Slogans. We can’t get enough of them. We plaster them on our cars and print them on t-shirts. Some of them are serious, declaring our political views and often polarizing debate. Some are whimsical or humorous (“I’m not arguing, I’m explaining why I’m right”). And many try to encapsulate something about our values, our way of looking at ourselves and the world (“Co-exist”).
The church, of course, is no exception. Believers still ponder, “What would Jesus do?” At Christmastime, you can count on seeing cards and signs saying, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” And when I was a young Christian, one of the most popular was, “Please be patient, God is not finished with me yet.” Some people wore it on buttons, shortened to PBPGINFWMY (presumably as a way, in part, to get people to ask what it means). And yes, you can still buy a variety of t-shirts with that slogan online (even from Amazon).
But what does it mean? Context is everything. It could, for example, be a pious way of saying, Nobody’s perfect, so don’t expect too much. More negatively, it could support the attitude, If I mess up, it’s God’s business not yours, so get off my back! But hopefully, it’s a humble way of saying, I admit it, I make mistakes. But I believe that God is working on me. I am very much a work in progress, and I’m trying to learn and grow. Your patience with me is appreciated!
It fits well with the mindset Paul is trying to teach the believers in Philippi and elsewhere. They are in Christ, and Christ is in them; God’s intends them to become more and more like Jesus in their attitudes and behaviors. Full maturity in Christ, however, is a future destination, not an accomplished fact. We’ve all got quite a way to go yet.
Still, here’s something to think about. What if every believer in the church could say that slogan and mean it?
Paul seems concerned about some friction in Philippi, some ongoing tension that’s undermining the church’s unity. Although he doesn’t come out and say it directly, his words suggest that the conflict stems from each party’s refusal to take a humble stance; again, perhaps, I’m not arguing, I’m explaining why I’m right. That’s why he tells the story of Jesus. That’s why he tells his own story. Will they take those examples to heart, set aside their need to win, and try to understand each other’s needs?
God is not finished with me yet. To say that means I know that God is working on me. Said humbly, it assumes that I’m doing what I can to cooperate with the process. The goal may be a long way off, but it’s the only goal worth pursuing.
Please be patient. It should be a humble request: Will you grant me the gift of your forbearance? It’s the precondition of honest apology: I messed up and I know it. And there is a promissory note in it: I’ll be better, Lord willing.
And again: imagine the slogan being said honestly and in community. God isn’t finished with me, and I know he isn’t finished with you. As I ask for your patience with me, I owe you my patience in turn.
There will always, always, always be differences of opinion in any family, church, or organization. People bring different histories, see things in different ways, and are passionate about their opinions and interpretations. But differences don’t have to divide. They don’t have to turn into ongoing conflict.
Not if we’re all committed to having God work on us through his Spirit.
Not if we’re all chasing the goal of knowing Christ better and being like him.
Not if we’re all able to admit to one another that we’re works in progress.
And especially not if we’re willing to be patient with each other, whether we’re asked or not.