Being Poured out for God’s Glory, Part Two: The Progress of the Gospel
Despite Paul’s encouragements at the beginning of verse 12, he still commands them to “work out” their salvation. We saw that the Philippians were doing many great things, yet Paul continues to warn them and push them forward. He is not saying that they will earn their salvation through either their works or something they did, but to continually show the evidence of God’s saving grace by working and serving God.
This is a continual, constant state of working out. It is not a one time occasion nor something that we take breaks from. Matthew Henry’s commentary says this about it, “The word signifies working thoroughly at a thing, and taking true pains. Observe, We must be diligent in the use of all the means, which conduce to our salvation. We must not only work at our salvation, by doing something now and then about it; but we must work out our salvation, by doing all that is to be done, and persevering therein to the end. Salvation is the great thing we should mind, and set our hearts upon; and we cannot attain salvation without the utmost care and diligence.” (Matthew Henry Complete Commentary)
Fear and trembling indicates that this issue is of the highest importance and not something that we should take lightly. It is not a childish concern of walking down the aisle once never to be thought of again, but a continual state of sanctification as He purifies us. Our salvation is not only the beginning of our faith, but it is our faith. We must remember that our God is a God of love, but that he is also a Holy God full of righteousness. He is the one that forgives us of our sins, but he is also the one that we are separated by sin from in the first place. Thankfully, his grace is sufficient and powerful enough to save us, and we must not forget this as we consider His forgiving love that has saved us.
We are told to do this with fear and trembling because of how important of an issue it is. “Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it” (Hebrews 4:1). “Another says, ‘I have a difficulty about this looking to our own salvation. Do you not believe in full assurance? Are there not some who know that they are saved beyond all doubt?’ Yes, blessed be God, I hope there are many such now present. But let me tell you who these are not. These are not persons who are afraid to examine themselves. If I meet with any man who says, ‘I have no need to examine my self any more, I know I am saved, and therefore have no need to take any further care,’ I would venture to say to him, ‘Sir, you are lost already. This strong delusion of yours has led you to believe a lie.’ There are none so cautious as those who possess full assurance, and there are none who have so much holy fear of sinning against God, nor who walk so tenderly and carefully as those who possess the full assurance of faith. Presumption is not assurance, though, alas! many think so. No fully assured believer will ever object to being reminded of the importance of his own salvation” (http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/1003.htm)
This state of fear and trembling not only helps keep the importance of the gospel central, but it reflects our humility and displays God’s greatness. “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling” (Psalm 2:11). “They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear” (Romans 11:20). Do not treat salvation as a trivial, past event, but fearfully work it out everyday because it is of the gravest importance.