Paul’s Letter to the Philippians – 03 (“He Who Began a Good Work in You”)

[Message: Kobus van der Walt (Three Rivers Baptist Church – 14 April 2019)]


Death is inevitable; death is a reality; death will eventually catch up with all of us! Even non-Christians experienced it and will experience it in the future. Let us just look at a few death-bed sentences of well-known people (whether they were saved or not I cannot say):

 This was Jimmy Hendrix, an American guitarist, singer, and songwriter’s last words:“The story of life is quicker than the blink of an eye, the story of love is hello and goodbye, until we meet again.” 

Charlotte Brontë was an English novelist and poet (Author of “Wuthering Heights)– “Oh, I am not going to die, am I? He will not separate us, we have been so happy.” 

Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci was an Italian polymath, painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer: “I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.”

Jasper Newton “Jack” Daniel was an American distiller and businessman, best known as the founder of the Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey distillery and his last words were: “One last drink, please”


John Piper, in one of his “Labs,” says that, God didn’t get His people part way out of Egypt or halfway through the Red Sea. No, our God always completes what He begins. These words are very important for us, and we must keep it in mind as we are going to look at Phil.1:6 today ~ 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.”When looking at this verse, we will also break up the sentence and look at some of the Greek words in short, so please bear with me and work with me from your Bibles. 


Phil.1:11- (ESV) ~ “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 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. 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 ChristIt is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”


I would like us to look at 1:6 under the following three points:

  • He HAS saved us (PAST – regeneration);
  • He IS saving us (PRESNT – sanctification)and 
  • He WILL save us (FUTURE – glorification).
  • HE HAS SAVED US (PAST – regeneration):We must remember that in writing this letter to the Philippians, Paul was in actual fact writing a prayer to them – a prayer that he is praying for them and while praying, a great confidence gripped him. 

Paul starts off in 1:6 by saying… ~ “And I am sure of this…”The Greek word for the expression ~ “And I am sure,”is πείθω(pĕithō), which is a verb and literally means, to be persuaded or sure of the truthfulness or validity of something. Paul is in other words absolutely convinced and sure of something, which he refers too, after the word “this.”

The word “this” is followed by the words ~ “…that he who began a good work in you…”

The Greek for “began” is ἐνάρχομαι(enarchomai), which means“to begin to lay one’s hand to a plough; to take the first step or steps in carrying out an action.”

Paul is therefore absolutely convinced and persuaded of the fact that God always carries out an action with which He started. We must immediately ask ourselves who is this “he” that Paul is referring to, and with what kind of action did he start?

First, it is quite obvious that he refers to God, because he starts his prayer in 1:3 with the words ~ “I thank my God”He is thanking God for various things and here in 1:6, for the fact that He (i.e. God)started a specific action in the lives of Paul’s brothers.

The fact that it is God who began this action implies to Paul that there is no, absolutely no possibility that this specific action will be interrupted or terminated – God started this action and He will complete the action. 

This reminds one of the words in a poem by Augustus M. Toplady, author of the hymn “Rock of Ages” and a major Calvinist opponent of John Wesley:

The arm of His strength will complete;

His promise is Yea and Amen,

And never was forfeited yet.

God is a God that always finishes what He started – this is one of His attributes. The apostle John reminds us of our God who never ceases to complete what He started. Beloved this fact is a crucial truth that we must always keep in mind, especially when we experience hardship. Hardship that we as believers experience in our Christian walk – this is exactly the heart of Paul’s letter to the Philippians – guaranteed hardship for believers, BUT…. and we will see that shortly! 

God always finishes what He started ~ “Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work”(John 4:34). “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit”(John 19:30) and then the most convincing verse in this regard can be found in Paul’s letter to the Romans ~ “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom.8:29-30).

The next phrase that we must look at, is a “good work.” The word “good” refers to the Greek word ἀγαθός(agathŏs) which literally means something that is of moral excellence. 

In what do Paul’s assurance lie? Of what is he sure? What is it that God will do (remember this is part of God’s character)? Paul is here referring to those believers in Philippi that is saved – those who received salvation ~ …if you confesswith your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believein your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom.10:9). He is assured of the fact that God started a new work in them. What is this new work? First, we conclude that Paul is sure of the Philippian saints’ salvation or regeneration.

