Sermon, January 12, 2020 | Grace Reformed Church
We return today again to the book of Philippians, chapter 2, and the passage for today, verses 14-18, represents the close of what we would call the meat of the letter, the primary instruction, this section that began back at verse 27 of chapter 1. We saw last week how verses 12 and 13, just before, point all the way back to that original instruction. Paul has taken a few diversions, and then he returns to his primary imperative. And as we read it in a second here, you’ll see how what follows is an extension of that idea, Paul works it out a bit into a few more specifics. So just to orient us a little, I’d like to back up and read from verse 12 again. So here, Philippians chapter 2, verses 12 to 18. Listen, this is God’s Holy Word:
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 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.
Last week we looked at what Paul calls us to do here, to work out what it means to live like children of God. We did some of our own applying of it, especially in light of the new year, what we might resolve to do. Resolve to get to know our savior better by practicing the spiritual disciplines of spending time in the Word, in prayer, and cultivating real deep Christian fellowship with the believers around us. Those things are not chores, but joys that we should have each day. If those habits, especially the individual ones of prayer and bible reading, if those habits are something you’re trying to restart or to do in a more intentional way, continue to pray for diligence in those efforts. Like I said last week, those aren’t things that our natural selves would ever choose to do, so as they become easier, pour out thanksgiving to God for working in you more and more. And if you struggle, persevere, because God is working great things in you. And as a quick aside, if you struggle with how to pray, or you don’t know what to pray about, head right to the Psalms and pray those prayers along with David and the other Psalmists. They’re meant to be read aloud, so read them, out loud, and pray them. You’ll find soon enough not only that the content of them is wonderful on its own, they can also teach you how to structure your prayers. But that’s an aside, we can move along to the text now.
So the first thing Paul says after reminding the Philippians of this overarching life task—to work out what it means to be a saved person, what that looks like both in the vertical relationship with God and the horizontal relationship with man—after stating that so beautifully, he starts to apply it, and he says this:
Do all things without grumbling or disputing. We’re reminded of the lengths Paul went to earlier in chapter 2 when he was telling us how to deal with each other in the church. There is always going to be a danger of disunity in the church, because we’re sinners. We will eventually hurt each other, offend each other, have a different opinion of how to answer a certain question or problem. Back in verses 3 and 4 of this chapter, Paul said it like this:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interest of others.
If we as a people of God gathered here would do the opposite of that—Do things selfishly, acting in a conceited way, lacking humility, looking first and only after our own interests—if that’s how we were behaving, guess what there would be a lot of. Grumbling and disputing. We aren’t immune from that at all, are we? But we are called here to a humble relationship with each other.
Grumbling and disputing. You’ve heard those words before, I imagine. Do all things without grumbling or disputing. Maybe with that second word being translated as complaining? Grumbling and complaining. Don’t do that. Paul chooses his words carefully, and it’s no accident that those words are used elsewhere in scripture to describe, in a negative light, the way a people was behaving. Can you think of it? Of course, the ancient Israelites immediately after the exodus.
We should remember what a grumbling that was. Exodus 14, verses 10-12 we hear this about the Israelites:
When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord. (What did they cry? God help us, perhaps? No.) They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.
Here are the Israelites, at the Red Sea. Yes, the situation does seem perilous, but my goodness, you just saw God bring the mighty Egypt to its knees with 10 miraculous plagues. But immediately, grumbling and complaining.
Then the Israelites are again saved miraculously, walking through the Red Sea on dry ground. They have watched God destroy the Egyptians in front of their faces, and then the Israelites never complained again, right? Nope. Exodus 15, verses 22 through 25:
Then Moses made Israel set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah. And the people grumbled against Moses, saying “what shall we drink?”
And God then tells Moses how to make the water sweet, and they have good water. Immediately after that in the account, the next story in chapter 16:
They set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.
And God gives them manna from heaven and quail for meat. Grumbling, complaining, elsewhere it says that they quarreled with Moses. Notice these three episodes all happen within the first month and a half of them leaving Egypt. Grumbling, disputing, quarrelling. We remember these stories of the Israelites and shake our heads a bit. They had a front row seat to God’s glory, his dominion over the creation by performing miracles, and they grumbled. About what? Physical safety, thirst, hunger.
We shake our heads, but are we, when we are not doing as God instructs here in Philippians, are we not chasing after equally frivolous things? We live in America, with more wealth than God has ever allowed a nation in the history of the world. People going hungry and thirsty exists, but on the whole it’s a rarity, and not an issue of there simply being no food. Our physical safety is relatively secure all the time, more so than any other time in history. But what do we naturally grumble about? I don’t get to travel as much as I’d like. My car isn’t quite big enough, I don’t have 4WD. My house is nice, but it could be nicer, newer. We’re missing the forest for the trees, as the saying goes! We, just like the Israelites here in Exodus, are surrounded by a collection of blessings that is indescribable! Yet we complain. Yet we grumble. Yet we dispute about things of little meaning.
