Summary: When we carve significant space and time in our lives for God he will begin to transform our inner core so we become holy in our hearts and in our actions.
Phil 2:14-18 Jan 23, 2011
To begin this morning I want you to imagine, or remember, a world without electric light. For most of us the closest we might get to imagining that would be a camping trip – I remember one night as a teenager where several of us had been working at Gull Lake Camp, and we took our sleeping bags down to the beach, made a fire, nestled into the sand, and slept outside under the stars. Can you imagine or remember a world without electric light? We need that picture, that image, as we head into the world of Paul the Apostle and his letter to the church at Philippi, where the central idea for us this morning is the phrase “shining like bright lights”.
But before getting to the central idea, let’s set the stage. In our study of Philippians we have seen that the major idea Paul is talking about here comes from 1:27 – “27 Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ.” He’s been talking about that all through, and it continues in the passage we find ourselves in today. What does that mean? Does it have any impact in our daily lives?? Absolutely, and he has been talking about that in the passages we’ve looked at throughout, including the passage we studied last week that said “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.” (NIV). That brings us to verses 14-18:
Phil 2:14-18 (NLT):
14 Do everything without complaining and arguing, 15 so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people. 16 Hold firmly to the word of life; then, on the day of Christ’s return, I will be proud that I did not run the race in vain and that my work was not useless. 17 But I will rejoice even if I lose my life, pouring it out like a liquid offering to God, just like your faithful service is an offering to God. And I want all of you to share that joy. 18 Yes, you should rejoice, and I will share your joy.
Commentator Walter Hansen writes, “Paul now gives instructions for working out salvation in the community in one long, complicated sentence that stretches out through three verses (14-16). Each part of the sentence needs to be interpreted in the light of the whole sentence. Paul begins with an imperative modified by a prohibition: Do everything without grumbling or arguing. The all-inclusive imperative, do everything, demonstrates that we should work out our salvation in every dimension of life.” (Hansen, Pillar New Testament Commentary on Philippians, p. 179).
Are there some parts of life that are the “spiritual” parts, where it is important that we pay attention to God? If we really believe in the Lordship of Jesus in our lives, that answer is “no”. Yet most people don’t really function that way – we find it more convenient to segment our lives, in our minds at least, into different parts, and then we apply different standards to those different parts. For example, we might think that when we go to church or are around church people we have to watch our language, or be more polite; or we might think that it is important that we “believe” (in the popular understanding of the word “believe” as a set of intellectual propositions to which we ascribe) the right things in our minds, but then it is ok to continue to live our lives day by day as we see fit. Are you with me with this idea of segmenting our lives into the “spiritual” and the rest, the “sacred” and the “secular”? Paul’s beginning command in verse 14 eliminates those lines – in Hansen’s words this “demonstrates that we should work out our salvation in every dimension of life”.
I’ve noticed in some circles a fairly strong reaction against this notion of being different people in different places – a rejection of the perception of hypocrisy, and I think that is a really healthy thing. We, here at Laurier, value being “real”, value accepting others for who they are, value authenticity and transparency. And again, I affirm that.
But I also want to say this: sometimes those values work against the transformation God wants to accomplish in us. Because sometimes we stop at authenticity. The progression is good, from pretending (or hypocrisy) to authenticity, but the idea of our faith is that we have to be authentically transformed into Christlikeness. Put more tangibly, it is wrong to show up at church on Sunday dressed up nice with a plastic smile and pretend that life is all wonderful when really it isn’t: “Hi Brother, great to see you praise Jesus. How am I? Oh, just great, God is good…”. That is the pretending (or hypocrisy) spot. But if we only take one step from there, to authenticity, what can (and sometimes does) happen is that we come together and are authentic in our sinfulness and loved unconditionally by others in our community, and so we continue in our sinfulness without going to the next level: “Hi, how am I? Lousy, my relationships are in a mess, I’m mad at so and so or such and such, I hate my job because my boss is an idiot, etc…”. And when someone genuinely listens and accepts us, we’ve made great progress from that first step. But the Kingdom of God is not about stopping at authenticity. God wants to change us, and take us to a next level together. That level is where our sinfulness is transformed by God, so that we are authentic and holy – not just in our hearts but in our actions. That level is where we authentically bring the struggles and frustrations and then are TOGETHER transformed so that we are like Jesus – so we have his perspective and priorities, so our relationships and activities are under the Lordship of Jesus, and we are transformed in how we see and live our lives. Do you see how it is not enough to stop at authenticity if we are being authentic but authentically stuck in sin?