The Philippian’s salvation is the “work,”the “good work”that God started in them. The Greek for “work” in this case, is ἔργον(ĕrgŏn). This says exactly what the English word is saying. Merriam-Webster defines “work,” (I only mention three definitions) “…to perform or carry througha task requiring sustained effort or continuous repeated operations,”and “…to function or operate according to plan or design,”or (I like this one) “…to get (oneself or an object) into or out of a condition or position by gradual stages”

Why do I say that God is the One who saves – that He is the One who is doing the “good work”? The SOLA 5 Confession of Faith says: “God calls all men to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and freely promises to all such people that they will be redeemed from sin and inherit eternal life.”We read in Is.55:1 ~ “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”Eph.2:8-9 reads as follow ~ “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Rev.22:17 ~ “The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.”Joh.6:37 ~“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out”(also see 2 Tim.1:9; Acts 4:12 and many more).

When Paul says in 1:6 ~ “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you,”it might sound as if he is hinting to know who are saved in the Philippian church, or even that all are saved. Then, the question arises whether anyone can be certain of the salvation of others. Paul is not speaking of himself but of the Philippians. On this question, John Calvin says,“We must understand that the assurance which we as individuals have for our salvation, comes from the Holy Spirit to us personally, but it is totally different from what we can have of others people’s salvation, because we have no testimony about other people’s salvation(or for that matter lostness),except for the outward efficacy of the Spirit; that is, in so far as the grace of God manifests itself in them and through them to us by the Fruit of the Spirit”(“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” – Gal.5:22). We cannot for certain say that anyone is saved or not and therefore, Paul does not imply that the whole congregation is saved, but he’s talking to/praying for those who are saved (in general in other words). In fact, he is referring to those brothers who have been saved (some a couple of years before, others shortly before the letter was read by them).

Paul says therefore, in this opening part of vs.6: He is assured of the fact that God started a good work by saving them(or at least, some of them). This was the start of a new work – their salvation – their regeneration. 

3.2HE IS SAVING US (PRESENT – sanctification)Theologians often refer to “The already, but not yet.”principle. We find a good example of this in 1 Joh.3:2a the following ~ “Beloved, we ARE God’s children NOW, and what we WILL be has NOT YET appeared…”(emphasis mine). 

Keeping this tension firmly in hand helps us not only to draw a realistic picture of what we can expect here and now – both from ourselves and God, but it will also help us to see what HAS happened (our past salvation), what IS happening now (sanctification), and WILL happen in our spiritual lives in the future (glorification). Jesus is Lord of all. Past, present and future. And we need to look to Him in all.

Apart from the fact that Paul says that God saved the believers in Philippi by means of a good work, he is also sure of something else, i.e. that God will bring this salvation of them to completion. 

The Greek word that’s been used here for “completion”is, ἔργον(ĕrgŏn). Here we have to do with an ongoing process. If they have been saved in the past and this salvation will be brought to completion, it clearly suggests that the “in between period”(between salvation and completion), is an ongoing process.

Remember, we said in the beginning, that what God starts, He will complete. This means that God will perfectly complete all saints’ salvation. But what happens in the meantime – between salvation and glorification, during the “in between period”? The answer,“He IS saving us”and what does that mean? “So, we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day”(2 Cor.4:16). Our inner self is being renewed day by day.

The Greek for “inner self”is ἔσω(ĕsō) indicating achange to a previous, preferable state, specifically referring to the renewal, the restoration and the bringing back of the soul, understood especially as immaterial. “Being renewed”is ἀνακαινίζω (anakainoutal), meaning to be or become re-established in a like-new and often improved manner. Therefore, for the inner self to be renewed, means that a believer will be re-established in a new person. 

We call this process a process of sanctification. Sanctification involves a progressive or growing in experience of greater holiness and less sinfulness. It expresses God’s will and fulfils the purpose of God’s salvation call ~ “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honour, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness”(1 Thes.4:3-7).

Sanctification includes one’s responsibility to participate in continuing what God’s Spirit began in salvation ~ “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonourable, he will be a vessel for honourable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work”(2 Tim.2:21)and Rev.22:11 ~ “Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.”

