Whatever Happens, Remember God’s Still Working on You

A Study of Philippians 1:3-6

Introduction: I’ve spent the last few years collecting oil paintings on the advice of an interior decorator friend. My late wife Katrina used to roll her eyes at me when I bought another, but we’d have great fun finding oil paintings from local artists. Every artist works with the three primary colors—red, yellow, and blue. They are the source of all other colors. There is a scientific and mathematical genius behind the beauty of the colors we see around us every day.

Well, let me ask you a question. What are the three primary colors of the healthy soul? 

On three occasions, Paul puts together three special attitudes or activities:

  • 1 Thessalonians 3:9-10: How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: Rejoice always; praying continually; give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.
  • Philippians 1:3-6: I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now, 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.share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

Paul tells us of three attitudes that should always be on the oil palate of the Christian—joy, prayerfulness, and thanksgiving.

Dr. Gordon Fee writes in his commentary on Philippians, “Paul again gives evidence that prayer, thanksgiving, and joy go together in a kind of indissoluble union.”

Thankfulness, prayerfulness, cheerfulness.

Let’s look at the link to these three relationships here in Philippians 1:3-6.

Believe it or not, this is one long sentence in Greek. But let’s plunge into verse three in our English translation, where Paul begins with thanksgiving.


Verse 3 says, I thank my God every time I remember you. 

I want to point out two words in this sentence—my and you

First, there’s the word “my.” Every word of Scripture is important, and Paul could have said, “I thank God,” but he said, “I think my God.” He was practicing the presence of God. He knew God is very personal and near. 

Paul shouts the praises of his God, a message of hope to terrified passengers and sailors recorded in Acts 27:22-26, “But now I urge you to keep your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’”

My God! The God to whom I belong and whom I serve!

And then there is the word “you.” I read several years ago about a missionary—I think it was Amy Carmichael—who kept a thanksgiving list alongside her prayer list. Every day she would write down something for which she was thankful. For us, it could be as simple as a hot shower or a good lab result from the doctor.

But Paul tended to thank God for people more than things. Let’s go back to the story of Paul’s shipwreck. The ship crashed, but everyone was saved. And when the winter passed, they caught another ship and finally Paul made it to Italy. Look at Acts 28:15: “The brothers and sisters [from Rome] had heard that we were coming, and they traveled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us. At the sight of these people Paul thanked God and was encouraged.”

You can read all the way through Paul’s letters. There’s no doubt he was grateful for all the blessings God gave, but most of his expressions of thanksgiving were for people. Let’s make sure we thank God for the people in our lives.

A 20th century Methodist pastor named William Stidger overheard others complaining and determined to develop a thankful attitude towards God for both things and people. The first person who flashed into his mind was an English teacher who had first inspired in him a lifelong love of literature and poetry. 

He wrote a thankful letter to her and received this response: 

My Willie, I can’t tell you how much your note meant to me. I am in my eighties, living alone in a small room, cooking my own meals, lonely, like the last leaf of autumn that linger behind. You’ll be interested to know that I taught in school for more than fifty years, and yours is the first note of appreciation I have ever received. It came on a blue, cold morning, and it cheered me as nothing has done in many years.”

What power is in that one sentence: “I thank my God every time I remember you.”

Now, this kind of gratitude doesn’t come naturally. It takes training and practice. We have to work on it and put it into practice. If you ever want to change your attitude, look up every time the Bible uses the terms thank, thanks, thanksgiving, gratitude, and grateful. Make a serious study of this. Write down the verses, study the context, track down the cross-references, systematize them, and choose some of them to memorize.

British poet George Herbert prayed, “Thou hast given so much to me, give me one more thing—a grateful heart.”


Alongside thankfulness comes prayerfulness. Paul said, “In all my prayers for all of you….” Now, look down at verse 19: “For I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.”

Just after World War II, Christian thinker and worker Frank Laubach wrote a book about prayer that impacted millions of people. He called on every believer to unite in prayer and intercession for one another and for our leaders. He gave several examples of how we can learn to pray with greater frequency for others.

