Being Examples for God in a Dark World

We are a diverse group of people. It’s interesting when people come to visit and look around and make comments like, “It looks like everybody’s just alike.” When I hear that I think, “You don’t know our people very well.” We have very diverse backgrounds culturally, how we grew up, how we think, the jobs we hold, we are very diverse. In that, I am thankful that we have God’s Word. His Word speaks to all of us, and we can go to it and not have to worry about whether it will be applicable to one group of people and not to another. I hope you can glory in that, that God has given us His Word. I hope you have come to expect in this church the teaching and preaching of God’s Word, because that’s our commitment. It’s our source of truth.

14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 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. (Philippians 2:14-16)

We looked last week at this very straight forward, clear teaching from God’s Word which is found in verse 14: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” You don’t get much more straight forward than that in the Word of God. It’s a clear command. It was an easy passage to understand, no difficult words, no major translation issues to discuss. Just in whatever you do, do not grumble, don’t complain, and don’t question or dispute with God. 

This means that as we examine and consider our circumstances, whatever they may be, we must interpret them and understand them in light of a sovereign and almighty God. We have to look at circumstances in light of who God is. We must see God in our daily lives and in our daily circumstances. If we don’t consider that God above is watching over us, going with us in everything, always protecting us, then we can easily, very easily fall into the temptation to grumble and complain, and dispute with God. And if God is not in control then we have very good reason to grumble and complain. If He is in control, we have no reason to grumble and complain. If Paul for instance didn’t believe that God was with Him and regulating events around him, then he could have never said what he said in Philippians 4:11.

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. (Philippians 4:11)

How could he be content in prison, when hungry, in the middle of a shipwreck and storm, facing possible execution, abandoned by those that he loved, facing contemptible behavior from church people? How could he say and confess that in all of this he would be content? He could because he believed that events are not random. He didn’t believe in random events, he believed in sovereign appointments. He was satisfied knowing that God had all the bases covered. That God was up to something in his life, and whatever He was up to it was good for him, and it was for God’s glory, and for the good of his Christian friends. Simply put, what Paul believed about God kept him from grumbling, complaining, and disputing.

In fact, in Romans 9 Paul goes to great lengths and in very straight forward ways exalts the right of God to rule over people and over events. It’s one of those passages that can kind of blow our minds. He says some hard things for us to take and embrace at times, but he shows us who this God is in all of His power, this God that we worship.

14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory (Romans 9:14-23)

I opened talking about the Word of God, and this is one of those passages in the Word that I like to hide behind. Paul explains God and He describes man. Who are we to complain before the Almighty God?

Now this putting off in our lives of grumbling and disputing is honoring to God, that is for sure, but there is something else that Paul brings into this picture. We are to put off grumbling so that we “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.”

I want us to see some major contrast here that Paul brings out for us. On the one hand Paul says “blameless, innocent, children of God, without blemish, shining as lights.” On the other hand, in the same verse he’s talking about a “crooked and twisted generation.”

They’re not separated geographically. The general culture is described as crooked and twisted and within that culture are those who are to be blameless, innocent, children of God, without blemish, shining as lights. The contrast between the culture and what God has called His children to be is hugely important. How is the Philippian culture described by Paul? Crooked and twisted.

Crooked is from a Greek word where we get our English word scoliosis. It means bent or curved. In medical terms scoliosis involves an abnormal curvature and misalignment of the spine. The same term has been used to describe anything that deviates from a certain standard of norm. Metaphorically we might say that something is crooked if it does not conform to a standard that we would consider right or normative. Twisted is a very similar word. It has the same basic idea. It may be translated in your Bible as “perverse.” It is a more active word than “twisted.”

What Paul is saying is that the Philippian culture is way off track. It does not line up with what should be normative or right, which is according to the standard of God’s Word. The culture was just messed up. Really messed up. And the Philippians were right there in the middle of it all. God didn’t call them out of that culture, He told them how to live in that culture.

I don’t think we have to work too hard trying to convince each other that our generation here, our culture, is also crooked and twisted. Where can we go where we don’t see signs of a crooked and twisted generation? Where can we go where we would say, “all is right here”? Where can we go in our culture where we would say, “here God’s standards clearly and decisively overshadow a crooked and twisted culture”? In our schools, at our shopping centers, in our theaters, in our government facilities, anywhere you go you see signs of a crooked and twisted generation.

But here is something we need to see. We need to realize and embrace the truth that it is from this crooked and twisted generation that people need to be saved. It’s our mission field. Yes, we can grieve over evil around us. We can lament over worldly philosophies that attempt to displace God. We can wish for a more prominent biblical worldview from our neighbors, but at the same time we must realize that this is not new. It is not strange that we live in a crooked and twisted culture. God will call some out of this confused, unbiblical, God-hating culture for His glory just as He has done for many of us.

