Philippians 1:3-6 “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ.”

There is a congregation of Christians whom I know, and every time I think of them my day brightens. When I hear the name of their community on the radio or read of it in a newspaper it’s that assembly of which I think. Nowadays as I drive through that town my whole opinion of it has changed since this church has been planted there. I used to think of it as a drab and anonymous place, not somewhere I’d like to live. How different is my estimation today.

But that is just one single congregation in one place. I know of others like it, all different, but each one seeking by the power of the Holy Spirit to be a fellowship who love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ. He has built churches in those places too. In fact I know hundreds of churches like that one. A monthly Christian paper publishes an annual Holiday Churches List and there are mentioned more than a thousand congregations across the British Isles, many of whom are known to me. Seeing their names in their various regions, and the times of their services, the hymnals and versions of the Bible which they use becomes a source of doxology to me. We in Aberystwyth know that we are not alone in believing what we believe, or worshipping God as we do. I can thank my God for their existence, and there are hundreds more such congregations. I can meet members from those churches, and hear of how things are getting on there, their encouragements and tough times and how they are coping. So their existence in the UK inspires, and encourages me to live a better life.

Sinner, what have you got that moves you to live a stronger and more joyful life? Does your football team do that for you? Does your favourite band? Does TV watching? I tell you it does not. Aren’t the people of our generation characterised by an absorption in their rights, and possessions? Aren’t some of your neighbours a people who will go to law and sue others at the drop of a hat? Isn’t this a whinging, grumbling, complaining age? It is not an age of thankfulness, but selfishness.

A horrid example of this came to me last Sunday. I was preaching in the Midlands and at the end of lunch the phone rang. The pastor’s wife was sobered as she listened to her next door neighbour telling her that his wife had just died. Our hostess excused herself from her guests and went there to be with this 80-year-old man staying with him until 7 p.m. His deceased wife was sitting in the chair where she had just breathed her last throughout this period, and as the afternoon progressed the corpse even began to change colour. The pastor’s wife sat on the arm of her chair and held her cold hand. The old man often spoke as though she were still alive and was listening to them. The hours went slowly by until an ambulance came and took her away. What is my point in telling you this incident? It is this. When the pastor’s wife arrived next door the old man was on the phone calling his daughter and son-in-law who live eight miles away to break the news to them of the mother’s death. What did they say? Listen carefully and weigh this chilling reply: “Do you want us to come around?”

When the apostle Paul in the first chapter of Romans catalogues the wickedness of that glittering age in which he lived, amidst his references to its violence, idolatry and sexual promiscuity he adds this, that people lacked natural affection. They were ‘heartless’ (Roms.1:31), he affirms. When that old man heard his own daughter and son-in-law inquire if he wanted them to visit him or not he replied, “There’s no need. I’m all right.” “Then we’ll see you on Wednesday, on our half-day,” they said. That exchange is a commentary on the dying of family life in much of England today. That father had given his daughter everything she asked for, spoiling her. She had become ungrateful. “That is how all parents are supposed to treat their children,” she judged. In her eyes there was nothing unusual in such giving. We are living in a civilisation which has lost a sense of thankfulness. All it has and gets it feels it is entitled to. It has no joy, and so it is turning to the chemicals. That is why drink is always linked to sport and modern music. Poor joyless sinners. They have no good news.

Yet virtually every time Paul’s mind turned to congregations of Jesus Christ there’s joy; he could thank God for them. They were not perfect churches. Here in Philippi there were two prominent members who did not get on with one another and everyone knew about it. The church had to be exhorted to do everything without complaining or arguing, and to do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. No one should just look on their own interests, they were told, but also on the interests of others. So Paul did not pretend that they were sin-free churches, always putting them in comfortable soft focus like Mormon propaganda does. However, there was so much Paul knew about the triumph of grace in their lives for which to thank God that to home in on those areas of imperfection would be an imbalance and wretched ingratitude to the Lord. Imagine a mother, and the father comes home from work and there she is sitting down sulking, day after day. “What’s wrong?” he says. “The children are so imperfect,” she says, and then she does what she does every day and she tells him of all their misdemeanors. He takes her to the window and shows them to her as they are playing in the garden together. “Yes. They are not perfect, but they are strong, and often so good, and we are not the best examples to them we should be…” and he arrays all their virtues before his despondent wife and seeks to lift her spirits. That is what Paul does in his letters. “Whenever I think of you I give thanks to God,” he says. “You give me such joy when I think of your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. I think of the way everyone in the district knows about your faith. How steadfast you have been until now.” Paul could give thanks to God every time he remembered the Philippian church. All his prayers for them were characterised by joy, he says. “You’ve given me no pain at all,” he tells them. “I’ve had no sleepless nights because of you.” Rather, “In all my prayers for all of you, I’m always praying with joy.” He doesn’t say that about the church in Galatia because that congregation was departing from the gospel. No thanks for them, but for all the other congregations – doxology! This is what the Lord Jesus has done for Paul, it has made him a thankful and joyful man. What is making you a thankful man or woman? You don’t want my Saviour, and you wont join the church he is building. Where do you find joy?

