Not only is it confusing because I’m a Western-whitey that speaks English instead of Greek and I live in an age when a Camel is a cigarette instead of a ride to town or an uncomfortable shirt; but it is also confusing because Scripture is just flat out difficult. Hence thousands of years of disagreement over the sacred text.
Part of this is because each side of an argument usually has a litany of valid Scriptures to back up their point. And that’s actually a good thing. Here is what I mean…
I picture biblical truth like a narrow road with massive canyons on each side. So long as we’re on the road its not terrible for us to lean towards one of the ditches. After all, we’re human. We’re dust, we aren’t yet fully redeemed. Therefore it’s not surprising that we’ll have a tendency to lean away from the middle of the road. Not to mention that certain seasons often require a greater emphasis of biblical truth.
Thankfully, though, on each side of the road are massive stop signs that boldly say, “Don’t go there, man!” If you ignore the sign, cross that line, and then fall into the canyon then we’ve got a problem. Scripture provides those stop signs to help believers know where a certain doctrine—and usually its implications—are supposed to stop.
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.One person focuses on verse 13 and notes that it is God who works within us to work out our salvation. As he leans this way and emphasizes certain parts of this truth he gets awfully close to the canyon of passivity. To wake him from slumber a loud siren and bright red stop sign screams out, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling”.
Another person focuses on verse 12 and notes that we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. As she leans this way and emphasizes certain parts of this truth she gets awfully close to the canyon of works-based righteousness. To wake her from slumber a loud siren and bright red stop sign screams out, “for it is God who works in you…”
There is help for everyone in Philippians 2:12-13. To the one wracked with guilt because she has fearfully and in trembling tried to work out her salvation but has fell flat on her face, there is balm in verse 13—”God is still working! Get up. Get back to work. He’s not going to let you fall”. To the guy withering in passivity verse 12 lights a fire under his comfort and drives him to cry out to Christ for change.
That’s only one example of many. There are many supposed contradictions in Scripture that are actually beauties to behold instead of questions to be answered. Let’s be sure to walk in the beauty of truth, finding unity somewhere on the road of grace, always heeding the signals that we’ve went too far in our lean.