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God who has begun a good work in you will complete it
The following passages are taken from Charles R Swindoll’s book “Laugh Again---Experience Outrageous Joy,” published in 1992.
What was it about those folks in Philippi that brought Paul so much joy?
First, he had happy memories of the people.
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. (Philippians 1:3—5 NASB)
His memory of them made him smile. Meaning what? What were Paul’s happy memories? He had no regrets, he nursed no ill feelings, he struggled through no unresolved conflicts. When he looked back over a full decade and thought of the Philippians, he laughed!
I wonder how many pastors can say that about former churches they have served? Could you say that about former friends you have had? Or places where you have worked? Are yours happy memories? Unfortunately, the memory of certain people makes us chum. When we call them to mind, they bring sad or disappointing mental images. Paul knew no such memories from his days in Philippi. Amazingly, he could not remember one whom he would accuse or feel ill toward, not even those who threw him in prison or those who stood in a courtroom and made accusations against him. He entertained only good memories of Philippi. Positive memories make life so much lighter.
Another reason he was joyful? He had firm confidence in God.
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. (Philippians 1:6—7)
Paul’s confidence in God was a settled fact. He knew that God was at work and in control. He was confident that God was bringing about whatever was happening for His greater glory. When we possess that kind of confidence, we have a solid platform built within us—--a solid platform upon which joy can rest.
Look back at the words began and perfect. They represent opposite ends or, if you will, the bookends of life. The One who started (began) a good work in your life will complete (perfect) it.
The work You have in me begun
Will by Your grace be fully done.1
That’s what gives us confidence. That’s what helps us laugh again.
Focus on the word perfect. I doubt that we have imagined the true meaning of it. Travel back in your mind to the cross where Christ was crucified. See the Savior lifted up, paying for the sins of the world. Listen to His words. There were seven sayings that Christ uttered from the cross, commonly called the seven last words of Christ. One of them our Lord cried out was a single word, Tetelestai! Translated, it means, “It is finished!” Telos is the root Greek term, the same root of the word translated perfect. Paul was saying, “He who began a good work in you when you were converted ten years ago, Philippians, will bring it to completion. It will be finished! Jesus will see to it. And that gives me joy.”
You want a fresh burst of encouragement? You may have a good friend who is not walking as close to the Lord as he or she once was. Here is fresh hope. Rest in the confidence that God has neither lost interest nor lost control. The Lord has not folded His arms and looked the other way. That person you are concerned about may be your son or daughter. Find encouragement in this firm confidence: The One who began a good work in your boy or in your girl will bring it to completion; He will finish the task. I repeat, that firm confidence in God’s finishing what He started will bring back your joy.
I have mentioned joy stealers several times already. Perhaps this is a good place for me to identify three of these most notorious thieves at work today. All three, by the way, can be resisted by firm confidence, the kind of confidence we’ve been thinking about.
The first joy stealer is worry. The second is stress. And the third is fear. They may seem alike, but there is a distinct difference.
Worry is an inordinate anxiety about something that may or may not occur. It has been my observation that what is being worried about usually does not occur. But worry eats away at joy like slow-working acid while we are waiting for the outcome. I’ll say much more about this thief in chapter 12.
Stress is a little more acute than worry. Stress is intense strain over a situation we cannot change or control—--something out of our control. (Occasionally the safest place for something to be is out of our control.) And instead of releasing it to God, we churn over it. It is in that restless churning stage that our stress is intensified. Usually the thing that plagues us is not as severe as we make it out to be.
Fear, on the other hand, is different from worry and stress. It is dreadful uneasiness over the presence of danger, evil, or pain. As with the other two, however, fear usually makes things appear worse than they really are.
How do we live with worry and stress and fear? How do we with stand these joy stealers? Go back to Paul’s words:
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)
Let me be downright practical and tell you what I do. First I remind myself early in the morning and on several occasions during the day, “God, You are at work, and You are in control. And, Lord God, You know this is happening. You were there at the beginning, and You will bring everything that occurs to a conclusion that results in Your greater glory in the end.” And then? Then (and only then!) I relax. From that point on, it really doesn’t matter all that much what happens. It is in God’s hands.
