Partakers of Grace (Part 4)
While in prison, Paul wrote a letter to a group of Christians in the city of Philippi, whom he called “partakers with me of grace”. Both Paul and the Philippian Christians had received grace (lavish and undeserved kindness) from God, and their lives showed it. But not only had they received grace from God in the past, they could expect to continue receiving it in the future. Paul’s comment in 1:6 and his prayer in 1:9-11 demonstrate his faith that God would continue the good work he started.
In Philippians 1:6 Paul writes, “And I am sure of this, that the one who began a good work in you will be finishing it until the day of Christ Jesus.” God had begun a work in them, there was no doubt about that. They had turned from idols to serve the living and true God. Whereas once they had seen Christ as a mere, ordinary man, God had opened their eyes to see him as glorious and full of infinite treasure. In short, they now looked at Jesus and saw in him “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” (2 Cor. 4:6). This is the miracle of conversion (see last week’s post) and is a gift of God’s grace. This is the “good work” that God had begun in them. But this same God who had poured out grace upon them in converting them to Christ would continue to pour his grace out upon them on a daily basis. In what ways would God do this? Paul gives us four ways in 1:9-11.
In Philippians 1:9-11, Paul prays “out loud” for the Philippians he’s writing to, and asks God to do four things for them. 1) He asks God to increase their love. He writes, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more” (9a). Can you imagine having the power to snap your fingers and make someone more loving, right there on the spot? (I, for one, would love to be able to do this in my kids’ hearts as they are fighting over a toy or otherwise being unkind to one another.) But of course you have no such power to make people more loving. Even the best heart surgeon in the world couldn’t pull that off. But God can—and does!
2) Paul asks God to give the Philippians “knowledge and all discernment” (9b). I take this to refer to knowledge of God himself, and wisdom to know how to please him in all of the complexities of life. Humans do not naturally possess specific knowledge of God and the wisdom to know how to please him in day-to-day life. God must reveal these truths to us! And Paul expects that God, by his grace, will do just that.
3) Paul prays that the Philippians will be able to stand before God without any guilt whatsoever on the day of judgment. He asks God to make them “pure and blameless for the day of Christ” (10). This gift of perfect, spotless righteousness is only possible because of Jesus’s cleansing, forgiving death in the place of sinners. Jesus took within himself the punishment God’s people deserve for their wickedness. This is entirely of grace!
4) Paul prays that the Philippians would live increasingly righteous lives. He prays that they would be “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ” (11). Notice where this fruit of righteousness comes from—“through Jesus Christ.” There is no other kind of righteous deed, other than the kind that comes through Jesus Christ. He alone makes righteous living possible, which means that every good work is a gift of God’s grace.