Dr. David Eckman discusses what it looks like to cultivate your salvation.
The topic for this month's devotionals has been salvation. We have taken four of the short daily devotionals and developed them further for the longer weekend talks. We have chosen to do this because of the significance of these four devotionals. They are very important for the Christian to understand and we have particularly chosen the ones that often are misunderstood. One of those sections is Philippians chapter 2.
"So then, my beloved, just as all of you have always listened carefully, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out [cultivate] your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in all of you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12-13).
The phrase "work out" gives an impression in the modern world that it would not have given in the ancient world. When a person was working in the ancient world, they were normally working in the garden or field. So the word workout usually meant cultivate. When we cultivate we take care of what we have, while working out sounds like we have some responsibility to create our own salvation.
Furthermore, we need to understand that every "you" in Philippians chapter 2 is plural. In my translation, I used the phrase "all of you." So this was not referring to the individual at all. It is referring to the entire membership of the church, and it is telling them that they must cultivate what God has given them in salvation. As they do this cultivating, they need to be extremely careful or do it with fear and trembling. Paul then explained why they should have great care about cultivating their salvation. The next verse says that it is God who is working among them both to give the desire and the energy on the behalf of what pleases him. That is the reason they need to be careful. It is because God's life is flowing through all the different believers and they should have a great respect for what God is doing in the life of the believer.
The English text gives the wrong impression. With the phrase workout it seems to imply that is our responsibility to either work salvation through ourselves or to be the ones who take responsibility for our own salvation and finish what God has started. Obviously finishing what God has started would be a bit bizarre. We can tell in the following text that Paul was talking about the quality of the lives of the believers in Philippi and not their individual salvation.
"Do all things without grumbling or disputing; that you may become blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a twisted and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights [luminaries like the Sun and Moon] in the world" (Philippians 2:14-15)
He told them not to be like those in the world who do all things with grumbling and disputing. God has saved them to be citizens of Heaven, and they should act that way on the Earth. They should reflect the values of Heaven. With the result that they would prove themselves blameless and innocent children of God in the midst of people who were twisted and perverse. If they do this, they will certainly stand out in the culture of their time as also we would stand out in the culture of our time. The universal habit of humanity is to complain about everything. So to be not a complainer is unusual if not a miracle of God.
This is so unusual in the face of normal human nature that Paul said that they would be as obvious as the Sun and Moon are obvious to the Earth. He used the word luminaries which is found in Genesis 1 describing both the Sun and the Moon. That illustration makes sense out of Paul's command that the believers in Philippi should cultivate their salvation. Like a rose bush that gets bigger and more beautiful and more pleasing to the sight that is well taken care of, so the believers lives as they respect one another and do not complain at each other will be a marvelous illustration to the world of what Christ can do in lives of human beings. If they do this, they will also be able to present the word of God in a beautiful setting, the setting of changed human lives.
"...holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may have cause to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil exhaustively in vain" (Phil 2:16).
But Paul stated on a personal level if they cultivate their salvation correctly, it will mean that he has not failed in his efforts to call them to Christian obedience.
So what does this mean to us? We should realize that of course we already have salvation, but it is something that we should invest our hearts and our time into. We do this by deeply respecting what God is doing in the lives of believers and in our own life. At the same time we must realize something obvious: that to not be a complainer or a grumble will set us apart from normal human conduct. That will inherently make us more attractive to the people around us and make the Gospel more attractive to them. That does not mean that we should not be truth tellers, but it means that when we tell the truth we need not be critical and nasty. Our life and the lives of other believers should be like a well cultivated garden where others are very eager to visit.