Philippians 2:12-16 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. What does the apostle Paul call upon the Christian to do in verse 12 (printed below?)

Therefore, my beloved ones, just as you have always obeyed, so now—not only in my presence, but much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12)

The apostle Paul exhorts us as Christians to “work out” our salvation. It must be emphasized that we are not being called upon to produce our own salvation, but rather to work out our God-given salvation. Neither are we being called upon to supplement our salvation, as though the work of Christ was inadequate; rather, we are being exhorted to work out (or develop and cultivate) our God-given salvation.

2. What attitude does the apostle especially emphasize that the Christian should exhibit toward God (see verse 12 printed above under question #1?) Is this the only attitude the Christian should have towards God?

We are called work out (or develop) our God-given salvation “with fear and trembling.” Our lives are to be governed by a holy fear of God. With a holy and reverential fear, we are to apply ourselves to the task of working out our God-given salvation (note 2 Corinthians 7:1). Although the apostle Paul finds it necessary to emphasize that the Christian life should be characterized by a reverential fear of God, this is certainly not the only attitude that should characterize the Christian’s relationship with God. The first and greatest commandment informs us that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart. As our heavenly Father who has redeemed us by the atoning death of His own Son, Jesus Christ, God has shown Himself to be a loving Father who is worthy of our love and trust. But, at the same time, because He is the great and mighty God, who is holy, it is appropriate that we should also exhibit a reverential fear before Him—a fear that turns us from sin.

3. What motivation and assurance does Paul give the Christian in verse 13 (printed below?)

…it is God who is working in you both to create the desire and to produce the work for the sake of his good purpose. (Philippians 2:13)

We must approach the task of working out our salvation with the confidence that God is completely committed to the accomplishment of His great cause in our lives. God is at work in you “both to create the desire and to produce the work.” It is the Holy Spirit who creates in us the desire to please God (note Romans 7:22/Romans 8:7), and it is the Holy Spirit who produces the acts of obedience, the “work” spoken of in Philippians 2:13, (note Galatians 5:22-23). God is at work in you for the accomplishment of His good purpose (note Romans 8:29-30).

4. What exhortation does the apostle give in verse 14 (printed below?) What do you think he means?

Do all things without grumbling and arguing, (15) so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without blemish, in the midst of a perverse and depraved generation, among whom you shine like stars in the universe (Philippians 2:14-15)

The apostle exhorts the Christian to “do all things without grumbling and arguing.” That is to say, rather than constantly resisting the will of God for our lives, we are to accept His holy will, yielding ourselves to His Holy Spirit and allowing Him to transform us into the likeness of Christ our Savior. Note: When he writes these words, the apostle is not speaking of that struggle that takes place in the Christian’s life as he wrestles with accepting and doing the will of God, rather, he is referring to that deep seated resistance and rebellion against God which must not be carried over into our Christian life.

5. What similarities do you find between the apostle’s words recorded in Philippians 2:14-15 (printed above under question #4) and the passages of Deuteronomy listed below?

But you were unwilling to go up; you rebelled against the commandment of Jehovah your God. (27) You grumbled in your tents and said, Jehovah hates us; that is why he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us. (Deuteronomy 1:26-27)

Remember this and never forget how you provoked Jehovah your God to anger in the wilderness. From the day you left Egypt until you arrived here, you have been rebellious against Jehovah. (Deuteronomy 9:7)

…they are not his children, it is their blemish; they are a perverse and crooked generation. (Deuteronomy 32:5)

When he uses the phrase “grumbling and arguing,” Paul has in mind the Old Testament people of Israel, especially the character they displayed in the wilderness (note Deuteronomy 1:26-27; 9:7,23-24). We are to do all things “without grumbling and arguing” so that we may become “children of God without blemish.” That is to say, we are to be changed into the character of Christ who exhibited unreserved obedience to His heavenly Father (note Philippians 2:8;) as opposed to being like the Old Testament people of Israel, who, because of their habitual “grumbling and arguing,” are identified in these terms: “they are not his children, it is their blemish; they are a perverse and crooked generation” (Deuteronomy 32:5). Israel’s rebellious spirit is defined as “their blemish,” in other words, that spirit of rebellion was a condemning mark against them.