the third person being extended to do duty for the second person” (Philippians, 83).
- See the ἐν ὑμῖν below.
- Hawthorne and Martin, Philippians, 140. Michael even claims that it would be “singularly inappropriate” for a passage emphasizing one’s personal salvation to come immediately after 2:511 (Michael, “Work Out Your Own Salvation,” 444; cf. Martin, Philippians, 103).
- See also G. B. Caird, Paul’s Letters from Prison (New Clarendon Bible; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976), 125.
- Hawthorne, Philippians, 98.
- Loh and Nida, Translator’s Handbook, 67.
- Martin, Philippians, 103.
- Hawthorne and Martin, Philippians, 142. Hawthorne’s original edition had “among them and within them” (Hawthorne, Philippians, 100).
- Hawthorne and Martin, Philippians, 140. Cf. MM, 622; NewDocs 1 (1981), 10, 14, 56, 57. “Salvation” in the New Testament most commonly refers to God’s rescuing sinners from the penalty, power, and ultimately presence of sin. The term and its cognates, however, can be used of physical healing and physical deliverance from trouble. See Loh and Nida, A Translator’s Handbook, 42.
- MoisÃ©s Silva, Philippians (2d ed.; Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 11819 (italics added). According to Martin’s revision of Hawthorne, Silva “omits a third option, i.e., the ‘ecclesiological’ reference, which is to be preferred, given the context of the passage” (Hawthorne and Martin, Philippians, 140). Martin, however, does not produce a sustained explanation or argument for this “ecclesiological” view.
- Peter T. O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 277 (italics added).
- Ibid., 278.
- Silva, Philippians, 120.
- Silva quotes Calvin’s interpretation “that salvation is taken to mean the entire course of our calling, and that this term includes all things by which God accomplishes that perfection, to which He has determined us by His free election” (ibid., 121). “Gott wirkt nicht nur den Anfang, sondern auch den Fortgang im Christenleben” (Wolfgang Schrage, Die konkreten Einzelgebote in der paulinischen ParÃ¤nese: Ein Beitrag zur neutestamentlichen Ethik [Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus Mohn, 1967], 72).
- Silva, Philippians, 121; cf. also 121n4. Silva declares, “The conceptual tension between verse 12 and verse 13 seems unbearableapparently, an extreme formulation of the paradox of divine sovereignty and human responsibility” (ibid., 118). Craddock highlights the divine grace/human activity parallel of 1 Cor 15:10: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (Fred B. Craddock, Philippians [IBC; Atlanta: John Knox, 1985], 46; cf. Frank Stagg, “The Mind in Christ Jesus: Philippians 1:272:18,” RevExp 77 , 346). Eph 1:19 and 3:7 also accentuate God’s power at work (ἐνεργεῖν) in the believer by grace.
- Silva, Philippians, 122.
- O’Brien, Epistle to the Philippians, 280.
- Ibid., 279.
- Ibid., 280.
- Silva, Philippians, 120; cf. Gal 6:16. As pointed out to me by David R. Bickel, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession asserts that the free reception of the forgiveness of sins is actually a form of worship.
- See Silva’s relevant comments above.
- O’Brien, Epistle to the Philippians, 280.
- Silva, Philippians, 119.
- O’Brien, Epistle to the Philippians, 287 (cf. 1 Cor 12:6; 15:10; 2 Cor 3:5; Col 1:29; 1 Thess 2:13).
- Ibid., 27879.
- Silva, Philippians, 11920. Although Silva concedes that a “nontheological” sense of “deliverance” is possible in Phil 1:19, even there an insipid “well-being” is not possible (ibid., 120). Cf. O’Brien, Epistle to the Philippians, 27879.
- Ibid., 11819; cf. 119n2.
- Ibid., 120. “The translation ‘your own salvation’ for verse 12 is quite proper,” acknowledges Silva, “though I would not argue against such a rendering as ‘your common salvation,’ since there is no denying that Paul has the community, not isolated individuals in mind” (ibid., 119n3). Silva complains that Fee has characterized his view as “a case of ‘either/or’ (i.e. either individual or community)” (ibid., 119n2). Pedersen also concludes that since Paul does not separate the collective from the individual, the question is irrelevant (Sigfred Pedersen, “Mit Furcht und Zittern,” ST 32 , 29n74). Yet, when interpretive push comes to positional shove, Pedersen espouses the collective understanding.
- Markus Bockmuehl, The Epistle to the Philippians (BNTC; London: Black, 1998), 151.
