The paradox of cooperation ∙

The paradox of cooperation ∙

Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling – Philippians 2:12

Hebrews 13:20-21

 20 Now may the God of peace – who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood –

 21 may he 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.

A medium-sized business in Des Moines, Iowa was having difficulty in finishing their work projects on time. The management determined that the blame started with the managers themselves. From them, it just trickled down to a large number of their employees. The workers seemed to be slacking off, huddled in little groups talking to each other, and consuming extraordinary amounts of time with their cell phones. They were not getting the job done!

Management decided to try to motivate employees with a bit of humor rather than disciplinary action. They posted a notice on the employee bulletin board. It read as follows:

“It has come to the attention of management that some of its employees apparently are dying on the job but failing to fall down. It has become impossible to distinguish between those that are dead and those that are still alive. This practice must stop. Therefore, any employee found dead in the upright position will immediately be terminated and dropped from the payroll.”

Good leaders and managers take responsibility for both good and bad outcomes. They establish achievable goals and set an example. They provide all of the resources required to accomplish the tasks. They work alongside their employees, have their backs, and motivate them. When necessary, they roll up their sleeves and get busy themselves. This is precisely what the Father has done.

Philippians 2:12 Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling

The Father has provided the same for His children. He sets goals and enables His children to achieve them. “Salvation” is not only something they receive; it is something they do” (Fee). Paul reveals an amazing paradox regarding how we cooperate with the Father in achieving the results He intends: we are to work out our own salvation. “Nowhere in the New Testament is the work of salvation more succinctly stated” (Barclay).

As a result of our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we have graciously been saved. Each child of the King has been given their “own salvation.” Now in this life, we are to strive to work it out by cooperating with the Father.

The Greek word translated work is katergazesthai. Katergazesthai comes from two Greek words kata which is a preposition and typically means down. Here used to intensify the verb. The other Greek word is ergazomai to work, perform, do, accomplish. Thus, katergazesthai means to put something into effect entirely or thoroughly, or to bringing to completion.

Paul is speaking as an athletic coach or military leader would today. He is telling children of the King to get the job done. Give it your all. Give it your best. Do not leave anything out on the field. When you are done, all of your energy and strength should be expended. 

 What is the paradox? As children of the King, we are commanded to do what the Father Himself is actively working within us to accomplish. We have only to collaborate with Him. What a delightful and extraordinary paradox indeed!


The Father has a special and distinctive purpose for each of His children to fulfill. Each child is cherished, unique, and special in their own way. 

Father thank You that You inspire and motivate us to do Your will. And then You empower me to do it. Father, help me to learn how to cooperate with You to get the job done.


The Father provides the motivation, the desire, to get the job done, and then He also works within us to give us the ability to do it. Putting it in other terms, when we recognize that the Father is at work within us, His activity and initiative should stimulate us to participate actively in the fulfillment of the Father’s own purpose and please Him (UBS).

Philippians 2:13 For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him

Each child of the King has the same task, to do what pleases Him.

He mysteriously and marvelously works within our hearts to cause us to want to do what He wants us to do. His initiative and work within us provide the incentive to desire and to do His will.

The Greek verb which is translated working is energeo. Energeo means to be at work, to be active, to get the job done. The English word energy comes from this term. “There are two significant things about it; it is always used of the action of God, and it is always used of effective action. God’s action cannot be frustrated, nor can it remain half-finished; it must be fully effective” (Barclay). The Greek verb here is a present participle that connotes continuous action. The Father is always at work and never stops. He is literally in us always working to cause us to be willing (UBS).

The Father effectively works in each of His children so that His desire becomes our desire. And with the desire comes the ability. The Greek phrase could be literally rendered, “both to will and to work in behalf of the good pleasure” (UBS).

Here then is the paradox of cooperation. “God must work in us before He can work through us” (Wiersbe).  

There are two sides to getting the job done. We are to work hard to show the results of our salvation, obeying the Father with deep reverence and awe. While at the same time the Father is working in us giving us the desire and the power to do what pleases Him (Osborne).

The Scriptures are replete with examples of this very thing.

For example, the Father took forty years to bring Moses to the place where He could use him to lead the people of Israel. As Moses tended sheep during those forty years, the father was working in him so that one day He might work through him. The father is more interested in the workman than in the work. If the workman is what he ought to be, the work will be what it ought to be.

¯\_()_/¯ 7-22-0

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