Leaders Shine Brightly for Christ (Philippians 2:12-18)

This post examines the fourth explanation under Paul’s heading in Phil 1:27, “Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News” (NLT). After this Paul told the Philippians to suffer in their faith (1:28-30), to focus on others (2:1-4), and to have the same attitude as Christ (2:5-11). Now, as the fourth explanation of Phil 1:27, Paul is encouraging believers to shine brightly like stars in the universe (Phil 2:12-18).


Leaders Shine Brightly for Christ in (Philippians 2:12-18)

Photo Credit: Nicolas Raymond


A. An Outline

A brief outline of this passage could be seen in this way:

Phil 1:27

B. A Brief Joke Related to the Topic

While today’s post looks at “shining brightly” lets look at a few funny “star” jokes before we get started.

  • Why was the astronaut unable to book a room on the book? – Because it was full!
  • When do astronauts eat lunch? – At launch time!
  • How do astronauts serve dinner? – On flyer saucers!
  • A romantic couple was outside at night hugging each other and looking at the stars. The man saw a star and he began singing this melody to his girlfriend, “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might. Oh wait, that’s just a satellite!”
  • While living on the earth might be expensive, at least you get a free trip around the sun every year.
  • Two guys were talking together at work. One asked the other, “What do you think of that new restaurant on the moon?” The other replied, “Oh it has great food, but it’s got no atmosphere.”


A. Bring About Your Salvation (v. 12)

1. Ὥστε, — Therefore

This is an inferential conjunction that introduces a dependent clause, “just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence but also now much more in my absence.”

2. ἀγαπητοί μου, — my beloved

Similar uses of this statement are:

  • “my dear friends” (1 Cor 10:14, NLT)
  • “my dear brothers and sisters” (1 Cor 15:58, NLT)
  • “dear friends” (2 Cor 7:1, NLT)
  • “dear friends” (2 Cor 12:19).

H. C. G Moule says that “this tender term similarly goes with earnest practical appeals” (H. C. G. Moule, Cambridge Greek New Testament, Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges [London, Cambridge University Press, 1906], 44).

3. καθὼς πάντοτε ὑπηκούσατε – just as you have always obeyed

It could be the Philippians obeying some of the instructions Paul had provided to them. Paul might have the idea of their initial obedience of Acts 16:14, 32-33. Or it could be the Philippians obeying Christ.

Τhe aorist tense of the verb, ὑπηκούσατε, likely looks back to Philipi and the old days there. This should be classified as a constative aorist which views the Philippians’ past obedience as a fact without comment about its inception, duration, repetition, or completion. Yet, πάντοτε before this verb adds a repetitive element.

4. μὴ ὡς ἐν τῇ παρουσίᾳ μου μόνον ἀλλὰ νῦν πολλῷ μᾶλλον ἐν τῇ ἀπουσίᾳ μου – (not only in my presence but also now much more in my absence)

This phrase could be connected to ὑπηκούσατε (“you have always obeyed”) or it could be connected to κατεργάζεσθε (“bring about your salvation”). While proximity and flow of thought seem to indicate ὑπηκούσατε, the negative word μη likely connects the phrase to the imperative, κατεργάζεσθε.

The use of μη and not οὐ, indicates that this is not a statement of fact, but instead an appeal for the Philippians to do something.

5. μετὰ φόβου καὶ τρόμου τὴν ἑαυτῶν σωτηρίαν κατεργάζεσθε· — bring about your salvation with reverence and trembling

a) κατεργάζεσθε – bring about

Elsewhere in the Bible this verb, κατεργάζομαι, is used with God and Christ as the source. “Yet I dare not boast about anything except what Christ has done through me, bringing the Gentiles to God by my message and by the way I worked among them” (Rom 15:18, NLT, emphasis added).

b) σωτηρίαν – salvation

The word, σωτηρια, is a common word in the New Testament used 51 times. Most often the word means, salvation, yet it can also mean deliverance or preservation, as we saw in Phil 1:19, “For I know that as you pray for me and the Spirit of Jesus helps me, this will lead to my deliverance (NLT, emphasis mine). Therefore, arguments have been advanced about the meaning of this noun here. Is it to be understood in a “sociological” sense to describe the health and well-being of the people in Philippi? Or, is it to be understood as eternal salvation for individual believers? Here is a brief look at both sides.

