A Study of Philippians 2:12-13
“Wherefore, my beloved, seeing 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: for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13)
My Beloved Brethren: – This text shows that the saints in Christ Jesus are the possessors of salvation, not as having worked for it and thus obtained it, but as their inheritance in Christ, in whom their Father and God freely gave them all things, as freely as he gave them his beloved Son. God is love, and He loved all His chosen people in Christ with everlasting love, even as He loved Him; therefore with loving kindness He draws them to Him, and sheds His love abroad in their hearts by the Holy Spirit. So they are taught of God to love one another, for they are His own dear children in His well beloved Son, and Paul was endeared to them as his beloved brethren. He commends them for their obedience of faith and love in Christ from the first, since God had given them in the behalf of Christ to believe on Him, and also to suffer for His sake. Christ was so precious to them, and His love so blessedly and powerfully constrained them in their self-denying work of faith and labor of love and patience of hope, that they were even much more obedient in the absence of their beloved Paul than they had been in his presence with them, to the comfort and joy of his heart. And so he inspires them to thus continue on in the commendable manifestation of their salvation, which God had so mercifully bestowed upon them.
“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” The beginning of their salvation, as wrought in them, had been with fear and trembling, as in the experience of the jailer, and in every one who knows the blessing and joy of salvation. And so they were to continue on in witnessing, experiencing, testifying of and making known their salvation, even as it had been begun in them. The good tree works out the life and nature given it, as is evidenced by its growth, its leaves, blossoms and fruit. “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” (Matthew 7:20). The child of God neither grows nor bears divine fruit by any free will or voluntary effort of its own, but always by the power of the divine life within. This mysterious life-force is unseen and silent, yet mighty and wonderful, as shown in the natural world, and much more in the spiritual. The Lord Jesus says of His, “I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish.” (John 10:28)
“Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:14)
This living water possesses the power of an endless life, and therefore it can never be successfully resisted nor suppressed, though the flesh of its possessor will struggle, complain and oppose, but grace much more abounds than sin, and life is more mighty than death, for Christ, who is our life, swallowed up death in victory, and the life of Jesus is made manifest in our mortal flesh. “For greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.” (1st John 4:4). The Spirit prevails over the flesh. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:2). Free from their enslavement and cruel bondage, their dominion and sting. But still there is an antagonism and conflict in every heir of salvation; therefore our salvation is necessarily worked out or made manifest with fear and trembling, and there is much wrestling in the soul, with strong crying and tears unto God. His children are sojourners, pilgrims and strangers in this sin-blighted world, encompassed with infirmity and mortal weakness, the world and the flesh and the devil being against them, so that they are made to cry out, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death!” (Romans 7:24)
Thus it is with fear and trembling that they even claim the promise of eternal life and the hope of salvation, and can seldom “read their title clear to mansions in the skies.” The words, “your own salvation,” clearly express the precious truth that salvation is a glorious possession, our own inheritance, our Father’s gift to us as His children. And because it is ours, we are to work it out, not neglect it, but abide and walk in it, for in it is our life and joy, and in its heavenly fruitfulness in us the beauties of holiness and salvation are manifested, and our Father is glorified in us. This is the blessed and holy purpose of God in the salvation of His people in Christ Jesus, and unto this end He chose them and blessed them with all spiritual blessings, that they should be without blame before Him in love and show forth His praise.
Our God and Saviour will not be disappointed in this divine purpose, but all His chosen and predestined people shall be to the praise of the glory of His grace; therefore the inspired psalmist David said, “All thy works shall praise thee, O LORD; and thy saints shall bless thee. They shall speak of the glory of thy kingdom, and talk of thy power; to make known to the sons of men his mighty acts, and the glorious majesty of his kingdom.” (Psalm 145:10-12). It is in their hearts to do all this, for the LORD writes His laws in their hearts, and so with delight do they talk of His power and His mighty acts in their salvation, joyfully telling what great things the LORD has done for them, whereof they are glad. The humble in spirit bear these things, and they are glad.
