Christians have tried living in monasteries or remote places so as to avoid sin and focus on God. It is also my tendency to think that I can more easily be a good Christian by myself, without the temptations that come through interaction with the world and dealing with people. However, this is not what God has in mind.
The Bible tells me to take care of my own interests, but also look to the interests of others. It says that I must have the mind of Christ Jesus, be humble and obedient, and develop my spiritual life.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12–13)
However, as today’s reading says, this development is not about studying how to be a good person. It is learning how to “come into the midst of the purposes of God and have the unspeakable privilege in these few years of doing something of His work” (Phillips Brooks).
Serving God involves work and involves doing His work. This work starts with having Jesus Christ in my heart, but to be like Him is not a mere self-improvement project. Even though I’m not perfect and need to pay attention to my own spiritual life, the more I do that, the more I realize how imperfect I am. I will never reach that goal in this lifetime. I can keep the goal in mind, but His work is about doing. The next verses describe something of what He has in mind for my spiritual development.
Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. (Philippians 2:14–18)
Do all things. I’m as prone to grumbling and being disagreeable as anyone else, but even these forbidden attitudes are associated with an involvement with people. They do not happen in a vacuum. This blameless innocence and the Godlikeness God wants from me are likewise “in the midst” of my generation, not merely in the privacy of my own devotional life.
Here at my desk, and in my home, I might run or labor, but the pronouns in this passage place its author with others. The “yous” are all plural. God’s intention is that my spiritual life and its development happen in community, involved with other Christians and involved with the world where I am to shine as His light.
All of this reminds me of the few times I’ve put gasoline in my car and overflowed the tank. Modern nozzles prevent that now, but in those days, that overflow was a total waste. The tank is meant to be filled with gas, then use that gas before filling it again.
This same principle applies to the feeding of my soul. God intends that the truth He gives me changes and energizes my life, but unless I put it to work, it is spilled and wasted. Truth and light from God is intended to make me shine, not for my sake, but that I might give light to a crooked and twisted generation.
Lord, Phillips Brooks is right; serving You is an unspeakable privilege. Being invited to and allowed to do any part of Your work staggers my mind. All that You teach me is to make me more like Jesus, but this is not a passive thing. Jesus was glad and rejoiced with You, yet continually spent the resources You gave Him in the service of others. He was poured out in an offering of Himself to Your will. May I remember that the next time I’m tempted to stay holed up in my house to worship by myself, or to grumble about the work of serving others.