... work out your salvation with fear and trembling; ... Philippians 2:12
If fear is not a scriptural motivation endorsed by Paul then why this statement? Maybe our recollection of this familiar phrase conceals its simplicity, for we so easily ignore this:
for it is God who is at work IN you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure Philippians 2:13
Now if God is working IN us, both in the willing and in the doing, we are assured of completion. But what about the "fear and trembling" part? Do we ignore it? Do we balance it? Or have we more than likely stuffed it in a dark corner so that it continually nibbles away at our confidence by suggesting that maybe we don't do enough because we don't fear enough?
Once again, simplicity is often hidden by our sterile approach to things Biblical. We have learned to play with verses like children who fiddle with their food. We've got those peas separated from the carrots and the meat so that one doesn't touch the other - and we suppose this somehow provides a cleaner understanding of all. But those who heard of Christ through Paul would not have been able to separate the man from his message. You see, this fear and trembling was so interrelated with their knowledge of the messenger of God's grace that they came not to trust in the man who preached but in God.
To the Corinthians he wrote:
I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. 1 Corinthians 2:3-5
The Galatians met him only because of this weakness of his flesh, and in spite of it he was received...
as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus himself Galatians 4:14
Paul had been a religious hotshot who knew what it was to trust in the power of verbal persuasion. But as his confidence in those former methods faded he came across as a pathetic excuse for a messenger of God. His appearance of inadequacy was so obvious that those who opposed him used it as ammunition against him. They mocked his tough-man writing style, citing his "unimpressive presence" and "contemptible speech" (2 Corinthians 10:10).
Paul lived among them as an EQUAL, not as an overlord demanding respect and obedience. He took no credit for God's work in them because he knew the power was of Christ. He shared their weaknesses and fears. And his words were not polished sermons or even prepared messages, but instead he spoke from the heart to real people in real situations.
Though I used to question Paul's wording in Philippians 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 2:3, I've come to realize the significance of connecting their salvation with fear and trembling. Instead of conflicting with salvation by grace through faith, it highlights it. Their memory of this man of contemptible speech and unimpressive presence forced a reconsideration of the miracle of Christ.
In contrast, both groups were trying to shed their despised beginnings, an embarrassment attributable to Paul. Aiding the Corinthians came men of powerful presence and persuasive speech - "super-apostles" (2 Corinthians 11:5) - ridiculing Paul. In Philippi, ambitious men preached Christ selfishly to add to Paul's tortures in prison as they grasped for respect. But Christ...
did not regard equality with God a thing to be GRASPED Philippians 2:6
Paul's manner reflected the REAL Jesus who lived as a man accepting the weaknesses inherent in the physical vessel. Like us, the Philippians wanted to escape these failures and sufferings, but Paul reminded them,
to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also TO SUFFER FOR HIS SAKE
Isn't this what we try to get away from? Don't we hope to grow up in Christ so that our weaknesses and fears no longer afflict us? According to Paul, the life of Christ is not a means to escape weakness, but is seen most vividly where those weaknesses are the greatest. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Adding with fear and trembling reminded the Philippians of the weak little man through whom Christ had been revealed, a man barely able to contain himself while declaring the power of Christ in terms despised by those of importance. For the power of this life is not found in this vessel, but in the treasure contained within. In the awareness of this reality we discover that we never lose the sense of the inability of the outward to express the inward, for it continues to shake us to the very core.