And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.
Philippians 1:6-8 (ESV)
So far, we have seen Paul’s heart of thanks for his partnership with the Philippians in the spread of the gospel. He expressed this gratitude to God who worked through them, and he claimed to thank God for the Philippians every time he remembered them.
We now continue Paul’s opening remarks to his beloved brothers and sisters. In these three verses, Paul expresses his confidence that because of their strong display of faith God would ultimately complete the Philippians’ salvation at the day of Jesus Christ. He also emphasizes for them how strongly he yearns for all of them with the affections of Jesus Christ. Let us draw comfort and challenge from this text. May we grow in love for one another as we make ready for Christ’s return.
BLESSED ASSURANCE // VERSE 6
We now come to verse 6, which is one of Philippians’ most frequently cited verses. Dr. Thomas Constable gives us a glimpse as to why this verse is so popular:
This is one of the most comforting verses in the Bible for Christians. Our getting to heaven safely does not depend on us, on our ability to hold on and to persevere faithfully to the end of our lives. The Lord will see to it that we reach heaven safely in spite of our failures and shortcomings. Salvation is God’s work, not man’s (Jon. 2:9). As surely as He has already delivered us from the penalty of sin (Rom. 5:1), He will one day deliver us from the presence of sin (cf. Rom. 8:31-39). (13)
The doctrines and applications of this small sentence are tremendous, so we will eat the elephant piece by piece.
The first question that we must seek to answer is: what good work was begun in the Philippians? Of course, to answer this question, we must remember that our verse is directly tied to verses 3-5 from our previous study. In those three verses, Paul expressed his thanksgiving through prayer to God because of the Philippians partnership with him in the gospel. The present expression of Paul’s confidence in the completion of the Philippians salvation must be understood within this context, especially since Paul refers to their partnership as beginning from the first day until now (v. 5). The good work, therefore, that was begun in the Philippians is their partnership in the gospel.
The next question for understanding this verse must be: what does being brought to completion at the day of Jesus Christ mean? The opening expression of thanks in 1 Corinthians, which parallels Philippians to a great degree, provides a clearer understanding of what exactly is meant by the day of Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 1:4–9 | I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
What then is the day of Jesus Christ?
It is His revealing.
It is the day when “the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!” (2 Peter 3:12).
It is the day when Christ, who first came “to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28).
It is the final day of vengeance falling upon “those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 1:8), while granting relief to all who are afflict for the sake of Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:6).
In short, the day of Jesus Christ will either be our supreme joy and pleasure or our utter horror and terror.
The final preparatory question we need answered is: who is completing the good work? Paul claims confidence that he will complete the good work that he began in the Philippians, but to whom is Paul referring? The answer is found in verse 3. God, who was the recipient of Paul’s thanks for the Philippians, is now being proclaimed as one who will bring their partnership in the gospel to its completion as they stand before Christ.
God, therefore, is the one who began the good work of their partnership in the gospel in the Philippians, and God will also be the one who completes that work so that they will find joy and peace at the day of Jesus Christ. We now have the clarified mechanics for analyzing and applying the verse more fully.
Understanding this verse in context, enables us to avoid one of the most common errors when quoting our text since it is often cited as a general proclamation that God will complete the salvation process. It has, therefore, contributed to the overused adage, “Once saved, always saved.” Unfortunately, this thought, while deriving from biblical truth, is a severe over-simplification. Indeed, Paul is not speaking of the completion of our salvation as if it were a law of nature: if an apple falls from a tree, it hits the ground; if a person asks Jesus to forgive their sins, he or she will go to heaven when they die. Remember that the good work began in the Philippians is not exactly their moment of justification; rather, the good work is their partnership in the gospel that began at the moment of their justification. As we learned last week, God saved the Philippians and brought them into a fellowship centered upon the message of the gospel and a partnership dedicated to the mission of the gospel. This fellowship/partnership was what caused Paul to constantly thank God for them in joyful prayer because through the gospel, God brought them together in the gospel to the send them into the world for the gospel. It is this partnership that God will complete at the day of Jesus Christ.
Allow me to make clear what I am NOT saying. Salvation is not dependent upon being in community with other Christians. We are saved solely by the death and resurrection of Christ. Even baptism for all its importance, weight, and significance is not necessary for salvation. But like baptism, community is necessary for our assurance of salvation. God designed it to be so.
We can view this at work in church membership. Upon affirming someone as a church member, we declare our sincere belief that they are genuine follower of Jesus, while excommunicating a church member through discipline is a declaration that we can no longer affirm his or her salvation since there is no sign of repentance. Biblical community, therefore, builds the assurance that our salvation is genuine by affirming and safeguarding our faith.
