David Jeremiah - The Joy of Responsibility
It was February 4th, 2007 and the Indianapolis Colts and the Chicago Bears were playing in Super Bowl 41 in Miami. The Colts were just 2 weeks removed from the greatest game in their history as they had come back from a 21 - 3 deficit against the New England Patriots and actually won the game 38 - 34 and went to the Super Bowl. As you can imagine, the Colts were pretty pumped up for that Super Bowl game, which would be their first entrance into the Super Bowl since 1971.
And the night before the game, their head coach, who was at that time Tony Dungy, stood in front of his team and passionately exhorted them to fight and to stick together, to care about the game, care about the guys playing next to them. But he also warned them that playing against the Bears, they would have to weather a storm at some time during their Super Bowl Sunday if they were going to win. The team was absolutely pumped up, Tony Dungy was pumped up, and he recalled on the Dan Patrick sports show that he was so pumped up he made a change in his plan for the game. He said, "We had decided all week long that we were not going to kick the ball to Devin Hester," one of the fastest and most productive kickoff returners in NFL history. "We're going to kick it away from him".
Dungy said on the show that that night after his speech, he thought that doing that was playing scared. That he shouldn't do that. "So the next morning as we're going to the game," he said, "I told the team I hope we lose the toss 'cause if we do, we're going to kick the ball right down the middle to Hester and we're going to pound him, and they're going to know we've taken their best threat and they'll be finished. So we lose the coin toss and we kick the ball to Hester, and 13 seconds later he's standing in the end zone with his hands up in the air".
So all the guys come over to their coach and they go, "What was that"? He said, "I told you there's going to be a storm". It all happened right up front. Storms are a part of football, and as you will agree, they don't always come up front. They come whenever they want to. They're a part of life, and the only way you know how to meet them is if you discipline yourself to face them. I think that's what Dungy was trying to tell his team, and obviously it worked 'cause they won that game.
We cannot come back from challenges in our life if we're not prepared to do so ahead of time. We don't just gain immediate strength to overcome issues if we haven't planned to do so in preparation for the inevitable. So I've always thought the most important thing about success, the most important thing about being a Christian in terms of your personal responsibility is the concept of discipline, one of the most ill-defined and perhaps unpopular word in the language in which you and I converse.
Someone by the name of Bobby Knight who used to be a basketball coach told me in a letter once that discipline was doing what needs to be done, doing it when it needs to be done, doing it the best it can be done, and doing it that way every time you do it. I wrote that one down. Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary list as one definition of discipline the following: "Training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character". Discipline.
Paul moves into this section of Scripture having taken us through a very, very special doctrinal section about the incarnation. The first 11 verses of chapter 2 in Philippines are maybe some of the most important, sacred, beautiful Scriptures you will ever read. He begins the next section, which is verse 12 of chapter 2, he begins this Scripture this way. He says, "Therefore, my beloved brethren, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling".
I want to preach a little bit on the word "therefore". It's a word that gets shoved under the rug sometimes when we're reading the Scripture, but here it is really critical. You all know that the word "therefore" makes you look backward. It makes you take what you're about to read and go back and read what was before it because it's connected. Someone said that the word "therefore" is there so that you will find out what it's there for, and you need to go back and find out what the word "therefore" is there for in this passage.
What has Paul said? Paul has said that Jesus Christ came from heaven. He was obedient. He was obedient unto death. He was obedient unto the death of the cross. He humbled himself, he died, he was buried, he was resurrected, and he ascended to a high; and every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Therefore, and then he gives us our instructions. How many of you know that we don't just get doctrine so we know more? Doctrine is always the foundation upon which duty rests. We do what we do because we know what we know, and Paul is going to help us now understand what we should do because we understand how much God has done for us, how much he loves us, the sacrifice that he has paid for us, and where he is right now at the right hand of the Father in heaven.
Therefore he said, "Not just as in my presence, but now much more in my absence". By the way, where is Paul when he's writing this? He's in prison. He has been in Philippi, but he's not there anymore. He's in prison. He's writing his church in Philippi from prison and he says, "I want you to know that it was great when I was with you, that you were doing the right things. But now that I'm absent from you, it's even more important". And then he gives them this instruction. He says, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling".
Now, that could mean, in the context of the doctrine, "When I was with you, I was helping you with your salvation and your doctrine and your growth, but I'm not here anymore. So you got to do it yourself. Work out your own salvation". But hear me today. This is not what Paul is saying. Paul is not saying you have to work to get your salvation. This letter is written to Christians. Why would he say that? He's not saying work for your salvation. He's saying because you're saved, there's some things you should do. "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God," watch this, "not of works, lest anyone should boast". We all agree with that. Then the next verse says, "For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which he has prepared us for that we should walk in them". Not saved by good works, saved for good works.
