Laying Down Our Labels
Written by Lysa TerKeurst (First 5 Ministries)
Today’s Reading: Philippians 1:3-6 ESV
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And 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.
Labels are awful. They imprison us in categories that are hard to escape.
My personal list over the years has included words like people-pleaser, forgiveness failure and insecure mess. Whether or not any of these are your labels, I imagine you have your own self-defeating list.
Maybe that’s why so many of us find ourselves drawn to Paul’s promise in today’s passage of Scripture that God isn’t finished with us yet.
I’m reminded of the time I saw Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia Gallery during a trip I took several years ago to Florence, Italy.
Sources say the artist never left his David. For more than two years, he worked on and slept beside the 6-ton slab of marble whose subject called to him from inside the unchiseled places. When at last the 17-foot David emerged, Michelangelo is reported to have said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” When asked how he made his statue, Michelangelo answered, “It is easy. You just chip away the stone that doesn’t look like David.”
But it wasn’t the perfectly carved David that first held my attention. It was one of several unfinished sculptures from Michelangelo’s collection, aptly titled Prisoners. These were half-finished sculptures that looked like they were stuck inside the roughly hewn stone.
Captivated by seeing my interior reality vividly depicted in stone, I tilted my head and let it soak in. This unfinished prisoner reminded me of myself locked inside my self-imposed labels.
Then, I turned and looked down the corridor at the David, the statue fully chiseled by the master artist. As I walked toward it, I whispered, “O God, chisel me. I don’t want to stay stuck in these hard places. I want to be all that You have in mind for me to be.”
What hope we read today that we can be confident that our God who does not leave or forsake us will be faithful to finish chiseling us.
Paul’s words to the believers in Philippi exude this confidence: “And 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” (Philippians 1:6).
In his book, Philippians, commentator Mark J. Keown wrote that the English phrase, “I am sure” comes from the Greek word pepoithos, which communicates “a state of certainty.” Paul’s word choice is meant to build confident assurance in his readers. He wants them to know that the same God who purposefully wove them together and saved them by His Son (Ephesians 2:8-10) will complete the work He began in them. They can be certain of this, as can we. But our hope cannot be placed in the capabilities of our own flesh. It must be placed in the person of Christ.
Paul’s mention of “at the day of Jesus Christ” also has the purpose of stirring confidence. It is a phrase meant to draw our focus to the day when Christ will return as King. We can live assured of God’s good work in our lives, both in the seen and unseen places, because there is a day when Jesus is returning. This truth anchors our hope in the future while giving us courage and confidence for every day leading up to that promise’s fulfillment.
Does God want to help us see the places that need to be chiseled between now and the glorious day Jesus returns? Of course. His plan is to conform us to the image of His Son. (Romans 8:29) But we must know that condemning ourselves with labels and statements like “I’m such a mess,” will never bring about the changes we desire. Shame only serves to keep the lies in and the truth out.
Let’s lay down our labels, surrender to God’s chiseling, and rest assured that He is more than able to chip away everything in us that doesn’t look like Jesus.