In Philippians 2:13–16, Paul reveals the depth and breadth of the vital relationship between the church and our sanctification. He directs our attention, once more, to God’s purpose, his will. Paul reminds the Philippians, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (2:13). This verse explains why we are to work toward mutual respect within the church body—why we are to pursue harmony and each other’s spiritual well‑being. Why are we to do this? “Because God is the One who is working both to promote his goodwill (his purpose) and to provide the ability to bring about such goodwill” (2:13, my interpretative paraphrase). This verse and Phil 2:12 blend God’s sovereign control and our responsibility. There is no contradiction here, for divine action always seeks to provoke a human response. God’s action should inspire our commitment both to support and to conform to such action.
God’s Purpose: A Healthy Church
What is this “purpose” that God seeks to work out? The word here is not normally translated “purpose,” but rather “pleasure” or “goodwill.” Paul used the same word earlier (Phil 1:15) in describing the goodwill of those who supported his ministry. In this letter to the church at Philippi, it is not possible to shake the connotation this word would have had in the minds of the recipients. Although Paul is speaking about God’s purposes, his choice of this particular word would have indicated to the Philippians that God’s purpose is the well‑being—the health—of his church.
Sense the flow of Phil 2:12–13 read together
Along with your salvation, achieve mutual respect within the church. Why? Because God is the One who is producing among all of you the potential and the work that produces his good pleasure—that is, the church’s well‑being [author’s interpretative translation].
Most Christians at one time or another ask, “How can I find God’s will for my life?” Most of the “methods” suggested to help us find God’s will use a combination of Bible proof‑texts, feelings (or notions) and signs (or situations). I find it amazing that we who are fallible, prone to selfishness, and subject to sinful temptation (and, in our culture, inclined to comfort and self‑esteem) rely so heavily on the subjective. It is even more surprising when we consider that God has graciously revealed his will through the Bible and the Living Word, Jesus Christ. We need never feel that God’s will (his purpose) is somewhere far out there. Philippians 2:13 reveals once and for all until the end of time God’s will for us. We are to join him in achieving the church’s health, its well‑being.
Having confidence in God means we trust him to bring about what he promised. Jesus himself said, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18). Despite the condition of the church and the varied levels of health from church to church, God will work effectually to build his universal church. He will bless and strengthen any endeavor or personal attitude that builds, renews, or enhances the vitality of his church.
How do we show God’s good pleasure? Next, in Phil 2:14–15, we have an imperative with a promise: “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault . . .” Imperatives are to be obeyed. But they also are indicative of something. In this case, 2:14–15 describes God’s people.
No More Complaining! No More Arguments!
In order to promote goodwill within the congregation and thus restore the church’s health, the Christian community is to refrain from “complaining” (literally, grumbling) or “arguing” (literally, disputing). This reference to grumbling (complaining) and disputing (arguing) evokes images of the nation Israel as it journeyed through the Sinai desert. The people complained against Moses and doubted God’s promises (Exod 15‑17; Numbers 14‑17; 1 Cor 10:10). Whether Paul intends to make a direct parallel or not, one thing is certain. Such attitudes led the people to stray away from God and act immorally. Such attitudes caused Israel’s enemies to blaspheme Yahweh God. Paul says “God was not pleased with most of them” (1 Cor 10:5). If Israel’s grumbling in the Sinai desert displeased God, the grumbling of the Philippians also was contrary to God’s good pleasure. Such an attitude still is!
Paul’s reference in 2:15 to “children of God” implies a family resemblance. We bear God’s likeness. That is why we are to be above blame, pure and without fault. Not that we will be free from false accusations or even from deserved blame. But, certainly we are not to bring such accusations on ourselves because of sinful, unrighteous, or worldly behavior (1 Pet 2:11–17; 2 Cor 6:1–10). The testimony of God resides in the church. We bear God’s image. Our “love for one another” and our participation in the gospel (that is, our love for those outside the church) is communication loud and clear.
