Work in Progress
No Christian, in their right mind, would dream of comparing themselves with the Apostle Paul. He was given such wisdom and courage, and even dared to hold himself as an example to the churches (1 Corinthians 11:1). Few of us have such self-discipline, endurance and cool-headedness in pioneering gospel work, under persecution (2 Corinthians 11:25-28). Yet Paul had no delusions of spiritual grandeur and was willing to work sacrificially so that God’s people might be blessed (1 Thessalonians 2:6-9). He knew he was not fully the person God wanted Him to be. No doubt that was a great encouragement to his readers. And it was important for them to know that even the great Apostle had lessons still to learn; and therefore they should be learners (that is what 'disciple' means) too. And so can we.
“Not that I have already obtained all this”, refers to Philippians 3:8-11 where Paul outlines the privilege of being a Christian: knowing Jesus Christ as His Lord, having a righteousness he did not deserve given to him by God when he trusted in Jesus. He also looked forward to experiencing more of Christ’s resurrection power, suffering persecution for the sake of Christ, and one day being raised from death himself. Much of Paul’s experience of Jesus would be in the future and even more in eternity. In athletics terms, Paul had only just got into his stride in a marathon. So much more was ahead. But he was not alone. Jesus had taken hold of him. They were running the race together (Philippians 3:13-14).
Paul's statement in this verse was no false modesty: it was simply the truth. Every believer is a 'work in progress' because we are all human and still inclined to sin and selfishness. Interestingly, the Bible does not minimise the defects of the Old and New Testament saints – they all had their flaws. If it was otherwise, we might be tempted to think that we could earn our salvation, and 'bribe' God with our good deeds to earn His favour (Luke 8:9-14). Or we might be so discouraged that there would be no point in continuing to follow Jesus. But Paul's testimony here shows us that even the great Apostle had not yet completed the course, but he wanted to press on to trust the promises of Jesus and fulfil his mission.
Satan's two great lies try to convince us either that God is pleased with us because we are so good, or that we can never reach His standard and so we give up. Paul knew that he was accepted through God's grace alone, and that he was called to follow Jesus and to serve Him in obedience. So, his weaknesses did not stop his ministry - he relied on God's grace for that too (2 Corinthians 12:9) - nor did he stop trying to please the Lord. He knew that the Lord Jesus had taken hold of him on the Damascus road, and that Christ was still guiding and empowering him. As a consequence, out of gratitude and privilege, Paul was determined to keep loving, keep serving and (if necessary) keep suffering for Jesus' sake. Whatever you think about yourself, or whatever lies Satan throws at you, keep going with Jesus, because He has taken hold of you and is completing the work He has started in you (Philippians 1:6).
© Dr Paul Adams