  • When you read about a world leader in the news, pause for ten seconds to pray for them.
  • Pray silently for your preacher as he expounds the Scripture.
  • Pray for people as they approach you and sit in front of you.
  • Offer up prayers to God every evening. Laubach described a man who wrote out a prayer every evening, offered it to God, and then threw it in the fireplace. It burned and the smoke ascended into heaven like incense in the Old Testament.
  • Cycle through a set of prayer cards. Laubach wrote about a man who acquired a clock that his brother had rescued from a sinking ship during World War II. He had a set of prayer cards with ministries listed, and when the clock chimed, he would circulate through his prayer cards and pray for those ministries.

The point is, Laubauch was urging people to find ways of praying without ceasing. He had a very vivid way of putting it: “Enough people praying enough will release into the human bloodstream the mightiest medicine in the universe, for we shall be the channels through whom God can exert His infinite power.”


And that brings us to the third primary color—cheerfulness: In all my prayers for you, I always pray with joy….

This is the first of sixteen times Paul uses the word-group of joy in this letter. Now, some people think joy is the theme of his letter. I don’t think so, but the references to joy and rejoicing have strengthened me countless times. We’ll see these unfold as we go through the letter.

But for now, let’s go on with this particular paragraph.

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now…

The word “partnership” is the familiar Greek term koinonia, which focuses on the long, enduring nature of their fellowship. I think this word includes the fruitfulness of his original visit to Philippi in Acts 16; their frequent correspondence and financial gifts to him; their joint endeavors in sharing the Gospel; and the long-term friendship they have enjoyed over the years.

And that brings us to verse 6. Paul was praying with joy and cheerfulness because He knew God was at work. The Lord was working in the Philippian believers.

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now, 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.

What is the “good work” that God had started in the Philippians?

I believe this verse means just what we feel like it should mean—that God started doing something in Philippi in Acts 16. He started doing something in the servant girl, in the prisoners, in the jailer. And this work will continue until we finally all stand before God in perfection.

I remember the day in college when a classmate sat down with me and drew a little chart. He had three columns. 

Your past: What happened when you received Christ as Savior, when God saved you from the penalty of your sins
Your now: The process that happens to us today as we grow in Christ and are being saved from the power of sin
Your future: What will happen in the future when you are raptured or resurrected and God will save you from all sin

All three aspects of this are in verse 6:

  • He who began a good work in you… – Justification
  • Will carry it on… – Sanctification
  • To completion on the day when Christ comes again… –  Glorification.

I’ve never forgotten that little chart, but recently I’ve made one change to it. Instead of the word “sanctification” I like to use the word “Christification.” 

Right now, those of us who know Jesus Christ as Savior have something going on in our lives that I’m going to call Christification—we are becoming more and more like Christ. The apostle Paul is going to talk a lot about this in the book of Philippians. For example:

  • Philippians 1:27: Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ.
  • Philippians 2:5: Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus.
  • Philippians 2:12-13: Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose.
  • Philippians 3:12-14: I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
  • Philippians 4:9: Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.

Ray Ortlund wrote a column for The Gospel Coalition in which he recalled his father giving him a Bible for his 17th birthday. On the first page, his dad wrote: “Bud, Nothing could be greater than to have a son—a son who loves the Lord and walks with Him. Your mother and I have found this Book our dearest treasure. Be a student of the Bible and your life will be full of blessing. We love you. Dad.” And beneath the word “Dad” was the phrase Philippians 1:6, which he read immediately.

In his column, Ray said: “Apart from the words my dad spoke to me the day he led me to Christ, what he wrote above was his greatest statement to me ever. It has always proven true. I can hardly read it today without weeping.”

Philippians 1:6 and the other 33,000 verses in the Bible have made all the difference. Slowly but surely, I’m beginning to learn the primary colors of thankfulness, prayerfulness, and cheerfulness.

One day Ruth Graham was driving down the road and she saw a sign that said, “End of Construction—Thank you for your patience.” She said, “That’s what I want on my tombstone.” Today, on the gravestones of Billy and Ruth, you’ll read those words.

If you know Christ, you’re under construction, and you can say:

The work Thou hast in me begun,

Will by Thy grace be fully done!