We forget to rest in the promises of God. Christ addressed this very issue in Matthew 7, in the sermon on the mount, starting in verse 25:
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?[g] 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Isn’t that what God is reiterating through Paul here? There are things of this world, and there are things above. Ultimately, none of the things here matter. Trust in the Lord, because he is the Lord of all of it, and he knows what you need more than you do. But what shall we do instead? Earlier in the sermon on the mount, Christ says:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust[e] destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Do everything without grumbling and disputing, because there is no use in it. Humility will allow you to keep focused on what you’ve been called to do—worship God and spread the gospel. The less grumbling and disputing we do, the more our minds and our hearts will be freed up to be a vessel of God, a partner in the gospel. Paul understood it, he got it, to the point that he didn’t care what became of his life, even if he lost it right then. Because he knew that he was a slave to a master, and that when the master called him home his duty was ended, but until that time, he was a servant.
So what of the Israelites? Before he died, Moses said many things, prophesying about the future of Israel. In the Song of Moses, recorded in Deuteronomy 32, he talks about the wilderness generation of the Israelites, the ones who had grumbled, and never did see the promised land. This is Moses’ summation of that generation, he said in Deuteronomy 32:5:
They have dealt corruptly with him; they are no longer his children because they are blemished, they are a crooked and twisted generation.
Do you remember those words? A crooked and twisted generation. Paul uses those exact words in Philippians, further emphasizing that we should make this tie between what we should do, and the negative example shown to us by the wilderness generation.
14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation,
The Israelites in the wilderness grumbled and complained, and because they did they were blemished, and they are remembered as a crooked and twisted generation. Paul says to the Philippians—we have hints in the letter that despite their faithfulness, there was some disputing arising—he says to them, don’t be like the Israelites. You are in the midst of, you are surrounded by a crooked and twisted generation of grumblers and complainers who do not know Christ. Be humble that you may be blameless and innocent.
Paul knows that they will stumble—they won’t be blameless and innocent on their own merits, and they won’t be declared blameless and innocent until they are clothed in Christ’s righteousness on the last day—he knows they won’t do this perfectly, but he is encouraging them and us in our sanctification. We are on the journey, the Spirit is working in us daily to make us more like Christ. And when we act like the Israelites, when we have motives and goals for our lives that reflect the crooked and twisted generation around us, we are moving away from our Savior and not closer to him.
Because what’s next? We haven’t finished the sentence yet –
Do all of this so that (verse 15 and 16) “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.”
When you live not as the world lives, you shine as a light. The metaphor of Christians as light is of course throughout the Bible, it’s used many many times, including the passage from Daniel that we read earlier. Or, back to the sermon on the mount:
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[b] they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Shine as lights. Let your light shine. There are so many reasons to use light as the perfect metaphor for the gospel and those who are living in its truth. Without truth in you, all is darkness. We’re reminded of how John described Jesus in his gospel.
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.
Light reveals that which is hidden, which cannot be understood. It’s amazing how much we depend on light, isn’t it? We were in Mammoth Cave this last summer and went on one of the tours, and like they do on many of the cave tours there was a point when they did turn off the lights, because it’s one of the few times that you can experience utter darkness. And the cave is dark even when they turn the lights on, but it’s funny how even the tiniest amount of light reveals vastly more than what you can see when it’s not there.
God has made you lights in the world. We are in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, and we are the lights. God chooses to spread the light of his truth from person to person. Parents to children, friend to friend, through sharing the gospel.
So let your light shine. Like we taught our children to sing. This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine. Hide it under a bushel? No! When we grumble and complain, when we don’t act with humility towards each other, when we chase after things of the world, when we worry about things God has already promised, is that letting our light shine, or is that the bushel?
But the message again is not just go and try harder! It’s so tempting to say that, to say even as we would be encouraged to pray, to pray “Lord, give me the strength to be more bold in sharing the gospel, to let my light shine.” Is that how Christ taught us to pray? No, the part of the Lord’s prayer that fits here is the petition “thy will be done.” Through our lives that needs to be the prayer, not just prayers for strength. Not my will, Lord, just yours. Not yours added to mine (which is kind of what a prayer to have strength to try harder is about). Not my will, your will. If you really, truly want his will to be done, soon how you speak about your savior can only be described as boasting. It’s the only kind of boasting that we are allowed, you could even say instructed to do in the bible. Paul says several times, quoting Jeremiah, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
And the rest of the passage is about that. Paul longs to boast about the faith of the Philippians. He wants to be able to boast about it not because of the work that he’s done, but because of the work God has done.
So Christian, the challenge to you is this. Trade the things of the world, which lead to grumbling and complaining, trade them for the light, the light that is truth, that produces humility, trade your will for God’s will, that you may boast not in your work, but in the work that the Lord is doing in your life. Amen. Let’s pray.
Dear heavenly Father, thank you for the gift of this letter from Paul to the Philippians, how it has already shown us in so many ways how we should live, how we should cling to Christ’s example and your promises, how we should plant our feet on the only solid rock of your Word. Thank you for the message, but even more we pray that you would let this message, this instruction we receive from you not just be words, but truly change our lives and our actions to better serve you. Replace the things of this world that crowd our mind with things of you. In the precious and holy name of your Son Jesus Christ, our only hope and our savior, Amen.