Sanctification for God’s Pleasure (or "Keep Up Your Greek!")

This is an encouragement (or possibly an exhortation/rebuke, depending on the circumstances!) to my fellow pastors. My apologies to all others for inflicting this upon you. If others find it helpful – all the better.

Journal entry for July 21, 2007

The phrasing of Philippians 2:13 is even more powerful than the English text reveals in terms of its portrayal of God’s involvement in our sanctification and progress in grace. First, theos is fronted in the sentence, which indicates emphatically that it is God who is most significant in what follows. He is the focal point, not the addressees. It is as if Paul wants the Philippians to hear (v. 12): “…With fear and trembling work out (or “manifest”) your salvation. How? GOD…” Second, the substantive participle energoan (“the one who works”) gives even more force to the statement with its emphasis that (literally) “God is the one who works in you.”

Third, the articular infinitives (to thelain and to energain) actually make it less certain than the English text suggests that Paul only has in view God’s “willing” and “working” in us. A better rendering might be: “God is the one who works in you – both the willing and the working… .” Whose willing? Whose working? In other words, we might ask the question: Who is it that wills and works the manifestation of salvation in us? Is it God or us ourselves? The best answer to that question, in light of the phrasing of v. 13 is simply “Yes.” There is willing and working to be done in the “working out” of salvation. God works in us to work and to will toward that end as we work and will toward that end. God works in our working. He wills in our willing. It is not a cooperative willing and working. It is a concurrent willing and working. This is nothing more than the classic Reformed understanding of this verse, but it is helpful to have a text-based warrant for this understanding, rather than a warrant stemming only from a presupposed theological system.

Finally, the preposition hupere is significant in v. 13. The literal sense of hupere (+genitive) might bring out the true meaning better than the ESV’s “for his good pleasure.” “On behalf of his good pleasure,” I think, makes it more clear that it is not as though God’s pleasure is an afterthought, or an added bonus, that the manifestation of our salvation accomplishes. Rather, God’s pleasure is the reason that he wills and works for our ultimate salvation. We are not at the center of our universe. We are not the ultimate beneficiaries of our own salvation. The pleasure of God is the ultimate end of our salvation. What a marvelous reality.

Keep up your Greek.

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