Faith in Focus

THE ELEMENTS OF JOY - ANTICIPATION.


 

Philippians 1:6: "...being confident of this, that He Who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."

 

I have a model sailing ship at home, the U.S.S. Constitution. It has been the butt of family jokes for the last 10 years or more for its progress is very slow. Every few months one of the children will inevitably ask, "When are we going to do some more on the ship Dad?" It looks very majestic in the picture on the box cover and that is our hope! We live in the anticipation that the work begun will someday be brought to completion.

The Apostle Paul lived his apostolic ministry with the joy of anticipation. The time of writing this letter to the Philippians is some 10-12 years after Acts 16 where we the see the birth of the Philippian church in the conversion of Lydia and the Jailer. At the time of writing, Paul is in Rome under house arrest waiting for a verdict from Caesar as to whether he is to be allowed to live or be put to death. He is under 24-hour guard and there was no privacy as he was chained to soldiers (in six-hour shifts) with a length of chain some 18inches long. More than that, there are other preachers of the Gospel who were trying to score points off Paul's imprisonment, saying that God must be angry with Paul for putting him in jail. `So come and follow us and don't mind about Paul.' The Philippian church was quite concerned about Paul so they sent a letter and Epaphroditus to be Paul's servant. This letter to the Philippians is Paul's reply, don't be anxious about me I am not disheartened or depressed, rather I have great joy! For joy is not tied to happiness and circumstances but to a living relationship with Christ Jesus. And then in verses 3-8 of Chapter 1, Paul outlines five elements of joy. In verse 6 it is the joy of "Anticipation" being confident of God's ongoing work in them as a congregation. It is a joy and confidence that despite all the heartaches and trials and disappointments our hope for the church of Christ is that it is ultimately a work that God does!

 

         a. Regeneration

The first aspect of the joy of anticipation is Regeneration: that it is God (through the Holy Spirit) Who opens the heart to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. As we see in Verse 6a: "Being confident of this, that He Who BEGAN a good work in you..." And see further in the birth of the Philippian church where in Acts 16:14 it says, "The Lord opened her (Lydia's) heart to respond to Paul's message." Conversion is first and foremost the work of God upon the heart in regeneration. Our believing is in response to His gift of faith worked out through His Word and Spirit. And what a blessed relief that is to us! Then we do not have to be bound up and enslaved by Church Growth theology which teaches that if your church is not growing in numbers and overflowing then you are using the wrong technique. What a relief from the numbers game and marketing strategies to witnessing faithfully and confidently to the Gospel. In this joy of God's work of Regeneration, the question of evangelism is not "Have we been successful?" rather, "Have we been faithful?" Not that we should for a moment fall into the other `ditch' of hyper-Calvinism (just keep the church doors open and God will bring them in) and so sit back and do nothing. For Jesus has clearly given the command to, "Go and make disciples of all nations..." But it is always God's work.  We are called to be faithful, he will bring to faith those whom He has chosen. And so as we witness to the Gospel and pray for conversion of hearts to faith, we live with the joy of anticipation - God changing the heart to faith.

 

         b. Preservation.

The second aspect of the joy of Anticipation is Preservation: Verse 6b: "...(that God) will carry it on to completion..." Paul declares his full confidence that God will bring His work of salvation to completion (the idea here is perfection, to bring to its final and fullest conclusion). The One Who saves will also bring to perfection. This is nothing more or less than the `Preservation of the Saints!' In John 10:27-29, Jesus declares, "My sheep listen to my voice, I know them and they follow Me. I give them eternal live and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of My hand. My Father Who has given them to Me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of My Father's hand!" And as we find in Romans 8:39: "Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

