The Joy of Anticipation
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (1:6)
A fourth element of joy is anticipation. Nothing can encourage a Christian so much as the knowledge that, despite life’s uncertainties and difficulties, and no matter how many spiritual defeats there may be long the way, one day he will be made perfect.
Confident translates peithō, which here means to be persuaded of and have confidence in. Paul’s confidence was much more than human hope; it was the absolute confidence that comes from knowing and believing God’s promise that He [God] who began a good work in him will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. Salvation is wholly God’s work, and for that reason its completion is as certain as if it were already accomplished.
Began is from enarchomai, a compound verb meaning “to begin in.” It is used only twice in the New Testament, both times in reference to salvation. Paul rebuked certain believers in the Galatian churches who believed that they could finish in their own power what God had divinely begun in their lives solely by the power of His Holy Spirit. “Are you so foolish?” he asked rhetorically. “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:3). In the present text the apostle, in effect, responds to that same question, assuring the Philippians that their salvation is solely a gracious work of God. God requires faith for salvation, but faith is not a meritorious work. Salvation is by the power of God in response to faith; and, as already noted, faith itself is God’s work, divinely initiated and divinely accomplished (Eph. 2:8–9). Although Lydia, the first convert in what would become the church at Philippi, believed the gospel of Christ, Luke made it clear that “the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul” (Acts 16:14).
Later in the present epistle, Paul emphasized that “to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,” and “it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 1:29; 2:13). “As many as received Him [Christ],” John declared, “to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12). When “the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God” through the witness of Peter, “those who were circumcised took issue with him,” believing that the gospel was only for Jews or Jewish converts. But after they heard Peter’s report, “they quieted down and glorified God, saying, ‘Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life’ ” (Acts 11:1–2, 18). “In the exercise of His will,” James wrote, “He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures” (James 1:18).
As noted earlier, salvation is solely by God’s grace. God “chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph. 1:4). God chose all believers before time, long before they could possibly choose Him; and apart from His choice of them, they could not choose Him (John 6:44). It has always been true, in every age and circumstance, that only “as many as had been appointed to eternal life [have] believed” (Acts 13:48). Paul clearly expressed that truth in Romans 5:8–10:
God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
Later in that epistle Paul gave a parallel to Philippians 1:6, noting that “those whom [God] foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified” (Rom. 8:29–30). All the chosen will be glorified. God will finish what He has begun.
Every aspect of salvation is by God’s sovereign will and choice. Paul wrote to the Ephesians that:
God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. (Eph. 2:4–8; cf. Titus 3:4–6; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:2–3)
It is the Lord who begins the work of salvation, and it is the Lord, through His Holy Spirit, who will perfect it. To the Galatians Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20). Epiteleō (to perfect) is a compound, formed by the preposition epi and the verb teleō (“to complete”) to give the intensified meaning of “fully completed.” Paul was absolutely certain that God will fully complete His work of salvation in the Philippians. There is no possibility of failure or of partial fulfillment.
The eschatological expression the day of Christ Jesus does not refer to what both the Old and New Testaments prophesy as the final Day of the Lord, the time of God’s judgment on the sinful world. The Day of the Lord is described by Paul in 1 Thessalonians:
For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief. (5:2–4; for more information on the Day of the Lord, see Isa. 13:6–22; Joel 1:15; 2:11; Acts 2:20; 2 Thess. 1:10, “that day”; 2 Peter 3:10, and Revelation 1–11, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary [Chicago: Moody, 1999], 199–201)
Also an eschatological expression, the day of Christ Jesus, on the other hand, clearly refers to the time when believers will be glorified, when their salvation will be completed and made perfect (1 Cor. 3:10–15; 2 Cor. 5:10). It is the same as “the day of Christ” that Paul mentions several times later in Philippians, the day for which Christians should be prepared by living sincerely and blamelessly (1:10) and by “holding fast the word of life” (2:16). In his first letter to the Corinthian church, the apostle called it “the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:8), and in his second letter to them he called it “the day of our Lord Jesus” (2 Cor. 1:14). In each instance, the personal names Jesus or Christ are given (rather than Lord), and in each instance the reference is to the time when believers will fully share the Lord’s perfect righteousness, when “Christ is formed in [them]” (Gal. 4:19), and “[they] also will be revealed with Him in glory” (Col. 3:4).
Believers are “predestined to become conformed to the image of [God’s] Son” (Rom. 8:29), because “just as [they] have borne the image of the earthy, [they] will also bear the image of the heavenly, … [and] in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, … [they] will be changed.… For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:49, 52–53). “We know that when [Christ] appears,” John wrote, “we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is” (1 John 3:2). Peter wrote: “When the Chief Shepherd appears, [we] will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:4). Although a believer living in unrepentant sin may be delivered temporarily to Satan for discipline, “his spirit [will] be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:5). The day of Christ Jesus is the time of perfection and glorification, when the glorious manifestation of the children of God will finally come (Rom. 8:18–19, 23).
