“…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).
Following Jesus’ example of putting others before ourselves is really hard. He was always able to do it; He never sinned once. He was even able to die for people who didn’t deserve it: us. “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die–but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8). Now that is unselfish.
Because Christian love and humility is so difficult, Paul reminds us to CAREFULLY think about how we love and act toward others; especially since we are to shine like lights amid the ignorance of God all around us. It is with awe we remember that God works in our lives as He wishes. Our salvation proves that! And this awe, translated into “fear and trembling,” is over God’s ability to do as He wishes, to even work within us mysteriously. Paul’s command, then, so we can together be those lights, is to
“Do all things without grumbling or questioning…” (2:14).
Ah, that is the rub, isn’t it? Working together to show and tell others about the good news of salvation; striving side by side for the faith of the gospel; without being afraid of opposition. No grumbling or complaining about the way life or the struggle for the gospel goes. Instead, we are to rejoice in who God is–loving, in control, full of grace and truth (Philippians 3:1).
Joy is the emotion which comes from this certainty of what God is like and how He acts toward us. Rejoicing in the truth about God is what it means to strengthen yourself in God. (David did that when things went badly for him.) It is to remember and be happy about God’s sovereignty in life events and in our salvation–and the way things may go as we work together to spread the gospel.
You know, this is not positive thinking. That is mentally to set up how you want things to be or to look for the best in the hand you’ve been dealt. Instead, this is being careful how you think about God. As Paul put it, “holding fast to the word of life..” especially about what the Bible says about God, so that when Jesus our Lord and Savior comes again we, and our pastors and teachers, won’t be embarrassed at how we have been behaving.