A Gospel-Driven Witness (Mike Riccardi)

Philippians 2:14–16   |   Sunday, June 9, 2013   |   Code: 2013-06-09-MR



In our last two messages from the book of Philippians, we’ve been considering the doctrine of sanctification. Paul has called the Philippians to the pursuit of practical holiness by commanding them to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. And we’ve spent a couple of weeks looking at that those two monumental verses—verses 12 and 13—seeking to mine out the rich, practical theology that is in that text, which guides and instructs us in how we are to be growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ.


But now after that general exhortation to be diligent in the pursuit of our sanctification, Paul starts to get specific. He speaks of a particular way in which the Philippians—and we ourselves—are to work out their salvation with fear and trembling—a particular avenue of holiness that we are to set ourselves upon. He states it plainly in verse 14: Do all things without grumbling or disputing. He commands the people of God to eliminate complaining from our lives—both personal complaints about the various circumstances of our lives, and especially our complaints against one another.


And that’s quite a striking command for us, especially given the mood of our society. We are champions of complaining. We live in a culture of discontentment and complaining, even amidst all the privileges and mercies we enjoy. One only has to spend a little time on the freeway before we recognize that we are not immune to a grumbling spirit. We complain about the driver in front of us going too slow, the driver behind us going too fast. We complain about those who cut us off, and we complain about the horrendous pace of the traffic. And not just on the road; we hate any sort of traffic: large crowds moving too slowly, long lines at the store. The neighbors are too noisy; the food’s too cold; the bills are piling up; the dishes are piling up. Gas prices are too high; all prices are too high; the country is going down the tubes. We’re complainers.


And as unfortunate and shameful as it is, we don’t check our complaining at the door on Sunday morning, either. We have our complaints about church. “The preaching is too long; the preaching isn’t practical enough. We always sing the same old worship songs; we sing too many new worship songs and I don’t know the tune. The church is too big. The people are too impersonal; they’re just not friendly enough to measure up to my standard. Everyone already has their own little cliques and they don’t make me feel like I’m a part of them. Everyone is so judgmental; they’re always confronting me about my sin. They need to get the log out of their own eye!”


Even: “I can’t believe this whole thing about a gym remodel! Why do we always get picked on? How do they expect us to concentrate in this kind of environment? How long is it going to take?” You see, we’re complainers. And so Paul’s directive to us this morning speaks to us loud and clear, and reaches directly into the most practical aspect of our lives.


But not only is this command to do all things without grumbling or disputing a fitting standard of holiness in our day. It also makes good sense in the context of Paul’s letter. You remember that Paul’s overarching and driving concern in the Book of Philippians is that his dear friends would bring their lives into conformity with the implications of the Gospel of Christ. They are to, as chapter 1 verse 27 says, conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel. Or, as we have put it: They are to live Gospel-driven lives. And one of the principal ways in which the Philippians are to do that in the context of the opposition that they are facing from the outside world is to be unified in the church. They are to stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the Gospel, verse 27. And so at the beginning of chapter 2 Paul issues this clarion call for Christian unity via a passionate five-fold appeal: If the Philippians know the encouragement of Christ, the love of the Father, the fellowship of the Spirit—if they have any affection or compassion after having been graced with the affection and compassion of God; and if they have any desire to complete their dear pastor’s joy—Paul says, be unified.


You see, this was a weakness for the Philippian congregation. Epaphroditus had brought reports of dissension and personal disagreements among some members of the church—especially of the two women, Euodia and Syntyche, whom he mentions by name in chapter 4. And so Paul writes to tell them that if they are to have any hope of conducting themselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel—of holding their ground amidst the pressures of the world, and of advancing the Gospel into a hostile society—they must be unified. If they are to stand out in distinction from the world; if they are going to offer the world something that it doesn’t already have; if they are to, by their upright and chaste behavior, shine the light of holiness in the midst of darkness to light the way to Christ, they are going to stop bickering and complaining about one another.


And so, in verses 14 to 16, he restates his call to unity as the pre-eminent practical application of his command to be pursuing holiness. He writes: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.”


And this text provides us with a very simple outline that will divide our message into two major points: First, there is the command to do all things without complaining; and second, there are the two reasons for obedience to that command.


