First Mennonite Church
March 5, 2023
Shinning Your Brightest for Christ
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 was God himself. In Genesis chapter one, we are told that whatever was there before the creation, was engulfed in utter darkness. But, God did 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 introduces Jesus as the true light that gives light to everyone (John 1:9). And when Jesus called his followers, he said to them, “You are the salt and the light of the world.” The Apostle Paul, too, had very high expectations from the Philippian church. They were to shine like stars (better translation: shine like luminaries) in the sky. They were to glow and illumine the dark sky. Isn’t that amazing?
This appeal to glow like luminaries in a dark sky is just one more in Paul’s list of instructions on how the Philippians should conduct themselves as Christians. Paul had already asked the Philippian Christians to live a life worthy of the gospel of Christ (1:27), to imitate Christ’s attitude, to share the mind of Christ when emptied himself, and to consider others as superior to themselves. They were to look for the interest of others first. And then Paul comes to this appeal: Do everything without grumbling or arguing.
We might wonder, what is the big deal with grumbling? Grumbling doesn’t break a bone! And, in the end, even when people grumble they do what they have been asked to do. So, why was Paul appealing to his brothers and sister to refrain from grumbling when doing something—this of course refers to doing something for others.
The Greek word for grumbling is “gongysmos.” It means: to secretly express displeasure for or about something. It is: to protest or to complain underneath the breath about something. Grumbling reveals displeasure, discontentment, or reluctance, instead of doing something wholeheartedly. But Paul then adds, “Do everything without arguing.” Why are these two put together?
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.
One might wonder, why was Paul not realistic when he gave this command. Everyone grumbles or argues at times. Instead, Paul commands, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing.” As a Jewish Bible scholar that Paul was, he knew of the serious consequences grumbling had in Israel’s history. Grumbling is synonymous with murmuring. There was nothing else that triggered God’s anger against Israel than its tendency to grumble and murmur. In Numbers 17, there is an incident where God punished some people because they were grumbling against Moses and Aaron. There God even provided a visible sign—an almond staff blooming of which God said, “This will put an end to their grumbling against me, so that they will not die” (Numbers 17:10b)
Paul’s desire was that the Philippians do not follow in the footsteps of ancient Israel, but that they may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” The distinction between the Philippian believers and those that were not, would have been revealed by their refusal to grumble and argue when doing things. Even if grumbling was a widespread and common practice, even if people do what they are asked to after they grumble and argue about it, those who have a servant-attitude like Christ’s are expected to serve freely, joyfully, and in love. Paul’s own example (2:17) shows that not only are we not to grumble and dispute, but positively, we are to be marked by joy, even in the midst of difficult trials.
Paul here refers to Christians as “children of God.” A specific Old Testament passage is behind Paul’s words. In the song of Moses, in Deuteronomy 32, he summarizes the constant grumbling of the children of Israel in the wilderness, when he says, “They have acted corruptly toward Him, they are not His children, to their shame they are a warped and crooked generation (v.5). So, here Paul turns that around and says that we are God’s children, living in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, and thus we must be careful not to grumble and dispute, as Israel did in the wilderness. And because we are God’s children, we are supposed to shine forth in this dark world as lights, holding forth to the word of life, the gospel of Christ.
You see, children reflect on their parents, don’t they? And it is the same with us and God as our Father. We reflect the character of God because we are his children.
It is in the midst of that crooked and perverse generation that we shine. And remember, stars shine the brightest in the darkest of nights. They shine, but not as brightly, when the moon is full. The stars shine during the day, but we can’t see them because the light of the sun blocks them out. But on a dark night, they shine the brightest. I was surprised to find out that Caye Caulker in Belize is one of the 10 best places in the world to see the stars at night.
If we say the world is a dark place, then we have the most opportunity to shine our brightest. Our witness as followers of Christ should be most effective in this dark world. Maybe your dark world is your workplace, where everyone looks to his or her own, but you show consideration, and compassion to your fellow coworker. Maybe the dark world is at school, where most are looking around how to beat the rules, but you show respect and uphold the rules. Or maybe it is your personal trial, but you radiate God’s joy and hope despite the difficulties you face. If you do all things without grumbling or disputing, others will see the light of Christ shining through you.
Our friends, neighbors, and even enemies, if there are any, should be able to see a world of difference in the way we do everything. It is not the prayers that we say, but the attitude with which we pray. It is not coming to church, but the attitude with which we come to church, with joy, excitement, and yet with reverence. It is not the faith we profess, but the attitude with which we profess Christ as Lord. It is not helping the needy, but by the compassion, generosity, and lack of prejudice with which we help.
You and I 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!”
This week, pray that God might give you one or two opportunities to shine the light of God on someone. Pray that God would give you words of wisdom, grace, and the determination to shine his light on someone. Remember, you are God’s shining star. Amen!