- Gordon D. Fee, Philippians (IVP New Testament Commentary; Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1999), 1023 (italics original). See the similar sentiments in Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 23435.
- Ibid., 235.
- Fee, Philippians, 103. Cf. also Fee, Paul’s Letters to the Philippians, 235n23.
- Fee, Philippians, 103.
- Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 235. Although “people are saved one by one to be sure,” acknowledges Fee, “they are saved so as to become a ‘people for God’s name.'”
- Fee, Philippians, 104. Fee continues, “This is therefore not a text dealing with individual salvation but an ethical text dealing with the outworking of salvation in the believing community for the sake of the world. That they must comply with this injunction at the individual level is assumed, and that their final salvation will be realized personally and individually is a truth that does not need stating, because that is not at issue here. The present concern is with their being God’s people in Philippi, as 2:15 makes certain” (ibid., 104).
- Ben Witherington, Friendship and Finances in Philippi (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1994), 71.
- Carolyn Osiek, Philippians, Philemon (ANTC; Nashville: Abingdon, 2000), 70.
- “One will have a hard time defending that [sociological] understanding of this word on the basis of Pauline usage (as Hawthorne’s resorting to some papyrus uses indicates)” (Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 235n23).
- Hawthorne and Martin, Philippians, 140.
- In spite of the criticisms of opponents, it remains questionable whether any leading commentator holds a purely “sociological” view.
- See 1 Clem. 2.4; 2 Clem. 17.2; 19.1; Ign. Pol. 1.2; and Mart. Pol. 1.12 (which echoes Phil 2:4).
- Andreas Lindemann, “Paul in the Writings of the Apostolic Fathers,” in Paul and the Legacies of Paul (ed. William S. Babcock; Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1990): 2545. For example, the apostle would not have “signed off” on the theology of 2 Clement. But the point here is simply that ÏƒÏ‰Ï„Î·ÏÎ¹ÌÎ±/ÏƒÏ‰ÌÎ¶ÎµÎ¹Î½ could be used in both a “theological” sense and in a community-oriented manner.
- English translation in Michael W. Holmes, Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (rev. ed.; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 219. Pol. Phil 11 is only extant in Latin. A Greek ÏƒÏ‰ÌÎ¶ÎµÎ¹Î½ lies behind our Latin salvÄre, as an examination of the Latin translation of the same Greek verb elsewhere reveals (Pol. Phil 1.3). Berding finds “a probable reminiscence of Paul’s body metaphor” (Kenneth Berding, Polycarp and Paul [Supplement to VC; Leiden: Brill, 2002], 11415). This passage of Polycarp may also echo 1 Clem. 37 (ibid.).
- Bart D. Ehrman, The Apostolic Fathers, vol. 1 (LCL; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003), 349; Francis X. Glimm, Joseph M.-F. Marique, and Gerald G. Walsh, The Apostolic Fathers (FC; New York: Cima, 1947), 142; Kirsopp Lake, The Apostolic Fathers, vol. 1 (LCL; London: Heinemann, 1919), 297; William R. Schoedel, Polycarp, Martyrdom of Polycarp, Fragments of Papias (vol. 4 of The Apostolic Fathers: A New Translation and Commentary; ed. Robert M. Grant; London: Thomas Nelson, 1967), 34; James A. Kleist, The Didache, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Epistles and the Martyrdom of St. Polycarp, the Fragments of Papias, the Epistle to Diognetus (ACW; Westminster: Newman Press, 1948), 81; Massey Hamilton Shepherd, Jr. in Early Christian Fathers (ed. Cyril C. Richardson; LCC; Westminster Press, 1953), 136.
- English translation in Holmes, Apostolic Fathers, 71.
- Ehrman, Apostolic Fathers, vol. 1, 103 (italics and bracketed materials are original). Ehrman cross-references the passage with 1 Cor 12:21.
- Lake, Apostolic Fathers, vol. 1, 73; Richardson, Early Christian Fathers, 61; Glimm, Apostolic Fathers, 39; Robert M. Grant and Holt H. Graham, First and Second Clement (vol. 2 of The Apostolic Fathers: A New Translation and Commentary; ed. Robert M. Grant; New York: Nelson, 1965), 66.
- Cf. the use of σώζειν in the discussion of the “weak” in 1 Cor 9:1922.
- Otto Glombitza’s attempt to attach a Î¼Î·Ì alongside “with fear and trembling” (thus, “not with fear and trembling”) has not won scholarly support. See Otto Glombitza, “Mit Furcht und Zittern. Zum VerstÃ¤ndnis von Phil. 2.12,” NovT 3 (1959): 100106.
