Philippians 2:13 – Working for the Pleasure of God’s Will

In Phil 2:12, Paul said believers ought to “work out” their salvation in fear and trembling. I suggested in a previous post that Paul’s point in this very difficult verse is something like “cultivate your salvation in order to bear fruit on the Day of Christ.” God saves by grace through faith, adopts us into his family, and then creates an environment for his children so they are able to bear the kind of fruit that pleases their Father in heaven.

This work or fruit is for God’s “good pleasure,” not ours. The noun (εὐδοκία) has the sense of being pleased with someone, perhaps as a parent is pleased with their child’s successes. I have attended several piano recitals and honestly, no one plays as well as my kid. All the others are really bad. Since I am a typical parent, I am “well pleased” when my child plays, whether she is the best or not!

If the believer is to “work out their salvation in fear and trembling” and whatever work they do is for God’s pleasure (not theirs), does this mean God is going to command us to do things that are unpleasant to us? Something dangerous? Something harmful? Too many Christians dread service to God because they think God is out to torture them with some horrid and embarrassing task.

In the context, Paul has just finished describing the humility of Jesus as he was obedient even to death on the cross. In verse 17, Paul himself is obedient even to the point of imprisonment and death. So yes, God might very well expect you to be obedient to him in a dangerous situation. But looking ahead to two more examples in the letter, Timothy and Epaphroditus are both examples of humble service and obedience to God’s will. Both were willing to do what was required to fulfill their calling.
In the context of first-century Philippi, the fact that the believers are separate from the world may mean they are facing opposition. Perhaps they are suspected of disloyalty, for not being good being good members of the Empire, or at the very least, they are really quite weird! Different was dangerous in the Roman world, so to serve a God that did not have a temple or priesthood, to reject the gods of one’s father or the gods of the community, was to put yourself in danger!

Obedience to God does not necessarily mean he is going to send you to die in Africa. Humble service is the way the child of God ought to live their lives all of the time. That might mean living a life that challenges the assumptions of a prevailing culture, but it usually means living a life dedicated to God regardless of the situation (Phil 4:10-13 will make this even more clear). In fact, it in the comfortable Western church, it is easy to say you are willing to be a martyr since it is highly unlikely you will ever have to give your life for Christ.

Honestly, which is harder, saying you are willing to give your life in the service of the Gospel, or being kind to your neighbor? Treating someone with a significantly sinful lifestyle with respect and love? Humbling serving someone who is completely undeserving of respect and completely unaware of your sacrifice on their behalf?

Lazy American Christian

23 thoughts on “Philippians 2:13 – Working for the Pleasure of God’s Will

    • I believe everything we do is for the glory of god everything we do and it’s something we need to remember because we should be able to reflect good because of what god did for us to be here and we need to show him that there is still good in this world so we are able to show him. Whether we show that through a hobby or in our work life and anytime for example good deeds like just holding the door open for someone. I believe it is important to express and do good thing for the glory of god.

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  1. Thanks, Phillip Long, for your many posts, including this one. I recently preached from Philippians. In my preparations I puzzled over this verse, including this phrase.

    I see at least two different perspectives we can take on the phrase “for his good pleasure” (ESV; cf. “in order to fulfill his good purpose” in NIV):

    1) My willing and working is prompted and guided by God in such a way so that the things I do *bring pleasure to God*. I think this is the way you are reading the verse, and it is the way most translations seem to understand it. This interpretation fits nicely with the post-Reformation lens of being concerned about how humans can please God, and of trying to discern the relationship between our working and God’s working in the process of us doing the good works that please God.

    2) My willing and working is prompted and guided by God in such a way so that the things I do *bring about God’s good purposes for me*. These good purposes that God has for us have been demonstrated in how God exalted Christ after he was willing to be obedient even unto death (the “Christ Hymn” of 2:6-11). Just as Christ’s obedience was the essential prerequisite for his exaltation, so our obedience is the essential prerequisite for our ultimate salvation and exaltation (cf. “work our your own salvation,” with “salvation” understood in the common Pauline eschatological sense). God, in his good pleasure, has purposed that we are to experience this salvation, and he works in us so that we will have “the willing and the working” necessary to bring it to completion.

