Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but 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 work for his good pleasure. – Philippians 2:12-13 (ESV)
This week, we will finish memorizing one of the best Christological passages in all of Scripture: Philippians 2:5-13. In all of these verses, Paul’s desire isn’t just to present King Jesus to us; he desires to present King Jesus in us. Let’s dive into verses 12-13.
In the verses before, Paul has given us a glorious image of the Suffering Servant and Exalted King Jesus. We would almost expect him and our Fighter Verses to stop at verse 11 – all glory be to God the Father! Amen! But Paul continues in verses 12-13 and ties the previous verses to it by starting with “Therefore.” All that Paul has said before leads to his next call to the believers in Philippi.
Paul reminds them that what he just said isn’t new to them. They have obeyed the call of Jesus. They have bowed the knee and confessed that Jesus Christ is Yahweh and King. They have turned from their sin to the One who died in their place. What’s more, they didn’t just do this while Paul was around. They have grown deeper in their obedience to Jesus in Paul’s absence. Paul’s challenge to them: work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
“Wait for a second,” we might say. “Paul, are you saying that salvation is now our job to keep? You say it’s our own. You say to do so with fear and trembling. It certainly sounds like we should be afraid that at any moment we will lose this precious gift Jesus has given.” If we have learned anything from our study in Galatians, we know that Paul does not believe salvation is dependent on us. As a reminder from a past sermon that Jonathan gave us, the underlying Greek tense of the verb “work out” is important. It is a present imperative, meaning that the action should be done continually, and in this case, it should be done as it is a command. Translation: Paul tells the Philippians that just as they have always obeyed and followed Jesus, keep doing it. Keep working your salvation out in your life; let it grow and bloom! Keep doing it with fear and trembling. Think of everyone in the Bible who either saw Yahweh or Jesus revealed to them: Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Peter, Paul, and more. All of them fell before him in fear and trembling. Yes, he loves us and welcomes us as his children, but he is far greater than we can comprehend and far holier than our sinful hearts make him out to be. Fear and trembling at the awesomeness of Yahweh and his mercy contribute to our obedience and devotion.
Just in case we have any doubt that Paul is speaking in such terms, he gives this incredible comfort and assurance – God is the one who is at work in you. Having the mind of Christ, counting others more significant than yourself, the glories of King Jesus – God is the one who is not only presenting King Jesus to us but working his power in us. It is his will to do so, his purposeful sovereignty at work in our hearts and lives. That work is the gift of sanctification: growing in divine grace. Sanctification is our work in obedience and God’s work in ultimate power and grace. But he isn’t doing this begrudgingly; he is doing it all for his good pleasure. The holy work of sanctification is God’s sheer delight. It makes him happy to do this for us!
As you memorize these final two verses this week, review the passage as a whole (maybe even quote it). Reflect on the majesty of Jesus and how that majesty is revealed in you and through you as you daily work out this great salvation, and God works in you for his good pleasure.