Saturday, March 29, 2014

working out your salvation in Philippians 2:12

Paul's "just as you have always obeyed ..." in Philippians 2:12 hopefully helps us understand what "work out your salvation" means in that same verse.  However, there is so much more that Paul has said to the Philippians in this letter up to this point, that helps as well.  In trying to understand what Paul means by the beginning of 2:12, "So then, my beloved, ..." we have to go back before 2:12.  What is 2:12 the conclusion from?

His first exhortation to them is Philippians 1:27, "conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ": conduct worthy of the gospel of Christ is a unique phrase here, although conduct worthy of God and worthy of our calling is also in Paul's vocabulary.  Because of the familiarity of the words "gospel" and "Christ" to us, we forget to listen to them like a First Century Philippian would.  Conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the good news of Messiah.  Hmm.  Do we often think of conduct as something that is to line up with the recent good news we've been given (cf. 1:6,8,10,11)?

Their suffering is also very noteworthy to Paul, and He will mention the suffering of Christ in 2:8, although not by the word suffering, but by the word "obedient" (2:8).  Similarly, the working out of their salvation is compared specifically with their past obedience, as its initial measure.  Other than perhaps the military, we're not as familiar in our culture with devoted obedience as Paul's culture was.  They obeyed while Paul was with them.  But does it say to Paul?  The immediate context is the obedience of Christ to the Father (2:8), and even the assertion that God highly exalted Christ because of His obedience to the Father.  Only then does Paul say "just as you have always obeyed."

The working out of their salvation is an obedience just like they obeyed while Paul was with them, and the "much more" he exhorts them to, is in working out their salvation in the present ("now ... in my absence,"), and for the reason he states in 2:13.

What is the obedience that they always had?  Obedience is a response word.  If what a person does is only the things that a person initiates himself or herself, what is there of obedience in that?  Paul deliberately refers them back to their time with him, and thus to what he has said about it in the letter so far.  He refers them to a finite interval of time, in which they always obeyed, i.e., they responded to imperatives they were under by complying with them.

Christ humbled Himself in "becoming obedient"  (2:8).  This does not mean a transition from disobedience, to obedience, but refers to actions of Christ that complied with the will of God, "to the point of death, even death on a cross." 

Therefore by directly discussing the working out of our salvation in the context of our obedience, Paul wants us to think of it together with instances of our past obedience, as motivation and standard (or if you prefer the order, as standard, and motivation).  He compares this obedience to what they already successfully had done, and to the obedience of Christ to the point of death.  Therefore our salvation places us under obligation to obey, in working it out, and this working out comes with accomplished examples of obedience, for them to consider, their own, and Christ's.  There is no working out of our salvation that cannot draw from them. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Arguing from the past in Philippians 2:12

Continuing with Paul's important exhortation to the Philippians in 2:12-13, "so then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure."

We looked some at the "following-support" to Paul's exhortation "work out your salvation ...", which is the text of 2:13.  But before the exhortation are the words from the beginning of the verse as above, which people often skip.  This is the tail-end of what brings Paul to the exhortation.  Why does he bring up their past obedience?  Playing on their heart-strings?  Emoting?  No, although he loves them dearly, and loved them when they had met, and they always did what he said while he was with them.  These two chapters to this point are filled with some of the most amazing expressions of warmth of heart, plus theology intertwined, ever written.  Does "so then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but no much more in my absence" add nothing to the meaning of his exhortation?  Of course it adds.  What does it add?

1. Paul wants them to consider their past time with him and all they participated in while he was with them.  

2.  Why was he not with them now?  He was in prison.  He's writing  a letter to those who he loves like crazy, from prison, saying over and over how great it was for them to have participated with him in this and that together.  How great was that?  

3.  While he's in prison, he wants something to be "much more." Paul's love makes him want to turn their shared, obedient participation with him in the past, into a quantity argument about the future.  He wants them to accept this quantity argument from him, that goes from their past obedient participation with him, toward  a "much more" version in the future.

4.  Why does Paul have the temerity to ask this, besides due to his love for them wanting the best?  What makes him want a "much more"?  Because although he's absent from them, he can remind them of God not being absent from them.  A greater than Paul, who is among them as he can't be, gives him the temerity to exhort like this.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Philippians 2:12-13 introduction

A friend asked me to not be so negative, and put some things up that he could criticize(!)  So here goes, some thoughts on Philippians 2:12-13, an important text in the Christian life, as if from a student, to another.  Lord bless our exploration.

What is the relationship between God being "at work in you," which Paul tells the Philippians is true of them, and what Paul exhorts them to do, "work out your salvation with fear and trembling"?

The simple answer is that the first is a reason for the second.  "For it is God who is at work in you."  That's the immediate reason that Paul gives them for what he asks and exhorts and commands them to do.  God is at work in them.  That's the reason they should work out their salvation.

So before we ask questions of the form "why doesn't it mean what I think, namely, xyz," we should look at the passage on its own.  The exhortation, "work out your salvation ..." is supported on both sides: before, and after.  2:13 is the "after"; 2:12a, is the "before" (if not the whole letter in some respects).

So we have prior-support, then the exhortation, then following-support.  The following-support is very interesting, because of the fact that it supplies the premise (2:13) for an inference.  How is 2:13 a reason for working out our salvation?

Has the fact that others are working with us ever given us a reason to work at something?  How about if it is God, working in us?  Should God working in us not give a sufficient reason to work something out?  Especially if the very thing God is working on is the means that we humans get things done by using: our wills, and our deliberate actions.  But how then is it our very salvation, that we are to work out?!  More soon.