    I don’t know Greek well at all, so my next comments need to be tested! But I wonder whether we don’t find some support for this second interpretive alternative in how Paul sometimes uses language similar to εὐδοκίας elsewhere. a) For example, in Phil. 1:15 he says that, while some preach Christ “from envy and rivalry,” in order to afflict him, others preach “δι’ εὐδοκίαν,” “from good will.” In 1:15 some gospel preachers are motivated by good will toward Paul; in 2:13 God is motivated by good will toward all believers. b) Also, Paul uses similar language in Ephesians 1, such as in v. 5 where he says that God has predestined us for adoption through Christ “κατὰ τὴν εὐδοκίαν τοῦ θελήματος αὐτοῦ,” “according to purpose [kind intention, NASB] of his will.”

    This interpretation also matches well the concept (though not language) Paul expresses in Romans 8:28-30: God works all things for good for those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. This purpose, Paul explains, is for us to become like Christ. What does this mean? Ultimately, Paul explains, this means glorification–we share in the glorification that Christ has experienced! This is God’s purpose for us. Similarly, in Phil 2:13 we see God working–this time not in external circumstances but within ourselves in our willing and working–in order to bring about his good purposes, which include glorification as just described in Christ’s experience!

    I was delighted to see that I am not the only one who sees this interpretive possibility. Moises Silva, in his BECNT, translates 2:13 thus (brackets are included in his own translation): “[You may approach this awesome task with confidence] because God himself is the one [who makes it possible] by producing in your lives both the will to work and the working itself, and all for the sake of his gracious will.” In his commentary he says that the term “‘his good pleasure’ (τῆς εὐδοκίας, tes eudokias)” is “a distinctly theological term used to describe divine grace.” In his notes he mentions the “predistinarian motif behind Paul’s use of εὐδοκία” and references another scholar (Pedersen) who appeals to Eph. 1:5, 9, 11, etc.

    In English, a simple comma choice can tilt the interpretation in either way. For example, here is the full verse in the ESV:
    “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure”

    But if we move the comma like this, the sense changes:
    “for it is God who works in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure”

    Interestingly, the NIV omits the comma altogether, opening the door, whether intentionally or not, to either interpretation:
    “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose”

    So here, interestingly enough, the NIV is being less interpretive than the ESV!

    I’d like to see more discussion of this interpretive dilemma. For now I’m leaning toward “interpretation option 2.” I think it might fit both the context (God’s purpose for us in suffering that leads to glorification) and the linguistic data a bit better.

    Thanks for listening!

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  2. One more thought: The two interpretive options I described are not ultimately at odds, of course. If we choose option 2, then option 1 is included, for God helps us please him so that he can fulfill his pleasing purposes for us. And if we choose option 1, then it has little ultimate meaning unless we at least assume the reality behind option 2, for our obedience is not presented in Scripture as being an end in itself, but rather a doorway to divine blessing.

    The way these options thus mesh (with option 1 as a means and option 2 as an end) may provide a theological reason for preferring interpretive option 2 in this passage, but I wouldn’t want this theological observation to override exegetical factors.

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    • Thanks for your lengthy reply. I read this right away on my iPad, and thought I would wait to respond until I was using my regular computer. I like what you have said here, and you additional comment is pretty much what I would have said – they are not mutually exclusive options. I am of the opinion “God’s will” and “my will” are not always opposed to one another. God wants good things for his children, so anything he “wills” for us will be good, although they might seem unpleasant at the time (discipline, Heb 12, for example).

      Perhaps “good” needs careful to be carefully nuanced, because it may not mean “health and wealth” as much as “exactly what you need at the moment.” If anything, I was guarding against two extremes in this post, the kind of “health and wealth” gospel that sees any hard times as punishment for sin; but also the fear that God’s will is some sort of torture, like he is a bad character in a Dickens novel, looking for ways to make us his lowly slave. Neither is very helpful to real Christian faith.

