Shine Christian, Shine!
(or, “God’s Cure for Spiritual Myopia”)
Introduction: Our granddaughter just recently got glasses. For some time we had noticed her squinting to see things in the distance. She was hesitant about the idea of glasses at first, but when she put on her new glasses, she just couldn’t stop smiling! She said, “Everything looks so clear!” Myopia is a common eyesight problem, and figuratively speaking, it is common in the Christian life as well. We can get so distracted by the struggles of life in a fallen world that are right in front of us, that we can easily lose sight of the bigger picture. Paul used that imagery as he prayed for the Ephesians,
16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places…
Paul is praying for God to cure the spiritual myopia of his readers, that they might see more clearly the greatness of the salvation they have in Christ. The ESV translation of our passage for today, Philippians 2:14-18, reads as follows:
14 Do all things without grumbling or questioning, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.
The Maine* Idea: As we recognize God’s work in us, and begin to grasp our part in His plan, it gives a perspective that allows us to have joy that goes beyond circumstances. That attitude will be noticed by the world. So…
I. Stop Whining: Do everything without complaining or arguing (2:14-15a)! These verses spell out some implications of how we can begin to work out our salvation with fear and trembling…
14 Do all things without grumbling or questioning, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation…
First what we shouldn’t do: murmur and question (v.14). Another translation says, “Do all things without complaining and disputing..” In hearing that phrase, if you are familiar with the Old Testament, your mind may go immediately to Jews in the wilderness, Exodus 16:6 ff.
6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the people of Israel, "At evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your grumbling against the LORD. For what are we, that you grumble against us?" 8 And Moses said, "When the LORD gives you in the evening meat to eat and in the morning bread to the full, because the LORD has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him- what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against the LORD." 9 Then Moses said to Aaron, "Say to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, 'Come near before the LORD, for he has heard your grumbling.'"
I guess you get the idea: they grumbled! The Psalmist characterized the attitude of the people during the wilderness wandering in Psalm 78:40-41,
40 How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the desert! 41 They tested God again and again and provoked the Holy One of Israel.
We can think of the nation in the wilderness as an example of complaining against God, but we dare not stop there. Think about how easily we can fall into “complaint mode.” We too easily start complaining or grumbling about even little inconveniences we ourselves experience… I remember reading of a lady who walked into a major department store, and
…suddenly the lights started flashing, whistles were blowing and people came up to her with lights and cameras. She was the one millionth customer in the store! An interviewer explained what was happening, and asked her why she came to the store that day. With an embarrassed look, she said, “I was on my way to the complaint department!”
Oh well! As I read that I thought of how the Scripture says we are “living letters, seen and read of men…” Let’s not be a letter of complaint!
Even in writing this letter, Paul is an example of not grumbling, of having joy that goes beyond his circumstances: remember, he is in prison! Rather than grumbling and complaining about his situation or moaning about his adversaries, Paul is expressing his faith and urges the Philippians to live in the joy that can be theirs in Christ. Remember he just pointed to Jesus as our example of humble service (2:3-8). Jesus fulfilled to prophecies of Isaiah 53:7, “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth.”
Paul gives at least one reason to live differently: our life is a testimony “…that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault…” (15). Our conduct is a testimony to the world. How we react under pressure says something about the reality of our faith! One translation captures the sense here when it says “That you may prove yourselves to be…” Our attitude under pressure speaks!
“…in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…” The phrase “crooked and perverse generation” echoes the language of Deuteronomy 32:5 where God is describing the stubborn and sinful nation after 40 years in the wilderness,
3 For I will proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God! 4 "The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he. 5 They have dealt corruptly with him; they are no longer his children because they are blemished; they are a crooked and twisted generation. 6 Do you thus repay the LORD, you foolish and senseless people? Is not he your father, who created you, who made you and established you?
Paul deliberately uses the same pair of words that were used to describe the Jewish nation. He is not describing the Philippians with that language, but now, as a part of His church, a mixed church composed of Jews and Gentiles, he is describing the hard hearts they are encountering in the world around them. This is no news flash that will shock you: The world is a bad place. You can try to hide from it or deny it or ignore it, but we are living in the midst of a “crooked and perverse generation…” Violence, war, suffering, sickness, injustice and immorality… it never seems to end. There was once an understanding of eschatology that has almost died out today called postmillennialism. The idea was that the influence of the church would gradually increase until finally a “golden age” was ushered in, which would continue for a thousand years until Christ returned to inaugurate the eternal state. I don’t know of any theologians who hold that view today. History has shown us and Scripture confirms that things are getting worse, not better. In the last days, perilous times will come… God has us in the world because He has given us a mission. We are to be salt and light, living like children of the King, citizens of heaven. We are to look for every opportunity to proclaim the Good News of salvation by Grace alone through Faith alone, in Christ alone. As we recognize God’s work in us, and begin to grasp our part in His plan, it gives a perspective that allows us to have joy that goes beyond circumstances. That will be noticed by the world. So, stop whining, and...
