Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Phil. 2:11b-12)
Introduction to Philippians
Work requires effort. Whether we do business or drive trucks, raise children or write articles, sell shoes or care for the disabled and aged, our work requires personal effort. If we don’t get up in the morning and get going, our work won’t get done. What motivates us to get out of bed each morning? What keeps us going throughout the day? What energizes us so that we can do our work with faithfulness and even excellence?
There are a wide variety of answers to these questions. Some might point to economic necessity. “I get up and go to work because I need the money.” Other answers might refer to our interest in our work. “I work because I love my job.” Still other answers might be less inspiring. “What gets me up and keeps me going all day? Caffeine!”
Paul’s letter to the Christians in Philippi provides a different sort of answer to the question of where we find strength to do our work. Paul says that our work is not the result of our own effort, but that God’s work in us is what gives us our energy. What we do in life, including on the job, is an expression of God’s saving work in Christ. Moreover, we find the strength for this effort by the power of God within us. Christ’s work is to serve people (Mark 10:35), and God empowers us to serve alongside him.
Almost all scholars agree that the Apostle Paul wrote the letter we know as Philippians sometime between AD 54 and 62.* There is no unanimity about the place from which Paul wrote, though we know it was written during one of his several imprisonments (Phil. 1:7).* It is clear that Paul wrote this personal letter to the church in Philippi, a community he planted during an earlier visit there (Phil. 1:5; Acts 16:11–40). He wrote in order to strengthen his relationship with the Philippian church, to update them on his personal situation, to thank them for their support of his ministry, to equip them to confront threats to their faith, to help them get along better, and, in general, to assist them in living out their faith.
Philippians uses the word work (ergon and cognates) several times (Phil. 1:6; 2:12–13, 30; 4:3). Paul uses it to describe God’s work of salvation and the human tasks that flow from God’s saving work. He doesn’t directly address issues in the secular workplace, but what he says about work has important applications there.
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