Part 2 ended looking at the truth that because God is willing and working in us, we are able to work out what he is working in. It is for this reason that Paul told the Philippians “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.”
In this last part, I want to answer the question, what did Paul mean when he told them they were to work out their salvation with “fear and trembling?”
I had originally written an illustration about the fear and trembling we should feel towards sin and going to hell because that’s what I thought of when I kept chewing on the statement “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” And rightfully so, we should fear going to hell, but that’s not the logic Paul uses here.
John Piper helped me see Paul’s logic with a Bible study tool called arching. Bible arching is a tool for following and displaying the flow of thought in the Biblical text, specifically texts that contain logical arguments. In brief, arcing involves dividing the text into its units of thought and then noting the logical relationships between those thoughts. This is most useful in expository texts like epistles where the writers are reasoning and supporting their statements or thoughts. Bible arching helps us see the conjunctions, or the connecting words, between the author’s thoughts. Identifying these will show us the author’s reasoning. (Click here to see someone arch our Philippians 2:12-13).
Paul does not say, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling because I said so.” He could have. But how much better is it when we have a logical reason to do so.
Paul says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you…”
That little word “for,” in verse 13, is the key to understanding Paul’s reasoning. The word “for” is a conjunction that always precedes a ground statement. A ground is a reason for doing something.
If I say, “I’m going to the store for milk,” you would all know that my reason or ground for going to the store is to get some milk.
Paul says, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure”
So why does Paul reason that are we to fear and tremble?
Because God is willing and working in us.
When you go outside on a clear night and look up at the stars and consider the grandeur and Almighty Greatness of God, and then think that THAT GOD is working and willing IN YOU. See if you don’t fear and tremble at the thought!
He is the One that’s willing in me to be humble!
He is the One that’s willing in me to love my neighbor!
He is the One willing in me to love Him!
Should I will to kill sin with all my might? Yes, and any will you have to do so is His will working in you.
You will with the power that His will has empowered you to have.
Some of you might ask:
Should we think of it as God is willing in us? Or that God is empowering our will to do his will?
To that I say, Yes. I think it’s both, and we must not nullify either one but affirm both.
You must will to kill sin if any sin is going to be killed in your life, and at the exact same time, the only reason you have any power to do so is because God is willing in you.
In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul says “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” Paul says that he worked harder than any of them. I think he would also say that he willed to work harder than any of them. He then immediately says, that it was not him but it was God. It is true to say “We will, what God wills in us.”
Friends, what Paul meant by fear and trembling is not the fear and trembling you have when you think about the wrath of God in hell. This is the fear and trembling you have when you think about YAHWEH, I Am Who I Am, taking up residence in your very being and willing in you that your will would accomplish his will.
Fear and tremble to sin, not because sin may harden your heart and deceive you till you perish, fear and tremble to sin because Jesus Christ is in you and he wills that you not sin!
Your willing is the willing of God. Tremble that GOD is for you in such a intimate, powerful way.