As in all of his letters, Paul begins his message to the Philippian church by giving thanks for them and offering prayer for them. Verses 3-5 read, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”
I began a new study with our students this past week working through this beautiful letter. As I read these initial words for what seems to be the thousandth time, I attempted to look past my own familiarity with these words and really seek to feel the emotions Paul expressed in writing to his brothers and sisters. His love for this church is obvious through his thanksgiving, his prayer, his transparency, and his encouragement.
Paul continues in verse 6, “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.” As I sought to feel what Paul expressed to his brothers and sisters in Philippi, I became quite convicted when reading this verse. As I have had time to reflect on it, here are some thoughts that have captivated my mind.
We are broken people. We relate to each other in the church as broken people to other broken people. Paul loved this church despite the fact that it was far from perfect. The Philippian church, like every church, included sinful and fallen people. But as this verse reminds us, the reality of those who are in Christ includes so much more than that because of the supernatural working of the gospel within those lives. Like Paul, we must strive to view each other in that fuller reality. We know that Paul never shied away from exhortation and rebuke where it was needed. We are called to do that, and that is one of the ways we truly show intentional, covenantal love to one another. Even in the midst of that, though, Paul related to brothers and sisters in Christ with confidence because of that new gospel-shaped reality. This statement in verse 6 defines that confidence.
So often we are prone to give up on others. When we feel like they have let us down or they have done something unthinkable, once or multiple times, the easiest and most natural response is to just cut them off. We begin to believe that whatever they have done now defines them, often from this moment forward. Terminally broken relationships sadly exist within the Body of Christ, even those that include wrong doing and failure that occurred years ago. Those types of situations fly in the face of what Paul expresses to other believers. They are completely devoid of the very things that should define our relationships: gospel grace, gospel restoration and gospel confidence.
In this statement, Paul expresses confidence in Jesus and the Gospel, not the ability of fallen, sinful people to somehow turn it around, do better, and make amends. Instead, Paul understands the power of gospel transformation in his own life, that this work is ongoing, and the hope that one day that work will be brought to completion.
Sometimes it can be really difficult to have confidence in one another. But as we continue to groan together in anticipation of Jesus’ return when he will once for all set all things right, we can be completely confident in the gospel that is at work in us and in our brothers and sisters in Christ. How much differently would we relate to each other in the midst of hurt, difficulty, and brokenness if we adopted this same attitude?
You are not there yet; and, neither am I. But, although I may struggle with hurt and a lack of understanding as to why _____________ has taken place, I am confident in the gospel that is indeed at work in your life! I am thankful, too, that it is at work in mine. And, ultimately, I am supremely confident that he who began that work will be faithful to complete it at the coming of Jesus Christ! In the meantime, I am covenanted to you as your brother, and I will bear with you in the hope that one day sin will be no more and our relationship will truly flourish in the presence of our Savior forever!*
Something to consider as we bear with one another as redeemed people, struggling through our sanctification, in light of the wonderful hope of our coming glorification. Until then, let us be for one another, bearing with one another, loving one another, and confident in the transforming gospel that is powerfully at work in one another through the Spirit!
*In this post, of course I am referring to relationships between brothers and sisters within the Body. In those relationships repentance is absolutely key. Repentance is fruit of salvation and vital to restoration. Repentance provides assurance, which leads to this type of confidence that the gospel has, indeed, taken root and continues its work of change within the heart of a true believer.