On Behalf of Christ: The Sovereignty of God in Philippians

How do we view our lives?

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes about contentment, confidence, and joy. When the world talks about contentment, confidence, and joy and it talks about finding those things in the self. There is talk about being content in what we have accomplished, having self-confidence, and taking joy in what we have done. But what is the foundation Paul presents for these things?

We read at the beginning of Philippians,

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 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.

(Philippians 1:3-6)

I always pray with joy, Paul says, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion. What is the root from which Paul’s joy and confidence comes? Is it what the Philippians have done? No. It is from what God has done. Paul has joy that the Philippians are partners in the gospel, but they are partners because of the good work God has done in them. And Paul is confident not because he has some great confidence in the Philippians and their own inner strength, but because he is confident in God–the one who began the good work and the one who will carry it on to completion.

The world places its confidence in the flesh, in what man can do, and takes its joy from what man has done. The right spiritual perspective places its confidence in God, in what He can and will do, and takes it joy from what He has done.

But Paul speaks more about this work which God has done. A little later in the same chapter we read, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29).

Granted to you on behalf of Christ. There are two parts of that statement to look at. It was granted to you, and on behalf of Christ.

Granted. The Greek word is Charizomai and can have the meaning such as “To do a person a favor, to be kind to,” Or, “to be gracious to, to give or bestow willingly as a gift.” And that which has been graciously given as a gift has not been earned, merited, or grasped by one’s own strength. With that one word Paul conveys the sovereign will of God in election unto salvation.

On behalf of Christ. In accord with His own sovereign will God grants salvation to those He chooses, but lest anyone think, “God chose me on my behalf, because I was better than others,” Paul makes it clear on whose behalf God grants salvation. On behalf of Christ it has been granted to us to believe. That reveals the true center, and reason for our salvation. It isn’t about us. It is about Christ.

One ought to take this to heart. Salvation is not something grasped, it is not something to be gained by effort. Salvation is granted, something given. And not because of something we have done, or something we can look at in ourselves. Not on our behalf, not on our account. On behalf of Christ we were granted salvation for his sake, for his glory. As it is said,

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will–to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

(Ephesians 1:3-14)

Paul has spoken about joy and confidence in the first chapter of Philippians and in Philippians 2:1 he continues “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love” and we see Paul once again finding the locus in God. It is not what we have done, but rather what God has done–His love and the union with Him which He has brought about–which ought to give us our encouragement and comfort.

Paul continues, “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Phil. 2:13). It is God who works in us, not us working independently by ourselves. Further, speaking about the efforts for righteousness in the flesh he says, “I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith” (Phil. 3:8-9).

In contrast to those who strive for righteousness by their own efforts, we “worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3).

We all must remember, day by day, to live by faith in that work of God. In that faith we have true confidence, joy, comfort, contentment, patience, peace, and all such things. We lacks those things, and struggle in our daily lives, when we take our eyes off Jesus and look to ourselves. We must put off the flesh with its desire to find righteousness and joy in oneself instead of in Christ and the working of God.

When I look at Christianity in America today I am troubled by what I see as a trend toward “It’s all about you” Christianity. Books galore are written, and lectures given, about your joy, happiness, contentment, self-esteem, self-confidence, and all others things dealing with self. It is feel-good positivism And that is exactly the fleshly way the world thinks and the way the world seeks to satisfy itself. But the way to joy, confidence, and contentment presented by the world and popular Christianity is a sham that will be found worthless and empty, a chasing after of the wind.

The truth is that it isn’t about us. Salvation isn’t centered on us, much as pop culture Christianity would like to sell it off as the universe centered on us. No. It is all about Christ Jesus. Salvation is centered on Christ, and it is only we who are in Christ who participate in it. Confidence, joy, contentment, peace, and all those things are not found in manipulating our own miserable little worlds or reading enough positive self-help books. It is all about having a perspective focused on the work of God in Christ.

That is not the easy way, and it is not the appealing way, because that way is the way of putting to death the flesh. But when we do put to death the flesh and with eyes of faith look to and desire the work of God in Christ, then we have true confidence, joy, contentment, and peace which transcends all the troubles of the world.

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