I. The Command (v. 14)


First, the command, which we have already seen in verse 14. Paul writes, plainly, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” Now that is plain enough to understand. Paul has laid upon the Philippians the injunction that they must work out their salvation with fear and trembling because it is God who is at work within them, both causing them to will and to work in conformity to His own holiness. And then, immediately after this, the most natural way in which this general exhortation to pursue holiness will manifest itself in the life of the believers at Philippi is that they cease from all manner of complaining.


“Grumbling” is the Greek word gongúsmos. It’s a word that sounds like its meaning. Gongúsmos—it has that guttural sound of disgust that characterizes grumbling, or griping, or complaining. This word was used of the Pharisees in Luke chapter 5 verse 30. Jesus was eating with Matthew and his tax-collector friends, and the text says, “The Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?’” They grumbled. “Your rabbi claims to be a teacher sent from God, but here you are eating with the sinners! Don’t you know that that’s not permitted?” Or in the parable of the workers in the vineyard in Matthew chapter 20: The landowner hires multiple workers throughout at different times of the day, but pays them all the same wage—the wage that they had agreed upon at the beginning of the job. And when the workers came to receive their pay, “they grumbled at the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.’” And the landowner says, “Didn’t we agree on a denarius? Friend, I’ve done you no wrong. Take what is yours and go.” But the workers grumbled. “I’ve been out here all day, breaking my back in this scorching heat. This guy shows up an hour ago and gets the same pay as me. This is ridiculous!”


That’s actually characteristic of the disputing that always seems to accompany grumbling, which Paul also forbids in this verse. Other versions translate this word “questioning” (ESV), or “arguing” (HCSB). The Greek word is dialogismos, from which we get the English word dialogue. It refers to quarreling, disputing, and sinful thoughts of protest. Back in Luke 5, where we were just a moment ago, this word is used to describe the Pharisees again. As Jesus heals the paralytic, He says, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” And the Pharisees hear that and their ears perk up. And the text says, Luke 5:21, “The scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, ‘Who is this man who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?” And Jesus says, “Why are you reasoning in your hearts?” verse 22. “Why are you disputing? Why are evil thoughts arising in your heart?”


So this disputing that Paul forbids in Philippians 2:14 has an internal, intellectual characteristic to it. Whereas grumbling is essentially emotional and has an external, expressive aspect to it, disputing is essentially intellectual and often remains internal. When we complain about an unfavorable circumstance, that emotional reaction comes first—the grumbling: “Oh come on! Can you believe that?!” And then it’s out there in the open. You’re committed to your foolishness. And so as you stew on it for a few seconds, either you begin to realize or someone (usually your spouse) brings to your attention how foolish you sound, and then you start to rationalize it. You start to dispute. “Did you see what he did to me? Did you hear what she said to me? That’s just ridiculous! Anyone else in the whole world would have reacted exactly the way I did if they were in this situation!” And so we have the sinful disputing and evil reasonings that seek to justify our grumbling. And Paul says: All of that has to stop. Do you want to work out your salvation with fear and trembling? Are you serious about holiness and following after the Lord Jesus in obedience? Well then do all things without grumbling or disputing.


Now some of you might be thinking, “Really? Not sexual immorality, or adultery? Not murder, or idolatry? Complaining? There aren’t bigger fish to fry? I mean, is complaining even a sin? Isn’t it more just like a character flaw—a harmless shortcoming? Everybody complains, right?” We can tend to take that attitude toward the sin of complaining can’t we?


Turn with me to 1 Corinthians chapter 10. Paul is speaking to the Corinthians about the Israelites in the wilderness, and he’s warning them not to follow their bad example. 1 Corinthians 10 verse 6: “Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.’ Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents.” And verse 10: “Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.” Not only is grumbling listed along with idolatry, immorality, and testing the Lord. Here we learn that God takes grumbling so seriously that He killed the Israelites for it. And verse 11 says, “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.”


