“Do all things without grumbling or questioning, 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, 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.” –Philippians 2:14-16
Intro: We continue to look at what the God Himself is telling us about the gospel through the Apostle Paul here in the book of Philippians. I’ve been amazed and blessed by the study of the passage we’re looking at this morning, and it is a privilege and joy to be able to discuss with you the shining glory of our God, which burns with powerful brilliance in the gospel.
“Do all things without grumbling or questioning…”
If we simply read this on the surface, it seems as if Paul is going from very big statements in the previous verses, to very, very specific admonitions here. In the previous verses he gives us broad strokes of how we should live our lives as Christians: “Obey! Work out your salvation in reverent fear!” But then here we might understand him to begin speaking very specifically about the sins of complaining. Now, we should recognize that this is absolutely applicable to the topic at hand. Paul has, as we’ve looked at these passages over the past few weeks been speaking about humble unity. Constantly grumbling, complaining, and questioning each other would certainly make attempts at unity difficult. Even though I don’t think those specific sins are what Paul is mainly talking about, we should certainly heed the warning: if you would be unified, you must not be grumblers/complainers!
Here’s what I think Paul is saying in this verse, and I’ll try to show from the text why I think this. I think Paul is saying, “Trust in God completely!” Ok, so why do I think that? The verse we’re looking at don’t contain the word “Trust”, nor does this particular admonition mention God himself. Well, first, let’s read these verses again to get the language in our minds.
READ Php 2:14-16
Now, it seems to me that what Paul is doing here is intentionally using language that will direct our thoughts elsewhere in Scripture. Where in the Word of God do we find stories about the most notorious grumblers and complainers? The story of Israel! Paul is setting up a deliberate contrast between what Israel was and what we should be.
Let’s flip over to Deuteronomy 32.
“They have dealt corruptly with him;
they are no longer his children because they are blemished;
they are a crooked and twisted generation.
…The LORD saw it and spurned them,
because of the provocation of his sons and his daughters.
And he said, ‘I will hide my face from them;
I will see what their end will be,
For they are a perverse generation,
children in whom is no faithfulness.” Dt 32:5, 19-20
Do we see the similarities?! Ok, so let’s talk about Israel for a moment. If you remember their story after God brought them out of Egypt, what happened to them? Well, first, they were constantly acting with such rebellion that the holiness of God broke out against them in plagues. Tens of thousands died. THEN, they refused to enter the Promised Land and the whole generation died in the desert, including Moses! What in the world was their problem?
“Then they despised the pleasant land,
having no faith in his promise.
They murmured in their tents,
and did not obey the voice of the LORD.” Psa. 106:24-25
They didn’t love God. They did not trust His promises. They did not trust His strength, even though they saw pillars of fire and parted seas and plagues (on Egypt first) and water coming out of rocks and all manner of other AMAZING miracles. They didn’t trust God, even though they had seen great things.
Brothers and sisters, I am here to tell you this morning that we are witnesses to far greater miracles than the wilderness generation EVER saw! I submit to you that the redemption of a single soul by the sacrifice of Christ is greater than any cloud or plague Israel EVER saw! In that moment God takes death and turns it into life! In that moment the spark of eternity which God has implanted in our hearts awakens and says, “I am for the King!” Moreover, that we live daily with the presence of the Holy Spirit within us is unbelievable! Do you remember what happened to the Israelites when they were presented with the presence of God on Sinai? They said, “Do not let Him speak to us, lest we die.” This wasn’t just a bunch of grumpy, scaredy cats. Israel had a SPIRITUAL problem at their very core. And Paul is telling us here, “Don’t be like Israel! Learn from their example and LOVE God!”
Elsewhere, Paul makes this explicit for us: that the wilderness generation is to serve as a warning for us; as a model of how NOT to act. Don’t be like Israel.
“We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.”
1 Cor 10:9-11
Moving back to our Philippians passage, Paul tells us what the opposite of desert-Israel is. If we are obedient to Christ as we should be, this is what we’ll look like:
“…that you may be blameless and pure, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation…”
Remember what Deuteronomy 32:5 says? It says that the Israel were no longer the children of God because they were blemished; because were crooked and twisted and they had no faith. And THAT is the central issue. Faith! How is it that we become children of God? “…by grace, through FAITH…”
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
It is BELIEF/FAITH! So Paul says, “Don’t be grumblers like Israel who didn’t have faith in God. You HAVE FAITH so that you can be what Israel SHOULD have been – blameless and pure children of God.”
“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Php 1:9-11
Through faith in Christ we produce the fruit of righteousness. If we are to be blameless children of God we MUST believe in Christ, trust in Christ, LOVE Christ. Israel did not trust or love God. Israel did not obey. Israel did not work out their faith with fear and trembling. Israel was not blameless and pure. But WE are ALL of these things in Christ…IF we are faithful.
Notice also how Paul recognizes and reminds us of the kind of world we live in. This idolatrous, perverse, immoral, disobedient, God rejecting nation of Israel is likened to the world around us. We certainly don’t have to give any examples about how wicked our world is. If you need examples, go read a few pages of the news. Just as we, THROUGH Christ are becoming more and more obedient, the world is becoming more and more wicked because they do not have Christ. We are eternally different from the world; set apart for the glory of God.
Look at the imagery Paul uses here to contrast us with the world, and show us how we are to interact with the world.