(1) Σωτηρίαν as sociological

  • First, σωτηρία was commonly used in Papyri and the New Testament to describe health and well-being. See Mark 3:4, Luke 1:71; Acts 4:9; 14:9; 27:34; Heb 11:7.
  • Second, the section of Phil 1:27-2:18 is an address to a corporate group of people. In this manner, Paul was providing instructions for an entire group of people to do together in community.
  • Third, it is unlikely that Paul would tell the Philippians to look at their own interests after having told them not to look at their own interests in Phil 2:4.
  • Fourth, if Paul was to tell the Philippians to work out their salvation, then it is likely that they had responsibility for it.
  • Fifth, harmony among the believers is a strong theme (Phil 1:27; 2:2-4, 2:29; 3:15; 4:5) in this letter and therefore suggests that σωτηρία might mean health and well-being instead of salvation.
  • Sixth, κατεργαζεσθε and ἑαυτων are both plural, and could possibly indicate that this is a corporate action the people are supposed to do together as a group, not just an individual issue (O’Brien, Philippians, 277-278).

(2) σωτηρίαν as eternal salvation

  • First, most uses of σωτηρία by Paul describe the personal eternal salvation of people. For example, BDAG does not list any Scripture references under the deliverance translation category for Paul’s references (even though I used σωτηρία in this way in Phil 1:12), yet it lists 20 references to Paul’s writings (BDAG, 985-986).
  • Second, κατεργαζεστε and ἑαυτων as plural words do not mean that only a corporate action was in view. Instead, it could mean that this is an appeal to all people to do. In other words, this is an action that all believers were supposed to do for their own benefit.
  • Third, the phrase ἑαυτῶν σωτηρίαν κατεργάζεσθε (“bring about your salvation”) is different than what is said in Phil 2:4, μὴ τὰ ἑαυτῶν ἕκαστος σκοποῦντες (“do not look out only for your own interests”). Phil 2:4 believers were told to take an interest in others. Yet, believers are also specifically to have fruit of the Spirit as described in Gal 5:22-23, “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” (NLT).
  • Fourth, believers working out their salvation day-to-day matches the preparation for Christ’s second coming as Paul had already described in Phil 1:6, 10, then later in Phil 2:16.
  • Fifth, this is a motivation for believers to do what they already have been told to do. Paul had already instructed them to live in harmony with each other (2:2), to love one another (2:2), to be humble without selfishness (2:3), and to take an interest in others (2:4) (O’Brien, Philippians, 278-280; Comfort, Philippians, 182-183).

B. God Is the One Working in You (v. 13)

1. θεὸς γάρ ἐστιν ὁ ἐνεργῶν ἐν ὑμῖν – Do this because God is the one producing in you all

a) γάρ – Do this because

This is an explanatory conjunction that describes “why” the Philippian believers should work out their salvation as well as provides the reason for the “reverence and fear” of Phil 2:12.

b) θεὸς – God

The noun is placed first in the sentence which provides emphasis for who is the one producing the desire and will in the life of the Philippians.

c) ἐστιν ὁ ἐνεργῶν – [he] is the one producing

The idea that God is the one producing the desire to do what please him seems odd given that in Phil 2:12 Paul just told the Philippian believers to bring about their salvation. It appears that Paul wants the reader to stop and ponder what he has just said. While God is the source of salvation (Heb 5:9) and the source of motivation (Phil 2:13) to do what pleases him, there also appears to be some element of the believer actively and consciously participating in that work (Phil 2:12).

