by Matthew W. Bassford
A few months ago, my co-worker, Clay, examined Philippians 2:12-13 in a sermon, dwelling especially on v. 13. I’ve known for years that brethren have a bad habit of focusing on “Work out your own salvation,” to the exclusion of “It is God who is working in you.” However, Clay’s study of the latter point brought home something I had never realized before.
God is working in every obedient Christian. Right now. He is working in me. Right now. He is working in you. Right now.
To describe this as heartening would be an understatement! Like many preachers, I struggle with the temptation to believe the insidious lie of Malachi 3:14. The devil very much wants us to believe that it is useless to serve God. In this pandemic era of social isolation, reduced or nonexistent assembling, and Christians fighting and splitting churches over dumb stuff like wearing masks, he seems to have a stronger case than normal. Why not give up? It won’t make any difference, right?
Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong. Even if it is not obvious to us, the arc of history bends toward God. He will work out His will, He will accomplish His purpose, and He will glorify Himself through His people if they will let Him do it.
The health-and-wealth preachers have a point, kind of. God does have a plan for your life. However, His plan is not for you to enjoy earthly happiness. It is for you to put your nose to the grindstone and do right every single day, cheerfully, unfailingly. If you do, He will use you to accomplish what He wants to accomplish.
We cannot know what that is, not this side of Jordan, at least, and there is no point in speculating. If you preach the gospel and nobody listens, that does not mean you have failed. If you fight to raise godly children but they fall away, that does not mean you have failed either. God knew that His people wouldn’t listen to Jeremiah and Ezekiel, but He sent them anyway. Sometimes the Spirit convicts rather than converting, but that too is in accord with His purpose.
Throughout history, it always has seemed as though the cause of righteousness is failing. It seemed so when the wicked rejected Noah, when Israel sank into corruption in the time of the judges, when Solomon forsook the Lord, when the Israelites were carried captive, when Jesus was crucified, and when Saul shattered the Jerusalem church. God’s people always appear to be given over to death. If it seems so in the present time, that should not surprise us.
Of course, the cause of God never actually does fail. Repeatedly, He brings about salvation in ways that no one else could have foreseen. He accomplishes His most spectacular works in the hours that seem darkest.
So it will be for us, if indeed we do not grow weary and lose heart. If we work, God will be at work in us, and He will succeed in His purpose. Go then, and work, whether preaching or teaching or supporting your family or raising your kids or watching your grandkids. Even if nobody else notices or cares, you can be certain that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.