As Lights in the World

Philippians 2:12-16 – 12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. 14 Do all things without complaining and disputing, 15 that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.


Paul’s admonition is that we be lights shining in the dark world. How well do we do this? We face a great challenge in the sinsick world around us. How can we be successful in shining forth the light God has provided?

I. “Do all things without complaining and disputing” (v. 14)   – Is it really wrong to complain? Does God really care? Complaining is as much an element of worldliness as drinking and foul language. It denies the relationship that we claim. The word rendered “murmurings” is the word constantly used in the Septuagint of the murmurings of the Israelites during their wanderings. There the complaining was primarily against God Himself.

A.  Without complaining:  What should we not complain about? In the context of this verse Paul may be focused on the work that God has placed before me. True obedience is more than just doing what God says. It is doing it with the right attitude (spirit).

1.  Matthew Henry indicates that Paul’s admonition was understood in the context of the master-slave relationship. He says the admonition of Paul is to “Do it, and do not find fault with it. Mind your work, and do not quarrel with it.” God’s commands were given to be obeyed, not to be disputed. This greatly adorns our profession, and shows we serve a good Master, whose service is freedom and whose work is its own reward.” Do you obey God because you want to?

B.  Without “disputing” – the word for disputing here is from the same root word as the English word dialogue, and means to argue or reason against.  When you lived at home it was called “talking back” and it was probably taboo. Those who complain about life will tend to argue with God about the circumstances. MacArthur suggests that complaining is the emotional response, and disputing is the intellectual response. He says… Every circumstance of life is to be accepted willingly and joyfully, without murmuring, complaint, or disappointment, much less resentment. There is no exception. There should never be either emotional grumbling or intellectual disputing. It is always sinful for believers to complain about anything the Lord calls them to do or about any circumstance which He sovereignly allows. Whether the task is difficult or easy, whether the situation involves a blessing or a trial, negative attitudes are forbidden.

1.  Later in Philippians Paul testified to his own contentment and acceptance of God’s work in His life.  Philippians 4:11-1211 Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

C. Complaining is counter-evangelism. Most often when I suggest to folks that they should not complain they suppose I am going to tell them how good they have it (or how bad I have it compared to them). In a sense that is what I propose to do here, but Paul gives us a reason why the Christian must not complain or argue with God about the circumstances of life. It is counter evangelistic. The phrase “that you may be” in verse 15 indicates that we can become what God wants us to be by refusing to complain or dispute. What are we to become?

II.  Blameless & Harmless: These two adjectives are similar in meaning. If there is a distinction to be seen between them it may be that one describes my character as viewed from the outside, and the other as it is viewed from within. What does it mean to be “blameless” and “harmless”?

A.   “blameless”… The Greek word is amemptos {am’-emp-tos}, which means to be “blameless, deserving no censure, free from fault or defect”;  moral integrity as manifesting itself in the judgment of others (Meyer)

1.  Paul expresses the concept in Titus 2:7-8 “In all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility,  sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you”  To live in such a way that we have no “outstanding faults” that are so clearly evident to others

a.  Peter expressed the importance of a blameless lifestyle. 1 Peter 2:1212 having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation…vs. 15 – 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.. 1 Peter 3:1616 having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.

2.  Why is it important to be blameless? … Nothing hinders our efforts to influence others like inconsistency or hypocrisy If we have glaring faults that are evident to others, they will not take our message seriously  – Especially if we are trying to point out “their” faults! Matt.  7:3-5 – 3 And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

3.  How do we  become blameless?

a. We should “practice what we preach”! Strive to obey God in all things.

b. When we sin, confess our guilt immediately, especially when it is evident to all

c. When one endeavors to preach to others, do it in the spirit of gentleness, patience and humility –  Galatians 6:1 Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. 2 Timothy 2:24-26  And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient,  in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth,  and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will”.

B.  “harmless”… The word Paul uses is akeraios {ak-er’-ah-yos}, which in this context means “without a mixture of evil, free from guile, innocent, simple” It seems to point to “moral integrity as respects the inward nature.” (Meyer)   It is used 3 times in scriptures:

1.  When Jesus was preparing His disciples for the “limited commission” Matthew 10:16 “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Notice again that this quality is demanded in connection with evangelism. We need strong preachers, but we also need harmless ones.

2.    It was also used by Paul, in his epistle to the Romans –Romans 16:19 For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple (harmless) concerning evil.