Paul has found it in Someone whom he calls, “My God.” His relationship is so personal. Luther is held to have said that Christianity is a matter of personal pronouns, in the sense that everything depends on knowing that Jesus died for me, to be my Saviour, and that his Father is my God and Father, personally committed to love, nurture, uphold, and glorify me. On the one hand here is this frail and battered man bearing all the scars of following Christ. He is lying in a prison on some old straw, and he longs for a blanket and some parchments to be taken to him. He feels he is not going to live much longer, and yet this created speck can address the Maker of the Universe, the infinite God who in the beginning created the universe and all the billions of stars and their planets, and Paul can say, “He is my God.” Is anything more wonderful than that? I am poor and needy but I know God, and I know that he is mine! I am an atom compared to his immensity; he is almighty, eternal and unchangeable, without beginning or end of days, and yet I can say, “He is mine!” Paul begins the letter with this phrase, but he also ends it with that same phrase: “My God shall supply all your need.” It is all covenant language: God tells Abraham, “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you . . . to be your God . . . I will be their God” (Gen. 17:6-8). The personal pronouns are the key words: God is committing himself to Abraham and Abraham’s seed in a way that he does not commit himself to others.

There is a spirit abroad today in the professing churches in which men grumble about what they call ‘individualism’ in Christianity. They say we have minimized the significance of the church. They are claiming that justification is something focussed on the whole company of the people of God, and the covenant of grace is corporate, and that baptism’s significance is that it incorporates people into this body, and that we have to stop emphasizing a personal relationship with God, that the whole evangelical church has overdone this stress on the Lord Jesus as “my Saviour,” and they say that we need to emphasise “Our God.” Then I hear the alarm bells ringing! You cannot say with another Christian “Our Father” until you have first said, “My Father.” Were you ever told of the first meeting of the two great evangelists, Howell Harris of Wales and George Whitefield of England? They were born the same year, and they met when they were 24 years of age, and the first question Whitefield asked Harris was this: “Do you know that your sins are forgiven?” Harris had never been asked that question before, and he never forgot it. You cannot say of the living God of creation, “He is my God,” unless you know the forgiveness of your own very personal sins through the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul tells the Galatians that the Son of God “loved me and gave himself for me.” There was a personal transaction between a sinner and a Saviour on Golgotha, and that leads to personal thanksgiving: “I thank my God!”

Why is Paul thanking God for the Philippian church? Three reasons:


The Lord who “began a good work in you” (v.6). I often ask you if you notice how we don’t go up to a person who tells us that they have started to follow Jesus Christ and say to them, “Thank you! Thank you so much for becoming a Christian!” Why was it in Jerusalem that the apostles never went round the three thousand new converts on the Day of Pentecost thanking them one by one for accepting Peter’s message? Why was it that Paul never thanked Lydia or the jailer for being saved? The reason is plain. None of those people saved themselves. God saved them.

The beginnings of this salvation lay in eternity; no angels giving its divine Author any advice. Then the Father had sent his own Son to Bethlehem, and that was long before you were born. This Lord Jesus Christ, born of a woman, was born under the law, yet obeyed everything the law required – from his heart. He accomplished a perfect righteousness, human and divine. On the cross of Golgotha this same Jesus was made the Lamb of God, sacrificed to atone for our sin, and on the third day he rose again as the living Saviour. He did this all by himself without you, me, or anyone else to help him. All this was the beginning of God’s gracious provision for the salvation of Lydia, and the jailer, and the three thousand on the Day of Pentecost, and many more, in number like the sands on the seashore in number.

