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 out your own 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.
Many times this passage is reviewed by looking only at verse 12 regarding the working out of one’s own salvation, and stopping short of verse 13. But verse 13 is the engine behind the ignition key of verse 12, because Paul is conveying that the work that was being done was actually God working in them according to his good purpose.
This passage touches on the duality of the believer’s existence: seeking to be a conduit for the outworking of God in both principle and action. The way to accomplish this effectively, according to Paul, is to do this “with fear and trembling.” I have a sense that many believers today have either lost this sense or never been instructed in it in the first place. This fear and trembling is a principle which conveys that we need to be thoughtful and circumspect in our lives, considering the gravity and eternal impact of our actions upon ourselves, our families, and others.
To be a believer in the Messiah carries with it a strong purpose which demands constancy and vigilance in intentional living. It means making choices for righteousness in situations that may not be the consideration of others who are not believers. Sometimes it means sacrificing elements of comfort or ease for the sake of others. Many times our time, energy, and resources will be spent for the sake of someone else.
All through this epistle, Paul is conveying the principles of this way of life to the Philippian believers.
For example, he touches on the principle of understanding what is right:
Philippians 1:9-11 – And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment, so that you may approve the things that are superior and may be pure and blameless in the day of Messiah, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Yeshua Messiah to the glory and praise of God.
He also shares the responsibility they have in suffering for doing what’s right:
Philippians 1:29-30 – For it has been granted to you on Messiah’s behalf not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are engaged in the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I have.
These were real experiences based on real decisions that they had to make every day that played into their experiences as believers in Messiah.
Now while all of this may sound very heavy and burdensome, we can also be encouraged from their example, as Paul was convinced of God’s ability to bring all righteousness to pass. He encouraged them that once the work that was begun in them was underway, it would ultimately come to fulfillment.
Philippians 1:6 – I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Messiah Yeshua.
If Paul is to be believed, the “working out” of their salvation was indeed accomplished. They had proven faithful in what he had taught them regarding the faith once received for all the saints, as Jude calls it (Jude 1:3).
If we learn nothing else from the early believers in Messiah, the life of faith was one of constant struggle and commitment with real consequences. This required a whole level of commitment that I believe is rarely seen among modern believers today. It is up to us to demonstrate the same vigilance in outworking the principles of righteousness in this generation. And even if we don’t yet have a full understanding of all that God expects of us, we have this continuing encouragement from Paul as a guiding principle:
Philippians 3:16 – In any case, we should live up to whatever truth we have attained.
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