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Tony Evans said, “I order for God to bring out the best in His children; He brings about scenarios in our lives to build strength and character.” These scenarios – adverse circumstances, cross-bearing situations, difficult scenarios, and problematic encounters – all serve as opportunities for Christian growth.
Do you view your difficulty in that manner? I suggest that you should. However, no matter how you describe your difficulty, know this: God allowed it or brought it about so that you could develop what He has deposited in you.
This thought, while singed with struggle, should bring for believers encouraging news. Difficulty comes in our lives, but not without purpose; it’s an opportunity for growth. Whether they are moments, or long periods of time, the Lord can sovereignly use our difficulty to give us both the conditions and components to experience spiritual growth.
That is the message conveyed in Philippians 2:12-13, “Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (NLT).
Paul, the writer of this letter, explains to the church at Philippi that while they are encountering conflicts and challenges to keep trusting and obeying the Lord and work out what God has worked in them. This message is also for us today. No matter what you are going through, you should trust God and work out what He has worked in you.
The question is, “How do we develop what God has deposited?” I want to suggest two measures this passage teaches us how to develop what God has deposited in you, even through difficulty.
First, we do so with deliberate activity. Paul says to “work hard to show the results of your salvation.” Now, don’t misread the text: he is not saying for you to work for your own salvation. We cannot do that. We obtain salvation as a gift from God. But, having received this gift freely, we have the responsibility to cultivate it.
We don’t work for our salvation; we work out our salvation. It’s the picture of a huge gift that needs to be unwrapped for full enjoyment. Salvation is the greatest gift we could receive through Jesus Christ from a loving and caring heavenly Father, but we are to unwrap it so we can fully enjoy it. We do this by working it out, by showing the results of our salvation.
This deliberate activity requires persistent submission to the word and will of God. Paul explains this to the Philippians in verse 12 as obeying, not only in his presence, but also in his absence. We should continue to obey and trust the Lord, to redouble our efforts of submission to the hearing and applying of God’s Word in our lives. We persistently submit with the proper form – fear and trembling. This isn’t about being a coward, but about taking God seriously.
Now, this idea of persistent submission with fear and trembling is a tall order, but here is the good news: we have help, divine assistance. That is the message of verse 13. We can work out our salvation because God has been and will continue to work in you. He worked for you to save you by grace, and now He works in you by giving His Spirit, who gives us both “the desire and the power to do what pleases Him.”
A caterpillar is ugly, slow, slimy, and takes all day to go two feet, but when it undergoes the process of metamorphosis and the caterpillar becomes a butterfly, something beautiful is born. Metamorphosis is the process of something at work on the inside trying to show up on the outside.
There’s only one reason a butterfly can fly: its wings are strengthened by the work it does to break through the cocoon. If a bystander was to slit open a cocoon prior to the butterfly breaking itself loose from the cocoon, it wouldn’t fly. Its wings are developed through the struggle. No struggle, no flight.
Every Christian is a butterfly waiting to happen. A saint may feel like a caterpillar or even think they look like a caterpillar, but the idea is to work out their salvation in the midst of adversity because God is at work within them to do His good pleasure.
Christopher M. Todd is a Coosa County resident and the pastor of The New Home Missionary Baptist Church near Rockford.