Fear and Trembling

What did it mean when Paul told the believers at Philippi to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling?  Many today read this verse and become perplexed until they understand its proper context.

First, let me tell you what this verse is NOT saying!  In no way is Paul suggesting that salvation is obtained by good works.  We adamantly believe that we are saved by grace through faith.  Paul emphatically maintains in Romans 3:28 and many other places in the New Testament “that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law…”

Like any verse, we need to look at the verses immediately before and after it to correctly ascertain its true meaning.  This somewhat suspicious verse is quite readily explained when we look at it within its proper context.

Here’s what Paul says in Philippians 2:12, “So then, my beloved, just as you always have obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”

In verses 1-11 Paul encourages these believers to be of the same mind, maintain the same love, be united in spirit and intent on one purpose.  He admonishes them to look out for one another’s interests, to serve one another and to give themselves to each other in love and humility.  Paul uses Jesus’ supreme example of humbling Himself even to the point of death.  Jesus was God and yet He took on the form of a bondservant, was obedient to the Father’s plan AND God exalted Him!

Given this backdrop, Paul commends the Philippian believers for always obeying the Lord while he was in their presence.  THEN HE SAYS, “…but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”  In other words, Christians should learn to take an individual initiative when it comes to daily obedience and living for Christ.

One sign of personal spiritual maturity is when a believer no longer has to rely on other Christian workers to remain steady in his resolve to serve God.  

God wants us to rely on Him and to “work out” our own salvation, instead of depending on our Christian leaders to do it for us!  In essence, what Paul was saying was, “I don’t have to be there for you to ‘work out your salvation.'”  When I pastored in the South, we referred to folks who always had to have the preacher’s input as having “preacher religion.”

Encouragers are always welcome, of course, but God wants us to get to the place where we keep “walking” when there’s no one to push us along.  Paul reminded the Philippians:  “It is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”  In verse 15 he writes, “…so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach…”  

Saints, we don’t get to heaven holding on to other believers.  We will arrive safely holding on to Jesus!  So, work out your own salvation, whether you have pastors and other mature believers around you or not.  Remember, “our personal toil is not in vain” (verse 16).



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