When God saves, He saves completely and eternally. In promissory covenant terms, to be justified is to be sanctified and glorified. There is no such thing as experiencing one of those aspects of salvation without the other two. Each is an integral and necessary part of the whole continuum of salvation. For God to begin salvation in a person’s life is an irrevocable guarantee of His completing it. As William Hendriksen has observed, “God … is not like men. Men conduct experiments, but God carries out a plan. God never does anything by halves” (Philippians, 55).
The Lord said of David: “I will not break off My lovingkindness from him, nor deal falsely in My faithfulness” (Ps. 89:33; cf. v. 20). Jesus gives every believer the absolute promise that “all that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.… This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:37, 39). Later He reiterated that promise, saying, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:27–28). Paul declared, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38–39). The apostle wrote to Timothy that “the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, ‘The Lord knows those who are His’ ” (2 Tim. 2:19; cf. John 10:14). Peter exulted:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3–5; cf. Jude 24)
It is easy for believers to become discouraged when they focus on their problems and imperfections (and those of other believers). Those sins should not be ignored or minimized; but neither should they be allowed to overshadow the marvelous reality of the future perfection of the church and of every individual believer, as God’s Word guarantees so frequently and clearly. Remembering that glorious truth removes the debilitating pressure of doubt and fosters triumphant joy, gratitude, and anticipation. In so doing, it also frees God’s people to live more abundantly and fruitfully.
The nineteenth-century commentator F. B. Meyer wrote,
We go into the artist’s studio and find there unfinished pictures covering large canvases, and suggesting great designs, but which have been left, either because the genius was not competent to complete the work, or because paralysis laid the hand low in death; but as we go into God’s great workshop we find nothing that bears the mark of haste or insufficiency of power to finish, and we are sure that the work which His grace has begun, the arm of His strength will complete. (The Epistle to the Philippians [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1952], 28)
God has no unfinished works. The God who saves is the God who justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies. The God who begins is the God who completes. During His incarnation, the Lord gave this absolute and unambiguous assurance, which is a source of joy to all those who will ever trust in Him: “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37).
God Finishes What He Starts
… 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 1:6 is perhaps one of the three greatest verses in the Bible that teach the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, the doctrine that no one whom God has brought to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ will ever be lost.
People lack perseverance. People start things and drop them. As men and women, you and I are always beginning things that we never actually find time to finish. But God is not like that. God never starts anything that he does not finish. God perseveres. Has God begun something in your life? Have you been born again by the Spirit of God? Then you need not fear that you will ever be lost. Your confidence should not be in yourself, neither in your faith nor in your spiritual successes in earlier days, but in God. It is he who calls us as Christians, he who leads us on in the Christian life, and he who most certainly will lead us home.
A Biblical Truth
The two passages that I regard, along with Philippians 1:6, as being the greatest expression of this theme in the entire Bible are John 10:27–28 and Romans 8:38–39. In John 10:27–28, Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” In Romans 8:38–39, Paul assures his readers, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is also found in less formal statements in literally dozens of other passages. David writes in Psalm 138:8, “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me.” Hebrews 10:14 says, “By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” The Lord spoke to Jeremiah saying, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jer. 31:3). We read in 2 Corinthians 4:8–9, 14, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed … because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence.”
The doctrine is also suggested by the images that are applied to believers throughout the Bible. The saints are compared to trees that do not wither (Ps. 1:3), to the great cedars of Lebanon that flourish from year to year like the redwoods of California (Ps. 92:12), to a house built upon a rock (Matt. 7:24), to Mount Zion that cannot be moved (Ps. 125:1). These passages teach that the one who has been born again by God will never be lost. God never abandons his plans. God never begins a work that he does not finish.
All of God
There are many people who do not like this teaching because they like to think human beings are responsible for their own salvation. They prefer to believe that we can be accepted by God on the basis of our good works or the use of the sacraments, and that our final salvation depends more or less on how faithful or persevering we can be. This is not biblical, and it is contradicted by every moment of the Christian’s experience with God.
It is contradicted by our experience with God during the first moments of our salvation. People do not seek God; they reject him. If we are saved, it is only because God comes to us first in grace. Paul wrote to the Romans that no human being will ever be justified in God’s sight by his own good works, for all works (no matter how good they may seem in man’s sight) fall short of God’s standard of righteousness. Moreover, human beings do not seek him. Paul writes, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God” (Rom. 3:10–11). This is true of all of us. I am like that, and so are you. You do not even begin to meet God’s standard of righteousness, and you do not know it unless God reveals your failure to you. You do not understand his standard. You do not seek the One who can help you. Still God comes to you, opens your eyes, gives you the faith to believe, and draws you to himself.