I love the story of the man who had fretted for fifteen years over his work. He had built his business from nothing into a rather sizable operation. In fact, he had a large plant that covered several acres. With growth and success, however, came ever-increasing demands. Each new day brought a whole new list of responsibilities. Weary of the worry, the stress, and the fear, he finally decided to give it all over to God. With a smile of quiet contentment, he prayed, “Lord God, the business is Yours. All the worry, the stress, and the fears I release to You and Your sovereign will. From this day forward, Lord, You own this business.” That night he went to bed earlier than he had since he started the business. Finally. . . peace.
In the middle of the night the shrill ring of the phone awoke the man. The caller, in a panicked voice, yelled, “Fire! The entire place is going up in smoke!” The man calmly dressed, got into his car and drove to the plant. With his hands in his pockets he stood there and watched, smiling slightly. One of his employees hurried to his side and said, “What in the world are you smiling about? How can you be so calm? Everything’s on fire!” The man answered, “Yesterday afternoon I gave this business to God. I told Him it was His. If He wants to burn it up, that’s His business.”
Some of you read that and think, That’s insane! No, that is one of the greatest pieces of sound theology you can embrace. Firm confidence in God means that it is in His hands. He who started something will bear the pressure of it and will bring the results exactly as He planned for His greater glory. How could a business burned to the ground be of glory to God? you may ask. Well, sometimes the loss of something very significant—--perhaps something we are a slave to—--is the only way God can get our attention and bring us back to full sanity. The happiest people I know are the ones who have learned how to hold everything loosely and have given the worrisome, stress-filled, fearful details of their lives into God’s keeping.
We have seen that Paul remained joyful because he had great memories and because he lived with firm confidence.
Third, he felt a warm affection toward his fellow believers.
For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:7—8)
The term Paul uses for affection is, literally, the Greek word for “bowels.” In the first century it was believed that the intestines, the stomach, the liver, even the lungs, held the most tender parts of human emotions. That explains why this joyful man would use “bowels” in reference to “affection.” He says, in effect, “As I share with you my feelings, I open my whole inner being to you and tell you that the level of my affection is deep and tender.” Too many people live with the inaccurate impression that Paul was somewhat cold and uncaring. Not according to this statement; in fact, quite the contrary! When he was with those he loved, Paul went to the warmest depths in conversation and affection.
If you have not yet read John Powell’s Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am? you are missing a great experience. There is a section in the book that is worth a great deal of your time and attention. It is where the author presents the five levels of communication, which, he says, are like concentric circles--—from the most shallow and superficial level (outer circle) to the deepest, most intimate level (smallest circle at the core).
Level five, the outer circle of superficiality, is the level he calls “cliché conversation.”
On this level, we talk in clichés, such as: “How are you? . . . How is your family? . . . Where have you been?” We say things like: “I like your dress very much.” “I hope we can get together real soon.” “It’s really good to see you.” [Which might really mean, “We may not see each other for a year, and I’m not going to sweat it.”] . . . If the other party were to begin answering our question, “How are you?” in detail, we would be astounded. Usually and fortunately the other party senses the superficiality and conventionality of our concern and question, and obliges by simply giving the standard answer, “just fine, thank you.”2
That’s cliché communication. Tragically, that is the deepest many people choose to go.
Level four is where we “report facts” about each other.
We remain contented to tell others what so-and-so has said or done. We offer no personal, self-revelatory commentary on these facts, but simply report them.3
This is the realm of gossip and petty, meaningless little tales about others.
Level three leads us into the area of ideas and judgments. Rarely do people communicate at this deeper level. They are able, but they’re not willing.
As I communicate my ideas, etc., I will be watching you carefully. I want to test the temperature of the water before I leap in. I want to be sure that you accept me with my ideas, judgments, and decisions. If you raise your eyebrows or narrow your eyes, if you yawn or look at your watch, I will probably retreat to safer ground. I will run for the cover of silence, or change the subject of conversation.4
Because this begins to get below the “skating” level, those who go to the depths of ideas and judgments are quite courageous.
Level two moves into “feelings.”
