The joy of responsibility
I get seasick. I hate that. I dream…My fantasy is me, the captain of a ship, not just any ship, a tall ship, with sails unfurled. Departing the bay into deep seas, I call out commands to the crew. The crew jumps at my every command as if their very life depends on it. My wife by my side, scantily clad, clings to my side with adoring eyes. As the crew cries out dangers… enemy ships, storms, beasts from the deep, my only response is “Aaarrrrrrgh”.
The reality of this situation would be much different. About the time the ship crossed the bay and the sea began to rock the boat and the trade winds began to blow, my wife would be wrapped in a heavy windbreaker, (she gets cold easy), and I would be hanging over the side puking my toenails up. Instead of “Aaarrrrrgh” it would be “Blaaaah”.
Sometimes there is a great chasm between fantasy and reality. Therefore, “Captain Mike” is an oxymoron like “Jumbo Shrimp”.
To use the words “joy” and “responsibility” in the same sentence in our culture seems to be an oxymoron. Our culture views responsibility as a curse not a blessing. In the work place, workers are striving to do less and be paid more. However, in the Christian realm, we should view responsibility as a blessing and an indication that our Lord is pleased to use us to bring honor and glory to His name. In other words, we have been awarded responsibility.
In the larger scheme of Christian living, how brightly we shine as the light of the world (Matthew 5:14-16) is a function of our becoming who the Lord has called us to be. If you are a leader it’s not because you are leader material, it’s because you have been ordained. When leaders see that they have been chosen, then and only then will they function in the world as the Lord intended and have the spiritual, life changing influence and power that is rightfully given.
Let’s take a look at Scripture:
12 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, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 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, 16 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. 17 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. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.
(Philippians 2:12-18 ESV)
Paul gives his readers an admonition in verse 12 that has confused many people over the years. He says, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”. Many have interpreted this to mean that we can earn or work for our salvation. Of course, this is not true. He has already taught us in Ephesians 2:8-9 that we are saved by grace so that no one could boast about their works that earned them favor with the Lord. What Paul means in verse 12 is that we are to diligently follow through in our search for being more like Christ in our minds and our behaviors until we are complete in Him. After all, Paul has already told us in Romans 8:29 that the Father’s will for us is that we be conformed to the image of His Son. It is our responsibility to pursue that goal. Paul uses the words “fear and trembling” to indicate the seriousness of our mission. This is not a reference to literal fear but to careful and cautious concern, a sober approach to the responsibility that it is ours to accomplish the task.
A second concept that we need to focus on is that we need to accept the resources that God provides. In verse 13, Paul says that it is God who works in us to will and to do for His good pleasure. We see that there are workers in both verse 12 and 13. In verse 12, we do the working and in verse 13, it is God who does the work. This is not at all confusing if we focus on the fact that we are to “work out” – experience, maximize – what God has deposited in us by our salvation in Christ and the in dwelling presence of His Holy Spirit. If the Lord had not done His work first, there would be nothing for us to work with.
We have often heard people say that the Christian life is a matter of “letting go and letting God”, but this is not true. The Christian life is a divine-human cooperative. However, that doesn’t mean that our salvation is part God’s work and part ours. God accomplishes our salvation by grace and grace alone, but then He gives us the opportunity to respond to His grace with faith and obedience. Leaders respond to His direction in their lives through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
We have been given everything that we need to be leaders that find great joy in responsibility. To make a difference, we will have to be different. To be different, we have to take seriously our responsibility to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, depending on the Lord who is at work in us to fulfill the task that is ours. The most different thing about us will be our joy!