Question: Do you feel like you have “arrived”? Are you a complete person? Is ours a complete church? Have we, as a congregation, fully arrived?
Paul wrote this letter to the Philippian church in northern Greece, which he had helped start during his second missionary journey about the year AD 52. Philippi was a strategic city made distinct by at least three characteristics. Because of gold and silver mines, which had been worked out over hundreds of years, it had become a commercial center. The city itself had been founded in 368 BC by Philip, the father of Alexander the Great, at a strategic site commanding the road from Europe to Asia. It was a Roman colony filled with people proud of their unique citizenship.
This was the city to which Paul and Silas had journeyed to found a church. It was this same city to which Paul wrote ten to twelve years later from his prison cell in Rome. The Book of Philippians is filled with some of the Bible’s greatest texts — some familiar, some not. Paul wrote to express thanks to his brothers and sisters in Christ who had been faithful in supporting him. He alerted them to the physical illness of one of their number who had been with them in Rome and would soon be returning. He gave encouragement to them in their trials. And he made a classic appeal to remember their unity in Jesus Christ.
He opens with his typical words of encouragement. He wishes them God’s grace and peace. He expresses his enormous thanksgiving for the partnership he had shared with them in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, from the very first day he had met with them to the present.
Then Paul targets his message to believers, both at Philippi and today, with these words, “And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (
I. You can be confident in God.
Today we hear a lot about the art of confident living. Enroll in a Dale Carnegie course, and you will be taught principles which will help you convey self-assurance.
Some time ago a repairman came to our house. Our dryer had gone on the blink. We immediately liked him. Pondering on it later, we realized that it was his bearing that we had found pleasing. He gave the appearance of knowing what he was doing. Quickly he checked out the dryer, dismantled a certain portion of it, replaced two little parts, put the machine back together again, and left. His job was completed. He seemed to have no doubt about what he was doing.
However, self-confidence can be misleading. Not everyone who looks like he knows what he is doing can do it. During the same period of time our dryer was acting up another one of our appliances was giving us trouble. For six or seven weeks a repairman, who looked just as confident as the one who fixed the dryer, worked on it. There was only one difference. We began to lose confidence in him, because the unit didn’t stay fixed. He seemed just as sure of himself but that wasn’t enough. He finally admitted he didn’t know what really was wrong. He consulted someone else. Although his self-confidence was somewhat diminished, he became stronger as he sought help outside himself.
Paul expressed confidence. However, it was a different type of assurance from that which we drill into our sharp young salesmen. Paul’s confidence was in God. It was from the Lord that he received his assurance. He writes, “And I am sure that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” The King James translators use the words “being confident.”
Your confidence is misplaced if it is in the trustworthiness of another person. In this day of image-making, you and I can be so quickly let down by those in whom we put our trust. In fact, you and I can be let down by ourselves as we foolishly trust our own personal abilities.
Paul’s confidence was not placed in another human being or in himself. It was placed in the Lord. He writes, “And I am sure that He ….” How exciting to know the trustworthiness of the Lord who gives to you and me a confidence. Take your eyes off Jesus Christ and you are in trouble. Lean on your own money, prestige, power, competence and you will find that you are resting on glass crutches. You are a human being. You are subject to the limitations of the flesh. Your money can be stolen or lost. Your health can break. Your power can be stripped from you. Your position can be lowered. That’s why God’s Word encourages you to set your affection on things above, not on things below.
Are you looking to yourself and to others? Or have you put your trust in the Lord? Can you say with the psalmist, David, “To thee, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in thee I trust …” (
II. There is a point of beginning in your relationship with God.
You don’t become a Christian by osmosis. God acts through His Holy Spirit, bringing you to repentance and trust in Jesus Christ. His is the initiative. He is the One who makes this whole business operational. If you are a believer, there is a beginning point.
Paul is in a reflective mood. Over a decade away from his first encounter with the people of Philippi, his mind fills with memories as he dictates those words, “… He who began a good work in you ….” He could remember those early converts who made up the nucleus of believers at Philippi. How God had touched their lives!
Lydia, the rich lady from Thyatira, whom He had met by the little river Ganga outside Philippi, had a business selling purple goods. He and Silas had met her and told her about Jesus Christ. The Lord opened her heart to hear this good Word. She put her trust in the Saviour and was baptized, along with the others of her household. God had taken action, changing her life, beginning His work in her.
Paul could remember how, on that same day, God had begun a good work on that little fortunetelling slave girl from whom that evil spirit was exorcised — God at work, taking His action in the lives of people with spiritual needs.
Paul could remember how God’s action on behalf of that little girl had thrown him into jail. The masters who owned her had dragged Paul and Silas before the magistrates, charging them with disturbing the peace. After all, the masters had lost the source of their diabolical livelihood through this, God’s action as revealed through the work of Paul and Silas.
There in jail, God again began a good work, literally shaking the foundations of the prison and lives in a way which led to the conversion of the Philippian jailer and his family.
Paul could remember these changed lives as he thought back to the beginnings — both for individuals and for that church. How many more whom he knew personally had come to trust the Saviour? How many more had experienced God’s work in their lives? Now, years later, what would he say to them? What could he say to them, as he thinks back to their beginnings in Christ? So many experiences, joys and sorrows had intervened. Yes, there was the beginning, that divine action of regeneration in which lives were born into the kingdom of God. I trust you’ve come to this spiritual starting point.
Some time ago, I received a disturbing letter a few days after I baptized an infant. This person was quite upset to hear me say that, “Placing these drops of water on this child’s head does not guarantee his salvation.” Bombarded by the means of grace, yes. But not salvation by osmosis. God acts in His regenerating power, adding to your physical birth a new spiritual birth. You become born again of the Spirit of God. This is your point of beginning. This is your starting place.
