Grace Bible Church
Lights in the World – Philippians 2:14,15
(Greek words can be viewed using the Symbol font)
Sermon Study Sheets
Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
May 23, 2004
Lights in the World
Last week I introduced the passage of Scripture that we will be studying this morning, Philippians 2:14,15, by examining verse 14. As a way of setting the context for our examination of verse 15, let me quickly review.
Do all things without grumbling or disputing; 15 that you may prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, 16 holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may have cause to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain. Philippians 2:14-16
Paul desires certain actions and attitudes by the Philippian Christians that will demonstrate the reality of their being children of God. Specifically here, it is the absence of grumbling and disputing among them and having the character traits of blamelessness, innocence and being above reproach. This is a practical and specific outcome of their working out their salvation with fear and trembling commanded in verse 12. This is a reasonable command because God was at work in them both to will and work His good pleasure – vs. 13. Their behavior and attitudes will in turn affect the society around them because it will be in such contrast with the world. This glorifies God. It would also be a great encouragement and joy to Paul because it would demonstrate that his work among them was not in vain. Paul adds in verse 17 that even if they did not fulfill his desire for them, he would still rejoice in his service to God on their behalf. These are commandments and principles that need to be applied in our own lives. We also need to practically demonstrate that we are children of God by our behavior and attitudes.
Paul’s command to them, and to Christians today, is “Do all things without grumbling or disputing . . .”. In the near context of verse 12 & 13 to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure,” the all things would be referring specifically to all those things that are part of working out your salvation. In the greater context of the passage which takes us the command in 1:27 to conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel, the “all things” also refer to all things related to living out the Christian life. This would include the unity and humility that is to exist among Christians that Paul talks about in the first part of Philippians 2.
The idea of “without grumbling” (NAS), “complaining” (NKJV & NIV) or “murmuring” (KJV), can describe the low tone used in whispering a complaint or talking in secret, or the more open verbal complaining, which explains the variation in translations. The idea of “without disputing” (NAS, KJV) or “arguing” (NIV) refers to thoughts, reasoning or imagination, and here in Philippians 2:14, it used in a negative sense of arguing against God or of being proud and contrary to others.
As I mentioned last week, grumbling is the starting point for disputing. What starts out as muttering something under our breath is given more voice as our attitude gets worse resulting in sharing our complaints with those we think would be sympathetic to us. As your comrades take your side and agree with your complaints, you become argumentative with whoever you believe is the cause of your troubles or you have taken on as your adversary.
The Christian is to be without grumbling and disputing in both their relationship with God and with others. Grumbling against God is very serious sin because it is the outward evidence of a heart that does not trust God. It states that we think we know better than God what is best for us. It denies God’s goodness, omniscience and omnipotence. It treats God as if He were our servant. God in His mercy and grace freed ancient Israel from their slavery in Egypt, but they ended up with His judgement upon them for their continual grumbling against Him (see Exodus and Numbers). Is God only good if your life is going the way you want it?
Grumbling and complaining should and will cease in the life of you who are Christians as you practically apply certain truths you profess to believe. It is a fact that God loves you – Romans 5:8, and nothing can separate you from that love – Romans 8:38,39. God is good and will do what is best for us. We Christians can be confident that God will complete the good work He had started in us – Phil. 1:6. The various attributes that make up God’s sovereignty bring us comfort because nothing is stronger or more intelligent than God, so we are secure in His hands and nothing can thwart His will. Paul expressed his security in God in Romans 8:28 declaring “and we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
This is why the Christian can be joyful in whatever circumstance we may find ourselves, just as Paul did though He was imprisoned. God is still at work in us both to will and work His good pleasure. God’s purpose is to make us holy, and He even uses the bad situations we experience in maturing us and conforming us to the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 5:3-10; James 1:2-4; Romans 8:29).
