Shine As Lights in the World | Philippians 2:14-16
Brian Hedges | June 21, 2020
This morning we’re going to be in Philippians 2:14-16. I think one of the most urgent questions that Christians have to ask today, in our age, and really in any age, is, “How do we live as faithful believers in a non-Christian environment?” How can we be faithful Christians in a non-Christian world, or even now, as we live, in a post-Christian world?
There was a time when our culture was much more shaped by Christian values than it is now, and we are increasingly finding ourselves in a very secularized environment. How is it that we live faithfully as believers in that kind of an environment?
The passage we’re looking at this morning I think gives us the answer to that question. Paul is writing to the Philippian church, and he’s already exhorted them in a number of different ways, and the exhortation we read this morning kind of flows from those earlier exhortations. In chapter 1:27, he said that he wanted to live lives that are “worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Then, as we saw last week in chapter 2:12, he exhorts us to “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in [us] to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
Then, this morning, the exhortations continue, the commands continue, but it continues with a focus on how we are to live in the world in which we live. It’s a focus, really, on mission, it’s a focus on the lifestyle we are to live as believers, even though we’re living in the middle of a non-Christian world, a non-Christian context.
So, Philippians 2:14-16. Let me read the text, and then I want to point out five crucial realities about living Christian lives in a non-Christian world. Let’s listen to God’s word, beginning in verse 14.
Paul says, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 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.”
This is God’s word.
As Paul gives us these exhortations, I think we can break it down by saying there are five crucial realities about living a Christian life that we need to remember. Let me just give them to you one at a time; we’ll take five or six minutes on each one of these.
1. Remember who you are
First of all, remember who you are, or remember your identity. You really get the identity piece in verse 15, when Paul calls these believers to whom he writes “children of God.” Now, he gives them exhortations, but he gives them exhortations as children of God, and everything that he commands them to do flows from that basic reality, that this is who they are. They are children of God.
When we read that phrase in Scripture, it’s important for us to remember that not everyone is a child of God. It’s true that we are all created by God, it’s true that in a sense we are his offspring, as Acts 17 says, but when we find the language of children of God, child of God, sons or daughters of God, the family of God—that language, when it’s used in Scripture, is always reserved for believers. It is language that describes those who belong to God’s family because they have become children of God through faith in Jesus Christ.
Remember those words from John 1, the prologue of John’s gospel, where he says that “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” The way in which someone enters into the family of God is by receiving Jesus Christ and by believing in his name. It’s only those who have received Christ and those who believe in his name that can actually be called children of God.
This nature we have as children is borne witness to us in our own hearts through the Holy Spirit, through the indwelling Holy Spirit. Paul uses this language as well in Romans 8, when he says, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.”
When we read this phrase “children of God,” we have to remember all of God’s love that comes behind that designation, that appellation. To be called a child of God means that we are loved by God as our Father. That’s the emphasis in 1 John 3, where we have this phrase again. Listen to 1 John 3:1-3. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God, and so we are.” Then John says, “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”
So there you see the future aspect to this. There’s a hope that comes with being children of God, and it’s the hope that we will be made like Christ, that we will be like him when we see him as he is. That hope, then, leads to a certain kind of lifestyle. 1 John 3:3, “Everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself, even as he is pure.”
All of that, I think, is packed into this little phrase “children of God,” so the very first thing Paul does is remind the Philippian believers and he reminds us of our basic identity, that we belong to a new family, that we have a new Father; that we have God as our Father, Christ as our brother, the Spirit indwelling our hearts. All of that leads, then, to a certain kind of lifestyle. When Paul then says, “Remember who you are,” he’s also telling us to live in a certain kind of way because of our identity. I think this is such an important biblical principle, that behavior flows from identity. It flows out of identity.
I love the words of Alec Motyer in his commentary. He says, “The great glory of Christian ethics is that it calls us to be what we are. ‘Children of God’ describes neither wishful thinking, nor fond hope, nor a target for supreme endeavor, but a present reality waiting to be worked out in our conscious, responsive behavior.” The way you behave doesn’t determine who you are, but who you are should determine how you behave.
Someone reminded me after the first service that that phrase “remember who you are” actually comes straight out of a movie, The Lion King. Have you ever seen The Lion King? There are a lot of things in The Lion King that I don’t think are good, but it does serve as a good illustration that Simba has to remember his basic identity, that he’s the son of a king, and it’s when he recalls his identity, he recovers his identity, that he begins to behave as a king.
