Lights in the Darkness
Topic: Expository Passage: Philippians 2:14-18
For the last 4 weeks, we have been working our way through the 3rd major section of Philippians, which extends from 1:27–2:18. It’s been very convicting to consider how God has called us to humbly serve each other. It’s as if Paul sticks a knife right through the selfishness and pride of our hearts.
And then he drives the knife even deeper by grounding the challenge in the example of Christ. Jesus set the standard of humble service, when he let go of the glory of heaven to humbly die for us. Therefore, when we begin to complain about what ministry demands, his example puts us in our place.
This morning, we get to study the final passage in this section, vv. 14–18. Paul grabs several themes he has been discussing and pulls them together to again challenge us, in the words of 1:27, to “strive together for the faith of the gospel.” We need to be unified so that we can effectively spread the gospel (read).
I’d like to break this passage down into 3 challenges that are very significant for our life together as a church and as well for our witness to those around us. First, we must…
I. Maintain a strong testimony (vv. 14–15a).
Notice that the passage begins with a simple command that is not so easy to live out in the church, at home, and in just about every other context.
The Command (v. 14): That’s a good verse for road trips with little kids. No complaining and no arguing! But all of us, not just kids, struggle at times with discontentment and petty fighting. We all need this verse.
Paul borrows from Israel’s example during their years in the wilderness. God had delivered them from slavery, he had provided for their every need, and they were on their way to the Promised Land. However, the people constantly murmured or complained. The food wasn’t good enough, the water wasn’t good enough, and ultimately God wasn’t good enough. All their complaining was really an attack on God.
The same is true when we complain. I remember the Lord convicting me about this shortly after we got married. We were going through lots of legitimately hard life transitions. But one-time Heidi told me on the way home from church, “Every time someone asks you how you are doing, all you do is complain about everything that is wrong.”
I was really convicted. I was a complainer, and my complaining reflected the fact that I was not content with God’s purpose. So, I made a choice—not to be dishonest about my struggles (we need to let others bear our burdens with us)—but to focus more on thanksgiving.
It was amazing how that choice transformed my perspective. I became far more content, and I’m sure it encouraged those around me.
So, ask yourself, “Am I a complainer?” If so, recognize that when you complain, you are ultimately declaring that God has not treated you fairly.
And in this context understand the destructive effects complaining has on those around you and especially on the church, because that’s Paul’s primary concern. I’ve seen it happen many times. Someone gets a sour attitude, and they start complaining to their friends about this little thing and that. And their sour attitude begins to spread like a cancer. Their friends lose their joy and begin to grow cranky as well.
A whole group people lose their passion for the church, the whole body suffers, and the church’s witness for Christ is compromised—all because of irresponsible complaining. So, I want to urge you to be very careful with your words. Yes, confront problems, ask questions, and give constructive criticism, but always do so thoughtfullly with a spirit of edification.
And do the same in every context. Don’t be the complainer at work. Don’t go around complaining about your spouse, your parents, and your children to everyone who will listen. Complaining is a canker sore. It hurts everyone around us, and ultimately it reflects dissatisfaction with God’s purpose. Then notice in v. 15 why Paul was concerned with this issue. They needed to stop complaining and arguing so that they could achieve a specific goal.
The Goal (v. 15): Maintain a bright testimony in a dark world. We have seen many times in Philippians that Paul was passionate about the spread of the gospel. And this concern is clearly present here. The Philippians needed to stop complaining and arguing, because it was affecting their testimony and gospel witness.
Isn’t that sad? They lived in the midst of a “crooked and perverse” Philippi had a corrupt, godless culture that desperately needed the gospel. BTW, that’s always the case. We also live in a “crooked and perverse generation that desperately needs Christ.
And how do we naturally respond? Some Christians are tempted to lash out in anger. Sadly, Christians often respond with a demeaning, nasty tone that fits right in with the darkness of our world. But other Christians go into full retreat. We don’t want to be touched or hurt, so we crawl into our Christian storm cellar and lock the door.
But God says we must live “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.” We must be in the world for the sake of Christ. And notice how we must live. We must be “blameless and harmless, children of God without fault.”
