God is Up to Something
The scattered stones and ruins of the ancient city of Philippi silently lay in the bright Grecian sun. Standing there, as I scanned the landscape around me, the organized rubble seemed to shout, “This is the place! This is the place where the Good News of redemption first stirred the people of Europe.”
The gospel was not a quiet visitor to that Roman city. It entered with thunderous impact. Lives were changed, dark forces were rebuked, crowds were incited, and persecution was openly brutal. Lying on their wounded backs in the filth of a Roman prison, the apostle Paul and Silas sang—aloud. They prayed aloud. And God broadcast the power of His gospel by shaking the foundations of the mountain around which Philippi was built. Before the visiting messengers of redemption went on their way, people proclaimed their faith, town leaders were humbled, and the brethren were encouraged. God was up to something, and He was willing to literally move mountains to accomplish His purposes in people’s lives (Acts 16).
Ancient times were difficult for Christians and Jews in the Roman Empire. Ten years after his remarkable entry into Europe, the imprisoned Paul sent a message from God to the developing band of believers at Philippi. In that letter, his personal expression of appreciation and camaraderie with his brethren was followed by a powerful message to encourage their walk of faith: “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).
Simply stated, God is up to something! He is at work—in you—and it is good!
This message was proclaimed to every Christian in Philippi: young and old, weak and strong, beginners and veterans in the faith. No one in Christ, then or now, was or is excluded from the promise that God is up to something in his or her life. Looking in the mirror, it is hard to grasp the life-infusing truth that the omnipotent God is zealously expending His creative and redemptive energy on our behalf, that “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:10).
The powerful, God-breathed words to the Philippian band of brothers sound an unambiguous reminder that this enthusiastic work of God in their lives was good. Such wonderful truth should be enough to bolster the soul were it not for the residue of the “old man,” with whom the spirit struggles (4:22). A simple reading of the psalms bears witness that saints throughout the ages often doubted and questioned God’s presence and promises when they encountered the harsh realities of living as pilgrims outside the Garden of Eden. We were never created to live in the land of Satan, the usurper prince.
Like Job, our sin-scarred hearts doubt and challenge the divine definition of the good. Yet, the life-worn apostle Paul affirmed his unwavering confidence in the beneficial nature of the celestial Potter’s hands, regardless of the rugged hardships one faces in this alien world: “It is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
This guarantee was not novel to the imprisoned bondservant of Jesus Christ. Sometime in the past, Paul was convinced of the reality of this work of grace in the life of every believer. From that day forward, his conviction regarding “this very thing” (1:6) was firmly established, not on the depth of commitment or the spiritual ability of the saint, but in the character and faithfulness of the Master Craftsman. God alone initiates the lifelong process of redemptive sanctification. He continues it, and only He can complete it.
Stories abound of confident adventurers who, while trusting in their training and ability, ventured out onto a frozen lake only to end up lost forever in the dark waters beneath. Their cold demise was not due to their lack of confidence but, rather, to the weakness of the very thing they trusted with their lives: the ice!
Like those adventurers, Paul learned the painful lesson of placing his confidence in wrong things. He had much to brag about in his blameless pursuit of righteousness. Yet, looking back, he confessed that all he was really doing before serving Christ was building a bigger pile of garbage as a monument to self. It was in a blinding encounter on a dusty road where the Master Craftsman initiated His work in this former zealot. And the work in Paul’s life was ongoing. His new journey pressed forward toward the call of God in Christ Jesus. The only bridge capable of holding his weight as he journeyed across the dark abyss of sin was the clear, undeniable grace of God enjoyed by faith. Only through grace was he redeemed from the rushing current of the fatal wages earned when trusting in self (Phil. 3:3–14).
If living was Christ and death was gain (1:21), how could Paul say the work in his life wasn’t finished?
We live in a world where there are tolerances and margins of error for everything. Paint colors vary, buildings are out of square, recipes fluctuate, and highway speed traps “may” give you a mile or two to compensate for the margin of error on the radar equipment. We expect this and often take advantage of it. But there are no divine margins of error. The work continues until it is complete. The redemptive and sanctifying process only finds its consummation in 100 percent conformity to Jesus Christ. Nothing less is successful. Nothing less is acceptable. Nothing more is possible.
The finish line is just beyond the horizon of every day, any day. “Until the day of Jesus Christ” (v. 6), the work of God continues as promised with a guaranteed and fast-approaching consummation. In the meantime, “we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself” (3:20–21). While waiting expectantly, all who bear the divinely bestowed title “child of God” are challenged to follow the apostle’s example and live like citizens of heaven “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation” (2:15).
The push and pull between these two worlds was familiar to those who walked the marble streets of the Macedonian city long before it toppled and was buried by catastrophic events and the passage of time. Empires crumble and are forgotten, but divine truths and promises never succumb to time or culture.
In unsettled times of oppression, illness, impoverishment, loss, and more, we rightfully plead for intervention from on high. I’ve walked those painful paths with others, and I’ve climbed those darkened trails myself. But there is a deeper reality that is easy to miss. When we yield control to the Master Craftsman, peace that transcends common sense, along with contentment that appears abnormal, appears in life’s hurricanes.
The Philippian letter repeatedly documents the real-life, ongoing, creative construction of Christlikeness in Paul’s life. Chains are unable to restrain it, poverty stimulates it, and death only accelerates it. God’s overriding work is also evident in Christ’s obedient death and the exaltation that follows. That same power is driving the practical work of regeneration in all who name the name above all names (vv. 5–11).
To Paul, the promised work of God was not merely a sweet-sounding cliché. He witnessed the promise in the lives of others. From its life-giving genesis, he daily lived it and experienced its fullness in his own life. When God rattled the mountains in Philippi, the gospel messengers were not freed in order to escape. They were set free to confront, challenge, and infect the world around them for His glory. His purposes have remained the same throughout the centuries. We, too, are set free from the bars and chains that bind our hearts to a false reality outside the Garden, contrived by the enemy of our souls. When our eyes were opened, we stepped through the shattered shackles, free to live out a new reality as those who are redeemed. Freed from a prison where the penalty is death. We inherited life: real life, abundant and eternal. Free to be salt, light, and an ambassador for the glory of the Almighty. Free to live like Christ, but more so, to become like Christ.
The work of God in Paul’s life and the Philippian brethren’s lives is the same work God began in your life the day you met the Savior. The circumstances differ and the journey traverses different paths, but the work of redemption is identical in all of us who belong to Him by faith. The invitation to redemption’s grace still stands for all who come through faith, but how will they know unless someone tells them?
God is up to something! He is at work in you—and it is good. Christ is the blueprint, and we are destined to be totally transformed into His likeness. This is no ordinary life. With the utmost confidence of the apostle, you can wake up every morning and lie down every night with absolute assurance that the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God is up to something good in your life today. Embrace it, join it, and revel in it.