Yesterday, our dog Dawson put himself to bed. Usually, when it gets late, I walk toward our bedroom and the routine is for Dawson to go to his kennel for the night. It used to be a tug-of-war to get him to do that. Then I started using treats as a reward every time I put him in his kennel. At night, I would always say: “time for bed” as the cue for him to go to his kennel. After a while, Dawson got the routine. Last night I went to the bedroom just to put my phone on the charger. It was late and I didn’t even say anything about it being time for bed, but Dawson sauntered to his kennel, laid down and just stayed there. He put legs on his obedience and just did what he was supposed to.
In Philippians 2:12-18, Paul is exhorting the Philippians to put legs on their faith, and encouraging them to make it second nature:
“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.” (Philippians 2:12)
When he says: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” he does not mean we can work our way into heaven. Entrance into heaven is by faith in Christ alone. This admonition is similar to the words of James who declared: “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). True faith, like true biblical love, always manifests itself by action.
But Paul does not want action alone. He wants the right attitude to go along with the action. He says to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. In other words, we are to approach our Christian walk with a sense of urgency and reverence. In the Old Testament, a Levitical priest would enter the holy of holies once a year to make the annual atonement for the sins of the people. He was instructed to wear small bells on the hem of his garment so people outside could hear his movements, and a rope was tied to him to pull him out in case he did something to incur God’s wrath and he was struck dead. Sounds intense but remember this was before the ultimate atonement of Christ on the cross. We can only imagine the fear and trembling that priest must have felt. Paul wants us to have that level of reverence when it comes to our walk with the Lord. That’s not to say God is just waiting to “zap us.” It means we need to understand that we serve the same holy God that the Levitical priests did. We cannot be cavalier in our obedience.
We also must not be grudging in our obedience. Paul tells the Philippians: “Do all things without murmurings and disputings” (2:14), and his language does not limit that to when we are in church. He means for that to apply to all of our dealings, including those outside the church so that we are “blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (2:15). (Remember the old saying: “A hypocrite is someone who just isn’t himself on Sunday.” We need to be like Christ every day.)
Going back to the idea of congregations ministering to their pastors, Paul encourages the Philippians to obey so that he “may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain, neither labored in vain” (2:16).
To be a testimony in the world, and a source of joy to our God and the people He has called to shepherd us, we need to be found walking in the truth. (See 2 John 1:4.) We need to put legs on our faith.