NOT SO BRIEF A RECAP:
Paul has written this letter to a group of believers in Philippi whom he loves dearly. There is a fond affection from them, for him, as well. These believers participated in gospel work with Paul from day one (1:5). He says they are “partakers of grace’ with him (1:7). He calls them “brethren,” a term of endearment (1:12). “My beloved” another such term (2:12). He mentions there “proud confidence” in him (1:25). One cannot miss what he says about these folks in (4:1). He uses the terms “dearly beloved” twice, “brethren,” “longed for,” “my joy and crown (to Paul they were both a reward and a blessing).
From the first day, he says in 1:5, reflecting on his second missionary tour and first act on European soil, which we read about in (Acts 16: 12-40), they shared his interests, made his suffering their own, twice sent him money at Thessalonica (4:16), once at Corinth (2 Cor. 11:9) and now again at Rome (4:18). We read of their love for him (1:9), and that love was reciprocated in full measure (1:7,8).
We also took notice that “There was a pronounced lack of any doctrinal exhortation in this epistle because there was no doctrinal deviation. These folks had not gone astray in terms of theology. So, they didn’t need to be corrected. No immorality in the congregation is confronted in the epistle. So, what we saw, generally speaking, was that this is a quality group of people. They were a devoted, consistent, doctrinally true church.
But, despite all of that, there was hanging over that church a troubling cloud, and that cloud was dripping drops of disunity, discord, and conflict, within their fellowship, and Paul is greatly grieved over that.
This is what is burdening Paul; unity and the lack of it in this otherwise GOOD church. Let me remind you that Paul frames the letter with that issue in mind. For example, in the first chapter, he speaks of it, verse 27, when he says, “I want you to stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” In chapter 4, the last chapter, he speaks of it in verses 1 and 2 when he says, “stand firm in the Lord, my beloved. And I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord.”
So, in chapter 1, we see an urging toward one mind and one heart. In chapter 4, another urging toward one mind and one heart, And then in the middle is this second chapter, and the opening verses also deal with the issue of unity in the church. This is a plea for unity.
The following verses that we will be looking at follow the flow of the theme of unity begun in 1:27. The plea, based on the results of salvation in their own lives (2:1), the various elements involved in it, and the excellent example of Jesus for our atonement (Vv 5-11).
5. Put sinners above Himself
We should take notice that these verses (12-18) begin with “so then,” or “wherefore.” In other words, Paul is saying, because of all that was just said, do this or conduct yourself in a particular manner. After verse 5, which is in the imperative or a command, Paul spoke in the indicative, relating facts or truths. But the facts or truths are to have repercussions in the Christian life. And that is what he is expressing in verses 12-16.
So, let’s jump in!
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 own salvation with fear and trembling;13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to [a]desire and to work for His good pleasure.
Working out our salvation
Paul begins by mentioning their obedience in spiritual things, not just when he was present but even MORE SO in his absence. In 1:5, he says their obedient,
faithful participation in the gospel from the very beginning. In 4:15, he mentions their obedience and faithfulness in supporting his ministry from day one while no other churches did!
This is a very commendable thing, obedience, isn’t it? As parents, we appreciate and praise God for such obedience in our children, don’t we? What a joy it is to our hearts to know that our children do what they are supposed to, EVEN when we are not there to oversee them. It is good they obey when we are there, but so much more pleasing when they follow our wishes when we are not. Amen.
So, with that strong accolade mentioned, Paul now exhorts them to “work out their own salvation with fear and trembling (vs. 12).”
Let me be clear. Paul does not mean that they have to work for salvation – Eph. 2:8-9. These people were already saved – Phil. 1:1. We see in verses 12 and 13 that there are two parts to this appeal, and we need to hold them in proper balance, or we can easily be deceived in our thinking on what sanctification is and how God uses it in our lives as Christians. In verse 12, we hear about our part, and then in verse 13, we read about God’s part.