It’s worth noting that the 2nd description is better translated as innocent instead of harmless. The point is not that we should be like a helpless sheep waiting for a wolf to pounce. Instead, all 3 descriptions—blameless, innocent, and without fault—point to a pure testimony that does not in any way hinder our gospel witness. We must be bright lights in a dark world.
But sadly we can seriously damper our light by our conduct and words. And sadly, it seems that the this was happening at Philippi. The church was damaging their witness through constant complaining and fighting. It’s like they were delivering the gospel in a garbage truck. It would kill your taste buds if the pizza delivery man pulled up on smelly garbage truck. Similarly, the Philippians bickering deadened their witness.
What a tragedy! And what a shame it would be if someone in your office, your neighborhood, your family, or a visitor to our church closed his ears to the glorious gospel, because you clouded the gospel with complaining and arguing.
We should pray that we would never do anything whether intentionally or not that would drive people away from Christ. And then you need to think about how to adorn the gospel well. I’m not telling you to be fake. In fact, being honest about our dependence on God’s grace is very important to our witness. But still, be the best you. Be discerning, always thinking about how you can adorn the gospel well.
And finally, Paul would say that we need to be very intentional about doing this as a church. The NT repeatedly emphasizes that our love and unity are two of our strongest testimonies to the power of the gospel. Therefore, we need to drive out complaining and arguing, see the bigger purpose that unites us, and let that show. There are few things that will make our church more effective than us being excited about what God is doing here and excited about bringing others into our fellowship. So, let’s work to build and maintain a strong testimony for our Lord. The second challenge in our text is…
II. Make the gospel known (vv. 15b–16).
Paul notes 2 ways that we make the gospel known. First…
Be a light. Again, v. 15 states that we live in a dark, perverse We know that. Our society is turned upside down. We celebrate evil and condemn righteousness. People are angry, bitter, and hateful. We’ve lost all sense of genuine kindness and grace.
So, what do we do? Should we retreat? Should we become like the fools around us? No, God says that the church must shine as a gospel light. In other words, we must stand for genuine righteousness and truth. And our lives must be a beautiful display of true holiness and grace. The world should see in the church a standard of pure love and unity that is different and clearly of God. We must be a bright lighthouse in the dark night.
Admittedly, light is not always comfortable, not when you have something to hide. The gospel is offensive, because it shines a light on our sin and utter spiritual helplessness. Not everyone will be happy about the light.
But God’s Spirit will work in the hearts of some. They will see the glory and power of God at work in us, and the Spirit will draw them to the light of the gospel and save their souls. How awesome!
It’s so important that we are always conscious of the fact that we are a walking testimony for Christ. People know that you are a Christian, and they are watching how you work, how you interact with others, what you truly love (not just what you say you love), and how you react to hardship.
This should drive us to make sure that we are walking with the Lord, that our faith is real and really is changing us. People are going to see if you are just putting on a front. And then we need to be careful to adorn the gospel Express joy and thanksgiving. Walk in humility. Consistently to the right thing. Show the world the grace of God at work through you. Be a light. The 2nd way we make the gospel known is…
Be a voice. The verb that opens v. 16 can be taken a couple of different ways. It could mean “hold fast” in the sense of be faithful to the truth—stand your ground, and don’t compromise. The other option is to translate it as “holding out the word of life.” If this is the case, the focus is on the proclamation or offer of the gospel.
This meaning fits better. For one there has been a strong, evangelistic emphasis so far in Philippians. It’s clearly present in v. 15, and the phrase “word of life” also reflects this focus. We offer the gospel as something that gives life and hope. As well, 1:27 opened this section by calling us to “strive together” for the advance of the gospel.
So, v. 16 is calling us to “hold out” for all who will hear the “word of life”—the gospel. We must tell everyone who will listen that there is life in Christ for all who come to him in faith.
And notice that this responsibility to preach the gospel is the center of our text. Why must the church avoid complaining and arguing? Why must we maintain a blameless testimony? It’s so that we accurately display the gospel and put ourselves in the best position possible to hold it out before a crooked, perverse, and dying generation.
