Shining Stars for All to See

May 12, 2019

This morning I would like us to turn to Phil.2:12-16. It might interest you to know that this is the passage I used when I candidated at the church in Oct. of 1985. Guenter Neumann mentioned this to me a month or so ago, and then Angie also reminded me about it and suggested that I return to this passage. So here we are in Phil.2.

Paul wrote this letter while under house arrest in Rome. He wanted to thank the believers in Philippi for a financial gift they sent him and to encourage them since they were also facing persecution. In Phil.1:27, Paul refers to his absence and in 2:12, he again refers to his absence. I am very much aware that my absence will become apparent in the coming weeks. And so, as we look at Phil.2:12-16, I want to emphasize that Christ’s life in us is expressed in joyful, Christ-like living.


The passage we are looking at actually has its beginning at 1:27. Paul writes, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” Again in 2:2 Paul urges them to be of the same mind, to have the same love, to show humility by counting others more significant than themselves. Clearly Paul understands that the Christian life is meant to be lived out in community, in relationship with one another in the church.

In 2:5-11 Paul paints a powerful picture of humble obedience by using Jesus Christ as an example for us to follow. Then we come to v.12-13. “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, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

When Paul tells us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling he is stating an important truth. When we come to Christ by faith and receive forgiveness of sins and his resurrection life, it is a life that begins immediately and it is a life that is lived. All of us are living some kind of life. If Christ is our life, then we are living, working out, the Christ-life in us. What does it look like to work out Christ’s life in us? Paul tells us that those who have received the life of Jesus will seek to live a life of obedience. As individuals and as a congregation we strive together, encouraging one another to live in obedience to the commands and example of Jesus. We are in this life together contending for the gospel.

But why the fear and trembling? What is that all about? Interestingly enough, in 1:28 Paul says that we are not afraid of those who oppose us. Philippi was a Roman colony and there was a strong Emperor cult there. In other words in Philippi you worshiped the Roman Emperor, so those believers were under great pressure to conform. Paul says, “We are not afraid of those who oppose us.” So what are we afraid of?

As believers we seek to honor God above all. We recognize that we are always living in the presence of God who lovingly and humbly gave himself for us in Jesus Christ. The last thing we want to do is dishonor God in our lives and in this world. So we live humbly, soberly, and reverently. Our primary concern is to be obedient to Jesus for his honor and glory.

Notice Paul does not say, “So pay attention to the rules. That will motivate you to be obedient!” The Christian life is not primarily about keeping rules. Instead it is about living in a relationship with God through Christ. If we cultivate that relationship we will keep the rules. If we focus on keeping rules our relationship with God will become dry.

The wonderful thing is that God is very interested in doing all he can to help us live in obedience to his commands. His Spirit is working in us to motivate and strengthen us toward godly living. His Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. His Spirit intercedes for us as we pray. His Spirit brings conviction of sin and urges us to confess our sins. God is for us, not against us. Joyful, humble obedience flows out of our relationship with God.


v.14-15. “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.”

Look at the vivid contrast between believers and the world. It cannot be emphasized enough just how different our approach to living is from that of this world. We work out the life of Christ in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation.

When Paul tells us to do all things without grumbling or disputing, he has in mind the history of Israel. How many times do we read in the Old Testament about how Israel grumbled and refused to follow the good commands of God? How many times did Israel forsake God in unbelief? Paul says, “Don’t be like Israel, grumbling and arguing. Instead, fix your eyes on Jesus.”

In this world grumbling and arguing is the way of life. If we don’t like something, if we think we are being mistreated, we let it be known. No one is going to treat us like this or that. If someone disrespects us at work, or on the road or at home or in church, we can easily act just like the world. And this is not how Jesus acted.

Think about the context of these verses. In v.5, Paul tells us that we are to have the mind of Jesus. And then he goes on to describe what the mind of Jesus is like. In v.6 we see that Jesus was willing to let go of power and position in obedience to God. In v.7 we see that Jesus was willing to become a humble servant in the eyes of the world. In v.8 we see that Jesus was willing to be humiliated by dying the shameful death of crucifixion in order that we might be reconciled to God. Jesus made himself nothing so that we might become something in him. In the world people seek position and power. People exalt themselves over others often in violent, manipulative ways. People are happy to see others humiliated and do all they can to protect their own pride.

Now why would we want to be like Jesus in a world that was and is all too happy to crucify Jesus? It is because like Jesus, we are the light of the world. When Jesus was on the earth, he said to his disciples, “You are the light of the world.” Jesus is the light of life. If we have his life in us, we convey the light of life. It seems to me that we get tripped up into being like the world because we often momentarily lose sight of who we are in Christ.

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead was the beginning of the new creation. When we receive Jesus as Savior-King we receive his new creation life. Paul tells us that anyone who is in Christ is new creation. This is such a powerful truth because it means that you and I are a preview to the world of what new creation life is like. This is what it means to shine as lights, as stars in the world. Our Christ-like lives reveal to the world around us the humble, servant life of Jesus. We do not live to promote ourselves in this world. We live to promote Jesus so that people will see the beauty of his humble life in our bodies.

Because we still live in old creation bodies, shining like lights in the world is challenging. I think it is interesting that Paul doesn’t define shining as lights as giving a verbal presentation of the gospel. Perhaps it is because verbal presentations of the gospel are most effective when we are living blameless and innocent lives in the world. Learning to not grumble and argue is a good place to begin. What would it mean for us to go through a day without grumbling and arguing? These behaviors are normal for many of us. The goal is not just to get along with others. The goal is to promote the life of Jesus. Two disciplines that can help us in this are silence and solitude. Silence helps us learn to be quiet and to listen. Solitude helps us learn the truth about our own lives. Are we shining brightly, showing Jesus to the world?


Paul writes, “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. 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. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.”

These are not easy days for the church of Jesus Christ. Whereas there was a time when the church (Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant) was well respected and carried influence and authority in society. That time is just about over. In fact, younger people are leaving the church in droves. There are many reasons for this and it is complicated. The only point I want to make from this observation is that for those who remain in the church, it can begin to feel as if we are now on the fringes of society. Our voice carries little influence and authority. We have lost our place. When people lose their place they latch onto various lifelines that might secure their place at the table. Some Christians become obnoxious as they try to assert their voice. Others gravitate to whatever politic will cater to their views. Paul tells us that in light of the return of Christ we are to hold fast, cling to the word of life, the gospel.

In fact, we are foolish to think that we are owed a place at the table. In 1Pt.2:11 Peter refers to believers as sojourners and exiles in this world. I recognize that we are in America and we all have our rights as citizens. But I remind you that there is no guarantee that followers of Jesus Christ will be granted their rights, even in America. As Paul writes in Phil.3:20, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Our lifeline is the word of life. Our privilege is to show the reality of the word of life in this world. As we do this, we recognize that in many ways, like Paul and the believers in Philippi, our lives will be a sacrificial offering as we take the road of humble service and perhaps even suffering. It was this way for Jesus and we should expect no less. But how interesting that Paul ends on a joyful note. “Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.” When we are holding on to life, when we are holding on to Jesus, looking forward to his coming, do we not have much cuz for rejoicing? As Jesus said, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

When I was called into the ministry in 10th grade, I had a sense then about what kind of ministry I would have. While we are all called to be witnesses, I knew that my focus would be to call God’s people to live holy lives. This focus has shaped my preaching every Sunday. It’s not that I am such a holy person. I’m not! However, my desire is to be like Jesus. So “whether I come and see you or am absent, may I hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,…shining as lights in the world.” Amen