J. M. Davies, Canada
In the Scriptures the word Salvation denotes a variety of experiences and the context in each case must decide its meaning or application. The three uses of this word in the Philippian Epistle are most instructive. A consideration of them shows that they refer to three totally different aspects of salvation.
1. Salvation from Destruction, 1. 28
“And in nothing (be) terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God.” As the word “salvation” is set over against the word “perdition” in this verse, it is evident that the salvation referred to is salvation from destruction, that which is the inevitable doom of the wicked. From this the Philippians had been saved. The issues of the conflict were not in doubt. The Lord had given them a sure token of their final triumph. In the meantime suffering for Christ is the betrothal-gift of the Lord to the assembly. Thus the Christian may with confidence sing:
There is no condemnation, no hell for me,
The fire and the torment mine eye shall never see.
For judgment God will not twice demand,
First at my bleeding Surety’s hand,
And then again at mine.
2. Salvation from Defilement, 1. 19
“For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer.” The activities of the Judaizing teachers who preached Christ out of envy, strife and contention in order to add affliction to the apostle’s bonds formed a bitter and hard trial. The natural reaction to this would be to harbour a bitter and resentful spirit. But by rejoicing in the fact that Christ was being preached, the apostle was saved from such a spirit. The salvation referred to here is not salvation from prison but from the defilement of soul which would have resulted had he nursed an ill-will against them. This deliverance would be his through the intercession of the saints and the grace supplied by the Holy Spirit producing in him the spirit which was manifest in his Lord when He said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do”, Luke 23. 34. The same spirit had been manifest in Joseph when he told his brethren, “Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life”, Gen. 45. 5. Such preservation from defilement is the portion of the true Nazarite.
3. Salvation from Disunity, 2. 12
“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.” This is one of the most abused New Testament texts. The self-righteous person clings to it tenaciously asserting that it is the Godgiven exhortation to the sinner to work out his own eternal salvation. Many use it to teach salvation by works. But the context makes it clear that such an interpretation is totally unwarranted, and moreover it is a contradiction of the very many portions which teach that salvation is by grace alone. This verse is an exhortation to those who were “saints in Christ Jesus”, 1. 1. Then again, the words have been used and are often explained as applicable to the individual believer urging him to work out that which the Lord has put within him. It is very important that all believers should seek to translate the truth of God into daily practice, but the context in which the words are found does not support this explanation. The Christian does not need to fear and tremble as if his salvation might be lost or forfeited. He is eternally secure, and his inheritance is reserved in heaven for him. Neither is his salvation contingent upon Paul’s presence or absence. It depends only on the Lord Jesus Christ, who is able to save to the uttermost.
In the early verses of the chapter the apostle exhorts the Philippians to be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. It is quite evident that there was a lack of harmony and a fear of disunity and a rift among the Christians at Philippi. The assembly was in danger of a possible division. This was not because of racial differences as in Rome, or of sectarian strife as in Corinth, but of personality clashes. The two sisters Euodias and Syntyche were no doubt playing an important part in the difficulty. It is interesting to notice that the apostle uses the word “all” with reference to the Philippians nine times, as if to suggest that he would not be party to their strife. The way in which he reacted towards those who sought to add affliction to his bonds was purposely given as an illustration for the saints there to be fellow-imitators of the apostle; cf. 3. 17. The pronoun “your” used with salvation is in the plural, so it would not refer to believers as individuals but to the believers collectively, and the salvation would be the salvation of the assembly from a threatened disunity. The path for them to follow in order to avoid this disaster is marked out in 2. 3-4, and the four examples given in the chapter illustrate these principles. The supreme example is that of the Lord Himself, vv. 5-8, then that of the apostle, vv. 17-18; then that of Timothy, vv. 19-24 and lastly that of Epaphroditus, vv. 25-30. Finally the apostle beseeches one who was a “true yoke-fellow”, 4. 3, to help Euodias and Syntyche, women who “laboured with me in the gospel”. Well known to the apostle, this saint of God was also well known to the two sisters and shared the confidence of all. Therefore he could suitably act as peacemaker, one who could seek to bring them together. Blessed indeed are all such peacemakers.