Do you know what C. S. Lewis said about his conversion? Lewis was a brilliant British scholar who was also a thoroughgoing agnostic. Yet God sought him and found him. In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, Lewis described his conversion like this: “In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed; perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England. I did not see what is now the most shining and obvious thing: the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape.”
Eternity magazine once published an interesting article called “Encounter with Light,” telling of a young atheistic student who had heard of C. S. Lewis and began corresponding with him. As this student unburdened himself of his doubts and questionings to the famous scholar, Lewis responded very simply: “I think you are already in the meshes of the net. The Holy Spirit is after you; I doubt if you’ll get away.” Not long afterward, the atheistic student, pursued by God for so long, finally surrendered. He had found, as C. S. Lewis himself had found, that salvation is of God. He ran, but God successfully pursued him.
Did you seek God? Of course you didn’t. You resisted him, and he had to beat down your resistance until you yielded to him like a vanquished enemy. If in the struggle there was ever a moment you seemed to seek him, it was only because he was there beforehand moving you to do it.
I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew
He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me;
It was not I that found, O Savior true;
No, I was found of Thee.
So it is. Salvation is always of God. We love because he enables us to do so.
Now what is true of the first moments of our salvation is true of it all. Before you were even a gleam in the eye of your earthly father, you were beloved in the eye of your heavenly Father. He who knew all about you even before you were born, chose you and saved you, and he did so in order that one day he might make you like the Lord Jesus Christ in love, knowledge, holiness, and all his other perfections. That is why Paul can say of salvation, focusing every phrase upon God, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” (Rom. 8:29–30).
Did you ever stop to wonder why God saves people in this way? The answer is given in the Bible. God has saved us in this way so that no one might boast in his presence. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8–9). God will have no one in heaven boasting about how he or she got there. He will not let you say, “Well, I must admit that God did most of it. I was far from him, and he called me. But there were five crises in my life in which I really showed my nettle and hung on tight. I’m really here because of my faith.”
This is human thinking, but God will have none of it. No one will be in heaven except saved sinners, those who deserve hell, and they will be there because salvation is entirely of God.
God never begins a thing that he does not intend to finish. And when he does it, God does it all!—in spite of our foolishness, in spite of our running away, in spite of ourselves! We are brought to safety, not by our own efforts or our own devices but solely by the faithfulness of our heavenly Father.
Everything that I have said thus far has been an encouragement for Christians, but there is a somber side to it as well. If you are a Christian, God has not saved you just to save you. He has saved you for a purpose. Paul says, “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” (Phil. 1:6).
Did you ever think of this verse in that light? Not like this: “Oh, everything will be all right for me because God will certainly keep me secure until I finally get to heaven.” But rather, “I know that God Almighty saved me for a purpose and he will keep on whittling away at me until he accomplishes it in me, whether I want him to or not.” This is a somber thought, but it is certainly what the verse teaches.
Look at the verse again more closely. Paul says that God is determined to do a good work in us. What is that good work? The answer is not spelled out too clearly in Philippians 1:6, but it is spelled out very clearly in Romans 8:29. You know Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” But do you know the next verse? It tells what that purpose is: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”
Think of it: God is so delighted with Jesus Christ that he has called millions of sinful human beings to himself in order that Jesus might reproduce himself in them and that this universe might be populated with millions of Christs. This does not mean that we will become divine. We will still be his creation, the fruit of his fingers, but we will be like him. That is the point. We will show forth his character; we will be conformed to the image of Christ.
This will mean that our growth in the character of Christ will be accompanied by growth in the knowledge of our own sinfulness. There are those who think sanctification means becoming aware of how perfect we are becoming. But those people are hypocrites and they discredit the faith. Sanctification means discovering how sinful we are and learning to turn to Jesus for hourly forgiveness and cleansing.
It is something like formal education. Take a student in high school who has just had a basic introduction to English literature. He has read Macbeth and Julius Caesar; he has read a few modern short stories and some modern plays—Shaw’s Pygmalion and others. He thinks that he has a pretty good grasp of English literature. After all, he has read the best of it, and the rest is probably not worth reading anyhow. But then he goes to college where he takes a more advanced course. He learns that he did not really know Shakespeare so well after all. In addition to the other tragedies, there are also the history plays where Shakespeare’s theories of kingship are most clearly seen, and the comedies that reveal another side of his outlook on life altogether, the realm of fantasy and nature, of Puck and Ariel and Falstaff. The student begins to realize how ignorant he is. And he goes on to learn not only what Shakespeare wrote but to master Shakespeare’s background—the Holinshead Chronicles, Boethius, Chaucer, Boccaccio—and he learns to do this for other writers and other disciplines. The search is unending.