II. Start Shining: Jesus said you are the light of the world (15b-16a)!
“…among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life…”
In our position we are called to “…shine as lights in the world…” Jesus used similar imagery in the Sermon on the Mount when He said in Matthew 5:14-16,
14 "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
God gets the glory when we hold fast to His word, and when we hold it forth to the nations. Light dispels darkness. Light exposes what was hidden in the shadows. Light leads the way. We shine as lights to the degree that we point people to JESUS, the One who is THE Light of the world (John 8:12, cf. 9:5). If He is the light, how can we be described as “shining lights”? The moon shines in the night sky because it reflects the light of the sun. Without that reflected light the moon would become lost against the darkness of space. The believer in Christ shines as light in the world only because of the reflection of Christ’s light. Without that reflected light, the believer becomes lost in the darkness of the world and sin.
“…holding fast the word of life …” Some translations say, “holding forth the word of life…” Both ideas are true: we hold it fast, and we should hold it forth, since it is the Word of Life. By the way, it seems in the context that Paul intends us to understand the participle, “holding” in the instrumental sense. We shine in the world “BY holding fast/forth the Word…” Perhaps you have memorized Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Paul said in Romans 10:17, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ…” It is the Word of Life because it brings life, as we read in 1 Peter 1:23, “…for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.” God has spoken life by His word! And through the Word we recognize God’s work in us, and begin to grasp our part in His plan. So, it gives a perspective that allows us to have joy that goes beyond circumstances. That attitude will be noticed by the world. So 1) stop whining, 2) start shining, and 3…
III. Try Aligning your perspective with God’s: And so find “Big Picture” Joy (16b-18)!
…so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.
Notice how our passage today started in v.14 talking about not complaining, and it ends in these verses, referring once again to rejoicing in the Lord. He begins here by alluding to a future joy (2:16) “…so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain…” Paul points ahead to a future joy that will be his ‘in the day of Christ…” because of the perseverance of the Philippians. Remember the reference back in 1:6, “I am confident… that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion in the day of Christ…” They are his crown! What greater joy could there be than to see one you have loved and encouraged and discipled in the faith standing firm and growing in their relationship with Christ. John said in v.4 of his third Epistle, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” The promise that God has a plan of which are a part, and that this story is moving to a climax should encourage us who know Him. Yes, the world closes its eyes, but the truth is that Jesus is coming back. For us, that is Good News!
Because we live in the light of the Word of God, we live in the sure hope of the return of Christ. Peter warned that mockers will ask "Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation" (2 Pet 3:4). For our part he goes on to say: “…what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God…” (2 Pet 3:11-12). Believe it or not, ready or not, He is coming! The sure future that we have in Christ is something that can encourage us and give us strength to persevere and yes, even be joyful in the midst of difficult times. Now, we weep, but our sorry will be turned to joy! Jesus wins! But Paul’s faith was not simply based on the future hope of new life in the new heavens and the new earth. For us the future is present, we have, now… already… eternal life.
So, we have a sure joy in the future, and because it is sure, we have joy here and now (2:17,18). Listen to Paul’s words again, “…Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 For the same reason you also be glad and rejoice with me.” Remember Paul’s perspective: “To live is Christ, to die is gain…”!
It is not only then and there that Paul will have joy. He is in Christ, here and now. “Rejoice with you” is a compound form of the work “rejoice” that keeps appearing in this letter. This compound form speaks of “a deep mutuality of purpose and feeling.” Rejoicing together! The same word was used by Luke in describing the relatives of Elizabeth “rejoicing” with her over the birth of John the Baptist (Lk 1:58). Jesus used it of the one who “rejoiced” with friends over finding his sheep (Lk 15:6).
God’s perspective gives joy, as we align our perspective with the big picture, we start thinking more like Jesus, God’s thoughts stir our love for Him, causing it to well up in our hearts and to overflow. That seems to be the perspective in Psalm 63:1-7,
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. 2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. 3 Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. 4 So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. 5 My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, 6 when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; 7 for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
Joy that goes beyond the moment. Paul uses the language of Scripture to refer to his experience of sacrifice as a priest pouring out the drink offering (Num 15:1-10). From Paul’s perspective the larger, more significant sacrifice is “their faith.” If his life is to be given, it is a small thing in the light of eternity compared to his joy in the Lord.
What is God saying to me in this passage? What’s the Maine* Idea? I) Stop whining, let the trials of life remind you this is why Jesus came! Instead rejoice in what God has done for you in Jesus. Stop whining, and II) Start shining, holding fast the Word of life, and holding forth the Word which is a light to our path, and a lamp to our feet, and dare we say, a lighthouse to the nations! Stop whining, start shining, and III) Try aligning your perspective with God’s. As we recognize God’s work in us, and begin to grasp our part in His plan, it gives a perspective that allows us to have joy that goes beyond circumstances. The world will notice. Do you see clearly now?
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Joy in serving Jesus, a joy that goes beyond the circumstances of the moment is at the heart of this letter. The Jews in the wilderness complained against God… and so have we, haven’t we? It may have been in the form of complaining about politics, or restrictions, but did any of this surprise God? If we question His providence, if we complain about the circumstances that we are facing in this fallen world, it can sound like we are headed to the complaint department. Against whom are we complaining? Whatever you are facing, God has got this, you can trust Him. He will use it for our good, and for His glory. Let’s let the hard things of life remind us that this is why Jesus came. Let them cause you to press in close to God, and to trust Him. Rejoice in the Lord always! Amen.