Speaking of horses… Riding one can be a challenge. Especially when you’re doing it for the first time!
Though I had taken some ‘pony’ rides as a kid, riding a horse at Village Creek Bible Camp two years ago was my introduction to the ‘real thing’. After being outfitted with a helmet and given some basic instructions on how to use my voice, hands, and feet to get my horse moving, it was time to give it a try.
And off I went! Or not so much…
If you want to understand the humor of this scene, you need to know that not only do I have very little hand-eye-foot coordination, I also don’t do “right” and “left”. On top of that, my short term memory when given a quick list of instructions is close to zero. I had no idea what I was doing!
Thankfully, Tim and the other riders were there to help me, and after a few minutes, my horse and I were in business. I certainly wasn’t a professional, but we were moving and, even better, moving in the right direction. I was in control!
That is until we started doing the “fun” activities. Which included a relay where I had to “race” (😂) toward a barrel, slow down and get close enough to the barrel to grab an object from on top of it, navigate around the barrel (without knocking it over), and then “race” back. Needless to say, my team did not win!
Controlling my horse was hard, but you know what would have been impossible? Trying to also control someone else’s!
In his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul spent a large portion of his words encouraging the believers to “complete [his] joy” by working on their relationships with one another (2:2). He filled up a whole paragraph with instructions to be like-minded, loving, tender, compassionate, others-focused, and humble (2:1-11).
He then followed those words with this verse: “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” (2:12). At first glance, this verse doesn’t seem to fit into a discussion about unity and relationships, but it may actually be the key verse of the whole chapter.
“Salvation” is a spiritual process. Though our “sin” exists in the physical, its debt and true consequences are in the spiritual, meaning our liberation from it first happens in the spiritual. But it doesn’t stay there. We live in the physical, so salvation must be “work[ed] out” in the physical – and the place where it gets the greatest workout is in our relationships.
You would think that among those of us who are “saved,” it would be easy to work as a like-minded, loving, tender, compassionate, others-focused, and humble team. But obviously it’s not or Paul wouldn’t have needed to write about it!
Living according to Paul’s instructions is hard and it’s mostly hard because we forget about the “fear and trembling” part. I like being “saved”. I like knowing that I’m forgiven and that the Holy Spirit is working in my life to change me. But, it’s easy to get comfortable and start thinking I’m somehow in control of my horse – and everyone else’s.
If I was in control of how “salvation” works, everyone would “get it” right away and change would happen fast! All those hurts, habits, and hang-ups would disappear and we’d get moving to share Jesus with the world!
But how quickly I forget the length of time it took for me to “get it” and that change in me hasn’t and isn’t happening anywhere close to my timeline. If I can’t even rein in my own horse, why do I think I can reach over and control someone else’s?
To “work out” my salvation with “fear and trembling” is to remember that the God who saved me is still the God who is saving me – and everyone else I come in contact with. I deserved wrath, but instead have been showered with mercy. I did nothing to deserve it – and neither has anyone else. He’s the one who “reigns” and His reign is over all (Psalm 93:1). His work in people’s lives is His work and because He’s God, He knows how to do it best.
When we walk out of that place of “fear and trembling,” pride becomes our god and we start trying to grab each other’s reins. But when we stay there, like-minded, loving, tender, compassionate, others-focused, and humble teamwork is possible!