Devotional Thoughts: Work out your salvation with fear and trembling
So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
Okay, I throw up my hands!
This is one of those passages that I can't get my head fully around. On one hand, there is "work out your salvation with fear and trembling" which appears to place a fair amount of responsibility on us. Yet, in the next phrase it says, "God who is at work in you ..." which seems to put a lot of the work in God's lap.
Which is it?
As a fairly typically science minded person, it is always hard for me to accept two ideas at the same time that seem to go against each other.
In physics, there is a classic question of what is light?
Is it a wave or is it a particle?
Well, it is both!
Within the context of the Christian life, somehow it is both. I don't know how but it seems to be so?
However, I guess I would have to say though that God moved first. If Jesus isn't offered for our salvation then there is no salvation to try to work out in fear and trembling.
So how then do we work out that salvation with fear and trembling?
(1) We need God's help
Of course, we know we need God's help because it does say it is God who is at work in you.
I think of Micah 6:8. There are ways we are to live our lives but it must be done in humility with God. One clear sign of humility in life is to ask for help!
(2) No whining please!
Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world
Seems to me when we are grumbling and disputing, we are blaming other people for our troubles.
Humans have a history of blaming somebody else. Genesis 3:11-13 shows the blame game in action right from the start!
(3) Holding forth (or fast) the word of life
holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.
When Paul says, "word of life" what did he have in mind?
We sit here in the 21st century and think, the Bible!
Well, at the time of Paul's writing, the Bible as we know it today didn't yet exist!
Bible scholars debate when the various books of the Christian scriptures were written.
Philippians was probably written around AD 61. This dating is because within the Philippian text it referred to Paul being in prison and our best estimate of that event is AD 61-63.
So what does Paul mean when he refers to the "word of life?"
Since Paul was trained in the Jewish Scriptures, he might think of them. For instance, Psalm 119:9 links life and the word of God.
Paul probably knew that Peter said, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." See John 6:67-69. So perhaps Paul was thinking of the teachings of Jesus. Perhaps the Gospel accounts were already in existence by then and being circulated among various churches. Certainly, a hypothetical precursor version would have been around at least.
In the narrowest sense, word of life could mean Jesus. Apostle John starts his gospel account using such language.
Okay, now that we cleared that all up! 8-)
What do we do with this word of life?
Hold it forth or hold it fast?
Interestingly, there is some debate as to which reading is correct.
Hold it fast ...
NASB, ESV and NLT.
Hold it forth ...
NIV, KJV and Young.
I'm not a Greek scholar and since good Bible translations differ on this point, I can't claim expertise to answer this question.
However, my gut reaction from a literary point of view, the previous point Paul is making is about being lights in the world so the posture seems more outer directed. Thus, paraphrasing, you are lights in the world holding forth the word of life that is Jesus.
Lord Jesus, I need your help! You have given me the precious gift of salvation and now what do I do? I want to work it out with reverence, with fear and trembling knowing you want to do good work through me. It isn't easy as I still have so many bad habits. But I ask for your help. I want to take responsibility and hold forth Jesus by my life and words. Amen.