12 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, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
When we go to our jobs, we have objectives, tasks and goals to accomplish. If we didn’t have a job description, we would be clueless in knowing what we should be doing at work. If the Manager doesn’t give overall direction on what needs to be done, then the point of working is muted. Any person working should know what they are doing. There is a difference between knowing what to do and somebody being incompetent and not up to the task. If you have the skills required, then you should be able to accomplish the task that is given to you. We would not want our supervisor looking over our shoulder on everything we do as this shows a lack of trust.
Paul is giving similar instructions to the disciples in Philippi. He doesn’t need to be present all the time, but has given the expectation that obedience to God is expected and that every disciple should work out their salvation with fear and trembling. I don’t think it’s about being scared, but fear and trembling meaning awe and reverent respect for God as it is God’s Holy Spirit that works in each and every one of us. If we allow it to, the Spirit can guide us to act in order to fulfill God’s purpose in our lives. The opposite effect takes place if we don’t allow God to work in our lives and do not have a fearful respect for God. Salvation isn’t easy and we need to work hard on staying faithful to the end.