‘’Character is what you are in the dark.’’
A call to integrity (12a; see 27b): God is much more concerned about who we are than who we appear to be. Integrity means being integrated. It’s being one and the same person in all settings; whether in a crowd or alone. We can be so concerned about ‘impression management’. There is such an emphasis on image in our culture. But our concern should be with character; who we actually are. Abraham Lincoln said, ‘’Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.’’ So cultivate the tree!
A call to practical Christianity (12b): ‘’…continue to work out your salvation…’’ Some years ago a student wrote to me, and in her letter she said she’d been reading this verse. It had suddenly struck her that Paul didn’t mean ‘’Suss it out’’ (as she put it), but live it out! The word ‘’continue’’ says you have to keep at it; persevere in living as a Christian, even amid difficulties, seeking to live worthily of Christ (1:27).
A call to seriousness (12b): Whatever the ‘’with fear and trembling’’ actually means, it surely includes the idea of taking the Christian life with utmost seriousness. We need to take God seriously and take His Word seriously. It is right, I believe, to have a serious concern to not displease God; to not move away from Him. For a few years I was a visiting lecturer at ‘Elim Bible College.’ I heard that a student had commented about me to a fellow-student: ‘He’s very serious isn’t he?’ It may well be that, feeling out of my comfort zone I was a little too intense and earnest. I know from my Bible College days that the lecture room can be an arena of much levity. I’m not against fun and laughter. On the contrary, I love it. But I do actually want to be someone who is serious about the things of God. Humour can have a helpful place in the work preachers do, but we are not called to be comedians. A few years ago, Jilly and I were leaving a morning Bible Study at the ‘Elim’ conference. We had just listened to a theologically serious and powerful talk given by Dr. R.T.Kendall. It was by no means difficult to understand, but it was substantive in content. We felt we had listened in the very presence of God. I’m sure we were not the only ones to sense this. In fact a number of people indicated a desire to be converted at the close of the sermon. We heard someone close to us, in the queue leaving the building, comment that they hadn’t really enjoyed it, and preferred the funny preacher they’d heard the day previously. It made me wonder, ‘Do you want to be entertained or hear from God?’ Those comments were not a bad reflection on the preacher of the previous day. He is a great man, and a serious student of the Bible. He just happens to also be very gifted with humour. I’m more concerned about an attitude in hearers that would rather be made to laugh than hear from God. Sometimes these two things will go together. Often they won’t! ‘’Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God.’’ The Message.
A call to trust (13; see 1:6): You have to continue to work at the Christian life, but you can only do so in God’s strength, because He ‘’works in you’’. It’s not about our own unaided efforts. We are totally dependent upon God’s presence in us and His strengthening of us. God gives us the ‘want to’ and the ‘can do’; He enables us ‘’to will and to act’’. His Spirit within us as a congregation (and personally) causes us to want to keep working out our salvation, and He also helps us to do it. ‘’That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you. God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.’’ The Message.
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