Where is the church to be the church? Jesus said to his Father, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it” (John 17:15–16). In a similar way, Paul exhorts the Philippian church. On the one hand, they are not to be “complaining or arguing” (that is, not of the world). On the other hand, they are to be the church, above reproach, amid “a warped and depraved generation” (that is, in the world).
More Old Testament Examples
Paul continues to draw upon images from Israel’s exodus from Egypt. The reference to “a crooked and depraved generation” is an allusion to Deut 32:5:
Moses was saying that those Israelites who rebelled against God and were unrepentant of their “grumbling” were in fact not God’s people at all. In quoting Moses, Paul certainly had in mind the false apostles who were belittling his ministry and causing havoc within the Philippian congregation (Phil 1:15–17). Those were not God’s people. Yet despite their contentiousness, the true congregation (3:3) must be faithful followers of Christ Jesus. They are God’s people, who look “. . . to the interests of the others” (2:4) and demonstrate Christ-like obedience (2:8). Paul most assuredly also had the pagan, Gentile world in view. The church must remain the church in the midst of a perverse society that has refused or twisted the truth of God (Acts 13:10; 20:30).
But how can the church witness to God’s truth if it is more concerned about its pride, its self‑interests, and its status? Restoring the church—bringing health to the church—means restoring its witness. So the church, which is the light, is to display its sacrificial and redemptive obedience, its good works of harmony, selflessness and humble service to others. Then it will be an influence for good in a corrupt and darkened world (Matt 5:14; Eph 5:8; 1 Thess 5:5).
There should be no doubt that Paul is also warning the congregation. The author to the Hebrews asks: “. . . how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?” (Heb 2:3). Paul’s language in Philippians reminds us of the dangers of disobedience. We are to remember that the church and the gospel are at stake. When we do not seek the church’s health, we cannot expect that we will display God’s truth in a darkened, perverse world. Consequently, we compromise our very purpose in the world.
 The words in you should be understood to mean “among you” (i.e., among you, the Philippian congregation). The you is plural and should be understood corporately rather than individually as if addressed personally: “It is God who works among you [the church in Philippi] to will and to act according to his good purpose” (author’s translation, 2:13).
 A syntactical‑linguistic study of the phrase hyper tēs eudokias (lit., according to pleasure, 2:13) indicates that Paul intended a semantic relationship between God’s purpose and the church’s well‑being. It is variously translated “for his good pleasure” (NASB, KJV), “according to his good purpose” (NIV), “to obey his good pleasure” (Good News). In Rom 10:1, Paul uses the word eudokia (pleasure, purpose) to indicate his “desire” to reach the Jews. In 2 Thess 1:11, it points toward the fulfilling of “all [their] pleasure” or “good purposes.” In Eph 1:5, it is a synonym for God’s will. In the Philippians passage, there is no doubt that God’s “purpose” is meant, but Paul uses the term to develop as well the connotation of the church’s “goodwill.” Hawthorne translates 2:13, “For the one who effectively works among you creating both the desire and drive to promote goodwill is God” (101). The preposition hyper rarely means “according to” (NIV) or “for” (NASB). Where the only subject is a prepositional phrase, as in 2:13, it is used to indicate that which a person (in this case, God) wants to attain. The context is clear. The exhortation is a call to harmony, unity, and goodwill toward others. See Martin’s comment on this text in Philippians (New Century Bible Commentary, 1980). Martin correctly translates 2:13, “[It is God who] produces the will to amend the condition of his people and brings about the accomplishment of this state of ‘goodwill’.”
 Throughout the New Testament this same thought is understood as building the church, increasing the church, or the gospel, serving the saints, etc.
 The verb form of eudokia (pleasure, purpose) in Phil 2:13 is used in 1 Cor 10:5, making the contexts similar.
 Hawthorne, 101.
 Ibid., 103.
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.