Now if that’s the case, we ought to turn back to those passages and be instructed from them. Turn with me to Exodus chapter 14. The Jews were being pursued by Pharaoh’s army. And as they approached the Red Sea, they feared that they were trapped—the sea on the one side, and the Egyptian army on the other. And so the people complained to Moses and said, “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness” (Exod 14:11–12). They are grumbling and disputing. But God is gracious to them. He miraculously delivers them from the Egyptians, leading them through the Red Sea and then bringing the waters crashing down upon Pharaoh’s army. And verse 31 says, “When Israel saw the great power which Yahweh had used against the Egyptians, the people feared Yahweh, and they believed in Yahweh and in His servant Moses.”


But it didn’t last very long. Turn to chapter 15 verse 22. Moses led the people into the wilderness, and they went only three days into the wilderness and found no water. Verse 23: “When they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter. … So the people grumbled at Moses, saying, ‘What shall we drink?’” Now I don’t know about you, but I read that I am just flabbergasted. Three days ago these people just lived through the most spectacular miracle anyone had ever seen in history. They thought they were trapped, they despaired, they complained, and then Almighty God accomplished their redemption in a way that would become the classic illustration of His care for His people for the next thousand years. And three days later, they have no water, they think they’re trapped in the wilderness, and yet they grumble again. And again, God is gracious, and He makes the waters sweet and then leads them to an oasis at Elim (15:25, 27).


But after they left Elim, they had no food. Look at chapter 16, verse 2: “The whole congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The sons of Israel said to them, ‘Would that we had died by the Yahweh’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’” They’re at it again! Grumbling again! But God is gracious again and provides them with the bread from heaven. And they eat and they’re satisfied. But then, chapter 17, they set up camp at Rephidim, and they find no water there. And chapter 17 verse 3 says, “The people thirsted there for water; and they grumbled against Moses and said, ‘Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?’” They never learn!


And this continues throughout their wilderness wanderings. Turn to just one more text in this narrative: Numbers chapter 14. Numbers 14:26: “Yahweh spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who are grumbling against Me? I have heard the complaints of the sons of Israel, which they are making against Me. Say to them, ‘As I live,’ says Yahweh, ‘just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will surely do to you.’” In other words, you keep saying you’re going to die in this wilderness. You’re right. Verse 29: “…‘your corpses will fall in this wilderness, even all your numbered men, according to your complete number from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against Me. Surely you shall not come into the land in which I swore to settle you, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. Your children, however, whom you said would become a prey—I will bring them in, and they will know the land which you have rejected. But as for you, your corpses will fall in this wilderness.” Verse 35: “I, Yahweh, have spoken, surely this I will do to all this evil congregation who are gathered together against Me. In this wilderness they shall be destroyed, and there they will die.”


Complaining is just a little minor character flaw, right? Wrong. The entire generation of Israel older than twenty years old died for it in the wilderness. Why? Why is it so severe? Moses said it in Exodus 16 verse 8: “Your grumblings are not against us but against the Lord.” You see? God is absolutely sovereign. All of the details of providence come directly from His perfect plan.


Now we might be tempted to scoff at Israel: “You just saw Moses part the Red Sea! You just walked across the Red Sea on dry ground, and watched God drown your enemies right in front of your eyes! That was three days ago!” But we’ve got to be careful, because we do the very same thing. You say, “I don’t know, Mike. I think seeing the parting of the Red Sea would have lasted me a little more than three days!” Oh really? Well God has accomplished a miracle in your life ten thousand times greater than the redemption of Israel through the Red Sea. He’s accomplished your redemption from sin through the Lord Jesus Christ. When you were surrounded by your sin with nowhere to turn, when your iniquity hemmed you in on every side with no earthly means of deliverance—while we were still helpless, at the right time, the Father sent forth His Son born of a woman, born under the law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons (Gal 4:4–5). And at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly (Rom 5:6). And that redemption never has to be three days past in our memory, because the glories of that redemption are recorded for us infallibly in the pages of this precious Book.