God did more. He also brought this message of his provision to Lydia. He had directed Christians like Paul and Silas to go to Philippi to meet with this group of women, and it was the message God had given that Paul stuck to. The apostle told it just like it was! So, we can see God had gone to a lot of trouble to accomplish our salvation and to reach us sinners with it. Everything had originated with God.

But there is another problem, and that is that Lydia’s heart was closed to this gospel, just like all of yours. She was averse to this message of a salvation which is all of God, which cost the death of the Son of God bearing her condemnation. She did not understand it, like it, nor want it. Her heart was shut to this religion, like yours. But, while Lydia was listening to Paul’s message the Lord was opening her heart. In other words, God’s grace accomplished redemption, and God’s grace applied it too. The Lord saves us from the guilt of sin, but also from its power. Lydia diligently heeded what Paul was saying. She was ignorant and hostile, but the Lord dealt with that. He opened her up to these new influences. So she believed what Paul was saying was true!

There is no other way anyone can have saving faith. Sometimes you hear speakers saying that God has done all that he can, and that now he pleads with you waiting for you to open your own hearts and take the first step of willingness, and then God will do the rest. Imagine it! You have to begin it, not God. God isn’t able to, and so you are the one who has to kick-start salvation! What a picture! The unregenerated sinner taking the first step of faith in Jesus Christ, all by himself. What need is there for the Holy Spirit if that first step is accomplished alone?. Spurgeon once said, “This preposterous idea of the sinner taking the first step all by himself reminds me of the Catholic claim that one of her ‘saints’ had his head cut off in battle. The man picked up his head and walked 3,000 miles back to Rome to be healed. I would have no problem at all believing such a story if the man could have taken the first step!” That first step is a very great step, out of the grave of spiritual death. If the sinner can will to do that then he will have no problem walking out of the graveyard to wherever he chooses to go. It is that first step that is the real problem, but that is the good work which God begins.

But Lydia had another problem didn’t she? Like all men and women she was defiled by sin. Her heart and soul were polluted by years without Christ, but the Lord took the initiative there again. A missionary woman had spoken for many years to a Hindu woman. The two had become good friends, but this Hindu had never understood the need of the cross of Christ. The Christian was having to return from India because of ill health with few more opportunities to speak to her friend. One evening she saw her going down to the Ganges to bathe. She quickly put some clothes in a box, tied it shut and went down to the river where she began dipping the box in the river. Her Hindu friend asked her what she was doing, and she replied, “Washing my clothes.” The Hindu said, “They’ll never get clean like that! The water can’t get inside where the dirt is.” The Christian said to her, “Isn’t that what I’ve been telling you all these years? Do you think that the Ganges can get into your heart where the sin is and wash that away? That is why we need the Lamb of God.” What can wash away our sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. How is that precious blood applied to our hearts? God the Holy Spirit comes into our lives cleansing our souls and spirits. The beginning is all from God. Then faith, and repentance, and understanding, and discipleship, and witness-bearing, and good works, these are all the consequences of God beginning to work.

There is a job that needs to be done in your home. You and your wife are quite incapable of doing it yourselves. It is a specialised technical work and only a skilled craftsman can do it. There is one such man in the community whose reputation is known by everyone. The problem is the waiting list because all men seem to want this man. They don’t want anyone else, and so you wait and wait for him to come, until that special day when he rings your bell and arrives in your home. You rejoice, because you know this, that once he starts this good work he will complete it. It is like that when almighty God begins to work in a sinner’s life.

John Reisinger was telling me his experience with his son. One summer John and his wife took their son and daughter-in-law to a Bible conference. He was a good “All-American” boy but John wasn’t really sure if his son had been converted. He knew all the right answers, but he didn’t seem to have any thirst for God. John preached four messages on the Bible’s teaching on the state of man. After the second message his son came up to John and said, “Dad. That’s the first sermon I ever heard you preach. Something happened to me tonight. I think I got converted.” The son has not been the same since that night, and exhibits the fruits of true conversion. He had heard his father preaching for twenty-two years, but that night God began a work in his life. Thus he was regenerated and so could believe the gospel. John didn’t say to him, “Thank you, son, for receiving Christ.” John rather says, “I thank my God who began a good work in you every time I remember you.”

