With Fear and Trembling (Philippians 2:12, 13)
* Audio for this message is currently not available.
With Fear and Trembling
Philippians 2:12, 13
(One Lord: No One Like You)
October 28th, 2018
I. Fearing God: A Recap
Well, as we move this morning into the last message of this series on fearing God, I thought it would be good to do a recap of the main ideas we've discovered and discussed over the last several weeks. Here are the three ideas I think are most important. Ready? Here goes...
1. While often neglected today, Scripture portrays fearing God as a critical aspect of knowing God. The “fear of God” or “the fear of Yahweh” is a foundational theme in the Bible. It is found almost 350 times in the OT, and throughout the NT as well.
2. The biblical idea of fear (which is bigger than our English word) communicates the idea of being overwhelmed by anything and everything that makes God God. Sinners, that is, guilty rebels, can be overwhelmed in a terrifying way by the holiness, justice, and wrath of God. That's often what we think about when it comes to the fear of God. But we can also be overwhelmed by God's creative power, by his perfect provision, by his incomparable grace, and by the beauty of his holiness. We often describe this kind of overwhelming with the words we found in Hebrews 12:28, “reverence and awe”.
3. Responding in faith to everything that makes God God is the starting point for living with real wisdom. The books of Job, Psalms, and Proverbs all describe the fear of God as the “beginning of wisdom”. The fact that God is in charge, that God knows best, that God is the center of the universe, and that all of us will one day stand before that God (again, everything that makes God God), should incline our hearts to walk in his ways and not our own. The skill we need to live life well according to our Creator's design begins with this fear.
Now, keeping those ideas in mind, turn with me to Philippians 2.
II. The Passage: "It is God Who Works in You" (2:12, 13)
Let's look together at verses 12-13. This is what Paul tells the disciples in Philippi...
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.
Let me suggest that what's at the center of this passage is literally at the center of this passage. Look again at the phrase that concludes verse 12... work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. What comes before that phrase, and what comes after that phrase, both beginning and end are intrinsically connected to that command. And as you probably noticed, the word fear is an important part of that command.
Paul uses this phrase, “fear and trembling” a total of four times in his letters. Now, at first, the expression seems to indicate a physical manifestation resulting from a strong feeling; or to put it another way, “quaking with fear”. And it certainly is used with that literal sense in many other verses.
But I think when you look at the way Paul uses the phrase, it seems as if the expression simply means the kind of complete respect for and deference to authority that is borne out of deep, sincere humility. So less literal shaking and more figurative bowing (i.e., inner). And yet, there's more. There's no doubt it does mean that. But the question is, where does this come from. I think Paul's usage of the phrase in Ephesians 6:5-8 is helpful:
Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ,  not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart,  rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man,  knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.
I think what we see there in Ephesians 6 is that, yes, an attitude of fear and trembling can be directed toward earthly authority, but, it's ultimate origin is the fear of God. That connection is also made in the OT several times where this phrase is used. And that connection is made in our passage this morning.
What I'd like us to look at in Philippians 2:12, 13 is how the beginning and end of that passage point us to the fear of God. When Paul tells them to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, the context makes it clear that Paul is ultimately pointing them, and us, to the fear of God. I think three things confirm that. For example, the first word of verse 12, and what precedes verse 12, are connecting us to the idea of being...
1. Overwhelmed by God's Incarnation (vs. 12, 4-11)
What's the first word of verse 12? “Therefore”. That word, of course, always us points us back to what was there before “therefore”. And what comes before verse 12 is an amazing passage about the attitude, actions, and acclaim of Christ Jesus. Starting in 2:4 we read...
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,  who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
So when Paul says in verse 12, Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now...work out your own salvation... he is pointing them back to the example and exaltation of Jesus Christ. Jesus was (v.8) “obedient to the point of death”, AND his name is (right now) “above every name”.
And so, if the command to “work out” at the end of verse 12 is connected to the word “obeyed” closer to the beginning of verse 12, then doing this with “fear and trembling” is taking us back across that “therefore” bridge to all the superlatives of verse 9-11...
...God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
In light of that stunning reality, I think “reverence and awe” are fitting, don't you? But when we look past the central phrase of our main passage, we discover that the beginning of verse 13 is connecting us to the idea of being...
2. Overwhelmed by God's Indwelling (v. 13a)
Just as there's a “therefore” at the beginning of verse 13, we find a similar word at the beginning of verse 13...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,  for it is God who works in you...
We find here yet another stunning reality. Yes, Paul wants them to look up to the exalted Christ. But he also wants them to look inside to the Father's power, through the Spirit's presence. Paul's already talked about the Spirit in 1:19 and 2:1. In a sister letter to the Ephesians, Paul prays for his readers in light of this reality:
...that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being... (Ephesians 3:16)
Why should we work out our salvation with fear and trembling? Because the God the Creator, God the Redeemer, God the Ruler, God the Judge, God the Father, God the Spirit, God the Son, is at work in us. The God of Abraham, Moses, David, and the prophets is in you, believer. There is no lack when it comes to power. We should work in light God's work in us...in light of everything that makes God God. Therefore, we do so with “fear and trembling”.
But the last part of verse 13 point us to a third confirmation that he's speaking here about the fear of God. He is also connecting us to the idea of being...
3. Overwhelmed by God's Intentions (vs.13b, 14-16)
If God working in us should humble us in a spirit of reverence and awe, the end to which God is working should also inspire us. Verse 13...for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
We are not “strengthened with power through his Spirit” in order to accomplish our own agenda, to fulfill our own dreams, to live for ourselves. No. God's empowering presence is focused on the accomplishment, through us, of His will, for His pleasure. That is certainly a glorious idea, but can we think about that in more specific terms? Can we move from the profound to the practical? We can...because Paul does that in the next few verses. Verse 14:
Do all things without grumbling or disputing,  that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,  holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.
