Philippians 2:12-13 is one of Paul’s most famous statements and it’s one we forget to place in the context of the letter. At first reading, it looks like Paul is highlighting a paradox of YOU work out your salvation because GOD is working in you. But in context, I think Paul is still concerned that the Philippians are living their lives in a manner worthy of the gospel (1:27) and are motivating to do so for the right reasons.
Philippians 2:5-11 is traditionally associated with the doctrine of the Trinity. However, I think the context suggests that Paul’s main point is not to teach the doctrine of the Trinity. From an interpretative standpoint, I believe the context suggests that Paul intends to teach something about unity and our attitude towards other believers, and he uses Christ as an example to make that point. If we also learn something about the Trinity, that is icing on the cake.
Philippians 1:27 begins a new section in which Paul urges his readers to live a life worthy of the gospel. Living such a life does not mean that you will live a perfect life. Rather if we actually believe the gospel is true, we now see the world differently and, we begin to view some things as right, proper and good, and begin to view other things as wrong, selfish and evil. And we choose accordingly.
What are we to make of Paul’s joy that selfishly ambitious teachers are proclaiming the gospel? And, what can we learn from his famous statement “to live is Christ, to die is gain”?
Paul’s opening prayer in Philippians reflect what he hopes and confidently expects God to do in the lives of his readers and it introduces the main theme of his letter. From this short prayer, we can learn what we ought to most want for ourselves and for each other.