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.
6 This next clause is so familiar that its place in the immediate, as well as the larger, context of Philippians is easily overlooked, especially since it is not at once clear as to how it functions in the present sentence. Some scholars, to be sure, have gone the other direction, placing it in context in a very narrow sense—the “good work” referring specifically to the Philippians’ material support of Paul that God will continue to perform through them. The clause is best understood, however, in terms of their relationship to Christ and the gospel in the broader sense argued for in v. 5. Its language and grammar also support such a view. First, then, some words about what is said, followed by some observations about context.
The clause begins with another participle, “having been persuaded” (= being confident), whose link to what precedes is more conceptual than grammatical. The clue to its place in the sentence lies in the final words of v. 5, “from the first day until now.” “Not only so,” Paul now adds in a somewhat digressive way, “but I am likewise persuaded that the good work God began in you, in terms of your long-term partnership in the gospel in every possible way, he will bring to glorious consummation at the end, when Christ returns.”
But despite this grammatical connection to what precedes, Paul’s emphasis rests on what he is about to say: “being confident,” he thus digresses momentarily, “of this very thing.” His confidence is that their lifelong participation in the gospel, “from the beginning until now,” will continue until the day of Christ. But this confidence has very little to do with them and everything to do with God, who both “began” a good work in them and will “bring it to completion at64 the day of Christ.” Thus, having reminded them of his own joy over their good past and present, he turns now to assure them of their own certain future.
The “day of Christ Jesus” is the eschatological goal of present life in Christ. Paul, and perhaps the early church before him, took up the term “day of the Lord” from the OT to refer to the Parousia, the (now second) coming of Christ. Paul thus uses the term in his earliest letters,66 and frequently thereafter. While at times the term may emphasize the aspect of judgment inherent in its OT usage, much more often the emphasis in Paul is on the eschatological consummation that has Christ’s coming—and therefore his final exaltation and glorification, including those who are his—as its central focus. This is the “not yet” of salvation that Christ has “already” secured and the Spirit appropriated in the life of the believer. Thus the focus, as everywhere in Paul, is on Christ; whatever else the final wrap-up entails, it is Christ’s day above all.
Although it is not certain to what precisely Paul is pointing with the language “good work,” it is unlikely that he is referring exclusively to their grace of giving, since one would then have expected him to say “good work through you.” The accent instead is on what God is doing in (or “among”) them, not what he is doing through them. Most likely, therefore, the term points to their “salvation in Christ,” and in this case is yet another way of speaking about their “participating in the gospel”—not so much about their sharing it, but about their experiencing it and living it out in Philippi.71 Thus with this theological affirmation in the thanksgiving, that God has begun and will complete his “good work” of salvation among them, Paul anticipates the appeal in 2:12–13: that they “work out their salvation,” meaning to live out in Christian community the salvation that Christ has effected, precisely because “God is at work in you, both to will and do what pleases him.”
That Paul in this instance should call their salvation a “good work” is hardly accidental, since this is language he uses elsewhere to refer to the ethical dimension of salvation in Christ. For him there is no salvation that does not include a transformed life; hence this present emphasis. By this language Paul is pointing ahead to the content of the prayer report that follows (vv. 9–11), and thus to the larger concern of the letter that they “live out their heavenly citizenship in Philippi in a manner that is worthy of the gospel” (1:27).
But why this particular way of rounding off the thanksgiving, with its note of joyful prayer based on their long-time partnership with Paul in the gospel? Since such eschatological moments occur elsewhere in Pauline thanksgivings, this may well be either another reflection of the same, or perhaps another typical theological “spin-off”: having mentioned “from the first day till now,” he simply cannot help himself but also to point out their certain eschatological future. One can hardly disallow such an option in Paul! Nonetheless, while the final phrase in v. 5 undoubtedly triggered this clause, its form—especially the language of “persuasion” and the emphasis on God’s “bringing to conclusion” what he has begun in/among them—suggests that its primary raison d’étre has to do with a larger issue brewing in the Philippian community. We may not have full certainty as to the reasons for it, but several moments in this letter suggest that some of them had begun to lose the basic eschatological orientation that marks all truly Christian life. This is especially in evidence in: (1) the way Paul concludes his personal testimony in 3:4–14 (12–14), as forgetting the past and pressing toward the eschatological prize, (2) the appeal that follows for them to do the same (3:15–17), (3) the sad note about those who have not persevered (3:18–19), and (4) the final eschatological notes in the exalted passages in 2:9–11 and 3:20–21 and Paul’s own “desire to depart and be with Christ” (1:23). All told, these later affirmations and appeals serve as the most likely clues to our understanding the present affirmation, which also explains its slightly digressive nature in the present sentence.