And yet, what happens? As we wander through the wilderness of this foreign land that we are sojourning in, looking for the blessed rest of the Promised Land—the heavenly Canaan—we face trials, and difficulties, and annoyances, and fearful circumstances. There are times when God in His providence, in order to conform us more into the image of His Son, brings us through such difficult situations. And with the smell of blood from Golgotha still fresh in our nostrils, and with the sounds of the nails that pierced Christ’s hand ringing in our ears, and with the glorious sight of the tomb rolled away and the linen grave-clothes fallen to the floor still fresh in our minds from our morning’s Bible-reading, we face the smallest of difficulties, and we grumble against our God, and we bring shame upon His name.


Whether it’s the general circumstances of your life, or whether you’re grumbling against your fellow Christians like the Philippians were, God is absolutely sovereign over those events of your life. Grumbling against them is grumbling against Him. Pastor John writes, “In reality, every complaint a believer makes is against the Lord and is one of the ugliest of sins. … [It] demonstrate[s] a lack of trust in His providential will, boundless grace, and infinite wisdom and love” (MacArthur, 179). John Piper writes: “Grumbling is an evidence of little faith in the gracious providence of God in all the affairs of our lives. And little faith is a dishonor to him. It belittles his sovereignty and wisdom and goodness.” At its very bottom, complaining is nothing more than faithless pride. It’s nothing more than the surfacing of the deep-seated attitude that you deserve better than what you’re getting. Every time you grumble, it’s as if you are looking God in the face and saying, “I see no reason for this! I deserve better than what You’re giving me!” That ought to make every last one of us tremble. Who are we, mere creatures of the dust, to tell God how to be God—how to providentially order His universe?!


As the prophet Jeremiah stands on the ash heap of Jerusalem, after it had been ravaged by the Babylonians, rather than complaining about the destruction of the Lord’s holy city, he says, Lamentations 3:37: “Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, Unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High That both good and ill go forth? Why should any living mortal, or any man, offer complaint in view of his sins?” My friends, every moment you and I are spared from knowing the wrath of Almighty God, exercised in unbridled fury against our sin in the most terrifying recesses of hell, we are getting better than we deserve. And so for sinful creatures like us, breathing the Lord’s air, enjoying the mercies of His common grace, and especially knowing of the Gospel love of His salvation—for us to grumble against His providence in our lives is absolute madness.


James chapter 5 verse 9 says, “Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.” And Paul is saying the very same thing to the Philippians, and he’s saying the very same thing to us. You have your quarrels with one another. You refuse to humble yourselves and consider others as more important than yourselves. You refuse to defer to one another’s interests above your own. You insist on your own way, and you grumble against one another and dispute with one another. Dear friends, this should not be. Not among those who have been saved by the Gospel of Christ. Not among those who are united to the Christ who humbled Himself unto death on a cross without a single complaint passing from His lips or stirring in His heart. Not among those who are sharers of the same Spirit. Not among those who, verse 15, are children of God. No, do all things without grumbling or disputing.


II. The Reasons (vv. 15–16)


Why? We have observed in great detail the command that Paul gives in verse 14, to do all things without grumbling or disputing. In verses 15 and 16, Paul lays out two reasons that we should be obedient to this command. And that’s the second point in our outline. First, the command, and now, number two, two reasons for that command.


A. For the Sake of Our Witness (vv. 15–16a)


And the first reason why we should do all things without grumbling or disputing is for the sake of our witness. Look at the text again with me: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life.” You see, the sin of complaining—of grumbling and disputing—is so common in the unbelieving world, so ubiquitous, that our doing all things without grumbling or disputing will set us apart from the world so starkly that we’ll be like the brightest of stars shining against the blackness of the night sky.


Paul describes believers, first, as blameless. The term means to be beyond the reach of legitimate criticism. There is to be nothing about our behavior that gives occasion for scandal. Martyn Lloyd-Jones describes it well. He says, “This term …calls us so to live that those who are around us, looking at us and observing us, will never be able to see or find anything in us which is worthy of blame, or of criticism, or of reprimand” (Life of Joy, 198). And he goes on, rightly, to note that the emphasis here is on our observable behavior. The term is used in Luke 1:6 to describe Zacharias and Elizabeth, who, Luke says, were “walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” Paul also uses this word to describe his former life in Judaism in Philippians 3:6. He says that “as to the righteousness which is in the Law, [he was] found blameless.” Now this doesn’t mean that Zacharias or Elizabeth or Paul were sinless. It means that as far as anyone observing their lives could tell, their conduct comported perfectly with the precepts of the Law of God.


