Philippians 1:3 to 8 The attributes of a Christian complete in Christ

Philippians 1:3-8

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.

3  I thank my God upon every remembrance of you,
4  always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy,
5  for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now,
6  being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;

Overview of Purpose of Letter

Unlike some of the other Pauline letters such as Romans there is little in the way of doctrine in the Epistle to the Philippians. Instead it gives an outline of what a true Christian should experience in his or her growth in Christ. It is an account of the journey through this world, not taking any notice of what went before, but looking forward to what is coming – "to press on" (3:14).

Philippians 3:12 (NKJV)Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.

The letter essentially is one of thanks, and one of encouragement. Paul writes to express his joy and thanks to the believers in Philippi for their help in his time of need.

Philippians 1:3-4 (KJV) I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, 4Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy,

Clearly the Philippians had given to Paul for his day to day needs and he had reciprocated by ministering to their spiritual needs. This activity he articulates as being in the normal course of a Christian’s life which is the theme of the letter. Hence, our object in studying this letter is to gain an in-sight as to how a Christian walks in Christ.

Key verse of the letter 3:12

 (NKJV) Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.


In studying this letter it is assumed you:

1.      Are a Christian, saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

2.      Know that your sins are forgiven – the word sin or sins is not mentioned in the letter.

3.      Assured of your salvation – this the Christians at Philippi clearly understood and appreciated.

4.      Understand justification – it is not mentioned, only assumed, and hence the saints are at peace with God.

5.      Read and understood the letters to the Ephesians and Colossians.

Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;


The letter gives the experience of a Christian who is on a journey in Christ with the power supplied by the Holy Spirit. Of importance, this is not the experience of just an apostle. The letter is a co-joined response by Timothy and Paul (as servants 1:1), articulating the fruits of the journey of those in Christ Jesus using the Christians at Philippi as examples for us all. This is clearly not the experience of every Christian, because many have fallen short, but it was the experience of these dear Christians who suffered much for the furtherance of the gospel of Christ.

The letter underscores the practical aspects of the journey of a Christian; especially in the love of these saints who met the needs of Paul, along with the ministry of both to each other.

Confident of this very thing (verse 6)

The object of the sentence is set out both in the preceding verse and the words that come next. Verse 5 states that as a Christians we have fellowship in the gospel. The joining together of complete different personalities, races and sexes can only happen in the gospel – true equity only comes to those in fellowship of the gospel because the foundation is Christ himself. The whole journey in life is that of the good news of Christ – their life, thoughts and actions need to speak of the love of Jesus Christ who died for their sins, and in whom they have confidence of their salvation.

2 Timothy 1:12 (KJV) For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.

They have peace, which this letter need not speak of because Paul sees this in their conduct. They both also have confidence. Confidence is sometimes an attribute lacking in the saint of God. They wax and wane in their ability to see the grace of God at work, and become dull in looking forward as being far more important than mulling over what has happened in the past. Confidence is all about trust. As the psalmist can say – it is better to trust in the Lord than put confidence in man (118:8). In this matter, Paul sees the spiritual condition of these saints and this gives him confidence that Jesus Christ will complete the good work in them. He can have this confidence, because it is the Holy Spirit at work here and he knows the saints will allow this work to continue. The sustenance of these saints did not lie in their own abilities but in the Spirit of God. Paul has great confidence, not in the saints themselves but in He who began the good work. In a saint it is Christ, and Christ alone that begins the good work. A saint is not an old vessel fixed up. As Jesus says, this cannot not work, as anyone knows that putting a patch on old clothes merely adds to the destruction of the cloth.

Matthew 9:16 (NKJV) No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and the tear is made worse.

Paul has confidence in the One who began the work, finishing it so the saint is complete. The question arises – what does a Christian look like who is "complete"?

What is a complete person?

I think the idea here has two connotations.

