Work 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. Verse 12-13 follow a directive from Paul that each of the saints within the church should humble themselves unto the mind of Christ. This humility motif found in Philippians 2:1-11 provided the church with teachings essential to its survival. Paul was making sure they were prepared to function in his absence.
The churches are no place for men to walk in pride. Paul had warned the Ephesian elders about bad behavior when he was preparing to leave them for the last time. Understand that these churches were 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 and securing her subsequent conversion we have perhaps the beginnings of the church at Philippi. Truly these churches were God’s handiwork.
Dependence on God
Lest the people become dependent upon him, Paul tells the saints, 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. Paul reveals the fact that they who were of the church at Philippi were in the habit of obeying the Gospel (especially while he was present). He wants to know that they will obey in his absence. Otherwise, their whole Christian walk would be little more than eye-service. Even the world has the saying, “Out of sight — out of mind.” Paul wanted a genuine church. He was careful to make sure they didn’t merely obey when Paul or some other person that expected them to obey was around.
Eye-service is nothing more than a performance. It’s like an actor acting on the stage only when the audience is present. Paul states, (…) not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence. This is the remedy for the kind of man-pleasing that the enemy works on us to so. As the saints, we should say and do the right things no matter where we are or who we are with. Paul uses a similar 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)
We read on in our passage, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. Paul is in prison and cannot possibly superintend the spiritual lives of these beloved people. Paul could not repent and believe for them and he could not receive for them. He reminds them here that he cannot keep on believing and obeying God for them either. Our salvation is our responsibility. Christ is our savior and He provides us with the grace we need to live for Him. In a figure, God may send rain upon the farmers field as an expression of His goodness — but the farmer still has to plow the field, sow the seed, and reap the harvest. God does His part of salvation and man must work his side of it out.
Paul brings the seriousness of the topic to our minds when he adds the phrase — with fear and trembling. These words together arrest our attention to the seriousness at hand. Even though Philippians is much about rejoicing; Paul blends into that emphasis the reverential fear of God. To Paul the fear of God and the joy of the Lord coexist without contradiction.
Our everlasting souls are our most precious thing. We ought to consider seriously Paul’s words. Even as Peter admonished us, that we ought to gird up the loins of our minds and be sober hoping unto the end for the grace that is in Christ. (I Peter 1:13) We should pass the time of our sojourn in fear. (I 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 we must be diligent to make our calling and election sure.
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 who is working in us. May we ever be careful and faithful to work out what He is ever faithful working in (Oswald Chambers). God moves upon us with His will to do things that are close to His heart. He works in us to will His will and then empowers us to perform that will. This means that our dependency is not on men or even mentors. God has enabled us and requires us to live for Him in faithful obedience even if all of our mentors were removed from our lives.
If the church at Philippi would do what Paul was telling them in Philippians 2 they could expect to go on growing the knowledge of Christ. They could expect to accomplish His will in their city. When individuals work out their own salvation with fear and trembling they are not as the Corinthians who could not receive spiritual things because of their carnality; they live their lives in the Spirit and are prepared at all times to do God’s will. How wonderful the churches would be if everyone simply followed this directive; work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.