The first eleven verses of Philippians 2 are fairly well known. This is the section where Paul commands that disciples have the same attitude that Christ exhibited. Paul goes on to reveal how Jesus sacrificed himself even to the point of death on the cross. God raised Jesus from the dead and highly exalted him so that every knee will bow before him. Verse 12 begins with the words “therefore.” The point is that the apostle Paul is now drawing a conclusion based upon the humility and sacrifice of Jesus.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but 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 work for his good pleasure. (2:12-13; ESV)
Salvation Is Not A Past Event
One of the first points that ought to be striking to us is the apostle Paul’s argument that salvation is not a point in time event. Salvation is described as a continuing process. Paul is writing to the saved in Philippi (1:1) yet tells them to work out their own salvation. Belief, repentance, and baptism are only the starting points of salvation, not the end point. Paul seems to be saying to the Philippians that they have been saved, but now it is time to go to work. Salvation is described as a continuing process that must be brought to its completion. We must carry our salvation to the goal. Salvation is not passive. Salvation is not something that we can sit in the pews and think that this is good enough. How often we act so passive toward God! Jesus was not passive toward saving us. How can we be passive about the salvation extended to us? Paul commands us to work out this salvation.
Salvation Is Not Collective
Another important point that must be noted is that our salvation is not collective. We are to work out our own salvation. You and I have to own our actions. I cannot blame my lack of work and effort on someone else. I cannot blame my passive nature toward my salvation on the local church I attend. The responsibility of salvation lies upon the individual, not upon other individuals or churches. We will not stand together in judgment.
With Fear and Trembling
Paul also instructs us how to work out our salvation. There is an attitude that is required as we put in our work for salvation. When Paul argues that we need to work out our salvation in fear and trembling, I do not believe that Paul means we are to fearful of God. Rather, the fear and trembling comes in understanding the awesome responsibility that we have before us. We must see the gravity and seriousness of salvation because our souls are at stake. How can we be passive in our salvation when we know that it is our salvation that hangs in the balances. It is our salvation that must be brought to its completion. We have to finish the race that we began when we stood up out of the waters of baptism. In this sense, we approach our task in fear and trembling, because of the gravity of what we are doing.
I believe this also means that we approach with the attitude of humility. Humility is the context of Philippians 2. Remember that Paul opened the discussion about the attitude of Jesus by speaking about his humility. Look at the humility of Jesus and work out your salvation with the same attitude of humility, as we respect the task before us as well as the greatness of God who has made this salvation possible. Often we can end our study here, but there is more to observe. This is another instance of a bad verse break, because it occurs right in the middle of the sentence. This can cause our minds to not notice that the argument Paul is making has not concluded. Look at verse 13 and notice that the first word of the verse is “for.” The apostle is continuing to explain why and how we are working out our salvation. We will look at the rest of the argument in the next post.