Believers in Christ are people of the future, a sure future that has already begun in the present. They are “citizens of heaven” (3:20), who live the life of heaven, the life of the future, in the present in whatever circumstances they find themselves. To lose this future orientation, and especially to lose the sense of “straining toward what is ahead, toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward” (3:13–14), is to lose too much. Thus, triggered by their present gift, which also reminds Paul of their long association in the gospel, Paul digresses momentarily to remind them that even in the midst of present difficulties, God has in Christ both guaranteed their future and blessed their present situation in Philippi.
1:6 Having indicated when (1:3) and how (1:4–5) he thanks God, Paul now explains why (1:6). When Paul says I am sure of this he is expressing a state of confidence, a settled conviction, that what he is about to state is true. His confidence is based not on a general sense of goodwill, but on a specific doctrinal conviction.
That doctrinal conviction is that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. The context makes it clear that the one who began this good work is God Himself. The good work in view is the entire work of salvation from beginning to end, stretching from initial regeneration and justification to final glorification (cf. Rom. 8:29–30; Eph. 1:3–14). As Peter O’Brien notes:
The expression refers to the new creation that he had begun in them, while their eager participation in Paul’s gospel ministry was not the good work itself, but clear evidence of this work of salvation. In the OT God’s activity in creation is described as a good work (Gen. 2:2). In Isaiah, where Yahweh is spoken of as ‘the First and the Last’ (Isa. 41:4; 44:6; 48:12), he is the creator not only of a ‘work’ that might in terms of Gen. 2 be called ‘good’, but also of Israel. Creation and calling were closely linked in Isaiah, where it could be seen that the First and the Last had not only created Israel his Servant, but also called her (esp. Isa. 44:1–6; cf. 42:5–6; 43:1, 7). And as the First and the Last Yahweh might be relied on to complete the work he had begun.
This good work is accomplished in you. Although it is possible to translate this prepositional phrase as ‘among you,’ the emphasis seems to fall more on the internal work of God in individual believers more so than His work among the body of believers. In any case, both are true. God begins a good work in the lives of individuals, but also in the body of believers corporately as they share fellowship in the gospel with God and each other. Without the internal transformation of individuals there is no corporate transformation of the body; without the corporate transformation of the body there is reason to question the reality of the internal transformation of the individuals.
God has not only begun this work, but he will bring it to completion. While Paul uses this Greek verb (epiteleō) seven times, the closest parallel is found in Galatians 3:3, where he uses this verb and the rare Greek verb enarchomai (‘begin’):
Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Gal. 3:3)
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. (Phil. 1:6)
This parallel strongly suggests that the good work being completed is the believer’s salvation, not merely their financial partnership in Paul’s ministry. It suggests that God completes this good work in believers by His Spirit and not their own efforts. By saying this Paul is anticipating his explanation of how the believer grows in godliness in Philippians 2:12–13.
By using the future tense, Paul expresses his confidence that the completion of this good work will come to pass. This confidence is grounded in the character of God and His faithfulness to His promises. ‘Paul’s confidence is not in the Christianity of the Christians but in the God-ness of God, who is supremely trustworthy, able, and committed to finish the work he has begun.’ This reality is the hope of all who participate in the gospel through faith in Jesus Christ. One day God will complete the work He began at regeneration, in spite of its sometimes apparently slow and imperceptible progress in this life. What comfort for all who trust in Christ! God has not and will not abandon us to finish the work of our redemption, but rather provides the willing and the working to finish what He started (Phil. 2:12–13). Calvin further unpacked this when he wrote, ‘God, therefore, begins the good work in us by exciting in our hearts a desire, a love, and a study of righteousness, or (to speak more correctly) by turning, training, and guiding our hearts unto righteousness; and he completes this good work by confirming us unto perseverance.’
God will complete this good work at the day of Christ Jesus. What in the OT was referred to as ‘the day of the Lord’ (see, e.g., Isa. 13:6–16; Ezek. 7:19; 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14–18; Amos 5:18–20; Obad. 1:15; Zeph. 1:7, 9, 10, 14; 2:2, 3:8) in the NT has become the day of Christ Jesus (see, e.g., Rom. 2:16; 1 Cor. 1:8; 2 Cor. 1:14; Phil. 1:6, 10; 2:16; 1 Thess. 5:2). Just as in the OT the day of the Lord meant judgment for God’s enemies and salvation for His people, so too in the NT the day of Christ means judgment on Christ’s enemies and salvation for His people. Throughout the OT there were a series of ‘days of the Lord’ in which God brought judgment and salvation, foremost among them being the destruction of Jerusalem in the 6th century B.C. The NT describes both the crucifixion of Jesus and the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost in language that presents each of them as a Day of the Lord. Yet the NT continues to look forward to a great and final Day of the Lord Jesus Christ, when God will judge His enemies and vindicate His people (cf. Rev. 19:11–21).
