with fear and trembling

“I had for some time worried about the expression ‘fear and trembling.’ It did not seem likely to me that Paul in writing Philippians [2:13] could have meant literally that they were to work out their salvation in a condition of anxiety and nervousness. We all know that fear destroys love and spoils relationships, and a great deal of the New Testament is taken up with getting rid of the old ideas of fear and substituting the new ideas of love and trust. I realized the Greek word translated ‘fear’ can equally well mean ‘reverence’ or ‘awe’ or even ‘respect,’ but I was bothered about the ‘trembling.’

“[Then I discovered that] … the expression ‘fear and trembling’ had become a bit of a cliche, even as it has in some circles today. [For example] when Paul wrote to the Corinthians and reported that Titus had been encouraged and refreshed by their reception of him, he then went on to say that the Corinthians Christians received him with ‘fear and trembling’ (2 Cor. 7:15)! Now this makes nonsense, unless it is a purely conventional verbal form implying proper respect. For, little as we know of Titus, we cannot imagine any real Christian minister being encouraged and refreshed by a display of nervous anxiety.”

J.B. Phillips as quoted in Spiritual Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups on the Twelve Spiritual Disciplines edited by Richard Foster and Emile Griffin (Harper, 2000), p.94

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