We know of cases like that, when it suddenly became clear to people. You had been talking to them over the years and then one Sunday there they are in church. In the church of one of our daughters many of the thirty grandchildren of the founding husband and wife still attend that congregation (though others are in other churches). All but one man who is around thirty years of age have become Christians. Then one night he turned up at the Prayer Meeting, his first public acknowledgment that God had met with him, and he has never looked back since that time. Now all the grandchildren at different times and ways have come to confess Christ as Lord, and the hearts of some of the great-grandchildren are being opened. They came as God saved them, at his appointed time and way. You might have known what it was to pray for your children and instruct them in the Word of God, but seemingly it went in one ear and out the other. Then, one day as you are speaking, they said to you, “Why didn’t you tell us this before?” Today you thank your God every time you remember them because he began a work in their hearts.

But there was another reason why he gave thanks to God:


“I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (v.5). This word ‘partnership’ is a well-known Greek word, koinonia, often translated ‘fellowship’ a sharing in something, participating in something divine and eternal, something greater than we could ever be or do on our own. It means being caught up into a belonging or partnership which God has created and sustains. That is the Christian fellowship.

What an honour for a young man to be made a Fellow at one of the Oxford or Cambridge colleges. He is a virtually a professor, and he can sit in the Common room and hear the hum and buzz of conversation. In 1826 J.C.Philpot was elected Fellow of Worcester College, Oxford, and the following year took up his Fellowship there. There were occasions when he would gather with other renowned Fellows – historians, authors, scientists, and they would hold sessions at which they directed the affairs of their college. They were mutually committed to the well-being of the college as its Fellows. Some were kind to Philpot but the Provost took a violent dislike to him and informed him that he would be permanently excluded, because of Philpot’s gospel convictions, from any and every college office. A Fellow, but no fellowship.

Paul is speaking here of being one of the Fellows with the Philippian church. By ‘fellowship’ he is not speaking about a cozy atmosphere in which everyone strokes everyone else’s affections, and they sing choruses about ‘Jesus’. It is much more rigorous than that. Paul sees them as the Christian ‘fellows’ of Philippi – the teachers and spokesmen of the kingdom of God in Greece. What a motley crew to the eyes of the natural man. Where are the beautiful people? “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this world? . . . in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him” (I Cor. 1:20&21). How would today’s Oxbridge men judge such fellows as these – a former slave girl, two women who found it hard to be of the same mind, a jailer, and this ‘fundamentalist’ preacher? What sort of organisation is this to have such ‘fellows’? Yet there were none else. These were the chosen sons of God, standing fast in solidarity in the gospel. A great God, a work which he had begun in all of them, his achievements and his message, had lifted them into this new partnership many years previously. When Lydia’s heart was opened she invited Paul to stay in her home. When the jailer believed upon the Lord Jesus Christ he asked Paul into his home and fed him, and washed his wounds. There was partnership in the gospel from the first day, and it had not ended. Seeing it made Paul pray with joy for them. This partnership had often been practical and financial. They had sent a person and a gift to the prison in Rome, and they were still vitally concerned about him, and he for them. Here was a partnership which did not wax and wane, but which was burning on in a mutual zeal for the spread of the gospel at the time Paul was writing this letter.

This is the challenge, to learn to treat fellow members, even those with the weakest evidences of grace, as valuable persons instead of stepladders for our own ambitions, to spend time with persons very different from ourselves, to forgive men readily when they have offended us refusing to bear grudges against them, to stop running with complaints to itching ears who feed on any tit bit of resentment against someone they hate. What barriers we erect against partnership in the gospel. I have a plain friend who is a working man and a tract-distributor. For forty years on every Saturday in all weathers this bachelor has stood in a city and given out 750 tracts – sometimes more than a thousand. Occasionally he visits me, and once I had a young man staying at the Manse and I wanted him to sit for thirty minutes and listen to this expert speak on the ministry of tract distribution, but he would not stay with him for more than five minutes, and during that time he was itching to get away to his room. There would be no partnership in the gospel between them. The class difference, and the education difference between himself and this plain brother was a chasm to the young man, and he was not going to attempt to cross it. He could have learned from him. That tract distributor is worthy of respect, and the young man lost out on that opportunity. It would never return to him.

