“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, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”
For His own pleasure God is at work in each of us for His own delight; that thought is liberating! We must approach all this realization with a sense of awe, or as Paul said, “with fear and trembling,” that is, a deep reverence and with a living desire to find out all that it means.
See it for what it is, an ongoing process of God working within each of us and helping us to obey Him and enabling us to fulfill His own purpose for our life. Here the word “fear” has a positive meaning, it is a sensitivity to not frustrate or grieve God’s will. It involves our understanding that we are working out what He has put within. So it is a determined and deliberate desire to follow a course of progressively becoming more and more pleasing to Him. Yes, your life and mine can please God!
Here is real gratitude in action with a dependence in a spirit of humility. Therefore, by faith we continually believe He is always at work, which leads us to the truth contained in Romans chapter 8 about “all things” happening to us for our own good in order that we may fit perfectly into His plans for His own purpose for each of us.
All this should cause us, as one, to say, “we rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:11). We matter to God so let God matter to us as we follow Jesus faithfully, who matters most! In the end this settles the fact that we are God’s project! And we celebrate because “no eye has seen a God besides thee, who works for those who wait for him.” (Isaiah 64:4) He works for us, so in turn we work with Him. The principle behind it is “let him who serves serve in the strength which God supplies in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (I Peter 4:11). Let me underline the words “serve in the strength which God supplies” so, not in our strength or the energy of the flesh—but in His strength! And that’s a vital part of His work in you, for you, and through you.
It seems to me there are three interlocking thoughts that are awakened by Paul’s words in Philippians:
There are definite variations.
There is a dynamic operation.
There is a detected motivation.
So the variations relate to “your own”—we are all different—and the operation relates to “God working in you”—it’s His operation—and the motivation we detect is “to do of his good pleasure.”
I. THERE ARE DEFINITE VARIATIONS
“… your own salvation …”
So God’s will is custom designed; it’s “your own salvation” He focuses on. This is a great encouragement to each of us. All of us are members of His family, but we are different with unique callings and different gifts. Our relationship with Christ is not based on a “cookie cutter” process. Yes, of course, some things are identical in all our lives, but the working and discovering of who we are in Christ has many variations.
So we must see everything within the framework of His will, and yet only in our obedience do we discover the great joys He has planned for us. Let it be stated clearly, the will of God means death to our stubborn will as we believe in God’s wisdom. That is, we come to believe that God knows best. We have no time to sit around and discuss it endlessly. God sees the end and has wonderful things planned ultimately.
But that does not mean that all things always will go easily. A. W. Tozer once commented that the will of God is often blessed trouble! Why? God shapes us or conforms us to fit His will, not our plans. So it’s our “own salvation.” Therefore, it should be the aim of each of us to have a will to do His will. Nothing could be more foolish than to think we know better. D. L. Moody spoke of giving our life to God because He can do more with it than we can—but that happens only by a humble compliance. That is how we “work out our own salvation.”
II. THERE IS A DYNAMIC OPERATION
“God worketh in you”
This, of course, relates to our willingness to allow the authority of the Holy Spirit to have full control so He can freely work. We must cooperate with that work and not rebel or resist. Two words come to the forefront: the word that is positive, response; and a word that is negative, resist. In each of us it is one or the other—response or resist!
We must drive the point home—at this exact moment God is at work in you! So we must see this as something positive—living in His presence, for “in his presence is fullness of joy and at his right hand are pleasures for ever more” (Psalm 16:11).
So that to follow through with His sovereign purpose for our lives ultimately brings “fullness of joy” and “pleasures that last for ever.” This is not just tolerated but experienced with fulfillment. “Delight yourself in the Lord,” we are told. As He works in us, He works through us—the Christian faith is not to be endured, it is to be enjoyed. Remember, already I sought to stress this truth in the opening comment, the Lord is at work in you and through you. We could then say, we are in Christ and He is in us. Allow Him to be all He is, in all you are!
So, Augustine said, “We do the works, but God works in us the doing of the works.” But Oswald Chambers said to young Christians in London these words, “Service is the overflow of dedication that is created by an inflow of devotion.” This was expressed by Scottish divine Robert Murray M’Cheyne, “Oh, how sweet to work all day for God, and then lie down at night beneath His smile!” Think of God smiling at day’s end!
And finally, as Major Ian Thomas often said in so many ways, “Really it’s not what you can do for God that counts, it’s what He can do through you that makes the difference.” — So that’s the dynamic operation, and then finally, the detected motivation.
III. THERE IS A DETECTED MOTIVATION
It is, of course, to be fully pleasing to God in every attitude and action. “… for his good pleasure.” We want to please God.
We have already been thinking of the overflow of joy in service to Jesus that honors Him and blesses others. We must also think of knowing the delight of God. God’s Word speaks of steadfast love, righteousness, and a spirit of truthfulness. God says, “… in these things I delight” (Jeremiah 9:24). The key word is “delight,” sheer spiritual delight—God can know that from our lives, and we can know it in His delight!
I fear that I have known some faithful Christians who never thought of God’s favor and bringing Him pleasure. It was grim, grinding obedience. I fear they never saw it as “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (I Peter 1:8). Bishop J. C. Ryle declared, “Never was there a greater mistake than to suppose vital Christianity interferes with human happiness.”
Billy Bray of Britain was constantly aglow with a love for God and people that could not be contained. His enjoyment of God continually overflowed in a lifetime of service to God. He was constantly talking about “the joy that was set before him” (Hebrews 12:2).
And also George Müller of Bristol, who ran an orphanage by faith. Think of how all those situations in a home for children could have worn him down with burdens, yet he wrote, “I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was to have my soul happy in the Lord.” That is, bringing God pleasure and the Lord giving him pleasure! It is that spirit that causes those outside of Christ to say, “I want that kind of life for myself!”
And apply it to our own lives: it is possible to live a life that delights God and yet brings us delight!
Long ago there was a man of God, Richard Baxter. I once visited his church in the city of Kidderminster, England. He was a dynamic person and a powerful preacher. One Sunday he prayed for his people, may we be “so heavenly, that loving Him, and delighting in Him, may be the work of our lives.” And when delighting in God is the work of our lives, there will be an astounding motivation to go on and on. We will be enabled to labor on to do what seemed to be impossible.
Let all of us have an insatiable impulse to do everything in and “for his good pleasure.” We should thoroughly enjoy serving the Lord and following Jesus Christ. There should be constant simple delight, even without being always aware of it. In fact, I would declare to all of us, the more we enjoy the task of bringing God pleasure, the better representatives we will be of Christ.
“His good pleasure” should bring the greatest fulfillment. It should be the great ambition of our life.