Devotional # 126. 3/2/15. Philippians 2:14-16.
Intro. Last week we talked about working out our salvation. We talked about just like how we haven’t created our muscles although we work them out, in the same way we haven’t created our salvation we still can work it out. That output is the “fruit” bearing life. Paul moves into what that fruit bearing life looks like and what our mindset and attitude should be, if we’re properly reflecting Jesus.
vv. 14-15. Paul starts off giving us direction on what not to do in “all things.” Before we focus on what we’re not supposed to do we need to be very clear that this encompasses “all things.” So is there ever an excuse to do what Paul is telling us not to do? No. “All” means “all.”
So what are we never to do in “all things”? We are never to be “complaining and disputing.” I read this section to my kids at breakfast before church yesterday and my daughter asked me what “disputing” meant. I told her that it was arguing. And gave her the example of when I tell my son to wear his running shoes and instead of just obeying he tells me that he would rather wear his Ugg boots. I tell him “no, you need to wear your running shoes.” And then he tells me his hiking boots would be better. You see “disputing” in this case means that we don’t respect the other person enough to “submit” to their request. Remember we were told to submit to each other in the church (Ephesians 5:21). This doesn’t mean that we don’t discuss something but “disputing” and arguing are much different than discussing an issue. Why is this so important? Because the world is watching and Christians are supposed to have unity. We’ll look more at this in a bit.
In Matthew 10:16 Jesus said, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” Jesus was recognizing that we, His followers, were being sent out as helpless sheep right out into the path of predatory wolves. We love in the same way Jesus did so we don’t retaliate but “turn the other cheek.” But this is not without Jesus! As in John 10:26–29 Jesus doesn’t leave us. He guides and helps His sheep. He is the good Shepherd (John 10:11). Likewise when He tells us “be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” He is being straightforward. We’re not supposed to be stupid and naïve that the world isn’t a bad place and out to kill us. So just as serpents recognize their surroundings and are predatory we also should have the same mindset. But notice that it’s “WISE as serpents“, this is the same type of “wise” as in “circumspectly” that we read from Ephesians 5:15. This was the third type of how to walk as a Christian. To “walk circumspectly” means to walk carefully “not as fools but as wise.” So although that’s our mindset it doesn’t mean that that’s how we act. Because we are supposed to be as “harmless as doves.” “Dove love” means to not scream at people and not bash them over the head with the Bible but to simply give them the love of Jesus. Like so many things in the Bible this seems like a contradiction. We are wise as serpents recognizing that everywhere around us there are things that are trying to kill us but we react to them with love. That’s what Paul is getting at when he tells us to be “blameless and harmless” even though we’re in the middle of “a crooked and perverse generation.” Why is the generation corrupt and crooked and perverse? The answer is always sin. But why don’t they see it? What is it that Paul expects “light” to do when he says “shine as lights in the world“?
We are the only representation of Jesus on the earth. Nowadays everyone says anything and everything is OK. Here in California, a law has been passed that a boy can go into the girls bathroom and a girl can go into the boys locker room, just because they “feel” like it. People are born gay so we can’t say that it’s wrong to practice homosexuality. A person who gets injured while robbing someone’s house can sue that person for having a hazardous house. The list goes on and on. Since everybody is doing these things, supposedly it’s OK. All things are gray instead of black and white. Except God calls it like it is – if it goes against God that’s sin. Sin is sin regardless of whether you put it in new clothes. And since only God can tell us the difference between black and white and only He shines that light, we must hold to the Bible, the word of God. So Christians are mirrors reflecting that light on sin. Just like Matthew 5:14 says, “you are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.”
v. 16. After saying we should be innocent (irreproachable) in the eyes of the world and that we should shine as a light to them Paul tells us exactly how to do this: by “holding fast the word of life.” As I just mentioned the world sees everything in gray, there is no black and white. They have done exactly what Jesus said they would do: for things that are wrong they call them “right” and for the stuff that is good they call it “bad” (Isaiah 5:20).So in a world like this how do we prove we are right? For that matter how does the Christian even know they are right? And take that to its logical conclusion: how do we know that there is even such a thing as “right” and “wrong”? Maybe truth really is subjective and relative? Ah, but there’s always that annoying speck of light called the Bible. You can dismiss it like the theory of gravity but that doesn’t mean it’s not real, applicable truth. I won’t go too much further down this path since most people reading this have acknowledged the overwhelming truth of the Bible (otherwise you’re just wasting your time!) But it’s a great reminder that the “word of life” is something to be clung to. It’s not simply a “dead” word – ancient, archaic, outdated and antiquated. Instead it is “alive” and pierces people’s heart (Hebrews 4:12) but also holds the key to “eternal life” (John 6:63; 1 John 5:13; John 1:1-5)! Remember what 1 Timothy 3:16 says, “The holy writings are good for these things: to teach people, to show them when they are wrong, to make them see what is right, to teach them to do what is right” (WE version).
When we, as a community and family of Christians, cling to this inerrant Word of God together we are stronger than any army because we have the Truth on our side. Regardless of how this gray earth sees us we see things in black and white as our Creator has revealed to us. And interestingly that black and white allows us to see all of the beauty and colors of the rainbow all around us. It is this unity that Jesus looks forward to. It’s this unity that Paul knew would make him “rejoice in the day of Christ.” Paul knew that he would see the return of Christ when ultimately He will take the thrown of His kingdom (read Revelation!) and because Paul had the proper perspective he knew that he wouldn’t look back and say that his life had been a waste (“run in vain or labored in vain”). We haven’t read it together yet but Colossians 3:2-4 says, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” Our life is with Christ and when Christ returns we “will appear with Him in glory.” And do you remember what we read recently in Philippians 1:21? Where it says that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” So Paul is bringing it all together: we will be with Jesus in heaven when we have fought the good fight and run the race in the way Jesus has told us to run.
Conclusion. It is the difficult perspective to not complain but instead shine the light of Christ to a gray world. But if we have that mindset from clinging to the “word of life” then we will look back on our life and say it was well spent and we didn’t run the race in vain.