God Must Work and We Must Work

Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money (Matthew 25:14, NIV).

Living to God by Christ means that we can do nothing for God that is not done in the power of Christ. We must not depend on human wisdom, human strength, or human ingenuity to live for God. It can only be done in Christ. Yet at the same time, we are to use the wisdom, strength, and ingenuity that Christ gives us to live for Him. We are not passive, we are not bystanders, we are not merely spectators; we are active participants in bringing about God’s kingdom. God must work, and we must work. This is one of the lessons from the parable of The Three Servants in Matthew 25:14-30. The servants were given money from their master, each according to his ability. It wasn’t theirs, it was their master’s. In that sense they were dependent on him. But they were also responsible to work with that they were given. They were dependent on their master for what they needed, and they were expected to invest it to the best of their abilities.

This same truth is taught by Paul in Ephesians 2:8-10 (NIV) For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Salvation is by faith. It is not by works. It is a gift. A gift we are totally dependent on God for. Nothing can be done to please God outside of being done in faith.

Yet we have been saved, we have been given faith so that we can do good works. Yes, God prepared them. Yes, it is in His power. But we must not miss or downplay the fact that in God’s sovereign wisdom, He has decreed that the good works Paul is talking about are to be done by us. You cannot think that your effort, your work, and your choices, are not essential for God’s work to be completed.

Another place we see this taught is in 1 Corinthians 3:6 where Paul says, I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. To build the Kingdom of God, seeds need to be planted and seeds need to be watered. These God does through us. It is our work. He makes them grow, but we are the planters, we are to water them. In their book, The Organic Reformation, pastors Tom Johnston and Mike Perkinson make the observation that “God reserves for us some things He will not do, and reserves for Himself the things we cannot do.” The way God works has not changed. He has sovereignly decreed that the way He normally works is through the work of His people—you and me.

This is the reason that God gives each of us spiritual gifts and created us with specific talents and abilities. Living by faith means living in such a way that we acknowledge and embrace the gifts, the wisdom, the talents, and the resources God has given us so that we faithfully use them in our everyday life.

A good example of this are my friends Steve and Christie. They have the gift of hospitality and God has given them a wonderful piece of property that they love to share with people in ministry. The last time I was with them a number of unexpected guests drop in on them. “That must be hard, never knowing who is going to drop in on you any given day,” I said. Steve chuckled and said, “Yeah. I guess if God gives you the gift of hospitality He expects you to use it!”

God is sovereignly at work in the world, and because He is, He expects us to work diligently and wisely. Using our God given wisdom, talents, and resources is not a denial of God’s sovereignty, rather it is the regular means through which His sovereignty is manifested. God expects us to use our heads! Living by faith does not mean we have no reason to think, or to plan, or to work ourselves. Take for example 2 Peter 1:5-9 (NIV),

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

Is there any way to achieve what Peter is talking about without work on our part? None of these qualities magically or instantly appear. They are all the result of intentional, continual, and committed effort. Yet there is no specific direction given on how to cultivate these attributes. How we pursue them is left to us to figure out. And that is going to take work, hard work. If we choose not to work at adding to our faith knowledge, self-control, godliness, mutual affection, and love, and that in increasing measure, Peter warns that we will end up being ineffective and unproductive in our faith.

When we rightly understand God and ourselves, we do not hide from the risk and work that comes with living by faith. If we do, we are in effect burying our gold in the ground. Putting things in the ground is an act of defeat. Faith is a venture. It expects a return. As Hebrews 11:1 (NAS) says, faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. It is a bad deal to sit on what God has given you until He returns. We need to run with it. It is God’s things we have been entrusted with, and He expects us to do what He wants us to do with them.

More tomorrow…

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