Work Out Your Own Salvation

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. 

The Endangered Fire

The Endangered Fire
Robert Wurtz II

You shall command the people of Israel that they bring to you pure beaten olive oil for the light, that a lamp may regularly be set up to burn. (Exodus 27:20 ESV)

Mark 4:21 And he said unto them, Is a lamp brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed? and not to be set on a lampstand?

And the foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise answered, saying, “No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.” (Matthew 25:8–9 NKJV)

The burning lamp motif is found all throughout both Old an New Testament. Although there was an earthly use for lamps, there is also a spiritual reality to be understood. In Exodus 27 God commanded Moses to place the lampstand in the Wilderness Tabernacle. The High Priest was ultimately responsible for making sure this lampstand was properly serviced. It was the responsibility of the children of Israel to bring pure oil to the priests for use in the lamps on the lampstand (Exodus 27:20). 

The lamp stand had seven lamps with three on each side of a center lamp (The Western lamp). The center lamp inclined towards the Holy of Holies and the six other lamps, were slightly bent towards the center lamp. When the lamps were serviced, the old oil was dumped and fresh pure oil, and a new wick were installed. The freshly serviced lamp was then lit from one of the other lamps. The center lamp could not be relit except with fire directly from the burning altar. The altar burned with the sacred fire that fell from Heaven. Nadab and Abihu learned the hard way that God does not tolerate common fire in His service.   

Fire as Light

We find the lamp motif again when Jesus asks, “Is a lamp brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed? and not to be set on a lampstand?” A lamp is a light source. It contains four essential parts: the lamp, the wick, the oil, and the fire. These things are figurative. First, the Lord Jesus stated, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:5 NKJV) While Jesus walked the earth, He was the lamp that lighted the world. Second, He also told the Disciples, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5:14 NKJV) If I might so say, He was the center lamp (The Western lamp) lighted from the Fire sent down from Heaven. From Him the rest of the lamps are lit. 

The implication of Mark 4:21 is that the lamp is introduced to illuminate what would otherwise be in darkness. The fact that it is ” brought ” (lit cometh) implies that God intends to do something about the darkness of this present evil world. The lamp was sent and therefor ” cometh ” to bring light. John writes, “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19 NKJV) The lamp has motion — it is deliberately moving into an area of darkness. Jesus was the first lamp and from Him, other lamps are lit and sent. If the sent lamps do their job, very well; if they do not do their job, they are as worthless as salt that has lost its savor. It has the same value as a flashlight with dead batteries during a power outage. In fact, when this rule is applied to the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2, the Lampstand is endangered of being removed. Why? Because a lamp (church) with no fire is a stumbling block in a darkened world as surely as a blackened-out, lightless lamp stand is a trip-hazard in a darkened room.   

Our passage in Mark 4:21 assumes that the lamp is indeed lit. We know there are dangers to this lit lamp and they both relate to attempts to reduce the “candle power” of the light. That is to say, a burning believer is a shining light who does not flow with a crowd. Many people cannot handle the contrast between them and the world so they try to tone things down a bit. Almost like a dimmer switch in a dining hall at a dinner party that lowers the lights to create an atmosphere, but is still bright enough to barely see. Nevertheless, no one would place a burning lamp under a bushel or under a bed. Keep in mind that a bushel was not a wooden basket. The NIV more accurately reads “bowl” in place of “bushel.” This was very likely a metal pan as the one pictured below called in the Latin a modius (this is the word Mark used in the Greek). This modius would be around 9 liters in volume (about 4.5 two liters or over 2 one gallon milk jugs). 

In Roman times these items could be highly decorated. Obviously if this modius was placed over the lamp the light would be blocked and the fire would soon go out from lack of oxygen. If the lamp was placed under the “bed” the fire would sooner or later spread to the bed itself endangering the very life of the person and the house. Clearly this explains why our Lord asks the rhetorical question to begin with. In real life no person would do either of these suggestions. 

Lights in the World

No reasonable person would hide a lamp under his bed, under a bowl or in a “secret place.” If person has sense enough not to do such a thing — we know God would never do it. Burning for God is not a private affair. He intends that the lighted ones go out and be a light in a darkened world. Countless Christians have allowed their fire to go out because they tried to cover it up or would not move out when sent. Christians try to bring their fire to places like Christian internet discussion forums and end up nearly burning the place down. This is no different than placing the fire under your bed. Fire is real good at a reasonable distance, but if you touch it directly to something or someone it will burn them. This is the common sense side of Mark 4:21. Our love for God can become a burning zeal that takes no prisoners in the wrong environment. 

Our Oil — Our Responsibility

Our final passage deals with the parable of the five wise and five foolish virgins. 
As with every good parable, the message is applicable in any number of related circumstances. (Mounce. NIBC). The primary aspect I wish to point out is that we are responsible for our own oil. And the foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise answered, saying, “No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.” The idea of “buying” idea is akin to the admonition of the Lord Jesus in Revelation 3:18 when He counseled the Laodiceans to “buy” of him gold tried in the fire. 

The gifts of God are freely given — but they do not come without a cost. We must spend our most precious resource to gain them: time. We have to go to Him in prayer and in study and allow Him to give us the oil for our lamp. In fact, oil is derived from crushing the olive. Sometimes our devotions are like that. God speaks to us in our circumstances by His Holy Spirit and through His word and it becomes oil to us. Noone else can do it for us. We have to do it ourselves. That is not to say that Christ cannot use our oil when He calls for it to be a blessing to others — He can; however, our own oil must be our own responsibility. We have to “buy” of Him. This requires renunciation of self and of the world. (Vincent) It requires a willingness to take responsibility for working out our own salvation. My lamp — my oil. I will either be wise about it or foolish about it. I will either get about procuring my own oil or I will procastinate until it is too late and the door is shut.  

Fire for This Present World

God intends to send Fire on the earth, that is, the LIGHT of the revelation of Himself. He desires to use His children as instruments of illumination, as they let their light shine before men. He intends His children to fulfill their calling as priests unto God and burn for Him. The fire fell when the Holy Spirit was received, and in our devotional life, the pure oil is flowing. We have a commission. The lamp is burning — now Christ can send us. These are the true “sent” ones. Would to God that men and women would simply move out on fire for Him burning as lights in the world. Fire is what it is and can be no other. It cannot help but bring light. But it is an endangered fire — always at the mercy of those who would neglect their oil, employ their bushel or place it under their bed.


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