“Heavenly Father, as we consider the words of St. Paul, give us the ability to comprehend your words that are the foundation and basis for his, Show us how you are the source and motive for all that is. Help us to honor and worship you.”
12 So then, my beloved, even as ye have always obeyed, not [a]as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who worketh in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure. 14 Do all things without murmurings and questionings: 15 that ye may become blameless and harmless, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom ye are seen as [b]lights in the world, 16 holding forth the word of life; that I may have whereof to glory in the day of Christ, that I did not run in vain neither labor in vain. 17 Yea, and if I am [c]offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all: 18 and in the same manner do ye also joy, and rejoice with me. ASV Link.
This passage has bothered me for years. If, as St. Paul says, salvation is independent of any work or deed that I may do, if it is totally dependent on Christ, then how can he say, “work out your own salvation…”?
Let’s take a look at this from another perspective: this is not a ‘rabbit trail’ but an extended example, a model of how this verse can be understood. The Lord showed it to me one morning. He gave me a convoluted picture, He reminded me of a song…
There’s a love song that has the words, “I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places…I’ll be looking at the moon, but I’ll be seeing you.” And the Lord told me to consider a mathematician-astronomer who works out the math equations and the geometric patterns that explain the relationships of the Sun, the Moon and the Earth, as well as the Solar System and the Universe.
Think of how that astronomer will react to a sunrise. For him it can only be the horizon moving down, the Earth turning and carrying him ever so slightly toward the Sun. He no longer sees the event as the Sun “rising” but the Truth that the Earth is actually turning. Same for an eclipse of the Moon. That astronomer would see the Moon moving into the shadow of the Earth. He comprehends the vast Truth that the shadow is always there and that the geometry is such that he is in a position to see what he knows is Truth. Would it not fill him with ‘fear and trembling’ to watch and see the Truth being worked out?
St. Paul is telling us that he is “Seeing Christ in all the old familiar places…he is looking at the Moon, but he is seeing Christ.” That is to say, he sees the world much differently since he was saved. When St. Paul looks at the world, he now sees Christ. And it fills him with ‘fear and trembling’ to see Christ in everything.
Just as that astronomer is filled with fear and trembling when he sees an eclipse or even a sunrise, so too, we are filled with fear and trembling when we see how Christ, through His humble obedience, has been given the “name above all other names” such that “every knee will bow…and every tongue confess” the Glory and Lordship of Christ over all that there is or ever will be. And, just as that astronomer-mathematician ‘works out’ the equations and geometric patterns that proclaim the Truth of the relationships of the Earth to the Sun and the Moon, so too, we should work out our salvation and see the Truth of our relationships.
The Truth of Your Salvation should fill you with fear and trembling, For you have seen Christ on His Throne and you now know that salvation is not ‘yours’ but ‘His’. As you keep this idea of the Astronomer looking at the sunrise or the Lover looking at the Moon, re-read the whole passage, 1:27-2:18 and meditate on it.
Below is from The Jerusalem Bible, St. John’s Parish, Mullumbimby, website. I took out the notes and section headlines to make it one continuous passage.
Avoid anything in your everyday lives that would be unworthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come to you and see for myself, or stay at a distance and only hear about you, I shall know that you are unanimous in meeting the attack with firm resistance, united by your love for the faith of the gospel and quite unshaken by your enemies. This would be the sure sign that they will lose and you will be saved. It would be a sign from God that he has given you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well. You and I are together in the same fight as you saw me fighting before and, as you will have heard, I am fighting still. If our life in Christ means anything to you, if love can persuade at all, or the Spirit that we have in common, or any tenderness and sympathy, then be united in your convictions and united in your love, with a common purpose and a common mind. That is the one thing which would make me completely happy. There must be no competition among you, no conceit; but everybody is to be self-effacing. Always consider the other person to be better than yourself, so that nobody thinks of his own interests first but everybody thinks of other people’s interest instead. In your minds you must be the same as Christ Jesus:
His state was divine,
yet he did not cling
to his equality with God
but emptied himself
to assume the condition of a slave,
and became as men are;
and being as all men are,
he was humbler yet,
even to accepting death,
death on a cross.
But God raised him high
and gave him the name
which is above all other names
so that all beings
in the heavens, on earth and in the underworld,
should bend the knee at the name of Jesus
and that every tongue should acclaim
Jesus Christ as Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
So then, my dear friends, continue to do as I tell you, as you always have;
not only as you did when I was there with you, but even more now that I am no longer there; and work for your salvation “in fear and trembling.” It is God, for his own loving purpose, who puts both the will and the action into you. Do all that has to be done without complaining or arguing and then you will be innocent and genuine, perfect children of God among a deceitful and underhand brood, and you will shine in the world like bright stars because you are offering it the word of life. This would give me something to be proud of for the Day of Christ, and would mean that I had not run in the race and exhausted myself for nothing. And then, if my blood has to be shed as part of your own sacrifice and offering-which is your faith shall still be happy and rejoice with all of you, and you must be just as happy and rejoice with me.