I’m saying that we must beware of a celebrity syndrome secretly coming into our lives. There are places in the world where the church is a tiny, embattled minority and there are no superstars, and when I see them I think I am looking at the future of the gospel church in Wales. If those churches want to evangelise they have to do the work themselves. In other words, the whole church is a partnership in the gospel, not a bunch of observers watching other people perform. Paul and the church at Philippi were not sitting on a pedestal. They were still involved in partnership in the gospel since the day hearts were opened by a river and an earthquake hit a prison. They had not picked fights with one another. They had not left their first love. They had not become luke-warm. Paul always prayed with joy for them because of their partnership in the gospel from the first day until the day he was writing this letter from Rome.

That was a sign of God’s blessing on them, that they continued steadfastly in partnership in the gospel. God was doing this. They kept giving an answer for their hope with meekness and fear. They kept their confession, “We have a great High Priest.” They kept praying that God would revive his work. They kept believing the truth of Jesus Christ. They kept going out into the highways and byways and compelling people to come in. They kept working for the Lord. they allowed no resentment to silent them, no snub to turn them aside, no misunderstanding to build a wall against another. They wouldn’t drop out. They wouldn’t become detached. They wouldn’t become spectators. They were involved partners in the gospel.

How wonderful the grace of God that did that in them! How mature they were. What signs that they were in Christ. What evidence that they were true Christians. Is a person who is not in partnership in the gospel a believer at all? So Paul saw this mark of the divine blessing on their lives and he gave thanks to God with joy, for God was sustaining this.


He “will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (v.6). These are the most memorable and oft-quoted words in this verse. God began it? Yes. Then he doesn’t do half a job, or leave it incomplete. Men often do, but not Almighty God. If he has set up the whole machinery of redemption then it will accomplish what he designed it to perform. Paul says that God began this work in you Philippians. Not in some of them only. He addresses the whole church whose hearts God opened. God will carry it on in all of you too. In other words, there is a continuous operation of God in every single believer, by which the work o f divine grace that God begins is continued and is brought to completion. That is what Paul is teaching. This is what made Augustus Toplady break into exultation:

“The work which His goodness began,
The arm of His strength will complete;
His promise is Yea and Amen
And never was forfeited yet.
Things future, nor things that are now,
Not all things below nor above
Can make Him his purpose forego
Or sever my soul from His love.”

Now there is a good principle that if a truth is found in one verse only in the Bible then you should doubt that that is what that verse is teaching. But this truth of the perseverance of the saints is taught extensively in the Bible:

John 6:37-40 “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.”

John 10:27-30 “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one.”

Romans 8:35-39 “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For they sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, not angels, not principalities, nor powers, nor things present, not things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

2 Timothy 4:16&17 “At my first answer no man stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

Let us desist. If the plain words of Scripture mean anything at all they teach that there is a continuous operation of God in every single believer, by which the work of divine grace that God begins is continued and is brought to completion. Of course the covenant of grace requires this to be so, and the power of the blood of Christ requires it to be so, and the love of God requires it to be so, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit – “Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.”

Ben Ramsbottom speaks to children and asks them, “Would a shepherd be happy if one of his sheep were missing? Would a king be happy with one of his jewels missing from his crown? And how can God lose those He has bought at such a cost? How can the Holy Spirit lose those in whose hearts He dwells? Some have spoken of the three P’s:

1. The promise. The Lord has promised that His people shall never be cast away, or left to sink in hell at last; ‘I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand’ (John 10:28).

2. The prayer. The Lord Jesus, before he died, prayed for all His people; that they might be kept and at last go to heaven: ‘Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold My glory’ (John 17:24). That prayer must be answered.

3. The power. We are ‘kept by the power of God’ (I Peter 1:5). The word ‘kept’ really means ‘garrisoned’, surrounded by a strong garrison of soldiers. That garrison is the same power that made the world” (B.A.Ramsbottom, “Bible Doctrines Simply Explained,” Gospel Standard Trust Publications, 1988, p.50).

But you are bound to ask two questions, if you are a thinking person. What about those who seem to be Christians and then fall away from the faith? The Lord Jesus in the parable of the sower describes such people and warns us that not every joyful response to the gospel is a saving response. There were stony ground hearers who initially received the word and flourished but then withered when troubles arose. There are those people mentioned in the Bible who seemed to follow the Lord for a time, Saul, Ahithophel, Judas Iscariot, and Simon Magus. But none of them was ever really a child of God. Let us make sure of our own trust in Christ lest we only seem to be Christians but in the end prove we are not. Let us not wrest this teaching of the preservation of God’s children to our own destruction. There was once a preacher who was always warning his congregation about the dangers of becoming false professors and falling away, and some of his congregation began to feel that he was really an Arminian, that is, someone who believes a true Christian can fall away from the grace of God and be lost. So one of them went to see him and said, “Pastor, I am told that you are against the perseverance of the saints.” “Not at all,” he said, “It is the perseverance of sinners that I oppose.” The man was not happy with that answer and he said to him, “Don’t you think that a child of God can fall very low, and yet be restored?” But the shrewd old minister had the last word as he looked at him and said, “I think it would be very dangerous to make that experiment.” In other words, let no one presume on the perseverance of the saints and continue in sin. Let us pursue holiness every day, without which no one will see the Lord.