      Usually God calls someone to a task that he has prepared for them (Eph 2:10), so that they will find satisfaction in that task. There few examples in the Bible of someone called to a task they hated, even Jeremiah and Jonah were called to tasks they could perform and were prepared for, even if they did not like the content of the message.

      Thanks again for the thoughtful and lengthy comment!

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      • Thanks for your reply! I definitely agree with your concern that we need to guard against the two extremes you described. An important season of life for me was when I began to believe, deeper than ever before, that God’s will and my good are not ultimately at odds. However, the path of salvation and exaltation and joy is V-shaped, just as it was for Christ–down, then up.

        So theologically the options I described are not mutually exclusive. I’m still thinking, however, that on an exegetical level in this two-word phrase, Paul was probably intending to communicate one or the other, not both. Either the τῆς εὐδοκίας phrase modifies just the previous clause (our willing and working) or else it modifies the entire sentence (with its main thought being God’s working in us). But maybe I’m wrong in my analysis–I’m only beginning to be a self-taught Greek student!

        One more thing I should mention: I have been spending a lot of time recently compiling a spreadsheet and then list of recommended commentaries, based on the suggestions of about a dozen books and websites. I’m trying to create a “must-buy” list of commentaries most often and strongly recommended by multiple sources, mostly evangelical. I’m using you as one of my sources, since I’ve been following and enjoying your blog. Thank you so much for sharing your recommendations!

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      • I think you are much more Greek-savvy than you let on….

        I am glad you like the commentary series, I think it needs to be updated, there have been some good suggestions and far too many new commentaries are missing. Maybe that is a good project for next summer.

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      • I agree that the influx of new commentaries is almost overwhelming! So yes, your series is one of my oldest sources, even though you did it only in 2008/9 (I believe). But even some of the printed guides (esp. Longman and Bauer) seem to miss some of the important recent offerings.

        Again, thanks for the feedback on my exegetical question, and for your ongoing blog offerings!

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  3. Working everday in your job or most loved hobby is for God’s pleasure. it is for God’s pleasure simply because he is the one who saved us by grace for our faith. He is the one who allowed us to be free in his enviroment and bear fruit that pleases the father in the heavens. Understanding how important that concept is for the better of life. Knowing that you do it all for God is got to be a great feeling in this world today. They used a great example about the piano contest and that the pleased parent is only happy with their own kids perfomrance and felt the others were horrible. They used a special noun that had to deal with being pleased.
    Some Christians think that God may be out to get them and that is not the case at all. For you to work out your fear in trembling and fear that does not mean that you have to be afraid of God. Being obidient and working throught the service of God’s will is what life is all about. Being humble and remebering that concept at all times in life. Giving someone straight repsect at all times will eventually open up their eyes to life if they have been doing it wrong.

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    • I liked your post Brandon. Working and doing your hobby should be for Gods pleasure. God has done so much for us and we should show our appreciation by doing things that glorify and serve him. I agree with you that it is a great feeling to serve God. There are times of hardships and troubles, but it is all worth it. It is important to understand the meaning of fearing God. this is because he wants us to be loyal and obedient to his word. Being a servant of God is important. When you glorify God it helps others see your purpose for God clearer and the love that he has for us. I do not think by serving God that it does not mean we cant enjoy things, but we have to keep God as the number one priority.

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  4. For people who choose to follow God we find that it easier said than done. The sin that enters our lives does what it can to completely take over and go against what is good for us. If someone comes across us in our lives and wrongs us the right thing to do would be to forgive them. This is something that we are told to do by God Himself. Which, is not an easy task to do because our pride usually gets in the way of allowing this to happen. We say things like, “they do not deserve my forgiveness!” or “ Why do I need to be the bigger person if I was wronged?”. When we become believers and followers of Christ this is a situation that will only continue to reoccur. We will be asked to forgive someone, told to move somewhere different, or talk to someone that we may never have talked to before, and we are to totally obedient to the will of the Lord. No matter how confusing it may seem to us we have to know that it is all a part of God’s plan and purpose. Other than sin and pride taking over another factor that plays a role in disobeying God is, control. There are so many people in this world that are afraid to let go of the reigns and allow God total control. This can be an intimidating step to take for those who believe that control is all they have left. However, our faith has to be stronger than our pride, sin, and control issues. Once we can obey God fully then the better our chances at becoming who He anointed us to be.

