|Note from present-day Eliana: This blog post was originally started two years ago, when I was studying Philippians with my youth group. Since I’m coming back to Philippians as I lead a Bible study this fall, I rediscovered my draft for this post about good works and decided to finish it and share it with you all.|
In my youth group, we’ve been trying out different Bible study techniques on the book of Philippians. Recently we tried an exercise where we chose one of the topics mentioned in the beginning portion of Philippians and studied it.
As we studied it, I became particularly curious about what Paul says to the Philippian church in Philippians 1:6:
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.
What is Good Work?
What exactly did Paul mean by “a good work”? Is it the fruit of the Spirit? Or is it something more implicit? Why did he phrase it that way?
It seemed kind of pointless to just stare at the verse. It wasn’t like Paul said anywhere, “By this I mean such and such…” or “This is what the good work I’ve been seeing is…”
But when I took a closer look at the context, it turned out this is exactly what he did.
I chose this as my topic for the youth group 5-10 minute exercise, but I got a little carried away and went overtime just to keep picking out clues Paul had left for me. I ended up finding 10 lessons about good works, which is a pretty epic number to end up with and a very satisfying study.
There was so much more to learn though. I took my list home so I could ponder these things a little deeper. And for me, the best way to ponder is by writing.
“What is good work?” might seem like a simple question. It’s easy to come up with all these ideas in our heads about what it is or isn’t.
But this is a super important question too, and it defines how we live our life. Looking to Scripture is the best way to study the concept of good works and find out where God puts His emphasis when He writes this letter through Paul. So let’s take a closer look.
Philippians 1:3-11, ESV
3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 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. 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. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 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.
#1: Good Work is Something to Praise God For
When you read Philippians 1:3-11 (which you did do, I am sure), you may have noticed two of the things Paul talks about a lot. First, the good works the Philippians were doing in the present, and secondly, the good works that he prays to see in them in the future.
I love that even though Paul’s focus of this particular passage is on the Philippians and their faith, he takes care to begin and end with God. The Bible is ultimately about God (He’s the main character, appearing in the very first verse!), God manages everything in the universe, and as Christians, our lives should revolve around God too.
Paul makes it clear that even if we seem to be the ones doing the work, the fruit in our lives is something to praise God for.
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. – Philippians 1:3-5
You can see Paul happily praying and thanking God for the Philippians because of their partnership in the gospel. Paul is thanking God—not the Philippians—for the good he is seeing in their lives.
#2: Good Work is Something to Be Joyful About
And that point not only shows us that God’s the one to thank—it also shows us that it is good and right to have joy when we see good works in our own lives and other lives.
When we see good, pray with joy (like Paul in verse 4). Celebrate. Lift up your voice and thank God for what He is doing in the lives of His children.
The Psalms set an excellent example for us, glorifying God for His great works:
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad. – Psalms 126:1-3
Whether we see God working by directly changing our situation or by doing good work in and through His people, rejoice! Be glad! God is good.
#3: Good Work Is Centered Around the Gospel
Let’s list some things that are easy to think about good work but are not true.
- Good work is defined by what we think is good.
- Good work is about the stuff we do.
- Good work is supposed to make us look good.
- Good work is done in our own power.
If good work isn’t about all this, what is it about?
The answer, my friend, is the gospel.
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. – Philippians 1:3-5 (emphasis added)
One way you could summarize the gospel is this: God created the world and man in His image with a perfect relationship with Him. But man sinned and ruined his relationship with God and doomed himself to eternal death, because God is just and can’t tolerate sin. But God is also love, so He sent His Son to die for our sins and rise again, so that whoever believes in Him, repents of their sins, and follows Him will have eternal life.
And to sum that up even further: God. Man. Christ. Response. (Check out What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert.)
This truth totally redefines our good work. If we are partnered with the gospel, we know that God defines good. We know that we are sinners, and apart from God, we can’t do good.
Christ came so we could be freed from our sins, and God has adopted us as His children. We repent and follow His example of good work and sacrifice out of love for Him because He first loved us.
Looks like we’re only three points in and out of time for today. Oops. Who’s up for a blog series?
Rather than sharing all ten points here, I’ll unpack the next seven points over the next two weeks with two more blog posts. Stay tuned!
In conclusion for today, good work is something to praise God for, it’s something to be joyful about, and it’s centered around the gospel. Ultimately, God is the one doing a good work in us, and it is His good work that expresses itself in and through us as we do good works. The gospel shakes our hearts and creates a ripple effect in our lives. This is what Paul means by “a good work” and what we will explore in greater depth in this series.
Here are a few possible points of application…. You know what? Let’s call them challenges. I’m going to try to do these this week too, so let me know if you accept the challenge and we can keep each other accountable! 😉
- Dig up those subconscious beliefs about good work in your own heart and weed them out. How do they line up with the gospel?
- Praise God for the good work you’ve seen in your life.
- Praise God for the good work you’ve seen in someone else’s life.
- And send them an email or text (or call or letter or smoke signal) to let them know you are praising God for that!