Philippians 2:12-16

In the previous verses, we have seen the example of the Lord Jesus who willingly submitted himself to the will of the Father even though this led to suffering. But He did it anyway and was rewarded for his efforts.

  1. Work out your salvation (12-13).

    While working at a job, a Catholic supervisor quoted this verse to support the idea that we have to do good works to secure our salvation. But is this what it is saying? No, please notice that it says “work out” and not “work for.”

    I hope that as we look at these verses, in context, we will understand exactly what Paul was saying.

    a. Work when not being watched (12 a).

    Don’t be lazy.

    We have all experienced working for a boss. When we are in his eyesight, it is easier to work hard. But when we are out of his eyesight, it is tempting to slacken the pace. This is true for coaches as well. The runners run when he is watching but slacken the pace when they turn the corner and are out of his sight.

    “When Paul was with them, they followed his instructions willingly and quickly. He reminded them of this before he asked them to do the same at the present time, even though he was far from them” (Lightner 655).

    So, as we do the things the Lord wants us to do, we should not be lazy. We should keep working at it even when nobody is around to see.

    Don’t rely on others.

    There are some who rely to heavily on others to do the things God intends each of us to do ourselves. Apparently, “there was a tendency to lean too heavily on Paul, that is, on his physical presence with the church at Philippi” (Hendriksen 119).

    Do you think back to those who have helped or are helping you today for the ability to do what you need to do? While we have pastors and Christian leaders that can help, it is our own responsibility to be at work.

    So, as we do the things the Lord wants us to do, we should not rely on others to get it done. We should take our own responsibility seriously and put in our own effort.

    b. Work out (12 b).

    “The special request he had for them, in view of their needs and in view of the example of Christ, is stated forcefully—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Lightner 655).

    What does this mean? “They were told to ‘work out,’ to put into practice in their daily living, what God had worked in them by His Spirit. They were not told to work for their salvation but to work out the salvation God had already given them” (Lightner 655).

    The idea is that each of us has a job to do personally. We are to consider what God wants us to do and how to grown personally and then work at it.

    c. Work with fear and trembling (12 b).

    I think this is a convicting statement to those who are not doing what God has said to do. Since they were either being lazy or too dependent on others, Paul told them to realize with fear and trembling that God was working in them and expecting them to respond. We are not to take this lightly.

    d. Work along with God (13).

    The prospect of being a godly Christians may seem too hard to do. Thankfully, God is at work in us.

    “God worked in them so that they could do His good pleasure and accomplish His good purpose. … God makes His own both willing and desirous to do His work” (Lightner 655).

    The point is that when we allow God to work in us (think letting the Spirit control us) He will enable and gives us the desire to do it.

    “The verb works (v. 13) means ‘energizes’ or ‘provides enablement'” (Lightner 655).

    So, do we just sit back and let God do the work? No. “Both divine enablement and human responsibility are involved in getting God’s work done. Believers are partners with God, laboring together with Him” (Lightner 655).

    Summary: God has called us to work out our salvation. This means that each of us should be thinking of how God’s work in our lives should affect the way that we live. We are living in a way that shows the work that God has done in us.
  2. Live the example God wants you to be (14-16).

    If we are working out our salvation with fear and trembling, there will be certain evidences of God’s work in us and evidences that we are doing what He wants.

    a. There are certain things not to do (14).

    Notice that Paul tells us that this should affect everything we do: do all things.

    We should not be complaining.

    Oh boy. Are we really going to talk about complaining? Yes, and it is a message from God not something based on anything anyone said recently.

    This “reflects a bad attitude expressed in grumbling. The apostle may have had in mind the behavior of the Israelites who often complained to Moses and in turn to God” (Lightner 655).

    When you think about it, complaining is not contentment in what God has put in your life. We do this too much.

    We should not be arguing.

    This “reflects a legal connotation of disputing and may refer, at least in part, to the practice of going to civil courts to settle their differences” (Lightner 655).

    Court cases are the result of not taking care of things in private. Instead of arguing and letting it get to that level, we ought to talk things out and work them out before they balloon into something bad.

    b. There are certain reasons why (15-16).

    It appears that there were some problems with the Philippian church.

    “Before their testimony for Christ could ever be effective in the community where they lived, the Philippians needed to set some things straight in their own assembly” (Lightner 655).

    As we look at these things, let’s consider our own situation as well.

    Their testimony was compromised.

    their testimony – “Evidently the believers were complaining (to God and each other) and arguing (with each other). As a result they were not without fault among the unregenerate; they were not shining like stars in their world (2:15). The Philippian assembly needed to show themselves as united and as one in Christ. Non-Christians were not being attracted to Him by the saints’ strifes and contentions” (Lightner 655-56).

    There are times when a church’s testimony becomes so bad that they are unable to do anything in the community. Their poor testimony hinders people from every wanting to hear the message they seek to proclaim.

    Their testimony could be repaired.

    What can a church do to repair their testimony to their community? They must take the time to rebuild it in at least two areas.

    blameless – “means ‘above reproach.’ This does not mean sinless perfection. The corporate testimony of the church is in view. … The people were to live so that those outside of Christ could not rightfully point an accusing finger at them” (Lightner 656).

    harmless – “a word that was used of wine which had not been diluted and of metal which had not been weakened in any way. Jesus also used the word when He told the Twelve to be ‘innocent’ as doves (Matt. 10:16)” (Lightner 656).

    Their testimony was a representative of God’s work in their lives.

    “The Philippians lived in a crooked and depraved generation (2:15). … The world today, like theirs, is unscrupulous and perverted. Most people have turned their backs on God and truth. In this kind of world God’s people are to ‘shine like stars'” (Lightner 656).

    You have noticed how wicked our society has become. We ought to have a proper testimony of the change God has and is making in our lives so that they can see what a difference He can make in their lives.

    Our testimony should enhance the Bible’s reception (16).

    “The Greek word epechontes, hold out (v. 16) means either ‘hold forth’ or ‘hold firmly.’ The former fits better here. It was used in secular Greek of offering wine to a guest at a banquet. As the Philippian saints held out (or offered) the word of life to others, Paul would then be able to boast (glory) on the day of Christ that he had not labored in vain with them” (Lightner 656).

    We have been talking about the importance of our outward testimony. While that is important, we also need to hold forth the truths contained in the Bible. The word or message of the gospel is what will change lives when someone believes.

    Don’t rely simply on a good testimony, hoping that someone will ask you why you live differently. Speak the word to others so that they can know and understand your example.


I want to conclude with two questions. You probably know what they are already. And as you hear these questions, I want each of us to consider what the answers are and what actions we should take.

1. Are you working out your salvation as God intended?

Remember that this is an outworking of what God has done and is doing in your life. Are you faithfully seeking to work with God to become and do what He intends? If not, please consider that you are working against God and need to be in fear and trembling. Consider that you are fighting against God when you resist His working in you.

2. Is our church a good testimony to our community?

I do not know what our testimony is in this community. Those of you who have been here for a long period of time probably know better than me. If our testimony has been compromised by certain things done in the past, we need to find a way to repair it. That begins with each of us working out our salvation, but is also means that we need to work together to be a better testimony to the world.

There is hope for each of us. When we fail, God does not desert us. But he wants us to get back up and make changes that will help us to do His will and represent Him better in the future. Will you let Him do His work in you and in us this week?


Hendriksen, William, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979.

Lightner, Robert P., “Philippians” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983, pp. 655-56.

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