So far, then, from the dear children of God doing religious works in order to obtain some sort of salvation as a recompense for their works, the text shows that they work out the salvation which is already their own, and theirs by inheritance, “not of works.” (Ephesians 2:9). It is eminently proper that a son who inherits a farm or vineyard from his father should appreciate it with grateful affection, be interested in it and work it out, or be occupied with it.
Moreover, the loving and faithful father will so bring up his son and teach him that it will be his delight to do his father’s will, and thus please and honor him. This is blessedly true of our Father in heaven and His children, for He bestows His love upon them, and their meat and drink and blessed reward is in doing His will; therefore all their service is the work of love, the devotion of gratitude and praise, and not done that they may obtain salvation as a reward. This last is the motive or incentive of all legal religion, and it is always selfish, for it asks, “What shall we have therefore!” and expects or demands salvation for the works of service. Whether the salvation worked for be in time only or unto eternity, the principle is the same – it is salvation of works.
“For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” Salvation is a good work, the work of righteousness, the merciful deliverance from sin, the justification unto holiness, and this is the work of the Father and Son and Spirit. Salvation is the most glorious and blessed work in all the universe of God, and in it he is more infinitely magnified and glorified than in all his works of creation and providence. “God hath in the person of His Son, all his mightiest works outdone.” For in all His other works, God spoke the word only, and they were done; but His work of salvation cost Him the sacrifice of His darling Son, in Whom was all His delight and glory. Of this Son Simeon said, “Mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” (Luke 2:30)
The work of salvation is two-fold in its manifestation: it is wrought for us, and also wrought in us. In both respects it is our own salvation. The text presents salvation as it is wrought in us, and as we are made the blessed partakers of it. In this connection Paul calls it a good work, saying, “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6). A good work is the work of righteousness, and its fruit is salvation.
Of the LORD it is written, “His work is perfect.” (Deuteronomy 32:4)
Jesus said, “There is none good, but One; that is, God.” (Matthew 19:17)
“LORD, thou wilt ordain peace for us: for thou also hast wrought all our works in us.” (Isaiah 26:12)
Of the good pleasure of God He worketh in His children. He not only begins the good work of salvation in them, but He also performs it, even until the day of Jesus Christ, the day of His fall revelation in eternal glory, when all His saints shall be perfected in His righteousness and bear His heavenly image. This is salvation begun in them in time, and ended in blest eternity. There is no opposing power that can prevent or hinder when God “worketh,” for He is omnipotent in all His work, and says, “I will do all my pleasure.” (Isaiah 46:10) The LORD God Almighty never tries to work and fails, neither does He ever want anything that He cannot obtain, for then He would be fallible, like man; but “what his soul desireth, even that he doeth,” (Job 23:13), and He will perform the good work in us which He has begun. In this divine assurance was Paul’s confidence for his brethren in Christ. And upon this solid rock he inspired the beloved children of God with the full assurance of faith in Christ Jesus that salvation is their own blissful heritage and possession, and has the blessed God for its Author, who also worketh in them both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
Therefore, seeing that the God of salvation and comfort had begun the good work in them, giving them repentance towards Him, and rejoicing faith in the Lord Jesus, “the resurrection and the life,” (John 11:25), they had from the first yielded the fruits of loving obedience in their believing hearts; but the apostle was thus enabled to encourage them to continue on in the good begun work of salvation, and work it out, make it manifest and rejoice in it. For their salvation is of God, who will surely perform the good work in them, working in them both the good will and the good work of his good pleasure.
All this divine assurance Paul gives his beloved brethren, both then and now. And because of this solemn truth that their God wrought in them, this faithful servant knew that the work of God in their hearts would inspire them with fear and trembling, and that thus they should be the manifest witnesses of their own salvation, showing it forth with fear and trembling. It would be trifling with sacred things to say that we can at our will be filled with fear and trembling, or that we can bid these solemn emotions to leave us at our pleasure. Yet the only way that we do or can work out our own salvation is with fear and trembling, which are not voluntary on our part, but are always manifest in us when God’s power is wrought in us, subduing our rebellious will, making us willing for His will to be done, and giving us strength in our weakness to do His will. When the LORD so worketh in us, then there always will be fear and trembling in our soul.