The participle uses here, ἐνεργῶν, needs some special attention because it carries an intense spiritual force (H. C. G. Moule, The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, 45). Some similar constructions of this verb can seen in other parts of the New Testament. In Matt 14:2, αἱ δθναμεις ἐνεργσυσιν ἐν αὐτῳ, “miraculous powers are at work in him [Jesus].” In Eph 2:2, τοῦ πνεύματος τοῦ νῦν ἐνεργοῦντος ἐν τοῖς υἱοῖς τῆς ἀπειθείας, “the spirit [of the Devil] that is now work in the sons of disobedience.”

2. καὶ τὸ θέλειν καὶ τὸ ἐνεργεῖν ὑπὲρ τῆς εὐδοκίας – both the desire and will to do what pleases him

a) καὶ τὸ θέλειν καὶ τὸ ἐνεργεῖν – both the desire and will to do

The infinitives in this verse are used in Greek because active energy is emphasized. The two και words point to the fact that this is from God.

b) ὑπὲρ τῆς εὐδοκίας – what pleases him

“The Christian, enabled by the Divine power within to will and to do, wills and does, not for himself, but for Him whose implement he is” (Moule, Philippians, 46).

3) God is the subject and source of the desire to do good work

God! God is the one doing the work in us is seen both in Paul’s letter to the Philippians and in his other letters.

In Philippians he said he was certain that God, who began good work inside the Philippians would continue doing that work until it was finished on the day when Christ returns (1:6). Paul told the Philippians that they had been given the privilege of trusting in Christ (1:29). This is a “passive” idea for the believers as it was given to them. It was not something that they did or brought upon themselves. According to Paul, it was God who took care of him and all of his needs (Phil 4:19).

Other examples in the New Testament, “God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us” (*1 Cor 12:6, NLT). “May he [God] equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen” (*Heb 13:21, NLT).


A. Do Everything Without Complaining or Arguing (v. 14)

Having clarified that the Philippians bring about their salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12) and then that God is the one who produces believers’ desire to do good (Phil 2:13, with the Power of God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, believers are to do “everything” without gossip or argument.

The verse echoes the descriptions of the Israelite nation and their complaints in Num 11:1-6; 14:1-4; 20:2; 21:4, 5.

1. Πάντα ποιεῖτε – Continually do all things

ποιεῖτε is used here as a customary present and signals an ongoing state or something that regularly happens without interruption (Wallace, Greek Grammar, 521-522).

2.  χωρὶς γογγυσμῶν καὶ διαλογισμῶν – without gossip and arguing

The idea of “gossip” here is of behind the scenes talk, murmurs, and debates that were not directed to God but instead directed to each other. Other examples of this are Acts 6:1; 1 Peter 4:9; James 2:4. Additionally, the root word for “gossip” is used in 1 Cor 10:10 to describe Israel wandering in the wilderness (cf. Exod 16:7).

3. What was the grumbling about?

With such a focus on the believers getting along with each other and living in harmony with each other, it seems likely that the grumbling was among the believers.

B. Shine as Bright Stars in the Universe (v. 15)

1. ἵνα γένησθε ἄμεμπτοι καὶ ἀκέραιοιin order that you may prove yourselves to be blameless and pure

a) ἵνα – in order that

This is a purpose clause showing the result of Phil 2:14, “doing all things without gossip or argument.”

b) γένησθε – you may prove yourselves to be

Notice that γένησθε is in the aorist subjunctive mood. Some Greek manuscripts (P46, A, D*, F, G, and latt) have this verb as ητε which is an imperfect future indicative. The text reading with aorist subjunctive mood would be translated, “that you may be blameless (Comfort, Philippians, 181; O’Brien, Philippians, 292). While the variant reading with the imperfect future indicative would be translated, “that you may become blameless.” Regardless of the variant chosen, this verb gets to the heart of Paul’s letter and dsire for the Philippians. He wants them to be or to become blameless.

