There’s a marvellous moment in Paul’s letter to the Philippians which is good news for jigsaw enthusiasts everywhere.
“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)
In one succinct sentence, Paul lays out the puzzle of life and makes three powerful claims about God’s role in it.
First, God began it.
The first few words of the Bible are among the most memorable: “In the beginning, God…” The claim is that creation has a driving force; just as every purpose, or plan, requires a planner.
In Romans 1:20, Paul makes the further claim that “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”
The point here is that creation is a signpost to its creator, and we, as journeying humans, are responsible to read the sign and pay attention to what we’ve read.
And the point is made sharper still in Phil 1:6, where Paul claims that in Jesus, God is “he who began a good work in you.” The work of creation continues within us, so to speak. God has initiated something truly astonishing.
Second, “he who began a good work in you will carry it on…”
God’s not finished yet, which is good news. Because let’s face it, you take a look at the condition of the world around you, you take a look at the condition of the church, you take a look at the condition of your own life, and if this was the end of the story, we would all be in big trouble. But it’s not the end of the story. God is still working.
There is something that is being crafted inside you, and in the fellowship of believers of which you are a part, and in the world of humans of which you are a member, which God is doing.
From our perspective, life may just look like a pile of jigsaw pieces, and so it is. But each part has its home, and the final picture is as clear as day to the One who both made all and who brings all together.
The Gospel of Christ achieves that purpose. Look at what happened in Philippi itself. Acording to Acts 16 you had people like Lydia, a wealthy, high status woman who dealt in purple cloth. You had the Philippian jailer and his family, who would have been much lower status. And you had people from the very lowest ranks of society like the slave girl out of whom Paul cast a demon. There were Gentiles who formerly worshiped the Jewish God, and there were former pagans. Like any church, you had a group of people from very diverse backgrounds who had all come together through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The gospel is the great unifier. People from different social, racial and economic backgrounds all gather together in the church, and we are united in Christ. Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The gospel brings people from different backgrounds together.
And the pieces are joined to become something new, something much bigger than a collection of individuals. Paul addressed this letter to “all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi.” (Philippians 1:1) A saint is not some super-spiritual Christian who was assigned some super-spiritual task. The Bible says that we are all saints; all believers are saints; we have all been set apart for Christ and his gospel. There are not super-Christians and normal Christians. We are all saints in Christ Jesus.
And look at Paul’s greeting in verse two: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:2) This was Paul’s favorite greeting to those whose lives had been changed by the gospel, emphasizing God’s grace in salvation and the peace we have with God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
And the peace we have with each other.
All this is what God is working on in our lives. Paul is positive about it: ““Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on…”
And there’s a third point, of course, that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion…” What an amazing faith-claim!
God will see it through.
Sometimes we’re tempted to think that it is all down to us (and we become quickly depressed!). This verse reminds us that God is initiator, sustainer and completer. He will see through what he started!
God began a good work in you when you received Christ
Look at Phil 1:3 where Paul writes: “I thank my God every time I remember you.” Every mention of their names, brings a jolt of gratitude to Paul’s lips. Why? Because it is God who began this good work in them. It is God who brought them to salvation, and so Paul is supremely thankful.
What an amazing way to think of each other! Do you thank God for each other in the body of Christ? Does the mere mention of another believer’s name spur a spontaneous prayer of gratitude? Paul thanks God for the Philippians every single time he remembers them.
And in Phil 1: 4, he continues: “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy.” Why does he do this? He tells us in Phil 1:5: “Because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” God had started a good work in them. From the first day they received the gospel until the present time, they had joined with Paul as partners in the gospel. And so Paul was full of gratitude and joy.
That word “partnership” is the Greek word “koinonia.” It is a word which speaks of close fellowship and sharing.
To be partners in the gospel means first of all to share in the saving benefits of the gospel in your life. God began a good work in you when you received Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” The day you received Jesus, you became a new person. God forgave you of all your sins. He came to live in you through his Holy Spirit. He adopted you as his child and brought you into his family. He gave you new life, new direction and a new purpose. He saved you through the gospel of Christ, and so you are a partner in the gospel, because you share in the benefits of the gospel.
Receiving, and giving too. Blessed to be a blessing.
And God will see it through to an end that only he fully sees.
Paul is confident of this (the Greek word means he is “fully persuaded”), he is confident that God will finish this good work that he began in the Philippians. Why? Because it is God who started it. And God always finishes what he begins.
Do you ever get discouraged in your spiritual progress? Praise God – he’s not finished yet! The same God who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.
Ruth Graham said, “I saw a sign on a strip of highway once that I would like to have copied on my gravestone. It said, ‘End of construction. Thank you for your patience.’”