1. There is the connotation of perfectness – a word that the modern Christian expunges from his vocabulary[1]. (The concern about the NIV version of the bible is it appears to water down the need for perfectness and substitutes the word mature – these are not the same word). In essence the idea is that the journey of the Christian is to come to the full realisation of the truth of the gospel as expressed by Paul in Ephesians 4:13 (NKJV) and to act upon it in all its fullness:

till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;

It is "perfectness" because this is what holiness demands. We loose sight of the need for holiness because, I think, we become comfortable in our state of salvation as babes, but never go on to completeness. A complete saint is one who is perfect in the sight of God. This clearly never happens in this world, but as the verse we are looking at explains, we need to move forward, and on the day of the Jesus Christ we will be complete – that is perfect in everyway.

2. The other connotation is one of growth. Saints are reborn – not as fully mature Christians but as babes. While the delight of knowing and rejoicing in the salvation of one’s soul should never be lost, Paul strenuously encourages Christians to press on, to move from being a babe and to grow into the full measure of the statue of the fullness of Christ. Only by doing so do we become useful for God and are able to fulfill His purpose in us. The letter to the Philippians is an encouragement that this is not only achievable but desirable.

Philippians 3:12 (NKJV) Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.

Our aim is to be Christ-like in all attributes of life, and this take a lifetime. As one put it, we need to "grow as we go and go as we grow". Growth is not static, and is not always easy. The hard knocks of life is part of the growth, but being knocked down does not teach us anything if we do not get up and go on. The end to which Paul has in view is the glorious end for which he had been destined by the grace of Christ – being present with the Lord. Indeed the middle section of Chapter 1 explores the thoughts of Paul on his desire of being with the Lord and his need to be present in this world.

A complete man obeys the truth (Galatians 5:7)

Paul rebukes the Galatians because they did not "run well" as they disobeyed the truth. The path of our journey through life is defined by truth. We know where we are going, because the boundaries of the road, as you might visualize it, is defined by truth. The broad way is easy and broad because it has so few boundaries – perhaps a few ethics based on not doing harm to others – but certainly cannot discern right from wrong. The issue of homosexual behavior is an issue because the world cannot decide whether it is right or wrong. To the saint it is not an issue because the boundaries of sex is clearly defined – it belong inside the bounds of marriage only. The broadway can but end in destruction, that is hell.

The journey of a complete Christian is marked by living the truth as found in Christ Jesus: I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. John 14:6 (KJV). Don’t forget the second part of this verse. There is only one way to the Father – there is no alternative routes, or short cuts: it is only through Jesus Christ – our journey is complete on reaching the Father.

Our focus in life needs to be heavenward

Matthew 6:19 (NKJV) "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;

At the end of our lives we will have created things out of wood, hay, straw and stubble, or silver and gold. Put another way, we will have done things that either will not last or will last for ever. The things that last for all eternity are said to be made out of silver and golden in the idiom of the New Testament and those of wood and hay etc will be destroyed – the test being fire. The level of worldliness (also an out-of-date word, but needs to be resurrected) of one’s life will determine the substance of one’s actions – wood that burns up or silver that is everlasting. Our tastes, habits and ways if worldly cannot have endurance. Who are you trying to please? Yourself or God? Our pattern needs to be one of a heavenly citizen. As Paul points out to the Philippians, our citizenship is not of this earth (3:20) therefore be careful not to be led by those that are "enemies of the cross of Christ (3:18).

A complete man has a good conscience

1 Timothy 1:19 (NKJV) having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck,

Guilt is a dreadful thing. It can burn people up and destroy them. Indeed the entire problem of the Aaronic sacrifices was that it could not satisfy the conscience (Heb 9:9). It is by the blood of Jesus that we can have a clean conscience and be at peace.