2. τέκνα θεοῦ ἄμωμα μέσον γενεᾶς σκολιᾶς καὶ διεστραμμένης – children of God who are blameless in the midst of a crooked and perverted generation.

a) τέκνα θεοῦ — children of God

“As a rule, Scripture uses the words ‘Father,’ ‘son,’ ‘child,’ as between God and man, to make the connexion [sic] not of creation but of new creation; as here” (Moule, Philippians, 46).

b) ἄμωμα – blameless

It is possible that Deut 32:5 was in Paul’s mind as he wrote this part of his letter to the Philippians, “They have dealt corruptly with him; they are no longer his children because they are blemished; they are a crooked and twisted generation” (ESV).

3. ἐν οἷς φαίνεσθε ὡς φωστῆρες ἐν κόσμῳAmong those people you will shine like stars in the universe

a) φαίνεσθε – you will shine

This is a verb used to describe the rising and setting of the stars (Moule, Philippians, 47). In this way, the saints of God are supposed to shine in holiness in the dark night of sin.

b) φωστῆρες – stars

The same word is used in in Gen 1:14, Καὶ εἶπεν ὁ θεός Γενηθήτωσαν φωστῆρες ἐν τῷ στερεώματι τοῦ οὐρανοῦ, “Then God said, ‘Let lights appear in the sky to separate the day from the night” (NLT). The same word also appears in Gen 1:16, Kαὶ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς τοὺς δύο φωστῆρας τοὺς μεγάλους, τὸν φωστῆρα τὸν μέγαν εἰς ἀρχὰς τῆς ἡμέρας καὶ τὸν φωστῆρα τὸν ἐλάσσω εἰς ἀρχὰς τῆς νυκτός, καὶ τοὺς ἀστέρας, “God made two great lights—the greater light to rule over the day and the lesser light to rule over the night. He made the stars also” (NET). Other uses of this Greek word in the Greek Old Testament are in Isa 11:11 and Mal 4:2. Other uses of this Greek word in the New Testament are Matt 5:14; John 8:12; Eph 5:8; Rev 21:11; 22:16.

4. Israel Was To Shine in the Old Testament

The idea of shining as “stars in the universe” goes all the way back to the book of Genesis. As God was revealing the Abrahamic Covenant to Abraham in Genesis God told Abraham, “For Abraham will certainly become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed through him. I have singled him out so that he will direct his sons and their families to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just. Then I will do for Abraham all that I have promised” (Gen 18:18-19, NLT, emphasis added). The important point here is that God chosen Abraham to be a might nation “so that” his sons and decendents would keep the way of the LORD doing what is right and just. Abraham was to have a family that was distinctly different than the world around them. They were to follow God and be an object of just living.

This idea was again shared by God in Exodus only one chapter before the ten commandments were revealed, “And you [Israel] will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation” (Exod 19:6a, NLT). God had singled out the nation of Israel to his his holy people—a kingdom of priest—that would look different than the pagan, crooked, and perverse generations around them.

Additionally, this theme of Israel being a holy nation was seen in the efforts of the man Nehemiah. While the Jewish people were under the rule of King Artaxerxes they had no reason to rebuild the walls of the city of Jerusalem because they had already been conquered! There was no military advantage since they were already under the rule of a foreign nation. However, Nehemiah wanted to rebuild the walls of the city in order to assist in the spiritual restoration of the people living there.

5. Stars Among the Perverse and Crooked in Our Times

C. The Living Word (v. 16)

1. λόγον ζωῆς ἐπέχοντεςby holding fast to the living word.

a) ἐπέχοντες – by holding fast

Two options for translating ἐπέχοντες.

  • One could be, “by holding fast to the living word.”
  • Or, another could be by holding out the living word.”

The first would be something clenched and clung to. It would be a means of preservation. The second would be an evangelistic outreach to others.

b) λόγον ζωῆς – to the living word

Three possible translations for this.

  • Attributive, “living word.”
  • Objective, “word concerning life.”
  • Reference, “word with reference to life.”