The Christian also learns to be without grumbling and disputing toward other believers as our attitude does become more Christlike and we become more humble and actually do consider others as more important than ourselves and look out for their interests instead of just our own (Phil. 2:3-8). Christian humility allows us to cover with love a lot of things that might be otherwise irritating. We value the opinions and desires of others (1 Pet. 4:8). Because Jesus is Lord, things need to be done His way and not our own, therefore it should not be difficult to humbly let things be done someone else’s way. Christian humility also allows us to work out our differences because greater value is placed on relationships instead of personal preferences. Christians can hold differences of opinion and even passionately debate a subject, but they do so with love (Eph. 4:15) and humbly listen and gain understanding instead of just striving to reveal their own mind, which is foolishness (Prov. 18:2).
While no Christian perfectly holds their tongue (James 3:1-10) and therefore Christians do erupt with grumbling and disputing at times, because God is at work in us, that diminishes in the individual Christian over time as they are conformed into the image of Christ. This brings us to the purpose of being without grumbling and disputing, which Paul explains in verse 15.
“. . . that you may prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.”
Proven Character as Children of God
The identity of the Christian is to be wrapped up in this wonderful fact that they are children of God. This is not a reference to the universal Fatherhood of God that is so foolishly proclaimed by some, but the special relationship the Christian has with God the Father through their adoption into His family through their faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
There are those that claim that because God is creator, then He is also the universal Father of everyone. Such people have very confused theology. God is the Creator, and as such He is to be worshiped and served by all people (Rom. 1:25). God as the Creator will hold all people accountable for their words and actions because God as Creator is also God the judge (1 Peter 4:5). When God is described as “Father” in the Bible, it is a term of special relationship with those that are adopted into God’s eternal family. The foolishness of the universal Fatherhood of all people is seen in Jesus’ strong rebuke of the fickle crowd in John 8. They claimed God as their Father (8:41), but Jesus sternly rebukes them telling them that if God were their Father, then they would love Him (vs. 42). Jesus then goes on to explain that their actions of lying and desire to murder Him show that their real father is the devil (vs. 44).
God is the Father of believers only. The apostle John marveled at this special relationship with God saying in 1 John 3:1, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the children of God; and such we are.” Paul described the intimacy of this relationship believers have with God in Romans 8:15 saying that we “have received the spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’” This comes because God has sent forth the spirit of His Son into our hearts (Gal. 4:6). Paul adds in Ephesians 1:5 that this is done “through Jesus Christ, . . . “according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace which He freely bestowed upon us in the Beloved.” This adoption into God’s family is a fundamental aspect of becoming a Christian, or as 1 Peter 2:10 puts it, we who once were not a people are now the people of God; we who had not received mercy, but now have received mercy.
John 1:12,13 tells us how this adoption comes about. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, [even] to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” The idea of “receive” in this verse is to accept and believe Jesus’ claims. He is God in human flesh who lived a sinless life and willingly died as the substitute sacrificial payment for sin. He was buried and then rose from the dead on the third day and is now ascended to heaven where He is at the right hand of the Father making intercession for His followers, but will one day return for them and take them to be in Heaven with Him forever. You cannot earn salvation from sin and its consequences. You can only receive it as a gift of God’s grace through faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul’s point here in Philippians is that it is the manner by which we live our lives that demonstrate the reality of this adoption. You might profess it as did the fickle people in John 8, but the truth of the profession will be born out in how you live. It is both by the things you do not do, grumble and dispute, as well as the character qualities you show, blamelessness, innocence and being above reproach, that you prove that you are a child of God. What are the characteristics of these positive qualities that should mark the Christian and prove they are children of God? Let’s take a closer look at each word.
