Christians Are Light Bearers

Philippians 2:12-18

by
Graeme Tattersall

Over the last few weeks my wife and I have been caught up in the business of buying and moving into a new house. Now anyone who have had the experience, will understand when I say that the whole thing has been a trying time. Apart from the transactions of buying and selling properties, the packing and unpacking, and getting the utilities set up, there’s been the concern over costings; making sure that expenses don’t overrun the budget as we add to the house, making it into a cosy and pleasant home. Although Doris and I had made up our mind that this is what we wanted to do we had to work hard to make it so. Even so it would have been far more tedious but for the good help of our brethren. The fact was that we are an older couple the whole thing was jolly hard work for us.

During this time the director of the Lectureship sent me my assignment, the title of which was: “Christians are Light Bearers”. The lesson was to be drawn from the text in Philippians 2: 12-18. As I studied the text. it seemed to me that there was a parallel between the effort that we had just put in  to settle into our new home and the way Christians are to apply themselves in order to complete their salvation in Christ and enjoy their heavenly home.

I mean, in our case no one had to look over our shoulder, and be telling us constantly what to do to be properly prepared to move and be resettled into our new home. No one needed to tell us how necessary is was to calculate the cost of the operation, or to arrange for the utilities, such as power and telephone services to be connected. We simply applied our knowledge and experience to the task.

And that’s exactly what the text in this passage of Scripture is about. In the business of life, Christians are to live as Christians without the need for someone to be looking over their shoulders telling them what to do. To do that, they need to know the gospel (knowledge) and be used to applying its teaching (experience). So just as we, with God’s help, moved house, we were at the same time able to demonstrate by what we did how was done; we are also able to advise others, should they need help to accomplish the same task. So it is with Christians, with God’s help, they can live a lovelier life and be well equipped to show others how to do likewise

Let’s look and read Paul’s statement concerning the Philippian Christians’ doing better in his absence than in his presence. He said of them  (2:12) “you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence,” .Anyway we look at it, that is a great compliment to them! It meant that they had taken Paul’s teaching to heart and that their loyalty was not to him as their teacher but to the Lord, who was the subject of all the teaching.

One test for every person who teaches or preaches is this: “How do my listeners act when they leave this place and go about their daily life?” If people only do well when the preacher is there, it probably means their loyalty and devotion is to the preacher not to the Lord. One of the most common things in the world is for church members to get discouraged and leave because their preacher left or they thought he was mistreated in some fashion.

The task of preachers and teachers is to exhort their audience to do at least as well after they are gone as they did while they were there. Wherever we may be, the Lord remains among His people, He never leaves us or forsakes us. If our loyalty is to Him, we will not change our behaviour, no matter who else may be around. This loyalty is simply a proper response to the salvation which is ours through Jesus Christ, and it is something that every Christian either knows of ,or is in the process of learning.

Salvation is of God, Jesus said in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” From the Bible’s start to its finish, it’s made clear that it is God who begins the process of salvation, that there’s no progress in goodness on our part without obedience to His will, and we learn that the end of the process of salvation is to be with God, for its end is friendship with God, in which we are His and He is ours.  But the other side of salvation is this: Salvation is of man. Paul says “Work out your own salvation,”  In spite of this there are so many who sit back in life after their baptism and figure that they have done all that is necessary for their spiritual safety. But a study of the Bible reveals that without man’s co-operation, even God is helpless to save him. The fact is that any gift or any benefit has to be received. A man may be ill and the doctor able to prescribe the drugs that will cure him;  but the man will not be cured until he takes them ; he may stubbornly refuse all persuasion to take them.

That is the way it is with salvation. The offer of God is there; without it there can be no such thing as salvation. The world needs to learn that no one can receive salvation unless there is a response to the invitation of Christ as it has been given, (and only as it is given) in the gospel of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. There can be no salvation without God, but what God offers man must take. It is never God who withholds salvation; it is always man who deprives himself of it.

