Philippians 2:12–30. With Fear and Trembling.
Key Notes: Work out group salvation? Group disciplines for our use. Issues that divide us.
This passage contains the famous passage “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”. It has a more complex meaning than is usually understood. Another look may enable us to see how it is included in the passage from 2:1–18 as a piece with a single message.
2:12–13 He is ordering them to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, assured that God is in them, willing and doing for His good pleasure.
Do we work for God’s pleasure? That is not a familiar concept, but worthy of note. Every worker wants to display the finished project so as to delight some other person—a child with a crayoned page holding it up to its mother, a singer with a heart-felt song, a cook with an elegant cake. We may hold up our spiritual work to God, seeking His smile.
“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” is usually interpreted as instruction to go deeper in our personal lives with God’s help. The passage teaches two simple truths: our salvation is a life-work, done under God’s will and direction. We cannot earn it, as Eph.2:8–10 also says, but we can advance it. We see God’s sovereignty and our responsibility spoken in the same breath in the NT. (Eph.2:8–10, Acts 2:23, for example.)
To work out our own personal salvation, what resources do we have? Most resources are well known: prayer, Bible study, witnessing, stewardship and fasting. Richard Foster adds three more--submission, solitude and simplicity—that are less often practiced. (Celebration of Discipline. R.J.Foster; Harper,’78).
However, the context beginning in 2:1 is Paul’s appeal for love, comfort, encouragement in the cause of unity. He describes Christ as the ultimate example of humility and humiliation and instructs us to think as He thought. Christ humbled himself to the point of death and became highly exalted. We are reminded that those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Jm.4:10).
Then he takes up the “work out your own salvation” and we note that the plural forms of pronouns and verbs are used. We may wonder about the word salvation, which almost always refers to personal redemption. But the word “saved” is also used in the NT to mean physical cure (Matt.9:21), to rescue from drowning (Matt.8:25), and to perpetuate in health (ITim.2:15). Here the word “saved” may refer to saving the band of believers as a group rather than individuals.
2:14–16 He goes on to urge them against grumbling and questioning (Gr. dialogismos). To be innocent and blameless in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation is a description of their desired situation in Philippi.
Whereas Moses said Israel was “a perverse and crooked generation”, using the words from Deut.32:5, Paul describes them in the midst of a such an environment. They are to extend lights out into the surrounding darkness of their city, and hold fast to the Word of Life. If dissension and conflict destroys this little band of believers, the lights will go out and the Word of Life will be muffled. Their opponents will be delighted. If they are to be effective, they must survive as a group, learning to love, and respect each other—working out their salvation—their interpersonal struggles and character weaknesses---with God’s help and for His pleasure.
2:16–18 If they collapse, Paul will have run in vain. But he is hopeful, even joyful, for their progress even if his life is poured out like a bottle of wine spilled on the ground as a sacrifice.
2:19–24 He plans to send Timothy to get the news from them. Timothy is especially self-effacing and caring. He hopes to come to see them soon, as well.
2:25–30 Epaphroditus will also be coming home. He was the Philippian messenger who had brought a gift from them (4:17), and had stayed to minister to Paul’s needs. He stayed long enough to get mortally ill, and also evidently homesick. (2:26). Now he was strong enough to return home to be honored by his church.
The exhortation for the group to work together is stated repeatedly.
1:27 One spirit, one mind, striving side by side
2:2 Same mind, same love, in full accord, of one mind
2:4 Looking to the interests of others
2:5 Let the mind of Christ be in you
2:14 No grumbling or questioning
2;15 Working in the midst of a bad society.
How shall we work out our group salvation? Much is listed in the passage.
With fear and trembling, aware of the dangers if we fail.
God working in us. Without His help we will not succeed.
Avoiding grumbling and arguments; concentrate and listen.
Being blameless and innocent, without malice or self-interest.
Shining as lights in an evil environment.
Holding fast to the Word of life, which can be forgotten in the struggle.
Don’t disappoint Paul!
Are there corporate disciplines we can use to strengthen the body of believers? Foster’s book lists four.
*Confession. This is necessary to clear the air and permit reconciliation.
*Guidance. We meet as a group to seek God’s will and to receive the advice of elders and wise counselors. We “wait on the Lord.” (Psa.37:34)
*Worship reminds us to focus on God and not on each other.
*Celebration enables us to relax and enjoy each other’s company.
(Celebration of Discipline. R.J.Foster. Harper and Row,’88)
Some issues that divide the modern evangelical church are
Old Guard vs. Emerging Church
Professional vs. lay control
Egalitarian vs. complementarian relationships between men and women
Charismatic vs. Reformed theology
Organ vs. saxophone
Singles vs. couples
Rich vs. poor
Black vs. white
Such issues can sap the energy of a strong church and collapse a weak one. Churches split over music style!
The mainline churches are being torn by sexual identity issues, and liberal vs. conservative theology. The problem is world-wide and urgent.
If the Church is to survive, we must work for unity. Work it out with feat and trembling. We pray God that He will be the catalyst to bring repentance, confession, changed hearts and spiritual bonding.