21 August, 2006

Engaging: Working out our salvation with fear and trembling

Wherefore, my beloved, as ye 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.
For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.

Thursday night was way cool.

I have been invited to help out by teaching my pastor's small group. On my first two nights, we went over the same lesson twice. It is the lesson that I posted a couple weeks ago on studying the scripture using Crosswalk.com. (I have not told anyone about e-Sword yet, but it could still happen.)

I have heard bible studies called, "share your ignorance sessions." I don't want to go down that road, so I figured we would get serious about the endeavor. The pastor chose Phil 2:12 & 13 for us as our first verse, and Thursday we looked at it together.

This passage is an interesting choice, because it is highly theological. Some people don't even see the conflict, while others obsess about it. "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling?" What could that possibly mean? I thought we were saved by faith, not works, much less fear? "It is God Who works in us to will to do His good pleasure?" I thought exercising our will to turn to Him was supposed to be the one thing we did on our own? And these two opposite problems are put by Paul immediately next to each other?


Like I said, it was an interesting choice for a first lesson.

The meeting was about like usual. Only half the people showed up, and we started way late. Of those who attended, everyone had spent some time in the verses. That's a little unusual, but really good news. The fact was that I was not going to be teaching what Paul meant, so that was almost mandatory.

Nobody had anything to say, but I resisted the urge to just start teaching. I began asking questions. Questions are funny things. They can be so powerful, or so boring. It's all a matter of whether the answers are known to the teacher. No adult wants to answer a question only to find out that the teacher knew the answer, and is going to correct some little nitpick every time anyone hangs an answer out there. Who wants to be exposed to ridicule for no reward?

Anyway, everyone had a hard time getting their mouths open. That's OK. I had all night, and I made sure that every answer I received was right. The questions were like, "Doesn't this seem hard?" It's really hard to answer that question wrong. ;-)

We had gone down a handful of rabbit trails, and had a pretty tame discussion when the pastor pretty much declared the meeting over. I resisted, because I knew that more was possible if we just gave it another second. I launched another trial balloon, and Rachel took that as her cue to read two verses she had brought. I forget the first. The second made the meeting.

I will not tell every story of how these things come up, but I really thought it was cool that the bible study idea "worked." Rachel, and everyone else, brought the richness of a little time alone with the word to a meeting, and we gave her time to bring up what she found. In return, she saved the meeting. I sincerely hope that we can develop a habit of looking at scripture openly and together on Thursday nights. It is a weak idea if everyone comes to the meeting cold, but with a week to study the passage, it can be very cool.


Let me tell what we found, because it was beautiful.

Rachel quoted:
6:28 Then said they unto him, What shall we do , that we might work the works of God?
6:29 Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.

The work of the Father is to know His Son. Our work is to be intimately joined into the living interchange of the Godhead. We are to know Jesus, not as a science project, but as a Friend, and even as a Fiance. We are to pursue Him as the chief joy of our lives, because He is.

This does not happen by chance. You don't stumble into intimacy with God. Pain and effort and success and failure and joy all play their roles in coming to know and trust the invisible One Who loves us. There is a work involved in our salvation.

And there is fear and trembling. There is fear in every relationship. If no other, then the fear that you might waste opportunity for more joy. But there is always a genuine fear of offense given, and of distance not crossed. There is a dread that 40 years from now I might learn how my heart's weakness caused me to miss knowing, really knowing, the God of Love.

But there is a reassurance too. For it is God Who works in me to want the good things that He wants. Because God works in me to will these things, and even to do them, I can turn to Him in trusting reliance. He taught me to fear, and He is my relief for those fears.

We do not fear that we may not be clean before Him. We don't work out our justification. He has taken care of that. We do fear failing to do the work of the Father, though, because that work is our highest good. Fortunately, He works in us daily and deeply, so there are grounds for hope.


I hope to do more on this "engaging" topic. I have no idea what it will look like, but I hope to make it about engaging God.


Andreia said...

I would have loved to have been there as this verse fascinates and perplexes me as much as any!

Milly said...

I believe the more strife we have in our lives the closer we come to him. The more I seek Him, His knowledge, His comfort, His strength, and His love, the closer I get to Him the more I question my abilities to delight Him, the harder I work to be what He wants me to be.

Patchouli said...

"share your ignorance sessions."

"No adult wants to answer a question only to find out that the teacher knew the answer, and is going to correct some little nitpick every time anyone hangs an answer out there. Who wants to be exposed to ridicule for no reward?"
Again, perfectly put.

This Bible study sounds like a great way to learn. Everyone brings something to the table, no one is filling up empty heads.

That will happen soon here.

codepoke said...

Turning this passage into one about relating to God, instead of one about performing for God was just a blast. It was wonderful for it to come as a complete surprise too! I had not found anything like that answer on my own.

It is so much more fun to contribute than to receive. The trick is to get something to contribute, and the carrot is that you get to do so. I think we lose so much when we designate one man as bearer of wisdom and all others as receptacles.

Kansas Bob said...

J.B. Phillips translated the verse as follows:

“…so now that I am far away be keener than ever to work out the salvation that God has given you with a proper awe and responsibility. For it is God who is at work within you, giving you the will and power to achieve his purpose.”

I guess I like the word awe because it best describes how I think and feel about God ... how could anyone know Him and not be in awe of Him.

Also, I think that sometimes people get confused and think 'work for' instead of 'work out' ... but that is a whole nuther topic :)

codepoke said...

Awe and responsibility flows a lot better, KB. "Fear and trembling" was definitely a catch phrase for Paul, so it is probably fair to translate it that radically. I guess Phillips was more interested in the meaning than the grammar, and that's cool.