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Tuesday, November 11

A good work in (or among) you (Philippians 1:6)

Paul begins his letter to the Philippians with praise for them, and then says this now famous verse. “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” (ESV).

It is not that difficult of a verse to translate. The only really question is the translation of en hymin. The “you ” is plural, a fact obscured by the English language. This is partly why some translations prefer “among” instead of “in” since it helps clarify that Paul’s confidence is in God’s work within all the people of the Philippian church.

But these types of constructions can be confusing. Can this verse be used, as it often is, to reassure a single believer that God will bring his work to completion in an individual, or is this only a promise to the larger group of the church? The plural “you” alerts us to the fact that it cannot only be a promise to an individual but that it is primarily for the group. But is that the end of the discussion? And what specifically is the “good work”?

Hawthorne sees the good work in terms of the immediate context. The Philippians started to share in Paul’s material support, and God will continue to work through them. But it is difficult to get “through you” out of en hymin. It is not a natural reading of the text.

Others see the “good work” as something more general, something more akin to their participation in spreading the gospel with Paul, or just their participation with Christ (Fee). Paul is confident because their spiritual lives began with the work of Christ (and not the Philippians themselves) and it is Christ who will bring it to it perfect fulfillment.

en hymin is a standard way of saying “among you.” Paul is confident that God is at work among the Philippians, and that he will continue to work among them until Christ returns. The plural “you” asserts that this is Paul’s primary intent. But if God is working among the believers as a group, the only way to do that is for him to work in the life of each individual believer.

But did Christ continue to work among the Philippian church until he returns? Based on what I saw in Philippi a few years back, I would have to conclude, No. I wasn’t there long, but I did not see evidence of a vibrant church. I have to conclude that while God was at work in the life of the Philippian church, ultimately Paul’s confidence was in God’s ability to complete what he initiated in the lives of the individual believers who made up the Philippian church.

For this reason I am comfortable using Phil 1:6 as assurance for an individual Christian. God initiated the work of redemption in their life. The gift of the Holy Spirit was the guarantee their inheritance (Eph 1:14). God will bring his work to completion when his children stand before the throne. This was true of the believers in Philippi. It is still true today.