Philippians 1:3-7 – He who has begun a good work…
3I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, 4always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, 5for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, 6being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; 7just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace.’
The NLT renders verse 3 very nicely – Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Remember the story of the founding of the church? Most of us have dear brothers and sisters in the Lord from whom our circumstances keep us separate – sometimes for years on end. I wish I could say that I pray for these beloved “without ceasing,” but I confess that I don’t. But now and then, God brings them to our remembrance by His grace. God, no doubt has purpose in His timing for doing this, so let us, like Paul, pray for them “upon every remembrance” of them, and even thank God for the remembrance itself. What a blessing to know that, in the Lord Jesus Christ, we have the assurance that we will be reunited with them someday…
1 Thessalonians 4:16-18
16For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18Therefore comfort one another with these words.
By this wonderful promise, we know that regardless of whether we die, or they die, or we all remain until the Day of the Lord, in God’s own time, and by His grace, all of His children in Christ will one day be re-united with Him.
But how should we pray for our beloved brothers and sisters in Christ from whom we are (temporarily) separated? Paul gives us a good example in verses 3-5…
First we read that when Paul prayed for his Philippian siblings, he did so with joy. And how could we not be joyful in our prayers? After all, the privilege of coming to God’s throne of grace with our praises, thanks, and supplications in prayer was one bought with a heavy price – the precious blood of Jesus as He suffered and died to take the burden of our sins upon Himself.
We note, also, in these verses that Paul makes “request[s]” for the Philippians. How can we make specific requests for those from whom we are separated, when we really don’t know much about their current needs?
26Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
Often, we need to rely on the Spirit to intercede for us in our intercession. For example, if we are passed by an ambulance or fire truck, we have no clue about the details of the emergency, yet we know that someone must be facing some serious challenge, and we feel compelled to pray, at least in general terms, so we must rely on the Holy Spirit to fill in the blanks in our prayers.
Next, in verse 5, Paul expresses his joy for the continuing fellowship of his Philippian brothers and sisters. So may we rejoice in the precious gift of fellowship within the body of Christ. What a wonderful assurance we have in this – that although we come from different backgrounds and have widely divergent earthly lives, in the Gospel of Jesus Christ we all agree and rejoice! I feel this personally most keenly when I am apart from you all, and among unbelievers at work, and especially within my own family. The blood of Christ binds us more closely and sweetly than even the bond of blood among our earthly relatives.
Then, in verse 6, we come across a brilliant gem of reassurance – being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;.
First take careful note that it is He, not we, who began the good work. Make no mistake. God’s plan of salvation through the substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross was in His mind from the very beginning of creation. He chose us, not the other way around…
8But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
I don’t want to plunge into a debate over pre-destination versus free choice. Devoted people of God have been debating that since Jesus ascended to His Father. I doubt we’d be able to come to a definitive answer at tonight’s study. So let’s leave that discussion for our fellowship time. This verse clearly states that it was God who began a work in the Philippians – as with us.
But wait a minute! Doesn’t the Bible say…
2 Corinthians 5:17
17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
And didn’t Jesus Himself say…
30So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.
What, then, is this work that God still has to complete in us? I can’t speak for anyone else, but I have beaten myself up quite a bit over this issue. The night God saved me, He forgave me of a besetting sin that I am still so ashamed of that I have only confessed it to a very limited number of intimates. I prayed that night for His forgiveness, and for His salvation, and He freely gave me both. After all…
1 John 1:9
9If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
I have heard people testify that our Lord Jesus healed them from their besetting sin once and for all at the moment they were born again. I have no reason to doubt those testimonies, but I confess that such was not the case with me. You can imagine what a tremendous spiritual blow it was when I fell back into that same old familiar sin some months later. I can truly sympathize with Paul when he says…
24O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
Paul speaks for all of us, I believe, in this magnificent passage from Romans…
15For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. 16If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 18For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
21I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. 22For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
But, praise God. The answer to Paul’s anguished outcry is found in the very next verse…
24O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.
We can take a very important lesson from this passage in Romans, and the verse in Philippians which led us here…
God’s servants are all fallible people, even such seemingly holy men as the apostle Paul. We can take very great joy in knowing this, since we know ourselves to be wretched sinners even now, as we continue to walk with Christ our Lord. Furthermore, we should be careful not to worship sinful men, regardless of their position or seeming goodness. The Bible says…
10There is none righteous; no not one.
So should we simply throw up our hands, accepting the fact that we are wretched sinners, saved by the grace – unmerited favor – and mercy of a loving God? As Paul puts it…
1What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?
…to which the resounding answer is…
2Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?
But what are we to do? We know in our hearts that we are hopeless, wretched sinners in and of ourselves. But, praise God! In Philippians 1:6 we find our answer. God, who began a good work in us will complete it. This is the processes of sanctification.
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word translated into English as “sanctify” is קָדַשׁ qadash – which means to consecrate, sanctify, prepare, dedicate, be hallowed, be holy, be sanctified, or be separate. In the New Testament the corresponding Greek word is ἁγιάζω hagiazō meaning to separate from profane things and dedicate to God, or to purify. This word is closely related to ἅγιος hagios, which is most commonly translated as saint.
We can certainly rejoice in the knowledge that God will complete the work He began in us, but beware of anyone who claims to have “arrived” at final sanctification. Philippians 1:6 tells us that this work of God will not be complete until the day of Jesus Christ. I believe that the day Paul is referring to here is the final triumph of Jesus against the ruler of this present world we read about a few weeks ago in…
2 Peter 3:10
10But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.
