There’s a phrase in Philippians 2:12 that stops me everytime. The verse starts out like this:
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but how much more in my absence,”
Therefore. Let’s stop for a moment. This word “therefore” (Greek: hostein) is really important. In context, Paul uses it to direct us back to the imperative—which is most often a firm command of vital importance. In a sense, Paul is taking a yellow highlighter, underlining, emboldening, and maybe even drawing arrows to connect the previous verses in chapter two to what he writes next in verse 12. And this is where I halt.
“. . . work out your salvation with fear and trembling;” (v.12b)
Work out (I love working out). . . your salvation (Thank you, Jesus!). . . with fear and trembling. Stop!
When I think of working out, I automatically think of my physical body. To stay healthy I believe it’s important to exercise. Working out strengthens our muscles, heart, and mind.
I understand there are those who don’t enjoy working out. Exercise takes time, effort (lots of effort) and commitment for it to be beneficial. Putting in time and effort won’t be enjoyable to someone who’s never experienced the benefits of a committed exercise routine.
Then there are people who just don’t have time to go to the gym. Long workdays and family take priority—good, healthy habits easily slide into empty intentions. Soon, traction is lost and focus grows fuzzy as to what is beneficial for us to be on our game (I.e.: physically, mentally and emotionally).
Those jeans don’t fit quite as well…clarity of mind grows dim…and the ugly things we tell ourselves about how lazy, fat, or weak we’ve become…are just a few negative results of neglecting our bodies.
Through this example I see great insight into Paul’s intention for believers to “work out your salvation…” He is exhorting us to exercise our salvation. As if to say, Put lots of your time into knowing what your salvation is about. Oh, and lots of effort. And be committed. Until the end. Paul is a prime coach.
Just like God formed us in our mother’s womb and gave us earthly bodies to live in, our bodies require us to participate in its health.
As an adult, it’s my responsibility to feed myself or I starve. It is my obligation to get enough rest or I crash. It’s my duty to learn and understand what’s good for my mind and avoid that which is not. And it is my privilege to engage in relationships that build me up, challenge me to grow, and comfort me. With a lack of food, sleep, focus and friendships, it’s impossible to thrive. And, if what I habitually take in through my mouth, mind, or heart is unhealthy and damaging, the consequences are a gradual rotting away.
Do you see the connection?
Working out my salvation—though initiated by God through the perfect, sinless life, death and resurrection of his Son—requires my participation. Always.
If I neglect what God requires of me how will I have the confidence to know God’s gift of grace is for me? How will I have courage to stand firm?
Without confidence we are resistant to stand.
The word for "work out" is katergazomai. It comes from the same word used for the phrase “having done” in Ephesians 6:13:
"Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm"
I like what the early English minister, Joseph Benson, wrote about “having done everything”:
“Having exerted yourselves to the utmost, and used the grace conferred upon (granted to) you, and the means and advantages vouchsafed (permitted) you, according to the will of God, which indeed it will be absolutely necessary for you to do; or having gone through all your conflicts, and accomplished your warfare” (emphasis added).
God’s will is that we exert ourselves in taking hold of his grace and every advantage he’s given us to work out our salvation, and remain fit to stand firm.
As we read God’s Word, the advantages are more than plenty. His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1:3) But we must take hold of everything.
Do we take advantage of all things God has graciously bestowed upon us . . . or just some?
Which one(s) do we typically tend to avoid? How many have we not yet even realized?
I pray with all my heart that today will be the day we commit to exercising our freedom and privilege in Christ by learning to apply all he’s granted to us.
We can confidently trust and thank God we aren’t required to do this in our own strength. To be honest, we can’t. But by the power of his Spirit, God is working in us who believe, and giving us the desire and the power to do what pleases him.
May we commit to working out our salvation with profound reverence (that’s fear) and a wakeful conscience (that’s trembling) because the day is coming when every knee will bow at the name of Jesus, and of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10-11).
And that’s what “therefore” is there for.
Therefore, my beloved . . . work out your salvation with fear and trembling . . . to fulfill his good purpose.”
by Dana Lange