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  5. I really liked this post. It was very thought provoking because there are many examples of suffering in the bible and many examples of serving God. A lot of Christians think that service to God is suffering or torture and this doesn’t really seem like a fun or good thing to put yourself through. I think the examples of suffering is to show how staying loyal to your faith and the importance of it. I think God wants you to enjoy life while glorifying him. The things you do for work or your leisure time for fun should be things that make you happy and glorify God. This doesn’t always mean those things will be easy and perfect but may require some suffering or pain to go through. The important thing is to stay loyal to your faith through those times. Having fear and trembling to work out your salvation means to be obedient and loyal in your faith. This was a good post to help you think and understand.

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    • We will all go through life with struggles and that is a result of our sinful nature. The thing is though that since we know this we should be relying on Jesus to give us the strength to keep moving forward. God never told us life was going to be fair and that after we accepted him it would be all rainbows and butterflies. We are challenged everyday and the only way we get through it with Jesus. The only way we love our neighbor is by knowing how much Jesus loves us and in return us loving him. Jesus is the source of everything that we need to live a life that allows us to get past the pain and suffering that we are told will always be there. This journey we are on is a short one and the only way we make the best out of a bad situation is by relying on the blood of Jesus Christ.

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  6. Throughout reading this blog post it made me reflect on moments of life that I may have not wanted to do, but that was the flesh in me. When we are put in a moment of doing a task that seems unpleasant it is because we have not prayed about it and gotten peace from God. Particularly for me it is singing, God has given me the gift of singing and I absolutely love it. When I was younger, I did not care to use it because I lived in fear. My parents supported me and told me that I could sing. I did not believe it and my mom wanted me to join choir every year of middle school and high school, but I refused. I know it was God’s will that they did not force me and that I needed to do it when I felt peace and confident that I was doing it for the Lord and no one else.
    The past year or two has been the most growth for me and using my gift. I have song on the worship team at church and, also sang in front of a congregation at a church I do not attend in another country. For me to do that, I know it is by God’s works and not my own. Being obedient is extremely important when it comes to your relationship with the Lord. It is His will above all else and everyday we need to be living that out.
    What is harder is humbling yourself and serving someone who does not deserve respect and is completely unaware of your sacrifice on their behalf. I believe this is most difficult because you have to use discernment and, in any situation, if you are using what the word of God says to do, then you are right where you are supposed to be. God is using that situation to shape you and you are working for God’s good pleasure (Phil. 2:13).

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  7. Growing up in a non-denominational church, I remember in youth group discussing a verse (which I cannot remember but am assuming that it was 1 Pt. 4:13), in which we discussed what does it mean that we as Jesus followers are to take part in and complete Christ’s sufferings before He returns. Paul also talks about filling up his flesh with afflictions for what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions (Col. 1:24) and that as heirs of Christ we are to suffer with Christ if we are to be glorified with Him (Rom. 8:17). On the other hand, I have also heard very charismatic prayers over people who are under some type of affliction of the flesh where the person praying proclaims that it is not God’s will that we should suffer. I know that believers are not guaranteed a life without suffering, and will most likely face some type of tribulation in their life, but I do not think that the will of God is for us to suffer in serving Him. Christianity would become even less popular if serving God resulted in martydome for every believer. The suffering we face today is similar to what the Philippians faced as they were outsiders because of their faith. Because cultures morals to not align with those of God’s, when we live in God’s will we should be prepared to have people who disagree with us. Serving God does not only happen in a third world country; rather we can serve God no matter where we are in life, and we all may face different types of suffering because of the people, and cultures that we are surrounded by or by how well we live out our faith.

