“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God that worketh in you both to will and do of his good pleasure. Do all things without murmurings and disputings: that ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; holding forth the word of life.” (Philippians 2:12-15)
Paul wrote to the Philippians when he was a prisoner in Rome. He looked upon them as a kind father would his children “having begotten them by the gospel.” He shows his appreciation for them in his greeting to them and proceeds to stir them up to go on with God.
In the chapter before us, he particularly encourages them to be humble, Christ-like, and united in the bond of Christ. Then he reminds them WHO it is that has ordered their circumstances in the first place and HOW He is working in their lives.
There is an interesting comment at the beginning of verse 12 where Paul reminds them that they behaved well when he was with them and now they need much more to do it in his absence.
THINK ABOUT IT: Is that typical of us? It’s easy to obey the Lord when in the company of godly Christians whom we don’t want to disappoint. But how do we act in private when no outsider is watching? Are we “obeying” the Lord when we are at home alone or at work or recreation? In other words, are we consistent in our walk with God?
1. “Work out your own salvation” — what does this mean?
It does not mean that you save yourself or work to save yourself. The Bible is clearly against salvation-by-works:
• “NOT by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us” (Titus 3:5).
• “For by grace are ye saved through faith and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8).
Working out our salvation is living it out day by day. But it’s more. The Greek word behind “work out” literally means “work down.” Young (from Young’s Concordance) suggests it means “work thoroughly.” There is effort needed to live out our Christian life. It will not happen by chance. We are not working to merit eternal life. Salvation is the gift of God. But it is not a gift to be left on the shelf and dusted off occasionally or when we feel like it. It is a gift to be used and cherished and experienced to its fullest!
2. “Your own” salvation — notice the personal, individual possession in these words. The Christian life we now live through God’s saving grace given to us is something we possess individually, personally, and wonderfully. But commentators also believe that Paul was exhorting the Philippians: “Do not think this work cannot go on because I am absent” (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown). Maybe they had too much reliance on a man and not enough on the Lord who was the One “working in them.”
THINK ABOUT IT: How often can this be the case with Christians! They can’t or won’t fend for themselves spiritually, but are over-reliant on a pastor, teacher, or mentor to feed them. We need to feed ourselves from the Word as well. We need to experience the joys and wonders of searching the Word of God for instruction, guidance, comfort, and blessing ourselves. That way, we will grow and develop more because we will be directly involved in the process. That isn’t to say that being fed by others is wrong or unnecessary, it is just not a substitute for individual, personal, intimate communion with the Lord ourselves. Otherwise we miss out so much!
3. “With fear and trembling”
What very interesting words! The Greek word for “fear” is the normal one (phobos), but “trembling” is the word (tromos)from which we get “tremor.” It means shaking and trembling because of fear. If we are living out our salvation with trembling, there is nothing casual, lighthearted, or laid-back in this approach. On the opposite extreme, it is not a slavish fear either, but a sober, serious attitude towards the “high calling of God in Christ Jesus” that we possess as children of the most high God. At the very least it is the utmost respect and reverence for the King of Kings. This should deter us from foolishness and sinful words and actions. We learn by this that the Christian life is not to be taken lightly. The gift we have been given demands “our soul, our life, our all.” It is not something that is tacked onto our life, but that which should be encompassing our whole being!
The world is hurting today because God’s people have forgotten this responsibility. It is increasingly difficult to tell the difference between the world and Christians — and we’re not merely talking of the outward appearance. Today, the big focus is on self, family, friends and fun first; God second. Commitment is shallow. “Trembling” suggests that we should be prioritizing our walk with God and living out the order of Matthew 6:33, “But seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. ”
4. God is at work in us
Paul gives the reason for the fear and trembling because God is at work in us. Our bodies are the temple of God. He is abiding in us and how then can we carelessly go where we shouldn’t, leave off going where we should, engage in anything questionable, or utter words which grieve Him? Living for Jesus is a serious responsibility. I think sometimes we forget that we are” not our own” but we are bought with a price.
“For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s. (I Cor. 6:20)
“Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.”(I Cor. 7:23)
God is working in us day by day “both to will and do of his good pleasure.” The word “do” here is actually the Greek “to work.” So literally this verse reads, “For God is working in you both to desire and work for the sake of his good pleasure.”
God finds pleasure working in us? What a wonderful truth! We are such weak creatures, but we belong to Him and He wants to work in us. When things go well, He is working these things in us; when things don’t go well, He is still working in us. I believe that’s why Paul added the advice: “Do all things without grumbling and complaining.”
5. You shine as light bearers in a wicked world
If we can see the bigger picture of what is going on behind the scenes of our lives as God works from hour to hour in us, it will help us better to accept things which are out of our control and be more accountable for things within our control. All the while, this daily work is going on as we live in a “crooked and perverse” world. The ungodly are watching and some may believe in Christ as a result of observing a godly believer’s life. As God’s children, we ought to be noticeable — not in an ugly way, but as bearers of light. That’s what the Greek word really means when it says we are “lights.” We are bearing or reflecting the light of the Lord as the moon reflects the light of the sun (which is the only way it can be illuminated).
Our world seems to be increasingly wicked. Men are working great evil. Paul warned Timothy of what would happen in the last days in 2 Tim. 3:1-3. It mentions “perilous times” which actually is “fierce times.” Men will be “blasphemers” among other things and how true that is today! These are serious days. They demand our serious attention towards the Lord and His Word.
6. Hold fast the word of life — antidote to success
We can never underestimate the power of the Word in our lives. If only we would hang onto it with all our soul, mind, and strength, it would benefit us so much. It cannot be adequately described. Again, there is nothing casual or sporadic about “holding fast.” That’s a life and death grip. We have so many ways and opportunities to read the Word of God today and so much freedom — for the present. Now is the time to commit it to our hearts for the sake of our Christian lives.
Let us leave our study today with this knowledge:
• We must work out our salvation in our Christian lives seriously (with fear and trembling).
• God is at work in us by His will and pleasure.
• We are light bearers for Him in a wicked world.
May God give us grace to be alive and engaged, and dedicated totally and cheerfully to our great God and Saviour. May we be encouraged that, because God is always working in us, we can rest assured that He is always with us. May that thought cheer our day!
Author: Gladys Reynolds, 1901-1994
Guide me, oh my Father now,
Humbly at Thy feet I bow,
Look upon me in my need,
Strength and grace suffice indeed.
Thou, my all to Thee I bend,
All my being— Dearest Friend,
Do I give Thee, Precious One,
May Thy will in me be done!
Thou art strong and I am weak,
Thy great wisdom do I seek,
Help me by Thy grace to be,
Contrite, humble, used of Thee.
When thro’ all Thy wondrous Hand,
I shall be as Thou hast planned,
Thine own servant tried and true,
Pleasing Thee in all I do.