If you’re independent, in a hurry, and like to be in charge, this week’s favorite verse just might push a few buttons. (I confess, my hand is up.) If you’re a team player, happy to wait your turn, and don’t care who gets credit, then plaster a smile on your face, because you are going to love every word.
Our verse starts in the middle of a sentence, so we need to step back a verse or two (okay, three) to reach the beginning of the passage.
“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:3-6
Such wonderful sentiments. Joyful. Hopeful. Paul is writing to the saints in Philippi, and he’s off to a great start, assuring them he gives thanks to the Lord whenever they cross his mind.
“I thank my God every time I remember you.” Philippians 1:3
How many Christian greetings cards include this verse printed inside? Tons, right? With good reason. “I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you” (HCSB) is a tender word of encouragement, both to give and to receive.
So simple, really: When I think about you, I thank the Lord.
In case I haven’t mentioned it lately, that’s the absolute truth, beloved.
“In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy…” Philippians 1:4
Paul is using very inclusive phrases that most writers are cautioned to avoid. Taken at face value, all and always would mean he prays for every single one of them and every time he does so “with gladness” (GNV) and “delight” (AMP).
So, no whining about their weaknesses, no asking God to fix them, no complaints about their stewardship. Paul insists that praying for them makes him “happy” (CEV).
Oh dear. I’m thinking not all of us in ministry are quite so generous.
Sometime last century my husband and I met with a pastor before the Sunday morning service. We assumed we were gathering to pray for our time of worship. Instead the pastor spent a quarter hour grumbling about his congregation, running them down by name. No wonder his flock was dwindling each week! My heart ached for them, and for him too. Bitterness is a hard weed to pull out, once it takes root.
In good soil, though, joy flourishes. This week a letter appeared in our mailbox from a minister who wrote, “Of all the things I do in my role as pastor, the most important and humbling task is my call to pray for God’s people. It will be my honor to lift your name before the Lord in prayer during the week of May 12.”
Wow. That’s what Paul was talking about. All. Always. Joy.
“…because of your partnership in the gospel…” Philippians 1:5
What sort of partnership are we talking about here? “Sympathetic cooperation and contributions” (AMP). Okay, so going along with the program, yes? And coughing up some cash. Shekels. Denarii. Mites. No ministry, large or small, can function without financial support.
But the partnership Paul is clearly more excited about is their mutual “furtherance of the gospel” (ASV), and the ways these Philippians have “shared in proclaiming the Good News” (CJB).
Yes, yes, yes. To minister as a team. To sense God’s Spirit moving among you, working through you, accomplishing his will. To know you are partnering with like-minded people for a cause far greater than yourselves. It’s thrilling beyond description.
“…from the first day until now,…” Philippians 1:5
These people were quick. From “day one” (OJB), when Paul showed up talking Jesus, the believers in Philippi embraced the truth and shared his vision. Right away they told others. Ushered friends and neighbors into God’s Kingdom. Participated in a hands-on kind of way.
Easy to see why Paul prays for them with joy.
And don’t worry about the words until now. These churches have been going strong “right up to the present” (MSG), with no sign of slowing down.
Because of all of the above—all the prayers, all the joy, all the fellowship—Paul can proclaim this week’s key verse without hesitation.
…being confident of this,…” Philippians 1:6
Confident is one of those words that can lean in the wrong direction. Not merely certain, but arrogant, prideful, overbearing, and egotistical. Paul doesn’t go there. He’s simply “convinced” (AMP), he’s “persuaded” (EXB), he’s “sure about this” (CEB).
”There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind” (MSG), he tells them. He planted healthy seeds and has watched them sprout. He sees evidence of their growth. His confidence isn’t a feel-good thing; it’s based on fact.
Truth is, we can’t accurately measure our own spiritual growth. We know our flaws too well, and realize how far we have to go. If someone who has watched our walk with the Lord—a pastor, a teacher, a parent—says, “You’ve really grown,” we may find that hard to believe.
Believe. Trust. Be at peace.
“…that he who began a good work in you…” Philippians 1:6
Of course, “God is the one who began this good work in you” (CEV). This desire to partner with other believers. This eagerness to share the gospel. This willingness to give of our resources. God alone “has inspired this generosity in you” (KNOX).
At the start I mentioned that, for those of us who are independent, in a hurry, and like to be in charge, this verse might sting rather than soothe. The “good work” God began in us might include making us less self-sufficient and more dependent on others. Less rushed and more relaxed. Less likely to lead, more likely to follow.
In other words, it may feel like God is breaking us down, rather than building us up.
Count on it.
The me-me-me, go-go-go approach to life is of no use to God. Pliable, flexible, adaptable—that’s what he’s going for. Those who come by those qualities naturally may find it easier to welcome God’s firm discipline and loving correction.
For the rest of us, there’s a great deal of “Ouch!” and “Not that, Lord!” and “Good grief.” It’s okay. We’re getting there. Like Paul says, be confident. God isn’t finished with any of us yet.
“…will carry it on to completion…” Philippians 1:6
God’s work in us “will continue” (AMP), and he won’t quit until it’s “perfection” (KNOX). What a relief! I’ve never finished any project I thought was truly complete. I’d love to redo every speech I’ve ever given, every book I’ve ever written, every song I’ve ever sung.
But God will “go on developing it” (PHILLIPS), he will “stay with you to complete the job” (CEB), he won’t “stop in mid-design but will keep perfecting you” (VOICE).
We may not notice the changes, may not be able to measure the truth taking root in us, the strength of our branches, or the sweetness of our fruit. Just as well. That’s all God, not us. It’s his work, not our work. His doing, not our doing. Only God “will keep it growing” (CJB) until it’s time for the harvest.
“…until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6
Does this mean a specific day? Yes, it does. It’s the very day, the very hour when “Christ Jesus returns” (CEV), “the final day of judgment and reward” (EXB), “the day when Jesus Christ comes again” (ERV).
God is going to continue his redeeming work in us “right up to the time of His return” (AMP). The perfectionist in me loves this. This isn’t the final package. We’re not stuck where we are. He is still pruning, shaping, fertilizing. He won’t walk away from us, leaving us to finish the work.
That last splash of water, that last snip of his shears will come at the moment of his Son’s return. He will “bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.” (MSG).
See why we love Philippians 1:6? It’s all God, all good, and all done when he says it is.
As Kathleen shared, “When I get down on myself for failing in my walk, I remember this verse, and that I’m a work in progress. Thankfully, Jesus is not going to give up on me, no matter what. He is for me, and it doesn’t get any better than that!”
You are so right, my sister. He is for you, with you, and at work in you.
And all the people of God said “Whew…”
“In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:4-6
Now it’s your turn
Paul is quite confident that God will continue his good work in those whom he loves. Are you fully convinced? What evidence have you seen in the life of someone close to you (maybe really close, like yourself), assuring you that God is still watering, pruning, fertilizing, as he has from day one until the day he’s done?
To share your thoughts, simply add your response under Post a Comment below. Thanks so much for giving us a glimpse of your heart.
Next week, we’ll linger in the New Testament and unpack #15 of the verses you love. It’s actually two verses—fifty words in all—yet a single, powerful statement that has changed many lives, including my own. Can’t wait to explore it with you!
Your sister, Liz