But Paul is not only concerned with the external behavior; he’s also concerned with the internal state of our heart. And so he calls us to be not just blameless, but innocent. This word literally means “unmixed,” and was used to describe wine that was undiluted, that wasn’t watered down. It was used to describe unalloyed metal—pure gold and pure silver. And Paul is saying that our character must be the same—unmixed purity and innocence. Not only are we to be blameless in our observable behavior, we are also to have integrity in our hearts.


Those who are blameless and innocent are further described as children of God above reproach. This is really a way of summarizing the previous two characteristics. We are to prove ourselves to be children of God. This doesn’t imply that we are not already children of God; it means that we are to act in keeping with our identity as the children of God. Jesus says something similar in Luke 6:35 when He says, “Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.” You see, we are to imitate our Father—to reflect in our behavior the character of God Himself, making it plain that we do not bear the family name for nothing!


And the word translated “above reproach” here is the same word that speaks of the Old Testament sacrifices as being unblemished, spotless, or without defect. From the very beginning of the ordinances of the sacrifices, the children of Israel were commanded to sacrifice animals that were “without blemish” (Exod 29:1). Well in Romans 12:1 the Apostle Paul tells us that all believers are to present our bodies to God as a living and holy sacrifice. In worship under the Old Covenant the sacrificial animal was to be spotless and without blemish. Well in worship under the New Covenant our entire lives are the sacrifice we present to God—not as a dead sacrifice but a living sacrifice—and yet in the same way we are to be spotless and without blemish. And this spotlessness, or blemishlessness, is precisely God’s own design in our salvation. Ephesians 1:4 tells us that before the foundation of the world, in the secret council of His own decree, God our Father chose us in Christ with a particular result in mind: “that we would be holy and blameless before Him.” And later in the book of Ephesians, chapter 5 verse 27, Paul tells us that Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her “that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.” And again in Colossians 1:22: “He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach.”


And so, dear friends, if this is the very reason for which the Lord saved you—and if this is to be the very evidence of your adoption into the family of God—will you not give yourselves wholly unto this endeavor of being blameless and innocent, above reproach in this world—of working out your own salvation with a diligent effort, conscious of and energized by the fact that it is God Himself who is working in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure?


You say, “Mike, that standard is just too high. You have the privilege of coming to work every day at Grace Community Church. You get to live in the bubble of your ivory tower up there, where you’re surrounded by fellow-believers. But out there in the real world, you simply can’t get by without cutting a few corners—without ‘playing the game a little bit.’ I could really make some progress on this ‘blameless and innocent’ thing if I could just get myself un-tethered from the world. But I have no choice; it’s the world we live in.” No, no, my friend. You haven’t read the text carefully. Paul calls us to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation! In the midst of it! The darkness of the world is never an excuse for the Christian to dim his light a little bit, to sort of ease his lamp under a basket (cf. Matt 5:15). The darkness of the world is only all the more reason to let our light shine before men in such a way that they may see our good works, and glorify our Father who is in heaven!


In His high priestly prayer in John 17, the Lord Jesus prayed to the Father: “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” And so there is absolutely no biblical warrant for a monastic lifestyle. Jesus’ request is not: “Take them out of the world,” or “Sequester them from the world.” His prayer is: “Sanctify them as I send them into a crooked and perverse generation.” And why does He send us into that world? Verse 23: Perfect them in unity, “so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” You see? The purpose of our unity, our holiness, our blamelessness, our purity—doesn’t terminate with us. God is working in us to will and to work for His good pleasure so that the world may know the Lord Jesus by His people.


And apart from Christ Himself I can’t think of a better example of the lifestyle Paul is calling us to than Daniel. Turn to Daniel chapter 6. Daniel was a man endeavoring to conduct himself as blameless and innocent, as a child of God above reproach. And he certainly was living in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation—the pagan empire of Babylon. And because of the Lord’s favor was upon Daniel, the king of Babylon planned to appoint him over the entire kingdom. And as a result of this, Daniel’s enemies became jealous of him and tried to get the king to find fault with him. And in chapter 6 verse 4 it says, “Then the commissioners and satraps began trying to find a ground of accusation against Daniel in regard to government affairs; but they could find no ground of accusation or evidence of corruption, inasmuch as he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption was to be found in him. Then these men said, ‘We will not find any ground of accusation against this Daniel unless we find it against him with regard to the law of his God.’” And the same needs to be true of us, friends—that the world can find no ground of accusation against us except when obedience to the Word of God becomes illegal.