The same thing is true in our Christian lives. When we remember who we are, it leads to a certain lifestyle, and Paul describes that lifestyle both negatively and positively. Negatively, he says, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” Grumbling carries the idea of complaining or murmuring or muttering under one’s breath. It’s the emotional discontent that gets expressed through words. Disputing carries the idea of intellectual questioning or doubting.
Paul is probably thinking here of the generation of Israelites, the children of Israel who were redeemed out of Egypt, and there they are in the wilderness, and they are complaining and murmuring to such a degree that they test God, and God expresses his displeasure by sending plague among them. Paul is essentially saying, “Don’t be like that. Don’t murmur and don’t complain.”
Maybe you’ve heard the story of a monk who joined a monastery where they took a vow of silence. They were only allowed to speak once every ten years. After the first ten years, he went to his superior. His superior asked him if he had anything to say, and he said very simply, “Food bad.”
Ten years later, when his time to come to the superior once again came around, the superior asked him if he had any feedback to give, and he said, “Bed hard.”
Another ten years went by, and when he met with his superior then, he said, “I quit,” and his superior said, “I’m not surprised. All you’ve done since you got here is complain!”
Well, unfortunately, that’s sometimes true in the Christian life, isn’t it, where we complain, we complain, we complain; we murmur, we mutter. Paul is saying, “Don’t do that. Don’t do that, because it doesn’t fit who you are as the children of God.” I think, also, when you look at the whole context, “Don’t do that, because it tarnishes your witness as believers.” To complain, to murmur, to dispute is to sin.
We are not to do that, but on the positive side, we are to be blameless, innocent, and without blemish, three words that Paul uses in verse 15. The word “blameless” means to be without reproach. It has to do with the Christian’s relationship to the world. We may be persecuted by the world, we may be criticized by the world. The way may try to say negative things about us, often they will; but there should never be a moral thing they can say about us that would stick. We should be without reproach, blameless.
“Innocent” has to do with internal purity. It’s the word that was used to describe undiluted wine, or metal without alloy. It means that which is pure, that which is sincere. This has to do with the Christian as he knows himself to be. These are heart-searching words that cause us to look inside and to ask, are we really true to our confession and to our convictions?
Then the phrase “without blemish” was a phrase that was used of the sacrificial lambs that would be offered to God. Remember, they could not offer a lamb that had a defect. No lamb with a broken leg, no lamb with a blind eye. It had to be spotless, it had to be without defect, without blemish. That’s the idea here. This describes who the Christian is to be in relation to God. We are to be presented before him as without blemish.
You put those three words together and it describes the requisite Christian character. It describes holiness, it describes what God wants us to be, what we are called to be. It all flows out of who we are. It flows out of identity.
You know, when I was a kid, people used to see me tagging along with my dad when he was preaching somewhere, and they would look at me and they’d say to my dad, “Your son is a carbon copy of Ronnie Hedges,” because I look a lot like my dad. And now that I have kids, sometimes people (especially people who knew me years ago) see a picture of one of my sons, especially, they’ll say something similar. “He looks just like you at that age!”
You know why? Because we share the same DNA. Because there are certain family traits, there are features. Those features, that likeness is carried along from family to family, from father to son. Something like that should be true in our Christian lives, that we are to look like our Father. We are children of God.
So, remember who you are, remember your identity; that’s first.
2. Remember where you are
Second, remember where you are. Look at how Paul words this. Again, I’ll just read verses 14-15, but I want you to notice this one phrase in the middle of verse 15. He says, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation.”
That’s how Paul describes their context, and it’s actually a phrase that comes from the Old Testament. In fact, it comes from that story of the first generation of Israelites. In Deuteronomy 32:5, because of their unfaithfulness, because of their idolatry and all the rest, this is what the text says: “They have dealt corruptly with him; they are no longer his children, because they are blemished. They are a crooked and twisted generation.”
Paul is saying, “Don’t be like that. Don’t be like those original Israelites who were crooked and twisted; instead, you are to be without spot, you are to be blameless, you are to be innocent in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation.”
