“My dear friends, you always obeyed what you were taught. Just as you obeyed when I was with you, it is even more important for you to obey now that I am not there. So you must continue to live in a way that gives meaning to your salvation. Do this with fear and respect for God. Yes, it is God who is working in you. He helps you want to do what pleases him, and he gives you the power to do it.”
Philippians 2:12-13 ERV
Many of you may be familiar with this scripture – but you might not be familiar with this particular translation. The wording that has been used most frequently for the third sentence in the passage is, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” This wording confuses many. I believe the ERV, or “Easy to Read Version”, provides a refreshing, practical perspective, while continuing to maintain an appropriate reverence and awe of God.
I also believe that this passage provides us with a blueprint to spiritual maturity.
Let’s break it down, shall we?
“My dear friends, you always obeyed what you were taught. Just as you obeyed when I was with you, it is even more important for you to obey now that I am not there.”
- The first step to spiritual maturity is to obey while no one’s watching.
While it is good and right to act in love and compassion while in the presence of your pastor and leaders, it cannot stop there. We must continue to pray, worship, read the Word, and love our neighbors while we are living our day-to-day lives. In fact, as Paul states, it is even more important that we obey Monday through Saturday than just on Sundays.
Here’s a practical example for all the mothers among us: which of these scenarios brings more joy?
- Your child will only clean her room while under your strict supervision – one hand on your hip, the other on her doorway.
- Your child cleans her room without you ever having to ask.
While I am not yet a mother, from what I remember about growing up with my own mom, I’d bet she’d choose the second option. Likewise, God values our obedience most when it is unseen – and unprompted – by others. Consider Jesus’ words in Matthew Chapter 6, verse 1:
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”
I don’t know about you, but this verse terrifies me. Yikes! Lord, purify our hearts!
“So you must continue to live in a way that gives meaning to your salvation.”
What brings meaning to something? Understanding.
2. The second step to spiritual maturity is to continue to ask God for understanding.
Understanding is the difference between memorization and meditation. Think about a young child “reading” a book to you that has been read to her hundreds of times. She’s not reading – she’s reciting. Does she fully understand the concepts and context of the book? Not quite. She merely has it memorized.
God doesn’t want us to just memorize His word. He wants us to understand His word.
Psalm 119 verse 34 says, “Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.”
Understanding brings true meaning and continued obedience to God’s word. We need understanding of God’s nature, love, and character to acknowledge and believe that His law is worth adhering to at all times.
Here’s one more.
“Do this with fear and respect for God. Yes, it is God who is working in you. He helps you want to do what pleases him, and he gives you the power to do it.”
Up until now, this whole thing has seemed impossible, has it not? How do we denounce the desire to display our good works? How do we obtain the understanding for continued obedience? What is the spiritual secret sauce that can help us out?
Here it is: You’re not the one doing the work!
3. The third step to spiritual maturity is relinquishing all control to the Holy Spirit.
For all you Enneagram geeks out there, I am a 7 with an 8 wing, otherwise known as “The Opportunist”. Some benefits to being “The Opportunist” include: high-energy and positivity, confidence and charisma, a love of life. One not-so-great aspect? I avoid pain at all costs.
Last year in July, I stepped down off a ledge; clumsily landing in a dip in the grass while wearing new, narrow wedges. I wobbled and fell. I brushed it off as a rolled ankle and continued to live life normally. But July turned to October…turned to January…turned to now May…and my foot is still in pain. I’ve tried wearing an orthotics boot, I’ve tried limiting physical activity. Still in pain.
Why God? Why? I know that You are more than capable of healing my foot in an instant. I’ve prayed over it many times in faith. I’ve seen you move miraculously before. Why aren’t You doing it now?
Here’s what I’ve been receiving from the Lord:
Yes, He could heal it instantly. But what is His purpose in the pain? Romans 8 says that God works all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to His purpose…not my own.
Could He possibly be teaching me that the presence of pain does not mean the absence of God? Could He possibly be showing me that the greater miracle is the miracle of a Gina who relinquishes all control and is brave in the face of pain?
Thanks to His understanding, I believe Him. And, thankfully, I don’t need to relinquish control on my own. The spirit of Christ works in me. He helps me do what pleases Him – He helps me sit in the pain and trust in the healing process. He gives me the power to do it.
Think back on moments of youth when you stood in the kitchen with your mother / grandmom / older sibling watching them cook. Which moments are more memorable? The ones when the other person did all the cooking, or the ones when they elicited your help and you cooked together?
I picture my 6-year-old self standing on a kitchen chair helping my YiaYia by pouring a measuring cup of Uncle Ben’s rice into a pot of boiling water. I’ve forgotten the hundreds of times she made rice without my help – but I will never forget the moments when she asked me to cooperate with her. She lifted me onto the chair. She put the pot of water on the stove. She handed me the rice. She even held my hand as we poured it together.
That’s how God wants to work with us – an intense, deep connection formed by letting His life live through us. And as we continue steps 1-3 over and over again, I am confident in this: that He who has begun a good work in us will see it through to completion at the day of Christ Jesus.
Father, we thank you for the Holy Spirit. We thank You for sending Him to us to guide us into all truth. Holy Spirit, give us fear and respect for God. Help us continue to obey. Help us relinquish all control and let You live Your life through us. You are Worthy. We love You. In Jesus’ name, AMEN!