Especially in our day, when our culture is becoming so openly anti-Christian, we who name the name of Christ are being carefully studied, scrutinized, and evaluated to see how we respond in difficult situations. The world is looking for an opportunity to point out the ways in which our conduct doesn’t match our profession. They are looking for a spot, a blemish, in our character. And Paul is saying, “Do you want to stand out? Do you want to be blameless? Well then do all things without complaining.” When a Christian’s demeanor and his conversation are laced with complaints, with grumblings, with gossip and slander, we don’t look a bit different from the world! Your unbelieving friends and acquaintances witness you miserably brooding about, griping about your spouse, and complaining about your children, and grumbling about your boss and your workload, and they couldn’t want any less to do with this Jesus whom you call the fountain of delights. The sweet aroma of the Gospel is snuffed out under the stench of your own complaining.


But could you imagine the bewilderment of your unbelieving friends, who grope about their own lives as if in darkness, coming into contact with a person who simply never complains? Someone who constantly manifests the joy and the humility that properly belong to a child of God? Someone who knows and believes that all of the events of his life are the good and purposeful gifts of divine providence? Because of the ubiquity of complaining in this crooked and perverse generation, they would have no way to explain why they never hear any grumbling or disputing from your lips—why you are always speaking words of praise and affection regarding your spouse, why you always express thankfulness to God for your children, why you work diligently at the office and don’t complain about the workload or about the attitudes of your co-workers. My friends, the world has no category for such a person!


And what is the result? Paul says we “appear as lights in the world.” This word, “lights,” is the same word used in the Greek translation of Genesis 1 to refer to the sun, moon, and stars. And so this phrase is better translated, “among whom you shine like stars in the night sky.” That’s an amazing picture! Think of all that communicates! Certainly it only re-emphasizes the striking contrast that must be evident between the child of God and this crooked and perverse generation. But in that contrast, it alerts the unbeliever to something that he simply does not have. It exposes his sin! He sees the chaste lifestyle of a blameless and innocent child of God above reproach, and the law of God written on his conscience condemns him because he knows his life doesn’t meet that standard. And he’s immediately offended. That’s what 1 Peter 4:4 says: The unbeliever is surprised that you don’t run with him into sin, and he maligns you because of it. “The darkness hates the light,” Jesus said in John 3:20, “and does not come to the light for that his deeds will be exposed.” The kind of life that is commanded of those who would conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel sticks in the craw of the enemies of righteousness and indicts their sinful lifestyle by exposing it in the light of holy living.


But for those whom God is calling, the testimony of your Gospel-driven witness—along with exposing sin—will also serve as a guide to righteousness. Think for a moment about the truth that the unbelieving world lies in darkness. Think about that word picture, too. To be perennially in darkness is an utterly terrifying thing. The fear, and the uncertainty, and the vulnerability of being in utter darkness is so horrifying, that Scripture even uses it as a metaphor for hell itself: 2 Peter 2:17 says that false teachers are reserved for “the blackness of darkness forever” (NKJV). But imagine the hope ignited in the heart of one lost in darkness when he sees a glimmer of light in the distance! Imagine the sailor, out on the open sea in the middle of the night, lost amid a storm with no way of knowing how to travel in the right direction or even see 100 feet in front of him. And then all of a sudden the clouds shift, and the light of a star begins to twinkle in the sky. His hope is restored! Well in the very same way, dear fellow-believers in Christ, your blameless and pure lifestyle, devoid of sinful grumbling and full of the joy and peace of the Holy Spirit, is like the shining of the North Star in the midst of the blackest of night! It stirs hope in the soul of that unbeliever whom the Holy Spirit is drawing unto Himself! And it entices that person to find out what the cause of such light is in you! And in this way, our holy life, shining in the midst of the darkness, provides a platform from which we can proclaim the excellences of Him who has called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light (cf. 1 Pet 2:9)!