There's not one blessed thing anyone in this room can do to advance yourself toward heaven by one step. How many of you know that when we were born, we were all born with our backs toward God? And it was the grace of God through his son Jesus Christ that reached down and brought us out of our sin, and we didn't do anything except say, "Yes, Lord, thank you. Forgive me for my sin. I want to be saved". We can't do anything to be saved. But once we become Christians, God begins to work in us so that we can have a part both in our own growth and sanctification and also in the opportunity that he gives us to reach the world. He doesn't save us to just sit and celebrate, he saves us to be a part of his everlasting kingdom.
So I want to talk to you today about the good works that God wants to do in you and in me now that we are Christians. If you're not a Christian here today, this message is not a ticket for you to go to heaven. You can't get to heaven except by grace through faith. It's not of works lest any man should boast. But once you become a Christian, listen up. Who really is responsible for your spiritual growth? Who's responsible for you, now that you're a Christian, to go on to greatness in your Christian life?
When Paul wrote to young Timothy a little later on in the New Testament, he gave him this instruction. He said, "Timothy, exercise yourself toward godliness". And the word "exercise", there's a really cool word. It's the word "gumnasia" in the Greek language, from which we get the word "gymnasium". He said, "Timothy, get into the spiritual gymnasium and work out and grow in your faith". Don't just be flabby as a Christian. Don't be passive, get active. Do some things that'll make a difference. And I love that word because I spend some time in the gym and I never forget while I'm in there working on my body that I need to spend equal or more time working on my soul 'cause it's a whole lot more needy than my body is as needy as my body is.
And Paul doesn't leave this in the realm of easy listening. He says what you do, do with fear and trembling. He says, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling". In other words, take this seriously. He doesn't mean we're supposed to walk around and quake. He means that we're to seriously consider that there's a part of our lives as Christians that we can easily ignore, and if we do, it will be to our own detriment. There's a way that you can have greater joy, greater impact, greater facility in your walk with the Lord, and that is grow in Christ. God has given us everything we need for life and godliness. He's put it in us. He saved us. He gave us the Holy Spirit. He's given us the Word of God. He's given us Jesus Christ. We have all of that.
Now, what the Scripture is saying, "Take what I've given you and develop it and make it work and practice it and get involved in using it and finding out what works and how you can grow so that you're not in the same place next year as you are this year as a baby Christian". So here's what he's telling us. He's saying, "If you're going to do this, the first discipline is to do your part". To realize that while Jesus is everything in salvation, he gives you something to do now that you're a Christian. He's not just going to make you godly. You have to work at this. You have to take the responsibility. There is a personal responsibility.
I've dealt with this over and over again in writing books and in teaching. It's one of the most misunderstood things among Christians, which is why there's so much passivity in the Christian walk today. But notice not only should I do my part, Philippians 2:12, but I have to depend on God. Here, again, we're back in this cooperative that we have with God and us. Notice verse 13. After he says, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling," he then says, "It is God who works in you, both to will and to do for his good pleasure". God has worked in us, he's working in us, he will continue to work in us, but we're to work diligently so that we might realize the benefit of all that God has done and is doing for us. Both divine enablement and human responsibility are involved.
How many of you know God doesn't speak to us out loud? I've never heard God's voice out loud. I hear his voice through the Scripture. Sometimes I hear the voice of God through the Scripture that I've memorized or little bits and pieces of it that come back to me sometimes in the night hour, sometimes in the early mornings. When I'm driving in the car and have enough sense to turn the radio off, God speaks to me. But what I think we learned from this passage is when God speaks, it's usually not something for us to consider. God doesn't say, "Here are three options". God says, "Do this". And that's where you get involved. God isn't going to do what he's asked you to do. So you have to do it.
So you say, "Well, I'm waiting for the spirit. I'm waiting for the spirit to move me". Hang on to that one for a while. Discipline one is, I'm going to do my part. Discipline two is, God's going to do his part. He's going to will and do. He's going to give you the desire and he's going to tell you what to do, but you have to respond. You have to take it the next step. Now, it would be really unusual if Paul would give us such strong encouragement without giving us some illustrations of how this works. So here's the third discipline. I will do my part. I will depend on God.
Number three, I will be different from the world. I want you to read with me verses 14 through 16. "Do all things without complaining". That's a pretty good start if you're a pastor. "That you may become blameless and harmless. Children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine his lights in the world holding fast the Word of life that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that have not run in vain or labored in vain". Watch the contrast between the end of verse 13, here we are again, and the beginning of verse 14. In verse 13, we are told that is God who does the work, and then without so much as a transition sentence we're instructed, "Do all things".
Isn't that interesting? We're back and forth. God's doing it, I'm doing it. God's doing in me, I'm doing what God's doing in me and taking it out of me. It would be unlike Paul to give us this instruction without helping us understand. So notice how contemporary his illustrations are. As Christians we have to live in the world, but there should be a noticeable difference in our lifestyle. If we are listening to what God is saying to us in this passage of Scripture, something will be different about us. He tells us, first of all, that we are to be people who have a cheerful life in an unhappy world, cheerful living in an unhappy world. Verse 14, "Do all things without complaining and disputing". Could we use a little of that in the body of Christ? Yeah, we could.
