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With fear and trembling

Philippians 2 v.12/13

V.12/13 – Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

From the moment of our salvation, as we continue in our walk with God and in our conversations with him on the way, there should always be a measure of – fear and trembling. I don’t wish to weaken Paul’s statement or dismiss it as Old Testament theology; but then – nor do I wish to make our walk with God sound like a miserable trudge along stoney paths; it is an essential teaching in our life of trust and joy with our Saviour – who works in you (us) to will and to act according to his good purpose. But, we do walk along a stoney pathway hedged with temptations and we too frequently reach out to sample their fruits.

In Deut. 6 v.13 we are told to – Fear the Lord your God, serve him only – and it’s that word – fear – which seems to contradict our teaching on grace but actually reinforces grace, it’s fear that makes us turn to the Lord and find his forgiveness. In 1 Kings 8 v.38 – 40, in Solomon’s dedication prayer for the temple. Solomon prayed:

“And when a prayer or plea is made by any of your people Israel – each one aware of the afflictions of his heart, and spreading out his hands towards this temple – then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Forgive and act, deal with each man according to all he does, since you know his heart (for you alone know the hearts of all men), so that they will fear you all the time they live in the land you gave our fathers.”

Let me take those two statements:

– each one aware of the afflictions of his heart 

– since you (God) know his heart.

When we approach God, we know what is in our heart and God knows what is in our heart; there is no way we can deceive God and it is folly if we try to deceive ourselves. Jeremiah tells us in ch.17 v.9 – The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? In v.10 we find God’s answer – “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.” Attempts at self-justification or half truths do not provide peace with God – he is the God of truth; truth meeting with truth opens the door to grace, forgiveness, cleansing and peace with God – his perfect love drives out fear.

The expression – to curry favour – has its origins in a 14th century French story about a horse called Fauvel. The word ‘Curry’ refers to the curry-comb used to groom a horse and the name ‘Fauvel’, with a minimum of linguistic stretching, can be traced to the French for – false veil. Hence, to curry favour means to use deceitful flattery and false promises to gain favour but there is a false veil hiding the truth in this emotional attempt at grooming. The story is about the vanity and deceits of the human heart; in our hearts we put a false veil over the truth and attempt to justify our self-seeking vanities.

We cannot curry favour from God – he knows our heart and expects us to be honest about the afflictions of our heart when we come before him; we are praying to the God of truth.

But, God is also the Father of compassion, so we find Solomon’s prayer is asking for forgiveness – “Forgive and act.” – In Psalm 130 v.4 we read – “But with you there is forgiveness, therefore you are feared” –  and, in Psalm 103 v.11 – “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him.” The writer of the book to the Hebrews tells us in ch.4 v.16 – “Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” We can be confident to pray in truth about the state of our heart as it is the throne of grace we approach; when truth speaks to truth we receive mercy and find grace.

In v.15 of that chapter we are told – “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.” In Phil. ch.2 v.12 Paul starts with the word – “Therefore.” The previous verses – 1 to 4 warn us about the motivations of our hearts and v.5 to 11 tell us of the humble obedience of the Son of God. Jesus has also walked the stoney path hedged with temptations – he knows from experience – the afflictions of our hearts. Phil. 2 v.13 says – for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. The one who works in us knows our hearts and the temptations we battle with and he is working out his purposes of love in us.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,

Whenever we come before the Lord, whether in private or in a church service, we mustn’t put a false veil over our hearts in an attempt to curry favour but in truth we must be – “aware of the afflictions of our own heart” – with the assured knowledge that the God of Truth and the Father of Compassion knows our hearts and he desires to forgive us. Through Jesus, we can have confidence, to come before the throne of grace in openness and truth – Jesus is the one who justifies us – and we can continue working out our salvation in grace alone.

When truth meets with truth we walk humbly, hand in hand with God, in fellowship with one another, along a pathway bordered with flowers of hope.

Prayer: Help us Lord to always come before you in truth, aware of the subtleties of our deceiving heart but confident of your forgiveness and grace, through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. – – – – – Amen

“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” – – – 2 Cor.3 v.18

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