Commentators have customarily interpreted Phil 2:12 as a reference to “working out” one’s personal salvation. For this reason, the verse became a flashpoint between Roman Catholic advocates who emphasized the “working out” of personal salvation and Protestant apologists who emphasized the “working out” of personal salvation (i.e., “progressive sanctification”). On a lexical level, the Greek verb of this phrase (κατεργαζεσθαι) can mean “to accomplish,” “to bring about,” “to subdue,” “to cultivate,” “to prepare,” “to produce,” or “to complete” (see Rom 1:27; 2:9; 4:15; 5:3; 7:8–20; 2 Cor 4:17; 5:5; 7:10; Eph 6:13; Jas 1:3; 1 Pet 4:3). “This does not mean that [the Philippians] are to earn their salvation,” explains Jerry Sumney. “Rather, the sense is similar to that expressed in 1:27, where they are exhorted to ‘live worthy of the gospel.’” Sumney then turns in a fresh interpretive direction:
It is significant that the verb and the reflexive pronoun that modify σωτηρια are plural. This shows that the call to live out their salvation is a call to the Philippians as a community and anticipates that the matters to be raised in the following verses involve relations within the community.
Sumney’s additional material with its stress upon the “community” does not address the traditional Catholic-Protestant debate, but rather touches upon interpretive questions raised during the last century. [Read more]