When I was a teenager, my dad took it upon himself to learn how to play the violin. I politely asked if he would exchange the instrument, perhaps for a chalkboard and nails. Or maybe a crying infant … a dentist drill, anything else, please. I thought, to be sure, I wasn’t deserving of such abuse. Ok, maybe I wasn’t so polite.
In all fairness, he learned quickly and plays great now but, for a while, the screeching of that would-be fiddle absolutely pierced my immature nerves. Perhaps you’ve had similar experiences.
Spurgeon reminds us that the tuning of musical instruments can only be fully appreciated by one anticipating the performance. The tuning creates a sense of promise for us but withholds the fulfillment until a later time.
Paul, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, reminds us that “… He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6). While the biblical context of this promise is the partnership between Paul and the Philippian church for the fellowship of the gospel, it has direct application to us. We must first understand that the fellowship of the gospel for an entire church begins with what God is doing in our individual lives. Even in the community of Philippi, God began His work in the person of Lydia (Acts 16:14). But His work didn’t stay with Lydia. It was no accident: it was part of God’s plan. “For He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in love before Him” (Eph 1:4).
But God is still at work. In me, and in you. Even the most uncouth among us would not walk into a carpenter’s shop and criticize him for an unfinished piece of furniture. Yet, how quick are we to complain and criticize our fellow man. Why do we not see that doing so is complaining about the Carpenters unfinished work?
Ultimately, complaining about others isn’t my point. It’s about us … we complain about others because we don’t want to pay attention to the improvements we need. It’s like the bully who doesn’t feel good about himself putting others down to try to make himself feel better. We must focus our attention on becoming more like Christ ourselves and less on the flaws and weaknesses of others.
Paul continues the idea of a work in progress in Phil 2:12b-13. He instructs us to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you both to will and to work according to His good purpose.” This phrase “work out your own salvation” is not saying to earn it; that would not be salvation of grace for grace is an unearned gift. Rather, the idea is that we are to actively participate in our growth, to exercise our salvation, to strive towards full Christ-like development. But recognize it is God who is working in us to carry it out.
The idea is further developed in Phil 3:13-14 as Paul says, “I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.” Now, here’s Paul, an older man, in jail because of his Christ-likeness and bold proclamation of the gospel but he’s still setting and working towards goals of Christ-likeness and fellowship with God.
We are the unfinished work of the Carpenter. We are the instrument being tuned. We are the work in progress that God will complete. Yet, we are to actively and confidently participate in our own discipleship process, being disciplined through bible study, prayer, fasting, scripture memorization and meditation, communing with other disciples, and sharing the gospel with those who need to hear the good news. Christian growth and discipleship is not an accident. It is an intentional lifestyle.