Friday, September 19, 2008

Explanatory Notes: Philippians 2:12-13

Only two verses, but hey.
2:12 Therefore, my brothers, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence alone but now much more in my absence, with fear and trembling work out your own salvation,
Paul now resumes the idea that they should walk worthily of the gospel, whether he is able to come or not. They have submitted to his authority before, he expects that they will do so again. He sees following his instructions, particularly those he has just made in relation to unity, as key to their salvation.

Salvation for Paul is escape from the wrath of God on the Day of Judgment. In its most literal sense, it refers to a future event. Talk of being saved now is thus "proleptic" language, language that speaks of a current confidence of what will happen in the future on that Day.

Paul thus tells them to work toward that goal of salvation carefully, with a great sense of the seriousness of the task. Not to be saved on that Day is a matter of great fear and trembling, so the importance of making it to the end comes into clear focus. Despite the overemphasis of Protestant theology, Paul sees no contradiction to his theology elsewhere to suggest that we have to work to be saved. And he does not typically think of salvation through faith--Ephesians 2:8 is unique in the Pauline corpus--but of justification by faith.

We should also note that Paul is not talking about individuals working out their individual salvation. The verbs and pronouns in the verse are all plural. In other words, the church at Philippi is to work out their salvation together, as a group. This fact fits well with the unity Paul has been encouraging in their community. If they will show toward each other the same attitude that Messiah Jesus had, they will be saved.

2:13 ... for God is the One who is working among you both to will and to work for [His] good pleasure.
Because they share the Holy Spirit, the spirit within their body, the body of Christ at Philippi, they have God among them, bringing about His will and His good pleasure. If they are obeying, then God is the one leading them from within, whether Paul is present or absent.

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