Fear and Trembling

“What does fear and trembling mean to you in this verse?” That was the question our adult Sunday school teacher asked many years ago. My eyes quickly scanned Paul’s familiar words in Philippians 2:13, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” I was thirtysomething, thought I knew more than I did, and still trying to prove myself. The hush over a classroom that often follows a thought-provoking question used to bother me, so finally I spoke up. Though there were many in the class older and much wiser than me, I decided to fill the silence by comparing the verse to a gymnast who can’t afford to make a mistake. She painstakingly creates a routine that will show off her best stunts to the judges. Every move has to be performed with precision in order to win the contest. 

What strikes me most today as I look back at that embarrassing comparison is that no one countered that opinion. Thirty years later, I now realize how little I know. There are still so many things I just don’t have a clue about – and that’s okay. It comforts me to know the Spirit kindly brought that Sunday school memory back to mind, not to condemn me for my thinking, but to provide me with an encouraging snapshot of how much my heart has changed. He knows precisely when and how to offer His encouragement. This snapshot in time gave me an opportunity to mentally redo my answer to that question. 

After studying the process of Paul, I would answer that teacher’s question much differently. I no longer believe that we have to shake like scaredy cats as we try to receive salvation through flawless perfection. Rather, because of our great love, respect, and reverence (fear) for God, we consistently want to please Him; pleasing Him is our heart’s desire. We tremble, not only in the realization that we can’t honor Him effectively without the Holy Spirit’s power, but we also tremble in great anticipation of what the Spirit will do through us. Fear and trembling are the results of fully relying on God to work out of us everything our salvation placed within us. As thoughts of my salvation moved from my head to my heart, I realized it was God who was working in me both to will and to work according to His good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13) My only job is to partner with Him in that work.

As we wrap up this series on Finding More, let’s take one more look, with fear and trembling if you will, at those three things that transformed Paul and that will effectively do the same for us:

The Love of God

I always believed God was who He said He was and that He could do what He said He could do. But, since I didn’t believe I was worthy of God’s attention, I didn’t think He would to do it for me. Yet, what Finding More taught me was that God loved me too much to leave me in a pit of legalism and depression. He lovingly prepared struggles strong enough to prod me upward one step at a time, but not strong enough to crush me. When I felt hopeless, He sent people to my rescue, much like Ananias to Paul (Acts 9).  When Paul felt overwhelmed, God answered the prayers of the Corinthians by coming to his rescue and renewing his spirit. (2 Corinthians 1) When I wanted to give up, God answered the fervent prayers of my family and friends by comforting my soul. Through the faithful, active love of those I hold dear, I felt the love of God, and realized that I matter to Him. 

If you don’t remember anything else from our journey together, please know that God wants good things for you because you matter to Him, and He loves you – no matter what.

The Grace of Jesus

Regardless of how intelligent, disciplined, obedient, or theologically trained we are, we all fall short. (Romans 3:23-24) None of us get everything right. Every individual, and therefore every church, needs the grace of Jesus. The name above the door where we choose to worship doesn’t matter nearly as much as the Name we choose to place over our lives. 

Experiencing the grace of Jesus fills us with an eagerness to proclaim His name and do good works. Grace justifies, redeems, reconciles, humbles, and gives us an insatiable desire for more of God. Paul explained it best to Titus, “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” (Titus 2:11-12) This age we’re in could benefit from truckloads of grace right now! Amen? We can help pave the way for others by first backing up to Jesus’ silo of grace and receiving the portion we’ve been promised. Only those who have experienced grace can effectively give grace and lead others to the Grace Giver.

Grace is meant to be shared because everyone needs it. So why is it so hard for us to share our stories? We don’t have to share everything with everybody, but Paul didn’t mind admitting to Timothy his “worst of all sinners” reputation and his need for mercy. (1 Timothy 1:12-16) He hung his dirty laundry on the line for everyone to see and then gladly boasted about his weaknesses so that Christ’s power could be displayed. I can assure you, somebody needs to hear how God is helping you work out your salvation. Testimonies from friends helped me refuse to give up. Your story just might do the same for someone you love.

The Friendship of the Holy Spirit

The closer Paul and the Spirit became, the better Paul could hear what the Spirit was saying. He didn’t have to know the plan, only the Plan Giver. No doubt Paul often fearfully trembled as God worked out the results of his salvation in ways he never expected. 

Paul often spoke with fear and trembling because he knew his own shortcomings. Yet, his greatest desire was to make Jesus famous. He wanted people to experience the resurrection power that had transformed him. Knowing the Spirit was at work in him allowed him to share his story with boldness. Your stories of salvation and revival were God-initiated and God-directed. What Jesus told His disciples still applies to us, Do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” (Luke 12:11b-12) Paul’s words to the Corinthians serve as a reminder that we can count on His help. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith would not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.”  (1 Corinthians 2:3-5)  

As we continue to seek more of God, may we live together in love as the body of Christ. We may not change the entire world, but we can impact those around us by inspiring a desire for more and more of His presence, power, and protection.

Dear Lord, help the evidence of our salvation work itself out of our hearts and into the lives of others. May we all fear and tremble as we accept our helplessness and eagerly anticipate the move of the Spirit in us and through us. Unify our hearts through the power of Your Spirit. Thank you for Your faithful love, Your endless grace, and Your abiding friendship. May we always seek more of You so that we become more like You. It’s not to us, but all for You. In Jesus name, amen!

Thank you for traveling down the path to Finding More. We’ll move on to other things next week. Until then … happy Tuesday!  

And HAPPY BIRTHDAY today to my most handsome man!

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a poster saying “FEAR AND TREMBLING”

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