Conquering Complaining: From Whining to Shining, part 2 (Philippians 2:14-16a)

Philippians is an epistle which emphasizes joy.  One of the things that brought Paul great joy was his relationship with the Philippians.  However, at least some of the people in the church there were fighting.

Conflict is a very common problem in any relationship.  Whenever you get two people together, there is friction.  Add more people, and you get more conflict.  Every family is a testimony to that.

Paul, throughout this short epistle, directs the attention of the Philippian congregation to those mindsets and attitudes that lead to unity and thus “work out their common salvation.”  He takes great lengths to help them see the presence and value of humility in the life of Jesus, and then will later point out the same in himself, Timothy and Epaphroditus.  On the other hand, Paul also points out that the inner attitude of “grumbling” and its verbal cohort “arguing” will only lead to deeper conflicts.

In Philippians 2:14-18 Paul wrote:

14 Do all things without grumbling or questioning, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.

Today we’re going to focus on verse 15.  All that Paul has been saying from v. 27 of chapter 1 has been leading up to verse 15.  It is the goal or purpose of living a life of humility and unity…

15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

All that Paul has been commanding in this chapter (2:3-4, 12-14) all lead up to this one purpose—that (hina) they might become (genesthe) better people than they are—that they might grow up.

Whereas what was characterizing their lives was assertiveness (“rivalry,” eritheia, v. 3), conceit (kenodoxia, v. 3), grumbling and argumentativeness (v. 14), it was still possible for them to become “blameless,” “innocent” and “without blemish.”

How?  How is that possible?

Well, it is because they were “children of God.”  Yes, everything else around them was “crooked and twisted,” but that is not what formed them or secured their ultimate destiny.  Instead, God was working in them “both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

As they cooperated with God’s work within them,  instead of being conformed to the “crooked and twisted generation” around them, they would be transformed into people whose lives were blameless, innocent and without blemish, shining as lights in a dark world.

That word “blameless” comes from the verb memphesthai, along with a negative prefixed to it, so it means to “stand above accusation or blame.”  The word could apply to standing before God or men.  It means that people have no grounds upon which to incriminate or criticize us.

That’s a pretty high standard.

The word “innocent” here comes from the verb kerannumi, along with the negative prefixed to it, meaning, “unnmixed.”  It was used to describe undiluted wine or unalloyed metal; in other words something that was pure through and through without impurities, or something that was simple rather than fragmented.

This word occurs only three times in New Testament.  In Matt 10:16 Jesus wants the disciples to be as wise as serpents and as “innocent” as doves.  In Romans 16:19 Paul says that he wants the Romans to be wise about what is good and “innocent” about what is evil.

Taken together, these two words would describe a person against whom no criticism or blame could stick.

Both of them call them away from the selfish behaviors of rivalry, conceit, grumbling and arguing.

If the Philippians continue to grumble and complain they will give occasion for outsiders to find fault with them and their gospel.

The “purity” that Paul has in mind in Philippians is broad and covers every area of their lives, but it specifically has in focus the need to refrain from in-fighting and divisive behavior.

Paul’s final descriptive phrase here is “faultless.”  This was a word used to describe the perfect sacrifice, that had nothing broken and no blemish.  Only such unblemished animals were used for sacrifice (cf. Hebrews 9:14; 1 Peter 1:19).  Thus, when “spotless” or “holy” (Romans 12:1), we can present ourselves as a “living sacrifice” to God.

The phrase “faultless children of God surrounded by a crooked and perverse people” (v. 15b) actually comes from Deuteronomy 32:5, but in that case it was Israel, the children of God, who were in fact “blemished” and “crooked and perverse.”

Paul meant that modern Christians should not be like rebellious Israel, who were constantly complaining and disputing with God during the wilderness sojourn.

In Deuteronomy 32:5, in the song of Moses, in referring to the grumbling and unbelief of the children of Israel in the wilderness, Moses says, “They have acted corruptly toward Him, they are not His children, because of their defect; but are a perverse and crooked generation.”

Paul turns that around and says that we are God’s children, living in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, and thus we must be careful not to grumble and dispute, as Israel did in the wilderness, because as God’s people we are supposed to shine forth in this dark world as lights, holding forth to people the word of life, the gospel of Christ.

Paul adds here that these things are to be true even in the difficult environment of living in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.

But how is this even possible?  All of us know we are far from blameless, pure and spotless.  All of us know how difficult it is to live above the pull of the world around us.

What chance do we, in this life at least, have of being blameless, pure and spotless?

The key is found in the words “children of God.”  Because we are born of God as His children, we will exhibit His character more and more throughout life, just like a young child begins to show the physical characteristics of its mother and father.

Through regeneration God gifts us with a new nature, a nature aligned with his.  1 John 3:9 says…

9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.

John is not saying that Christians never sin again, but that they don’t “make a practice of sinning.”  They keep short accounts with God.  Whenever we sin, we confess our sins and renew our repentance.

This new nature within us inclines us towards righteousness.  The old nature inclined us towards sin.  It was exceedingly hard to keep from sinning then.  But now we have a new nature and that new nature is inclined towards righteousness.  When Christ lives His perfectly righteous life through us, then we will be blameless, pure and spotless.

Notice that 1 John 3:9 emphasizes that the reason we don’t go on sinning is because “God’s seed abides in him” and “he has been born of God.”  Just like children take on the physical characteristics of their parents, so we will begin more and more to take on the spiritual and moral characteristics of our heavenly Father.

