The Joy of God’s Work

Pray: That God may open his Word to us by the power of His Spirit. That we may gain in knowledge, grow in our love of Jesus, and share the joy received with all of those around us.

Read: Philippians 2:12-18  

Our passage begins with an extraordinary command, “Therefore…work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” What in the world does that mean? Following a warning against rivalries (1:15), an encouragement to “be of one mind” (1:27), and to not be frightened of opponents, we are reminded that our salvation first begins with the fear of the Lord. (See also Matt 10:28 and Luke 1:50)

I have thought a lot over the years about that phrase “work out your salvation with fear and trembling”.  I grew up in a time when every service ended with an “invitation”. Where most pastors had everyone close their eyes and called people to say the “sinner’s prayer” so they too could be saved.  Following Jesus was just that easy. Come get your ‘get out of hell free card’!  However, sometimes it felt that there was so much emphasis on that moment of conversion, that there was not much being said about following Jesus as Lord in your everyday lives.  As Dean reminds us often,  “following Jesus interferes with your life”.

Following Jesus isn’t just “that easy”.  To not fear God’s wrath as part of our salvation is to not understand the agony that Christ endured.  If you find yourself folding when trouble comes your way, maybe it is because you assume wrongly that following Jesus is supposed to be a walk in the park. Living for Jesus is hard, but it is worth it! Only in Christ do we find true joy.  We will suffer with Jesus (1:29), but in Christ we are also raised again in new life. 

So are we saved by just working really hard to please God? No. Let’s be clear, our salvation is not about working harder it’s about trusting the redemptive work of Jesus on the cross. If we think that we can work our way into a right relationship with God we’ve missed the boat big time. Shipwrecked! .Likewise, if we think we have no reason to work or fear God because we said the sinner’s pray as a kid and were “saved”…shipwrecked again. Yes, first, we have received our salvation through the work of Christ, but then, we must work because God is working in us, “to will and to work for His good pleasure.” We work from God’s grace rather than for grace.

Paul then gives us two ways that our work in Christ must look like. First, we are to work “without grumbling or questioning”. More than a call to not be sour, this is a call to joyful readiness. We are to be found not just working, but “holding fast to the word of life” so we can endure to the end.  The sin of grumpiness often begins with the belief that we are the ones doing the work. 

For the perfectionist, every difficulty we encounter prompts us to assume that “we” have failed.  We look up with clinched fists toward God and cry “Foul! No fair God. Give me a chance hear.” Maybe some of the reason God seems to be giving us more than we can handle is to reveal our need to rest in His work rather than focusing on our performance. (See Hebrews 4:10) If we work for self-righteous perfection, then we miss the perfection of God’s work.  If we cry “no fair”, we accuse God of not working “enough”. 

Secondly, we “should be glad and rejoice” in this work.  Nothing, not even hardship and death can prevent our rejoicing.  Even if our lives are to be “poured out” as Paul says, to be used in a way that we may not understand or see the purpose of – even in this we can rejoice.  This is what makes us different from the world around us.  This is our super-power and what makes us truly, “lights in the world.” God is always at work, we also must be at work ourselves. For as Paul also wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:9 we are God’s fellow workers. Rejoice in your work today!

Reflection Questions:

1)   In what ways have you felt you have “worked out your salvation with fear and trembling”?

2)   What are the ways that God has worked in your life beyond just controlling circumstances around you?  How has he worked through your own hands?

3)   What does resting from your ‘work’ or ‘Christian performance’ look like for you and how might this help you know God better? (See Heb 4:10)

Memory Verse: Phil 2:13