So, this word, work in v. 12, means to bring to full completion, and along with the following verse, it also means that God gives us the energy to do His will. (We do not and cannot do it alone!) Paul is evident on that!
Paul says, “Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling.” Many Christians are busy trying to “work” out everyone else’s salvation. It’s that ole speck and log issue Jesus told the people about on the Mount back in Matthew 7:1-5. Christian, we cannot work out anybody else’s salvation—–BUT we must, according to the inspired word of God—work out OUR SALVATION!
At first glance, this doesn’t sound quite right. Let’s look at what Paul is saying a little more closely:
“…First, let’s take the phrase “your own salvation.” What a great possession! The only reason salvation is mine is because it was His first! He planned it! He purposed it! He pursued it! He paid it! And He pressed it upon my heart! Salvation became mine, and it became yours when we placed our faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. This salvation, when received, one writer says: “buries the past, changes the present and insures the future! What a great salvation we have in Jesus!”
Friends, we don’t work “for” our salvation, or “toward” it, or even “at” it, but we are to work “out” our salvation. Remember, Paul is writing to the Christian community, and he uses the plural pronoun for “you,” meaning he is addressing the entire church. This means that we are to live out what we know to be true.
Since we are saved, we must behave as believers, as “citizens of Heaven (3:20).”
The word “work” means to “work fully to the point of finishing the job.” The Romans used it for “working a mine” ultimately, getting out every piece of valuable stone. Likewise, we are to mine the depths of our rich redemption that was granted us by His grace.
God deposited a wealth of blessings into our lives; Paul mentioned some in verse 1(in his appeal), now we must go down deep to experience and enjoy what we’ve been given.
Charles Spurgeon explains it this way: “To will and to do, He gives the whole ability. It is by the grace of God which inclines the will to that which is good: and then enables us to perform it, and to act according to our principles. ‘You have wrought all our works in us,’ Isa. 26:12. Of His good pleasure, as there is no strength in us, so there is no merit in us. As we cannot act without God’s grace, so we cannot claim it, nor pretend to deserve it. God’s good will to us is the cause of His good work IN us…”
You and I cannot do righteous works without the aid of the Righteous one.
We have no strength, no will for holiness without God’s grace.
What you and I accomplish along these lines is solely in accordance with the kind intention of His will working within us.
We are to live out daily in our lives what we know to be true as God has revealed to us in His Holy Word, and He graciously provides the desire, will, and results!
Added to this warning is a qualifier, “with fear and trembling.”
The phrase “fear and trembling” helps us see that we must never take our faith lightly. One commentator says of this: “Fear” describes fright or terror and reverential awe. We must have such a reverence and respect for God that we will be afraid to sin, coupled with a strong desire to please Him.” That’s what Exodus 20:20 states: “The fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”
Friend, If you find yourself sinning all the time and not being bothered by it, it could be because you have lost your fear of God. The word “trembling” means “to quake with fear.” Isaiah 66:2 tells us that God wants us to have this kind of attitude when we approach Him: “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.” Psalm 2:11 brings both fear and trembling together: “Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling.”
We can revere God and rejoice in Him, “Believers should have a serious dread of sin and a yearning for what is right before God.”
After all, think about it for a moment. The Philippian believers, just like believers today, do not know, and cannot possibly know, all the sacrifices required of them in doing God’s will.
God’s will for the Philippians involved conflict (1:30), For Jesus, death (2:8), For Paul, imprisonment and possible martyrdom (2:17), for Timothy, costly sacrificial service (v. 20), and Epaphroditus, physical illness, near unto death (v.27).
When we contemplate our lostness, our deep depravity, and our inability to save ourselves, we can’t help but tremble at the thought of getting what we deserve.” We must get serious about our salvation, and as God’s redeemed, we must live responsibly and obediently for Christ.
So, Christian, are you living for and serving the Lord each day in fear and trembling? Or, have you noticed that those elements to your daily walk of faith have diminished or disappeared altogether?