- See O’Brien, Epistle to the Philippians, 282; Hawthorne, Philippians, 99100. Cf. Jost Eckert, “‘Mit Furcht und Zittern wirkt euer Heil’ (Phil 2, 12): zur Furcht vor Gott als christlicher Grundhaltung,” in Die Freude an Gott, unsere Kraft: Festschrift für Otto Bernhard Knoch zum 65. Geburtstag (ed. Johannes Joachim Degenhardt; Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1991), 26270. The believer is not enslaved by a dread of God (Rom 8:1315), yet possesses the reverential fear of a son toward a Father (1 Pet 1:1417; cf. 2 Cor 5:11).
- Hawthorne, Philippians, 100. Martin’s revision of Hawthorne’s commentary seems open to O’Brien’s interpretation of “fear and trembling” as “a sense of awe and reverence in the presence of God” (Hawthorne and Martin, Philippians, 141; cf. O’Brien, Epistle to the Philippians, 284). The expression “fear and trembling” is used in the Old Testament to refer to “the fear of human beings in the presence of God and his mighty acts” (O’Brien, Epistle to the Philippians, 282; cf. Exod 15:16; Isa 19:16; Ps 2:11), but it is also used of the nations’ response to Israel because of her protection by God (Deut 2:25; 11:25). It can even be used of the natural response of the animals to the Noahic family (Gen 9:2), as well as David’s reaction to his unrighteous enemies (Ps 55:4).
- Martin, Philippians, 103.
- O’Brien, Epistle to the Philippians, 283. Cf. Frank Thielman: “Moreover, in the three other occurrences of the phrase ‘fear and trembling’ in Paul’s letters, it is far from clear that a reference to God is not in view” (Frank Thielman, Philippians [NIV Application Commentary; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995], 137).
- See Pedersen, “Mit Furcht und Zittern ,” 1721. Moreover, Eph 6:5 is connected with Phil 2:12 by the common subject of “obedience,” not necessarily by the object of obedience (since Eph 6:5 concerns the relationship of slaves with their masters). Cf. the association between “obedience” and “fear and trembling” in 2 Cor 7:15 as well.
- F. W. Beare, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Philippians (BNTC; London: Black, 1969), 90.
- Bockmuel, Epistle to the Philippians, 153, with attention to 2 Cor 7:15 and Eph 6:5. Fee comments, “One does not live out the gospel casually or lightly, but as one who knows what it means to stand in awe of the living God” (Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 237). For Fee, “with fear and trembling” denotes the appropriate recognition of “defenselessness” or “vulnerability” related to “existence vis-Ã -vis God” (Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 236). Fee counsels, “Thus working out the salvation that God has given them should be done with a sense of ‘holy awe and wonder’ before the God with whom theyand wehave to do” (Fee, Philippians, 105).
- See O’Brien, Epistle to the Philippians, 284. The inclusion of echoes from Deut 32 also argues for a God-ward orientation (see below).
- Beare, Commentary on the Epistle to the Philippians, 91.
- O’Brien, Epistle to the Philippians, 284 (italics added).
- Witherington, Friendship and Finances, 72. Bruce also combines a communal interpretation with a God-ward “fear and trembling” (Bruce, Philippians, 82).
- Commentators regularly highlight the use of the second person plural pronouns throughout 1 Cor 3:1617. Cf. Paul’s stern warnings against destroying one’s brother through one’s actions and thus destroying “the work of God” in Rom 14:1521. “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Rom 14:19).
- Marion Soards, 1 Corinthians (NIBCNT; Peabody: Hendrickson, 1999), 78.
- I have taken the definite article before εὐδοκία as a possessive (“his,” i.e., God’s), since “God is the subject of the sentence and the most probable reference must be to him” (Bockmuehl, Epistle to the Philippians, 154; cf. Loh and Nida, Translator’s Handbook, 6869; Bruce, Philippians, 83; Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 239). The New Testament can clearly employ εὐδοκία as a reference to God’s good pleasure and purpose (cf. Matt 11:26; Luke 10:21; Eph 1:59). εὐδοκία however, does refer to human goodwill in Rom 10:1 and Phil 1:15; cf. 2 Thess 1:11. Sumney finds the arguments for εὐδοκία as a reference to “God’s good purpose” to be “plausible but not decisive” (Sumney, Philippians, 54). He concludes, “The context tends to favor seeing it as a reference to human disposition, since it stands at the beginning of a section on community relations” (ibid.). Some scholars interpret εὐδοκία as “that ‘goodwill’ that Paul desires the Philippians to attain and that should be the hallmark of any Christian community” (Hawthorne and Martin, Philippians, 143). They interpret the ὑπέρ in this verse as introducing that which one wishes to achieve, rather than meaning “according to,” “in conformity with,” or “in harmony with.” See Jean-FranÃ§ois Collange, The Epistle of Saint Paul to the Philippians (trans. A. W. Heathcote; London: Epworth, 1979), 111. But cf. O’Brien, Epistle to the Philippians, 28899.