Unlike the newly emancipated Hebrews in the Sinai desert with Moses, we should not respond to God's work in us and through us with “grumbling or disputing”...but again, with “fear and trembling”. But in so doing we read about God's will for his children. How does God work in us, both to will and work for his good pleasure? By helping us shine in a very dark world; by helping us to live distinct lives; by helping us to hold fast, to hold firm, to hold forth “the word of life”...that's the gospel.
That God would use me...and you...to bring light and life to others is yet another stunning reality. Listen to a testimony a read just the other day about God's incredible work thru us...
Tanya Walker, a speaker with Ravi Zacharias ministries, was recently in Cape Town south Africa and met a local man who recognized her in a hotel lobby, and over dinner with friends, told her how many years before, while at Oxford University in England, God had used her lectures during a business progam to stir his faith and renew his mindset in ministry. Now that she was in Cape Town, he desperately wanted her to speak locally. He said, (now I'm quoting the article)
“I have a friend whose daughter is very far from God and struggling with many things. I have often thought over the years how I wished she could hear you speak” Tanya said that she was not scheduled for anything Saturday morning, and she offered to speak to a group of youth if it was possible to pull one together at such short notice... [the writer relates, Tanya] told me the business man had been true to his word and by Saturday morning an event had been planned for a number of local youth. As Tanya arrived and engage with many of the young men and women in the room she detected that it seemed [it was] only a room of Christians but she delivered her planned talk - an evangelist in heart and calling - and trusted God had her there for a purpose. After most of the room emptied and Tanya prepared to leave, a sixteen-year-old girl approached her. The young girl said her life was spiraling; she was an alcoholic, had been to rehab, but was still deeply struggling and at rock bottom. She and Tanya spoke a long time, and Tanya shared the transformative truth and invitation of Christ. The girl said she wanted to commit to him. But Tanya pushed back: “Are you only taking this step because you're willing to try anything, or is there a true belief and commitment?” The girl responded that no, her belief was real and, while desperate for God, she also truly believed. They prayed together. The next day Tanya spoke to the [local man] who arranged the whole meeting. Excitedly she exclaimed that a girl had come to know Christ, that there had been a non-Christian in the room who had committed her life at the end. He said, “Tanya, that was the girl I was telling you about at dinner. That whole event was for her.” At those words [the writer relates] my eyes flooded with tears. A businessman losing his faith attends an evangelist equipping program; his life is changed. A chance meeting in the lobby, an unplanned dinner, a last-minute speaking event, and a young girl moves from death to life. It was like I was hearing God say those words, “This was all for her... and for him... And for her... And for you.”
Brothers and sisters, that is not a 'one off' situation. That's not an example of how God only works in and through Tanya Walker. It's a reminder of how God wants to work in all of us.
That friend at work. That opportunity to help out. That chance conversation with a neighbor. That hard visit to the hospital. That car accident. That late night phone call. That question from your child. God is at work in you, in us, to will and to work for his good pleasure. That God would use me...and you...to bring light and life to others is a stunning reality, isn't it? Therefore, we respond to the example and exaltation of Jesus, to God's power in us, to the Spirit's presence in us, to the life-changing work He is accomplishing and wanting to accomplish more and more, we respond, understandably, with “fear and trembling”.
III. A Fearing, Trembling Family?
But as finish up this morning, I think there's another sense to what Paul is saying here. I think Paul is also encouraging toward the kind of complete respect for and deference to authority that is borne out of deep, sincere humility, and that in regards to him as an Apostle. Remember how verse puts it: ...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...
In this short letter, Paul has already encouraged them extensively about their life together. And as we've seen from verses 4-11, and 14-16, Paul is continuing to write with a community emphasis. And that emphasis is the emphasis I hope you'll consider in terms of our community, that is, our life together as the body of Christ.
Have you ever prayed for Way of Grace in this way, that we would, more and more, be a fearing, trembling community of Christ followers? I haven't. But in light of what God has revealed to us this month through his word, I want to pray that way. I hope you will do the same. Yes, there is an appeal to the individual here. But in the context, this is a word to the church family about their family life.
And if so, God is speaking to all of us this morning, saying, Way of Grace Church, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”. That's a call to complete respect for and deference to the authority of God's word and God's workers, one borne out of a deep, sincere humility. And where does that disposition come from? It comes from a complete respect for and deference to God himself, an awe-filled and reverential posture before Him, in light of everything that makes God God.
Of course, one of the things we have not done up to this point is define what Paul means when he writes, “work out your own salvation”. At first, it sounds a little troubling, doesn't it? It almost sounds like, to be saved, we have to get crackin'; that our standing before God is about our obedience and efforts. To be crystal clear, that is not what Paul is saying. The verse tells us that salvation already belongs to the Philippians, that God is already in them, working for his purposes. That's clear from this verse and many other verses throughout the letter.
So might Paul mean? He's simply calling them to live out what God has already done in them; to live as the people God has called them to be; to live in light of their salvation, their deliverance, their rescue, their redemption. God is calling us to the same thing this morning.
If it isn't God, every church is overwhelmed by something. It could be some very human fear. It could be the awe-filled adoration of some very human ambition. Way of Grace, Christ died to give us a heart that fears God and him alone. His death on the cross and resurrection from dead enables any who believe to be reconciled to God, to have peace with God, to call him Father, and to be truly overwhelmed by everything that makes God God...without that paralyzing fear, as guilty rebels, of his justice and wrath. Therefore, in light of that wonderful gospel of grace, let's “work out”, let's live out, that very salvation as a fearing, trembling faith family. Let's study, worship, and pray toward that very end. Amen? Let's pray even now.