The Journal of Biblical Accuracy

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Misusing Philippians 1:6: "He who started the good work in me will finish it anyway"

Philippians 1:6 is another passage used to support that once somebody believes, there is no way he will ever fall away. Here is what the passage says:

"Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ"

So some people take this passage and say: "God started the work and he will perform it till the end" and implicitly add to this: "regardless of what I do". It is similar argument to the one we saw used in Jude 1:24. And as in Jude 1:24 and earlier in John 10:28, so also here the context is ignored. However before we see the context, I would like to point out that Paul speaks about confidence. Being confident for something means that I believe something and I believe it strongly, but it does not mean that I am 100% sure about it. I am confident about it. Now moving on, why was Paul confident? Was he as confident regarding everybody, every Christian, as he was of the Philippians? If it was just the fact that they believed once upon a time, that made him so confident, then he would have been just as confident about everybody who believed. But he was not. Compare the above confidence regarding the Philippians with the below feedback to the Galatians:

Galatians 4:11
"I am afraid I have labored over you in vain"

Instead of being confident, he was afraid. Instead of a finished work, he speaks about a labor in vain, wasted. Both the Galatians and the Philippians were believers. But the confidence is not the same concerning both, which in turn shows that Paul’s confidence was not simply because once upon a time these people believed and therefore it was sure that God would finish the work in them, regardless of what they did. Why then was Paul so confident about the Philippians? We only need to read the next verse to find out. So verse 7 tells us:

Philippians 1:7
"It 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."

Barnes expands the above passage as follows:

"There is a reason why I should cherish this hope of you, and this confident expectation that you will be saved. That reason is found in the evidence which you have given that you are sincere Christians. Having evidence of that, it is proper that I should believe that you will finally reach heaven."

Paul saw the fruit of these believers and because of this he was confident that they would continue like this. His confidence is like the confidence you have when you know somebody and you are satisfied with what he does. This is the confidence that Paul had about these believers: he knew them, he had seen their fruit and he was confident that they would be there at the end. He was confident that they would keep themselves in the love of God and God, who is able to keep them from stumbling, would finish the work that He had started in them. I believe this is a more accurate way to understand this passage. If we use it to say "God will finish the work in me, regardless of whether or not I hold fast to his Word or keep myself in His love", then we abuse it.

In fact Paul, with all the confidence he had about the Philippians, kept instructing them:

Philippians 2:12-16
"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain."

In short: Paul’s confidence was because of the fruit the Philippians demonstrated. It was not an abstract confidence for everybody. And he exhorts even these fruitful Philippians to hold fast to the Word, which in turn means that there was a possibility – despite all Paul’s confidence – that they would not. In that case his labor would be in vain.

Next section: Misusing 1 Corinthians 3:15: I can do whatever I want and still be saved! On the day of judgment my (sinful) works may be burned but I will still make it!


Author: Anastasios Kioulachoglou