Can you have both fear and love? 1 John 4:18 observes, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” Yet in Philippians 2, Paul urges his readers to work out their salvation “in fear and trembling.” What is the difference between these two kinds of fear?
The difference is the fear of punishment. Paul does not urge the Philippians to work out their salvation for fear of losing it if they fail to perform well. Neither was Paul urging them to work for their salvation. He assures them, in verse 13, that God was already working in them “to will and to act.” Instead, he is talking about a salvation they have already begun to experience. New Testament scholar H. C. G. Moule describes this sort of fear as “a reverent and wakeful conscience in his holy presence.”
To help them with this, Paul hoped to send his protégé Timothy soon to take stock of the situation and bring back a report (vv. 19 23). For now, he was sending them Epaphroditus who had been their connection to Paul. Epaphroditus was probably sent by the church with funds to help Paul’s ministry and to assist in other ways. In verse 25, the apostle calls him a messenger or minister sent to care for Paul’s needs. Paul also calls him a brother, co- worker, and fellow soldier.
Working out our salvation is the process God uses to help us fully grasp the reality of a salvation that Jesus Christ has already accomplished for us. God works from within and sends His servants to help us as they work from the outside.
>> The wrong kind of fear can be as crippling to spiritual growth as complacency. Don’t freeze up in fear. Instead, draw near to God with a reverent awareness of His presence.
We reverently reflect on Your work through us, convicting and refining us, and on Your presence in and around us. We rest in Your promise to bring Your work in us to completion. Our salvation is won, our sanctification ongoing.