Vol. 2 - No. 5
The Key To Faithfulness
by Truman Smith
One of the most commonly misapplied passages in the New Testament is Philippians 2:12 in which Paul writes: "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." It is used to refer to salvation from sins of the past, which is accomplished through primary acts of obedience. However, with only a brief notice and reflection one can easily see that reference is here being made to our eternal salvation in heaven, which as Christians, we must "work out." This epistle is addressed to those who are already members of the Lord's church.
But the burden of our study in this article concerns the words "fear and trembling." That this phrase is attached to Paul's admonition within itself should remind the serious Bible student that it is a most significant part of the entire point he is making therein. The words "Fear" and "trembling" come together a number of times in the New Testament.
2 Corinthians 7:15, "And his inward affection is more abundant toward you, whilst he remembereth the odedience of you all, how with fear and trembling ye received him."
Ephesians 6:5, "Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ."
Philippians 2:12, "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."
The word "fear" basically meant "fear, dread, terror, as in Acts 2:43; 19:17; 1 Timothy 5:20." (See W. E. Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vol. 2, pg. 84, for a more detailed study of this word.) But this word from the Greek (phobos) is often used to connote a "reverential fear." The Old Testament usage of the word was often the same: "Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man" (Ecclestiastes 12:13). "Happy is the man that feareth God alway" (Proverbs 28:14). Samuel urged the nation of Israel: "Only fear the Lord, and serve him in truth with all your heart: for consider how great things he hath done for you" (1 Samuel 12:24). And finally, Psalms 111:10 says, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."
On the word "trembling" (Tromos), we seem to have a very vivid expression to show the intense nature of such fear. Vincent says, "self-distrust, that is, with serious caution, tenderness of con-science, watchfulness against temptation; timidly shrinking from whatever might offend God and discredit the name of Christ" ((Amplified New Testament, pg. 306).
We must serve the Lord with "fear and trembling." Not with a "slavish fear." "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love" (1 John 4:18). Also Paul said, "For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father" (Romans 8:15). Indeed, "slavish fear" is the fear of the whip in the hands of the master -- no genuine love. Do we serve God only because we are afraid not to? Afraid of His wrath? Paul again said, "And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling" (1 Corinthians 2:3). Conybeare and Howson says, "It does not mean fear of personal danger, but a trembling anxiety to perform a duty. Thus in Ephesians 6:5, slaves are charged to obey their masters thus, and this anxious conscientiousness is opposed to 'eye-service'." (The Life and Epistles of St. Paul, pg. 384). The grand apostle to the Gentiles had a proper attitude of reverence toward God.
In 2 Corinthians 7:15, when Paul spoke of the manner in which the Corinthians reacted to the coming of Titus, "how with fear and trembling ye received him," surely he did not mean that when Titus came among them that they were so afraid of him that they broke into a nervous chill. No, they had a trembling anxiety to perform their duty in receiving him.
Ephesians 6:5-8, where Paul sets forth the du-ties and responsibilities of servants, we might observe that the same teaching is given by Paul in Colossians 3:22-25. By taking both passages together we learn that the "fear and trembling" is indeed toward God.
But Paul admonishes, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." However, he began by saying, "As ye have always obeyed." This suggests that it takes obedience; active service! "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 15:58). Please note also 2 Peter 1:5-11; Romans 2:6,7; Revelation 2:10. These passages show the necessity of faithful, active, obedient service to the Lord in order to go home to glory in the after-awhile. It is to be with "fear and trembling" because of a constant apprehension of the deceitfulness of the heart. This suggests a tenderness of conscience, and Paul said, "Be not high-minded, but fear" (Romans 11:20). Indeed, there is no room to be given to "high-mindedness." It is in this same sense that Paul exhorted, "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12. See also Romans 12:3,16). Again, we note Peter saying, "But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptious are they, self-willed, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities" (2 Peter 2:10). The word "presumptious" means shameless and irreverent daring. All such are antagonistic to a tender conscience. The sweet singer of Israel said, "Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling" (Psalms 2:11).
In conclusion, may I suggest that Paul gives the key to faithfulness to God; for if our actively obedient service to Him is always characterized by "fear and trembling," having a heart that is sensitive and a conscience that is tender, such a combination will keep us "by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Peter 1:5).