Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Shine As Lights (Philippians 2:12-16)

Therefore, my beloved, obey as you have always done, not only when I am with you, but even more so when I can’t be. Continue to work out your salvation with great fear and trembling, because God is energizing you, enabling you to desire and do what always pleases Him.Do all things without complaining or bickering with each other,[1] so you may become innocent (unmixed or pure) and blameless (above reproach); you are God’s children called to live without a single stain on your reputations among this perverted and crooked generation[2]. Then you will shine like stars across the land as you hold to (or hold forth) the word of life. 

I remember DC Talk singing, “I want to be in the light as you are in the light – I want to shine like the stars in the heavens.” Who doesn’t? Wouldn’t it be awesome to illuminate the spiritual darkness in the world with the light of our life as Jesus shines through?

You might be thinking, “There is no way I can do this. Do you even know my personality? My past? My situation right now?” Well, Paul says that if certain things characterized the lives of the Christians in Phiippi, they would “shine like lights” in their generation (or nation, in some commentaries). As we have seen throughout this book, Paul will not leave us wondering. He tells us how to shine for Christ.

We need to back up first and talk about “working out our salvation.”
Paul does not mean that the Christians at Philippi must work to earn their salvation. That is a free gift from God (Ephesians 2:8). Paul’s uses an image that is also found in the writings of a Greek named Strabo, a contemporary of Jesus. Strabo said the Romans ‘worked out’ the great silver mines of Spain, getting all they could from the depths of the mines.

Paul seems to be saying that Christians must ‘mine’ the riches of salvation’ – not casually or flippantly, but with a sense of what’s at stake. "Fear and trembling” doesn’t mean terrified – it’s the same phrase Paul uses to describe how the church in Corinth received Titus (2 Corinthians 7:25) and how Paul himself approached the Corinthian church when he preached Christ (1 Corinthians 2:3). It seems to have something to do with taking it seriously, with recognizing that magnitude of the task.[3]


So on the one hand, we put sweat equity into our walk with God. God offers a depth of spiritual riches in His Kingdom, but we have to shoulder a pick axe and go after it. On the other hand, God’s grace – which began with the gift of salvation - continues with the gift of His Holy Spirit that “energizes us, enabling us to desire and do what pleases God.” There is an interesting tension here between God’s sovereignty and our responsibility. D.A. Carson has noted,

The text does not say, “Work to acquire your salvation, for God has done his bit and now it is all up to you.” Nor does it say, “You may already have your salvation, but now perseverance in it depends entirely on you.” Still less does it say,“Let go and let God. Just relax. The Spirit will carry you.” Rather, Paul tells us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, precisely because God is working in us both to will and to act according to his good purpose.”

Adam Clarke puts it this way:

“God neither wills for man, nor works in man's stead, but he furnishes him with power to do both; he is therefore accountable to God for these powers. They cannot do God's work, they cannot produce in themselves a power to will and to do; and God will not do their work, he will not work out their salvation with fear and trembling.”

This is both a challenge and an encouragement. The challenge is not to fall into the trap of complacency or laziness, sitting back and waiting for a miracle to mature you in Christ. Maturity requires mining. There will be aching backs and callouses. If I pray, “God, make me a more godly man,” I can take comfort in the idea that God is willing that desire in me and will help me do what it takes to accomplish that goal – but I better put on my spiritual work clothes and buy some heavy-duty detergent, because this might take some time and it might get messy. Character and maturity are neither accidental not magical; they are the fruits of purposeful pursuit.[4]

That’s the challenge. The encouragement is that we are not stuck with merely our own self-motivation. God is working in us ‘to will and to do’. If you think, “I can never do this on my own,” take heart. You don’t have to. He built the mine, gives you the tools, and He sets his Holy Spirit in you to give you a desire and an ability you do not have on your own. If God asks you to do it, He will help you do it.