Yours may not be a highly emotional beginning. But there comes a point at which your life opens to God’s actions on your behalf. In your own way, you say “yes” to what God has done for you in Jesus Christ.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Christian who died under Hitler for his opposition to Nazi actions, stated the necessity for a definite beginning in Christian discipleship with these words: “Unless a definite step is demanded, the call vanishes into thin air; and if men imagine that they can follow Jesus without taking this step, they are deluding themselves….”
The British writer and theologian, John Stott, points out the difference between this specific opening of one’s self and other religious activities when he says:
This step is the beginning and nothing else will do instead. You can believe in Christ intellectually and admire Him; you can say your prayers to Him through the keyhole (as I did for many years); you can push coins at Him under the door; you can be moral, decent, upright and good; you can be religious and pious; you can have been baptized and confirmed; you can be deeply versed in the philosophy of religion; you can be a theological student and even an ordained minister — and still not have opened the door to Christ. There is no substitute for this.
III. God is in the process of doing a good work in your life.
Your salvation is accomplished. It is secure. But you are still in process. You have not fully arrived. This good work is an ongoing function of God’s Spirit. You have not fully arrived. You are in the process of becoming complete.
This good work is not only a work of justification. This good work is a work of sanctification, a work which is not finished in a single blow but is carried forward through a gradual development. You move through life from step to step. You go through many a fluctuation. You face dangers from within and from without. Yours is a “pilgrim’s progress,” moving through the many various circumstances of this life, accompanied by the Lord.
I find this quite exciting to know that I’m in process — to know that God is accomplishing His good work in me now. Frankly, if what I could see in my spiritual mirror was the final product, I wouldn’t be too happy — would you? You mess up. I mess up. You and I are not now complete. Did you ever have that dirty feeling, “Why did I say that? I’m trying so hard, and yet I still fail.” Somehow we think that we can achieve human perfection in this world. When we find we haven’t got it, how disillusioned we become.
From what I read in the Bible, one of the most serious curses is that of self-righteousness. That’s a malady you and I can get into when we forget that we are just in process. Do you fight the battle of thinking more of yourself than you ought to? And then do you plunge from that manic high of self-confidence to the low of depressive despair? I do. How much I want to do what I should do. How desirous I am of being an authentic servant of the Lord. Then I fail. I hurt people. I say things I shouldn’t. I become judgmental, taking to myself prerogatives which belong only to the Lord. I talk about another person behind his back. No, you wouldn’t identify with that. You’ve never gossiped, have you?
You know the dirty feeling — that unclean feeling. And you know the refreshment of coming back to the Lord, finding His forgiveness, His cleansing. You’ve learned in the process. You are moving forward. Yet somehow it never seems as far forward as you would like it to be. To you this text brings reassurance. God is bringing you along the road of Christian maturity. Out of the spiritual womb you suckle from the bottle. Moving on to pablum, you become a toddler. Finally to kindergarten, first grade, junior high, to high school and college. Marriage. Those middle years of life. Process — a process in which His Holy Spirit is present, working to His glory.
Keith Miller has put his finger on this process in his book, titled The Becomers. He writes about an exciting breed of Christian who has begun with Christ in Christian commitment, and now is in the growth process — open and vulnerable to the work of the Holy Spirit. This kind of Christian sees “… that conversion is only a ‘beginning’ and not an “arrival.’ The convert has just been freed to start actualizing the gifts and potentialities which have always been inherent in his life. He thinks of himself as a “becomer’ in process.”
IV. God is in the business of completing His work in your.
This is His faithfulness. There’s good news for you if you get a bit concerned about your spiritual development. Paul writes, “And I am sure that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
You’re just going to have to trust the Lord. A few years into your Christian development you can begin to doubt His promises. The circumstances of life bombard you. You have your problems. You no longer have the same emotional excitement which was once yours spiritually. You need to simply rest in the assurance that God — who is leading you step by step through the maturing process — knows the end of it.
The day will come when you will be complete. You will be perfect in the day of Jesus Christ, when you step into His presence. It will not be in this world. You will never come to that point of perfection except when you enter the Church triumphant, elevated to a new spiritual existence which goes beyond anything you and I can imagine in this troubled world.
At times it is difficult to trust in Jesus, to take Him at His word, to rest upon His promise. Just to know thus saith the Lord. Yet how beautiful to know that He is faithful!
Your God has sufficient means to complete that good work which He has already begun in you. To even suggest that He can’t is an insult to His infinite abilities. An unfinished project is an insult to the builder.
When I was a youngster, my family was fascinated by a beautiful home which was being constructed a mile or so from our house. Built on a wooded knoll alongside a lake, it was a magnificent structure — one of the most expensive homes I’d ever seen. How hard the workmen labored! Suddenly one day, just after the roof went on, the action stopped. The house was not completed. For weeks and months it stood there empty, unfurnished. Rumors began to circulate. The wealthy man for whom it was being built had gone through bankruptcy. He no longer could afford a house that huge. The project stood as a memorial to his inability to complete the project begun.
Fortunately for you, God has sufficient means. His line of credit is never withdrawn. If you look beyond yourself, you can be confident that He who has begun a good work in you is right now in the process of carrying out this lifelong project, fully capable of bringing it to completion.
Neither you nor our local church, nor our denomination, have yet “arrived.” But all three of us are in the process of becoming complete as we open ourselves to the work of Christ who has all the resources and commitment to complete what He has begun!