“And thirdly, the code is more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.” – Barbosa, Pirates of the Carribean.
We live in a culture that is driven by ambition. Ambition to be better at work, make more money, etc. There are even some that the worse thing that could happen to them is to lose some money. Don’t get me wrong, losing money isn’t necessarily a good thing but there are far worse things that can happen to you. Money itself isn’t even necessarily a bad thing. It’s the love of money that is the root of all evil.
We also live in a culture that is focused on working out our bodies. This also isn’t a bad thing. And I’ve seen some dramatic transformations in some of my friends from them changing their focus on this.
Ambition, the desire to earn more money, working out to be more physically fit, these things in and of themselves are not bad things. But how many of us have the ambition to know God more? To know his word more? We have a culture that is focused on working out our physical bodies but not our spirituality. How often do we neglect our spirit by not being disciplined in bible reading, prayer, and church? As Paul says in Philippians 2:12, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”
What does Paul mean when he says “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” For those of you who are committed and disciplined in working out your bodies, do you apply that same devotion and discipline to your spirit? This is done by devotion to bible reading, prayer, and church.
This isn’t to say that we aren’t saved by grace. As the commentary on Philippians 2:12 in the Spirit Filled Life Study Bible puts it:.
Paul does not teach that salvation is dependent on one’s continued works, but that salvation must express itself in progressive Christian living and upright character, not only individually, but through obedient participation in God’s corporate call to a local church.
Or as Tim Keller put it recently on twitter:
“Obedience flows out of faith; it is a consequence of saving faith, not a second condition for salvation.”
The commentary for Philippians 2:12 in the Life Application Study Bible says this (emphasis mine):
The Philippian Christians needed to be especially careful to obey Christ, now that Paul wasn’t there to continually remind them about what was right. We too must be careful about what we believe and how we live, especially when we are on our own. In the absence of cherished Christian leaders, we must focus our attention and devotion even more on Christ so that we won’t be sidetracked.
That last part brings to mind about why we need the local church, and to be a part of a local church: so that we won’t be sidetracked. It’s too easy for us to get sidetracked when we are on our own. This is why the writer of Hebrews (traditionally thought to be Paul) wrote for us to not forsake the assembly of the brethren (Heb 10:25).
The Greek word for assembly used in Hebrews 10:25 is episunagoge, which is curiously similar to sunagoge, the Greek word used in the bible for synagogue. Sunagoge (synagogue) is used 57 times in fact in the New Testament and is defined as:
- a bringing together, gathering (as of fruits), a contracting
- in the NT, an assembling together of men, an assembly of men
- a synagogue
- an assembly of Jews formally gathered together to offer prayers and listen to the reading and expositions of the scriptures; assemblies of that sort were held every sabbath and feast day, afterwards also on the second and fifth days of every week; name transferred to an assembly of Christians formally gathered together for religious purposes
- the buildings where those solemn Jewish assemblies are held. Synagogues seem to date their origin from the Babylonian exile. In the times of Jesus and the apostles every town, not only in Palestine, but also among the Gentiles if it contained a considerable number of Jewish inhabitants, had at least one synagogue, the larger towns several or even many. These were also used for trials and inflicting punishment.
Episunagoge (assembly (as in ‘forsake not the assembly of the brethren)) is defined as:
- a gathering together in one place
- the (religious) assembly (of Christians)
So when Paul wrote for us to not forsake the assembly of the brethren, he was telling us to not forsake the religious assembly of Christians.
Even the Greek word for forsake used in Hebrews 10:25 is interesting. It is egkataleipo, and it means:
- abandon, desert
- leave in straits, leave helpless
- totally abandoned, utterly forsaken
- to leave behind among, to leave surviving
Paul is telling us to not abandon, desert, or leave behind the assembly of the brethren.
Prov 18:1 even goes so far as to say this:
A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire;
He rages against all wise judgment. [NKJV]
I’ve written more about the need for the church, as well as what Ignatius, a disciple of the Apostle John, wrote here. [Spoiler: he calls those that separate themselves from the church wolves in sheep’s clothing.]
We are to ‘work out your salvation with fear and trembling.’
I looked up this in Greek not too long ago and was really blown away by the word trembling. The Greek word for trembling used in Philippians 2:12 is tromos, and it means:
- a trembling or quaking with fear
- 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
We are to work out our salvation with the anxiety of one who distrusts his ability to completely meet all the requirements while at the same time religiously doing our utmost to fulfill our duty. Religiously. So much for Christianity not being a religion.
We are disciplined enough to make sure that we go to the gym or work out, but can’t make it to church. We are disciplined enough to not be late for work or miss a day but have a ‘whatever’ attitude about if we are late to church or miss church. We consider a faithful membership to a gym and/or to work a higher priority than the church. Could it be that we have our priorities in the wrong place? Could it be that we are being mindful of the things of men rather than the things of God?