“Do all things without grumbling or disputing; 15 so that you will 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,”
I have told this story in detail in the past so I won’t go into the whole thing again here, but when I first surrendered to the Lord in faith I was on leave from the Air Force. When I went back to my station in Louisiana a couple of weeks later there was a notable and immediate difference in the way those who had been my closest buddies related to me. They were distant, looking at me with what seemed like suspicion. I’m not even sure they realized it but I did. I didn’t expect it and it came as quite a surprise that I no longer fit in with them; nevertheless the difference was there and it was enough to change my circle of friends and my entire lifestyle from what had existed before I left.
I was different. Christians are different. The Apostle Paul says some things in these verses of our study today – uses some words – that clearly define that difference.
Sadly, I don’t think his words can be applied quite often to the average Christian in our modern day society, and I include myself in that assessment.
Just because I had that early experience after my conversion that doesn’t give me any bragging rights. Whereas the Apostle Paul was able to say in all humility, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1), I would be more honest to say, “If you see me acting manifestly Christlike, mark the calendar and if at all possible get a photograph”
And I say that with only a minimum of humor intended. I’m sure most of us know that feeling. Whatever others might say of us or think of us, we know ourselves inside and just knowing Paul was able to say with no false humility, ‘imitate me as I also imitate Christ’, makes us at times feel very inadequate indeed.
You’ll see what I mean as we go and as we look closely at the words he uses in these verses. As I studied and considered them I was deeply convicted and I am now prepared to share the wealth with you.
WHAT PEOPLE SEE
Here is the whole of verse 14. “Do all things without grumbling or disputing”. And that is not the end of the sentence, which makes this admonition all the more interesting. Verse 15 begins with ‘that’, meaning ‘so that’, as in ‘for the purpose of’.
So when I first came to it, and reread the previous verses and went on to read the following verses, at first I thought it strange that he would tell them at this particular juncture to avoid grumbling and disputing.
Then I realized that while there may be characteristics and behaviors in Christians that are inappropriate and undesirable and ought to be dealt with according to Biblical admonition, these are two things that people outside the church can see and which could irreparably damage the church’s testimony to the world around it.
I never knew the man myself but I remember a Pastor I worked with in Southern California telling me once of a fellow Pastor he had known who tended to be pugilistic.
He said on more than one occasion when electricians or plumbers or other professional people were called upon to fix something around the church, if this Pastor disagreed with something they were doing or with the final bill he would confront them with an attitude of belligerence and would finally end up in a fist fight with them in the parking lot.
Well that’s an extreme case, of course, but the fact is that more than we realize people of the world do watch us and they do see what goes on among us, and if they witness the grumbling and disputing that is born of selfishness and discontentedness going on in our ranks as much as in any secular setting, we render our testimony useless and commend Christ to no one.
Now before I go further with this let me explain what is meant when we talk about the ‘world’ or the ‘people of the world’ in this context.
We do not mean the world in any material sense, as in talking about the planet itself or the general population of the planet.
What is meant by using that term in contrast to the body of believers, that is, the children of God, is the mentality and basic life of those who are not believers in Christ. It is the world view and mindset of those who are not children of God. They are in fact, children of the world. They belong to this world and a fallen world system that is diametrically opposed to the mind of Christ and the Spirit of Christ.
Even the very best of them, even the ones whose behavior and demeanor and lifestyle would put many Christians to shame because of their diligence in doing good and helping people, still belong to the world and are products of what is passing away.
Therefore when people of the world look at people of God and see selfish and discontented behavior among them, they do not understand that there is still an essential difference between those people and themselves, and they have no reason to believe that anything will be gained in becoming a Christian since apparently Christians behave just like non-Christians do, even in the most unpleasant ways.
So Paul is telling his readers to be careful to live in a way that demonstrates the facts; that they are new creatures in Christ who are filled with His Spirit and no longer of the world. Then he is going on to tell them why this is necessary and important.
PURE AND UNMIXED
He says that they and we are to keep our behavior toward the world and toward one another above reproach in order to demonstrate that we are blameless and innocent.
Now you know that I am not a student of the languages, but I do have some very fine research materials available to me so that I might better understand the context of the passages we study and pass the information on to you.
I try not to get into word studies too much in my preaching as that can become mechanical and somewhat boring.
Today however, in these verses, a breakdown of several words employed by the Apostle is necessary in order to get the full impact of what he is saying we should be and the infinite distinction between the child of God and the child of the world.
So we will look closely at these words and ask God to enlighten our hearts as well as our minds.
The word ‘blameless’ is pretty straightforward. It means unblameable. There should be no behavior coming from us that people can point at and criticize.
This is akin to the admonition of Peter in 1 Peter 1:14-16, where he quotes Leviticus 11:4
“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, 15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; 16 because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.”
