Weekly Devotional – Week of Monday, September 14, 2020
Opening Prayer (from the Book of Common Prayer, Occasional Prayers)
Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and the comfort of your Holy Word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Bible Reading – Philippians 2:12-13 (English Standard Version)
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Devotional – The Hard Work Is Done
There is no greater feeling than when you finish a hard day’s work or some project that you have been sweating over for hours. As a child I had the great joy and privilege of living on the ocean. One of my jobs around the house was to mow the lawn. I can still feel the cool waters of the Atlantic Ocean refreshing my sweat laden skin after a scorching afternoon of lawn work. When the hard work is finished you are finally free to relax and enjoy all that has been done.
This passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippians is perhaps one of the most misunderstood and abused passages in all of the scriptures. When people read, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” the conclusion is often reached that one must work hard to earn their salvation. This typical conclusion is understandable, because if taken alone and out of context the passage sure sounds a lot like “salvation by works” kind of language: if you work hard enough by being a good person and always doing the right thing, then at the end of the day you will find salvation for your soul.
The medieval church used this thinking for their own selfish and corrupt ambitions. The fear and doubt that this misunderstood passage wrought, was used by the church to secure the loyalty and financial support of its people. Salvation by works always leaves a person in fear and doubt of their place with God. The church leveraged those feelings by creating means by which people could work to earn their salvation. The process usually involved acts of piety and financial gifts to be offered in exchange for some assurances from the church of personal salvation.
Thankfully the reformation of the 16th century exposed these abuses of power and made it clear that salvation is the gift of God’s grace alone, through faith in Christ alone. If people living in medieval times had been given the ability and the freedom to read the Word of God for themselves then they would have been saved from this oppressive and hopeless notion.
The Apostle Paul quickly followed up “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” with, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Paul made it very clear to the Philippians and to each of us that the work of Salvation is the work of God alone. God, through the power of His Holy Spirit is at work in us. By His grace He has given us the will to choose Jesus as our Lord and Savior, which is the only way to salvation.
The question however remains concerning Paul’s urging to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” What could he possibly mean by this? The word that Paul used, which is translated as “work out,” means to bring to a decisive finality. Paul was urging the Philippians to come to grips with and find hope in that fact that their salvation had been accomplished in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Fear and trembling are words that are used for the reverence and humility that comes from true repentance. The Philippians and all who will follow Jesus as Lord and Savior of their lives, must repent of their propensity to try to save themselves and fully accept that their salvation is sure and certain by God’s grace alone, through faith in His Son alone.
We may have come a long way since medieval times, but the temptation to earn our own salvation is as prevalent as it has ever been. It is so prevalent because this idea appeals to our fiercely independent nature. We want, in our heart of hearts, to believe that we are the ones who are in control and that we can determine our own destiny. The sinful nature in all of us does not want to give up that false notion of control. So we continue to think that if we do all the right things and are good people that a good God will honor our good deeds and in the end do good things for us.
Paul is urging us just as much as he was urging the Philippians to put our complete faith and trust in the finished work of Jesus. We are to accept with all of our heart that in Jesus the Hard Work Has Been Done for us and we are now free to enjoy Him forever.
Closing Prayer (from the Book of Common Prayer, Occasional Prayers)
Gracious and holy Father, please give me intellect to understand you, reason to discern you, diligence to seek you, wisdom to find you, a spirit to know you, a heart to meditate upon you, ears to hear you, eyes to see you, a tongue to proclaim you, a way of life pleasing to you, patience to wait for you, and perseverance to look for you. Grant me a perfect end, your holy presence, a blessed resurrection, and life everlasting. Amen.