After leaving the Philippians (and us!) with a vision of Christ’s coming Kingdom – where believers will experience perfect unity in the presence of our King – Paul gives the Philippians this poignant command:


12 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, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.


I don’t know what your past experience has been with this passage, but I remember this verse producing great anxiety in me through high school and college. The idea of working out my salvation seemed like a great weight on my shoulders, and it also seemed counter-intuitive to the Gospel that I knew and embraced. These words left me with a sense of guilt and fear that I wasn’t good enough to earn my own salvation.


And I was right. I was not, nor will I ever be, good enough to earn my own salvation. The notion that we could or should do so it completely counter-intuitive to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is a great example of a place where it is most helpful to let Scripture interpret Scripture. Today, we’re going to carve out an understanding of the Greek word κατεργάζεσθε, which translates, “work out” in our English translations by doing a word study.


Usually, when we do a word study, I would ask you to look up each reference in your own Bible. Today, I’m going to include them here since the English translation can vary, and the Greek word can be difficult to identify. I’ve also chosen all of the uses of this word from one of Paul’s other books, the book of Romans. This way, we can see how Paul uniquely uses this word. Take a look at the following verses. Make note of the highlighted word that identifies where the Greek word, κατεργάζεσθε is used.


Romans 4:15

For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

Romans 5:3

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,

Romans 7:8

But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead.

Romans 7:13

Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.


What do you notice about each of these translations?


If you were to summarize the meaning of this word in one sentence, what would it be?


The Greek word κατεργάζεσθε has a broader range of translation than most words we’ll look at, but it consistently means to reveal the effect of something – or, to bring about the final end of some action. For example, suffering (5:3) brings about endurance in the end; endurance is the revealed effect that suffering has on the life of the believer. Similarly, the Law (7:13) reveals the heart to be sinful, and the end result is death.


Look back at Philippians 2:12-13. How does this understanding of κατεργάζεσθε help you interpret what Paul is saying about salvation?


Paul is making it clear that the end result of our salvation is obedience. The evidence in our own lives that we have been saved is that we will obey – yes, with fear and trembling before a holy God – and live our lives in the presence of God. In salvation, each of us have been united to Christ and Paul wants to make sure we don’t miss this: our lives should look more like Christ as a result! Paul doesn’t have a theological category for believers who are “saved” and then go one living their lives as if Christ just gave them a ticket into heaven, they shoved it in their pocket, and carried on with their lives. No, Christ doesn’t give us salvation apart from giving us His very self! In salvation, we are united to Christ by His Spirit – and this union should be evident, or “worked out” in our lives each and every day.


Paul uses the word “Therefore” at the beginning of verse 12. What is this command linked to in the previous verses?


This command can only come in light of the glorious and humble work of Christ on our behalf! Since we have been united to Christ, we are also empowered to emulate His humility as we walk in the Spirit. God does not save us and leave us to our own devices, but gives us His Spirit to continually transform us more and more into His image – for His good pleasure!



Thank God for your salvation. Ask Him to reveal any ways in your life that don’t reflect His character. Ask Him to help you “work out” your salvation as you walk in His Spirit today.

Author: amygannett

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