“12 So then, my beloved ones, even 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.”
“even as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence”
This is a repeat of what Paul said in Phil 1:27 (see commentary on that verse). As in that verse, here Paul is talking about living out the Christian life (working out salvation), not just in his presence, but more importantly, in his absence. Reason being, if they are faithfully living for Christ in his absence, it’s a more sure indication that their faithfulness is genuine, and not just a show to impress him.
“work out” (Gr. katergazomai – 2716)
Carry out to the goal; carry out to the ultimate conclusion; carry out to its full perfection.
Paul is not saying, “work for your own salvation,” but “work out.” The Philippians were already saved. Salvation cannot be earned. What Paul means here, is that we as Christians are to live in a manner that is consistent with true salvation. The goal of salvation is Christlikeness as followers of Christ. He is the provider and the center and the focus of our salvation. Salvation is all about Jesus and our relationship with Him.
The “goal,” the “ultimate conclusion,” the “full perfection” of our salvation is to fulfill the plan and purpose (the will of God) of God for His glory, which results in Christlikeness as we continually grow spiritually. Salvation involves a whole new life, and whole new direction, a whole new Master, a whole new purpose in life. It’s all about Jesus and what He wants to accomplish through us.
This “working out” is our part in this whole process. This tells us that we as individuals, and corporately (local assemblies), have a responsibility to live according to the will of God. It takes effort to follow Christ. We are required to give up our will in order to fulfill His will. But we do this according to the power (enabling grace) that He provides. That’s His part, as Paul states in verse 13.
“with fear and trembling”
I believe Paul is referring to both what he said in verses 9 thru 11 (Phil 2:9-11) and to what he says in verse 13. It’s a sobering and awesome thought that we are accountable to the One whose “name is above every name” – the Ruler and Judge of the universe – and that it is Almighty God who is at work within us (vs. 13). That idea, that fact, should produce a reverential “fear and trembling” within us, which results in a life of godliness and holiness.
There seems to be such a lack of the fear of the Lord these days, even among professing Christians. This is demonstrated by a lack of seriousness about sin and indifference toward worldliness in our personal lives. It’s demonstrated by a lack of seriousness and reverence in so many church services these days. There is so much focus on entertainment, and so much silliness that goes on in churches, that is makes me shudder to think how God views it all, and what the consequences may be.
I believe Paul may be telling the Philippian Christians that their obedience shouldn’t be due to his presence, but because of the awesome presence of God. This awareness should result in true reverence and worship, both as individual Christians and as local assemblies. We’re to give God the honor that is due His holy and awesome name (Phil 2:9-11).
“13 For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”
Amplified: “[Not in your own strength] for it is God Who is all the while effectually at work in you [energizing and creating in you the power and desire], both to will and to work for His good pleasure and satisfaction and delight.”
Barclay: “for it is God, who, that he may carry out his own good pleasure, brings to effect in you both the initial willing and the effective action.”
Phillips: “For it is God who is at work within you, giving you the will and the power to achieve his purpose.”
Wuest: “for God is the One who is constantly putting forth His energy in you, both in the form of your being desirous of and of your doing His good pleasure.”
Weymouth: “For it is God Himself whose power creates within you the desire to do His gracious will and also brings about the accomplishment of the desire.”
God works within us in a way that brings our will into harmony with His own will – that which brings “pleasure” to the heart of God. His will becomes our will. Furthermore, He gives us the power to carry it out. Even further, what pleases God will become the pleasure of our own heart as we grow in our relationship with Him. The things of the world will please less and less, while the things of God will please more and more.
While we have a personal and corporate responsibility to live out God’s will in our lives, He does not leave us without power to do so. The same One whom we will stand before one day, is letting us know that we don’t have to go it alone. God makes His power available so that we can live in a way that will allow us to give an honorable accounting of our lives to Him.
We obtain God’s power through the His Word and through the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. As we humble ourselves before God, His Spirit uses His Word to renew our minds in the likeness of His own mind, and to transform our lives in the likeness of His own life (Ro 12:1-2).
That means we must have a passion for God’s Word. We must saturate our minds with the words of God’s own mind and God’s own heart. Without this constant intake of God’s Word, we will not be able to live as God requires us to live, nor will we be able to stand before Him without shame and regret, which results in a loss of eternal rewards.
If we fill our minds with the world’s ways, we will live worldly lives and have worldly churches. If we fill our minds with God’s ways, we will live godly lives and have godly churches. There is no room for compromise here. If we’re going to serve God, then it must be done His way.