- Dr. Charlie Bing Published: Grace in Focus, Feb. 1991
Synopsis: This verse may not mean what most people think it means. A closer look at the language helps with a biblilcally and theologically consistent interpretation.
[I am] confident of this very thing, that He who has begun
a good work in you will complete it
until the day of Jesus Christ.
Jerry and Stevie were teenage friends of mine. Both became
addicted to drugs, joined a Christian rehabilitation program,
were saved and stopped doing
drugs. Through this program they grew some and share their
testimony with many churches
before finally returning to the neighborhood to witness to me and
However, with little
guidance or follow-up, both eventually returned to the only life
they knew and died drug-related
deaths. Did they die Christians? I think they did. I heard their
testimony of faith, saw their good
works before they "backslid," and observed the
conversions among their families
and friends after their deaths.
Still, some would say that they could not have been Christians
because they did not persevere in good works and godly living
until the end of their lives. The
first verse they would probably cite for support is Philippians
1:6 where Paul says to that church.
"being confident of this very thing, that He who began a
good work in you will complete it
until the day of Jesus Christ." Does this verse teach the
Reformed doctrine of the
perseverance of the saints?
The first question to answer is what Paul meant by "good
work." The answer is in the context. Paul is recognizing
their "fellowship in the
gospel" (v. 5). The word fellowship (koinonia) has
the basic meaning of communion or
something shared in common. What was it the Philippian
believers shared with Paul? Foremost
in Paul's mind, and really the occasion for his writing, is their
financial sharing (4:15-18).
Epaphroditus had delivered the Philippians' gift and now Paul was
sending him back with a
"thank you note" and some information about his
circumstances. In fact, in 4:15 Paul
used the verbal form of koinonia when he said, "no
church shared with me concerning
giving and receiving except you only." The noun
koinonia is actually translated
"contribution" in other New Testament passages(Rom.
15:26; 2 Cor. 8:4; 9:13; Heb.
Therefore, the "good work" of which Paul speaks is
not sanctification in
general. It is the Philippians' fellowship in the Gospel through
To consider this verse a
promise that all Christians will persevere in a godly lifestyle
ignores the occasion, the context,
and Paul's point. First, he is not addressing all Christians, but
the Philippian believers
specifically. Second, Paul is not speaking about lifestyle, but
about the Philippians' support of
his ministry. Third, he is not making a promise, but is only
expressing his confident feelings.
Paul is confident that God will "complete" or carry
through the impact of their
support as its effects are multiplied in ministry to others until
the return of Christ.
As a pastor, I
have learned that if a person attends our church several times in
a row, supports us financially,
and volunteers to help out, I can be confident that God will
continue to work in them to use them
with us. But this is different from a guarantee they will always
be faithful, and certainly gives me
no right to make a statement about all Christians everywhere.
The fact is, Paul knew that all
Christians do not persevere in godliness and righteous behavior
until the end. He reminded the
Corinthians that there were some in their church who had died
from abusing the Lord's Supper (1
Cor. 11:30). Elsewhere in the Bible we find that a believer can
persist in sin such that it leads to
his or her death (James 5:20; 1 John 5:16). I think this explains
what happened to Jerry and
God works in believers to produce good works and progressively
sanctify them, but the
results are not always measurable and observable. Furthermore,
His work is only carried out in
concurrence and cooperation with the individual's will (cf. Phil.
2:11-12). Knowing these things,
let us be careful not to use Philippians 1:6 to condemn those who
may genuinely be God's
children. In reality, there are Christians who struggle with
lifelong bad habits and weaknesses of
will and discipline. There should be room in God's family for
people like Jerry and Stevie.
Dr. Charlie Bing, GraceLife Ministries