Why, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence…
"Wherefore" links this passage to the whole picture from ver. 6 to ver. 11. Since the mind of Christ is revealed in His incarnation and death and is set before you as an example, work out, etc. Every Christian duty finds its motive and model in Christ. This counsel —
I. IMPLIES —
1. That something has been already done. The very phrase "work out" implies this. Salvation has been begun, and is in one sense, a complete thing. We have not to work for salvation, but to accept it.
2. That something more has to be done. The new life has been created, but it must grow or it will die. What is more beautiful than the fervour and rapture of the first love, when young hearts turn to the Saviour as flowers to the light and find in Him their rest and their joy? But this first love may be forsaken. Character having greatly improved may deteriorate, and spiritual health may suffer a relapse. So we are reminded that we must not be merely passive in religion, receiving impressions, drinking in comfort, stimulated from without, but also to be active, cultivating our own powers.
II. THIS SALVATION IS OUR OWN. Something essentially individual between each man and his God. In a sense it is the same in all, and yet it is different. God does not mean your nature to be a copy of any other. One man is impulsive, another is calm; one is bright, another gloomy; one is brave, another like a sensitive plant shrinking from even the breath of opposition. The experience of the gaoler was different from that of Lydia. So it is your own salvation and no one can work it out for you. The battlefield is your own soul, you have to pass through the great crisis of life alone, and you have to die alone.
III. HOW ARE WE TO WORK IT OUT?
1. By the acquisition of spiritual truth. It is possible to have our Father's phrases on our lips when we have not the power which lay behind them in our hearts. We are thankful for the wisdom and piety of the past, but a traditional faith will not save us; and while it is unwise to break away from the past, it is unequally unwise to reject the new truth that may be revealed to us. There will then be progress in character. The spiritual truth thus acquired will be the food of the soul.
2. By resolute effort. A man can never become wise or good without trouble. Jesus bids us "strive," and Paul to "fight the good fight," etc. It is not an easy thing to live the Christian life. The religion of sentimentalism, emotion, ritual, may be easy, but the religion of principle means cross bearing and earnest conflict with sin.
3. Even in the absence of means which are important. The presence of the apostle was a help. There is something in the presence of a friend which cannot be written with ink. The Philippians had done well in the apostle's presence; they were to do much more in his absence. Why? To comfort him. As children when their father is from home are taking more care than usual that the windows and doors are properly fastened, so the Christians of Philippi were to be doubly vigilant when Paul was away. External aids are precious, but we must learn to be independent of them when necessary.
IV. THE SPIRIT IN WHICH WE ARE TO DO THE WORK — "with fear and trembling." This Epistle is full of joy; but it is the joy of a reverent and earnest soul. There is abundant reason for caution, self-distrust, modesty, and humility, since so many have fallen, so many Peters denied their Lord, so many Demases forsaken Him. "Be not high minded, but fear."
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.