Philippians 2:12, 13
Why, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence…
The apostle, after commending the Philippians for their obedience to God in his absence, counsels them to continue in that course, working out their salvation for themselves. "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling."
I. CONSIDER the MATTER TO RE WORKED OUT. "Your own salvation."
1. Salvation is an essentially individual thing between each man and his God. It is the supreme concernment of every man. Green shows it was the glory of Puritanism that "religion in its deepest and innermost sense had to do, not with Churches, but with the individual soul. It is as a single soul that each Christian claims his part in the mystery of redemption."
2. Though salvation is God's work, it is yet consistent with Scripture fact that it should be man's work likewise. The salvation to be worked out is supposed to be already possessed in its principle or germ; for the apostle addresses this counsel, not to unconverted sinners, but to "saints in Christ Jesus." The breadth of the word "salvation" is to be carefully estimated. Sometimes it is used in Scripture, as we have already seen, as equivalent to justification or pardon; sometimes as equivalent to sanctification; sometimes as equivalent to the final deliverance at death or judgment. Thus it may be regarded as either past, present, or future. It is in the second sense that the apostle uses the expression, for he has special regard here to the development of the Christian life in believers.
II. THE PROCESS OF WORKING OUT THIS SALVATION. "Work out your own salvation."
1. This implies that Christian life is not a mystic and indolent quietism which moves neither hand nor foot, but a state of cow, scions activity and struggle. There are theories of sanctification in our day which teach the doctrine of the soul's passivity, as if it lay in the arms of Jesus without effort or almost conscious thought. Such an idea would need a recasting of the whole phraseology of Scripture to justify it. Christian life is always represented in Scripture as a life of watching, of struggle, of combat. "So run that ye may obtain" (1 Corinthians 9:24); "So fight I, not as one that beateth the air" (1 Corinthians 9:26); "Striving according to his working which worketh in me mightily "(Colossians 1:29); "I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:14); "Give all diligence to make your calling and election sure" (2 Peter 1:10).
2. It implies that God has already worked in he what we are to work out. If we work out anything else, it will be of nature or the devil. If, therefore, we have faith, hope, or love, let us work it out. If we have been begotten again with the incorruptible seed of the Word, work out its imperishable principles in all the lovely consistencies of a holy life.
3. It implies a constant and faithful use of all the means appointed by God for this end. (Matthew 6:33; Acts 13:43; Romans 12:12.)
III. THE REASON OR ENCOURAGEMENT FOR ENERGY IN THIS WORK. "For it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure."
1. Consider how the encouragement operates. The believer strives because he is assured of Divine co-operation in the work. There is a spirit of dependence in human life which tends to produce weakness and sterility; but dependence on God is the true spring of all effort, strength, and heroism. Divine grace has no tendency to supersede human effort, but rather to stimulate it to greater results. The fact that an army is led by a matchless general does not make soldiers less, but more, resolute in carrying out his commands. Wellington regarded the presence of Napoleon Bonaparte at the head of his army as equal to a hundred thousand additional bayonets. Let the Christian, then, work out his salvation; for he has God working in him every result involved in it.
2. Consider the sphere of God's working. "It is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." The Divine operation touches the first impulse of the will as well as the final achievement that flows from it. Augustine says, "Therefore we will, but God works in us also to will; therefore we work, but God works in us also to work." How natural, then, that believers should attribute everything good in them to Divine grace!
3. Consider the end and direction of this working. "Of his good pleasure." God delights in this work, even in the perfection of his saints. It is his good pleasure that they should be holy, pure, loving.
4. Consider the mystery of the double working here implied. The apostle does not attempt to explain the blending of the two activities in one glorious work, so as to indicate where the one ends and the other begins. In other words, he does not attempt to reconcile the doctrine of man's freedom with the doctrine of God's sovereignty. This is a deep mystery, which faith can accept, but the philosophies of earth have tried in vain to unravel.
IV. THE SPIRIT IN WHICH BELIEVERS ARE TO WORK OUT THEIR SALVATION, "With fear and trembling." With an inward distrust of our own power and an anxious solicitude for the constant action of Divine power. There is a feat' and a trembling that have a true place in the Christian life. he in consideration of our sins and our weaknesses, yet that lead us to cling all the closer to the Ark of our strength. Fear has its place even by the side of faith, pointing its finger to possible dangers. "Thou standest by faith: therefore be thou not high-minded, but fear." But the fear is not that which is hostile to full assurance, but to carnality and recklessness; while the trembling is not that of the slave, but of the child of God, tremblingly alive to all his responsibilities and to the fear of vexing God's Holy Spirit. V, CONSIDERATIONS WHY WE SHOULD BE CAREFUL TO DO THIS WORK.
1. God commands it. (Acts 17:30.)
2. He shows us how to do it. (Micah 6:8.)
3. He works with us and in us to do it.
4. It is the most pleasant work. (Proverbs 2:17.)
5. It is most honorable. (Proverbs 12:26.)
6. It is most profitable. (1 Timothy 4:8.)
7. It is work not to be begun only, but finished. (John 17:4.)
8. All other works are sin till this is begun. (Isaiah 66:3.)
9. Unless it be done, we are undone for ever. (Luke 13:3.) - T.C.
Parallel VersesKJV: Wherefore, my beloved, as ye 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.