Saint Paul writes that we should “work out our own salvation.” Sir Paul, formerly of a little band called the Beatles, assures us that we can- we can work it out. I agree. Here’s what I mean.
Saint Paul writes in this Scripture from Philippians 12: “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”
So, what does Paul mean by “work out your salvation”? Some read that Scripture as, “get it together with Jesus before you die,” if you want to go to heaven and not to the alternate destination. Fear and trembling indeed. Some hear it as a question: “what does God want me to do with my time on earth”? I understand it as both: we should focus on the eternal, because it is forever, but we ought not ignore the work there is to do in the here and now, in this life. According to my faith tradition, Christ worked out our salvation on the cross. Paul calls this grace. He says, however, that while Jesus did the work for us on the cross, we need to complete the work in us. And as I’ve said many times, God does not leave us without instructions, better known as the Bible, which can be summed up in one overarching directive from Jesus: worship God and love each other. You know, peace, love and understanding. They didn’t call them Jesus freaks in the 60s for nothing.
The bonus is that working out our eternal salvation works pretty well in this life too. Just ask billionaire and uber businessman Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks pro basketball team, and regular on the television show “Shark Tank.” In an interview, “Five Simple Suggestions for Living a Happy, Successful life,” Cuban sounds a lot like Paul, the saint. Cuban prescribes hard work. He encourages us to forge a purposeful and satisfying life- a secular salvation if you will, which if we’re fortunate enough to achieve, always includes a dash of the divine. We please our Creator the most and are the most satisfied when our hands are busy doing meaningful work, and any work we do meaningfully. This is God’s plan. In the interview, Cuban stresses the importance of “being nice” in business, which sounds a lot like the Golden Rule that Jesus taught: “treat others the way we would like to be treated.” Cuban recalls how his most impactful mentor was strict, demanding and “brutally” honest, but never unkind. That sounds a lot like Jesus.
The point is, when we work out our salvation, we begin to change the world. In big ways and in small. I know folks who have charted a new course in life by establishing a stable and loving home for their family, in spite of growing up in the fog of alcoholism, violence, sexual and emotional abuse, abandonment, and other horrors. They stopped the cycle for their children, and most likely, for their children’s children. They changed the world. A dear friend from my faith community was born into a stubbornly atheistic home, but through divine grace and her own grit, became an example of modern-day sainthood to many of us, raising two pastor kids along the way. One simple suggestion that she might offer for working out our salvation is to pay attention to where God points us, and then, get to work. How we respond to the challenges and opportunities in our lives changes the course of the world, through our kindness and love and our gifts of time, money, patience, understanding and faith. When we do, we transform the darkness that is all around us, as well as the shadows that dwell within. This is bring us into communion with the divine. Paul, the former Beatle, sings that “Life is very short, and there’s no time for fussing and fighting my friend. We can work it out.” I agree. We can and we do work it out. The song pairing is, “Raise Your Head.” Until next time, stay safe, be brave and keep walking in the light.