That is the way we are to go on in Christian living. When we are first born again we think we are not too bad. We say to ourselves, “After all, I believed, didn’t I? That puts me head and shoulders above those who do not believe.” But as we live with Christ we begin to see how sinful and ignorant we really are. Instead of saying, “Oh, I’m pretty good,” we say, “I’m pretty sinful.” Eventually we say, “I’m a sinful person indeed; I am the chief of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). That’s sanctification. Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse used to say, “There is no Christian listening to my voice who will think as well of himself five years from now as he does this morning.” That is true because God’s purposes will not be thwarted, even in the sanctification of Christians.
Leaning on God
The purpose of this process is to teach us to rely on God. God does not take great pleasure in forcing us to develop low opinions of ourselves, but he knows that we will never rely on him until we realize that we cannot rely on ourselves.
When I was in grade school, I spent a number of summers at a Christian camp in Canada. One summer I spent several hours watching one of the campers learn to climb a telephone pole. This boy was one of these campers who partially pay for their vacation by working; and since the camp needed more adequate wiring, he had the job of stringing the wires. For that he had to learn to climb a pole.
The secret of climbing a telephone pole is to learn to lean back, allowing your weight to rest on the broad leather belt that encircles yourself and the pole, allowing your spikes to dig into the pole at a broad angle. Climbing a pole is easy—as long as you lean back. Of course, if you fail to lean back and pull yourself toward the pole, then your spikes will not dig in and you’ll slip. It isn’t very pleasant to slip because the pole is covered with splinters that easily dig into your body.
At first my friend would not lean at all, and as a result he never got off the ground. The spikes simply would not go into the wood. It was frustrating. After a while he learned to lean back a bit and got started, but as soon as he was a few feet off the ground he became afraid and pulled himself close to the pole. Down he would go with a bump, getting covered with splinters in the process. This practice went on until he learned that he had to lean fully into the belt that held him. When he learned this, he began to climb.
It is the same in the Christian life. God wants you to climb. This is his purpose in saving you. He wants you to rise to Christ’s own stature. What is more, he is going to insist on it. He is going to teach you to climb by resting on him. There will be times when you think that you can hold on better by grasping the pole than by leaning on the belt, and when you do you will slip spiritually and God will let you get covered with splinters. He will do it because he knows that that is the only way you will learn to trust him, and to trust him is the only way to climb. What is more, he will keep at you; he will not let you quit. “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (v. 6).
Perhaps you are saying, “But that is unreasonable. God can’t work like that. It must depend on me.” But it is the way God works, and you will find it out sooner or later in your Christian life. Perhaps you are saying that you will run your own life, pick your own goals, choose your own purposes. Well, then, God may have to break you until you learn that he is determined to accomplish his purposes in you.
Perhaps, instead, you will be willing to learn to rely on him, growing in grace as he molds you into the image of Christ. If this is so, then for you Philippians 1:6 will become a blessed truth rather than a bitter lesson.
6 The opposite of joy is not gloom but despair, the incapacity to trust in any new and good future. Paul rejoices because he is “confident” of what God’s future holds (see 1:25; 2:24). His confidence does not derive from the sterling qualities of the Philippians or from his ability to write a stirring letter, which would only be a “confidence in the flesh” (3:3–4). It derives instead from the character and faithfulness of God, who finishes what he starts and does not leave his people in the lurch to fend for themselves (cf. 1 Th 5:23–24). Despite his imprisonment, Paul remains confident that the divine grace working in them, as manifested in their gift to him, and their continuing “partnership in the gospel” will culminate as God intends when they stand together before Christ on the day of his return.
“Good work” may be an allusion to their generosity in supporting Paul’s mission endeavor. Paul uses it in 2 Corinthians 9:8 in connection with the charity for the Jerusalem saints and attests that it is kindled by God’s grace (2 Co 8:1–4; 9:14), glorifies God (2 Co 9:13), and inspires many thanksgivings to God (2 Co 9:11–12). Their “good work,” he assures them in 4:19, will be abundantly repaid by God.
Paul takes over the “day of the Lord” concept—a standard feature in OT prophetic texts for the moment when God will completely and decisively establish his reign—and transforms it into the “day of Jesus Christ” (see also 1:10; 2:16; 1 Co 1:8; 3:13; 5:5; 2 Co 1:14; 1 Th 5:2, 4; 2 Th 2:2; 2 Ti 1:12, 18; 4:8). He ties it to the parousia of the risen Lord, when Christ will right all wrongs, bring judgment, and put all things under his feet.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (pp. 26–30). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Boice, J. M. (2000). Philippians: an expositional commentary (pp. 33–38). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Garland, D. E. (2006). Philippians. In T. Longman III (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, p. 193). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.