The word “crooked” is the Greek word skolios (σκολιος), from which we get our word scoliosis, which is, of course, a medical problem, a curvature of the spine. It’s a word that literally means to be curved or to be twisted or to be crooked.
The second word, “twisted,” means to be perverse. It carries the idea of deviation from that which is good, that which is moral, that which is right. This is how Paul describes the context in which we live. He describes the world in these terms, and in fact, he uses the word “world” in the next phrases, when he says, “You are to shine as lights in the world.” So you’re to be spotless, blameless, innocent, in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation you are to shine as lights in the world.
By the word, Paul, of course, means the fallen world system. He’s not thinking so much about the created planet Earth as much as he is thinking about the world system in which we live, which is still under the influence of the evil one. You remember how Satan is described as the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4), or the apostle John says that “the whole world lies in the hands of the wicked one.”
In fact, John exhorts us to “not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Then he describes it. “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and pride in possessions, is not from the father, but is from the world, and the world is passing away, along with its desires. But whoever does the will of God abides forever.”
These verses are telling us that as Christians we are to live countercultural lives. These verses are telling us that we are called to be different, that we are called to be distinct; that when people look at us, we should seem different from the world around us. Now, it doesn’t mean we’re different in every respect, but we are different in certain respects. We have a different kind of character, a different kind of values. We have a different kind of language. We talk in a different way, we value different things. It means that there will be differences that sometimes will even arouse hostility from others.
Do you remember in Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress when Christian and Faithful go to Vanity Fair? Vanity Fair is the city that represents the world and all of the prosperity and the values of the world. It’s almost like a carnival scene as they’re walking through this city, and all the merchants are concerned with their wares. Christian and Faithful stand out because they don’t dress the same way, because they don’t talk the same way, and because they don’t value the same things. It arouses the animosity of the city, so that eventually they try Faithful with a judge and jury.
Bunyan is brilliant when he names this judge and jury. The judge is named Mr. Hategood, and the jury is made up of characters named Mr. Malice, Mr. Lovelust, Mr. Liveloose, Mr. Highmind, Mr. Cruelty, and Mr. Hatelight. Now, there is absolutely no subtlety in John Bunyan! It’s very on-the-nose allegory.
But it makes the point, doesn’t it, that when you inhabit a world that is dark and is sinful and is twisted and perverse and that does not value what God values; when you live in a world that calls good evil and evil good, light darkness and darkness light, right and wrong upside down and mixed up; when you live in a world like that and you try to hold onto the values of Christianity, when you try to live in the way of Jesus, it’s going to lead to some degree of animosity and sometimes even persecution. Faithful is actually martyred in Vanity Fair. Of course, there have been more martyrs in the last 120 years than there have been in all of the 19 centuries of church history put together that preceded. We live in a world that is hostile to our faith, and we have to remember that context.
Remember what Isaac Watts said? “Is this vile world a friend to grace / To help me on to God?” Of course, the implied answer is no. To be a friend with the world is to be at enmity with God, the apostle James says. So remember your identity (who you are) and also remember where you are, your context.
3. Remember your calling
Number three, remember your calling. Here we come to the mission itself. What are we called to be and do? We already have a piece of it, as Paul has described the character we are to have, but now he uses a vivid metaphor and then explains the metaphor. The metaphor is at the end of verse 15, “...among whom you shine as lights in the world.” The way in which we shine as lights in the world is verse 16, “...holding fast to the word of life.”
When he says, “Among whom you shine as lights in the world,” it recalls some other passages. There are lots of passages in Scripture that describe us as light. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
I think Paul especially has in mind Daniel 12:3. Daniel, of course, was the prophet who lived during the Babylonian exile. He was a faithful man living in an unfaithful, pagan culture. He was actually in a place of some influence, but you remember how he was persecuted throughout the book of Daniel.
In Daniel we have both narratives and we have his visions and prophecies and so on, and at the end of the vision that begins in Daniel 10 (ends in Daniel 12), Daniel gives us kind of a preview of what’s to come. It’s one of the few passages in the Old Testament that give us a clear prophecy of future resurrection. It’s just following that that you have these words in Daniel 12:3, where it says, “And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars, forever and ever.”
That’s the passage that Paul almost definitely has in mind when he writes this. “Shining like stars”; that’s the idea. As Daniel said, “Those who turn many to righteousness shine like the stars, forever and ever.”
