Summary: Paul writes in Phil 2:12-13 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
work out your own salvation with fear and trembling….
Question: "What does it mean to work out salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12)?"
Paul writes in Phil 2:12-13:
Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
This passage is often misused to instill or to cause fear in people, by warning them that it means they can lose salvation, be cast away from the Lord if they don’t meet with His approval.
Now, this passage does carry with it a ring of making one alert to the fact that we can disappoint the Lord, especially when we don’t apply ourselves to the things we have received from His Word on how we ought to live.
However, what Paul is saying about working out our salvation with fear and trembling, cannot just be about a trembling fear before God like walking on eggshells, questioning your every move as a Christian. How do we know this? Well first off,
1) Paul did not and was not encouraging believers to live in a continuous condition or state of nervousness and anxiety in their Christian walk. That would contradict Paul’s many other exhortations to peace of mind, courage, and confidence in the Lord. It tells us in 1 John 4:18, “fear has torment” in it. We all have witnessed or been around those or even ourselves who walk on eggshells, afraid at what we do or say may set someone off. Afraid to make a mistake at work. Afraid to say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, always questioning my every move or word. This is but anxiety, a state or condition of nervousness, consternation. Do you believe God would have us walking around on eggshells? So, obviously that’s not what this passage means.
2) We can read the passage to get that Paul is not speaking of the type of fear from doing wrong, making a mistake or not following instruction or directions. Why? Because he says, Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence. This implies that they were already listening, attending to the things they had heard, been taught of the Word of God; not obey, in the sense of an obedient dog, to but do. The phrase “you have always obeyed” is one Greek word ?pa???? hupakouó (hoop-ak-oo'-o); which is an intensification of the simple verb: to listen. Meaning, to really pay attention to the one speaking to you.
Let me give you an example of what ?pa???? hupakouó (hoop-ak-oo'-o) means. The other day my wife and I were talking about our niece and her children. I said to my wife that our niece was really doing better with her children. My wife responded and said, “yea, I know, I had a long talk with her about structure and proper disciplining her kids couple weeks ago, and she said to me, “auntie, I’m listening”. That’s ?pa???? hupakouó (hoop-ak-oo'-o), to attentively listen which then affects your choices of behavior. Did you get that?
Paul says, they were listening to his teaching of the Gospel in His presence and encourages them to continue to listen to the teaching even when he’s not present with them. It’s like home training. We teach are kids and they display what we teach them in our presence, but what we want is for them to keep our teachings when their not in our presence, which is most important. That’s all Paul is saying.
3) As Christians we should know the word “fear” must be translated in its context of use. It could either mean, afraid, frightened, scared or mean "reverence" or "respect." Paul uses the same phrase in (2 Corinthians 7:15: And his inward affection is more abundant toward you, whilst he remembereth the obedience of you all, how with fear and trembling ye received him. Here Paul is speaking about their receiving Titus, a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, with humility, reverence and respect (v.13), not that of being afraid, scared or frightened. So, in referencing the same phrase, “with fear and trembling”, Paul is speaking of reverence and respect.
Now, if you got that, then you will have a better sense in which we are to work out our salvation in fear and trembling, which is twofold. First, the phrase “work out” is the Greek verb ?ate?????µa? katergazomai, meaning to do something, and that something is "to continually work to bring something to completion or fruition." Or keep doing it until is complete or comes to fruition. Now, what we are are to continue to work on is our ?pa???? hupakouó (hoop-ak-oo'-o), to attentively listen which then affects your choices of behavior, which brings us to completion or fruition of obedience through sanctification. Did you get that?