Monday, January 31, 2011

Gleanings in Philippians ~ He Finishes What He Starts: Phil 1.6 (Part I)

When we started our study of this book, we noted that it is filled with thanksgiving and joy, it starts with thanksgiving and with joy. In fact, if you allow your eyes to look at verses 3-5, verse 6 is a continuation of this one sentence, this one thought, this one prayer of joyful thanksgiving that Paul has opened the book with.

Through the past weeks, we said that the Apostle Paul tells us that every time he remembers the Philippians his heart is flooded with thankfulness because of them—because of their love and care for him, what God is doing in them, their partnership with him in the gospel. He says that he is joyful in his prayer for them (“…always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all,” he says in verse 4), and he is focused on their partnership in the gospel.

The first thing that he identifies as a cause of his thankfulness and joy is their fellowship, participation, and partnership with him in the spread of the gospel. It’s not simply that they, too, with him, embrace Jesus Christ as He is offered in the gospel, though they do. It is not just that they, like him, are marked by an overwhelming experience of God’s sovereign grace in their first embrace of the gospel, or just that they shared an experience of God’s sovereign grace in their own conversions; it is that they shared a common burden for and delight to serve God in the spread of the gospel.

This gives Paul great joy of heart to know that these Philippians, though they were poor, were very generous to the point of being lavish in their giving to Paul for the spread of the gospel. Often as Paul was serving somewhere else and having to serve bi-vocationally (that is, he was having to make tents in order to provide the necessities of life). Occasionally a gift would arrive from the Philippians, who wanted to give to Paul even though they themselves were poor relative to some other congregations, because they were so burdened for the same thing that Paul was burdened for—to see men and women and boys and girls coming to saving faith in Christ. So they would give out of their poverty generously so that Paul could concentrate on ministry, and it delighted his heart when he would receive these gifts from the Philippians because he knew the sacrifice and heart that was behind those gifts, that they had the same burden that he had to see the church built up, people saved, and people growing in Jesus Christ.

Verse 5 is telling you the first specific reason why Paul was so thankful and joyful in his prayers, and verse 6 is telling you the second reason. The first reason he gives is because of this common participation in, this fellowship in the gospel and in the spread of the gospel. But the second reason is all about God, and it’s the big picture.

Paul even in his short ministry for Jesus Christ had already seen some pretty hard things, but he tells you that his joy and his confidence come from the fact that God is at work in His people’s salvation from beginning to end. And therefore, no matter what the ups and downs of the moment are in ministry, Paul can rest assured because God is involved in the work of salvation from beginning to end.

Paul, in this passage, is joyful, thankful, and confident because salvation is God’s work. He tells you that point blank: It’s because God is at work in our conversion, in our justification, in our sanctification, in our glorification.

That means God is at work in the very first nanosecond of your belief in Jesus Christ; at work in changing your heart to believe on Jesus Christ, just as He was for your salvation from before the foundation of the world. God is at work in declaring you to be right with Him in accepting you in the righteousness of His Son, in pardoning and forgiving you of your sins. God is at work in your growing up to maturity in grace. Salvation is not something that starts with you and then continues with the work of God, nor does it start with God and then He says ‘OK, the rest is up to you.’ Salvation from beginning to end, from start to finish, is the work of the sovereign grace of God: He is at work building you up in Christ, and He is at work one day to present you faultless before His throne with exceeding joy and great glory, in Jesus Christ, with all the saints. Conversion, justification, sanctification, glorification.

Paul is celebrating that fact in this passage. Paul is saying, ‘One of the reasons, Philippians, that I’m so thankful, so joyful in my prayers for you is that I know Who is at work in you. This is not just about you, how you have responded, about what you are doing now. It’s about what God is up to in you, what He’s done in your conversion, in your justification, in your maturing and sanctification and growing up, and what He will do on the Last Day. God is at work.’

That is the foundation of a believer’s confidence: God is at work in the totality of our salvation; that His work is the work of saving, of changing His people; of the building up of His church—and the gates of hell will not prevail against it or Him. It is precisely that for which Paul is giving thanks in this passage. In verse 5, he gives thanks because the Philippians are partners with him, they’re in fellowship with him, participating with him supporting his work of the spread of the gospel. But here Paul is rejoicing and thankful because he knows that God is at work in their salvation, and yours.

In the coming days, we will look at six things that we learn from God being at work in our Salvation.

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