Nobody needs a vacation more than someone who has just had one. Most vacations are fun, exciting and beautiful, and exhausting.
A Louis Harris poll discovered that Americans are working five and a half hours a week more than we did 15 years ago. We are working more and resting less. Many rich people have become time poor. Although they have enough money, they don't have enough time. And they are tired. The Journal of the American Medical Association reports that as many as one of every four Americans suffers from chronic-fatigue syndrome.
What does that have to do with salvation? Well, quite a bit actually. We are saved not by something we do but by something God does. That's the root of our salvation. But salvation has more than roots; it also has fruits. "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" (Philippians 2:12-13). We are saved by grace. And we are judged by works which are the necessary fruit of our salvation (Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 20:13).
The Philippians to whom Paul was writing had been diligent
in their obedience while he was with them, but, as the saying goes, "When
the cat's away, the mice do play." When a secretary was asked how
many weeks of vacation she had, her answer was, "Four. I get two
weeks and the boss gets two weeks." Paul wanted the Philippians to
continue working whether he was around or not. "As you have always
obeyed," he said, "not only in my presence, but now much more
The true character of workers is determined by what they do when nobody is looking. The same is true of Christians. Paul said, "continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling."
I wish he had said, "work out your salvation with joy and happiness." But he didn't. And I am committed to teaching God's word, not just my opinions. So what do you suppose he meant by fear? The word he used means to show respect towards the one for whom you are working (1 Peter 2:18). In his letter to the Ephesians Paul compares our service to God with that of slaves to their master. He writes: "Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women" (Ephesians 6:5-7).
Paul wants you to see your work as a way of serving Christ and accomplishing his purposes. Whatever you do, work from your heart and for the Lord. This is not limited to professional church work: such things as preaching, teaching Sunday School, ushering, and counting the offering. Paul is not writing to apostles who taught in the synagogue but to slaves who cleaned the latrines. His point is that no matter what you do, do it as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God with enthusiasm from your heart.
Any job becomes sacred when it is enthusiastically offered to God. The main thing God expects from Christian carpenters, for instance, is not that they stay sober and come to church on Sunday with their tithes in hand, but that they make good tables. You may be sure that no crooked table legs or loose drawers came from the carpenter's shop in Nazareth. If they had, no one would have believed were made by the same hands that formed heaven and earth .
Work from your heart and for the Lord. It is wonderfully freeing to discover who your real Boss is. Ultimately, there only One whose job performance evaluation really matters. On Judgment Day, if you have honored your contract of service with Him, 10,000 complaints will make no difference. On the other hand, if you have broken your contract with Him, 10,000 letters of commendation, merit promotions, and medals of honor will only bring you shame.
Work out your salvation with fear, that is, with respect toward the one for whom you are working and with trembling. The word Paul used for trembling means to quiver with excitement. In describing the relationship of Titus to the church at Corinth Paul said, "His heart goes out all the more to you, as he remembers the obedience of all of you, and how you welcomed him with fear and trembling" (2 Corinthians 7:15). The Corinthians weren't scared of Titus. That's not what the word means. They were so excited to see him they danced up and down. That's the same sense of excitement Paul says you should have in working out your salvation. You are working not because you are afraid you'll lose it, but because you love it with all your heart.
The difference between a puddle and a geyser is enthusiasm. The word enthusiasm comes from en theos, meaning "filled with God." Jesus said the Holy Spirit is a well of water springing up into everlasting life (John 4:14). That kind of enthusiasm is missing in so many of us that heathen think Christians are stagnant pools with wiggletails. We are meant to be geysers for God.
Christians can be fanatical about everything but their faith. If you shout at a ball game they call you a fan. If you shout at church they call you a fanatic. The church needs warm hearts and cool heads. Nowadays it suffers more from the sheepishness of the sheep than from the wolfishness of the wolves.
A Christian without judgment is like a car without brakes. A Christian without enthusiasm is like a car without a motor. You can't go anywhere without it. Winston Churchill said, "A fanatic is someone who can't change his mind and won't change the subject." May you be a fanatic more for heavenly endeavors than for earthly pursuits more zealous for holiness than for hobbies more enthusiastic for winning a soul than for winning a game.
When Jesus cleansed the temple of money changers, his stunned disciples remembered the ancient prophecy: "Zeal for your house will consume me" (Psalm 69:9; John 2:17). Does zeal for God's house consume you? Are you working out your salvation with fear and trembling? Remember, you are working out what
"For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." You work out what God works in. What God works in is the motivation and the performance of his will. He works in you first to will according to his good purpose. David said, "Delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart" (Psalm 37:4). That doesn't mean "Be happy and God will give you anything you want." It means he will give you "the desires of your heart." That is, he will fix your "wanter." You will begin to want the best, not just the convenient. You will desire the true manna of heaven instead of the junk food of worldly appetite.
What do you want? What do you really want? Ask students that question and they will answer, "Information." Ask misers and they will answer, "Money." Ask drunkards and they will answer, "Beer." Ask Christians what they want most and they will answer, "Christ." Their highest desire is to found in Christ, become like Christ, and dwell with Christ forever. In the end, everyone gets what they want most.
Dateline NBC reported the sad life of Elvis Presley. It concluded with this statement: "All his dreams came true and he ended up living a nightmare." The only thing I would add to that is that the nightmare goes on forever for those who give themselves to the wrong dream. In the end, everyone gets what they want most.
A soldier saw a missionary tending a family stricken with advanced leprosy. He said, "I wouldn't do that for a million dollars." The missionary said, "Neither would I!"
Paul said, "The love of Christ constrains us" (2 Corinthians 5:14). We are motivated not only by our love for Christ, but by Christ's love for the world. He works in us to will according to his good purpose.
And he works in us to act according to his good purpose. After the great conductor Toscanini directed a concert of Beethoven, a music critic, said, "His orchestra never plays for Toscanini. Nor does Toscanini reach out selfishly for credit. First, Toscanini always conducts the music as if Beethoven himself were listening. And, second, Toscanini wants Beethoven to hear it correctly." Likewise, Christians play out their lives as if Jesus Christ himself were listening. Because he is. And they want his approval.
God has not called you into his vineyard just to sit around
and eat grapes, but to get busy and hoe. Do you deserve your place in
the garden of God in light of the fruit you are bearing? If you neither
care for nor carry out God's good purpose, perhaps it is because God is
not working in you. Christians always work out what God works in. Jesus
said, "I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day:
the night cometh, when no one can work" (John 9:4).