Philippians 2:12-13 – Therefore, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, so now, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, work down to finality your own [collective] salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you both to will and to work according to his good purpose.
As Paul is writing to the congregation at Philippi, he emphasizes their need to be actively engaged in their salvation, but to do so with “fear and trembling.” The idea is that their salvation is so precious and valuable, they should not toy with the idea of who they have been called to be, they should not regard their privileged position as something to be treated lightly. Their mission was to be positive examples of God’s mercy and grace to an entire generation.
Philippians 2:14-16 – Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life…
This was a fulfillment of their destiny, the purpose that God had set them apart for from the very beginning. This was the same message Paul and Barnabas shared in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch with the assembled Jews in that place.
Acts 13:47 – For so Yahweh has commanded us, saying, ‘I have set you to be a light for the nations, that you may bring salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth.'”
This excerpt is from the passage in Isaiah which illustrates the place that God has always set apart for his people.
Isaiah 49:6 – he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved [protected, guarded] ones of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
Their salvation was a guarding by God, a protection of them through their trials because he had a larger purpose for them. They were set apart (holy) and protected (saved) for God’s purpose of reaching out to the world through them.
Isaiah 60:1-3 – Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.
All of this rich context from their history demonstrated how this “working out of their salvation” in that first-century generation was a demonstration of God working through them, setting them apart for the very specific purpose that they would be a “light to the nations.” This is why they were to participate in it “with fear and trembling.” The reason the early believers in Messiah were so effective in their generation was because God himself was working among them and through them to bring about the culmination of his plan from the beginning.
As believers in Messiah today, we are inheritors of this legacy of being set apart (holy) and protected (saved) for the same purpose: that God’s glory may be seen throughout the earth. We are saved not just for our own benefit but for his glory! Salvation is not about us, it’s about God! Let us participate with the same sense of fear and trembling, a reverence and awe for our called-out destiny that we may fulfill it faithfully and successfully in every generation for him.
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