Philippians 2:12-13-Therefore, my beloved, as you 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; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. NKJV
I love a good puzzle! As a matter of fact, I can lose time when working on a puzzle. On occasion, we will purchase a jigsaw puzzle with one thousand pieces, which turns out to be really complicated. Those are the puzzles that take weeks to complete, because I have to walk away from them, then return with fresh eyes to try again.
This scripture has caused much debate in the body of Christ, causing many to feel puzzled by God’s word. Maybe you understood it immediately or had someone explain it to you quite thoroughly, but I know that there are others who find this verse to be quite puzzling. As I read it this week, I thought that I would take a stab at it to see if I can help make sense of it.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and tremblingPhilippians 2:12 NKJV
The thing that confuses people is the part where Paul wrote, “Work out your own salvation.” The first thing we all learn about salvation is that it is the gift of God, an act of grace, and not about works:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV
Paul was very clear that our works cannot save us. He argued that if it was through works, then men could boast! Someone like Bill Gates, with his financial coffers, has already done more works than I can even imagine. That would give him and other wealthy people access to salvation, leaving the rest of us hopeless! Therefore, salvation is not according to our works! Salvation has always been about the grace of God received by faith; and yet, Paul wrote that we are to work our salvation with fear and trembling.
First, let’s look at the fact that Paul started this verse with the word “therefore” and most bible scholars would tell us that we need to stop and see what it is there for! Paul had been reflecting on our Savior, Jesus! He wrote:
And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.Philippians 2:8 NKJV
Paul looks at the obedience of Jesus to the Father by dying on the cross, then remarks “therefore” as they had obeyed in his presence and his absence, to work out their salvation. It’s easy to obey the word of God when the Pastor is around us, or a minister, or a Christian we highly respect; but when we obey the word of God when we are not around other believers, then it is noteworthy. Paul is making note of the fact that the Philippian Christians were walking the walk when he was around and when he wasn’t!
So, what did Paul mean when he wrote those words, “work out you salvation with fear and trembling?” I believe, as do many bible scholars, that Paul is saying that now that we have experienced so great a salvation by grace, practice it, walk it out, and live it by our obedience to God’s word! Fear and trembling is a phrase often found together in the New Testament and seems to mean with “reverence and humility.” So as we live this life before the Lord to work out our salvation, we do so with reverence and humility before God!
Let’s read verse 12 in the Amplified Bible:
So then, my dear ones, just as you have always obeyed [my instructions with enthusiasm], not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence, continue to work out your salvation [that is, cultivate it, bring it to full effect, actively pursue spiritual maturity] with awe-inspired fear and trembling [using serious caution and critical self-evaluation to avoid anything that might offend God or discredit the name of Christ].Philippians 2:12 AMP
Sometimes I like to read verses in other versions to help me get a better perspective of what God is saying. In the Amplified version, words and phrases are “amplified” to help us gain insight or understanding of an otherwise challenging word. For working out our salvation, in the Amplified version, we see that we are to cultivate our salvation and bring it into full effect; actively pursuing spiritual maturity!
Our spirit man is saved by grace, but our flesh is not. And we have to have a renewed mind so that we are able to guide our flesh away from its lusts and passions that we might pursue the passions of the Holy Spirit! God won’t take the cigarettes out of our mouths, but if we trust Him in the process of walking away from it, He will enable us to do it! He won’t kick out our male or female companions, but He will give us the desire and the will to leave ungodly relationships. We have to put down the cigarettes, leave the ungodly relationships, stop the stealing or lying and trust Him as we endeavor to cultivate the truth of His word into our lives.
I bring out the point that we have to trust Him because of what Paul wrote in the next verse:
For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.Philippians 2:13 NKJV
Let’s again look at the Amplified Bible for some clarity:
For it is [not your strength, but it is] God who is effectively at work in you, both to will and to work [that is, strengthening, energizing, and creating in you the longing and the ability to fulfill your purpose] for His good pleasure.Philippians 2:12-13 AMP
God’s purpose is for you to cultivate your salvation and grow towards spiritual maturity. And in the process, along the way, He is with you making it a reality in your life! He’s your strength to just say no! He’s your strength to walk away! He’s the reason we work it out in fear and trembling because we understand that without Him we cannot do it! It won’t work!
At some point in our Christian walk, we are going to have to be honest with ourselves. We are either living to be more like Jesus, or we are living to enjoy our sinful lifestyles and the pleasures it affords us; trying to see how much sin we can enjoy while claiming to know God!
I’m married. As long as I have those legal documents, I am a married woman. But it is I who have to choose to live as if I am married. Should I choose to live as if I am single, I may not be married for much longer, or it will be a miserable existence for us both! If you are a Christian, you may live like a sinner, but you are miserable! Go ahead and make the change to live the life Christ gave you! So don’t be puzzled any longer! You are definitely saved by grace, but you have to want to live as if you are saved in order to do it! Work it out, cultivate it, practice it, and enjoy it; because it is His good pleasure for your life! Wonderful Jesus!