Blameless is the word, amemptoV / amemptos, which is the negation of being at fault. It is used several times in the New Testament to describe the character of godly people. In Luke 1:6 it is used of Zacharias and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist. It describes them, “And they were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” Paul uses it of himself in 1 Thess. 2:10 saying, “You are witnesses, and [so is] God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers.” Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians is that they would have the same character as the Lord would cause them “to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all men, just as we also [do] for you; so that He may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.” (1 Thess. 3:12,13)
From these verses we understand that the sense of being “blameless” is in relation to personal holiness, which is being set apart from the world and walking according to God’s commandments. As the Christian matures in Jesus Christ, there should be increasing obedience to the principles and precepts of our Lord’s commands. The motive for such obedience is simply the love we have for Jesus Christ. Obedience is a key demonstration of our love, as Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” And just as the love between a godly married couple increases over the years, so our love for Jesus increases the longer we walk with Him. Increasing maturity results in blamelessness.
Innocent is the word akeraioV / akeraios, which is tranlated as “innocent” (NAS), “pure” (NIV), and “harmless” (KJV, NKJV). It is the negation of being mixed. It is used of unalloyed metals and wine that is pure, unmixed with anything else. When used in reference to the mind or character, it means that they are unmixed with evil or guile and therefore innocent and pure.
The person who becomes a Christian at a young age has an advantage in this area because they can be trained to be “wise in what is good, and innocent in what is evil” (Rom. 16:19). The Christian has an obligation to protect their children from the evil influences of our society. That is a reason that many Christian parents place their kids in private schools or home school. There is effort being made to put forth a proposed resolution at the Southern Baptist Convention this year that would encourage parents to remove their kids from public schools and find a alternative Christian educational program. It is not that all public schools are bad, but that so many have become not just secular, but anti-god. But more important than influence children have at school, is what is allowed to influence them in the home. What do you allow them to watch, listen to and read? Whatever you allow to come into their lives through television, radio, CD’s, DVD’s, Tape, books, magazines and the internet is being given your tacit approval. If those influences are evil, that is more damaging to them than being exposed at school or community groups to evil ideas you disapprove of. Teach your children to be wise in what is good, and innocent in what is evil.
What about those who come to Christ later in life or have already been exposed to many evil influences? One of the roles of the Holy Spirit is to renew us which includes the washing of regeneration (Titus 3:5) and sanctifying us (1 Peter 1:2). God is changing us from the inside out. He is transforming us by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2). As we are diligent to put the word of God into our minds, the old junk that was there is being swept out. As that process
continues, we think less and less about the evil that used to occupy our thoughts and have them replaced by what is true, honest, just, pure, lovely, virtuous, and praise-worthy (Phil. 4:8). The result is that even those that grew up exposed to much evil becoming increasingly wise about that which is good and innocent about that which is evil. Your mind simply no longer functions the way that it used to.
Above Reproach is the word amwmoV / amômos, which is translated as “above reproach” (NAS), “without rebuke” (KJV), “without fault” (NIV, NKJV). It is the negation of a word for blame, disgrace, or blemish and hence unblameable, without blemish, faultless, above reproach. It is used a couple of times in the New Testament to refer to Jesus who as a sacrifice met the Old Testament requirements of being without blemish (Heb. 9:14; 1 Peter 1:19). No fault was found in Him. The word is often linked with holiness. This is to be a foundational character for the Christian.
God chose us in Jesus Christ before the foundation of the world that we might be holy and blameless before Him (Eph. 1:4). While the Christian stands before God blameless by virtue of being cleansed by the blood of Christ (Heb. 10:8), this is also a characteristic that is to be developed in the Christian in the here and now. We are currently in the process of being sanctified by the washing of water with the word that Jesus might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she might be holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:26,27). While this is a work that God is doing in our lives (Jude 24), there is also our part to do too, as 2 Peter 3:14 puts it, “Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless.”
Children of God are to be marked by the characteristics of doing all things without grumbling and disputing and of being blameless, innocent and above reproach. Paul adds here that these things are to be true even in the difficult environment of living in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.
