I have both worked together for the Lord, as well as worked together with him. I definitely like working together with him better.
The two are worlds apart. When you work for someone, you may not know specifically what he or she wants. You just do your best to try to please that one by working hard at various tasks that you hope will be acceptable. But when you work with someone, they are in the lead and you are simply called to follow. The most important aspect of ‘working together with someone’ is that you must observe what they are doing. They are in control and you must be intimately aware of where they are going.
Paul is keenly aware that he is working together with God in his ministry of reconciliation that has been committed to Him by the Father. He senses that when he is appealing to the Corinthians it is actually Christ appealing through him. One gets a sense of the passion of Jesus flowing through his veins as he appeals to the Corinthians not to receive the grace of God in vain. No wonder Paul repeatedly reminds them that having this ministry (II Cor. 4:1), he and his fellow-workers do not lose heart (4:1, 16). Working for someone can be tiring as you never really know if you are pleasing them. But working together with someone is a thrilling ride in which you sense you are being borne along by another power. It has the sense of following a mountain path, not knowing where it will lead.
The ultimate example for us of what it means to ‘work together with Him’ is the Lord Jesus himself who said, “The Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing” (John 5:19). That was his response to the Jewish leaders who persecuted Him for healing a man on the Sabbath. He had walked into a group of people all of which desperately needed his healing touch, healed one, and then left without even leaving his name (see John 5:1-18). His only rationale when questioned about it was that that was what he saw the Father doing. Even the words that he spoke he claimed were not his words but those of the Father (5:30). Moment by moment, step by step he followed the Father so that both his words and deeds flowed out of a relationship. The religious leaders, while working for God through arduous rule keeping had no clue how to deal with a man who was working together with the Father.
Imagine working for a skilled carpenter from whom you were to learn the trade. But he simply told you what tasks to perform, occasionally demonstrating them in a general way. Compare that to a carpenter who placed your hands on his as he made each cut, allowing you to feel the direction of his hands. Soon, you were aware of certain rhythms of his hands so that you anticipated his direction. That is the difference between working for God and working with Him. The enjoyment of being in rhythm with the Father thrills our soul like nothing else. When we sense the Father working and speaking through us we are sustained by a supernatural power that pulsates through us. In this way, God is both glorified and we are deeply satisfied in Him.
If you sense that you have been working for God rather than working with him, repent and ask him to show you what Eugene Peterson in his Message translation calls the “unforced rhythms of grace”.