I want us to notice that Paul was not writing to non-Christians to tell them how to become Christians. He was writing to those who were devoted to the Lord about how they should live. He was not charging them to work to earn their salvation for the future.  Salvation is a matter of grace.  We cannot earn or deserve it, since we are all guilty of sin. Paul was pointing out the fact that salvation works itself out in daily life. It is not just some religious activity that we accomplish on Sunday and forget on Monday. It has to do with life as a whole. Salvation that does not change our activity is not the salvation we read about in the New Testament.

As we look further into our text we find a chain of thought, wherein Paul sets down five things that are noticeable about the person working out his own salvation.

1)      Firstly, there is the sign of effective action. There has to be a continual evidence in a Christian’s daily life that he is living as God wills. Day by day he should be striving to accomplish what God seeks of him. The great tragedy of so many of us is that we are never really any further on. We continue to be victims of the same habits and slaves of the same temptations, and guilty of the same failures. Whereas the truly Christian life must be a continual progress, for it is a journey towards God.

2)      Second, there is the sign of fear and trembling. This is not the fear and trembling of the slave cringing before his master, nor fear and trembling at the prospect of punishment. It comes from two things. It comes, first, from a sense of our own creatureliness and our own powerlessness to deal with life triumphantly; that is to say, it is not the fear and trembling which drives us to hide from God, but rather the fear and trembling which drives us to seek God, in the certainty that without his help we cannot effectively face life. And it comes, second, from a horror of grieving God. When we really love a person, we are not afraid of what he may do to us; we are afraid of what we may do to him. The Christian’s great fear is of crucifying Christ again (Heb.6: 6)

3)      Third, there is the sign of serenity and certainty. As Christians we are to do all things without murmurings and disputings. The word which Paul uses for murmurings had a greater meaning at the time he wrote it than maybe as it is understood these days (Today’s young generation speak of being ‘cool’ or   ‘chilling out’ which means to them {I understand} ‘good’ or ‘relaxing’ whereas their grandparents would understand these words to be cold or to freeze). When Paul writes of murmurings his use of it the word used of the rebellious murmurings of the children of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness. The people murmured against Moses (read about it in Exodus 15: 24; 16:2; and Numbers 16: 41). The word he uses describes the low, threatening, discontented muttering of a mob, who distrust their leaders and are on the verge of an uprising. The word Paul uses for disputings describes useless, and sometimes ill natured, disputing and doubting. In the Christian life there is to be the serenity and the certainty of perfect certainty and perfect trust with every individual Christian contributing in the conduct to make it so

4)      Fourth there is the sign of purity. Christians, we read, are to become blameless and harmless, without fault. Each of these words makes its contribution to the idea of Christian purity. The word translated blameless, expresses what the Christian is to the world. His life is of such purity that none can find anything in it with which to find fault.  It is often said in courts of law that the proceedings must not only be just but must be seen to be just. The Christian must not only be pure, but the purity of his life must be seen by all. The word translated “harmless” expresses what the Christian is in himself, it literally means unmixed unadulterated ; it is used, for instance, of wine or milk which is not mixed with water, and of metal which has not alloy in it. In the case of Christians, it implies motives which are unmixed. So Christian purity is a result of complete sincerity of thought and action. The other word in this phrase is “without fault” and like the other thoughts that challenge us it means that Christian purity is blameless in the sight of the world, sincere in itself, and through Christ  pleasing to God.

5)      As we come to the fifth sign in the Christian’s life, my thoughts go to the words  found in v.13 and 16 Where Paul writes: “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure”.{16} “...in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,” The sign is evangelism, the desire to endeavour  to win others to Christ. The Christian offers to all the word of life, that is to say, the Word which gives life. This Christian missionary endeavour has two aspects.

(a)    It is the proclamation of the offer of the gospel in words which are clear and unmistakable.

(b)   It is the example of a life that is absolutely straight in a world which is warped and twisted.

It is the offer of light in a world which is dark. Christians are to be lights in the world. The word used for lights is the same as is used in the creation story of the lights (the sun and the moon) which God set in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth (Genesis 1:14-18). Thus Christians are to be bearers of God’s light to mankind.

As we think back over the lesson, we have learned that those who obey the gospel from the heart, are Christians who are painfully aware of their own shortcomings and weaknesses, that we are people who know that we have to bring our own salvation to completion; and the only possible way to do that is to not let the world around us squeeze us into its mould. Instead we are to allow God to re-mould our hearts and minds from within (Romans 12:2), and that is something that only happens when we diligently seek to do so.

