When You're Turned Around (Philippians 1:6)
I. Roadside Assistanced
If a person twenty or thirty years ago pulled into a rural gas station and said to the attendant, “Could you help me out? Somehow, last night, I got turned around,” what exactly would they be asking for?
If you answered 'directions', you'd be right. For those living two or three decades ago (or the technologically challenged today), getting 'turned around' on the road means getting lost and needing directions.
I think 2020 has done the same thing to most of us. How many people began this year feeling like they had, in general, a sense of where things were headed; where their life was headed. No, maybe not all the specifics, but a broad sense of what the future looked like. Then this pandemic hit and so many felt... 'turned around'.
The future became much more uncertain. Question after question began to plague us: Do I need to be concerned? What about those around me; those more vulnerable? What about my job? What about my kids? What about school? What about vacation? What about my graduation... my wedding... my loved one's funeral? What about my business? What should our leaders do? What measures are actually helping? What if I get the virus? What about long-term consequences? Should I get the vaccine? When will social distancing and mask wearing end? And that's probably just a fraction of the questions that have been asked by the countless lives affected by this pandemic.
As we talked about in the first message, this is just one of the many reasons all of us have felt beaten down by 2020. And thus, it's one of many reasons we need (especially this year) a serious infusion of Christmas Cheer. But for those 'turned around' by the past eight or nine months, there's a need for something more than a typical, holiday-inspired happiness. We need the ultimate Christmas Cheer that only God can give us. Let's search for that very thing by turning over to Philippians 1.
II. The Passage: "He... Will Bring It to Completion" (1:3-7)d
As you think about the decidedly dizzying effects of 2020, listen to what Paul writes to the followers of Jesus in Philippi about the future; their future. He writes...
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.
Though there were many 'question marks' in Paul's life, notice the certainty, the assurance, the conviction he expresses here in the opening words of that verse: “...I am sure of this...”.
What was he convinced of? That God would complete the good work he began in the lives of the Philippian believers. Or to use that 'road trip' imagery again, Paul was sure that God would bring them to their final destination, no matter how 'turned around' they felt at times.
Brothers and sisters, friends, God's question for you this morning is this: “Do you have this same assurance about what God is doing in your life?”
Let's see if we can better understand what Paul is telling us here by thinking more about this verse, the immediate context, and others things Paul wrote about this very same idea. So for example, in thinking about Paul's statement regarding the Philippian's future, I think it's helpful to consider...
1. Where They've Been (vs. 3-5)
Look with me at the three verses that come before verse 6. Paul tells the Philippians...
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.
Paul had a meaningful history with this church. In fact, he's the one who established this faith community. How? By preaching the gospel to a group of Jewish women who gathered for prayer by the Krenides River. You can read about that in Acts 16. But verse 5, along with other verses in this letter, reveal that the church in Philippi saw themselves as partners in Paul's ongoing ministry. Here's an example of that from 4:15–16...
And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only.  Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again.
This giving (along with their prayers—1:19) is one of the reasons Paul described his gratitude and prayerfulness for this faith family... because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.
You see, Paul was confident about what God would do in their lives because of what God had already done in their lives. This was not a community of people who simply prayed a prayer and then lived mediocre lives in which maybe (?) spiritual fruit was evident. No. This was a faithful and fully engaged body of believers; lives fully engaged in the work of the gospel; the very gospel that had given them new life.
What about you, brother? What about you, sister? What about you, friend? Does your story reveal the work of God both in you and through you? If a Christian leader or leaders were to write to you, would they speak glowingly and gratefully about “your partnership in the gospel”? They may, or they may not. The key this morning is to be honest about that fact, and then let it drive you toward God. But Paul continues here. Notice he goes on to also address...
2. Where They Are (v. 7)
Take a look at where Paul goes in the verse that follows our main verse. He confesses in v. 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.
How does Paul go on to describe God's present work among the disciples in Philippi? He reminds them, “you are all partakers with me of grace”. Now, is that simply a way of expressing that all of them are true Christians who have been saved by grace? Well, yes and no. We know that the NT teaches us that we have been saved by grace, are being saved by grace, and will be, in the end, saved by grace.