Being Holy in the Midst of a Crooked & Perverse Generation
All of us will agree that it is a lot easier to live as a Christian when you are around other Christians. They not only encourage you by the example of their own lives, but they also hold you accountable for your actions and attitudes. Since all Christians are part of the body of Christ, then being with other believers is an important part of our lives. Hebrews 10:24,25 even tells us we should not be “forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging [one another]; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near.” However, God did create us or save us for just our own benefit or live in a hot house environment. If that was true, He would take us to Heaven right after we are saved. God desires to mature us while we are still here on this earth. He also desires to use us in accomplishing His will in the lives of other people, including witnessing to them of God’s goodness and mercy by our words and deeds, or as 1 Peter 2:9 puts it, “that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” We bear witness of the light to those who are still in darkness. That means that though we are no longer of the world (John 17:6), we still must live in a world that is often crooked and perverse.
Crooked comes from the word skolioV / skolios from which we get the medical term, scoliosis, which refers to a crooked spine. When used in a metaphorical sense it refers to anything that deviates from normal standards. In the passage here, the standards are those God has set down in His word. When someone deviates from God’s standards, they can be said to be crooked. That is why we still call those who steal or defraud “crooks.”
Perverse comes from the word diastrefw / diastrephô and means to distort, twist and is used metaphorically of misleading, diverting, lead astray, and lead away. The sense here refers to those that distort and twist the principles and precepts of God’s word and who lead people away from its truths.
The two words are connected in this passage because the first leads to the second. Those that are crooked themselves will lead others into their same crooked path. Because they reject the Word of God, they pervert it in an attempt to get others to also reject it. Though Paul is referring to a specific generation that the Philippian believers were dealing with at that time, the same truth can be applied to generations of similar people throughout history, including many in our own society that reject God in favor of their own ideas.
The crookedness and perversity within our own society ranges from the subtle to the flagrant, but all of it is dangerous. Among those that consider themselves to be similar to us as fundamental Christians, there are those that repeat the error of the Pharisees and replace the precepts of God with their own standards and thus distort the nature of godliness and exchange true holiness for religious standards of self righteousness. It is at that point that the error can lead to damnation instead of salvation, for no one is saved from sin by their works.
The perversity increases among those that hold to the various forms of liberal theology, but in all cases the Bible as the ultimate source of truth is rejected in favor of the reasoning of man. While there may be those who at least still believe in the person and work of Jesus Christ and are trusting Him alone for salvation from their sins, the vast majority of people holding to such theology have rejected the Jesus of the Bible in favor of Jesus the ethical teacher, or Jesus the good person and example, or Jesus the founder of a world religion, etc. But in all these cases, Jesus is less than the creator God Himself in human flesh. Jesus is less than the sinless sacrifice for all of man’s sin, and salvation from sin is found in something other than humbly casting yourself before God and asking for Him to be merciful and gracious in forgiving you your transgressions of His law based solely on your faith in Jesus Christ.
There is also all the crookedness of the various cults. Paul, Peter and John all warn about false teachers. Peter says they are a reality for every generation and that they will “secretly introduce destructive heresies” and that “many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words . . .” (2 Peter 2:1-3). The various cults claim some sort of allegiance to Christ, but either their Jesus is something other than what Scripture says He is, or the means to salvation is through man’s own effort to do righteous works, such as in Roman Catholicism. To the Mormons, Jesus is a glorified, resurrected man who is the brother of Lucifer. To the Jehovah’ Witnesses, Jesus is a lesser god. To the Unitarians, Jesus is simply a manifestation of God instead of a unique person in the Triune Godhead. To the Unification Church, Jesus is now revealed in Rev. Moon. We could go on and on, but the simple truth is that having the wrong Jesus results in the wrong eternal destination.
The perversion of false religions is even more flagrant. Hinduism has a multiplicity of gods. Paganism worships what is created instead of the Creator. Pantheism does the same thing except on the grander scale that all the universe is God instead of any one particular object. Islam worships a false god that claims to be the God of Abraham, but whose attributes, including being mutable and arbitrary are opposite those of the true God who is immutable, personal, consistent and loving. Taoism, Buddhism and Confuciousism are all philosophical systems that really amount to forms of atheism.
