Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Church works it out

The individualism I heard in Paul’s exhortation to “Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) rendered this verse unavailable as a foundational text for an ecclesiology. Wesley’s interpretation of this passage, both in his Notes (“Work out your own salvation - Herein let every man aim at his own things.”) and in his Sermon on Phil 2:12, 13, only reinforced my impression.

That is, it was my impression until I started learning Greek. Paul’s command reads-- τὴν ἑαυτῶν σωτηρίαν κατεργάζεσθε. The verb ending is second person plural, “you all work out.” The reflexive pronoun also has a plural ending, and this particular Greek pronoun does triple duty for first, second, and third person plural reflexive pronouns.

 The verb used here suggest intense effort according to HELPS Word-Studies--
katergázomai (from 2596 /katá, "down, exactly according to," intensifying 2038 /ergázomai, "work, accomplish") – literally, "work down to the end-point," i.e. to an exact, definite conclusion (note the prefix, 2596/katá); bring to decisive finality (end-conclusion). 
So, rather than reading this verse as Paul’s instructions to individual Philippians to work out his or her own salvation as a private struggle, it should be interpreted as a collective endeavor that Paul placed upon the group as a whole-- “thoroughly work out the salvation of all of you.” (Paul explained how to accomplish this goal in his Letter to the Philippians, but I’ll save that for another post.)

Salvation by grace through faith as a group process. The work of every church member for every church member as empowered by grace. Members supporting, encouraging, and challenging one another to pursue the goal that Paul identified in Phil 2:5-- to become Christ-like. The implications of this new creation worked into every facet of every member’s life. (Which sounds a lot like Wesley’s goal for his classes and bands.) That’s how I read Phil 2: 12 now.  Is this understanding of discipleship evident in your church's ministry?

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