Working Out Your Own Salvation
Robert Wurtz II
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12, 13 NKJV)
Our passage is part of a letter written to the church at Philippi that was planted by Paul through the Divine direction of God. (Acts 16:6-40) Paul had been forbidden to preach the Gospel in Asia and then received a vision in the night that he was to come to Macedonia. Having then met the woman Lydia of the province of Thyatira and securing her subsequent conversion we have perhaps the beginnings of the church at Philippi.
The context of our passage is important. It was written in times much like today when sexual immorality was rife, drugs and alcohol steer the minds of millions, and the persecution and mockery of Christians was in vogue. How will these believers survive? When their friends and family persecute them for their faith, how will they respond? How will they handle it when they look out their windows or pick up the newspaper and are vexed in their soul from day to day because of the ongoing wickedness that seems to prevail against all that is right. When stupified minds of men and women possessed with all manor of devils bring the fury of hell upon them, what will they do? Will they cave in and forsake Christ? Will they lose their testimony and respond in the flesh?
The Hope of Glory
The church having been established we learn a great truth from verse 13, for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. This is Paul reminding us that ‘it is God that worketh in us’… That is, it is Christ that is building the churches and we are merely the instruments of the work. The church at Philippi was to understand that this was God’s working. And if it is God’s working, the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. While everything is shaking under the huffing and puffing of a furious enemy, the House will remain. How? For it is God who works in you. Paul was careful to establish this fact in order to get the people’s eyes off of themselves and their own strength and get them on God. Paul did not seek to raise up a church of his own strength or for his own name to draw disciples after himself. He did not want the people dependent on him. He wanted them to stand independent of him. He brought the people to Christ and commended them to Christ so they would depend on Christ. This is our job as ministers; to see folk turn to God in true reconciliation until they see Christ as the sole source of salvation. This is utterly important.
Acting on the stage
Faking the Christian life is a most foolish thing, but it is nothing new. Paul acknowledges the fact that they that were of the church at Philippi ‘obeyed’, at the least, while Paul was present. But this alone can never do. There is a saying that refers to this that says, “Out of sight – out of mind.” It is a way of saying that when a person is gone – their influence over us goes with them. The risk is that folk would move into a mode where they ‘obeyed’ only when Paul or some other spiritual person was around that expected them to obey. This is performing for an audience. This is acting on the stage that lasts only as long as the audience is present. But Paul states, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence. This is the remedy for eye service and men pleasing. We should say and do the right things- those things that are of Christ no matter where we are or who we are with. If everyone backslides we have to keep doing what is right. If noone is watching we need to live right.
It’s Your Soul
We read on in our passage, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. This is Paul placing the responsibility of continuing on in the faith on the person. He is writing from prison and cannot possibly superintend the spiritual lives of these beloved people, nor should he be expected to. Paul could not repent and believe for them and he could not receive for them. He could not obey for them. He reminds us here that he cannot do for others what they must do for themselves. As the old timers used to say, you can’t get to heaven on someone elses coat tail. Paul then brings the seriousness before our eyes when he states, with fear and trembling. These words ought to sober every mind. If we were in mortal danger would we not take care? How much more ought we to fear and tremble as we consider our everlasting soul. God cannot be fooled, therefor we ought to tremble and fear as we work out our salvation. Paul uses this expression when he reminds the Ephesians that they are to work, not with eye-service as men pleasers but with singleness of heart as unto Christ. We are to do the will of God from the heart. (Ephesians 6:5, 6) This means that outward circumstances and associations no longer dictate how we live, but we live as genuine children of God. We have to live right no matter who likes it. Let the rebellious people damn their own souls God forbid, but don’t let them damn yours by following their reckless example. If you tremble for nothing else, tremble for your everlasting souls sake.
God Before Our Eyes
From a prison cell Paul commends the people again unto God so that the truth of their salvation will be ever before their eyes. Our everlasting souls are our most precious possession. We ought to consider this. As Peter also witnessed we ought to gird up the loins of our minds and be sober hoping unto the end for the grace that is in Christ. (1 Peter 1:13) We should pass the time of our sojourn in fear. (1 Peter 1:17) That is not to say that we should be in terror as if God would come down and crush us; God loves us and He is determined to have us. (GW North) Yet it is easy to get careless if we are not watchful. When we think we stand we must take heed lest we fall. Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. It was never about Paul, it was never about any servant of God; it is God that is working in us. May we ever be careful and faithful to work out what He is ever faithful working in. We must by the grace of God live our lives in trust and obedience steadfast unto the end. No one else can do it for us. God is doing His part; are we doing ours?