What’s really amazing here—and I owe this insight to a great biblical scholar, Matthew Harmon, who’s actually a professor down at Grace Seminary in Winona Lakes; wrote a wonderful commentary on Philippians. Matt Harmon comments that “Paul borrows the phrase ‘shine like stars’ to make a stunning theological point. Because believers are in Christ, they are already experiencing in the present what Daniel 12:3 promised. The death and resurrection of Jesus have inaugurated the latter days, and as a result believers have experienced spiritual resurrection, in being brought from spiritual death to spiritual life.” He says, “Because of their transformed lives, they shine in the midst of a world that remains under the curse, subject to the powers of the flesh, sin, and the devil.”
In other words, the future has invaded the present. The eschatological age, the age to come, has already dawned in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and through the power of that resurrection you and I have been brought from death to life. We’ve been brought out of darkness into light, and now we shine as lights in the world, and as we shine, we are shining the light of the future age into the present darkness. That’s the idea that Paul has here. That’s what we are called to do; that’s our mission. Your mission is to shine, to shine your light.
The way in which we shine our light is both through our character, which we’ve already looked at (not murmuring and complaining and disputing and doubting, but rather being blameless and innocent, without reproach through our character), and then also through the word. You see that in verse 16, “Holding fast to the word of life.”
That phrase “holding fast” can mean either holding fast—holding onto, having a firm grip on—or it can mean holding forth, holding out, extending this word to others. Perhaps both are implied. Paul says, “...holding fast to the word of life.” What is this word of life? Well, it’s the gospel. It’s the word that gives life. It’s the word that points to life. It’s the word that points to Jesus Christ, who is the life. It’s as we hold to this gospel we fulfill our mission.
Another great illustration from The Pilgrim’s Progress is when Christian goes into the Interpreter’s house and he sees the picture of a grave man, a grave person. “This was the fashion of it,” Bunyan says. “He had eyes lifted up to heaven, the best of books in his hand, the law of truth was written upon his lips, the world was behind his back, and it stood as if it pleaded with men, and a crown of gold did hang over its head.”
What a description of the Christian, who should be living for the sake of Jesus Christ as a witness in this dark world! The world behind our backs, the word of truth on our lips, the best of books in our hands, pleading with men. “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” “...among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life.”
Remember who you are, remember where you are, remember your calling.
4. Remember those who discipled you
Then, number four (these last two won’t take as long), remember those who discipled you. Look at verse 16. Paul says, “...holding fast 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.”
I just love Paul’s heart. In Philippians, more than in any other letter except 2 Corinthians, you get the heart of Paul the pastor. Paul planted this church. He labored in this church. He did his evangelistic work, his church planting work there, and he’s concerned about this church. He loves this church! He’s already expressed that. In chapter 1 he says, “I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” In chapter 4 he calls them his “brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown…” I mean, his joy is complete if they are faithful in the Lord. That’s what he’s pushing them towards now.
It’s a part of their motivation. He wants them to be motivated to be faithful to Christ and to shine as lights in the world, so that he (Paul) will not be disappointed, so that his work, his running, and his laboring will not be in vain. He’s anticipating that day when he will stand before the judgment seat of Christ, and he wants to see fruit in the lives of the people for whom he has labored. He wants it to not be for nothing.
I think it’s an important part of our own motivation as Christians, that one reason why you should be faithful is because of the people who discipled you. Think about the person who led you to Christ. Maybe it was a mom or a dad. Maybe it was a coach or a teacher. Maybe it was a Sunday school teacher or a pastor. Maybe it was a brother or sister. Someone who shared the gospel with you, told you of your need for Jesus, began to explain the Bible to you, and led you to faith in Jesus Christ. Be faithful so that their work will not be in vain.
Think about the pastors and the elders, the shepherds who have shepherded you over the years. Some of you have maybe been part of this church for a decade or more. Certainly people in the first service have been a part of the church for 30 years, so a legacy of pastors who have invested in them.
You know, when I think about my own life, I want to be faithful, and one reason I want to be faithful is because I don’t want to disappoint the people who invested in me. Every once in awhile I’ll see these stories in the news of a pastor that has flamed out—committed adultery or forsaken the faith or deconversion or whatever. I see those stories; they’re scary. It scares me. It makes me examine myself. It makes me, actually, do a little bit of constructing a scenario. What would that be like?
