Shining Stars in a Dark World
One evening last week my grandson and I stood on a hill in Middle Tennessee – no city lights in view – and were amazed at how distinctly we could see the stars against the dark night.
The apostle Paul uses this fact of nature in Philippians 2 to teach his brethren how they were to understand and see themselves in this world. In Philippians 2:5-11, Paul gives a beautiful “hymn” about Christ. He describes the humiliation of the Son of God who became a dying man, who would afterward be the exalted Lord at His Father’s right hand. He stresses the Son’s humility and total obedience and urges the Philippians to be motivated by the same “mind” as that of Jesus Christ.
Moving from that thought, Paul admonishes his readers in verses 12 and 13: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” Their personal (“your own”) salvation was to be “worked out”, demonstrated by their lives in the world in which they lived.
Everyday problems and practical duties follow in Paul’s masterful mode of teaching. The apostle has no difficulty in shifting from sublime thoughts to thoughts about daily life. Here is Paul’s inspired advice about how the Philippians (and we) are to live our lives for God:
1) Live without complaining. In the KJV, “complaining” is translated “murmuring”. In the Bible the same word is used to describe murmuring against God or man. In 1 Corinthians 10:10, Israel is said to have murmured against God because they were hungry. The Pharisees murmured against Jesus and His disciples because they ate with sinners. (Luke 5:30) Others murmured against Jesus when He declared Himself to the be the “Bread of Life” sent down from Heaven. (John 6:44) The Grecian Christians mentioned in Acts 6 murmured against their Hebrew brethren because their widows were allegedly neglected. In 1 Peter 4:9, the apostle taught his readers to “Be hospitable to one another …. without grumbling.” Each of us has the choice – what will our attitude be as we live for Christ? Will we serve God joyfully, or make ourselves and others miserable by complaining, murmuring, and grumbling? The second word Paul uses as he teaches the Philippians how to live is “disputing.”
2) Live without disputing. While we are to develop firm convictions on every bible doctrine, matters of opinion are not to be used to disrupt our relationship with other Christians. Some matters require much study because much is revealed, other matters properly belong to private conscience and ought not to be used to disturb the peace of mind of others. May God help us to distinguish the two, and therefore “do all things without complaining and disputing.” Now the apostle in this passage reveals what such attitudes and actions will produce in the Christian’s life.
3) That you may become blameless and harmless. “Blameless” means without fault, and is an outward or external quality. David’s prayer for the Thessalonians brethren was that “He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.” (I Thess. 3:13) It is not that we can live without ever having a fault, but that we can live in a relationship with Christ where perfect forgiveness is. Now consider the second word Paul uses. “Harmless” means innocent, simple, pure and indicates an inward trait that compliments the “harmless as doves.” (Matt. 16:19b) “I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil.” The apostle recognizes the difficulties Christians faced in the world in which they lived.
4) They lived in a “crooked and perverse” generation. The surroundings in which the first-century Philippians lived were full of every kind of sinful behavior. The devil has used every tool available to him to work against those who have declared their allegiance to Christ. The “crooked and perverse” descriptions of the first century world are applicable to our own times. The moral darkness of their world heightened the contrast with the lives these Christians were to live!
5) They were to “shine as lights in the world.” By living as already described, the contrast between the Christians and the pagans would fit this description given by Paul. Like stars shining in a dark sky, their lives would be apparent to all around them as a source of Light. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16)
Pearl Hatchett has expressed this thought in the familiar song:
Ye Are the Light of the World
(verses 1 & 2)
Oh, Christian, do not hide your light! For ye are the light of the world;
But keep it trimmed and burning bright, For ye are the light of the world.
Go, show to all the path of right, For ye are the light of the world;
Go bring the straying back to light, For ye are the light of the world.