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  8. None of us deserve to be treated with fairly when it comes to thinking about our sinful nature. We need to start being respectful and loving to others in this world like Jesus Christ is and was to us. There is a lot of darkness in this word if we are going to over come it then we are going to have to start treating others with the way God has called us to do. To be honest it would be harder to give my life for the gospel. I am not saying I would deny it if it was a life or death situation, but it definitely is much harder than being kind to someone. Christ humbled him self and came to earth as a man and served each and every one of us. The most powerful being stepped down from his throne to take time to save my life and we think that we are to good to serve someone because they did wrong to us? Jesus came down here to show us how we are supposed to live. Jesus showed us that man is able to live a life that is glorifying to God. We do not deserve what Jesus did for us and he knew that also, but he still died for us. That is how much he loved and respected us. This is why we should all get off of our high horses and do the same. we need to take care of the poor and love our enemies. If Jesus could do it, then we should strive to do so also.

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  9. For myself, one of the most difficult things to do is to treat others with wicked, sinful lifestyles with the respect of Christ that we as believers show one another. I often think of the story of the prodigal son. The prodigal son disowned and dishonored his place as well las his father by rejecting him as well as squandering his birthright. And yet, when he returned to seek forgiveness and a place as a servant, his father joyfully welcomed him back, prepared a feast for him, and so on. The older brother, upon seeing this, became angry and refused to go in to his father, because he felt that because he had not sinned, he father should have celebrated with him, instead of his “sinful” brother. We must not become like the pharisee with a condemning or harsh spirit, but instead always be open and willing to welcome those who have never turned to Christ, as well as those who may have turned away from God. However, this does not mean that we should justify, condone, or allow continuous, willful sin. If one continuously sins willfully and deliberately over and over again, we are told in Hebrews that Jesus’s sacrifice for them no longer exists (Hebrews 10:26). We are also commanded in Matthew chapter 18 that if a brother or sister refuses to stop a sinful activity, even after being brought before the church, we are to treat them as a pagan or a tax collector (Matthew 18:17).

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  10. Comfort is something that almost everyone in America has at least a little of, regardless of where you are. While there are varying degrees of comfort, (to say the least), if it were compared to those in Africa who may die of dehydration due to lack of clean water, even those without a home in the United States have access to clean water because of public drinking fountains. Those in the church are sometimes the most comfortable with their lifestyle. While what Dr. Long has said is very true, that we are not always called to go and “die in Africa” for the sake of the gospel, there are many things that we can and will be called to do if we fully embrace the plan that God has for us that we may be uncomfortable with. As it states in Philippians 2:13, we are doing it for “his good pleasure”, not for ours. We have been given an incredible gift, and it is our duty to not only live a life that is worthy of Him who saved us, but be willing to go and share the good news with others, and follow God no matter where he calls us. Longenecker soon after describes how Paul continues on later in Philippians to describes how Paul describes his “passionate, ongoing pursuit of Christ” and his “desire to know the power of Christ’s resurrection and participation in his sufferings” (Longenecker & Still, 2014, p.205). Paul not only talks about giving his life to Christ but demonstrates it along the way – best depicted by his drastic change after his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus in Acts 9. Additionally, throughout the Bible, those who serve the Lord have been called to do things that are dangerous and out of their comfort zone. Esther was called to use her voice and risk her life for her people in Esther chapter 4, in Matthew chapter 4 Jesus calls Peter and Andrew to leave their current life and follow him, and in Daniel chapter 3 God called Shadrach Meshach and Abednego to stand up for what they believed despite the threat of death. Every day, we are given choices, whether we choose to act in a way that is pleasing to God or not, we can make a choice. Many times, I believe that Christians are choosing to be quiet and stand down when faced with challenges or are not completely surrendering their lives to Christ. So, are you truly devoting your entire life to Christ? Or are you holding parts back in order to remain comfortable? What would you have to change in your current lifestyle to become uncomfortable for Christ?

