Philippians 2:12-13, NASB
12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling;
13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
-Paul encourages the Philippian believers to continue to obey God, whether or not he is with them. In fact it is even more important to do so in his absence.
-"work out your salvation with fear and trembling"- I have never been sure just what this means.
-salvation is a result of God being at work in me- and it is a work that is for "His good pleasure."
How do we work out our salvation? We know that salvation is not based upon works; so just what is Paul saying here? One of the benefits of sitting down to study God's Word using the SOAP method is that it forces me to take a closer look at things, to try and understand that which I have previously not had any insight into. This is one of those times. Instead of just reading these words, "work out your salvation with fear and trembling," and then moving on; being somewhat content that I do not have a clue what that means; I am forced to stop and consider God's Word more carefully.
On the surface these verses seem to be in opposition to each other; on the one hand we are told to work out our salvation, and on the other, that salvation is a result of God being at work in us. Can they both be true at the same time? Well, obviously the answer is yes because Paul is writing by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but my mind is struggling to wrap itself around this apparent paradox.
Ephesians 2:8 reminds us:
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;
We do not work for our salvation, but we do need to “work out” our salvation. It is like I am seeing those two words “work out” for the first time. It suddenly brings to mind my efforts to get into shape. This aging body that has given birth to a couple of sons is not the body I had when I was a young bride. I am several pounds overweight and I know that I need to do something to change that. I have this body, that is my given. I have my goals: to lose weight and improve muscle tone. Now if I just continue to eat as usual and sit around the house my body will change, just not in the direction that I would like. I have to do something if I want to meet my goals-perhaps make changes to my diet, and add some exercise. I have to work out to see my muscle tone improve. I cannot be passive about it, I actually have to pick up those weights and make use of them. Now this is not a perfect analogy, because I do not have a promise from God of a fit and trim body, but if I did could He accomplish His will, “His good pleasure;” if I were not obedient in doing my part?
Verse 12 gives us the impression that salvation is something we do. In my analogy, that would be diet and exercise. Verse 13 tells us, “Wait. Just in case you thought this was all about you…God is at work in you, He will give you the desire to do His will, to do His work.” Again, in my analogy, God would plant these desires within me…to be fit and lose weight, and has provided clear instructions for just how I can go about accomplishing that in my daily life. I must decide whether to follow His instructions or not
What about in our text today? Do we have clear instructions for how to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling?” I believe we do. Verse 12 starts out, “So then.” That means that there is something in the preceding verses I need to take a closer look at.
5-Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,
6- who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,
7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.
8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
-Philippians 2:5-11, NASB, (emphasis mine)
If I am to work out my salvation I have got to follow Christ’s example, and to do that I have got to know Jesus. Thankfully Paul has painted this wonderful picture of our Savior in verses 5-11 who was submissive (taking the form of a bond-servant), humble (did not regard equality with God the Father something to strive for, but took on the limitations of a human body willingly), and obedient (obediently He went to the cross for this was the Father’s plan.) Sounds like a good place to start. Paul is telling the Philippian believers that it is important for them to continue in obedience to what they know, whether he is with them or not. It is their job to work out their own salvation. He could not do it for them, and no one can do it for me. If I can go back to my analogy for just a minute; sending my friend to the gym to work out in my place will not do me any good. I have got to put in the time myself. Seems rather obvious, but I meet so many who want someone else to do the work for them when it comes to their own spiritual growth. They want someone else to read the Bible and tell them what it means. They want someone else to spend time in prayer for them. They want someone else to feed and clothe the poor. They want someone else to minister to the sick. They want someone else to share the Good News with their neighbor. (I am not saying here that intercessory prayer is bad, but if I seek the prayers of others and do not spend time in prayer myself for that need it speaks of a relationship with the Lord that is wanting. That being said, there are times when prayer does not come easily and the interceding of the saints on our behalf is definitely needed. I only speak here of those who do not have a prayer life of their own.)
That is a very convicting list, but I think it is a step in the right direction towards “working out your salvation with fear and trembling.” I don’t do any of those things to gain salvation. That is wholly a work of God. I do those things, because I am a bond-servant of Jesus Christ and that is the life He has called me to. That is the life I accepted when I turned from my sin and acknowledged Him as my personal Lord and Savior. My part in all of this did not end on that day when I realized that I needed the power of the cross in my life. He knows I will fail at times. Paul knew the Philippian believers would fail at times. That is why these verses are so encouraging to me, “It is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” My failures are not the end- God is at work in me. So I begin each day anew, for as my favorite fellow red-head said,
"Marilla, isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?"
"I'll warrant you'll make plenty in it," said Marilla. "I never saw your beat for making mistakes, Anne."
"Yes, and well I know it," admitted Anne mournfully. "But have you ever noticed one encouraging thing about me, Marilla? I never make the same mistake twice."
"I don't know as that's much benefit when you're always making new ones."
"Oh, don't you see, Marilla? There must be a limit to the mistakes one person can make, and when I get to the end of them, then I'll be through with them. That's a very comforting thought."
-LM Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables, pp176-177
And always remember:
The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness. - Lamentations 3:22-23, NASB
Grace and Peace,
I am a woman with a Mary heart and these are my musings as I read and study God's Word
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