As Paul starts his letter to the Corinthians, his love and comradeship with them is clear. He is writing to a church that has grasped the gospel of Jesus with both hands, and who aren’t content to just practice their faith privately. No. Like Paul, these are Christians who want to see the gospel spread out to the furthest corners of the globe. Paul calls them “partners in spreading the good news about Christ” – ever since they had heard the Gospel for themselves they had worked to share it. This, Paul tells us, gave him great joy – evident in his prayers for them. He was convinced that not only had they started well, but that God would ensure that they finished well; that God himself would finish the “good work” within them, perfecting them into the likeness of his Son.
What an encouragement for us: it is God who will bring about his good work in us; it is God who will ensure that we will grow in Christ-likeness this side of eternity; it is God who will ultimately transform us into new people made completely like Jesus.
Not only were the Philippians sharing the gospel, they were also facing the consequences of sharing the gospel. Opposition was growing, suffering an almost certain inevitability. So it is fitting that Paul prays that their love would overflow more and more; that in the midst of their circumstances they would reflect the person of Christ in both their actions towards the world and their lifestyles. But Paul also prayed that they would “keep on growing in knowledge and understanding”, because he wanted them what really matters and so to live pure and blameless lives until Jesus’ return.
If my love is to “overflow more and more”, then it cannot simply be a “me” product. I need Christ to continually fill me with his love, so that can then overflow in abundance. Oh, Lord – that I would learn to love those whom I find difficult to love! But love’s overflow is informed by a growing knowledge and understanding of who God is. To love is to be like God, for God is love. So to love God, others and myself in abundance, I need to keep growing in my knowledge and understanding of God and his ways. That will result in me living a life that is a reflection of Jesus’.
As I love and as I grow in knowledge and understanding, I will start, as Paul encourages us, to live as a citizen of heaven, conducting myself in a manner worthy of the Gospel about Jesus Christ. I find it extremely comforting to know that God will finish his good work in me; I find it challenging to hear that I must constantly be seeking to know God better, to love better, and to live more like Christ. The Christian life isn’t just a matter of the Spirit renovating me to be like Christ. Nor is it just a matter of my fixing up my own mess. It is both – the Spirit working inexorably within me as I strive after Christ-likeness.
Lord, thank you that you will finish the work you started in me. Please – help me to keep seeking you, to keep growing in my understanding and knowledge of you and your ways. Help me to truly love you and the world and myself. Please – please: make me more like your Son Jesus.