It’s good for us to remember often how significant evangelism is to our lives as Christians. Sometimes, we can get caught up in life and go weeks or even months without striving to share Christ. It’s not okay. We saw in chapter 1 that Paul’s life was built around the “furtherance of the gospel” (1:12; 1:20–21). Paul had one ambition—to magnify Christ. It was more important than life itself. May God help us to share Paul’s passion and commitment to the spread of the gospel.
And if you have never come to Christ for salvation, I pray that you will see that there is only life in the truest sense in Christ. The Bible is clear that everyone of us is a sinner, and our hearts are hopelessly dark. It’s not just that we live in a perverse generation; we are perverse, and we cannot wash our sins away. But baptism symbolizes the fact that through his death and resurrection Christ washes away the sin of all who come to him for salvation.
If you come to Christ today in repentance for your sin, and if you put your faith in Jesus death and resurrection, the Bible promises that Jesus will wash your heart clean. He will forgive you of all your sin, and you will forever be secure in his grace. You will have life! So, if you have never been saved, we would love to talk with you afterwards about the “word of life” and about how it can be yours. Returning to our text, the second command is that we must make the gospel known. The 3rd command is…
III. Partner together sacrificially (vv. 17–18).
In order to understand these verses, we need to take a moment to understand Paul’s illustration of a drink offering. In particular, a drink offering was usually wine or oil that would be poured over some another sacrifice. For example, Numbers 28:7 talks about pouring a drink offering over the burnt offering. So the drink offering accompanied and completed some other sacrifice.
And vv. 17–18 use this picture to describe Paul’s partnership with the Philippians in gospel work. Notice that v. 17 mentions “the sacrifice and service of your faith.” In context, Paul is clearly talking about the Philippians’ gospel ministry. They were working hard to live in accordance with the gospel and to make Christ known in Philippi.
And Paul says that through his ministry to the Philippians, probably meaning his prayers, this letter, and hopefully a coming visit, it was as if he was pouring himself out as a drink offering over them. In other words, he helped to complete or compliment the sacrifice they were offering to the Lord through their ministry.
And Paul says that he “rejoiced.” He was elated that he could partner with the Philippians as they ministered for Christ. Paul didn’t always have to be the center of attention. He was glad to be a complement. And then he turns around in 18, and encourages them to have a similar joy in Paul’s ministry, because they were also partnering with Paul.
They participated in Paul’s ministry through their prayers, their financial gifts, and through sending Epaphroditus. So, they had a part in all the incredible things God was doing through Paul. As a result, they should rejoice at how God was using them. I’d like to make 3 applications from vv. 17–18.
Give yourself sacrificially. Paul uses a pretty powerful picture here, when he describes himself as an offering being poured out over a sacrifice. It’s obviously a picture of complete self-sacrifice. May God give us that same commitment to the Great Commission, where we say, “Lord, here I am. Take me and use me however you want, no matter the cost. I am in your hands.” Second…
Work together. We saw this theme several times in chapter 1, and here it is again. Paul and the Philippians were vitally connected to each other in the gospel ministry that each were trying to fulfill. It’s a reminder that none of us are sufficient in ourselves. We need spiritual support and practical support, and we all far more affective when we lean on each other than when we try to be independent islands. So, lean on the church for your own spiritual health and to make you a more effective witness.
Rejoice together. Paul rejoiced over what God was doing in Philippi, and he called them to rejoice in what God was doing through Paul, because, again, it was their ministry too. As such, even if you had no direct ministry to those who were baptized today, you are part of what is doing in their lives. Praise God. And this example is also so significant as we think about our missionaries. We share in the good work that God is doing at Ironwood, in Roseville, in Wales, the Congo, and Tanzania. God is using this church here in Apple Valley but as well all over the world. That’s awesome! And it should bring tremendous joy! What a privilege we have to partner with each other and with our missionaries for the sake of His name.
In conclusion, God gives us a simple challenge in this text. Be a gospel light. Watch both your walk and your talk. Hold out the word of life to a lost and dying world. And work together to make the glory of Christ known.