God Finishes What He Starts (Philippians 1:1-20)


Philippians 1:1-20; Key Verse: Phil 1:6

"...he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."

How reassuring it is to know and to hear that it is God (not me) who began His work of salvation in me, and that it is also God (NOT ME) who will complete His work of salvation in me!

Inadvertently, we might teach the Bible as though it is God who saved us by His grace. But after that it is up to us to make sure we don't lose our salvation and blow it! With such thoughts, we are guilt ridden when we sin, and we guilt trip other Christians when we think that they are not living "up to par" or living as they should. In Php 1:6, Paul is crystal clear that the work of salvation begins with God, and that is is completed by God (not by me, or by Paul). The NT emphasizes this over and over again, repeatedly (Php 1:29, 2:13; Eph 2:1,5; Col 2:13; Jn 1:12; Acts 11:18; 2 Th 2:13-14; Heb 11:29, 40).

When some Christians hear this, they say that such a teaching is saying that how we live, what we believe, and what we do as Christians is not important. But Paul does not say that there is nothing for us to do, or that faith is not important, or that our living and our actions as Christians are not important. But Paul is simply emphasizing that God is the One who initiates our salvation by His grace alone, through Christ alone, from the beginning to the end. We never start with God, and then after that it is up to us. If it were the case, we are all in big trouble!

Philippians has been called "The Epistle of Joy," or "The Epistle of Excellent Things." The words, joy, rejoice, glad, peace is repeated over 20 times in this short 4 chapter letter. It is notable that Paul's letter is bursting with palpable and expressive joy, while he is in prison! Joy is indeed one of several great themes in Philippians.

For such a short letter, Philippians also has countless memorable key verses: Phil 1:6,20,21,29; 2:5-11,12-13; 3:7-11,12-14,20; 4:4,5,6,7,8,11,13,19.

As we prayed for 2012 to be a year of Sanctification, it felt to me as though every verse and passage in the Bible is related to or about sanctification! For instance, no Christian will truly have peace and joy, without being sanctified in Christ. So far, we have studied:

  1. Sanctification, Part I: Change is Possible (Php 2:12-16), 
  2. Sanctification, Part II: Not There Yet (Php 3:12-4:1), and 
  3. Sanctification, Part III: Joy, Peace and Contentment (Php 4:2-23).
Pray if the above could be foundational Bible studies for dynamic Christian living.

Going "backwards" in Philippians, I hope to finish this short letter in the next few weeks. Today's text, Phil 1:1-20 teaches us several things about Paul:

  1. His identity (1-2): Who he is.
  2. His heart (3-5, 7-8): How he feels.
  3. His faith (6): What he believes.
  4. His prayer (9-11): How he prays, what he prays for.
  5. His hope (12-20): How he sees life--all of life.
I. Paul's Identity (Phil 1:1-2)

Paul identified himself and Timothy as "servants of Christ Jesus" (Php 1:1). "Douloi" means "bond-slaves." The acknowledgment that he is a servant of Christ reminds us that though he looks like a prisoner of Caesar, a victim of Caesar, a servant of Caesar, he’s not. He’s the servant of the Messiah. If he is in prison, it is because that’s where Jesus wants him. If Jesus doesn’t want him there, even Caesar cannot hold him there! He will be wherever Jesus wants him to be, and Caesar has nothing to say about it! So the fact that he is in Caesar’s custody is only because of the fact that the God of the universe, the real one who is Lord, has decided that that is where he’s supposed to be.

That kind of thinking is dangerous. It can change your life. If you start thinking about your life that way, things will change. "Lord, This is Your plan for me, Your plan to exalt Yourself in my life. You’re going to be glorified in this, protect me in this, magnify Your grace in this, because I am not a victim of this world. I’m a servant of the Messiah, Jesus." You be careful about believing this. Be very careful.