Shine forth in the dark
“…among whom you shine as lights in the world…”
Again we see that we have become what Israel SHOULD have been. One of the images God uses for Israel is that they will be a light to the nations. The way the Bible talks about that happening is this: God is light, and as we spend time in His presence we reflect that light. So, where am I getting that?
- God is light: One of the first things He does is create light. The very existence of light owes itself to Him. Then, one of the last things the Bible tells us is that in the Kingdom which is to come there will be no sun, moon or lamp because God and the Lamb will be the light. Everywhere inbetween the imagery of God as light is pervasive. See Isaiah 60:19-20
- “The sun shall be no more
your light by day,
nor for brightness shall the moon
give you light;
but the LORD will be your everlasting light,
and your God will be your glory.
Your sun shall no more go down,
nor your moon withdraw itself;
for the LORD will be your everlasting light,
and your days of mourning shall be ended.”
- We reflect as we’re in His presence: Perhaps the most tangible example of this is Moses. Remember the story? He goes up on the mountain to talk to God, and when he comes down everyone freaks out because his face is lit up like a lightbulb because he’s been in the presence of God. Then in 2 Cor 3:7-8,18; 4:6 Paul tells us that our ministry THROUGH CHRIST shines even more brilliantly from within us than Moses face shone.
Just like Moses reflected physical light after he was in God’s presence, we reflect SPIRITUAL light as we are in Christ…and just like Moses’ generation rejected God’s presence, we can expect our wicked generation to largely reject the light we shine as well.
So how, specifically, is it that we shine as lights in the darkness of the world? Well, Paul goes on to tell us:
“…holding fast the word of life…”
Probably a better wording of this phrase would be “holding FORTH” the word of life. So how does Paul say we shine? We hold out the word of life to the darkness! This word of life has been God’s offer from the very beginning. We, as Christ’s ambassadors, offer to the dark world the very thing which God has always offered his people.
Back in Deuteronomy 30, we see God make the offer explicitly:
““See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply…” Dt 30:15-16
And this great promise of life is gloriously revealed and fulfilled in Christ!
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Jn 1:1-5
And we have the great privilege of having a written record, showing us everything we need for life and Godliness.
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence…” 2 Pet 1:3
How is it that we know about Jesus Christ? How is it that we know how God dealt with the people of Israel? It is the scriptures! The power of eternity is in these pages, because the knowledge of who God is and what He has done for us in Christ is here.
And our great privilege, as God’s people, is to soak ourselves in these life-giving words. We plunge ourselves into the presence of God through the scriptures.
- Would you be closer to God? Study the word!
- Would you be comforted by God? Study the word!
- Do you desire to live worthy of the gospel? Study the word!
- Do you desire to trust God more? Study the word!
- Would you be a blameless and pure child of God who shines like a light in this dark world? Then for the eternal good of your soul, STUDY THE WORD!
If you do these things, I can assure you that the light of God WILL be reflected in you, and it will blaze with heaven’s brightness.
And let’s not forget why Paul is making this argument! The central idea here is being a people who SHINE into DARK. What is the light which we’re shining? It is Christ! It is the gospel! It is the promises of this divine word! The purpose of reflecting the light of Christ is so that people may hear and believe the gospel. We are those who rush out into the darkness saying, “Look! Look at the light!”
Our purpose in shining is to bring salvation to the ends of the earth, and thus glorify God.
“And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above;a and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever…” Daniel 12:3
““I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness;
I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
a light for the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.” Isa 42:6-7
‘It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.'” Isa 49:6
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 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. 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.” Mt 5:14-16
Did you catch that last phrase? All of this, all of it!, is for the glory of our heavenly Father. Look how Paul is fixated on the fact that all things are for His glory.
- 1:11 – the fruit of righteousness is for the glory and praise of God
- 1:20 – whether by life or death Paul yearns to honor Christ
- 2:9-11 – Paul exalts Christ
- 2:13 – we will and work for HIS good pleasure
And Paul concludes with his thoughts pointing to the day when he stands before Christ.
“so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.”
This is the reason that he (as every pastor should) worked to the very limits of his strength – that when he stands before Christ on that day, he will be able to show his work to the Lamb who reigns on the throne as an obedient offering. Paul doesn’t want to go before His King empty handed – not because his labors will give him salvation, but because he wants to bring the best gift he can possibly offer: the praise of many saints. This runs throughout Paul’s pastoral letters: he evangelizes and teaches and rebukes and corrects and encourages so that he might present as many as possible as a pure and blameless offering to Christ.
Paul always lived as if he was quickly approaching the day he would stand before the Lord. Do we live this way? Constantly remembering that we will come before him who was slain for us would go a long way for strengthening us for daily obedience, for constantly shining in the darkness, for standing for the gospel so that the nations might believe and glorify Him.
So then, what Paul tells us in this passage is this:
- TRUST God – and thus be a blameless child of Christ
- SHINE forth light into darkness – by holding out the word of life to the darkness
…and by doing these things you will not be ashamed to stand before our Judge in the Day of Christ.
“Lord, the light of your love is shining; in the midst of the darkness shining. Jesus, light of the world, shine upon us! Set us free with the truth you now bring us. Shine on us! Shine on us!
Shine Jesus, shine; fill this land with the Father’s glory! Blaze Spirit, blaze; set our hearts on fire! Flow river, flow; flood the nations with grace and mercy! Send forth your Word, Lord and let there be light!”