On the converse, this is also why a decay in our walk with the LORD is almost always followed by a withdrawal from community. Just as going for a walk in the sun is both the best thing for someone experiencing depression and often the last thing they want to do, so being around other brothers and sisters is best thing for our sin-filled, joyless souls, while also being the last thing we want to do in those moments. We create all kinds of excuses for avoiding community. Exhaustion seems to be one of the most common ones today for avoiding corporate worship. After a heavy and draining week, the idea of going to church on Sunday is simply too much work, too much hassle. Tragically, this kind of thinking ignores both Jesus’ command to come to Him for rest (Matthew 11:28) and His promised presence among those who gather in His name (Matthew 18:20).
Going beyond the occasional withdrawal from community, what about Christians who blatantly refuse to participate in worship among other believers? Such people often appear to be entirely certain of their salvation when conversing with them. However, based upon texts such as this one, assurance of that kind can be deadly. Apart from community to encourage and correct us, we can easily form our own idea of who God is, either avoiding any Scriptures that contradict it or simply avoiding the Scriptures altogether. As I said before, a failure to participate in Christian community does not necessarily mean that he or she isn’t saved. It does, however, mean that they can have no biblical assurance of their salvation, and indeed, it certainly is an indication of a possible false conversion.
If this describes you, repent.
Repent of self-assurance, and join the partnership in the gospel.
Having now discussed what this verse is not teaching, let us take note of what it is saying. For all who are partnering together in the gospel, God both started that work and will finish it. Referenced here are all three stages of salvation. Our partnership in the gospel began, as noted last week, because God reconciled us both to Himself and to one another by the blood of the cross. We call this one-time work justification. Our sin is forgiven, and we are legally declared righteous before God. But from this comes the ongoing work of sanctification. In sanctification, we partner with one another in the gospel to kill our indwelling sin and to fulfill the Great Commission. All of this points toward the day when we will be glorified, when our salvation will be complete and we will no longer be capable of sin.
We know that justification and glorification are the works of God on our behalf, but what of sanctification? Once again, consider the verses that we will be studying within a few more weeks:
Philippians 2:12-13 |Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Are we called to do good works for God? Certainly. Do those good works require a willful contribution on our part? Absolutely! Yet even as we participate in our sanctification (which differs from justification and glorification because in them we are simply recipients), God alone gets the glory because our will and works are the result of Him working in us. Therefore, just as we trust God to forgive our sins and save us, we can also trust that He will ultimately save us from our sins because He is currently empowering us to overcome sin and walk in obedience day after day.
The good work of our partnership in the gospel, therefore, is an evidence of salvation, but it does not contribute to our salvation. Walking in obedience to God cannot cleanse previous sins, but it can indicate a heart that has been transformed by the LORD. The beginning, middle, and ending of Christian life is overseen by God; thus, He alone is our hope of heaven and all its joys, a hope that is our “sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (Hebrews 6:19). In this hope, we have a certainty, a surety along with Paul, that God will complete whatever work He begins.
Christian, are you trusting that God alone can bring you safely into His kingdom, or have you, perhaps subtly, begun to rely upon your own good works?
In what ways do you willingly embrace the safeguards of Christian community to provide assurance of your salvation?
AFFECTIONS OF GRACE // VERSES 7-8
After expressing his deep thanks for the Philippians and his confidence in their perseverance in the faith, Paul now expresses his affection for them. Notice the intimate expressions being used: I hold you in my heart and how I year for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. This “feeling” that Paul has for the Philippians is a key word that is found in nineteen verses in the New Testament, and seven of them are from Philippians. Gordon Fee lauds the NIV’s translation of as “feel” (which is true of the ESV as well) instead of the more common “mind” or “mindset” because it incorporates affections as well as thoughts (89). Thus, as we see Paul continue to urge us throughout the letter to conform our minds to Christ, this verse must be a reminder that doing so is no mere intellectual exercise. God desires our thoughts and affections.
But why is Paul so affectionate for the Philippians? He holds the Philippians in his heart, meaning he keeps his thoughts of them in the very core of who he is. They are in his heart because of their partaking of grace alongside him. Partakers here is another form of the word koinonia or partnership that Paul used in verse 5. He is, therefore, rooting his affection toward them, like his thanksgiving for them, in their gospel-formed community. Not only did they continue to do the work of defending and confirming the gospel in evangelism, preaching, and their daily lives; they also continued to minister to Paul during his imprisonment. Ancient prison systems were far from being as humane as they are today. Often, if a prisoner was not given supplies by family or friends, the prisoner would be left to die, making room for a new prisoner. Over the first couple of centuries in church history, this was often exploited during times of persecution as a form of luring Christians into the open. Officials would arrest and imprison one Christian and then arrest more whenever others came to support and encourage them. Ministering to someone prisoned for the gospel would be done in great seriousness. For these reasons, great was Paul’s affection for the Philippians.