We have learned that His will for us becomes evident to all because it affects the way we think, the way we speak, and  the way we act. This is how  we can offer and demonstrate straightness in a twisted world; the way we become bearers of Light in a world dark with sin. The workout for our salvation is tied to God’s work in us. We read in v.13 “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure”. How does God work in us? I think it is safe to say that He works in more ways than you and I could ever imagine, much less understand. He worked in Joseph as he was sold by his brothers as a slave, lied about and thrown into prison, forgotten by those he helped, and delivered only after years of turmoil which trained him for the job of saving his people.

He worked in Jeremiah by allowing him to be rejected and thrown into an abandoned well, by having him live without the comfort and encouragement of a wife and family, and by sending him out with a message that no one seemed to care about. He worked in Paul as he was beaten, rejected, shipwrecked, stoned, and imprisoned  so that he could have the chance to teach and write letters, (like the one to the Philippians), while he was in jail.!

How does God work in us? I don’t know all the ways! I know He uses His Word to teach us. I know he uses godly men and women to help and encourage us to greater service. I know He gives His Holy Spirit to dwell in us as Christians. I also know that He works through the circumstances of this world to produce in us what He wants.

In Romans 8:28, He had Paul write, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” He may be working through every event in our lives to mould us into the image of His Son. He may even work through our tormentors, our enemies, and those who hate God, to make us into what He longs for us to be. What I know for certain is this: God works in us, and the goal of that work is for us to “will and to do for His good pleasure” (2:13).

God is not just wanting to change our behaviour. He wants to change our “want to.” If we have within us the desire to do His will, the behaviour will follow naturally. Of Jesus it is declared in Hebrews 10:9  “I have come to do Your will, 0 God.” That should be the attitude shared by every Christian. When we have the will to do, and when we do His good pleasure, we will be the Christians God calls us to be.

God’s good pleasure is that we “Do all things without complaining and disputing, It seems like a small thing; I mean, to grumble about things or be in some kind of dispute all the time, sounds nothing like adultery or murder. It is not as appalling as drug abuse or child abuse, but it breaks the heart of God. When the children of Israel made murmuring their way of life, God sent fiery serpents among them to destroy them. Being a grumbler may seem innocent enough to us, but it is never seen as innocent by the Lord, but let us face it some have almost sanctified grumbling.

We have often made disputers our spiritual heroes because they can out-argue everyone they meet, but God says. “Don’t do it.” Think for a moment. Just as He said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) or “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28), Paul also said, “Do all things without complaining and disputing” (Philippians 2:14). If we just obeyed this single statement of God, what a difference it would make in many families and congregations. All the good such a group can think of doing can be destroyed by one member who grumbles about everything.

But what a joy it brings to families and congregations to worship, praise, and serve God together without anyone grumbling. This is the way God wants it. His will is that all things be done without grumbling and disputing. His will is for us to be what we should be, right in the middle of the perverse world in which we live.  God has not called us out of the world, He calls us (v.15) to “become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault; He wants us to live this way “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation”.

A Christianity that will not stand the light of the real world is not the one that God wants. To be blameless means we are correcting the sins in our lives as we discover them. To be harmless or innocent is to be pure, without conniving or ulterior motives.  It is to have a “what you see is what you get” spirit.

It is to be obvious as God’s children, without having to carry a sign to let people know we are Christians. When we live this way, we shine as lights in the world. We can show God to men by this kind of life. God’s good pleasure is that we “hold fast the word of life” (v.16) Influence is great, but it requires the Word of God to bring people to salvation, a bad influence closes doors, but a good influence opens the hearts of men to hear what God has said that made such a difference in our lives. (Romans 1:16). His Word is able to save the souls of men and women (II Timothy 3:15), but for the Word to be powerful in the lives of others, its power must be seen in ours. Thus we must unashamedly hold out the message of God to save their souls.

As we ponder this lesson may we be challenged to be light bearers for Christ as we live in Him day by day. Is it your will to work according to God’s good pleasure? Are you going to be a bearer of light in this dark world?

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