2. εἰς καύχημα ἐμοὶ εἰς ἡμέραν Χριστοῦ — This will give me a reason to boast in the day of Christ

3. ὅτι οὐκ εἰς κενὸν ἔδραμον οὐδὲ εἰς κενὸν ἐκοπίασα – so that I did not run in vain nor work hard in vain.

Other references to Paul’s work and ministry are seen in 2 Cor 6:1; Gal 2:2; and 1 Thess 3:5.


A. Paul’s Life as a Liquid Offering (v. 17)

1. Ἀλλʼ εἰ καὶ σπένδομαι ἐπὶ τῇ θυσίᾳ καὶ λειτουργίᾳ τῆς πίστεως ὑμῶν – Yet even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and priestly service of your faith,

a) Ἀλλʼ — Yet

This is a contrastive conjunction that provides what Paul thinks and feels even if his work was in vain (v. 16).

b) εἰ — even if

This is a first class conditional statement which means something is assumed true for the sake of argument.

c) σπένδομαι – I am being poured out as a drink offering

Paul might be thinking of martyrdom as a near event resulting from imprisonment in Rome (Moule, Philippians, 48).

d) ἐπὶ τῇ θυσίᾳ καὶ λειτουργίᾳ τῆς πίστεως ὑμῶν – upon the sacrifice and priestly service of your faith,

“Here the Philippians are both sacrifice and priests, while Paul is their libation” (Moule, Philippians, 49).

2. χαίρω καὶ συγχαίρω πᾶσιν ὑμῖνI rejoice and celebrate with you all.

c) Paul’s life as a ministry to others

Throughout this letter we have seen Paul’s passion for ministry.

For example, Paul had said that he was a “slave” of Jesus Christ (1:1) and that the Philippians had been his partners in spreading the Gospel (1:3-5). Furthermore, the Philippians had a special place in Paul’s heart (1:7) and he hoped that they would live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return (1:9-10). Even more, Paul acknowledged that everything that happened to him had helped to spread the Gospel (1:12) and in that imprisonment he rejoiced because the Gospel was advancing (1:18).

When Paul faced the decision (1:22) about whether he was able to live or die, he said that he wanted to remain alive so that he could minister to the Philippians (1:23-24). Paul wanted to remain alive so that he could see the growth that the Philippians experienced (1:25-26). Later, in the letter, Paul told the Philippians, “pattern your lives after mine” (3:17, NLT). Then later he said, “Keep putting into practice all you learned from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing (4:9, NLT).

We might even venture to say that Paul’s entire life was poured out as an offering to others. In fact, the last half of the book of Acts is focused on Paul and his ministry sharing the Gospel with the world (Acts 13-28).

B. The Philippians Rejoice and Paul Shares their Joy (v. 18)

1. τὸ δὲ αὐτὸ — And in the same way,

2. καὶ ὑμεῖς χαίρετε καὶ συγχαίρετέ μοι – you also rejoice and celebrate with me

3. Paul wanted his life to matter

Like all of us, Paul wanted his life to matter


Reasons we should shine brightly for Christ.

  • First, it is what we are supposed to do as Christians. A process began in which believers died with Christ and were raised with him (Rom 6:3-4). And in that death and resurrection the old self died with Christ (Rom 6:6-7). Therefore, believers are no longer slaves to sin (Rom 6:10-11) but instead must use their whole bodies as instruments of righteousness (Rom 6:12-14).
  • Second, so that we provide a compelling witness that draws others to God. While we can do our best to explain the “proof” that Jesus live and proof that an “intelligent” beings made the universe, nothing is more effective to draw people to Christ than a compelling witness. When we should love to others, are humble, and seek to follow God we provide a compelling witness.
  • Third, it is how we were originally designed! In Genesis 1-2 a picture was shown of God’s unblemished human creation which was sinless and perfect. In effect, everyone was stars shining brightly even though there was no crooked generation. Shining brightly for Christ is how we were originally designed and is the way believers are meant to live.
  • Forth, we should shine bright in order to provide effective ministry to others. When believers act the way they are supposed to act they shine brightly together. And when they shine brightly together they can draw more people to God because their light is brighter.


