A Study of Philippians 2:12-18

Philippians 2:12-18

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.”



In Philippians 2:12-18, we hear from Paul, who is now incarcerated and near execution, speak of his joy for the new believers in Philippi. This post illustrates a study of this section of scripture by using some readily available resources, most of which are free, such as the online and smartphone app at StepBibleAdditionally, excellent commentaries, such as Gundry’s Commentary of the New Testament and The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, are readily available. Finally, BibleHub offers a free and comprehensive review of any bible verse, including different versions, details on the original language, cross-reference verses, and commentaries. For example, here’s a link to John 3:16 for your review.

We begin.


“Therefore, my beloved…”

The Greek word for “beloved” in Philippians 2:12 is “ἀγαπητοί” (agapētoi), and is the same word used twice in Philippians 4:1. The root word, agape, signifies a love that is pure, unconditional, selfless, and sacrificial.

Conversely, the Greek word for brotherly love is “φιλία” (philia) and is often used to describe a deep friendship or brotherly love, as in the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia. A derivative, phileo, means to have affection for, as in Mark 10:21, where Christ spoke to the rich young ruler.

In John 21:15-17, a conversation between Christ and Peter portrays a much deeper meaning when the original words are understood.

“Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Do you love (agapao) me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love (phileo) you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”

…a second time, “…do you love (agapao) me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love (phileo) you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”

He said to him the third time, “…do you love (phileo) me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love (phileo) me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love (phileo) you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

Peter would have been further grieved because Christ’s question regressed from agapao to phileo; additionally, the number three corresponds with Peter’s recent denial of Christ.

In addition to agape and phileo, the Greek language included Storge, or familial love; Philautia, or self-love; Ludus, or playful or flirtatious love; Pragma, or enduring love; Philia, or friendship-based love; and Eros, or sexual love. It is exactly this precision in the original language that yields an explicit understanding of God’s word.


“as you have always obeyed…”

A cross-reference verse, 1 Peter 1:2, incorporates the Trinity, their participation in salvation, and a picture of obedience, “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.”

This obedience is also tied into agape love in John 14:15, which requires, “If you love [agapate] me, you will keep [obey] my commandments.”


“work out your own salvation with fear and trembling…”

According to R Gundray’s “Commentary on the New Testament,” the injunction here is “be working out,” which is in the continuous present tense.

“For though salvation has already occurred by divine grace through human faith apart from good works (Eph 2:8-9; Rom 4:5-6), salvation has yet to be finalized at the Last Judgment; and this finalization will require good works to certify the past occurrence of salvation (Eph 2:10; 2 Cor 5:10; Rom 14:10). 

2 Corinthians 5:10 addresses the Bema judgment for believers: “For we [believers] must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”

Gundray continues, “with a fear so strong that it causes trembling-underscor[ing] the danger of lacking such certification…”


“for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure…”

All believers should be humble because God has supplied both the will and the power to do his pleasure of salvation.

The will is supported by John 1:13, which states, “who were born [again], not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

Additionally, this relates back to Philippians 1:6, which promises the power, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”


“Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent…”

Interestingly, although salvation is an individual matter, there are essential aspects of the communal life of believers. Hebrews 10:25 addresses the assembly of believers when it states, “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Numbers 11:1 discusses this concept of grumbling and God’s displeasure with it, “Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the Lord, and when he heard them his anger was aroused.”

Grumbling is associated with a lack of faith and trust in God. It also represents discontentment and a lack of thankfulness. Hebrews 13:5 addresses contentment by stating, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” Finally, 1 Thessalonians 5:18 addresses thankfulness by admonishing, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Essentially, grumbling reveals disobedience of both of these commands.


“…be glad and rejoice with me.”

Here, Paul’s imprisonment and pending martyrdom have not discouraged him; rather, he is asking the Philippians to be glad and joyful just as he is. Later, in Philippians 4:4, he repeats this refrain: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” This demonstrates contentment and appreciation even in the face of grievous trials.



God’s word is an immense treasure; moreover, reflecting and praying on your studies will lead to real-life applications that will help you grow in wisdom and understanding.

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