One of the first things I think is what that would do to my wife and my children and my church, but I also think about what that would do to my parents. Listen, I don’t want to disappoint Ronnie and Gloria Hedges. I don’t want to disappoint the men who invested in me—Tim St. Clair and Mark Bearden. I don’t want to disappoint the men who ordained me to ministry, brother Vernon Venable, who’s now with the Lord in heaven; his son, Wayne Venable, still a preacher living in New Mexico. I don’t want to disappoint them. They invested in me. They discipled me, and I don’t want their labor to be in vain.
Can I appeal to you, Redeemer Church? Don’t disappoint the people who led you to Christ, the people who invested in you, the people who taught you, the people who were faithful to you, the people who baptized you. My greatest grief as a pastor is when I see people who once seemed to be faithful to Christ, and they’ve now wandered, they’re far from the Lord. It’s my greatest burden. It’s harder than anything else. So for the sake of those who love you and have invested in you, be faithful.
I love the words of that song that was popular 30 years ago; Steve Green sang it. It’s words that we should take to heart as we think about the legacy of faith. He said,
“We’re pilgrims on the journey of the narrow road,
And those who’ve gone before us line the way,
Cheering on the faithful, encouraging the weary,
Their lives a stirring testament to God’s sustaining grace.
Oh, may all who come behind us find us faithful.
May the fire of our devotion light their way;
May the footprints that we leave lead them to believe
And the lives we live inspire them to obey.”
Think about those who’ve gone before, think about those who will come behind, and live a faithful life for the sake of others. Remember those who discipled you.
5. Remember your destiny
Finally, number five (we’re almost done), remember your destiny. Again, you see that in verse 16 with this phrase “the day of Christ.”
We’ve already encountered this phrase in Philippians. In chapter 1:6, Paul says, “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.” He’s looking forward. He’s looking to that day when Jesus Christ returns in glory, when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ, when we give an account of our lives as Christians to the Lord; that day when we could hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Don’t you want to hear those words? Remember your destiny! Look to where you’re going!
Don’t you love the words of that old spiritual, “This world is not my home, / I’m just a-passing through”? Now, there’s a sense in which this world, when it’s redeemed and recreated and renewed by the power of God and it’s a new heavens and a new earth, then this world, this planet, we will inhabit a glorified, resurrected world.
But the world as it now is, that’s not your home. You should not be entirely comfortable in the present world, because you don’t belong. You’re different, Christian. You’re different, so you should be looking forward. You should be anticipating what is to come, looking for the day to come.
Paul prays that very thing for the Philippians in chapter 1, when he prays for them that their “love may abound more and more, with all knowledge and discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent,” and get this, “and be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” Again, it’s this future orientation as we look to what’s coming, and it motivates us to live faithful lives in the present time.
So let’s put it all together. How do you live as a faithful Christian in a non-Christian world? You remember your identity, who you are; you remember your context, where you are; you remember your mission, your calling to shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life; you remember those who discipled you, the legacy of faith, the baton that has been passed on to you, and now you carry that baton or you carry that torch, and you run faithfully; and you remember your destiny, the finish line. Remember the goal, remember where you are headed.
As we remember those things, it will motivate us and empower us and help us to be faithful to Christ in this present world. Let’s pray together.
Our gracious God, as we consider this exhortation, we recognize that the calling is far beyond us. It is above us. It’s above what we’re able to accomplish in our own strength. So we recall those words that went before in this passage, that we are to “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in [us] to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
We confess this morning our absolute dependence on you. We need your strength, we need your grace, we need your Holy Spirit working in us what is pleasing in your sight. If we are to be faithful, if we are to shine as lights in the world, we can’t do that unless you first shine on us, unless the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ pierces into the darkness of our hearts. So we ask for that. We pray that your Spirit would work and do what needs to be done so we can be a faithful church.
As we come to the Lord’s table this morning, we pray that it would be a renewing grace, a renewing time of self-examination as we look at our hearts, of repentance as we turn from sin, and of faith as we place our trust in Jesus Christ afresh. As we come to the table, may we do so with eyes and hearts fixed on our Lord and our Savior, Jesus Christ, and may your Spirit work in us and work with us in these moments. We pray it in Jesus’ name and for his sake, Amen.