Three times the Apostle Paul uses this phrase as he reminds believers of what lies ahead for them if they are fruitful and faithful in living for Christ.
I never cease to be amazed, and encouraged, by the place that prophetic events had in the minds and hearts of the writers of the New Testament. They clearly understood what so many today fail to understand. And just what would that be? They understood that prophetic truth was given to us to alter and adjust the way we think, and that way we live TODAY. Information about the future was designed to target life in the present, and not simply to inform about what will take place in the future (though it does do that). So, when pastors neglect to teach their flocks about what God is going to do in the future, they are actually depriving their people of a key element that is needed for godly living today.
Prophetic truth is not limited to a few sections of the New Testament, but rather is found everywhere. For example, we normally don’t think of Peter’s writings as being eschatological. But in about 25 verses in his two brief letters, Peter includes truths about coming future events. Philippians is not viewed as a book about prophetic themes, but it has some 15 references to the future. When the N.T. writers were instructing and exhorting believers to godly living in an ungodly world, they frequently had them focus some on the future where “it will be worth it all when we see Jesus.” And it is a phrase out of Philippians that I would like to focus on in this article. The phrase is used three times by the Apostle Paul. It is the phrase “the day of Christ.”
“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until THE DAY OF CHRIST.” (1:6)
“…so that you may approve the things that are excellent in order to be sincere and blameless until THE DAY OF CHRIST.” (1:10)
“…holding fast the word of life, so that in THE DAY OF CHRIST I may have cause to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain. (2:16)
What is the “day of Christ”?
It is sometimes thought that this is the New Testament equivalent to the Old Testament phrase “the day of the Lord.” There are similarities. Both of these phrases do carry the idea of a time of special divine intervention and dealings with mankind and creation. So, both include the point that God is going to intervene in a unique way. But they really are looking at different times of special divine intervention.
In the Old Testament, the “day of the Lord” is used dozens and dozens of times by the writers of the Old Testament. When we look at these many occurrences, it is seen that this phrase includes three major events: (1) the tribulation period; (2) the coming of Messiah (2nd coming, we would call it); and (3) the time of kingdom blessing, which is the reign of Messiah. Clearly all three of these are special times when God uniquely enters His creation. And while all of mankind is involved, the nation of Israel is the focus of the three events that are part of “the day of the Lord.”
However, the way Paul uses the phrase “the day of Christ” points us in another direction, away from the phrase “day of the Lord.” It looks at something unique in the relationship between Jesus Christ and His church.
The “Day of Christ” in Philippians
Starting with the third use of the term “day of Christ” (2:16), we can see a number of important details. The Apostle encourages the Christians at Philippi to keep offering the Word to people since that is what this crooked and perverse world desperately needs (2:15). And, of course, it is God’s truth that fellow believers also need in their walk with Christ. Believers need to faithfully and persistently set forth God’s truth to others. They, like us today, needed to persevere as lights in this spiritually dark generation and we do this by continually presenting the truth and standards of God to people. Such labor is not easy and it does indeed require an active, persistent effort. He then explains the purpose for such hard, exhausting work (“toil”). It will not only have an impact on people today, but it will make a big difference when Christ comes for us (the rapture) and when immediately after that event we stand before Him at His “judgment seat.” If they will faithfully set forth the Word of God, then neither Paul nor the Philippian believers will have run in vain. If, on the “day of Christ” (that time of Christ’s special intervention into the world and into our lives), when these believers stand there with Paul, it would a time of great joy, and also proof that all of Paul’s hard work was not in vain.
The same athletic imagery of not “running in vain” was also used by the Apostle in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, where again he was speaking about the rewards that would come to him at the judgment seat, if he diligently served Christ. If these believers would continue living faithfully, then Paul would have grounds for glorying at the judgment seat since his labor among them would clearly not be in vain. The point that laboring for Christ is never an empty, meaningless way to live (“in vain”) is given emphasis in 1 Corinthians 15:58 as well, where the Apostle declares that “our labor is not in vain in the Lord”. It will make a difference now and later.
The first use of the “day of Christ” (1:6) also points to the rapture, followed by the judgment seat. The believers at Philippi had partnered with the Apostle from the time they came to faith in Christ (Acts 16) up until the time he wrote this letter. They had regularly supported him financially (e.g. Phil. 4:16) and they had been involved in the ministry alongside Paul (e.g. Phil. 4:3). He was convinced that their faithful service for the Lord would continue right up to the day when they all would come before Jesus at His judgment seat. (By the way, this statement also points to Paul’s expectation that the Lord would come in the lifetimes of the Philippians and himself!). And if they did continue on as he expected, then on the “day of Christ” there would be great reward.
The second use of the “day of Christ” (1:10) is in the same basic context as the first use of the term. The emphasis here is on the believer focusing on the very best things; things that stand the test of God’s standard of excellence. Paul wants them to live this way so that ever increasingly their lives would be authentic (without hypocrisy) and lives that would not put stumbling blocks in front of others. The unasked question is, of course, why bother working so hard at this Christian life when we could just take it easy. But living with the level of disciple and focus that Paul is speaking about will be worth it in the “day of Christ.”
It becomes clear that our daily lives are to be ordered by the realization that we will give an account before our Lord Jesus in “the day of Christ”. This concept is woven so expertly by Paul (and other NT writers) into the fabric of their discussions on living quality lives today for Jesus. We are to keep on keeping on in our work for Christ, which is called “exhausting toil”. We are to strive towards greater excellence in our lives and greater dedication to the Lord. Why such effort? Paul explains the purpose for all this effort: “in order that” our appearance before the Lord will be a time of glory and joy (not a time of embarrassment and shame). It is good to be reminded of these truths as we live today and continually find it challenging to swim against the strong current of a “crooked and perverse generation.” And pastors need to be encouraged to proclaim all of the counsel of God, which includes such important doctrines as the rewarding of believers. It will be worth it all “in the day of Christ.”