3. And here in Phil.  2:15 –  To be “harmless”, then, would mean:  To be free from any taint or suspicion of evil; To never be suspected of duplicity, saying one thing, meaning another, To never be feared of potential harm or violence. Again, it means to be “harmless as doves”

4.   Why is it important to be harmless?” It does not denote a helplessness or impotency to confront evil. In fact the writer of Hebrews uses a form of this word in Heb 7:26 – “For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; – in the verses before this he proclaimed Jesus power to overcome evil and save to the uttermost those who come to Him.

a.  Jesus’ harmlessness was found in His ability to fight against evil with absolute integrity. He was holy and separate from sinners.

b.  How does this apply to some in the pro-life movement who use intimidation, harassment, and sometimes violence to further their cause? Or to those who threaten “economic blackmail” (i.e., boycotting) in an effort to force others to change,  Or some within the “Christian Coalition”, who often advise trying to “dig up dirt” on political opponents? Do not such efforts, though well-intentioned, often give others reasons to speak evil of those who call themselves “Christians”?  The attitude of Paul – 2 Corinthians 6:3 – We give no offense in anything that our ministry may not be blamed” –  2 Cor. 8:21 “providing honorable things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.”

C.  Children of God without fault.. Certainly this does not mean we live a perfect life, for we all sin – 1 John 1:8-10  If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. …   If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”

1. without fault: The word used here is amomos – a word consistently used to refer to a proper animal for sacrifice (without blemish)

a.  Peter uses the word to describe the perfection of Christ as our sacrifice. 1 Peter 1:18-19 – 18 knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.

b.  Paul uses it to describe God’s people, as they are the recipients of God’s grace. Ephesians 5:27 – 27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.

c.  In this passage it seems to parallel the first adjective “blameless” and points to the character of the Christian in the observance of others. God’s people are supposed to look like Jesus.

2.  Some important implications of these terms… If we are to become what God wants us to be we must be responsible to our conduct in the world. Not in a compromising way, but we must react to evil the way Paul said we should react, not with evil but with acts of love; that is how we truly OVERCOME evil! – Romans 12:17-21 Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.  Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.  Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

a.  Love your enemies the way Jesus taught us –Luke 6:27-36 “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.”

D.  Christians must shine as lights in the world – Paul uses the term “phoster” (from which we get phosphorous) which was often used of the stars. They reflect the greater light. Using the term metaphorically, Paul declares that Christians are to be moral and spiritual luminaries who radiate God’s truth into a dark world.

a. Matt. 5:16“let your light shine before men.” Isaiah wrote that the Messiah was to be “a light of the nations so that [God’s] salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isa. 49:6).

a.  Paul describes his world as a “crooked and perverse generation”. Moses used the same words to describe Israel when they rebelled against the law of God in Deut. 32:5.

  • Crooked is from skolios, referring to what is bent, curved, or twisted. (scoliosis is an abnormal curvature and misalignment of the spine.) The term was used metaphorically of anything that deviates from a standard or norm, …things that are morally or spiritually corrupt.
  • Perverse is a similar term which means distorted or that which misinterprets the rules of law. Paul warned the Elders of Ephesus that false teachers would arise and draw away disciples by “speaking perverse things” (NAS), or  “distorting the truth” (NIV)

c.  In spite of God’s enormous blessings, who are the most infamous whiner of all time? The Israelites in Num. 16 – It would have been better to die in Egypt with a full stomach than to die in the wilderness from starvation (called Egypt a land of milk and honey). God told Moses to step back, so he could destroy all of them on the spot.  Do you think these folks could have been very successful in converting their neighbor to follow their God? James 5:9 – 9 Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!

2. You must hold forth the word of Life: Holding fast (NKJV) is perhaps better rendered “holding forth,” as in the KJV & ASV. Not an admonition to remain faithful (holding onto), but rather to share with others (holding out) the redeeming word that brings eternal life. Wycliffe says that the phrase describes a torch-bearer who hold the light out if front so others can see.

a.  What is implied is that we are the ones who have the light in our hands. A treasure in earthen vessels. If anyone on the planet should be contented and joyful, it should be the Christian.

b.  It is hypocritical for us to verbally exclaim our love for God and His word, and then murmur against His judgments and law.

CONCLUSION –  Have you ever seen yourself on a home video? Did you look like you though you looked? We often have trouble seeing ourselves as others see us. We must strive to look like Jesus. It is only in this way that we can shine as lights in a dark world.


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