Friday, February 17, 2006

thinking about: Phil. 1:6

“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.”

I didn’t know who he was, but he came highly recommended and was received with great flare and panache. He came to guide our church through a Sunday School Revival one Spring. I remember distinctly the first message he preached on Isaiah 54:2, “Enlarge the place of your tent; stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, spare not; lengthen your cords and strengthen your pegs.” That message really impacted me back in 1988. And I remember telling him so. His response, “stick with me this week and you will learn more than you will ever learn in Bible College or Seminary.” And He was right.

One of the great things he said that week concerned the life of the local church that I have personalized and applied to my own life; after all, as Spurgeon says, it begins with me. He said, “there are three ways to look at the church [my life]: it grows, maintains, or dies. And there is only one positive.”

The second great thing he said was a quote that may be similarly applied, Pogo 3:16, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Growth is everything. Maintenance leads to death. Death is sure, certain in the ultimate sense. But spiritually speaking, growth is confident hope. Maintenance is NOT perseverance. We trip ourselves up.

I don’t know about you, but I am a great starter and a poor finisher. I am my own enemy while I yet live in this flesh. Left to myself, I will not finish the race nor fight the good fight. But since the Christian life is God’s to live in Christ through me, there is this certainty—He will finish what He has started. Be certain of that.

It is tempting to walk away from this nebulous thought, knowing that somehow God is personalizing that good work, and in one sense He certainly is; but there are a few not-so-nebulous facts we need to grasp in this good work He is completing in us.

First, Paul’s words are part of a thought already in process. Paul has offered a joyful prayer for the Philippians because of their participation in the gospel—the good work God began in them is salvation through the good news of Jesus Christ! They were changed by it and do not keep it to themselves!

Second, Paul is in writing from prison! If anyone should be depressed, it is Paul; but his confidence soars not in his release, but in the fact that God’s good work of salvation in Christ Jesus continues through the Philippians work in the gospel! He started it, He does it, He continues it through those changed by it!

Third, the good work is perfected until the day of Christ Jesus! This means that through the growing love for Christ knowledge grows, discernment sharpens, sincerity deepens, the fruit of righteousness fills and through Christ Jesus, God receives the glory and praise!

Bunyan gave us a picture of what this must look like at the Hill of Difficulty. Pilgrim (whose name was once “Graceless”) has been met in the Narrow Way of Salvation by two thieves named Formalist and Hypocrisy. These climbed over the wall instead of entering by the narrow gate and the cross, seeking their own glory from God at Mount Zion. Traveling along the way, the three come to the Hill of Difficulty where the path diverts three ways: one goes straight up the hill, while the other two go along the bottom of the hill to the left and to the right. These are the ways of Danger and Destruction. Pilgrim takes a refreshing drink from the pool at the bottom of the hill (the picture of the grace of God, even His working to finish what He has started) and climbs up the hill. Along the way, he rests in an arbor and takes his scroll and begins to read and is refreshed. Formalist and Hypocrisy choose not to climb the hill and go along the paths thinking they will meet again on the other side of the hill, but they meet their doom instead.

Had it not been for the pool and the arbor and the roll, all provided by God, Pilgrim would not have climbed up the Hill of Difficulty. As a matter of fact, Pilgrim forgets the scroll in the arbor and almost turns back after a point to abandon his quest—but he only goes back to where he dropped the encouragement for his faith and resumes his journey.

Trite, but true: “Please be patient. God isn’t finished with me yet.” As I hinted in a previous post, my mom is an artist. I am not an artist, so I see things differently. When I paint, I can only see a finished product and get frustrated because I cannot see the steps along the way to make something beautiful. My mom paints, it looks ugly and patchy and swathy—but she layers and brushes and washes and blends . . . if you’ve ever been to my office or to my home, you’ve seen her work . . . breath-taking.

The fact of the matter is that once we by faith come to know Christ Jesus, we are not what we used to be but neither are we yet what we are to become. There is so much to do and so little time. The world thinks reverse: there is little to do and too much time. This is Sloth, Presumption and Arrogance.

God’s work in us is guaranteed to completion, which is His glory at the day of Christ Jesus. This is the completion point. Concentrating on what is wrong right now in life is depressing. Focusing on the completion day is exciting. The point is: don’t get hung up in the “now”—Paul didn’t. Look ahead to what is coming that He will complete.

We have an active roll in the process. We don’t just lay back and let life wash over us. We get to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12). We must be Holy s God is Holy, pray, read the Bible, obey, be accountable—use the resources God puts at our disposal as if it were a pool, an arbor, a scroll.

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