So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling Philippians 2:12
Work Out – Paul is never very far from the Hebrew Scriptures. So, when he talks about working out our salvation, he uses a Greek word that recalls a very familiar Old Testament context. It’s all about the plow. If you thought working out your salvation was about preparing your soul, clearing your mind or cleaning up your emotions, then you need a good dose of dirt. Paul’s word takes us right back to Genesis 3 – a world filled with thorns, thistles and sweat.
The Greek word is katergazesthe. It is the combination of an intensive prefix (kata) and a verb that is about toil, particularly about laboring in a field. It is the same word that is used in the Greek Old Testament in Genesis 2:15, when God placed Man in the garden to cultivate it. This kind of work has been in the plan since the creation. It is the work of stewarding the earth on God’s behalf. Paul adds an exclamation point to this work! Do you want to know how to work out your salvation? By redeeming God’s creation, that’s how! As a result of the Fall, that toil is incredibly more difficult. Now we have to deal with thorns, thistles and sorrow. Work comes with sweat. But the plan of working out our salvation has not changed. This is exactly the same assignment given to Adam. God always intended that Man should work at stewarding the creation.
In the contemporary religious world of inner spirituality, it’s easy to overlook God’s general assignment. It’s easy to focus on confession, prayer, denial, cross-bearing and religious “feelings.” All of that may be important, but it’s not where your salvation is going to be worked out. If you want to work out your salvation, start plowing! Exercise stewardship. Transform the world. Act as a representative of the God of compassion and mercy. Love others – and that means to act benevolently toward another at cost to myself. Yes, you can spend important moments in the study of the Word. Yes, you can enjoy conversation with the Lord in a quiet place. Yes, you will need to seek purity and truth. But if your religious experience ends there, you will not work out your salvation. You’ll stay stuck on the sidelines of the great game of redemption. If you want to work this out, you will have to get dirty in the world. There are no ivory tower Christians.
By the way, God does not allow proxy Christianity. You can’t assign working out your salvation to someone else. There are no professional Christians. Yes, your resources and finances must be used to bring transformation and redemption to this world, but you yourself will have to put a hand to the plow sooner or later (hopefully, sooner, since working out your salvation takes a long time). Is it any wonder that Jesus talked about giving drink, food, shelter and encouragement to those in need?
How’s your plowing going?
Topical Index: Obedience, Salvation