Philippians 2:12

Sunday, 8 January 2017

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;  Philippians 2:12

The verse begins with “Therefore” in order to have us contemplate, consider, and then apply what has previously been stated. In verses 1-3, he spoke of unity of faith among the believers, doing that which is right and appropriate towards one another in order to maintain the fellowship. This was followed with an explanation of what he meant in verses 5 through 11. There he began with, “Let this mind be in you.” This is the context then of the “Therefore” we have now been presented.

He follows up with “my beloved” in order to set the tone for what he will next say. They are near and dear to his heart, and he would ask them to understand this. It is an appeal that because of this heartfelt bond, they would be all the more willing to receive and apply his words which are coming.

He immediately follows this with, “as you have always obeyed me.” His words show that he knew of their faithfulness to his words, just as if they were from the Lord Himself. He was the apostle designated to bring the word of the Lord to them, and they understood it to be such. Because of this, they were obedient to the words of instruction he passed on to them.

Next, he again builds upon the thought. He is working from one point to the next to come to his main exhortation. In other words, the reason for “Therefore” still lies ahead. They had always obeyed, but he notes that it was more than just in his “presence only, but now much more in” his absence that he desired them to do so. It is one thing to be obedient when the boss is around, but when he goes out, how will the employees act? Paul is using his absence as a way of spurring them on to faithful obedience.

After these words of commendation and encouragement, he states next the reason for the “Therefore” by saying, “…work our your own salvation with fear and trembling.” The phrase he writes has produced an unhealthy amount of bad doctrine over the ages, and for no valid reason. Context is king, and a verse (or thought) taken out of context is a pretext. Paul is in no way implying that they need to work in order to be saved.

First, even from this one verse, it is apparent that they are saved. The word “brethren” implies this. Therefore, he is not speaking of works in order to be saved. The word for “work out” in Greek is katergázomai. It comes  from katá, meaning “down, exactly according to,” and it intensifies ergázomai, which means “work, accomplish.” Thus literally it means “work down to the end-point.” In other words “to an exact, definite conclusion.” Paul is asking his already-saved brethren to work their salvation down to its conclusion.

The context of the thought is based especially on the opening words of verse 5 mentioned above, “Let this mind be in you…” We have been given an example of what Christ did by coming in His humbled state as a Man in order to save humanity. It is Christ’s work which, therefore, saves. Paul’s words are asking us to “work out” our salvation, not in anticipation of being saved, but in the state of salvation which we already possess.

Looking to the example of Christ, which is what the “Therefore” is based on, will show us what he means quite clearly. In Revelation 13:8, Christ Jesus is called “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” This was a position that was determined from the very beginning. Nothing could thwart it, and nothing could change it. And yet, He had to come and “work out” that position within the stream of time. This is why Paul first explained the work of Christ and then said, “Therefore.”

We too have been predestined for salvation. In our acceptance of the work of Christ Jesus, it is a done deal. Nothing can change it, and nothing can thwart it. However, we still have to live out the life that we have been handed. We may only live four minutes after our salvation, or we may have 99 years of living ahead, but we are to work out that salvation; a salvation which is already accomplished, to the glory of God.

Finally, this process is to be “with fear and trembling.” Vincent’s Word Studies, citing a scholar named Wardlaw, provides us the meaning of these words –

“This fear is self-distrust; it is tenderness of conscience; it is vigilance against temptation; it is the fear which inspiration opposes to high-mindedness in the admonition ‘be not highminded but fear.’ It is taking heed lest we fall; it is a constant apprehension of the deceitfulness of the heart, and of the insidiousness and power of inward corruption. It is the caution and circumspection which timidly shrinks from whatever would offend and dishonor God and the Savior. And these the child of God will feel and exercise the more he rises above the enfeebling, disheartening, distressing influence of the fear which hath torment. Well might Solomon say of such fear, “happy is the man that feareth always.’”

When a person receives an inheritance, there is nothing they need to do in order to earn it. It is simply theirs. However, each will work out how they handle what they have been given differently. Paul’s exhortation is one which asks his readers to obey the gift of their salvation, not only while he is present, but also in his absence. We are now to do likewise.

Life application: Context matters.

Lord God, Your word asks us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. Jesus is called “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” It was determined that He would die for our sins, even from the moment of creation. And yet, He had to come and follow through with what was ordained. We who have trusted Christ are saved according to what You have predetermined, but we still have to live out the life we have been handed. And so help us to work out what has already been granted, with a reverent fear of Your glory. Help us not to bring shame, but only glory, to Your name. Amen.

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