For an introduction to this series, click here.
"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." (2:12-13)
This is the most profound juxtaposition of two seemingly contradictory statements that I can think of in Scripture. First of all, Paul tells us we are supposed to work out our own salvation. Clearly this does not mean that we are to do good works to stay saved, because if that was necessary, none of us would make it to heaven.
To me this means a couple of things. First, we have to come to our own conclusions in our faith. If we try to live our lives exactly like someone else, we are not being true to ourselves nor to the Lord. Preachers or other leaders who try to press everybody into a mold to look just like them are doing a disservice to those who follow them. I have way more respect for someone who disagrees with me on several things but I can tell they came to their own conclusions after their own study than I do for someone who agrees with me on almost everything but they only think that way because their family or their church told them to think that way.
Secondly, it means that we are responsible for our growth. Yes, God is at work in our lives, as we will discuss in a second, but He is not going to drag us into something we do not want to do. We have to be willing to follow the Lord wherever He leads.
Now the second part. Thankfully, we do not have to generate spiritual maturity on our own, because we would never get there. And the few who did would be so proud of themselves that they would be useless. Thankfully the Lord is patient and works together with us to bring us to where we need to be. God is faithful and will do His work in our lives.
"I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know Timothy's proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also. I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me." (2:19-30, ESV)
In context, Paul uses Timothy and Epaphroditus as further examples of selfless service, expanding on the example of the Lord Jesus earlier in this chapter. Timothy is a very interesting character. Paul seems to baby him at times. Timothy clearly had some problems with self-esteem, with taking the initiative as a leader in the church, and apparently physical problems as well. But yet Paul could see that Timothy had a heart for the Lord and worked with him for years. Epaphroditus seems to have been a wonderful man. He was probably the man Paul left in charge of the church at Philippi.