If I really want you to know who I am, I must tell you about my stomach (gut-level) as well as my head. My ideas, judgments, and decisions are quite conventional. If I am a Republican or a Democrat by persuasion, I have a lot of company. If I am for or against space exploration, there will be others who will support me in my conviction. But the feelings that lie under my ideas, judgments and convictions are uniquely mine. . .
It is these feelings, on this level of communication, which I must share with you, if I am to tell you who I really am.5
I would hazard a guess that less than 10 percent of us ever communicate on that “feeling” level. To my disappointment, I have discovered that husbands and wives can live for years under the same roof without reaching this level.
Level one is the most personal, intimate form of communication.
All deep and authentic friendships, and especially the union of those who are married, must be based on absolute openness and honesty. . .
Among close friends or between partners in marriage there will come from time to time a complete emotional and personal communion.6
Such depth of communication, which Paul seems to have practiced on a regular basis, brings a satisfaction—--and joy—--like few things on earth. And when we are free to express our feelings this deeply, we have little difficulty offering up prayers that are meaningful and specific. Which is precisely what Paul mentions next.
He names two things that are of equal importance: abounding love and keen discernment. Verse 9 says, “I pray that your love may abound.” Verse 10, “I pray that you may approve things that are excellent.”
To begin with, love—--abounding love—--needs to flow freely, somewhat like a river. But that river must be kept within its banks or it swells and overflows. And when that happens, disaster! If you have ever been in a region that has been flooded, you know the calamity floodwaters can create.
When love floods indiscriminately, we love everything, even the wrong things. Paul said it well. It is knowledge—--real knowledge—--and discernment—--keen discernment—--that keep love within its banks.
He concludes this opening paragraph on a high note when he writes of. . . .
. . .having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
What a prayer! I realize how much he loved those folks at Philippi when I read words like this.
When was the last time you wrote somebody and mentioned what you were praying for on their behalf? You and I may frequently pray for individuals, but seldom do we sit down and write a note, “Dear So-and-So, I want you to know I’m praying for these three things to take place in your life: one . . . two . . . three. . . .“ Paul’s model is worth duplicating. You quickly move beyond level five when you begin to communicate like that, and I challenge you to do it.
We begin to laugh again when we rest our full confidence in God. More specifically, according to what we have just read in Philippians 1:
• Confidence brings joy when we fix our attention on the things for which we are thankful.
• Confidence brings joy when we let God be God.
• Confidence brings joy when we keep our love within proper limits.
Even though we are just getting started, we have covered a lot of important territory. As I think about the practical side of all this, it occurs to me that joy is ours to claim. In fact, no one on earth can invade and redirect our life of joy unless we permit them to do so.
Hudson Taylor put it like this:
It doesn’t matter, really, how great the pressure is; it only matters where the pressure lies. See that it never comes between you and the Lord—--then, the greater the pressure, the more it presses you to His breast.7
The pressure on you may be intense. A half-dozen joy stealers may be waiting outside your door, ready to pounce at the first opportunity. However, nothing can rob you of your hold on grace, your claim to peace, or your confidence in God without your permission. Choose joy. Never release your grip!
I have lived almost fifty-eight years on this old earth, and I am more convinced than ever that the single most important choice a follower of Christ can make is his or her choice of attitude. Only you can determine that. Choose wisely . . . choose carefully . . . choose confidently.
Earlier I paraphrased a poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox. I want to close this chapter by quoting it as she wrote it.
The Winds of Fate
One ship drives east and another drives west
With the selfsame winds that blow.
‘Tis the set of the sails
And not the gales
Which tells us the way to go.
Like the winds of the sea are the ways of fate,
As we voyage along through life:
‘Tis the set of a soul
That decides its goal,
And not the calm or the strife.8
My advice? Set your sails for joy! You will never regret it. (38-45)
2. John Powell, Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am? (Chicago, Ill.: Argus Communications Co., 1969), 54—55.
3. Ibid., 56.
4. Ibid., 56—57.
5. Ibid., 57—58.
6. Ibid., 61—62.
7. Howard Taylor and Mary G. Taylor, Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret (Chicago: Moody Press, 1932), 152.
8. Wilcox, “The Wind of Fate,” 364.
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