First Mennonite Church
May 14, 2017
You Are A Shining Star!
Text: Philippians 2:14-18
14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.
John F. Kennedy and others have been associated with this saying, “It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” However, the original practitioner of this wise advice is God himself. In Genesis one, God does not destroy darkness when he created the world. God created the cosmic luminaries instead. He then integrated darkness into his beautiful creation. Later, when God chose a people for himself, he gave them the command to be a light among the nations. God declared to Israel, “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to raise… and restore the tribes of Jacob . . .” And then God added,
“I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6).
In the New Testament, John wrote about Jesus as being the true light that gives light to everyone (John 1:9). And when Jesus described his followers, he said, “You are the salt and the light of the world.” Paul, too, had very high expectations for the Philippian church. They were to shine like stars (better translation: shine like luminaries) in the sky. Isn’t that amazing! How were the Philippians to do that? Let us not forget everything Paul had said in this chapter of Philippians. The Philippian Christians were to live a life worthy of their calling in Christ. They were to imitate the attitude of Jesus Christ. They were to empty themselves and consider others as superior to themselves. They were to look for the interest of others first. But our passage for today gives further practical instructions on how to be like shining luminaries.
Paul begins with this general command: Do everything without grumbling or arguing. So, what were they to do without grumbling or arguing? Everything! Right, everything! And, where were they to do everything without grumbling or arguing? The context is what Paul calls “a warped and crooked generation.” That description most likely did not apply to the fellowship—the church. Paul was speaking about the world that surrounded the Philippian church.
First of all, we need to realize that the attitude with which the Philippians were to do everything is what would truly make the difference in the world. Secondly, that there is a whole lot to do out there in the world. Sometime along this series, I said that attitudes cannot be hidden. Attitudes reveal the real person we are. Therefore, when Paul links our shining like stars to doing all things without grumbling or arguing, he emphasizes the Christ-like attitude of a servant. Our friends, neighbors, and even enemies, if we have any, will see a world of difference in the way we do everything, that is without grumbling or arguing. It is not the prayers, but the attitude with which we pray. It is not going to church, but the attitude with which we go to church. It is not the faith we profess, but the attitude with which we profess Christ as Lord. It is not helping the needy, but the attitude with which we help.
Grumbling? What does grumbling mean? The Greek word for grumbling is “gongysmos.” It means to secretly express displeasure for or about something. Have you done that? I know I have done it. Remember that occasion when you were asked to do something. Maybe, when you were asked to take care of someone else’s child, or to bring something to church, or to give money to help someone, or to mop the floor, or just anything you were asked to do. The problem is not that you did not do it. You did it. But secretly or in your mind, or under your breath, or with clenched teeth you said, “Can’t someone else do this?” “Why was so and so not asked to do it?” “I hate doing this kind of thing.” “Can’t so and so take care of his or her personal needs?” Or simply, “Why do I have to do this?” To grumble is to secretly express displeasure for or about something. Paul says, “Do everything without grumbling. Do everything without arguing.” Again the Greek word for arguing is “dialogismos.” It has various meanings although they are all related to the same attitude. It can mean internal debate, discussion, hesitation or doubt, or dispute. Two weeks ago I said that Christians are called to have a ready disposition to serve. That is exactly the opposite of having an argumentative attitude when doing something. Arguing. What makes us argue about things we want to do or should do? How does arguing prevent us from shining like stars in the middle of the dark sky? Remember, we are talking about shining the light of Jesus in the world. I am talking about doing Christian witness to the larger community. Let’s say, we’d like to establish an after-school program to help students twice a week with their homework. Again, this is what to argue means: internal debate, discussion, hesitation or doubt, or dispute. Can you feel the argument rising? Can you see why such an idea begins to stir up debate, hesitation or discussions? And even so, any discussion would not only be natural but also necessary. But discussing the issue might not be the problem. The problem might lie in our attitude towards the objects of such a program. The attitude can be, if my child does well at school, why can’t other children do the same? The argument can be, if my child needs help with homework, I do not have to bother people. Not only those could be reasons for grumbling or arguing, but also the cost, logistics, manpower, or personal inconvenience such a project can cause us. Let me say in passing that throughout the entire letter to the Philippians, Paul seldom talks about Christians spending eternity with God. Paul’s emphasis is on how Christians can imitate the attitude of Christ. Paul portrays Christians as playing an important role before the watching world. They should exude a radically different, inviting, and caring attitude which truly distinguishes them in the middle of a perverse and crooked generation. That is what makes them shine like stars. Paul echoes the words of Isaiah the prophet of old:
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. (Isaiah 58:7-8)
Let me tell you, dear church, God has placed us here to shine the light of Christ through our gentle and caring attitude in everything we do. You are God’s light here in Paso Robles. Today, God wants to remind us of the words of his Son: You are the light of the world. God is telling us, “You are my shining stars!” So what is it that prevents our church neighbors from seeing this light? I can assure you, my dear brothers and sisters, it is not our lack of love. It is not our lack of sympathy for the needy among us. So, it is not our lack of care for one another. The greatest obstacle that prevents the world from seeing our light shining is precisely our disregard of Jesus’ warning concerning the very purpose of light. Jesus said lamps are not supposed to be put under the bushel/box, but up somewhere so everyone can see them. The reason we have not impacted our community with the light of Christ is because we have kept it hidden inside the box of these four walls. We need to let this light shine outside the box. We need to place our light in the candle stand. We need to realize that light only makes a difference where the darkness is. And the darkness is outside. We need to go outside. And ideas about going outside will be my topic for next week.
Let me close with Paul’s words in the preceding verses to our passage for today:
12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
Paul realized that the willpower to obey God did not depend on the persuasiveness of his words to the Philippians. The willpower did not depend on how convinced the Philippians were, either. The willpower to obey God was produced by God himself. Paul says, “It is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” It is my prayer that your heart is being stirred by the Spirit of God. It is my desire that God would impress his words in your and my heart so that we may fulfill his good purpose. This week, pray that God might give you one or two opportunities to shine the light of God to someone. Pray that God would give you words of wisdom, grace and the determination to shine his light to someone. Remember, you are God’s shining star. Amen!