Last week we looked at the importance of working out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). The reason for this sort of exhortation is the simple fact that we are a work in progress. For the Christian, being involved in the maturing process is so important, for it helps to bring us beyond that child-like stage, which in turn keeps us from being “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14) as well as other things. It is important to encourage a new Christian to be purposed in the maturing process. It is equally important to show them how to do it. One area of enormous importance regarding this process is the role God’s word must play in their new found journey in life.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
I can’t tell you how many times over the years I have been in need of a flashlight, only to find the batteries dead, or worse yet, I am unable to find the flashlight itself. In most cases, my need for light was due to the fact that, for some reason, I found myself in a dark place, unable to navigate or see what I was doing For the disciple, our journey heavenward also has moments of darkness as we, called to run, navigate the course. (Hebrews 12:1) It is, at times, overwhelming and seemingly impossible. The Psalmist spoke of such times, speaking of the affliction he encountered (Psalm 119:107) and how the wicked had laid snares before him (Psalm 119:110). This is why God’s word had to play such a pivotal role in his life, lighting the path on which he walked, enabling him to make the journey safely.
The Christian journey, much like the psalmist, is one where affliction is, at times, present, and snares are often laid before us. As disciples, we also need to be resolved in our approach to such times. The psalmist pens these powerful words, “I have sworn and confirmed that I will keep your righteous judgments . . . Your testimonies I have taken as a heritage forever . . . I have inclined my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the very end.” (Psalm 119:106, 111-112) It is with such conviction that God’s word can be a lamp to my feet, ensuring each step to be in step with Him.
I want to continue our discussion from last week regarding what Jesus said in the great commission regarding our responsibility, after one has become a disciple and has obeyed the gospel, to continue, “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:20a) For all of us who have come to know Christ and put Him on in baptism, we realize that the joy of salvation does not negate the need for maturity. We are a work in progress.
Therefore, my beloved, as you 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. Philippians 2:12
It is exciting to work with new Christians as they soak up God’s word like a sponge, having the eagerness to do His will as best they can, continuously seeking to grow: I suspect the apostle Paul experienced this on a number of occasions during his missionary journeys. In the above text, we find something of great importance for all who are in Christ; that is, we need to work at our progress.
This idea of work simply means to do that from which something results. (Thayer’s) This same word is used in Romans 5:3 where Paul teaches us, that “tribulation produces perseverance.” Thus, we intentionally do things with the understanding that something will result; in this case, concerning our salvation. As one commentator put it, “Personal responsibility could hardly be expressed more clearly.”
What is equally important to one’s efforts given to the maturing process is the attitude we bring with us. There has been so much debate given to the words “fear and trembling.” These words are not intended to cause the believer who has obeyed the gospel, to doubt his or hers relationship with Christ. Rather, it helps us to understand the importance of how we should approach our personal maturity. This same language is used in 2nd Corinthians 7:15 referring to how the church in Corinth received Titus. (also used in the relationship between servant and master in Ephesians 6:5) Fear speaks of the sense of respect we have towards God and the word trembling carries with it the idea of quaking in fear. Both of these definitions come from The New Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon. Listen closely now to what they go on to say,
“With fear and trembling, used to describe the anxiety of one who distrusts his ability completely to meet all requirements, but religiously does his utmost to fulfill his duty.”
Because we are a work in progress, our journey heavenward must be taken seriously. Christ-likeness is our earthly goal so we can shine His light as brightly as possible. May our awareness of who God is, what He has done and what He plans to do, move us to humble yet purposed action.