A PhD named Guy Winch says, "There's a difference between an optimistic, a pessimist, and a chronic complainer. An optimist sees a glass half full. A pessimist sees a glass half empty. A chronic complainer sees a glass that is slightly chipped holding water that isn't cold enough because it's tap water and I asked for bottled water. And wait, there's a smudge on the rim, which means the glass wasn't clean and now I'm probably going to end up with some kind of virus".
We're laughing because we know what we're talking about, don't we? You can get in one of those moods, can't you? Everything is just messed up and you can't help it. You know, the word complaining comes from a word that means to mutter or to grumble. And the children of Israel had turned grumbling into an Olympic sport. It was their Super Bowl. They grumbled at the Red Sea when they saw the chariots of the Egyptians coming after them. They grumbled at Marah where the waters were bitter. They grumbled in the wilderness when they had no food, then they grumbled at Rephidim when they had no water, and they grumbled at Kadesh Barnea because the spies reported the presence of giants in the land which God had called them to.
And Moses took all their complaining and then gave it back to them, and this is what he said in Exodus 16:8. "Your complaints are not against us but against the Lord". Whoa. They were complaining against Moses and his leadership team and Moses said, "Go ahead and do that. Just don't forget you're not complaining against us, you're complaining against God". And Paul use these experiences of the Israelites to make the same point when he wrote to the Corinthians. He said, "Nor complain, as some of them also complained," speaking of this time I just mentioned, "and were destroyed by the destroyer".
What Paul is saying is if you work it out in your own life and you take what God has given you and you develop these disciplines, you won't be a complainer. That'll get off your list. Here's the next one. He said, straight living in a crooked world. Verse 15, "That you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation". And this doesn't mean we have to live perfectly. He didn't say that you may become perfect. He said blameless and harmless. That means live a life that nobody can point a finger at you and say, "Oh, did you". No. Live a life of godliness.
And it's interesting that the word "harmless" means to be pure, unmixed. He also says that this world in which we live is crooked. He says, "You become blameless and harmless, children without fault in the midst of a crooked world". You know, the word "crooked" in the language of the New Testament is the word "scolios" from which we get the word "scoliosis" which is the medical term for the curvature of the spine. It's a tremendous picture. Paul says, "The world is crooked. Stand up straight". When you stand up straight for God, you will be noticed. I promise you. If everyone else is bending down and you're standing up straight, you're going to get some attention. And I think that's what the Bible means when it says, "Be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you about the faith that is in you".
Be ready. And, you know, we cannot do that in our own strength. We need the power of the Holy Spirit working in us and cooperating with the thing that God has called us to do. And then there's the third thing. He talks about radiant living in a dark world. He said in verse 15, "Among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the Word of life so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain". Paul said, "In the midst of this world, we live in a world of darkness and it seems like it's getting darker all the time". Jesus told his disciples, "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven". And Paul reminded the Christians, "For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light".
And Paul does not leave us passively shining in the darkness. He doesn't say, "Go, just be a good person in this wicked world and people will flood to you to become Christians". That won't happen. There's a little saying that's gone around and been preached on and I probably preached on it earlier in my ignorance, and it goes like this. "Preach the Gospel, and if necessary use words". And the idea there is if you preach the Gospel through your works, you don't have to say anything. That's not true. The Gospel is content. The Gospel is a message. You could shine your light in the world for as long as you live and if nobody knows why the light is being shined and why you're shining it, they will not get to heaven, and that's why in the Scripture it says we have to hold fast the Word of life.
And that is an interesting expression because it's an expression about a host at a party who holds out some special thing for her guests. The Bible says, "Shine. Live the right life. Don't be harmless, and don't do things that will deny who you are as a Christian. But you have to take it a step further 'cause they're going to come and ask you, and when they ask you, hold forth the Word of life. Give them the message of the Gospel". You cannot get to heaven without content. Content is what the Bible says you must do to become a Christian.
You can shine until there's no shining left, but if you don't, along with that, hold forth the Word of life, nobody will ever know what they're supposed to do. They will walk away just saying what a good person you are. It's here that we have to make sure we get it right. It's here that we have to make sure that we're thinking straight. It's here that we don't leave anything on the table. We ought to always be grateful for our salvation. We ought to always be praising God for the grace which he has given us. None of us deserve it. I know I don't. And I know if you're honest, you don't either. We are blessed people that God has somehow through his sovereignty allowed us to be in the pipeline where the gospel would be preached and we heard it one day.
There are hundreds of thousands and millions of people around the world who at this point in time in their life have never heard one gospel word, but we heard the message. Some of us grew up in Christian homes. Some of us were blessed with a good school. Some of us went to Christian schools. We've been in good churches. We are blessed to be Christians. But the Bible says in all of your gratitude and in all of your thanksgiving remember, "Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling for it is God who works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure".
So let me ask you this. Would it not be reasonable to think that you and I would be willing to become better than you are? And those things are usually done when no one's watching. No one knows. But without them, you end up being a casualty along the way. Without them, the people God intended for you to touch and reach go unreached and untouched. So let me just encourage you to take that seriously. "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure". Hallelujah.