It is clear therefore, that sanctification is the process in which the believer is conformed into the image of Christ, that process has a definite beginning at the regeneration of the sinner. The fact that regeneration implies the cleansing of sin, but also the receiving of a new heart implies the cleansing of sin, but also the receiving of a new heart ~ “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rule”(Ezek.36:25-27). 

Thus, when the Spirit imparts spiritual life into the soul of the dead sinner, opening his eyes to the filth of sin and the glory of Jesus, man’s nature is sanctified – transformed from spiritual death to spiritual life – he then is a new creation ~ “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God” (2 Cor.5:17). 

Although the believer enjoys forgiveness of sins, his heart and life is not totally purified. Therefore, sanctification that begins at regeneration, will necessarily continue throughout the entire life of the Christian and this continuous aspect of sanctification is called progressive sanctification and this progressive sanctification in the life of a Christian calls for holiness on the part of the believer, that is why Paul says in Rom.12:2 ~ “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”The Hebrew writer says in Hebr.12:14 ~ “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”Progressive sanctification is an ongoing process on the side of the believer, ‘till the end of his life and the goal is to glorify God through a holy life ~ “…but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’”(1 Pet.1:15-16). Christians are constantly exhorted in the Word of God, to pursue holiness in their Christian life.

  • HE WILL SAVE US (FUTURE – glorification):Just as sanctification has a definite beginning at regeneration and increases throughout one’s life, it will also at some point in future, be brought to completion – namely, at the end of the believer’s life – He WILL save us and we will be glorified.

We read the following in 1 John 3:2 ~ “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appearswe shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”The moment Jesus comes back, all believers (dead or alive at that stage)will instantaneously be glorified.

The perfection of sanctification (i.e. glorification)for those who have died in faith before the return of Christ, comes in two stages: this soul is fully sanctified at death, while the body awaits its perfected sanctification at the second coming of Christ. When believers pass from this present life, their spirits are separated from the bodies ~ “Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord”(2 Cor.5:8).


Beloved,“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” (Phil.1:6).

The author of Ps.116:15 writes ~ “Precious in the sight of the LORD [is] the death of his saints.” 

In the beginning we looked at a few “last words” of well-known persons. Let’s conclude with the last words of some other well-known people:

The comedian Charlie Chaplin also had a serious side on him, he said this, after a priest read him his last rites and said “May The Lord Have Mercy On Your Soul” on which Chaplin replied –“Why not? After all, it belongs to Him.”

Thomas Alva Edison was an American inventor and businessman. He developed many devices that greatly influenced life around the world, including the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and a long-lasting, practical electric light bulb: “It is very beautiful over there.”

Dwight Lyman Moody (Feb 5, 1837 – Dec 22, 1899)American evangelist and publisher, woke from sleep shortly before he died and said: “Earth recedes. Heaven opens before me. If this is death, it is sweet! There is no valley here. God is calling me, and I must go.” On which Moody’s son said, “No, no, Father. You’re dreaming.”And Moody replied, “I am not dreaming. I have been within the gates. This is my triumph; this is my coronation day! It is glorious!”

John Bunyan, one of my Puritan heroes (November 28, 1628 – August 31, 1688) was an English Christian writer and preacher, famous for writing “The Pilgrim’s Progress”– said on his death bed: “Weep not for me, but for yourselves. The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, through the mediation of His blessed Son, receives me, though a sinner. We shall meet to sing the new song, and remain everlastingly happy.” 


On her deathbed, Queen Victoria(Alexandrina Victoria; May 24, 1819 – January 22, 1901 – Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 20 June 1837, and the first Empress of India of the British Raj from 1 May 1876, until her death) told those around her that she loved God and she was His little child, so she was ready to die. Then she called for the hymn to be sung: “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee.”


And Jesus’ last words: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46).

May I conclude with the following by C.T. Studd: 

“Only one life, yes only one,

Soon will its fleeting hours be done;

Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet,

And stand before His Judgement seat;

Only one life, ‘twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

What will your last words be?

This entry was posted in Death, Drie Riviere, Glorification, Salvation, Sanctification, Sermons (English), Sin. Bookmark the permalink.

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