In a letter from Paul to Timothy there is a reminder that a good conscience comes with faith, based on the truth that without faith it is impossible to please God. Reject a good conscience and you are likely to suffer a shipwreck. But if you are suffering from a bad conscience, there is but one place to turn; the cool waters whose fountain never ceases which can salve the most burnt mind:

1 John 1:9 (NKJV) if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Confession is not enough if you straightway return to the filthiness of the life you are attempting to escape. A complete man flees those things that tempt and leads to a life of debauchery etc. Paul encourages the Philippians to mediate on the beautiful things of God to escape the temptations of the world (4:8-9). We must occupy our minds with the things "above" not the tawdry things of this world. If you must know what the world is doing, or how it will respond, turn to the Old Testament – there is not need to be in the mud with them.

A complete man is contented

1 Timothy 6:6 (NKJV) 6Now godliness with contentment is great gain.

A man of God is content with his lot. The modern western world strives to ensure continued discontentment. The idea of any advertisement is to unsettle the conscience, to make you feel un-comfortable with your lot so that you are moved to purchase some new item or gadget. It of it-self will never satisfy and the advertiser then offers you the next and then the next best thing, and so on and so forth. A worldly man is never satisfied. This goes to the heart of the commandment not to covert, because covetousness destroys the desire to rely solely on the provisions of God and indeed replaces God himself (covetousness is idolatry, Col 3:5):

Hebrews 13:5 (NKJV) Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you.


Luke 12:15 (NIV) Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."

A complete man follows righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience and meekness

1 Timothy 6:11 (KJV) 11But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.

Paul had no need to talk to the Philippians about salvation but he did speak of righteousness. The path of a Christian must be an experience of right living or righteousness: not the right in the sight of man, not even men pleasers, but right in the sight of God.

Philippians 1:11 (DNT) being complete as regards the fruit of righteousness, which [is] by Jesus Christ, to God’s glory and praise.

Our knowledge of right and wrong is taken from God himself. Ethics is the study of right and wrong in a model where God is absent – it struggles to do no harm yet allow total freedom. This sounds like an admirable thing, but assumes that there is no life after death and assumes there is no creator. Both are abundantly false and a lie. A complete man has regards to righteousness which stems from truth. Since all truth is found in Jesus Christ, our sense of ethics or right living has only one satisfactory source – Christ Jesus himself. This verse also gives us the reason.

A complete man lives for God’s glory

Philippians 1:11 (DNT) being complete as regards the fruit of righteousness, which [is] by Jesus Christ, to God’s glory and praise.

What is the purpose of living? Philippians gives us that purpose of life defined as to the glory and praise of God. He who created us found that mankind became unacceptable to enter the kingdom. The fall of Adam rendered all mankind un-holy and only one who is holy can enter the kingdom of God. God had two choices – He could have started again or He could offer a method to redeem this world. He chose the latter, because it glorified His name infinitely more than starting again (Moses used this argument to God, when God suggests that one way to deal with the evil of Israel at Mt Sinai was to destroy them and begin again. But Moses responds to the effect that this would not magnify the name of God – only by offering a way of salvation could do this.)

A complete Christian therefore lives to glorify God, because we are his creation, and his salvation, the former costing nothing, the latter costing His son’s life. Our sole desire in life is to bring praise and glory to His name. This does not mean only singing on the Lord’s day morning – it means that our life so well reflects Christ’s attitude, those who view it see Christ in us.

So where is you heart attitude?

When you act, does is it to please yourself or God?



[1] Note that certain churches in Australia have developed a community of oppression, fear and anti-christian activity based on the false doctrine that Christ comes only for His "perfect" saints. No-one will ever be perfect on this earth: this occurs only on being with Christ when taken to heaven, where we will have new bodies and perfect hearts and minds. The verse indicates that we are in a process of perfecting which occurs right up to the day one is taken - "unto [until] the day of Jesus Christ". If one was perfected on earth, the verse would say "he which hath begun a good work in you will complete it before the day of Jesus Christ" BUT it doesn’t; we are in a process and it takes a lifetime.

David L Simon (15 June 2008 CCC)
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