II. Paul's Heart (Phil 1:3-5,7-8)

In Phil 1:3-5, we learn:

  1. Paul’s thankful heart (Php 1:3). Cf. feeling entitled and taking things for granted.
  2. Paul's joyful prayer (Php 1:4). Paul's joy comes from God.
  3. Paul's gospel focus (Php 1:5). Unity comes from gospel focus/fellowship, not natural affinity.
  4. Paul's deep affection (Php 1:7-8). Grace and mission creates a band of brothers. Love and affection grow in the soil of grace and gospel service.

When we deliberately pray to cultivate a gospel fellowship, true unity in the Spirit results. But if our fellowship is primarily based on common affinities — growing up in the city, going to the same school, having a common set of friends, in a particular line of work — if those are the fundamental things that unite us, then the edges of our congregation will be walls; anybody that cannot join in those natural affinities will not be a part of us. But if our union, if our communion, if our fellowship, is related to the gospel, then the edges of our fellowship will be porous. Then even people who are not like us — not from our socio-economic class, racial/cultural background, not a part of the same set of friends, but they do trust in the Jesus, they will very easily become a part of the gospel fellowship because the thing that fundamentally unites us is not those natural affinities, but the gospel affinities.

III. Paul's Faith (Phil 1:6)

Paul's simple single point about salvation is this: God is at work in your salvation from beginning to end. Salvation is God’s work from start to finish. We learn 6 things about salvation:

  1. Salvation is God’s work (100%).
  2. Salvation is a good work (because it makes us fit for the enjoyment of God).
  3. Salvation is unfinished work (for sanctification is ongoing this side of heaven).
  4. Salvation is a certain work (because God always finishes what He starts).
  5. Salvation is perfect work (because God only does things perfectly).
  6. Salvation’s work will only be perfect on the last day.
IV. Paul's Prayer (Phil 1:9-11)

7 things that Paul prays for the Philippians are that:

  1. their love would abound (Php 1:9a),
  2. their knowledge would grow (Php 1:9b),
  3. their discernment would increase (Php 1:10a),
  4. they would choose the excellent (Php 1:10b),
  5. they would continue in purity, sincerity and integrity (Php 1:10c),
  6. they would live in fruitful righteousness (Php 1:11a), and
  7. they would deliberately live for the glory of God (Php 1:11b).
V. Paul's Hope (Phil 1:12-20)

In this part, we learn several more things about Paul:

  1. Providence in imprisonment: How he views his circumstances of being in prison (Php 1:12-14).
  2. Promotion of the gospel: What to think of those who preach the gospel out of envy and rivalry (Php 1:15-18).
  3. Purpose of life: What Paul's single hope and purpose of life is (Php 1:19-20).
Thank and praise God that our salvation in Christ alone, by grace alone, and through faith alone is entirely the work of God from the beginning to the end.


  1. Who are the senders (Php 1:1a; "douloi" means "bond-slaves.")? The recipients (Php 1:1b; "hagios" means "different.")? What was his greeting (Php 1:2)? What can such an identify do for you?
  2. Why is Paul so joyful and thankful in his prayer (Php 1:3-8)? Do others pray for you with joy? Who were Paul's partners (Php 1:5; Acts 16:11-15,16-18,19-40)? What truly unites us (Php 1:5-7)? Hinders us? What does Php 1:6 teach about salvation (Php 1:29, 2:13; Eph 2:1,5; Col 2:13; Jn 1:12; Acts 11:18; 2 Th 2:13-14; Heb 11:29, 40)?
  3. Can you identify Paul's "7" prayer topics for the Philippians (Php 1:9-11; 1 Jn 4:19-20; 1 Tim 1:5; Eph 4:15)?
  4. How does Paul see his imprisonment (Php 1:12-14; Rom 8:28)? Why motives might some have for preaching the gospel (Php 1:15-18)? When (not if) adversity happens, is the question, 'Why me?' or 'How is God going to exalt Himself?'" (Php 1:19-20)

References (5 Sermons by Ligon Duncan):

  1. Greetings From Paul (Php 1:1-2).
  2. I Thank God For You (Php 1:3-5).
  3. He Finishes What He Starts (Php 1:6).
  4. Love Abounding (Php 1:7-11).
  5. For the Greater Progress of the Gospel (Php 1:12-20).

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