“Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for his good pleasure” Philippians 2:12-13
Having been given the gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ we are to work at bringing that new life into actual daily experience. That is impossible for us to achieve of ourselves and, fortunately, Paul tells us that God is the main Person in achieving our maturity in Christ. This has to be one of the greatest pieces of news that a believer could receive; God is at work in us to bring our wills into line with His and to achieve His goal.
Since this is the case, and we have gladly accepted God’s role in our lives, we have no cause to complain about the circumstances of life that He allows or orchestrates to achieve His good pleasure. That is why Paul then wrote in the next verse, “Do all things without complaining and disputing.” If we have truly received the truth that God is working in us for His good pleasure we will rather rejoice in all things regardless of whether they bring some form of pain or pleasure. It is good for us to take note of the words “all things.”
For the same reason James writes, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (James 1:2) and Paul writes, “giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20). Any complaint that we have is ultimately against God because He is the One working in us according to His good pleasure.
What is His “good pleasure? The short answer is to make us into Christ’s image. God created man in His image. That image was corrupted by sin. Jesus Christ is the perfect man in God’s image. A similar aspect of this is mentioned by Paul in his letter to the believers in Galatia, “But when it pleased God … to reveal His Son in me …” (1:15-16). This is what God is working in us to achieve – to reveal His Son in us. Any complaining or arguing with God about His work is essentially saying that we do not trust Him or we do not want to be like Christ or want Him revealed in us.
Paul understood this as any study of his life will reveal. It also explains why he would write to the believers in Rome, “we glory in tribulations” (5:3). Taken with the other passages cited and its context this means all tribulations because they are part of the “all things.” Paul considered suffering a necessary part of knowing Jesus Christ which is why he wrote “… that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Philippians 3:10).
When we accept that it is God at work in all things in our lives to achieve His goal then we will “count it all joy” no matter the circumstances in which we find ourselves.