Until that glorious day, God will continue His good work in us and we can rejoice in the promise that He will, indeed complete it.
Take a look at your handout. This quote is taken from a book called The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (whose name means bean farmer) was a German theologian in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s who was an evangelical born-again Christian in a society whose religion had become famously cold and impersonal. When the Nazis came to power, they co-opted the Protestant church of Germany, creating an official state church which Bonhoeffer abhorred and spoke out quite vehemently against. After visiting the Abyssinian Baptist church in Harlem during the late 1930s, Bonhoeffer decided against the stern advice of dear friends to return to Nazi Germany, and try to bring the same kind of worship and preaching he had experienced in Harlem to the people of his own country. After a prolonged personal struggle with his strongly pacifistic beliefs based on the Sermon on the Mount, Bonhoeffer became a member of the Abwehr – the Nazi military intelligence organization – and devoted himself to bringing down the Nazi regime from within, and even to the assassination of Adolf Hitler. After the failed attempt on Hitler’s life in the summer of 1944, much of the Abwehr, including Bonhoeffer and many members of his family, were rounded up, and sent to concentration camps. Bonhoeffer was hanged as a traitor less than a week before VE day.
Bonhoeffer’s book, The Cost of Discipleship ( titled in German Nachfolge – literally after following) is a classic of theology, including Bonhoeffer’s famous commentary on the Sermon on the Mount. It is certainly not an easy read, but contains great wisdom for the reader who will persevere in it. The book contains an entire chapter on the process of sanctification. I found the two paragraphs quoted here to be very apropos to our study tonight.
…All that can happen has happened already, not only on the cross, but also in us. We have been separated from sin, we are dead, we are justified. With that the work of God is complete. He has established His sanctuary on Earth in righteousness. This sanctuary is Christ, the body of Christ. Our separation from sin has been accomplished through our death as sinners in Jesus Christ. God has prepared Himself a people which has been justified from sin. This people is the community of the disciples of Jesus, the community of the saints. They are taken up into His sanctuary, and in fact they are His sanctuary, His temple. They are taken out of the world and live in a new realm of their own in the midst of the world.
Henceforth the New Testament simply calls the Christians “saints.” It does not, as we might have expected, call them “the righteous,” perhaps because that term hardly does justice to the gift they have received. In any case, its reference is to the unique event of baptism and justification. It is true, of course, that our recollection of that event has daily to be renewed. It is equally true that the saints remain justified sinners. But there is also a further gift than these, the gift of final perseverance, or sanctification. Both gifts have the same source, Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 1:2; 6:11), and both have the same content, which is fellowship and communion with Him. They are inseparably connected, but for that very reason not identical. Justification is the means whereby we appropriate the saving act of God in the past, and sanctification the promise of God’s activity in the present and future. Justification secured our entrance into fellowship and communion with Christ through the unique and final event of His death, and sanctification keeps us in that fellowship in Christ. Justification is primarily concerned with the relation between man and the law of God, sanctification with the Christian’s separation from the world until the second coming of Christ. Justification makes the individual a member of the church whereas sanctification preserves the church with all its members. Justification enables the believer to break away from his sinful past; sanctification enables him to abide in Christ, to persevere in faith and to grow in love. We may perhaps think of justification and sanctification as bearing the same relation to each other as creation and preservation. Justification is the new creation of the new man, and sanctification his preservation until the day of Jesus Christ.
Bonhoeffer, D. (1995). The Cost of Discipleship (pp. 277-8). Simon & Schuster: New York
7just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace.
Isn’t this sobering and inspiring? We are all in this together. When our brothers and sisters in China, or Sudan, or Iran, or North Korea… are persecuted for Jesus’ Name’s sake, we grieve as well. Just as we all partake in the grace and mercy of God purchased for us by Jesus on the cross, so we partake in His suffering together…
These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.
8For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ.
9And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, 10that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, 11being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
Precious Father, may our love for one another, and our prayers for the saints always be conformed to this beautiful model.
35By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
As Paul says here in Philippians, this Christian love by which we should be recognized is “of Jesus Christ,” given by the power of His Spirit dwelling within us. Without Him, we are incapable of it. Through the work He is completing in us, this love will grow. This is the promise of verse 6.
But this isn’t a sappy, star-struck affection or infatuation either for one another or for the unsaved…
16Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.
It is a mature and discerning love, empowered by God’s Spirit to speak the truth that all of us are hopeless sinners whose only hope is in the abundant grace of God. It is by no means loving to tell either the lost or fellow believers that God is loving and forgiving, so the sin in our lives is no big deal. At the very least, such an attitude destroys our witness and quells the Spirit. At worst, it may stumble an unbeliever into a false hope…
21Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!
By grace may we discern and admonish sin in our own hearts and lives, so that we can not only admonish others through the discernment given us by God’s Spirit, but recognize and applaud those things which are excellent. We are called to both build each other up (edify one another), and to admonish sin, first in ourselves and also in others as discernment is given to us. We also need to pray for this discernment for ourselves and each other day-by-day, and continually seek to grow in this love until Jesus returns or calls us to Him.
We also need to guard and pray against hypocrisy and self-righteousness, continually reminding ourselves that any righteousness which may be attributed to us is not ours, but Christ’s – whose Spirit dwells within us. In this humility, and the seeking of God’s direction alone, can we be seen as sincere and without offense, and in this God will be glorified because we reflect the righteousness which is His alone.