Working Out Our Own Salvation

[]It is an interesting phrase that the Apostle Paul uses when speaking to the church at Philippi: "Work out your own salvation." Does this sound contrary to the Christian beliefs that salvation is already there in Christ? What does he mean to work out our own salvation? That is a question each of us may answer individually according to the faith and experience that we've had in our lives. For those of us who have struggled time and time again in life, sometimes it seems that God is against us rather than for us. But Scripture tells us that God is for us, and sometimes our own decisions are our own worst enemy.

Could the Apostle Paul be talking about our own decisions that we make, whether they are ones that God is calling us to make or ones of our own self-interest, one of our own human accord? Could those decisions be the things that make it more difficult for us to see our salvation and make us realize that we are working out our salvation every day, every week, and every month of the year? Perhaps. And that's a good place to begin. For being present and listening to the will and word of God as found in Jesus, we find our salvation. And yet when we leave here on Sunday mornings, we go back into our working world, much like the people in the church at Philippi did, maybe separating out their church time as being their holy time, religious time, the time they are working out their salvation, and their time out in the community as being their time, my time. It's no wonder that the Apostle Paul talks about the church needing to be of one mind and to be in one accord with the work they are doing to further the church in the world. And he reminds them that that is the work they are to be about and asks them not to be those who pursue solely their own self-interests, but to be those who regard others as better than themselves.

When I was growing up in the church, that ethic was very present at St. Matthew United Church of Christ, and I often saw people going well above and beyond their duties as church members to constantly do for others and say, "Please don't say anything. Don't let anybody know I'm doing these things. I want to do them in secret." This particular text, I think, rang very true for them. They were people who wanted, as servants of Christ, to be humble and serve others. And I think truly, in many ways, they regarded others as better than themselves. Our current culture says, "Always value yourself higher above everyone else." And it's good for us to value ourselves. In serving others constantly, you can lose yourself, you can lose your own spirit, you can even lose your own will to go on. So there is something to be said for valuing ourselves the way that God values us. But it is also very important for us to value everyone around us as God values them. So I make a little shift in that context of what I was taught growing up in the church and the life of service, and I saw that same sacrifice of service in my parents in the church. And it is important for us to do work in the church, but it is also equally important for us to recognize all of God's children around us and to not think of ourselves as any better than anyone else.

Why might that be important? If we feel that we are equals with others, when they come to us for help it's helping an equal and not helping someone who we might see as lesser. Helping an equal puts us on more equal footing in God's eyes as God values us all the same. Could one of the teachings from this, to help us in working out our own salvation, be to understand the way God views us, all of us, the way God might understand the way that we should be as God's children? I think so. And we may feel like we've made a wrong decision here and there, a decision we may feel is unforgiveable, but it is not. So in working out our own salvation, we must understand the level of God's forgiveness and grace that is available to all of us, and that that comes from that same base of love that God has for everyone. That can be a true joy, and that can be a source of inspiration for us daily.

Now, when it comes to being of one mind in the church, I don't know if we can do that here in the United Church of Christ because we have so many differences in where we are in our beliefs theologically. And that's okay. But I think in some ways we can do that. We can be of one mind in the things we do together, and I see that happening. When we are of one mind on a particular mission or vision that God has given us, wonderful things happen. God's glory shines through these missions, and these efforts we make prosper and we see lives changed.

So I don't fully give up on the idea that we can all be of one mind. And I love that the Apostle Paul calls the people to be of one mind because that is the job of the leader. Let us be of one mind and at least get the conversation going so we can all understand where we are. Maybe we'll find that we're closer to the same idea on this topic than we think we are. And that's a challenge that I hold out, just as the Apostle Paul holds it out as a challenge for the church at Philippi, that trying to be of one mind is not easy. It certainly, for me, is not as easy as trying to work out one's salvation, which is difficult in itself. But to be of one mind in the Spirit is something that we can do when we all work together toward it.

So let us think about those things because in the coming months we'll be hearing more about future directions of our church as we talk about budget time and, in February, have our Annual Meeting. And I think we'll find some clear areas where we are all of one mind and that we can all focus our energies on with love. May it be so, and may all of you be blessed this day.

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