The other question you are asking is whether when the Philippian church heard that God would certainly continue the work he had begun until heaven wouldn’t that have encouraged them to live however they wanted to live. No! Grace won’t let you! The power of God that keeps you also sanctifies you so that God’s own people won’t keep doing what God says is wrong. God changes our appetites, even though this takes many years. Saul of Tarsus the ravaging wolf becomes the gentle lamb. Now put him in the midst of a group of Christians and he starts to help them. The wolf has become the lamb. When a student became a Christian her old friends tormented her that she couldn’t do what she wanted. “Yes I can,” she said. “I can do what I want to do.” “Then come down to the bar with us,” they said. “I don’t want to,” she smiled and said. She was freed from the bondage of serving sin to serve the Lord.

If we continue to defy God by our lives of sin then God will warn us, and rebuke us, and ultimately chastise us. He will take the delight of sinning from us, and give us repentance. Remember what happened to King David. God did not throw him out of the kingdom, any more than our own father throw us out of our homes when we do something wrong. David was chastened by God. So our Father will use his word and he will use the events of our daily lives, and all the time in every way he will carry on the work he has begun to completion.

The well-known John Newton, one time a sea captain, once told of a remarkable dream he had. In his dream he was in Naples harbour when a most glorious person came on board the ship and gave him a precious and beautiful jewel. Thanking him, and taking it from him, John Newton thought there could be no one more happy. But soon another person came on the deck and began to mock him, saying the jewel was no good, and urging him to throw it away. After a time Newton began to believe him and, taking the jewel, flung it into the sea. Immediately, he was filled with horror. The sky grew dark and the nearby volcano began to erupt. “Oh! what have I done?” he cried.

After a time the first glorious person came to him again, and asked him about the jewel he had kindly given him. With shame John Newton confessed he had thrown it away. What would happen now? But in his dream he saw the glorious person go over the side of the ship, right down beneath the water, and after a time return with the jewel. As he came back on the deck, Newton says, “I held out my hand for it, but he refused. ‘No,’ he said, ‘the jewel is yours; it always will be yours; but I will keep it for you.'”

What blessings Christians have! When Paul arrays them before the Ephesians it is in an inextinguishable blaze of praise. Its keynote is struck in the word ‘Blessed!’ “Blessed be God who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing!” You can see what was in Paul’s heart and mind when he writes down words like those. When a man’s lips can just say, “Blessing . . . blessing . . . blessing!” then his heart is full. Paul is blessing God because God has so highly blessed him. He has begun a good work in the hearts of all his many people, and he is continuing that work and will do so until the day of Christ Jesus. “Blessing . . . blessing . . . blessing!” Paul says, “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy.” Why? Because God has blessed us! How? With every possible blessing, beginning, keeping and perfecting! So there is always joy.

That was the perspective Paul had when he prayed for the Philippian church. He did not think of the little daily problems of health and relationships in the congregation, he thought of the day of Christ and how that all these people were going to be there complete and entire lacking nothing, and Paul was overwhelmed as he thought of them there in the place God will have prepared. It is all of God. That is the key-note of this passage. It is all of God. It is not our deserving; it is not our doing. It is all of God. That is why Paul prayed with joy and thanksgiving every time he remembered them. Had man begun it, and were man continuing it, and did man have to complete it, so far the voice of Paul’s praise would be silenced. But when he sees it all flowing from a divine work, a divine work sustained day by day, and a divine work most certainly perfected in the great day, then it is all to the praise of the glory of his grace. This is why whenever he thinks of them he thanks God and is moved to joy. It is obviously only another way of saying, “if God be for us, there is none who can be against us.” So through a grasp of God’s grace Paul becomes a thankful and joyful Christian.

26th May 2002 GEOFF THOMAS