Atheism, is so crooked that it is the opposite of the truth. Keep in mind that those that will distort or reject Biblical truth will have no problem perverting or rejecting any truth. Secular Humanism, which is founded on atheism, has gained the force of law in much of our land, and it is so perverted that it turns plain English on its head resulting in our constitutional provision for the freedom of religious practice becomes freedom from religion practice in the public square.
Our own society has become so crooked and perverse what is evil is proclaimed as good, and what is good is proclaimed as evil in much of it. How else can favorable coverage of the abortion rights marches in Washington D.C. a couple of weeks ago be explained? Murder of an unborn child is such a good thing to many of our politicians that they hold to their political ideology even when it is against the direct teaching of the churches in which they are members and to which they have supposedly pledged their allegiance.
Into such a perverse and crooked society steps the Christians, who demonstrate that they are indeed children of God by their blameless and innocent behavior which is above reproach. In doing so they make an impact on the rest of society and bring glory to God.
Appearing as Lights in the World. Paul states at the end of verse 15 that in such a society, Christians appear as lights in the world, and as the words of a song put it, the darker the night, the brighter the light appears to shine. Our actions and attitudes do have an impact on those around us.
Jesus told us in Matthew 5:14-16, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. “Nor do [men] light a lamp, and put it under the peck-measure, but on the lampstand; and it gives light to all who are in the house. “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” It takes boldness to proclaim that you are a Christian, yet your words and deeds are to demonstrate that very fact because it does bring glory to God.
Why are Christians hesitant to do this at times? Usually because they are afraid that others could reject them or even persecute them. The fear is valid because all who strive to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12), yet such persecution is to be a badge of honor for the Christian. We are to be like the apostles in Acts 5:41 who after they had been flogged for preaching Jesus Christ, went on their way rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.
Christians are also afraid to speak up at times because they know they are not living as they should and they do not want to that guilt added to their already existing burden. The cure for that is repentance, forgiveness and life change. Don’t continue on in habits you know that are wrong before the Lord. Take to heart the many admonishments to “consider yourselves to be dead to sin, (immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed), but alive to God” (Rom. 6:11; Col. 3:5). Replace the bad habits with new ones that glorify God, and in that way bring glory to God by both the lifechange and the new boldness in proclaiming your faith in Jesus.
Who are you? What is the source of your identity? If you are a Christian, then your identity is to be found in the becoming like the Lord Jesus Christ. Demonstrate the reality of that by being humble and submissive to God and laying aside the grumbling and disputing that marks worldy people. Prove that you are indeed a child of God by your blameless, innocent behavior that is above reproach even though you do live in the midst of a crooked and perverse society. In doing so, you not only prove that you belong to God as His child, but you impact those around you as a light of hope and holiness in a dark world.
Sermon Study Sheets
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.
Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times the words “innocent,” “blameless” and “above reproach” are said. Talk with your parents about your character and how it reflect on your being a child of God.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. What is the context of Philippians 2:14,15? Please explain Paul’s command in verse 14? Be specific in explaining who / what the “all things” refers to; what it means to grumble; what it means to dispute; and who this grumbling might be directed against. What is the purpose of not grumbling and disputing – vs. 15? What does it mean to be a child of God? Why is the universal Fatherhood of God to be rejected? How does a person become a child of God? What does it mean to be “blameless”? What does it mean to be “innocent”? What does it mean to be “above reproach”? How are these three characteristics related? What is their relationship to grumbling and disputing? What does “crooked” mean? What does “perverse” mean? How have various groups perverted the Word of God? Truth in general? How do these characteristics demonstrate themselves in our own generation? How can you overcome their influence living in the midst of it? What does it mean for you to be a “light in the world?” What are the properties of light? What is your source of identity? Does your life prove it?
Lights in the World – Philippians 2:14,15
Proven Character as Children of God
Being Holy In the Midst of a Crooked and Perverse Generation
Lights in the World
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