We don’t need to shrink back, hide out, run away, live in fear, or sit silently in our culture. No, we need to recognize the need for gospel ministry so that we can step out and shine the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ in our culture.

There is nothing new under the sun, right? At Pentecost, Peter says to those who would hear, in Acts 2:40, “With many words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation!” Jesus identified the scribes and Pharisees as those who were a part of an “evil and adulterous generation.”

That our generation is crooked and twisted just means that we are like every other generation that has gone before us and every generation that will come after us, and that we have a divine responsibility to do something about it. What do we do?

We counter this crooked and twisted generation, what is perverse and adulterous, by embracing God’s goal for us to live for Him, for His glory, to live pleasing lives for Him. We put off selfish living, self-centered, indulgent living, and we live for Him who has died and risen again for us. What does this look like? According to verses 14 and 15 we put off grumbling and disputing, and choose to live as blameless, innocent, children of God, without blemish, shining as lights in this dark world.

Blameless means being without defect or blemish, this means without spiritual or moral blemish. Innocent means being unmixed, it means pure like a pure metal. Without blemish means to be above reproach. All words that we’re familiar with that describe a life that is different than that of the world. All this means that we are to live as children of God. Living as if we have been changed by God, living in a way that says, “old things have passed away and new things have come.” This is living in ways that are not crooked and not twisted but are consistent with God’s Word and His goal and plan for us. And as we do this, as we live differently than the world because we love Christ, something begins to happen. What happens? We begin to shine as lights in the world. Jesus said in Matt 5:14-16:

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. (Matthew 5:14-16)

We live out in the country, and it gets really dark out there. We don’t have street lights. When the night is really dark, one small flashlight can light up a really big space. Light is very powerful in darkness. The heavenly light of a small community of believers in Philippi could shine far beyond their own city to illuminate the way for a crooked and twisted generation lost in the darkness of this world.

I think this helps us to understand who we are. We are to be like stars shining in the world. Lights leading others out of the darkness that has consumed them, into the very presence of Christ Jesus. And verse 16 takes us even further: “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.”

When Paul adds, “holding fast to the word of life,” he is explaining more fully how to become blameless children who shine like lights in a dark world. We shine brightly by holding tightly to and embracing the Word of God. Not just reading it, carrying it around, or having it on our bookshelf. Embracing it, holding to it tightly, because the Word of Life is the source of our light and life in a dark world.

This gives us a positive alternative to the prohibition against grumbling and disputing. Instead of being preoccupied with complaining, we as the church should be occupied with proclaiming the Word of Life. Complaining and grumbling turns off the light, or it dims it significantly. Proclaiming the Word of Life shines the light of Christ into a dark world.

Now, in conclusion I want to do this. There is so much wrapped up in these short three verses, verse 14 from last time and verses 15 and 16 today. There is the command to not grumble and dispute, primarily with God. Paul encourages us not to do this but instead to live as lights in the world, blameless, innocent, without blemish, as children of God. He says we are to also hold fast to God’s Word. He speaks of our world as crooked and twisted, urging us to be different, to realize the contrast and oppose those things which are opposed to God.

“Live as Christians,” he is saying, “no matter what else is going on around you, live as Christians. Don’t stop, don’t get sidetracked, remember that you have been rescued, redeemed and loved by God. Live this way, live differently as Christians.”

And he finishes the paragraph then with what might at first glance seem sort of out of place. All of the sudden he makes this comment concerning himself: “so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.” When I first read that I was like, “Where did that come from?” It is like Paul switches here to himself, concerned about his run and his work.

Paul strongly and urgently desired that fruit would spring from the lives of those to whom he had been ministering. You don’t have to read much of Paul’s writing to see that. He longed to see true faith lived out among these Christians. He certainly wanted to be faithful in their lives but for the purpose that they might be faithful to God. And their faithfulness will effectively prove something; it will prove that they truly do belong to God. And if those he had shepherded and discipled and evangelized to truly belonged to God, then Paul would not have run his race in vain. That is what he longed for, seeing others come out of a crooked and twisted generation and into the light of Christ. That is the message for us. We talk about engaging the culture, and what we see in this passage and others is that we do engage those in the culture with our faith, being a light in a dark place wherever we are. Not hiding or dimming that light with our own behavior. Not being hypocritical in what we say and how we live, but being consistent in that.

14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 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. (Philippians 2:14-16)