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Philippians 2:12-13: “God Hath Highly Exalted Christ”

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Background to Philippians…

The Apostle Paul wrote the epistle (personal letter) (1:1) to the Philippian church, probably during his imprisonment in Rome. The letter was written from a heart of love and concern for the Philippians. Due to Paul’s imprisonment, he could not personally visit with the church so he sent this letter with Timothy to encourage them and bring back news of their condition to Paul. (2:19).

Some of the main divisions of the book include:

1. Introduction to the book: 1:1-2

2. Paul’s thankfulness for the Philippians: 1:3-11

3. News of Paul’s imprisonment and dedication: 1:12-26

4. Following Christ’s example is our duty: 1:27-2:18

5. Paul’s representatives and the need to treat them kindly: 2:19-30

6. Paul’s example of living a joyous life: 3:1-11

7. The Christian’s heavenly calling: 3:12-21

8. The need for Godly living: 4:1-9

9. The love offerings of the Philippians: 4:10-20

10. Closing to the book of Philippians: 4:21-23





Php 2:12-13 – “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”




Wherefore, my beloved,

Before Paul gives the Philippian believers practical instruction, he reminds them of his great love for them. He was writing to them out of a heart of concern and care wanting only to help them and encourage then in the Lord. He was not instructing them out of a critical, fault-finding spirit, nor did he teach these things for his own personal gain.



as ye have always obeyed,


First, Paul commends them for their consistent service for Christ. He describes their service as “always obey(ing)” Christ. In other words, they served the Lord at every opportunity, without regard to the individual opposition or circumstance they may face.

The Greek word for “obeyed” is a very interesting word. It combines the ideas of listening, following and submitting. They obeyed the Lord consistently by SUBMITTING to His authority in their life which was shown by them LISTENING to His teachings and FOLLOWING His instructions and example.



not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence,

Paul also commends them for not hypocritically serving the Lord, just for appearance sake. Paul recognized they did not serve the lord only when Paul was present to receive his praise. On the contrary, Paul saw that they continued faithful in service even when he was not there to see them, encourage them, and praise them.



work out your own salvation

Paul is not telling the believers to work faithfully in an effort to gain, or retain their salvation. Paul is clear in many, many other places of Scripture that the initial salvation experience, the retention of that salvation, and the completion of that salvation are all entirely of God’s grace apart from the works of man.

“work out” – in other words, work to completion, do not stop before the task is accomplished

“your own salvation” – the change that has taken place in your life through the graces you have been given.

In other words, Paul instructs the Philippians to serve the Lord faithfully until each task is complete. They are to do this by exercising the graces given to them, as ones who are saved from their sins. This would include spiritual fruits, Holy Spirit empowering, etc etc. In that sense, they are to “work out”
their “own salvation”… ie “actively use the graces related to your salvation experience to bring the task at hand to completion”

This principle is brought out in Rom 6:18-22:


“Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.

For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.”



with fear and trembling.

Two of the great motives that are to drive the believer to faithfully complete each task presented to them is “fear” and “trembling”…

1. “fear” – alarm, fright, dread. The Greek word for fear is the word “phobos” from which we get our word “phobia”

2. “trembling” – to shake, to quiver from fear.


The above words, when taken together, CANNOT simply mean to reverence the Lord. The basic meaning of “phobos” along with the idea of shaking in fright, clearly presents fear and dread as a motive in our faithful service to the Lord.

In what way are Christians to be in dread of the Lord? Are they to fear a loss of salvation or eternal condemnation? Of course not, the Bible makes it plain that the Lord will always bring to completion the work of salvation that He has begun in the heart of the believer…

Php 1:6 – “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:”

Rom 8:29-30 – “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.”


If this is true, then in what way are Christians to fear their Lord? They are to fear, or dread, His chastening hand upon those who are willfully disobedient to Him. From experience the Christian knows that the chastening of the Lord can be very stern and painful, meted out in an effort to bring the rebellious Christian back to a close walk with Christ.

Christian’s are to be much like a child who fears the chastening hand of his father, though the child knows he is loved and will always be a part of the family. So too, Christians are to fear the results of the chastening hand of God, while still confident in His love, adoption, and eternal security. After all, God’s chastening hand, although harsh, is meted out from a heart of love, for the believer’s good.


Heb 12:5-11

“And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.

If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.

Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.

Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.”






For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”

The Philippian believers were to keep in mind that all of their labors for Him were, in actuality, the Lord working within them. In other words, the believer’s exercise of spiritual gifts as they served the Lord was actually an act of the Lord enabling and empowering them in their walk with Him.

This is why they should not faint. This is why they should not quit in the midst of hardships. The Lord was working in them enabling them to complete the task that has been placed before them.




What is a Christian to do? Based upon these instructions by Paul, we are to faithfully serve the Lord and bring our tasks to completion, without hypocrisy. We are to serve Him out of a recognition of His chastening hand and his gracious enabling in our lives.

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