And we have understood in other studies that according to Biblical doctrine there is no holiness in us but that we are declared holy by God as He sees us in Christ and in His holiness; His righteousness. That is our standing which is as a result of Christ’s work alone and not ours.
But here in our text and there in 1 Peter the admonition is to live in a way that demonstrates that inner work. We are to manifest externally an inner moral integrity for the sake of a Christlike witness.
Some translations say ‘harmless’ here where mine says ‘innocent’. The NIV says ‘pure’ and the Darby translation says ‘simple’. These are all good, but must be discussed together to get the most helpful meaning.
The Greek word there is used to describe wine that has not been watered down, or metal that is pure and not an alloy. It can be translated, ‘unmixed’.
So whereas the first word Paul used, which we translate ‘Blameless’ has to do primarily with outward behavior, this one is concerned more with the inner man. In fact, this one would have to do with the inner condition that will eventually influence the outward behavior.
By saying that we are to be innocent, simple, unmixed, he means much the same thing James meant in his letter when he talked about the double-minded man being unstable in all his ways. That world for double-minded means ‘two-souled’.
Paul says, ‘Be unmixed in your convictions and in your thinking. Don’t mix evil with good. Don’t hold to holiness in one area of your life and thinking but entertain that which is unholy in another. If your heart is mixed and your thinking inconsistent so will your living be.
CHILDREN OF GOD
The next phrase Paul uses is ‘children of God’ and this brings me to restate my main theme today. We are different and we are to be different. We are essentially different so we are instructed to demonstrate that difference and not try to conform to the world; to camouflage ourselves, so to speak, in order to blend in with a world of which we are no longer a part.
This blamelessness and innocence that he calls us to are dependant on our being children of God because we could not begin in our own strength or inner goodness to be either of them without His indwelling Spirit.
But that is why I also said earlier that sadly it does not seem that we witness among ourselves and in the church a great deal of this behavior manifesting itself.
Christians seem to take pride in being ‘just a regular guy’ so they can stay friends with their peers at work or other areas of their lives. There is often an attitude that seems to be expressed that if we stand out too much as different they won’t be inclined to come to our church, and if we stand out too much as holy and good they will see us as ‘stuffed-shirts’; as haughty, as snooty, and they will reject us.
Well, granted, we aught not to have an attitude that would make us act haughty or snooty, but we must understand that if they perceive us that way only because we will not indulge with them in the impurity and debauchery of the world, then it is to be expected that they will reject us and the New Testament tells us that that is precisely what they will do.
Christians, if we took these words of the Apostle to heart and truly lived like children of God in the midst of a crooked and perverse people, many of them would be rejecting of us and our lives at times would be more difficult because of it.
Just please do not lose sight of this. Whether they reject you for your holy living, or accept you in your hypocrisy, either way they reject your Lord, and you and I must consider whether we want to be standing on their side of the equation or His.
CROOKED AND PERVERSE
Now we come to another set of words that will be in sharp contrast to the ones we’ve looked at already.
Crooked. It means twisted. The Greek word is skolios, and that helps us get the picture when we realize it is where we get the word scoliosis, which is a lateral curvature of the spine.
The next word is ‘perverse’. It is a word that means ‘to turn aside from the right path’, or ‘to corrupt’.
So what Paul has given us in his choice of words, is an opportunity to see that the world and the spirit of this world is the absolute opposite of what the Christian is.
Instead of blameless, straight, above reproach, the world is crooked, twisted, guilty. Instead of innocent, pure, unmixed, the world is perverted, corrupt, opposed to the saving purposes and plan of God.
We have to understand, and the New Testament over and over again points out so that we will understand, that once we have been born from above we are essentially and fundamentally different from what we were; from what those who are of the world are. That is why we are admonished to live a lifestyle that is essentially different, because that is the lifestyle that is consistent with our new nature. Anything less is inconsistency; it is hypocrisy.
Paul made very much the same exhortation to the Ephesian believers.
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; 2 and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. 3 But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; 4 and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. 5 For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not be partakers with them; 8 for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light.”
LIGHTS IN THE WORLD
The New Testament has a great deal to say about the distinction between spiritual light and darkness. Paul calls Christians ‘lights’ several times.
Now on the surface we have no trouble comprehending why this analogy is used. It is obvious to us. Light dispels darkness. Darkness symbolizes evil and wrong-doing.
There are several applications though, and we should take time to examine them.
One is, and I repeat, the emphasis that we are different. The world is dark. Like the song says, “The whole world was lost in the darkness of sin”. So if we are the opposite of that, then we are light. In fact it is interesting that Paul says ‘you are lights…’ as though we are individual lights; like we’re each a little walking Maglite.
