He who began a good work in you — saving you and beginning to make you more like Jesus — he will complete that work.
If you are in Christ and have known this promise, you’ve known it is precious. “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” (Philippians 1:6). God, by his unrivaled, infinite power, will one day remedy everything wrong about you. Now, you are counted perfect through faith in Jesus. Then, you will be presented perfect — no sin, no shame, no guilt, no doubt, no fear — nothing broken about you.
The promise is a safe word when Satan’s lies try to seduce or shame us. It’s a strong word in the midst of temptation. It’s a hopeful word when we’re confronted with our own sin and need. It’s an unwavering word when all around us seems shaky and unsure. It’s a comforting word in weakness or pain. It’s an inspiring word when we need motivation to press on in the faith, working out our salvation. Philippians 1:6 assures us of how it all will end for us, and that our end will be good, beautiful, and holy before our God.
A Work in Progress
As flawed, broken, needy sinners we love knowing that end, but what does the promise mean for our lives now, until that day? Paul’s joy in and hope for the Philippians wasn’t only about completion on the last day, but about progress today, as well.
“God, by his unrivaled, infinite power, will one day remedy everything wrong about you.”
He wasn’t merely celebrating that everything would work out for good, or that God would miraculously make us holy on the last day. He was seeing fruit and growth and boldness and obedience in his relationships and ministry with these friends, and so he believed that that progress would continue. He was sure that the work God had started in them and among them — the work that Paul was witnessing — would increase, develop, and multiply until the end when God would finally finish the work.
How God Works
It raises the question, though, of how God works. When he completes us for the last day, does he do all the completing on the last day? Not according to Paul’s prayer for these believers. He returns to that last day in verses 9–10, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.”
So, to be “complete” in Christ is to be “pure and blameless” before him. How does that happen? Here, it happens as we increasingly “approve what is excellent” (Philippians 1:10). That means being purified and prepared to meet God involves more and more accurately discerning right from wrong, good from evil, praiseworthy from profane. Godliness is wrapped up in whether our minds and hearts respond rightly to God and rightly to everything else around us. That’s a huge part of the work God does to change and complete us for heaven, and then the new earth.
Love Is Work
But there’s more still. What is the substance of that work and progress? Love. Again, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.”
True love, effective love, world-changing love is an enlightened love, a love sharpened with and filled by truth. You can’t love like God loves unless your mind is engaged rightly. Good loving requires good, right thinking. And this love — an affection for others grounded in and stirred by the truth — is what God builds into our hearts as he works to complete us. It’s the heavy reconstruction our hearts need in order to meet him on the last day.
This love that completes you is a compassionate love (Philippians 1:16) and a unifying love (Philippians 2:2). It’s gentle (1 Corinthians 4:21), humble (1 Corinthians 8:1), and patient (Ephesians 4:2). It is sacrificial — willing to die to ourselves that others might live, a love after the example of our Savior (1 John 4:9–10). And this love — worked in us by God — fulfills the whole law (Galatians 5:14) and is absolutely essential to the faithful and meaningful life (1 Corinthians 13:1–3).
God is completing us by producing in us more and more love fueled by truths about him and his world. He is sharpening our minds and hearts around what is good, and that love — built on the iron beams of knowledge and discernment — prepares us for him, for a perfect, holy God. God makes us ready for that day by teaching us more of his truth and making us more loving toward others. God does the work. That’s why it’s a prayer (Philippians 1:9) and not only a command. Paul is asking God to do it in them, in us.
Loving with the End in Mind
So we don’t close our eyes and simply hope for the day of perfection. No, we open our eyes wider than ever, relying on God’s promise, looking for opportunities to learn more about him and his word, and watching for ways to love. God’s reshaping, polishing, finishing work will be happening as we are loving. God is completing us when we love our spouses and our children, when we love our neighbors and co-workers, when we love our life-long friends and the strangers we’ll probably never see again.
“Don’t doubt the passion and ability of God to fulfill the plans of God for you and for the world.”
For sure, there will be a glorious, full, after-death removal of all sin (Revelation 21:4; Revelation 21:27). No one will die without some sin still to be forgiven and washed away, however much glorious progress they made along the way (1 John 1:8). But Paul’s hope and joy in Philippians 1:6 wasn’t penned merely to be a wait-and-see prayer, but a press-on-in-the-work prayer for the spread of the gospel — first in their own hearts and holiness, and then to more and more who have not yet heard or embraced the good news. God will be completing what he’s been doing among us, in each of us and through us to the world around us (Isaiah 55:11) — all through love, a love formed and carried along by the truth.
Don’t lose heart. Don’t give up. Don’t doubt the passion and ability of God to fulfill the plans of God for you and for the world. Set yourself to love more and more whoever God has put in front of you, and know that he will be preparing you to stand in front of him.