Lesson 6: Grace That Goes Before

Thou didst reach forth thy hand and mine enfold; I walked and sank not on the storm-vexed sea. ‘Twas not so much that I on thee took hold, as thou, dear Lord, on me.

– United Methodist Hymnal, #341

Devotion: Read Philippians 2:12-18. This wonderful passage expresses the paradoxical nature of faith! God initiates relationship, supplies us with life and new life, and even gives us the will to act, but we must cooperate with the Spirit’s call within us. We must faithfully respond to the grace that goes before us. Too many Christians emphasize one extreme of this balance over the other, and in doing so, fall into trouble. If we overemphasize God’s work in our lives, claiming no human response is necessary or possible, we become people who sit back and do nothing, ignoring God’s call to holiness, justice, and witness. If we overemphasize human effort, claiming we can do good works on our own and earn salvation, we ignore our sin and the divine grace that enables us to respond. We will explore this balance more next week, but we need both God’s grace and good works in response to that unearned love that goes before us. God is at work within us, making it possible for us to respond. What does working out salvation “with fear and trembling” mean to you? When have you ignored the Spirit at work within you, choosing a different path? What unearned gifts and blessings do we have to ignore to take such a path?

Personal Worship Option: Read Ephesians 2:1-10. Here again is the call to balance. We are saved by grace through faith, and yet we are created to do good works. Are you more likely to underemphasize God’s grace or the need for you to perform good works?

Dig A Little Deeper:

Read Philippians 2:5-11 for the context of our passage. This early church hymn celebrates the servant nature of Jesus. Our reading is Paul’s invitation for us to respond to Jesus’ humility.

2:12 Notice this verse continues an idea Paul begins at 1:27. Therefore, “work out your own salvation” refers to “live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27). Our moral conduct matters. We are to be a light to the world (2:15). The verses of this section discuss how we accomplish this call. Nobody believes Paul desires us to be paralyzed with fear, but given his words about Jesus’ exaltation as Sovereign at the end of time (2:9-11), what does “with fear and trembling” mean to you? When have you taken God for granted?

2:13 God is at work in us, through the Holy Spirit, beyond what we can understand, to enable us to live in way that is worthy of our Sovereign. Just as God gives us a physical body that functions far beyond our abilities to intellectually understand, the Spirit is at work within us to enable even our response to God’s gracious call. God’s grace energizes our efforts and desire.

2:14 And yet, the next verses assume we must respond to grace: do not grumble and argue, but hold firmly to the Word, run and labor.

2:15 What is Paul’s understanding of the Church’s role in the world? What is his view of culture? Scholars believe Paul is drawing on Deuteronomy 32:5 for this phrasing. What are some examples of when the Church shines like stars? Given his words, what expectations should Church members have for their brothers and sisters?

2:17 Scholars disagree as to when Paul writes this letter, but clearly he is imprisoned (1:12-13, 17). He understands his death as a sacrificial offering worthy of celebrating. How might it change our view of life and ministry to envision our lives as a sacrificial offering? Ponder the line from the Great Thanksgiving prayer during Holy Communion: “we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as a holy and living sacrifice in union with Christ’s offering for us…”

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