Read and pray through Philippians, chapter 2, specifically, Philippians 2:14-16.
Reflection | Paul has directed his readers, the Philippians, to “work out” rather than to work for their salvation in Christ. Their life-saving, life-changing relationship with Jesus isn’t something they have to earn or justify. What Christ offers and they are to work out in their lives is more like a crop in a field that, through the guidance and strength of the Holy Spirit, they get to sow and reap. Working out our salvation is harvesting the work that God continues “to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” both in and through our lives.
Just as the Philippians have been called to “work out their salvation,” Paul now urges them not to work against their relationship in Christ: “Do everything without grumbling or arguing” (v. 14).
There is something askew about someone who professes to follow Jesus and yet always exudes a pessimistic outlook on life or a contentious and complaining disposition towards others. If our walk of faith is the journey to become more and more like Christ, our grumbling and arguing should be decreasing rather than remaining our default stance. Grousing and dissension within the Body of Christ give unbelievers pause about, rather than faith in Jesus.
Paul pulls no punches as he describes the Philippians as belonging to “a warped and crooked generation” (v. 15). But this is not just a specific indictment of those who grew up during the Roman Empire. Paul here is actually quoting a scripture from the book of Deuteronomy. The Israelites, in their own journey of faith, their exodus from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land, repeatedly adopted a posture of murmuring and moaning. As a result, that generation wandered in the wilderness until their death. Along the way, they gained the moniker that Paul invokes here – the moniker of any generation, of all humanity, when we live like this.
When we live in a regular and repeated state of griping and quarreling, we are choosing to live our lives apart from God. For we are operating out of a place of ingratitude rather than thanksgiving to God. By refusing to live our lives in grateful response to all that God has done for us, expressed through how we live with each other, we are rejecting the very same grace and the love in which we profess to believe.
Instead, Paul challenges the Philippians to contrast themselves from attitudes and actions that were more commonplace in the society of their day – and ours! Refraining from grumbling, complaining, and dissension, we get out of the way of the work of the Holy Spirit and “become blameless and pure.” While we will continue to honestly face problems and difficulties, we will do so in a constructive rather than a destructive manner. We will not add to rancor and the cynicism or contribute to the violence of this broken world.
“Then,” Paul adds, “you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life” (v. 16). The picturesque phrase that crafts this verse is more accurately translated as “appearing as luminaries in the cosmos.” In the first century, stars were seen as more than beautiful objects in the night sky. They also were viewed as a vital part of a divinely created and ordered creation. This is why stars were held as indispensable in navigation. Studying and observing the movements and patterns of the stars provided reliable direction for a traveler by land or by sea.
Paul desires for the testimony and behavior of the Philippian church, and for all churches, to manifest a shining example to others of what our life in Christ looks like. Like the stars in the sky,
our life together in Christ should be marked by order and harmony. As witnesses of the Gospel and the Kingdom of God, we have been called to become luminaries, light-bearers of Jesus before a world that is often shrouded in darkness. By “holding firm to the word of life,” that is holding fast to Jesus, who is called the Word of Life, we illuminate a path that leads people to Christ.
Paul’s words here are nothing new. Haven’t we heard something like this before? Let us recall Jesus’ own words as he taught us through the Sermon on the Mount: “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14 – 16).
Consider & Discuss | Do your attitudes match your actions? Can someone authentically do things for Jesus without actually being with Jesus – letting one’s heart and mind be shaped by the character of Christ? What are the differences between complaining, constructive criticism, and critical thinking? What is it about grumbling and complaining, that makes it impossible for us to be light-bearers of Christ?
Prayer Focus | O Creator of the Heavens and all that is in them, please reveal in me any spirit that is contrary to Your Spirit, the Spirit of Christ at work in me. Bless me with the courage to confess and the resolve to repent of any antagonism or argumentative aspect of my nature. In their place, cultivate the outworking of Your love and grace through my thoughts, words, and actions. Remind me of who I am in You, a reflection of Your light in an otherwise dark world. Radiate the truth, the invitation, and the glory of Your Kingdom through me in the name of the one, true, Bright and Morning Star, Jesus Christ. Amen.