When you seek to do good, what do you rely on? Do you try to be strong enough, wise enough or wealthy enough?
The Bible says that our works for God do not originate in ourselves: not in our resources, our talents, our wisdom, nor our strength. Rather, as Paul told his friends in Thessalonica:
We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 1:3.)
Look at the source of work, labor and endurance in that passage:
- Work? Produced by faith.
- Labor? Prompted by love.
- Endurance? Inspired by hope in Jesus.
Look at what is not the source of work, labor and endurance:
- Work? Not you.
- Labor? Not you.
- Endurance? Not you.
You might be thinking that there are verses that talk about working, though, and that these mean you need to get cracking. You’re right there are, and you’re right that you are expected to work and labor and endure for God. But you are not the one this work, labor and endurance relies upon.
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed … continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Philippians 2:12-13.)
The word salvation in this passage seems to mean more than merely being saved from sin and death, saved from an eternity without God. This is about the ongoing salvation from the power of sin and its effect on your life day to day.
Paul told his friends to work it out with fear and trembling. I think in this context it can be understood as an acknowledgement that there is much to fear from sin if it weren’t for the fact that God is working in you.
God’s work gets done through you, but by God
Paul said that “it is God who works in you to will and to act.” Not only the work you get done but the very desire (will) to get it done is God ‘s work in you. And then he went on to say that this is “in order to fulfill his good purpose.”
God’s good purpose – isn’t that the good work you want to get done, the work that came to mind when you read the opening lines of this post? If that is the work you’d like to accomplish, rest assured that God wants that too and wants it so much that he will work in you to get it done. So it’s not up to you to be smart enough or strong enough.
In fact, as the church in Corinth learned, human minds and human strength are not what God uses to achieve his purpose.
For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:25.)
There is no human strength strong enough nor wisdom smart enough to overcome what God can do through the weakest of his people.
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. (1 Corinthians 1:26-27.)
God’s good purpose is accomplished through these weak and unwise people of his.
God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. (1 Corinthians 1:28-30.)
When Paul used the phrase “the things that are not” it gives the impression that he was saying the people of God are a bunch of nobodies in the world’s eyes. But it is these nobodies that God uses to nullify the somebodies, the people who think they run the show.
Remember that it is not a matter of you getting better, stronger, wiser than others so you can accomplish God’s purpose. Rather, Jesus has become your wisdom, and he is the one who has worked in you for righteousness and holiness and redemption.
This is God’s work in you and through you. Because you belong to Jesus, you now get to be part of the work of God as he accomplishes his purpose through you.