Over the holidays I felt prompted to give a woman who dislikes me $500. I thought she could use it, and when I asked the Lord if the idea was from Him, the verse immediately leapt to mind: "Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you." Do I, even now, have 100 percent certainty that it was God and not my imagination? No. I did the thing "with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12).
That's nothing. About three years ago, a Texan whom I had never met phoned to say the Lord had put it on his heart to buy me a car. At the time I had just gotten a new (used) car, so I declined. He sent me a check for $25,000. How he knew it was of the Lord, I do not know. He never said. And we have not had further contact.
There are too many parables here to cover in a single page-like how our largesse seems like a big deal until we put it into the perspective of God's largesse, or how His liberality enables us to be liberal (Matthew 18:23-35). But today I want to talk about the command to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling."
Here is what Paul's exhortation doesn't mean: It doesn't mean that we are to go out and earn our salvation. It doesn't mean that we can never be free of Nietzschian angst regarding the existence of God. It doesn't mean we must cower before the wrath of God throughout our pilgrimage because He is arbitrary and mercurial and may find fault with anything we try.
The "fear and trembling" is not about whether God is going to show up. (He does and will.) The "fear and trembling" is over whether we heard God right. That's very different. The former is operating on the unbelief side of the line; the latter, on the faith side. "Fear and trembling" means we have uncomfortable and inconvenient choices all day long-and we may get it wrong.
"Fear and trembling" also means we are living in a visible world but serving an invisible God, and it can be scary basing a costly decision on something as intangible to our physical senses as a single word of God. Or an impression that the Holy Spirit wants me to write on a certain topic for WORLD. Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) kept thinking about Abraham going off to sacrifice his son Isaac just because of a voice he believed was God's, and the Danish philosopher wrote a book about it. The title of the book: Fear and Trembling.
"Let us keep in step with the Spirit" (Galatians 5:25). "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit" (Ephesians 4:30). "Do not quench the Spirit" (1 Thessalonians 5:19). "Do you not know that you are God's temple, and that God's Spirit dwells in you?" (1 Corinthians 3:16).
This brings us to the second half of the Philippians verse: "for it is God who works in you" (v. 13). This part gives both the mandate and the courage for the first part. It is as if Paul, knowing he has just unloaded a fearful mandate, hastens to its consolation: You will not be alone as you work out your salvation with fear and trembling; God is in you and with you all the way. It's true that faith is not for the fainthearted, and that total and constant engagement of your whole self is required. But do not fear to go out on a limb and exercise creativity. Keep yourself in the Word and in prayer-and then trust His voice. Do not shun actions that generate fear and trembling.
For God will "equip you with everything good that you may do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen" (Hebrews 13:21). But He will do it as we "work out our own salvation with fear and trembling," not as we are couch potatoes.
And the remains of the day will be the only time in all eternity that we will have the privilege of serving the Lord without seeing Him, in the fear and trembling of this mortal coil. All of which makes of life an adventure well worth a few losses, or even the loss of every earthly thing.