A Leader that Stood Out Among the Rest

Just as believers are told in Phil 2:12-18 to shine brightly for Christ amidst a crooked and perverse generation, leaders too must stand out among the many crooked and poor leaders in the world. Some examples of crooked and perverse leaders in our world:

William Aramony – While the leader of the United Way he embezzled more than one million dollars from the charity. He stole money meant to help local communities and used it for his own personal vacations, condo, and mistresses. As a result he spent six years in prison.

President Nixon – Sadly, this is probably one of the most public scandals United States history. While Nixon served America faithfully for so many years his lies and cover ups caused his resignation.

Volkswagen – In 2015 the VAlkswagen scandal rocked the world as their CEO admitted to knowing that engineers had purposefully created a computer glitched that would trip smog testers into think their cars were putting out less emissions than allowed.

If leaders want to attract the best employees and keep the ones they already have, then they must stand out among the leaders that currently leader. One great example of a leader that stood out among his colleagues is Chuck Swindoll who led Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) from 1994 to 2001. Chuck would himself admit that he is not a “scholar” but instead much more of a “pastor.” While working on my master’s degree at DTS I heard several great leadership stories of Chuck as well as witnessing his work myself.

The first interaction I observed was one of the times that Dr. Swindoll came to preach at DTS’ daily chapel services. After the chapel I had stayed late to talk to another student. I happened to be leaving the chapel building at the same time as Chuck. As he was exiting the door he looked at the audio-visual tech guy and said, “Hey [name of guy], thanks for your help today. See ya later!” That farewell greeting came from a guy that worked full-time for a large church, a guy that had a worldwide teaching ministry through Insight for Living, and additionally he served as the Chancellor of DTS. Not to mention that he had written more than 80 books and has sold 50 million books.

DTS is a fairly small school (only about 1,000 students on campus) I drove into campus three times a week while Chuck came and spoke three times a semester. In all my time there I had seen that same audio-visual guy around, yet I did not know his name. Instead, this leader of three organizations had taken the time to learn the name of an ordinary work among many of the school’s employees. Chuck had taken the time to learn and remember the name of one of the many employees of the school.

Another story about Chuck and his focus on others as leader of that school was during one of the toughest times in the school’s history. As a result of the school’s financial troubles the faculty members had not received a raise in several years. When Chuck became president the first Christmas he was there he gave each of the faculty members a very nice Christmas bonus. While the school still could not provide a raise for its faculty, the faculty were at least able to receive a nice Christmas bonus. However, it was not until much later that information lacked out that the bonus did not come from the school’s budget, but it came from Chuck’s personal finances!

On the topic of finances, it reminds me of another story about Chuck. While he spoke at the Catalyst Leadership Conference I remember him saying that all four of his kids lived within a few miles of Chuck and his wife. I found that slightly odd and coincidental. It was not until about five years later that I was being mentored by a faculty member at DTS who had been teaching there for almost 40 years. That faculty member told me that it was not simply “chance” that Chuck’s four kids all lived so close to him. No, he had personally paid for the house of his kids as a way to help out his children and keep them living close.

The last example Chuck’s outstanding leadership is a little more comical. He is an outgoing person that likes to have fun. AS a result, he used to tell his assistant at DTS to keep track of all of the birthday parties for the staff and faculty at DTS. As long as he was in town he would attend all of those birthday parties. Could you imagine a the president of an organization of 500 employees coming  your birthday party?

While DTS has a strong reputation of providing great education and character development to its graduates, it is also among other great seminaries in the US and around the world. This is an example of how one leader shined out among the rest of the leaders of seminaries and nonprofit organizations.

By Christopher L. Scott

Christopher L. Scott serves as senior pastor at Lakeview Missionary Church in Moses Lake, Washington. Through his writing ministry more than 250,000 copies of his articles, devotions, and tracts are distributed each month through Christian publishers. Learn more at