Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
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].
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!
The broader Philippian context indicates that the church’s poor condition (and the Christians’s lack of joy) were the result of self‑centeredness. Paul specifies the sins: complaining and disputing. As among the Israelites, this negative attitude was producing dissension, arrogance, and division (1 Cor 10:1–13). Thus, it was harming the body of believers. Complaining suggests dissatisfaction—whispers (or protests) that promote ill will instead of goodwill (Acts 6:1; 1 Pet 4:9). Disputing (arguing) suggests divisive words prompted by evil thoughts and dark intentions, manifested in contentious arguments. We fulfill the Philippians 2:14 command by bringing about the things that will generate goodwill among God’s people. This pleases God. In any activity of their shared fellowship, Christians must not engender attitudes of contention or futile disputes. Rather, they are to be “children of God.”
We fulfill the Philippians 2:14 command by bringing about the things that will generate goodwill among God’s people. This pleases God.
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:
They are corrupt and not his children;
Restoring the church—bringing health to the church—means restoring its witness.
The church is God’s light bearer in a perverse world and among false teachers. God’s people are to “shine among them like stars in the sky” (Philippians 2:15). Here, Paul turns to positive imagery. “Shine . . . like stars” suggest the torches that lit the dark nights or harbor beacons that warned of dangerous rocks. Paul is exhorting the Philippians to shine the gospel in the darkness of the world. In the world God’s truth is absent. In the church, God’s truth is manifest. We are to expose the dark world to the light of God’s truth by being the church. This is our witness.
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.
 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.
This is short excerpt is adapted from my book, Destroying Our Private Cities, Building Our Spiritual Life, a lay commentary on Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Here’s a sample chapter, “Putting Jesus Back into Our Potential.” Of course you can click through to Amazon to purchase the book, too! All royalties from Destroying Our Private Cities or Wasted Evangelism goes to support our church plant and ministry in the Hill community of New Haven, CT.