Working out your salvation with fear and trembling is not a private matter.

In Philippians 2:12 Paul writes, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”

As we read the English translation, which confuses “you” singular and “you” plural, in our individualistic culture, we can turn this instruction into a private and personal development goal. “I need to do better. I should be a better Christian. I must try harder.” But this way of thinking always induces either pride or guilt and this cannot be Paul’s intention.

The instruction is not addressed to “you” singular, but to all the church members in Philippi. It is not a private and personal matter but a plural and corporate one.

Euodia and Syntyche, two prominent women in the church, had fallen out. Paul was directing them, and the whole church, to reconcile and get on with gospel ministry together. In their relationships or attitude towards others, they were to have the same attitude as Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5) and then work out their salvation, together.

“μετὰ (with) φόβου (fear) καὶ (and) τρόμου (trembling) τὴν (-) ἑαυτῶν (your own)

σωτηρίαν (salvation) κατεργάζεσθε (work out).”

Paul addresses this instruction to each of you plural (ἑαυτῶν), the ἀγαπητοί (beloved (plural) It is a collective instruction, addressed to individuals who are in relationship with one another.

“Fear and trembling” is an attitude between people in relationship. Paul uses the same phrase in 2 Corinthians 7 to describe the manner in which the Corinthians welcomed Titus:

ὡς (how) μετὰ (with) φόβου (fear) καὶ (and) τρόμου (trembling) 

ἐδέξασθε (you received) αὐτόν (him – that is, Titus). (2 Cor 2:15).

In light of conflict and disagreement in church, to work out your salvation with fear and trembling is to be committed to relating to one another within the church family with the same attitude as Christ; with reverence or respect, humility, compassion and tenderness as you work toward being of one mind (Phil 2:2). The opposite of fear and trembling would be to destain, ignore or take for granted the other person.

The verb κατεργάζεσθε (work out) literally means “to work down to” or “to work to the bottom” which could be translated “to work it through”. It has the sense of “work out what needs to be done to bring to effect your salvation and do it.” Sort out your disagreement with the attitude of Christ.

About neilrobbie

I am a 6'6" formerly ginger Scot, in a cross cultural marriage to my lovely Londoner wife. We've lived in SE Asia and since 2005, I have served as an Anglican minister in Wolverhampton and West Bromwich.
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