I would now like to focus our attention on Paul’s yearning and affectionate feeling or mindset toward the Philippians, and why it is so important. In his book, You Are What You Love, James K. A. Smith makes the argument that what want, desire, or yearn for is what you truly love. Such a thought may sound simple, but it has many weighty ramifications. For instance, he cites the idea’s presented in Tarkovsky’s 1979 film, Stalker, as an example. In the film, two men are being led by a third man to a place called the Room, where the desires of those who enter are made reality. Unfortunately, the Room grants desires of the heart, not of the mind. When the men arrive, they ultimately refuse to enter after learning of a man killed himself who entered the Room with the desire to bring his brother back to life but was given money instead. Why is it so significant that they didn’t enter the Room? As Smith explains:
What if they don’t want what they think? What if the desires they are conscious of—the one’s they’ve “chosen,” as it were—are not their innermost longings, their deepest wish? What if, in some sense, their deepest longings are humming under their consciousness unawares? What if, in effect, they are not who they think they are? (29)
To learn that we do not want what we think we want means learning that we are not who we think we are. Our wants, desires, and yearnings reveal our true loves. And Paul’s yearning for the Philippians reveals the truth of his love for them and for the God who saved them.
But how can we know that our affections are rooted in the gospel like Paul’s?
Or if we find ourselves with improper longings, how can we stir our affections toward God Himself and our brothers and sisters in the faith?
Smith argues that our affections are shaped by our habits, routines, and liturgies. He gives the example of how shopping in the mall can act as a sort of “cultural liturgy” that stirs up our love for consumerism. He then provides a few more examples:
We could repeat such “liturgical” readings of cultural practices for an entire array of everyday rituals. When you put on these liturgical lenses, you’ll see the stadium in a whole new way, as a temple nationalism and militarism. When you look at the university with liturgical eyes, you’ll start to realize that the “ideas” and “messages” of the university are often less significant than the rituals of frat parties and campus athletics. When we stop worrying about smartphones just in terms of content (what we’re looking at) and start to consider the rituals that tether us to them throughout the day, we’ll notice that the very form of the practice comes loaded with an egocentric vision that makes me the center of the universe. (46)
Our habits and routines act as religious programs that guide what our heart loves, which is why so much of the Christian life seeks to become a rhythm in our lives. In particular, the routines of private spiritual disciplines and corporate worship reshape our desires and loves toward the things of God.
We can see the fruit of private disciplines in last week’s text: Paul’s love for the Philippians is stirred and enlarged by his constant prayer of thanksgiving for the Philippians being made to God. Of course, like justification, we could argue that God alone must form a heart of affection within us, but prayer, like the other spiritual disciplines, is a tool of sanctification that God has graciously given to mold our hearts toward conformity with His.
This is also true of corporate worship. In many places today, weekly worship is attacked as being non-essential to the Christian walk. The argument is typically that faith is an individual matter, so as long as I read the Bible and pray, I can have a healthy relationship with Jesus all by myself. Right?
We could very easily simply refer back to verse 6 showing that true assurance of salvation can only come through partnering with other believers in the gospel, but let’s dismantle this mentality from another passage:
Hebrews 10:24–25 | And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
The author of Hebrews is commanding us to stir up each other into love and good works (quite like what God will one day complete in us). This selfless focus on others is the Christian mentality because it is Christ’s mentality (Philippians 2:5). Regularly meeting together for corporate worship must be our habit for continuing to encourage one another. Just as daily prayer fosters our love of God to whom we pray and for the people for whom we pray, so corporate worship guides our love for our fellow members of Christ’s Body.
The shift of focus upon self as the consumer of worship is one of the gravest evils of the seeker-sensitive movement. Now, don’t get me wrong. Worship should absolutely be done with excellence, and we should make every effort to call sinners to repentance and minimize any unintentional and distracting awkwardness. Yes, and amen! But weekly worship is not at all about what we want; rather, it is, first, about adoring God together and, second, about encouraging God’s saints.
Notice also how the author of Hebrews urges us to do this all the more as you see the Day drawing near. He is, of course, referring to the day of Jesus Christ. As we see the final judgment of all mankind approaching, let us not neglect meeting together to encourage one another to continue partnering the gospel. As we ingrain these habits of grace, we will continue to draw near to Christ and to each other, growing in sanctification and our certainty that God will finish His good work in us on the Day of Jesus Christ.
Can you relate to Paul’s yearning affection for the Philippians to your affection for fellow believers in your life?
How do spiritual disciplines and corporate worship grow our affections for God and His people?
What do your own daily and weekly habits and routines reveal about your yearnings and affections?