As we start a New Year, let us hear the words of Philippians 2:12,13:
“12 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; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”
Philippians 2:12 begins with the words “So then.” Other translations use the word “therefore.” Paul is using this language to point us to the basis or the cornerstone for his command. He is pointedly saying that because Jesus humbled Himself to gain our salvation, we should obey Christ’s message given through Paul and the other apostles. Jesus’s supreme example is the basis for this appeal for our obedience. Paul points to the Philippians’ obedience of the Gospel message which Paul had preached to them and reiterates his command.
Whether Paul is present with the Philippian believers or absent from them, he desires them to work out their salvation. Salvation here is be taken in the fullest sense of the word with particular stress on the ongoing dedication of the believers to the Lord Jesus. We call this ongoing work of believers dedicating themselves to the Lord’s service, the work of sanctification. The sanctifying process calls for obedience to Paul’s message, especially what Paul speaks of previously in this chapter. In Philippians 2:1-5, Paul addresses a commitment to self-sacrificial love for one another and service imitating the example of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,”
The apostle Paul then tells us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. This is having a proper awe and reverence for God whom we love and serve. Fear and trembling does not mean that we react with panic and insecurity about our relationship toward God. This admonition rightfully reminds us of our responsibility to serve the Lord with a deep reverence and commitment to the Him. Our efforts and commitment to the Lord are just what God requires for achieving His sanctifying purpose. The internal renewing work of the Holy Spirit gives hope that the believers’ efforts to die to sin and to live a set apart life for Christ will bear fruit.
While God commands us to live according to His moral law, God gives us the promise that He is working in us to will and do His good pleasure. He will be helping us! In these verses we are reminded of human responsibility and God’s sovereign grace in our salvation. May we dedicate ourselves anew this year to live to honor God. We must trust in His mercy and power to continue to work in us to His honor and glory.