- Notice the parallel between Phil 2:16 and 1 Cor 3:515.
- Since the Israelites murmured against Moses specifically, Silva wonders whether the Philippians were complaining against their appointed leaders (Silva, Philippians, 124).
- Each of the three words begins with the same sound by using the α-privative (ἄμεμπτοι, ἀκέραιοι, and ἄμωμα); see Hawthorne and Martin, Philippians, 145.
- Michael discussed echoes of Deut 3132 within Phil 12 (Michael, “Work out Your Salvation,” 44850).
- F. F. Bruce maintained that ἐν ὑμῖν in Phil 2:13 implies “not only in you individually but among you collectively” (F. F. Bruce, Epistle to the Galatians [NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982], 57).
- T. J. Deidun, New Covenant Morality in Paul (Analecta Biblica; Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1981), 66.
- Silva, Philippians, 119.
- Beare, Commentary on the Epistle to the Philippians, 90.
- Ibid., 91. Cf. Hawthorne and Martin, Philippians, 140; Bockmuehl, Epistle to the Philippians, 5152.
- “Salvation” in this verse might best be taken as the eschatological deliverance (presently grasped in faith and hope), common to the community of all believers and participated in by each individual believer. Martin believes that “the salvation of the Christian community as a whole” is in view in Phil 1:28 (Martin, Epistle of Paul to the Philippians, 116).
- Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 231.
- Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon (NAC; Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1991), 111.
- As quoted in Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 235n23.
- Stagg, “Mind in Christ Jesus,” 339.
- Morna D. Hooker, “Interchange in Christ and Ethics,” JSNT 25 (1985), 10. Cf. Stagg, “Mind in Christ Jesus,” 343.
- The verb πολιτεύεσθαι speaks of behaving as a citizen and thus carries communal connotations (cf. Phil 3:20). See Pheme Perkins, “Philippians: Theology for the Heavenly Politeuma,” in Pauline Theology, vol. 1 (ed. Jouette M. Bassler; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991), 89104.
- The words in Greek are plural: “without complaints and arguments” (see Silva, Philippians, 131).
- Cf. James Montgomery Boice, Philippians: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971), 163–64. The verb φαίνεσθαι (“shine”) may be translated as either an imperative or an indicative (Hawthorne and Martin, Philippians, 145–46). The word κόσμος in “lights in the world” may refer to the “universe,” i.e., “lights in the sky” or “stars” (see Hawthorne and Martin, Philippians, 146).
- Λόγον ζωῆς ἐπέχοντες may refer to “holding fast the word of life” or “holding forth the word of life” (Hawthorne and Martin, Philippians, 146). If one adopts “holding forth,” then the participial construction could be interpreted instrumentally (“you appear as lights in the world by holding forth the word of life”). See Silva, Philippians, 126–27.
- Cf. 1 Cor 3:5–4:5. For Pauline references to his converts as his “boasting” in the day of Christ, see 2 Cor 1:14; 1 Thess 2:19; cf. Phil 4:1. For his fear that his ministry might be in vain, see Gal 2:2; 1 Thess 3:5.
- Cf. also 1 Cor 9:24–27; Gal 2:2; 4:11; Phil 3:12–13.
- Paul uses a word denoting “pouring out” a drink offering (σπένδομαι) in Phil 2:17: “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith” (see Silva, Philippians, 128; cf. Hawthorne and Martin, Philippians, 148–49; 2 Tim 4:6).
- Hawthorne and Martin note the combination of “joy/rejoice” and a συν-compound, two of the key word groups of the epistle (Hawthorne and Martin, Philippians, 149–50). See also 1 Cor 12:26.
- I wish to thank Alan Clifford, who directed the early formation of this material within my Th.M. thesis (“Ethics, Sanctification, and Assurance: Studies in Paul, Luther, Calvin, and the Puritans,” St. Andrew’s Theological College, 2007). I also wish to thank Tyndale House for kindly allowing me to be a reader while working on this and other studies in the summer of 2007.
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