Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. Really?

TwoCarpenters“Wherefore, my beloved, as 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.” (Phil. 2:12-13 KJV)

Hmm. Work out your own salvation. Do so many good things, they outweigh the bad? No, that wouldn’t be grace, would it. So what does that mean, exactly?

It means work throughout the term of your salvation, from the time you were born again until the time you arrive in heaven. Work. Don’t be lazy. Don’t camp on some mountain top waiting for the rapture. Be busy doing something.

Jesus said, Occupy until I come (see Luke 19). Not occupy a city square or occupy a lounge chair, but be occupied, working at something.

Let’s look closer at these verses:

    • work out – katergazomai – kata (down from, throughout, in) and ergazomai (labor, perform, do work). I like those ideas: down from, throughout and in – meaning from beginning to end and during the process, during the term of something. The term of what?
    • your own salvation – soteria – deliverance, preservation, safety, salvation; from root word sozo (provision of whatever is needed: rescue, health, deliverance)
    • with fear and trembling – phobos / tromos – distrusting your own ability to meet the requirements, yet doing your utmost to carry out the assignment. The apostle Paul said, “And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” I Co. 2:3-5
    • Why? because it is God – theos – the deity
    • who works – energeo – empowers, energizes, operates (like operating a computer or a business, a freight train or a lawnmower)
    • in you – inside, with, by, among
    • to will – thelo – to purpose; desire, wish; to love; to be fond of doing; to take delight in, have pleasure in
    • and to do – energeo  – operate
    • his good pleasure – eudokia – good choice, delight, pleasure, satisfaction (i.e. whatever activity he chooses that brings him pleasure)

The Holy Spirit is the prime operator, we are his co-workers. No wonder the presence of his power – energeo – resulted in fear and trembling for Paul.

He saw and experienced multiplied miracles when he took the Holy Spirit where he wanted to go, and let him do what he wanted to do through himself, Paul!

“And there are distinctive varieties of operation [of working to accomplish things], but it is the same God Who inspires and energizes them all in all.” I Cor. 12:6 (AMP) “Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” John 14:17 “… Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Col. 1:27

You think those verses were only meant for a few “super-believers”?

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The hope of glory

What are Colossians, and why should I care?

I recently felt an urge to re-read the short little book (a letter, actually) titled “Colossians.” I had underlined some sentences in the past so I figured I’d recall the gist of it with a brief peruse. Wrong.

It seemed brand new in spots. The last time I’d actually studied this book I was using the King James version of the Bible; now I generally use the NIV. The more-readable language made the book seem unfamiliar, which wasn’t a bad thing as it turns out.

After reading it through, I got curious about the people it was sent to. Who were they? Where were they? What’s there now?

What kind of work did they do? What kind of historic, cultural, religious and political background did they have?

And why should I care? How does anything in these few pages apply to me or anyone else in Florence, SC, USA, in 2010?

I looked up the town of Colossae in several reference books and didn’t find much. So I went to the internet. There I discovered a few interesting things.

It doesn’t exist today. It was wiped out in an earthquake soon after this book was written, perhaps within months. Although somewhat rebuilt, the road system was changed and Laodicea became the greater city.

Colossae was an ancient Roman-governed city located in Phrygia, on an important trade route in Asia minor leading from the port city of Ephesus to the Euphrates River. Today that area is part of Turkey. It was known for a peculiar “purple wool” called colossinus.

The native Phrygian people were of Gaul / Celtic origin, a fact I find interesting, being somewhat of Celtic origin myself (Irish, Scot, English). Located in a valley on the south side of the Lycus River and on a well-traveled road, the long-established city had attracted quite an eclectic population.

Traders and travelers came through on a regular basis and stopped to rest, stock up, buy and sell, and many stayed to live and work.

With such a diverse background of the inhabitants, there were many cultures and religions represented in this town. Business, society, religion, politics, entertainment – there was something going on all the time.

And it was easy for new followers of Jesus from such backgrounds to mix Celtic or native angel-worship practices into their expressions of Christian faith. No wonder Paul felt compelled to write this letter.

Thinking about those people of so long ago, I realized just how similar Florence, South Carolina seems to Colossae. Eclectic population, at the juncture of major interstates, near the ocean and the mountains, lots of people traveling through who later settle their families here…

Not to mention a wide variety of religions. There’s still a temptation to mix pagan practices of old religion with faith in Jesus Christ.

But there is a critical difference: Christianity is not a religion. Many religions contain methods for acquiring “salvation,” works or sacrifices or payments to buy one’s way up to God, into paradise.

Our God did the work himself. He made the sacrifice and paid the price to come down to us, to human beings. He lives inside humans, and he talks.

“Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27) — that’s why I should care.