When we live in that new nature we will “shine as lights in the world,” in that “crooked and twisted generation.”  The concept here is not merely “light,” the shining luminescence which projects from a star, but the “lights” themselves, the heavenly bodies.

God isn’t calling us to give, or do, something that we are not equipped for.  Our very nature now is “light,” and He is merely calling us to live up to what we already are.

Jesus, who came as the Light of the World (John 8:12), told His disciples that they were the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14).  We shine because Jesus, the light, lives in us.

Impure lives will shade, or hide, the light.  Paul wanted his readers to bear a strong witness, rather than having their light shaded by sin or uncleanness (cf. Matt. 5:15-16).

Back in Matthew 5 Jesus had said:

14 “You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Light is our new nature, where once darkness reigned.

Paul may also have had Daniel 12:3 in mind…

3 And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

Thomas Constable relates:

I read about a woman who felt very much alone at her place of employment because she was the only Christian.  To make matters worse, she was often ridiculed for her faith and accused of being narrow-minded.  Finally, she became so discouraged that she considered quitting her job.  Before doing that, however, she sought the counsel of her pastor.  After listening to her complaints, the minister asked, “Where do people usually put lights?”

“In dark places,” she replied.  No sooner had the words passed her lips than she realized how her answer applied to her own life.  She quickly recognized that her place of work was indeed a “dark place” where “light” was vitally needed, so she decided to stay where she was and become a stronger influence for Christ.  It was not long before a number of her fellow employees—13 of them, in fact—came to know Christ as their Savior.

God has placed you in a dark place, in a crooked and twisted generation, where indecency, immorality and inhumanity rule the day, or the night.  The words crooked and twisted speak of being perverse and deformed, as we know this world to be.

But He has made you to be a light, to shine in the darkness.  When we live out what God is working in us, we will shine in a darkened world.

There are typically four ways that we can respond to the dark, twisted, perverted world around us:

  • We can isolate ourselves into little holy huddles and have very little contact with the world.
  • We can indulge ourselves in the world and become just like those around us.
  • We can incinerate lost people with our judgmental words and behaviors.
  • Or we can illuminate the darkness by shining with righteous lives and sharing God’s Word.

Have you ever seen the Northern lights?

It is a stunning display of beauty made from highly charged particles of energy in a cloud known as a solar wind.  As the solar wind interacts with the edge of the earth’s magnetic field, some particles collide with the gases of the ionosphere and begin to glow.

According to the Encarta Encyclopedia, “These particles then collide with gas molecules in the atmosphere, thereby exciting the molecules and causing them to emit electromagnetic radiation in the visible portion of the spectrum.”

In order to have a positive impact upon the culture around us and shine our light, we have to “collide” with citizens of the earth, bump into them and excite them about the truth.  As Joe Aldrich liked to say, “Evangelism is what spills over when you bump into someone.”

According to Isaiah 42:6-7 and 49:6, this is what ancient Israel was supposed to do, to be a light among the Gentiles so that God’s salvation might be brought “to the ends of the earth” (Isa. 49:6).

But they failed in the task, becoming like the crooked and twisted peoples around them.

The Philippians, and now you and me, have inherited this vocation.  And we live up to it by living out of our new nature, rather than in indulging our old selfish nature.

Grumbling and arguing is not attractive.  Neither are being judgmental and uncaring about people whose behavior we don’t agree with.

1 Peter 2:12 says,

12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

Not only are we to work on our speech and our shining, but we are to work from the Scriptures.

Verse 16 says…

16 holding fast to the word of life,

The “word of life” is the objective truth.  While our subjective lives give some light, it is the Scriptures themselves that have the greater potential to open blinded eyes.

“Holding fast” translates a word that means hold your position or hold your gaze.  In 1 Timothy 4:16, it’s translated, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.”  In Acts 3:5, it’s translated, “He fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them.”  In Acts 19:22, it’s translated, “Paul himself stayed (held his place) in Asia for a while.”

So the idea is holding fast with your attention or with your person. Holding your gaze, or holding your position. So now back to Philippians 2:15: “you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life.”  Holding your gaze on the word of life. Holding your position with the word of life.  Not leaving the word of life.  Staying with the word of life.  Fixing your mind on the word of life.  Giving yourself to the word of life.

We grow tired too quickly.  We grow weary in doing good.  We read God’s Word and truthfully sometimes we get nothing out of it.  But we have to stay with it.  We have to abide in truth.

Along with our nature as being lights, the Word of God provides light which in turn gives life.

The way you shine as lights in a dark culture is by holding fast to the word.  Hold your gaze on it.   Stay with it.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).  We’re not leaving your word.  We’re staying with you and your words.  We’re holding our position here.  We’re holding our attention on your word.  This is life.

We cannot shine in this dark world unless we hold fast to the truth of God’s word.  His word brings life in a dead world, a dead culture.

Don’t let go of the word of life.  You need it; a lost world needs it.

Published by

Lamar Austin

I've graduated from Citadel Bible College in Ozark, Arkansas, with a B. A. Then got my M. Div. and Th. M. at Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD. I finished with a D. Min. degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, but keep on learning. I pastored at Chinese Christian Church of Greater Washington, D. C., was on staff at East Evangelical Free Church in Wichita, KS, tried to plant an EFC in Little Rock, before moving back home to Mena, where I now pastor my home church, Grace Bible Church

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