By Canon Mark A. Pearson
Work out [the implications of] your own salvation with fear and trembling, for God is at work in you…
It’s so important when studying Scripture to make sure we get the whole picture. “Proof texting,” that is, grabbing one or two isolated verses to make a point while ignoring other verses which may give a fuller or even different understanding, is very unwise. I’ve always wanted, in my teaching, to get solid biblical fullness and balance. When it comes to making good things happen, the Bible teaches synergy, that is to say, the working together of God and people. As the above quote from Philippians so aptly summarizes, we work and God works. Both. As Saint Paul noted about the work in Corinth, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6). There are two imbalances or extremes that one often encounters on the subject of our working together with God.
First imbalance: we try to do it ourselves
Someone correctly concludes, “There’s work to be done. The kingdom of God needs to be advanced. People need to behelped. Let’s all pitch in and make it happen.” At first glance, this is wonderful. People recognize what needs to be done and are willing to sacrifice for God and others. But there’s a problem with this response. It’s in their own power they’re attempting to do these things. This usually leads to one of two results. The first is pride. After a while it’s not so much, “Hey, look at what I did for God,” as much as it is, “Hey, look at what I did.” The focus becomes oneself. It’s about what I’ve accomplished. The second is burnout. This is why so many people in “the helping professions” — medicine, counseling, social work — or become angry at those they serve. They’re been pouring themselves out for others — a truly noble thing – but because they have not been replenished by God’s grace, they have nothing left. Over the years I’ve been uncomfortable with the one of the verses of the hymn, “Rise Up, O Men of God!” It states, “…The Church for you doth wait: Her strength unequal to her task; Rise up, and make her great!” Thank God for hymnals that have revised it to, “…and quickened by the Spirit’s power, rise up, ye saints of God.” (Compare The Episcopal Hymnal 1940, hymn 535 with The Episcopal Hymnal 1982, hymn 551.)
Second imbalance: We expect God to do it all Himself
I recall a decade ago when Dr. Mary and I responded to God’s vision for a whole-person healing center, we started asking people for their help. A few individuals got hyper-spiritual and said, “Let’s let God do this.” Well, of course, without God doing it there will be no growth. But what they meant was, “We shouldn’t do anything. God will do it all.” While this sounds spiritual, it is in stark contrast to the Bible’s teaching. God wants us to do our part! This is true both for our walk with Him and for our work for Him.
Working together with God for our walk with Him
While Scripture constantly reminds us of the need for grace and for divine empowerment, it is full of commandments telling us what we must do, such as: “Submit … to God”; … “Resist the devil”; … “Draw near to God…”; “Cleanse your hands…”; “Purify your hearts…” (1 Peter 4:7-8). These are clearly things we are supposed to do.
Working together with God for our work for Him
*Mark 2:1-12, the paralytic forgiven and healed. Yes, only Jesus had the authority to forgive the man His sins. Yes, Jesus healed him. But note how four men lugged the paralyzed man to Jesus, took him up a flight of stairs, made an opening in the roof and lowered him down. They worked hard and Jesus gave the growth. BOTH. *Acts 11:27-30, the prophecy of the forth-coming famine. They could have prayed, asking God, supernaturally, to take the famine away. Instead, they raised famine relief — they worked hard to do something — for the believers in Judea. God gave Agabus the prophetic word; God gave the Antioch believers a spirit of generosity. Then the people in Antioch did their part. BOTH.
The bishop who ordained me deacon in 1974, the Rt. Rev. Alexander D. Stewart, so aptly gave the full, balanced Biblical teaching on making things happen: “Work as if it all depends on you. Pray as if it all depends on God. And you’ll get it right.” Amen! +
burnout . This is why so many people in “the helping professions”– medicine, counseling, social work — or become angry at those they serve. They’re been pouring themselves out for others — a truly noble thing — but because they have not been replenished by God’s grace, they have nothing left. Over the years I’ve been uncomfortable with the one of the verses of the hymn, “Rise Up, O Men of God!” It states, “…The Church for you doth wait: Her strength unequal to her task; Rise up, and make her great!” Thank God for hymnals that have revised it to, “…and quickened by the Spirit’s power, rise up, ye saints of God.” (Compare The Episcopal Hymnal 1940, hymn 535 with TheEpiscopal Hymnal 1982 , hymn 551.)