© Rosemary Bardsley 2020

Up to this point in his letter Paul has given only two commands:

[1] In 1:27: ‘Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.’

[2] In 2:1 – 5, where he commands that our mindset, our attitudes, should reflect the truth of the gospel. This command is stated in three different ways:

If there is any encouragement, comfort, fellowship in the Gospel, we should be like-minded (vv1, 2).

That is, we should be other-focused, not thinking of ourselves and our own ambition and conceit (vv 3, 4).

That is, we should have the same humble attitude as Jesus Christ (v5).

To impress this second command upon us, Paul detailed how Jesus, who is God, humbled himself in becoming a human being and dying a human death (vv. 6 – 8). He then referred to the exaltation of Jesus Christ to the highest place.

Paul then gives us a third command:

‘Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose’ (vv12, 13).

These three commands express the general principle that the truth revealed in the gospel is relevant to the whole of our lives – to all of our choices, all of our actions, all of our attitudes, all of our words. Nothing is outside the boundaries set by these commands. The third command - ‘work out your salvation’ – tells us to display the truth of the gospel in our lives: to let what God has done and is doing in us be evident for all the world to see.


The reason for Paul’s third command is that God is at work in us, and this work of God in us is aimed at getting us both to want to act, and to act, in a way that he desires. Paul has already referred to the work of God in us in 1:6, where he expressed his confidence that God would continue to work in the Philippians right up to the ‘day of Jesus Christ.’ Salvation is the work of God. Keeping us saved is the work of God. Transforming us is the work of God.

Check these verses. What do they teach about the initial and on-going work of God in the believer?
2Corinthians 3:18

Galatians 5:22, 23

Ephesians 5:8, 9

Philippians 1:11

Colossians 1:9 – 11

2Timothy 1:12

1Peter 1:3 – 5

Jude 24



Since Genesis 3 the human race has been in a state of enmity and rebellion towards God. And we were part of that. Our default attitude is that of disobedience, of asserting our will over his. But, in his gracious action in converting us, God turned us around and put us in the totally opposite position. He took away our heart hearts of stone, and replaced them with hearts that are soft towards him. So that now, for those who acknowledge God by acknowledging Jesus:

Instead of enmity towards God there is reconciliation and peace with God.
Instead of rejection of God there is acknowledgement of God.
Instead of rebellion against God there is repentance towards God.
Instead of unbelief or wrong belief there is belief in the one true God.
Instead of inability and impossibility to please God, there is both possibility and ability.
Instead of not wanting God in our lives, there is love and desire for God.

Check these verses. What do they say about this initial change wrought in us by God?
Jeremiah 31:33

Ezekiel 36:26, 27

Romans 5:10

Romans 8:5 – 9

Ephesians 2:11 – 13

Ephesians 5:8

Colossians 1:20 – 22

1Peter 2:9, 10

This incredible change took place when God saved us. He did this amazing thing in which he turned us right around. He put us in the position where two things are in place that simply were not in place before:

That now we want to obey and please him, and
Now, because he continues his work in us, we can increasingly obey and please him.

This is Paul’s point in verse twelve and thirteen: God is continually at work in us. His purpose in this on-going work is to move, inspire, enable, encourage us to ‘live and act according to his good purpose.’ [Note that the word translated ‘good purpose’ is elsewhere translated ‘good pleasure’.] And because God is continually doing this work, we should, Paul says, ‘work out your salvation with fear and trembling.’

What does he mean?


God has done an amazing work in us in opening our eyes to see the truth about him revealed in and through his Son. God has done an amazing work for us in the death and resurrection of his Son. And God is still at work for us and in us by his Spirit. Paul has already alluded to all of this in his letter, and now he deliberately draws our attention to it. And on the basis of the past, present and on-going work of God for us and in us, Paul now repeats what he has said previously in different ways: that the way we live our lives should reflect and express the truths God has revealed to us about himself and the salvation he gives us in his Son. That we should express and ‘work out’ in our lives the salvation that God has worked and is working in us.