Here in 1:5–6 we have the past, present, and future of our salvation in short span. Paul speaks of ‘the first day’ the Philippians believed the gospel and became partakers of it and its benefits (1:5). He then speaks of the ‘present time’ during which the Philippians are experiencing fellowship in the gospel and the ongoing work of God in/among them (1:5–6). And he concludes by speaking of the ‘day of Christ Jesus’ when all of God’s purposes will reach their consummation (1:6). On that day ‘every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’ (Phil. 2:10–11). It is these temporal references that help the Philippians form a frame of reference for all that God has done and is yet to do.
What was true of the Philippians is true of us as believers today. God is the one who began the great work of redemption in us, making us a new creation by the work of his Spirit. He continues that work in us as we share in the benefits and implications of the gospel in fellowship with other believers. But we still must await the great day of Christ for that work to be completed by the transformation of our lowly bodies into conformity with the glorious body of the risen Jesus (Phil. 3:20–21).
For their victory in the last day (v. 6)
As the apostle gave thanks for the Philippians’ participation in the work of the gospel, he could not help but add a word of thanksgiving for the work of the gospel in them. He was thankful ‘… that he who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ …’
Paul was very good at slipping little nuggets of breathtakingly glorious truth into the mundane portions of his letters. This verse is one of those nuggets. It tells us the following:
- Salvation is God’s work. The Philippians did not begin the work of salvation in themselves only to have God come along and add a little to it. It was entirely his work. God provided the way of salvation through his Son, Jesus Christ, and he even enabled the Philippians to receive that salvation.
- Salvation is a good work. Salvation lifts the sinner from eternal condemnation and ruin and makes that person part of God’s family and a partaker of God’s eternal glory. Who would dare say that this is not a good thing?
- Salvation is a sure work. God does not begin it and then abandon it somewhere along the way. He does not pull his people from the flames of destruction only to allow them to slip back and be consumed. God completes the work of salvation. We know what it is to plan a work and undertake a work only to see it fail. But it is not so with God. We must not picture him looking over the redeemed multitude in eternity and saying: ‘We did fairly well. Eighty per cent of the saved finally made it home.’ God will not have to say such a thing because all his people will make it home. Not one will be missing! The faithful God will faithfully complete his work!
1:6 / Their eager partnership in Paul’s gospel ministry was a sure sign of the work of grace that had begun to be accomplished in their lives when they first believed the saving message. Paul voices his conviction that he who began a good work in them, will carry it on (cf. 2:13) until it reaches its consummation at the advent of Christ. Similarly in 1 Thessalonians 5:24, after praying that the readers may be preserved “blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Paul and his companions affirm, “The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” Salvation is God’s work from first to last; therefore, where it has truly been inaugurated, it will certainly be completed.
The day of Christ Jesus, called “the day of Christ” in verse 10 and in 2:16, is the time of Christ’s expected appearing in glory (cf. 3:20). The expression is taken over from the ot “day of the Lord”—the day when Yahweh, the God of Israel, would vindicate his righteous cause and put down all injustice, wherever it might be found, first and foremost among his own people (cf. Amos 5:18–20). But now, by divine investment, “Jesus Christ is Lord” in the most august sense that the word can bear (2:11); the day of the Lord is therefore the day of Christ Jesus. In a Christian context it is the day when the lives and actions of the people of Christ will be assessed. Each believer’s “work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light” (1 Cor. 3:13); therefore, final judgment must “wait till the Lord comes” and must not be anticipated by those whose knowledge of the unseen motives and personal circumstances of others is at best imperfect (1 Cor. 4:5). Above all, the day of Christ Jesus is the time when the salvation of believers, already inaugurated, will be consummated. Like their Thessalonian brothers and sisters, the Christians of Philippi had learned “to wait for his [God’s] Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead” (1 Thess. 1:10), and to rejoice in the “hope of salvation” because they had been chosen not to endure the divine retribution to be visited on the ungodly at the end time but “to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:8, 9). For believers, then, that day would be light and not darkness (by contrast with the warning of Amos 5:20 that to some it would bring “darkness, not light”).
