By Justin Rossow
3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 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.
7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
Philippians 1:3-11 (NIV)
In the opening chapter of Paul letter to the church at Philippi, Paul reminds his dear, dear friends that even their partnership from the beginning had its origin in God’s work, not theirs: “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (verse 6). Both the origin and the completion of the good work of salvation belongs to the work of the Spirit in us. From first to last, God is in control.
And, from first to last, we are actively engaged! Paul goes right on to say that these Philippian believers are business partners with Paul in an entrepreneurial startup he refers to here as “grace.” (Paul can refer to his own work and status as an apostle sent by Jesus with the word “grace.” In context, I think that’s probably what he has in mind here. The Philippians have shown, in heart, mind, actions, and finances, that they are co-partners in the business of grace.)
(1) God is in control; and (2) we are actively engaged in God’s work of saving the world. That dual reality leads to all kinds of emotional responses in these few, short verses: thankfulness, joy, yearning, affection, partnership, longing, and love.
It also leads to a kind of double evidence, where our faith is tested and proves reliable, while at the same time God’s promises are tested and prove reliable. When it comes to God’s promises and to our faith, I guess you could say the proof is in the pudding.
That English expression has its origin in the time of Shakespeare, not Paul, but the sentiment fits the apostle. An older version of our idiom puts it this way: “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.” In other words, you can look at something, and think about something, and talk about something, but until you actually do the thing, you don’t really know its value.
Like the expression, “Never judge a book by its cover,” the proverbial “the proof is in the pudding” is also a warning. If you judge what you think a pudding will be like before you taste it, you’re likely to miss out on some delicious experiences, since puddings aren’t known to look as good as they taste.
Of course, originally these puddings would probably have been something akin to blood sausage, with mystery chunks of chopped animal parts congealed in an intestine casing; and the proof of whether the potentially contaminated meat would kill you or not only came a few hours after dinner, when you were still alive. Or not. But the fundamental message is still the same, even if (especially if?) your life is on the line: you don’t actually know until you do.
According to Paul, God’s promises are like that. And so is your faith. You don’t know until you do.
In Philippians 1:7, the grace partnership Paul enjoys with the Philippians leads to the defense and to the testing-with-approval of the Gospel itself. The word Paul uses here has to do with something you know is sturdy because you have actually walked on it. To “confirm the Gospel” is to step out in faith, and walk on God’s promises, and show that the bridge is sturdy by jumping up and down on it a few times.
God’s promised forgiveness is known through confession and absolution. God’s protection is known by walking through danger. God’s peace is experienced when the world around you is in upheaval. The resurrection will ultimately be known firsthand when you open your eyes to New Creation life. You can talk about forgiveness, or trust, or peace, or joy, or strength, or hope; but the proof is in the pudding.
In verse 10, it’s the Philippian believers who are testing and proving the things that are excellent (this testing word is used elsewhere in the metallurgic sense of testing with fire). That discernment flows from both love and knowledge, just as a craftsman working with precious metals learns both the technical and the beautiful side of the art. Testing both theology and practice in love requires insight as well as real-life experience. Living out the faith is the only way to grow in your understanding of your faith; good doctrine that is kept locked up in a box at church isn’t good doctrine at all. You discover what is excellent by taking a prayer out for a drive around the block, putting a promise to the test, making a generous gift that shows your dependence; the proof is in the pudding.
Finally, Paul says the Philippian believers themselves will be tested and proved reliable at the return of Jesus. Paul is sure their faith is going to be shown to be genuine, and their lives will not cause stumbling to any who walk the narrow way (verse 10). Here, the language of evidence or proof is related to holding something up in sunlight, so any deficiencies can be seen clearly.
You are supposed to take God’s promises out for a test drive and show that they are reliable and can be trusted and walked on. You are supposed to live out your theology and the teaching of your faith community to find both truth and beauty you can reliably put into practice. And on the Last Day, your faith will be held up in the clearest light and shown for what it really is, not just what it looks like sitting in a dark corner of a dim room, collecting dust on a shelf. The proof is in the pudding.
That’s not supposed to make us nervous; it’s supposed to make us engage even more in this trust adventure of following Jesus. Paul is confident that the Gospel and the faith of the Philippians will both stand the test. The proof is in the pudding, and Paul has tasted and seen that it is good!
But Paul’s confidence in the final outcome is followed up by another reminder that God is in ultimately control: as these believers put God’s promises into practice with the kind of faith that will stand the test of time, they are simply bearing the fruit that comes naturally from being made right with God. The proof is in the pudding, but the pudding doesn’t get any credit: God alone gets the glory (verse 11).
This Christmas, I hope you have a chance to try a Christmas pudding. (The dessert kind, not the blood sausage kind.) If you do, don’t judge that brown, chunky glob before you take a bite. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.
And as you seek to follow Jesus through Advent and into another Christmas and another New Year, know that you are supposed to take God’s promises out of their wrapping paper and put them to good use in your everyday life. Prove again and again how gracious and reliable God is. In that way, your faith will also mature and grow, by grace, into the kind of faith that stands the test of time. The proof is in the pudding, but the pudding doesn’t get any credit: to God alone be the glory.
Cranberry Christmas Pudding
- 3 Tbl butter
- 1 cup milk
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 cup white sugar
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 cups fresh cranberries
Cut cranberries in half and mix with half of the flour. Mix the other ingredients, and then add the combined cranberries and flour. Bake in a greased 8x8x2 pan at 375 for 30 minutes. Serve with this sauce: 1/2 cup butter, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup evaporated milk (or cream). Melt butter and sugar, add milk and bring to a boil. Serve hot sauce over cake.
If you’ve never tried a Christmas pudding, this recipe comes from a family cookbook and was shared with me by my second cousin on my Dad’s side of the family. Thanks, Amy!