Thursday, February 03, 2011

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

Over the past couple days, we’ve been looking at this verse together, and in this verse there are six things I want to study more closely. Tuesday, we reflected on the joy that Paul has for the Philippians because of the salvation they have, because it is God’s work, and His work from start to finish. Today, I want to look at two more items.

II. Salvation is a good work, because it makes us fit for the enjoyment of God
The work of God’s grace in us is a good, blessed, noble, and an excellent work, because God’s grace works in us to make us who were bad to be good; it makes those of us who did not want to enjoy God to want to enjoy God. It makes us who did not want to glorify God to want to glorify God, and so it makes us fit to glorify and enjoy Him, to fellowship with and commune with Him forever!

The work of grace in us makes us to be godly, so that we might enjoy fellowship with God. Paul emphasizes this. “He began [what?] a good work in you.” This is a work that Satan never does, when you see that being built in you, you know that it is not the work of Satan. Oh, you may see grievous interruptions in that work, but when you see that work being worked in you, you know who is working that work in you: it’s God. It’s a good work, and it’s a work that only God does.

III. This salvation, this good work, is unfinished work here
“He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Paul is telling us that the work of grace is only begun in this life, but it is never ever finished here. The Christian life is not one uninterrupted climb heavenward, nor is it catapulting to perfection and then a continuous experience of perfection in this life. It is a life filled with peaks and valleys, and sometimes the valleys are so deep that we never ever think that we’re going to climb out of them. This word is one of the most encouraging words to me in all of Scripture, without this word, I could easily despair. Paul saying this work is never finished here. If I thought that it would finish here, that would be the end of me, because I know what I’m like. And here’s Paul saying that this work of grace is never finished here. As long as we are in this imperfect world, there will always be something more—much more—to do.

Wise saints have always understood that. There is a hymn in our hymnal by a great hymn writer, Thomas Kelly in his hymn, Praise the Savior, Ye Who Know Him, writes these words:
“Trust in Him, ye saints, forever.
He is faithful, changing never.
Neither force nor guile can sever
Those He loves from Him.
“Keep us, Lord, O keep us cleaving
To Thyself and still believing,
Till the hour of our receiving
Promised joys with Thee.”

[It could almost be a paraphrase of Philippians 1:6. Then, listen to his last stanza.]
“Then [the Day of Christ Jesus] we shall be where we would be,
Then we shall be what we should be;
Things that are not now, nor could be,

He is saying, “Then we shall be where we would be…” (We’ll be where we want to be, with Him); “Then we shall be what we should be…” (We’ll be what we ought to have been, the way God made us before the fall of Adam, the very image of His own self); “Things that are not now, nor could be…” (It can’t be like this now in this fallen world, where we’re imperfect); “…Soon shall be our own.” (But it will be then, on that great Day.)

You see, there’s this recognition that salvation is an unfinished work here. John Newton, in less poetic language but just only less, put it this way when he said:
“I am not what I ought to be – ah, how imperfect and deficient I am! I am not what I wish to be. I abhor the evil in me, and I would cleave to that which is good. I am not what I hope to be; soon, soon, I will put off with mortality both sin and imperfection; but though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor what I hope to be, I can truly say I am not what I once was: a slave to sin and Satan. And so, therefore, I can heartily join with the Apostle Paul and say, ‘By the grace of God, I am what I am.’”

That’s where Christians live. And that’s what the Apostle Paul is saying. He’s saying, ‘Dear Philippian Christians, don’t think that this work of perfection comes to a terminus in this life. It does not. It is always unfinished in this life, and it is vital for us to remember it; else we will drive ourselves crazy.’

When I first started teaching, a godly, consecrated young couple who were headed for the mission field—more zeal for Christ than I could have touched with a ten-foot pole—and yet they were in my office deeply discouraged, because in the Bible college that they had just come from their president had stood up and he had said, “I have not sinned in three years. I exhort you to experience the higher life, perfect love, and a triumph over this sin in this life.” And they were deeply discouraged because they knew that that was not what they were experiencing. And the problem was that the Bible college president was teaching false doctrine. He was teaching them that believers can be perfected in this life, and the Apostle Paul is saying to you point blank, he’s looking you eyeball to eyeball, ‘That will not happen until the day of Christ Jesus!’ And it’s so, so encouraging to know that!

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