* * * * * * * * * *

So what is this spiritual mining, the ‘working out of salvation’ that God helps us want to do and then actually do? Once again, the context of Philippians gives us the specific way Paul means it (at least in the context of the Philippian church). Philippians 1 ended with an admonition to live lives worthy of the Gospel message, specifically standing firmly together for Christ in the face of opposition.

"27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit,[e] striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have."

Philippians 2 begin this way (and note the connecting word):

 Therefore, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 
‘Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man,  he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’"

So let’s follow the progression:
  • Live lives worthy of the Gospel message, standing firmly together for Christ in the face of opposition.
  • Therefore – because this will be hard – be united with Christ, living in Spirit-empowered unity characterized by the kind of tenderness, compassion, love and humility that Christ modeled. God was glorified by the life of Jesus; God will be glorified as His people follow in the pattern set by Jesus.
Now the next step:

"Beloved, obey as you have always done, not only when I am with you, but even more so when I can’t be. Continue to work out your salvation with great fear and trembling, because God is energizing you, enabling you to desire and do what always pleases Him."

It is in our obedience in this fashion, that we continue to mine the rich depths of the salvation God has so graciously given us, and in so doing you will continue to do what always pleases him. If you wonder if your life pleases God, here’s how you can tell: do you stand for the Gospel, and do you work –with God’s help – to model the life of Christ in your relationships with others for the glory of God? That’s “working out your salvation” in this context, and this always pleases God.

NOW we see what it means to shine like lights.

"Do all things without complaining or bickering with each other,[5] so you may become innocent (unmixed or pure) and blameless (above reproach); you are God’s children called to live without a single stain on your reputations among this perverted and crooked generation[6]. Then you will shine like stars across the land as you hold to (or hold forth) the word of life.[7]"

So how do we summarize this? How can we have the privilege of “shining like stars” in America and in Traverse City as we hold to and preach the word of life? Here’s the process:
  • We unite boldly around a gospel message (speak and stand for the truth of the person and work of Christ);
  • We imitate Christ by living together determinedly by the power of the Holy Spirit (encourage, comfort, celebrate, and love) so that God will be exalted;
  • In this obedicence, we will become a spiritual light in a dark world as we continue to “mine’ this richness in our salvation with God’s help and for His glory.
There are times in the Bible where miracles pointed toward God (I’m thinking of the lame man in Matthew 9 who was healed so the crowd would know that Jesus could forgive sins).

There are times when conversions pointed toward the power and glory of God (Paul is a great example – see Acts 9).

There are times when speeches pointed toward Christ (all through the book of Acts).

There are times when acts of service pointed toward Jesus (the early church radically cared for the poor, the sick, and the unwanted).[8]

There are times when worship pointed toward Jesus (the woman in Luke 7 who washed the feet of Jesus with her tears).

In this case, Paul says to the Christians in Philippi, “Take a bold stand for Christ, and follow His example by living as humble, obedient servants of God. This always pleases God, and you dig into your faith in this way, you will illuminate the world with the light of the glory of Jesus.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

[1] See Numbers 14:27, and other verses in the OT referring to the Israelites
[2] Deuteronomy 32:5
[3] For more info, look up “phobos” in Strong’s Concordance and see the other references associated with Philippians 2:12.
[4] “The Pursuit of Christian Character.” https://bible.org/seriespage/3-pursuit-christian-character-2-peter-15-7
[5] Numbers 14:27, and other verses in the OT referring to the Israelites
[6] Dueteronomy 32:5
[7] Verse 15 is most likely a quote from Daniel 12:3 “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.”
[8] Here is just one example of many: “Among us you will find uneducated persons, and artisans, and old women, who, if they are unable in words to prove the benefit of our doctrine, yet by their deeds exhibit the benefit arising from their persuasion of its truth: they do not rehearse speeches, but exhibit good works; when struck, they do not strike again; when robbed, they do not go to law; they give to those that ask of them, and love their neighbors as themselves.” Athenagoras of Athens (133-190), excerpt from A Plea for the Christians

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