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About this series
I Choose Love
How to Build Lasting Relationships
One of Jesus' last commands, and one of God's greatest delights is that His children, those who call Christ Lord, would love one another. But we all know loving other people doesn't come naturally, and it's not always easy. In this series, Chip teaches us, from the book of Philippians, Chapter 2, how to choose love and build relationships that last.More from this series
I want to share a leadership lesson that I learned many, many years ago that really reshaped my life and it’s one that I have to keep on learning. On the very front of your notes, you’ll notice I have written: “Our expectations powerfully shape our relationships and our responses.” Circle the word expectations. Our expectations. They are so subtle, we have them, often we don’t even know what they are.
I grew up in a home and no ladies feel guilty, but my mom was really into breakfast. At about six fifteen or six thirty I could smell bacon and eggs every, single morning and our whole family at breakfast together. It was really wonderful.
Well, I got married and I don’t know why, but I just expected that we would have breakfast every morning. And I, early in our marriage, after our honeymoon I came home and said, “Breakfast!” And she goes, “Well, the cereal is up there. I think there’s some milk in the refrigerator, and go to it!”
And it was like, “What?” You don’t understand! And it was just like, now, we never talked about, “Now, when we get married, you’ve got to fix breakfast.” Safe to say, we don’t do breakfast in our house quite like my mom.
By contrast, my wife had a father who was very handy. He could fix just about anything: the car, the gas, the motor, and so she actually had this expectation that me being a man and her father being a man, that the car would be filled with gas, if it didn’t work, I could fix it. And there’s a carburetor in here somewhere, you know? I knew nothing. And she was like…
Now, I could give you a hundred other expectations that aren’t trivial, that have caused really painful issues. But here’s what I want you to get, notice in your notes: our personal history is paramount in forming our expectations.
She thinks every husband can fix cars because her dad did. I thought every woman cooks breakfast because my mom did. Your personal history, it just loads you up with a set of expectations.
Now, if we do that in our relationships with people, imagine how we do that in our relationships with God.
Two critical questions emerge when we think about God and expectations. The first is: what can we expect of God? And the second: what does God expect of us? What can we expect of God? Some people come from backgrounds that we can expect that God will make life happy and wonderful, we will be healthy, wealthy, wise if we just believe that just love Jesus and your life is going to be great and trouble free! And so when trouble comes, they really wonder: Where is God?
There is another group of people that are really, super sober and, “It’s going to be hard,” and it’s all about suffering. And God brings blessing into their life and it’s like they feel guilty when good things happen.
So the question I want to ask you is: What are your expectations of God? What do you expect of Him? And are you ready to flip it over? Have you ever thought seriously about what God expects of you?
And just like our personal history shapes our expectations with one another, history itself shapes our expectations, depending on our backgrounds of how we think God is going to respond. What does He want? What does He give? How do we receive it? How do you know when you’re okay with God? What is God’s part in this relationship and what’s my part?
And then notice on the bottom of your notes, I want you to write this word in. Remember: our history always shapes our expectations and historically, people have answered those two questions very, very differently.
With that, open your notes if you would, and I am going to give you a very brief history lesson that, if you are strong in either one of these camps you’ll be frustrated. I am purposefully going to push or polarize to the extremes of two historical positions.
In the sixteenth century, John Calvin was a great, great theologian. In Geneva, he began to teach and there was a whole goal of what it would be like for a Christian city. And he had a very strong view of God and about His sovereignty and His power.
But it was pushed to extremes by some of his followers and so about eighty or ninety years later, a fellow named Jacob Arminius came along and he said, “Boy, that’s, we have strayed beyond the Bible,” and so he began to teach some things and so what you have is two basic camps.
And I going to push the extreme, so if you are a Calvinist, you’ll say, “He’s not representing us well,” I understand that. If you’re more Arminian, you’re going to say, “He’s not representing us well either.” Good. Both will be unhappy with me.
What I want to do is show you the extremes because you have been impacted, historically. You have certain expectations about what God is asking of you. If you come from a, let me just call it a hyper-Calvinistic background, you believe God is sovereign and in control, you believe that He has predestined and predetermined just about everything in life. You focus on verse 13 of Philippians 2. It is God who is at work. In extreme Calvinism, God not only chooses people for heaven, He chooses people for hell. So it’s called double-predestination.