So when the glory of the LORD shone round about the shepherds, they were sore afraid. And Paul preached the gospel of Christ, which is the power of God unto salvation, in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling, yet it was in demonstration of the Spirit and in power, that their faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. God’s work and power will always bring every one in whom he works into fear and trembling before Him, for that one is made to realize the great solemnity of the work of salvation, and His entire unworthiness of this great salvation, to either possess it or testify of it; therefore he will do so with fear and trembling, and will ascribe salvation to the LORD, but never to his own works, saying, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever.” (Matthew 6:13)
It is both passing strange and lamentable, when any who have known the power of God in salvation, will contend that the children of God, in whom He works both to will and to do of His good pleasure, may yet be unwilling and refuse to do what He has wrought in them. This would be to defeat and disappoint the LORD God omnipotent Who reigneth, and Who said to our Saviour, by whom grace reigns, “Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness.” (Psalm 110:3). To take such a position as this, is “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” To say that those who realize their great need of salvation, and that it is worth more to them than all the world, in whom God worketh both the willing mind and the power to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling, that they may still refuse to do that which they are most willing to do, which God wants them to do and they want to do, is a very ridiculous and absurd notion.
But, my beloved brethren, we rejoice that our God of wisdom and power and love does not thus trifle with His dear people, nor so teach them, for His word is in power, saying, “I will,” and “they shall.” But now, because this is true, the carnal and fault-finding objection of old is being made, that this takes away our responsibility, our sacred obligations in the gospel of salvation, and reduces us to mere passive machines; that it is Antinomianism, do-nothingism and fatalism. Legalism has from of old till now thus replied against God, and exposed its spirit of rebellion against the sovereign power and way and work of God in the salvation of His people, and the Scriptures testify that it shall ever be so till our Lord Jesus shall come again.
Therefore the people whom God graciously reconciles unto Himself in Christ Jesus, who say with Him, “Even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight,” (Matthew 11:26), must be reproached and spoken against, as He was. “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” (Romans 8:7). And all the hard speeches, reproaches and epithets against the LORD and His reconciled people, from all faultfinders, arise from the carnal mind, and He rebukes them all, saying, “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?” (Romans 9:20)
That we may see how unfounded and untrue are all such replies, we need only consider that all life and its activities of whatever nature are from God; that to His people He gave eternal life and all spiritual blessings in His Son, and so every heavenly emotion and spiritual function or activity in us and by us is from the life of Christ, but not from natural life; that the LORD ordains peace for His saints, and has wrought all their good works in them; that not only does God begin the good work of grace and salvation in His beloved people, but He worketh in them both to will and to do of His good pleasure, and will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.
And thus it is fully shown in the sacred oracles of God that all the spiritual wisdom and understanding and knowledge of His believing children, with all their faith and hope and love, their work of faith and labor of love, and all their willing and active service and obedience and sacrifice, in doing and in suffering the will of God, is because He thus worketh in them of His good pleasure, so that His good pleasure becomes also theirs. “Now the God of peace make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:21)
“Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen,” says Paul again (Ephesians 3:20-21). He also says, “Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.” (Colossians 1:29)
Our Leader and perfect Teacher Himself said, “Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.” (John 14:10). Much more dependent are we upon the Father that dwelleth in us to do the good works, and perform the work of righteousness unto salvation in us until the day or revelation of Christ. Shall it now also be said that His own precious doctrine makes Him as passive as a lifeless machine? O shame! where is thy blush?
So far from this blessed doctrine of God our Saviour justifying such slanderous reports against it, just the opposite is true; for all the spiritual devotions and mighty activities of the saints of all ages, their loving and willing sacrifices in the service of their God, their patient endurance in tribulation and persecution for His sake, their abiding steadfast in the faith of the Son of God, who loved them and gave Himself for them, and their overcoming through the blood of the Lamb – all, all is from this God-honoring and glorious truth: “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”
Montgomery, Ala., April 16, 1902.