In the light of this glorious Biblical truth, we have a firm confidence to face each day as the church, as God's people. God is in control; we are under His preserving care. Our joy is that no matter what goes on in the church, the work God began, He will bring to completion! No one who belongs to the Father will ever fall away. What a tremendous relief that the welfare of the church is not totally on our shoulders! Imagine if the welfare and future of the church were totally our responsibility? It would be like losing a netball game and afterwards in the locker room the coach `chews you out': "YOU are the reason we lost this game! YOU fumbled the ball! YOU were never in the right place at the right time! It is entirely YOUR fault we lost!" But that will never happen to us in heaven. God will never say to us, "Because of your unfaithfulness, all these people never got to heaven - you lost them! Imagine if God were to hold you responsible for the saving and keeping of your children in the Faith? We simply can't live under that responsibility for none us measure up to what we ought to be. It is by the Work of Jesus Christ alone one is saved. Everyone who belongs to Christ will get to heaven, despite all our weaknesses and struggles and shortcomings. God's grace is greater than our weaknesses. Now again we don't want to fall into the other `ditch' of fatalism (it doesn't matter what I do for God has it all sorted out anyway). We are clearly called to live upright and godly lives and to encourage one another in the faith. The church is called to exercise church discipline as an act of restoration and calling back the erring brother or sister. We are called to be faithful, but the ultimate result is the work of God for He will not let His children go. Therefore we can live in the joy of anticipation even while we plead for our erring children before the Throne of Grace. It is all by grace and God will bring to completion the good work He has begun.

 

         c. Glorification.

The third aspect of the joy of anticipation is Glorification: Verse 6c, "(He... will carry on to completion) until the Day of Christ Jesus." Here Paul has the joy and confidence that God will bring to completion His work of salvation in Glorification. Most of us are familiar with the Biblical term, "The Day of the Lord." In the Old Testament it referred to the Divine Judgement on sinners. The outpouring of God's wrath.  In the New Testament it refers to the Day of Judgement when Christ will return on the clouds to judge the nations; where the sheep will be separated to the right to glory and the goats to the left to everlasting damnation.  The "Day of Christ," however, refers to that time when Believers will be glorified (cf. Philippians 1:10; 2:16; 1 Corinthians 1:8; 5:5; 2 Corinthians 1:14 - it always refers to a positive event where the believer will rejoice in the glorification of the saints). Where Justification and Sanctification become Glorification. This then adds to the confidence and joy of the Apostle Paul. God will indeed completely finish His work of grace; He who calls will bring to faith, He Who brings to faith will preserve, and He Who preserves will also glorify.

In this joy of anticipation we can look forward to what the church will become. It is like a runner who endures the pain and hardship of a marathon race knowing that at the end there will be a gold medal; the glory of having won the race. It is like a coach who begins coaching a motley team anticipating the glory of winning the match. In the same way we can enjoy the ministry of the church. We can have joy in that we are part of God's process of salvation in the work of the church. Don't let your joy be stolen because you lose focus of what the church will become! For we (and all believers) will all ultimately become like Jesus. There is a real temptation for us to become disheartened and discouraged with the politics and problems of the church because we think too much of how it is `our' church and what we perceive is happening to `our' church and so losing sight of the fact that it is Christ's church and looking forward to what `His' church will become in her glorification! What joy there is in looking forward to our Covenant children growing up and personally making a commitment to Christ.  What a joy to see God's faithfulness to the Covenant as the Christian faith is passed on through the generations of families. What joy to participate in the ministries of the church knowing that God's saving grace is working through us, even earthen vessels.. What a joy to know that though there may be nothing more we can do but pray, God is still at work in the hearts of those who have wondered away.  And then what a joy when an erring brother and sister come back to the faith. What a joy when a loved dies to know that they have merely gone on before us and that one day soon we will all be glory! This is the liberty and joy of the Gospel and we are called to live in that joy with a sense of anticipation as Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 15 after teaching about the Final Resurrection in the Second Coming of Christ Jesus:

"Therefore my dearly beloved - stand firm! Let nothing move you, always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain!"

 

Mr Alan Douma is the Minister of the Reformed Church of Christchurch.

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Faith in Focus /NZ Reformed Church / gmilne@ihug.co.nz / revised July 2000 / Copyright 2000