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  11. The question here is whether its harder to give your life to God in service for him, or be kind to your neighbor. This question is asked because we are to work out our salvation in fear and trembling. With that being said, are we called to serve God and be scared?
    When it comes to working out our salvation, we know that we are saved by faith and not out works. “The path to unity paul prescribes is the way of christlike humanity, obedience, and service (Longenecker 205).” this is what Paul meant by verse 2:12. It’s more of obedience rather than you have to do this, we are to look at it as we get to do this. If we are saved by faith, therefore we have been justified, this is a life that we live now. We live to be obedient to God. but this is where it gets hard. It sounds easy, but what if we were called to go to Africa as P Long said, it’s not so easy anymore to be obedient.
    It’s not so easy to be obedient, and that is why I would rather love my neighbor. Not everyone is bad, so it’s easy to love your neighbor, but when your neighbor is a criminal its a different story. I try and remind myself every day that we are all sinners and God loves us all the same. So who am I to judge some or not live them all the same. This blog post helped me realize how obedience is not a pick and choose the deal. It’s whether I am going to be obedient to God’s call on my life. Will I be obedient is something I will be working on.

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  12. P. Long, your end question to be is very interesting because I think they are both equally hard. Due to my sinful nature, it is just as hard for me to show love and respect to someone of sinful nature as it is for me to humble myself and serve them, even if they are unaware of my actions. However, although both may be equally hard for me, I can still do both as God helps me. When Paul wrote to the Philippians in verse 13 it was not his intention to make them believe they could never live up to God’s favor, instead, it was through God’s grace and love that they would make it through (ESV, pg. 2284). God will be with them, empowering them with His presence to live out a Christian life (ESV, pg. 2284). Just as God gave his grace, love, and presence to the Philippians, He will do so for me, helping me work out hard times that involve showing love, respect, and kind works towards those who do not deserve it. I think the important thing to note about this passage of scripture is that it does not mean God wants us to earn salvation; Jesus died on the cross so that we could be saved by grace. However, it means God still wants us to live Christ-like through obedience, service, and humility (Longenecker, pg. 205). This can be hard because we are only human but still possible because we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) and he is working through us with the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17).

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  13. P . Longs post on Philippians 2:13 includes serval crucial points on Paul’s writings but what stands out to me is how he addresses the fear and disobedience of Christians to go serve because of the irrational fear that God has some type of torture planned for us in that service. That is a sinful and irrational view of why God wants us to serve and it’s a view that is focused upon ourselves and not God and or others. When we recognize God’s vast glory and loving attitude towards us all else ought to fade, for when we focus upon the needs of others our own no longer are our focus. This is what is record in the Gospels when Jesus states to love God with all we are and to love our neighbor as our self (Mark 12:30-31). Bruce Longencker and Todd Still in their book Thinking Through Paul: A Survey of His Life, Letters, and Theology addresses how Paul writes examples of this unselfish way of life with Timothy, Epaproditus, and Paul himself in previous verses (Longenecker, Still, Pg. 201). As far as the question P. Long poses at the end of his post, I would answer honestly that to give my life once and know I would go see my Savior right after is much easier than a lifestyle of continuous service and humility. However, that is my call in life until the Lord does decide to bring me home. The call of the Christian lifestyle is to die to one’s self and to give everything in pursuit of loving God and loving others, all else is vain.

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  14. I definitely think actions speak louder than words, and often time our words don’t fully back up our efforts. It takes a level of obedience and discipline in being able to forgive those who don’t deserve to be forgiving. That being said, I do believe it’s hard to live by God’s Word, but its not impossible. We know this through the apostles in the Bible that proved living by God’s word isn’t easy. Looking at the ministries of some of the apostles, we know that following God is going to bring oppression and challenges that are going to test our faith. Paul faced a ton of physical and emotional abuse by getting stoned and thrown in jail, but he never lost his faith in God. Paul knew the challenges that were brought before him were pressed by God. So given the challenges and oppression one has in their lives, they should be motivated to get through those issues because at the end of the day, its a test by God. So indeed, those moments when we have to forgive someone who doesn’t deserve to be forgiven can be difficult, but like I mentioned those instances are only going to bring us closer to God. No one grows when times are easy or when we don’t get out of our comfort zones. Those moments when we are uncomfortable are the moments we should strive to do the will of God.

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