Summary: God continues and completes what he starts.
Today’s text is a “plaque verse,” you find it inscribed on plaques, “calligraphy-ed” on cards, and on lists of verses Christians memorize. A couple of weeks ago, Kevin sent me a link to Steve Green singing it. In my previous pastorates, we sang, “He Who Began a Good Work in You.” Philippians 1.6 is popular because it encourages us greatly while it encapsulates the heart of the gospel: “Though I did not begin and cannot finish my salvation, God completes what he has started.” I will read the first six verses to set it in context, then we can reflect on its meaning and application to our lives.
[Read Philippians 1.1-6. Pray.]
Charles Spurgeon was England’s best-known preacher during the latter half of the 1800s. In his excellent book, All of Grace, he tells this true story: “A minister called on a poor woman, intending to give her help; for he knew that she was very poor. With money in his hand, he knocked at the door; but she did not answer. He concluded she was not at home, and went his way. Later in the week he met her at church and told her that he had remembered her need: “I called at your house, and knocked several times, and I suppose you were not at home, for I had no answer.”
“At what hour did you call, sir?”
“It was about noon.”
“Oh, dear,” she said, “I heard you, sir, and I am so sorry I did not answer; but I thought it was the man calling for the rent.”
Philippians is the “epistle of joy”; even so, it includes difficult commands and challenging verses: “do all things without grumbling or questioning”; “rejoice in every circumstance”; “be anxious about nothing.” We sometimes talk about raising standards, rather than dumbing them down. Paul lifts them to the moon: “let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” That is impossibly high and potentially burdensome. We can almost hear God knocking at the door, expecting us to pay up – not the rent – but some pennies of perfect obedience. We want to hide since we have no money.
After all, has not each of us grown discouraged at times over our lack of progress in the faith? Have we not doubted our salvation after again falling into the same old sins? Unless you are very new to loving the Lord, you know the difficulties and inevitable failings in the continual and irreconcilable war between the flesh and the Spirit. We who know the power of sin understand the desire to hide when the conviction of God’s word knocks on the door of our hearts and minds.
Because these feelings are common to mankind, we have typical responses to the demand of duty:
• Often we lower the standards so we can reach them, resulting in pride and self-righteousness;
• Or we recognize the rightness of the rule and despair;
• Sometimes we ignore the actual duty, but act as if we are good anyway, focusing on external conformity.
In whatever way we cope, inner turmoil usually results. How do we get past all that? Stated another way, what would you say to the poor woman hiding from the knock? Open the door! What is knocking is not a demand to pay; it is the grace of God enabling obedience! Spurgeon was correct to title his book All of Grace. It is, you know: all of grace. God’s grace makes followers of Jesus and matures them into his image and likeness. Growth in the Christian life is not finding more will-power to obey; it is depending on Christ more for power to do his will! Fortunately, there are three things in this text which help us open the door to God’s continuing and gracious work in our lives. The first is…
1. Because God Began the Work, We Do Not Diminish the Magnitude of Our Need
Philippians 1.6a: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you….”
Dr. Jack Miller pastored a PCA church in Philadelphia and taught at Westminster Seminary. He often said: “Cheer up church! You are worse than you think!” What does that mean? Dr. Miller meant that claims to our own goodness cannot sustain our obedience or lift our hopes. Here is how it works:
• When we are discouraged by continued sin in our lives;
• When we feel disappointed by our slow progress in the faith;
• When we are criticized for failing to be the kind of Christians we ought to be;
• When we despair because, though we “want to do what is right, evil lies close at hand… waging war… and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (Romans 7.21,23);