Have you ever seen a searchlight at night, playing back and forth across the sky? Your eyes are invariably drawn to its path and you wonder, what’s it there for?
As believers, we’re here in the darkness of this world to draw people to that light — the light of God’s truth in Christ. This study in Phil. 2:14-18 covers characteristics of believers and ways we are light in the midst of darkness.
Part 9 of a whole book study series called “Joy in Christ: A Study Through Philippians.”
How we walk in our daily lives – and particularly how we relate to each other as believers — strongly influences how the world sees us.
Complaints and Arguments
14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing,
It is easy to complain. I find myself doing it without even thinking. We complain about tangible objects, about people (especially their driving), about circumstances, about the weather. We complain about having to do things, from grocery shopping to weeding — even to the service we may do in the church or community.
It is likely that the believers at Philippi had some complaints about or arguments with the people set in servant-leadership over them. We see this in Paul’s inclusion of the elders and deacons in his greeting as well as his exhortation to harmony to Euodia and Syntyche in Phil. 4:2-3. Some have said this is parallel to how God’s people, the Israelites, complained against Moses in the wilderness (see Ex. 15:24 for example). This also fits with Paul’s concern in Phil. 1:27 and 2:2 that the believers be of one mind.
Effects of Complaints and Arguments
What is really bad about complaining (whether in general or against the spiritual authority under which you have placed yourself in the church) is that when it comes down to it, it is arrogance. You are basically saying to God, I don’t like that you have placed me here. The people or circumstances that you have brought into my life are not satisfactory to me. I know better than you, God, what is good for me. And ultimately complaining or arguing (often translated as “doubting” or “questioning”) is not trusting God’s sovereignty.
Complaining and arguing also has the effect of creating dissension and division. Paul exhorts the believers at Thessalonica in a similar manner:
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. [1 Thess. 5:12-13 ESV]
The issues in Thessalonica — and maybe in Philippi, too — are those of respect and esteem in a godly sense toward servant-leaders. Remember we talked in the first study about how the role of elders and deacons is one of service rooted deeply in a motivation to love and build up others in the body of Christ. Therefore — without excusing sin and while standing firmly and lovingly on the truth — we are to be at peace with each other.
Examples of Christ to the World
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.
There is a connection between Paul’s earlier exhortation to obedience and the concept that God is working in us (vv. 12-13) and his guidance here in verse 15. Our attitude in all that we do inside the body of Christ and out in the world gives evidence of who we are: children of God.
Several traits characterize children of God:
Blameless. Here the sense is that of both being and becoming morally pure, free from guilt, and above reproach. It is Christ’s act of atonement that enables us to appear blameless before God. This doesn’t mean we are perfect humanly speaking, but rather that before God we would have nothing to be ashamed of. (related: Ps. 119:1-2; 1 Cor. 1:8; Phil. 1:6, 8; 1 Thess. 3:13) Being blameless means that when someone looks at our lives, we don’t have to hope they don’t see certain things that don’t speak well of Christ.
Innocent. Pure, unmixed, a mind not tainted by sinful motives. Christ used this word when He sent the disciples out, exhorting them to be innocent as doves [Matt. 10:16].
Without blemish. It’s often easier to read this as other translations have it “above reproach.”
Paul’s stacked up three words/phrases here that are tightly interwoven and related. We can see he wants to impress upon these believers (and upon us) that we are to live lives that we do not have to make excuses for. (related: Eph. 1:3-6)
Holding fast the word of life. To be above reproach in our walk with Christ rests upon His grace, which works itself out through our prayerful, consistent study of the word and through the renewing ministry of the Holy Spirit. Yes, it is God who works in us to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil. 2:13), but if we simply sit on our hands or look at things of the world instead of what He has given to us in His word, we are at the very least slowing our progress.
There’s a double meaning to this idea of “holding fast.” Not only are we as believers holding on to the light of God’s truth in His word, we’re also holding that light out — presenting it as it were — to others. As we hold fast to the central things in our lives — the word of life given by the author of life, which points to the core: Christ — it changes and shapes us, makes us different.
By these characteristics, we set ourselves apart from the world. Just as the believers at Philippi were living in what Paul called a crooked and twisted generation, today we, too, live in that kind of society. (related: Deut. 32:5-6) We see this in the moral relativism that is so prevalent today. The world is largely in spiritual darkness. But we stepped out of that darkness when we trusted Christ. Now we are light in the darkness of this world, just as stars are pinpoints of brightness in a dark night sky.
…for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. [Eph. 5:8-10 ESV]
Scripture speaks in other places about the righteous being light to the world, reflecting and shining the light of Christ:
Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. (Dan. 12:3)
As believers, we are light when:
- We speak God’s truth in love, unwavering in our convictions, but filled with grace in our delivery, no matter how great the hostility or rejection. (related: Luke 6:35; 1 Pet. 3:14-15; 2 Tim. 2:24-25; Tit. 3:1-2)
- We live in ways that are different from the world, not as “rule followers,” but as lovers of our Savior and Lord: not laughing at vulgar jokes, not using foul language, not participating in activities that don’t fit who we are in Christ. (related: Col. 4:5-6; Eph. 5:15-16)
- We show kindness and compassion to others — believers or not — in the midst of their suffering. We are helpers and healers in places few others want to go and to people few others want to touch. (related: Gal. 5:22-23; Col. 3:12; Prov. 3:3-4; Mic. 6:8; Heb. 13:2)
Sacrifice for the Sake of Faith
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.
Seeing the faith of the Philippian believers grow and strengthen, marking that growth by the traits we looked at above as they hold fast to Christ until the end is a cause for Paul to be proud and rejoice. Like someone who runs a race and sees the finish line as he nears the end, he wants these beloved believers to finish well so that the effort he has put into them will not have been wasted. (related: Gal. 2:2; 4:11; 1 Thess. 3:5)
As we saw in chapter one, Paul expects to be delivered from his imprisonment. Here he presents that in spite of that hope, he is willing for the sake of their faith even to be poured out as a sacrifice (in other words, to go to his death). He uses Old Testament sacrificial imagery to convey this especially strongly. “In the sacrifices, together with meat-offerings, libations of wine were made, which were poured upon the ground from sacred vessels at the altar.” (Meyer’s NT Commentary)
Speaking of his desire to see the believers at Thessalonica, Paul asks the question, For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy. [1 Thess. 2:19-20] This is similar to his attitude here in Philippians.
Paul’s life work was seeing others trust Christ and be strengthened and built up in their faith. This is what brought him joy and when he thought of crowns, such as the ones spoken of as the rewards for faithfulness in Revelation, he was thinking of these believers as points on the crowns. Because of this level of joy, he asks the believers at Philippi to rejoice on his behalf — even if he dies a martyr’s death.