If one person in a group of 10 has a flashlight he can only illuminate in one direction and all eyes will be turned that way. But if each of the ten has his own flashlight together they can really light the place up; right?
The next thing I want you to note is that by virtue of the light that you bring to the darkness you will upset and offend those who love the darkness rather than the light for their deeds are evil. That’s why in Eph 5:11 Paul says, “Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them”
Folks, we are to expose evil as part of being who we are; not by accident or by passive fact, but with deliberateness. “Instead even expose them” as opposed to participating with them. A negative and a positive, both referring to deliberate action. Negative: don’t participate. Positive: Expose.
Now that is not to say we are supposed to be the morals police in our community or in our church.
Remember what I said earlier about Christians wanting to be ‘just a regular guy’ and fitting in so they won’t feel left out or rejected?
This is the opposite of that. If we live and behave according to what we are, blameless and innocent and irreproachable [please note that I said ‘irreproachable’ not ‘unapproachable’] children of God, by contrast the evil around us will be exposed for what it is and people will be brought to see the darkness in their own lives.
And yes, people react badly to that. But some are saved by it.
That is another aspect of being lights. We expose but we also warn. Like a lighthouse by the ocean or flashing lights at a collapsed bridge.
When we speak the truth in love concerning sin and salvation we let people know they are in peril and in danger of eternal consequences.
Our life exposes and our speech warns. That’s right. Can’t get around it. Part of being lights in the darkness is that we tell people the gospel…the whole gospel, that speaks of sin, of the judgment to come, of eternal separation from God for all who refuse to believe in Jesus, of the sacrifice of God’s Son on the cross, of His resurrection, of His promise to save and glorify forever all who come to Him in faith.
Living like a Christian is good testimony but it doesn’t help anyone unless we tell them about the One we are imitating.
MacArthur says “…just as right doctrine without right character is hypocritical and ineffective, so also is right living ineffective if believers are not proclaiming gospel truth.” “The New Testament Commentary: Philippians” John MacArthur, Moody, 2001
This is why Paul continues his thought with the phrase “…holding fast the Word of truth” We talked about this in our previous study. The accurate rendering there is ‘holding forth’ and is a term used for offering wine to a guest.
And we understand this ‘word of truth’ to be a direct reference to the gospel message specifically, since for the crooked and perverse generation Paul is talking about there is nothing about the Word of God that will be a help to them until and unless they have heard and received by faith the ‘word’ of the gospel.
Now just to finish off with our look at this package look with me once more at verse 16 and how very important all of this is to the Apostle, then I’ll have some closing statements.
“holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.”
Remember please that at this point Paul didn’t know whether he would be freed or put to the sword. If you glance at verses 23 and 24 you’ll see that he is sending Timothy to them as an emissary between them and Paul, and he is hoping that he too will soon be able to make that journey. But he does not yet know.
So glancing back over our text he has encouraged them to have a sincere religion, one that changes the inside and is demonstrated on the outside, and one that shines the Light of Christ in a sin darkened world to expose unrighteousness and warn the sinner. Live it and preach it… just make sure you’re living what you’re preaching, without hypocrisy holding out the gospel to those in need like a drink of water in a desert place…
…and then Paul will know he has not run in vain. Do you see how vitally important this all was to him?
In the movie “Glory”, about the American Civil War, Matthew Broderick’s character is about to lead his men into battle that is strongly balanced in favor of the other side. He rides his horse up to a newspaper reporter who has come from the East coast to cover the battle and he hands the reporter a letter that he wrote to his mother during the night. He asks the reporter to promise that if he doesn’t come back alive, the reporter will make sure his mother gets the letter.
As the viewer sits and watches this scene it is acted so well that you can actually get a sense of the trust he is forced to put in this other man.
He has poured out his heart in this letter and it may be the last words he’ll ever say to his beloved mother, but he has to put it in this other man’s hand and let it go.
Paul says, ‘Don’t let me down. Don’t render my labor among you vain. Shine for Jesus with your life and words. Hold out the Word of Life to a crooked and perverse people.’
You were once like them. But now you are different. Don’t deny them in their ignorance the opportunity to become different also.
And Christians, it hardly needs to be said that we live in dark, dark times. We walk and move in the midst of a twisted, perverted generation where arrogance and vulgarity and hatred and violence and self-absorption are celebrated.
We are different. We as Spirit-filled Christ-followers are absolutely the opposite and that makes us dangerous to some, repulsive to some, intolerable to some, and just maybe, salvation for some.
Dr. Lloyd-Jones felt the weight of this even a generation past when the world was much less crazy than it has finally become, so how much weightier should these words be for us? I quote him and I’m done.
“Oh, blessed privilege of being a child of God, oh, dread responsibility of representing such a Father in such an age and at such a time.” “The Life of Joy” Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Hodder and Stoughton, 1948