Philippians 1:27, 2:12-18
27Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ . . . 12Therefore, 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, 13for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. 14Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15that 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, 16holding 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. 17Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.
Paul began this thought with the words “let your life be worth of the gospel of Christ” and after a brief discourse on the exaltation and humiliation of Christ, he takes up that theme once again. It is important that we see these verses as a continuation of that principle.
When my girls were younger I often told them to behave as if I could see their every move and to ask themselves “would mom be okay if she saw me doing this or could hear what I was saying”. I don’t know if they actually did that but I was aware of the human tendency to head in the wrong direction when the voice of authority was not present. Paul is also aware of that tendency and tells the Philippians to behave in an appropriately Christian way at all times, even though he is not actually present with them to see the activity.
Let’s briefly take up the phrase “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” as it can be troublesome for a few people. In no way does this mean that your works earn you salvation. At first blush those words may indeed lead one to think that this is what Paul is teaching. But nothing could be further from the truth. Our salvation is won only through the work of Jesus Christ and nothing we do will add to His work. But, after we are saved, our actions speak loudly of the faith that has become ours through the power of the Holy Spirit and the washing of Baptism. It is through our works that others see the faith that now lives with us. It is through our works that our own faith becomes useful to the world around us. And we do these things with fear and trembling for we serve a mighty God and He is worthy of our awe-filled service. I also experience some fear as to how my Christian witness is perceived by the world. I do not want to bring shame or derision to the faith because I have lived carelessly.
Finally, I simply have to mention that Paul says to, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” Well, nuts. Grumbling is a favorite pastime for a great many people and I know that I can get on a grumbling rant sometimes. (Those who know me well may even take issue the word “sometimes” in that last sentence.) I think that we often see grumbling as fairly harmless but in the wrong situation it can really damage your witness. We all know people who are constant complainers and they can become difficult to take after a while. If we take nothing else from this passage perhaps it is the challenge to complain less and praise more. For some, that may mean speaking less all together.