Dear friends, isn’t that glorious? Doesn’t that pull at the very heart-strings of your affections? Doesn’t the prospect of serving Christ that way—of being such a witness to His grace to the unbelieving world—doesn’t that just woo and entice you to holiness? Surely, if you have the life and the love of God stirring within your breast at all, that must give you strength to do battle against sin, and to fight for holiness! What a privilege! To be lights shining in the midst of the darkness!


And how? How can we fulfill such a seemingly impossible task—of walking blamelessly and innocently before the world, as children of God in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom we shine as stars in the sky? Paul tells us in the first phrase of verse 16. Look at the text: “…holding fast the word of life.” The word literally means “to fasten upon.” In Acts 3:5, after Peter and John told the lame man to look at them, it says, “And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them.” He fastened his gaze upon Peter and John. And in the midst of all the crookedness and perversity of this morally bankrupt generation—amidst all the temptations to conform and to capitulate and to compromise—where will we get the strength to be blameless and innocent and above reproach? Where will we get the strength to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling? Where will we get the strength to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel? We will remain faithful only insofar as we fasten upon the word of life—only insofar as we fix our attention on the word of life. Or, to put it in the language that we studied last week: We will get the strength to run the race of this Christian life with endurance, laying aside the sin that so easily entangles us, by fixing our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb 12:1–2).


B. For the Sake of Our Leaders (v. 16b)


Well now we have, just briefly, the second reason Paul gives for why we must do all things without grumbling or disputing. Number one: for the sake of our witness. Number two: for the sake of our leaders. Let’s read the second half of verse 16. Paul says, “…so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.” And this is so beautiful. Paul’s pastoral heart shines through so clearly in this last phrase.


Paul yearns for the Philippians’ holiness—and particularly that they do all things without grumbling or disputing—because their spiritual maturity will be the ground of his rejoicing in the day of his reward. This is the measure of his ministry: the holiness of his people. All his running, all his toil—words that speak of hard labor, extreme exertion, athletic struggle—will not be for nothing if the Philippians have put on the righteousness of Christ in their daily living. Turn briefly to Romans chapter 15, where Paul speaks of the stewardship of his ministry in terms of offering his people to God as a priestly sacrifice. Romans 15 starting in verse 16: He says he is “ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God. For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed.” Just as we spoke before about our own lives being spiritual sacrifices that are without blemish, Paul sees the Philippians as his sacrifice to God as their pastor. And he is laboring for their sanctification, because he doesn’t want to present an impure sacrifice to God at the end of his ministry.

And so he is enticing the Philippians to pursue holiness by telling them that their holiness will mean that he will get to present a more holy sacrifice to the Lord on the day of reckoning—that their holiness will result in his greater joy and rejoicing as he boasts in the work Christ has accomplished in them. And the Philippians would have absolutely loved to know that they could contribute to his joy on that great day. The opportunity to bless their pastor was an excellent motive for obedience. And dear friends that it same today. Your pastors who labor over you in the Word and in prayer know a small part of what Paul means when he describes ministry as running and as toil. And it is an absolute joy! “We will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls” (2 Cor 12:15)! But we don’t want to run or labor in vain. And what will make our joy complete—what will prove to us that our ministry was not a failure—is if on that great day we can present you precious people back to the Lord as an acceptable offering, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.


I can’t improve upon what Pastor John says on this subject. He says, “The best thing believers can do for their pastors is faithfully to live out the truths of God’s Word that he has preached and taught, so that he can say with Paul, I did not run in vain nor toil in vain. … The greatest joy of any servant of God is the godly living of his flock. ‘I have no greater joy than this,’ [the Apostle] John said, ‘to hear of my children walking in the truth’ (3 John 4)” (188).




And so, GraceLife, do all things without grumbling and disputing—especially grumbling and disputing with one another. If there’s any encouragement in Christ, any consolation of love, any fellowship of the Spirit, any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being unified—by lovingly and humbly serving one another, with a view to shining the light of God’s holiness into a dark world.