But I think Paul is saying something more specific here. How do I know. Well, just look at the final phrase of verse 7. In what way are they all “partakers... of grace” with Paul? “...In both [his] imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.” But what does that mean? I think it means that Paul was able to see the grace of God presently active in the lives of these believers as they stood with him, in spite of the fact he was branded a criminal; in spite of the shame; in spite of the dangers. Both he and they were drinking in and strengthened by the grace of God.. for such a time as that.
What about us? What about you? How are you being fed by grace today? How are you being nourished by what only God could give you, and thus, standing up for Christ in spite of the challenges? Standing by His grace alone, not because of your power or wisdom? You see, for Paul, where these believers had been spiritually, and where they were presently, informed...
3. Where They're [they were] Going (v. 6)
It was the indisputable evidence of what God had done and was doing that inspired Paul to declare in verse 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.
Now, is Paul saying that simply because their 'trajectory' was so good that there was no way they could land any place but past the finish line? No. That would seem to put the emphasis on their efforts. Verse 6 clearly tells us that God is the one at work here. What had happened and what was happening in their lives was His “good work”. Since God was the one who “began” that work, he would be the one to “bring it to completion”.
You see, Paul's confidence here is only connected to spiritual fruit in the Philippians' lives inasmuch as such fruit reveals the “good work” of God in and among them. And when we consider what Paul revealed in other places about this “good work” of God, we begin to understand why Paul was so “sure” about what God would do. In II Thessalonians 3:3 we read...
But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.
But in his earlier letter to the same church, Paul expanded on God's “good work” in them...
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (I Thessalonians 5:23, 24)
We find something very similar in the opening chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians...
He will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (I Corinthians 1:8-9)
Did you notice what all those verses have in common. They all speak explicitly about the faithfulness of God, and how that faithful is demonstrated in him completing his “good work”.
III. Born in the Likeness of Men
But what about us? What about you? Has God begun a “good work” of grace in you? Is that “good work” evident right now in a passion for Christ and his gospel? If it is, then remember: if God was the one who “began” that work, he will be the one to “bring it to completion”. Why? Because He is faithful. When you call upon His name and ask him to save you, he really will. And nothing can detour or derail God's saving purposes.
Can we still feel 'turned around'? Of course; especially in difficult and disconcerting and dizzying times like these. But think about this: even when the follower of Jesus feels 'turned around', he or she is never lost. Isn't that wonderful? Isn't that incredibly reassuring? Even if the near future seems uncertain, our eternal future is permanently bright. Passing through the different train cars of life may present new challenges, but knowing you will absolutely arrive safely at the end of the line, at that glorious station, that makes all the difference.
This, in fact, is one of the most powerful sources of true and ultimate Christmas cheer. What does any of this have to do with Christmas? Well, in the very next chapter, Paul points them to Christmas with these incredible words:
[He speaks of] ...Christ Jesus,  who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (2:5b-11)
Because God the Son was “born in the likeness of men” you and I can be (I Peter 1:3) “born again to a living hope”. Notice how Paul in this passage from chapter 2 is quick to talk about the death of Jesus right after he talks about the birth of Jesus. We know that, ultimately, Christ was born like us that he might die for us. And thank God he did!
And so brothers, sisters, friends, if you feel beaten down, cut off, and turned around by 2020, take heart: Jesus Christ, through his birth, life, death, and resurrection has made it possible for us to know the God who raises up those who are bowed down, the God who draws near to us in Christ, and the God who will complete his good work of grace; the One who will bring us all the way home. When you truly embrace those incomparable realities, you can't not be joyful in light of Christmas. Maybe you simply need to be reminded of that in what has been a difficult year. Maybe you're coming to really understand that for the first time. Whoever and wherever you are, the very best thing you can do is talk to God about these things; about your heart; about your needs; about your struggles; about his “good work”. Let's do that now. Let's pray.