What is the balance between our part in ministry and God’s part? This question is an extension of the issue of our part and God’s part in sanctification. The latter is addressed in Philippians 2:12,13:
“Therefore, my beloved…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling [it was already “in-worked” at regeneration by grace -Titus 3:5]; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure [He expresses His power through us; we need to work out the evidence and maturation process in our soul as we cooperate].
Bob Hoekstra describes the cooperation of God ministering through Paul. Notice this avoids the extremes of passivity (God not requiring my participation) and also the extreme self-effort.
Yes, Paul “labored…abundantly.” In another letter he wrote: “To this end I also labor, striving” (Colossians 1:29). Elsewhere he stated: “For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day…we preached to you the gospel of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:9). As he wrote the believers in Corinth he recalled: “Are they ministers of Christ…I am more: in labors more abundant…in journeys often…in weariness and toil” (2 Corinthians 11:23, 26-27).
How startling to learn that Paul was not the cause behind this wondrous effect. This is seen in his confession: “yet not I.” Paul exerted himself for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ. How can a man labor strenuously and yet not be the cause of it all? The answer is in the remainder of his testimony: “yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” God’s grace at work in Paul’s life was the effective dynamic that brought forth such godly labor here on earth. “But by the grace of God I am what I am.” If we put our hope in the Lord, His grace will prove effective in our lives as well, giving us a testimony similar to Paul’s: “and His grace toward me was not in vain.”
– Day by Day by Grace 2/14