This is a recurring theme in the New Testament:

Christ has shone his light into our hearts and minds: therefore we should shine that light to the world.
Christ has made us ‘salt’: therefore we should be as salt in the world.
Christ has established peace with God: therefore we should live at peace with God and others.
God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven us: therefore we should be forgiving.
God has made us the objects of his mercy: therefore we should be merciful.
God has acquitted us: therefore we should live guilt-free in his presence.

The list could go on and on.

As mentioned above in the introductory comments in this study, Paul has already been encouraging the Philippians, and us, to live lives that express the core truths and values of the Gospel. He now urges us to do so ‘with fear and trembling’. So great is God’s love for us, so great is his mercy towards us, so great is this amazing salvation that he has wrought for us through the death of his Son, that we ought to dread the thought of grieving him, of despising his love for us, of counting the death of Christ of so little value that we are careless about the way we live.

It is not fear of judgement that Paul is speaking of, but fear of despising the love of God.

It is not trembling before God at the thought of being punished by him, but trembling at the thought of letting down, of failing, the one who loves us so very much.

It is not fear and trembling before a wrathful God, but fear and trembling that we might fail to give glory to our God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory. It is the fear, the trembling at the very thought that because of us his name might be dishonoured by those who do not believe.

Peter gives a similar command in 1Peter 1:17 – 19: ‘... live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things ... that you were redeemed from the empty way of life ... but with the precious blood of Christ ...’

His purpose for us is glory. For the joy of bringing many sons to glory Jesus endured the cross. But every time we sin we act contrary to that purpose. We miss, we fall short of, the glory, and because we miss it, God also is dishonoured.

Check these verses. What should be our over-riding goal?
Isaiah 43:7

Ezekiel 36:29 – 23

Matthew 5:13 – 16

Matthew 6:9, 10

John 17:4

Romans 2:23, 24

1Corinthians 10:31

2Corinthians 4:15

Ephesians 3:20, 21

Philippians 1:9 – 11

Philippians 2:11

1Thessalonians 2:12

1Peter 2:12 (contrast 2Peter 2:4)


All of this is God’s will and purpose for us. It is when we most honour him that we are most fully human. We were created ‘in his image’. And his present work in those who believe in him is the on-going restoration, renewing, of that image. And this is what Paul is commanding us here: that we want to, and do, live in tandem with this good and glorious purpose of God for us. Paul is commanding us both to want to please God and to live in a way that pleases God.



What does a life look like where what God has done and is doing for us and in us is being lived out by us?

D.1 The absence of complaining and arguing
The way Paul describes it here in Philippians 2:14 is incredibly simple and very comprehensive: ‘Do everything without complaining or arguing.’

Consider/discuss these questions:
How much of your life is covered by and included in this one command?

Is this command easier for the humble person or for the proud person? Why?

Is this command easier for the self-centred person or the other-centred person? Why?

Is this command easier for the person who really trusts God or for the person who does not really trust God? Why?

How does this command make everything we do important?

What kinds of things make you complain or grumble, either out loud or in your heart?


What kinds of things make you argue or feel like arguing?



In what way does complaining and arguing display an exaggerated sense of self-importance and/or selfishness?


In what way does complaining and arguing display a lack of trust in God?


How is complaining and arguing usually expressed?


Now check these reports from the history of Israel. What was the underlying cause of their grumbling and complaining? What did God think about it?
Exodus 15:22 – 24

Exodus 16:2 – 11


Exodus 17:1 – 7


Numbers 14:1 – 38


Numbers 16


Deuteronomy 1:26 – 46


It is very clear from these narratives that God hates grumbling, complaining and arguing (that is, arguing about and rebelling against his directions and instructions). It reveals a lack of trust in him and his ability to work his good and sovereign purpose. And he doesn’t just hate it a little bit. He hates it a lot. It does the very opposite of pleasing him. It is the very opposite of his good purpose for us.

Paul will take this standard up latter in this letter to the Philippians, where he states that he has learned how to be content in any and every circumstance. We will discuss it further then.

D.2 The goal, the outcome
What happens when we live in every circumstance without complaining and arguing?

Read Philippians 2:14 – 16. What are the flow-ons from doing all things without complaining and arguing?




