God sees everything that your elders may not see.
Published November 3rd, 2017; Updated November 20th, 2017
How do you feel when there is a policeman driving right behind you? It can be hard to relax in that situation, huh? Most of us sense a heightened desire of wanting to please those in authority over us. We desire to avoid punishment for wrongdoing. We fear those in authority over us. Both those in the world, like policeman, and also those in the faith or our religious community, like our elders. When our elders are present we may be more careful to watch our tongue in a way that we aren't when we are alone. Is this because we fear God or man? In Paul's letter to the Philippians, he tells them, "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12-13). The first part of that statement are words of encouragement. Paul tells them to keep up the good work of obedience. I see the great job you’re doing and I want you to keep doing it. Just like you’ve been obedient in the past, even more do the same now. Why does he encourage them to obey “much more” in his absence? I think Paul knew the human tendency that I illustrated, to be at our best when an authority figure is in our presence and then to relax a bit and not strive as hard when they are gone. This aspect of human nature is why the class clown in elementary school got extra lively when he found out he had a substitute teacher for the day. Or why I may check my email when the teacher is in the front of the room but not when he is looking over my shoulder. Or more shamefully, why we say or do sinful things that we would not say or do if one of elders was by our side. We are usually on our best behavior in the presence of others that we respect and less guarded when alone. Paul wanted the Philippians to overcome this tendency and to be even more diligent to obey when he was absent. Although Paul, the Apostle, was no longer in their presence, the One with all authority was. Paul was not present to see their obedience. But God was. God sees everything that the police and your elders may not see. We say we believe that God sees everything but then we live as if we really don't believe it. We are not functionally believing in that moment that God is present. Since God is present, should we fear him and try to not disturb him like a Queen's guard or should we have on-going fellowship with him as our kind Father?