6. Paul thanks God for this, for it was God who had grafted his own image in the hearts of the Philippians. Hence, to the immediate reason for the thanksgiving the apostle now adds the ultimate reason: being confident of this very thing that he who began a good work in you will carry it on toward completion. Note how closely the apostle links human perseverance (“your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until the present”) with divine preservation (“he who began a good work in you will carry it on toward completion”). Any doctrine of salvation which does not do full justice to both of these elements is unscriptural. See Phil. 2:12, 13; 2 Thess. 2:13. Although it is true that God brings his work to completion, it is equally true that when God has once begun his work in men, the latter by no means remain merely passive instruments!
“He who began a good work in you,” is God, as is evident from the context, “I thank my God … being confident that he who began a good work in you, etc.” When God’s name, attitude, or activity is clearly implied, he is not always mentioned by name. In fact by not mentioning his name but merely saying he who there is often in such instances a greater opportunity to stress his disposition or his activity: “He who does this will also certainly do that.” Thus William Cullen Bryant says beautifully (in his poem “To A Waterfowl”):
“He who, from zone to zone,
Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight,
In the long way that I must tread alone,
Will lead my steps aright.”
The good work which God had begun within the hearts and lives of the Philippians was that of grace, whereby they had been transformed. This work, indeed, was good in origin, quality, purpose, and result. The result had been their own willing and working for God’s good pleasure (Phil. 2:12, 13); specifically, their own hearty co-operation in whatever pertained to the advancement of the gospel.
Now Paul is confident that God will not permit his good work of transforming and qualifying grace to remain unfinished. The expression “will carry it onward toward completion” implies “and will present it complete.”
Accordingly, out of the darkness and the distress of a prison in Rome a message of cheer reaches each Philippian believer, enabling him to say:
“The work thou hast in me begun
Shall by thy grace be fully done.”
God, accordingly, is not like men. Men conduct experiments, but God carries out a plan. God never does anything by halves. Men often do.
This teaching of divine preservation for a life of service (hence, with implied human perseverance) is in harmony with that of the entire Bible, which tells us about:
a faithfulness that will never be removed (Ps. 89:33; 138:8),
a life that will never end (John 3:16),
a spring of water that will never cease to bubble up within the one who drinks of it (John 4:14),
a gift that will never be lost (John 6:37, 39),
a hand out of which the Good Shepherd’s sheep will never be snatched (John 10:28),
a chain that will never be broken (Rom. 8:29, 30),
a love from which we shall never be separated (Rom. 8:39),
a calling that will never be revoked (Rom. 11:29),
a foundation that will never be destroyed (2 Tim. 2:19),
and an inheritance that will never fade out (1 Peter 1:4, 5).
It should be stressed, however, that according to the present context (and all of Scripture) this preservation is not for a purely selfish purpose but is for service. God’s work of grace qualifies men for work.
Now God will carry his good work on toward completion until, and will actually have it all completed on, the day of Christ Jesus. This day is also called:
the day of Christ (Phil. 1:10; 2:16),
the day of our Lord Jesus (Christ) (1 Cor. 1:8; cf. 2 Cor. 1:14),
the day of the Lord (1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Thess. 2:2; cf. 1 Cor. 5:5),
the day (1 Thess. 5:4),
that day (2 Thess. 1:10),
the parousia (of the Lord, of our Lord Jesus, etc.) (1 Thess. 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 2 Thess. 2:1, 8; cf. 1 Cor. 15:23; etc.). See also N.T.C. on I and II Thessalonians, pp. 76, 122–124, 141, 146–150, 161, 167, 168.
It is called the day of Christ Jesus because on that day he will be manifested in glory, will be met by his bride (the church), will judge, and will thus be publicly vindicated.
Not until that day has arrived will that work of God be completed which qualified the addressees for hearty co-operation in spreading the gospel and which ends in the completed fellowship. Moreover, it takes all God’s ransomed children to make one ransomed child complete. A brick may have the appearance of a finished product, but it will still look rather forlorn until it is given its proper place in row and tier, and all the rows and tiers are in, and the beautiful temple is finished. So also God’s children, like so many living stones, will form a finished temple when Jesus returns, not until then. Believers are like the dawning light that shines brighter and brighter unto the coming of the perfect day, for it is then that he who began a good work in them will have completed it.
 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.
 Fee, G. D. (1995). Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (pp. 85–88). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 Harmon, M. S. (2015). Philippians: A Mentor Commentary (pp. 84–87). Great Britain; Ross-shire: Mentor.
 Ellsworth, R. (2004). Opening up Philippians (pp. 18–19). Leominster: Day One Publications.
 Bruce, F. F. (2011). Philippians (pp. 31–32). Peabody, MA: Baker Books.
 Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Philippians (Vol. 5, pp. 54–56). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.