We are to do everything without complaining or arguing ‘so that you may become blameless and pure ...’ (2:15). This ‘blameless and pure’ is in contrast to ‘crooked and depraved’. As ‘children of God’ we are to be in stark contrast to the ‘generation’ in which we live, just as the brightness of the stars is in stark contrast to the darkness of the surrounding universe.

God is at work in our lives. If we are responsive to his work, it ought to be evident and obvious:

In Christ, God has declared us ‘blameless’ in his sight (Ephesians 1:5; Colossians 1:22). We should aim at becoming ‘blameless’ in the eyes of the people who surround us. There should be nothing, apart from our allegiance to Christ, for which the world can justly criticize us.

In Christ God has justified us, that is, acquitted us, declared us ‘not guilty’, declared us innocent (Romans 3:21 – 24). We should aim at becoming ‘pure’, that is, ‘harmless’ or ‘innocent’, not a deceitful, unpredictable mixture of good and evil. Jesus used this word when he said we should be ‘harmless/innocent as doves’ (Matthew 10:16, KJV/NIV), and Paul used it in Romans 16:19 when he said we should be ‘harmless/innocent’ about what is evil.

In and through Christ God has adopted us as his children (Ephesians 1:5). We should aim at becoming ‘children of God’: Our goal should be to become more and more like our heavenly Father, so that his likeness is increasingly seen in us, and it thus becomes evident that we are his children. Jesus spoke of this when he encouraged us to be like our Father in heaven who sends rain and sun on both the righteous and the unrighteous: ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (read Matthew 6:43 – 48).

We should aim at being children of God ‘without fault’. Without blame. Without blemish. A similar concept to ‘blameless’ earlier in the verse. Such a person is very obvious in a ‘crooked and depraved generation’.

God has made his light to shine in our hearts and minds, to give us the knowledge of his glory in and through Christ (2Corinthians 4:6). We should aim at shining like stars in the universe. Little pin-pricks of light in an otherwise dark night sky. The contrast between those who follow Christ and those who don’t is great. The believers’ goal of blamelessness and purity is in the context of a ‘crooked’ (warped, perverse) and ‘depraved’ (corrupt) people.

All of this is will occur only as we ‘hold on to’ (retain, pay attention to) ‘the word of life’. The word of God, the word of life, defines the work that God has done for us and the work that God is doing in us. It also defines our appropriate response to this work of God. It is only God’s word, God’s truth, that can produce and sustain in us the kind of life that Paul has just described and commanded. And if we are holding on to that word, we will also be holding it out, offering it to others as the only way they also can attain life with God.

D.3 A further outcome
In Philippians 2:16 – 18 Paul adds a personal note: that if the Philippians do what he has just told them to do, he will be able to ‘boast’ (that is rejoice, glory) because of them on the day of Christ. When that day comes the integrity of their faith will be evident in the lives they have lived, and all will see that Paul’s ministry among them was not in vain. Here in the lives of the Philippians will be the proof of the transforming impact of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that Paul preached.

Paul’s joy in this outcome will remain, he says, even if he is martyred because of his ministry. The perseverance of their faith to the end will make even martyrdom worth it. Paul encourages them to share in his joy.



Paul now talks to the Philippian believers about two men, Timothy and Epaphroditus, whom he is planning to send to Philippi.

Read Philippians 2:19 – 29. Answer these questions:
Why was Paul going to send Timothy to Philippi? (v19)

What was it about Timothy that was different from everyone else? (vv20,21)

How did Timothy prove himself? (v22)

How does Paul praise Epaphroditus? (v25)

Why did Paul plan to send Epaphroditus back to Philippi? (vv 26 – 28)


Why did Paul expect the Philippians to welcome and honour Epaphroditus? (vv29, 30)

Now consider/discuss these questions:
Which qualities and actions of Timothy and Epaphroditus impress you most?


Think of Christians you know. Which of them have impressed and encouraged you as Timothy and Epaphroditus impressed and encouraged Paul? Be sure to thank God for them, and to welcome and honour them as Paul urged the Philippians to do.


In what ways do you, or could you, be a similar encouragement and help to the believers who know you, including those who serve you as pastors and teachers in your church?



Pray that the Lord will give you the wisdom and courage to do so.