And so you actually had people in churches going, “I believe I have been chosen by God to honor His name to hell.” It was crazy. But it was this idea that since we can have no part in our salvation, it is all of God with no sense of our responsibility. It was this extreme that turned into fatalism. You were eternally secure and a hyper, hyper-Calvinist would say in terms of our responsibility, just let go and let God. In essence, whatever is going to happen is going to happen. The joke when you tease hyper-Calvinists is when they trip they get up and say, “I’m glad that’s over.” Think about it, it’ll come to you.
Arminius, by contrast, said, “No, no, no, no. It’s, yeah, God is sovereign but we are responsible. We have a free will. We make choices.” He emphasizes the verse 12: “Work out your salvation.” Our choices have consequences. Therefore, as a result of it, if you came from this side, eternity is not certain. You might be a good Christian for a while but if you mess up, you’re out! Finally, the idea is: let’s go and let’s get with it.
I jotted down a couple thoughts. If you’re a Presbyterian, Anglican, many Baptists, a lot of Bible Churches are reformed in your tradition – strong Calvinistic roots. If you are Methodist, Wesleyan, Nazarene, Charismatic, Foursquare, Assembly of God, Church of Christ – strong Arminian roots.
Notice in your notes, here’s what I want to get: God’s Word rejects both extremes and holds God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility in biblical tension and balance. In other words, if you read through the Scriptures, what you find is the Bible is really clear. God is sovereign; God is in control.
The Bible is really clear: You are absolutely responsible and will be held accountable for your choices. And you say: “Well, how can that be?” The answer is: I don’t know. But what I am going to go on record to say is no one else knows either.
But what happens is people tend to go one direction or another. And so if you’re reading through the book of Acts, if you’re a strong Calvinist that says, “And as many as were appointed to eternal life believed,” and you say, “See? They were appointed.” Except if you read the next chapter, it says, “And Paul spoke so persuasively, a great number believed.” Which is true? Both.
Here’s the tension I want you to get. You can develop systems that can remove one or the other, but both are true. Imagine, if you will, a telephone pole. And imagine guide wires – you know those cables? – pulling on each end, and there’s deep stakes.
And this is the sovereignty of God and this is the responsibility of man. And if there’s slack or you remove one of those cords, you go to extremes. And pushed to its practical end, you become passive, let go, let God, whatever is going to be is going to be. Or the other way, you get guilt-ridden and no matter how much you do, God is not in control. If I forgot one time to share my faith, that person may go to hell because I didn’t do my part. The whole world is on me.
What I want you to know is the apostle Paul, interestingly, he did this in chapter 1, remember? He said, “I am confident,” he is going to be executed, “I am confident of this, this is what is going to turn out for my deliverance. Your prayers.” Oh, man’s responsibility. “…and the provision of the Spirit of God.” God’s sovereignty.
He now, in verse 12, says, “So then, my beloved, just as you always,” circle the word, “obeyed.” The word obeyed in the New Testament, sometimes we feel like, I think our English and our background – obey is like: ought, should, gotta.
And it certainly has that thrust. But the word is hupo – to be under; akouo – to hear. Like you have an acoustic guitar? That’s where we get our word.
To obey is to be under the hearing of God. Lord, what would You have me to do? It’s a relationship. I want to follow and when you speak about any area, I want to listen in order, not to just know, but to obey.
So, he says to them, “My beloved, just as you always obeyed, not just in my presence, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation,” would you circle that phrase, “with fear and trembling.”
Work out is a mining term. It’s literally like if you owned a gold mine, it’s: work your claim. Continue mining the riches of what God has done. When the Spirit of God came into your life, when you turned from your sin and received Christ, all the spiritual blessings in heaven were deposited in you. You were sealed with the Spirit. You have an inheritance.
He’s saying, “Okay, now, what I want you to do is I want you to work out what God has worked in.” Notice it doesn’t say, “Work for your salvation.” You can’t earn it. Work out, in other words, “I want you to cooperate and just like if you owned a gold mine, that gold does nothing under the ground.
And he says, “You cooperate with God, work out your salvation.” And notice, with a sense of reverential awe, “…this is a precious, amazing gift – your salvation – don’t let it sit there. Don’t be passive.”
