Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 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 1.1-6.
The story of the founding of the church in Philippi (which was an important Roman colony in northern Greece) is told in Acts 16; and here in this morning’s reading Paul describes what happened then in terms of God “beginning a good work” in the individuals that now make up that church. The verb he uses for “begin” is the grand verb enarchomai which means “to inaugurate”. There was nothing casual or incidental about the beginning of God’s work in Lydia, the Philippian business woman, who was the first convert there to Christianity (Acts 16.14), nor about the beginning of his good work in the gaoler who became a Christian (Acts 16.30-34). It was planned in eternity and brought about in time according to God’s sovereign will (Ephesians 1.4).
The word for “work” is the common word ergon, but it is the word that was used in the Judaism of Paul’s day for the creation of the world. Creation was the ergon of God (Genesis 2.2-3). Now, however, there is a new creation … a new work of God … and it is taking place in people like Lydia and the gaoler and all the others who have come to faith in Philippi at God’s initiative and by God’s power. The way in which Lyddia’s conversion is described in Acts 16 emphasises this. We are not told that Lyddia put her faith in Jesus (though she did) but that “the Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message” (Acts 16.14).
How important is this! My salvation does not depend on my faith but on God’s sovereign will and his work of grace in my life.
And what God starts, God finishes. The work he has begun in me. he will bring to completion by the “day of Christ Jesus”. On the day Jesus returns to this earth again in glory the finishing touches will be put to me and I will be made fully perfect in him. There will be nothing still needing to be done. What God began in me over half a century ago, he will “bring to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears” as The Message version of today’s passage puts it. That is the force of the verb epiteleo that Paul uses here.
Charles Wesley summed the whole thought up beautifully in his hymn “Love divine, all loves excelling” …
Finish then Thy new creation:
pure and spotless let us be;
let us see Thy great salvation,
perfectly restored in Thee:
Changed from glory into glory,
till in heaven we take our place,
till we cast our crowns before Thee,
lost in wonder, love, and praise.