Sometimes when people talk about grace, they think of grace is the opposite of effort. The Bible says we make every effort to walk with God. The Bible talks about the grace of God teaches us to say “no” to all ungodliness and live sober, disciplined lives. It takes great effort.
The opposite of grace is not effort. The opposite of grace is merit. Merit is earning something. And Paul is saying to these people that are having some disunity issues, people that are being persecuted – he says, I don’t know if I am going to live or not. But whether I get to see you and live, or I die, I want you to keep on obeying. I want you to love one another. I want you to choose to look up when circumstances are bad. I want you to care for one another. I want you to be generous. In persecution, I want you to be faithful. “So, work out your salvation,” God has worked in. That’s your responsibility.
Notice verse 13. The little word for. It means: the reason. Why should you work this out? “For God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” Would you circle the word to work and then underline will and good pleasure.
The word for work is a very interesting word. I did a word study on it. We get our word energy. It’s never used in the New Testament to describe human power. One hundred percent of the time, it is the power of God.
It’s a word that means effective action. It describes action that always achieves its desired end, results, or purpose. In ancient Greece, it was a demonstration of inner character that always led to an outward virtue. And in summary, he is saying, “For God who is at work, He is energizing, by His power working in you in Spirit, both to will – His purpose to create both the desire and the power.”
So God is sovereign. I am responsible. God has gifted me, sheerly by His grace this new life in His Spirit, it is a riches that I know live out and I mind my claim. And so to work out – grace has been given and I could say, “All the truth of life is in this book,” and I could hand you this book and you could take this book and you could set it on your desk and you could never open it. And you could say, “I just don’t know what to do. I don’t have any truth. I don’t know what to do about marriage, I don’t know what to do about parenting, I don’t know what to do about my money. I wonder what is going to happen to the end of the world.”
And all the while, all the riches and all the truth is on your desk. God will not read this for you. Okay? But you have it.
And it’s the same. In other words, work out. So the disciplines of being in God’s Word, the discipline of praying, the discipline of being in community and doing life and being honest and supportive in accountability, the disciplines of suffering, the disciplines of some things take time, and the disciplines of serving one another – when you – are you ready? When you practice those things it’s like, imagine tubes coming from this great lake of heaven – you are accessing the grace of God and as you practice those things, the apostle Paul says, “Christ is being formed in you.”
It’s a metaphor of a baby growing to a toddler, to a teenager, to a mature adult. And he says our part is to utilize the truth, the Word, prayer, the Lord’s Supper, relationships – to access the grace to mine this new life that has been a free gift. Does that make sense?
History lesson is over. But I do want you to know that it seeps in everywhere, because what happens is is that I came up around a group, you came up around a group, and these groups have thoughts about the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of men. And I will just say some of you struggle with guilt because no how much you do, it’s never enough. Because you live with this: there’s never enough; God is down on you. Now, that’s an extreme. That’s not what should be taught.
Some of you are laid back to the point of you’re not doing what you need to, but you have this subtle, “God is in control.” He really is in control, but that doesn’t excuse you.
For some of you, you need a big dose of grace. Here’s what, He expects that you receive His love. And for others, He expects you to get off your derriere and quit expecting that Bible to read itself and to discipline yourself to godliness so He can let you experience what you already possess.
Where do you see growth and progress in the working out of what God has worked in? How about writing down: I have become more patient. I have become more generous. Write down where God and it will encourage you.
And then where do you need to focus effort and energy to allow Jesus’ life to be manifested in you and through you?
And so what you want to do is you want to say, “I don’t want what Calvin taught and I don’t want what Jacob Arminius taught. I want what Jesus taught. I want what the New Testament says. I want what the Word of God says.”
And there’s going to be certain times in certain passages, I’ve been doing this for quite a while, I don’t fully understand, I don’t think anyone fully understands. But I’ve got plenty of truth to know this: I will stand before God as a follower of Jesus and give an account for my time, my energy, my money, and my decisions. And I have been around long enough to know this, is that despite my mistakes, my difficulties, the times even that I have sinned, the times when I knew what was right and I didn’t even do it – there is this patient, kind, loving, sovereign God that is working even those difficulties and things that people have done to me and circumstance that I can’t understand because He is such a – are you ready? Good, good Father.