Shine Like Stars
by Jack Wald | May 6th, 2018

Philippians 2:14-18

The gospel is simple, but the Bible is not always easy to understand and it can be easily misunderstood.

The gospel, the good news of Jesus, is not complicated. God loves us. Jesus came to rescue us. We need to put our trust in him and believe he is the Son of God. But when we read the books of the Bible, written 2,000 or more years ago, that is where it becomes more complicated. The books of the Bible were written for a specific audience, set in a particular culture, written for a particular purpose. They were not written with a 21st century understanding of how to write history, how the world works, how people relate to each other. In order to understand what we are reading, we need to try to understand how the people who first read or heard the book of the Bible understood it – and then we can translate what they understood into our current culture and worldview.

In Gordon Fee and Doug Stuart’s book, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, they write: “A text cannot mean what it could never have meant for its original readers/hearers.”

This is a book I highly recommend you read. Reading this book will help you unlock the truths of the Bible and allow it to speak to you more clearly and powerfully.

One of the things Fee and Stuart talk about is reading scripture in context. If we go to a verse in the Bible without reading it within the context of the rest of the book, there is a danger of misinterpreting what we read.

So this morning, before I get to the verses for today, let me give an overview of where we have come thus far in Philippians.

Paul is in prison in Rome and he knows the church in Philippi is also experiencing persecution. Philippi was a very patriotic city and loyal to Rome. As part of their loyalty, they were devoted to the Roman emperor, in this case Nero, who was honored at public gatherings and treated almost like a deity. This presented a problem for the followers of Jesus who recognized Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords, which brought them into conflict with the culture of Philippi.

Paul reminds them that they are citizens of heaven and that this is their first loyalty. This is a theme that runs through this letter and he writes in 1:27 “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

They are not only Roman citizens living in Philippi, they are, more importantly, citizens of heaven. As citizens of heaven, how are they to conduct themselves? Paul tells them to “stand firm in the one Spirit.” They are to be unified in their life as a community of followers of Jesus, “striving together as one for the faith of the gospel.”

Live lives worthy of the gospel of Christ. Be united in working together for the faith of the gospel.

The members of the community of followers of Jesus in Philippi might ask again, tell us more specifically what that looks like, and Paul then gives them the example of Jesus in a poem which begins with Jesus “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;” and ends with “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Paul tells them that in their community they need to be like Jesus in their relationships with one another, thinking more of each other than of themselves.

Paul continues and writes in 2:12: “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, Paul is not talking about being obedient to God out of fear of being punished if we are not obedient. Paul is talking about community life, not individual lives. The community, in the way they relate to each other, is to work out its salvation with fear and trembling.

Because they are citizens of heaven, because of who Jesus is, because of what Jesus has done for them, they are to live obedient lives – and that obedience is reflected in their relationships with one another.

So Paul tells them, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing.” Elliot preached from this last week. What is the big deal about grumbling and arguing? Grumbling and arguing weaken relationships, create tensions between people and groups of people, tear apart the unity of the community.

Let me pick up from here and take us through three emphases of verses 14-18.

The first emphasis, not to be missed, is that Paul is letting the Philippians know they are part of the family of God.
14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”

In this sentence Paul is making reference to three Old Testament passages. The first, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing,” comes from the experience of Israel in Exodus 16 when they grew tired of manna, the food God miraculously provided for them each morning, and wanted meat to eat. The second goes back to the renewal of God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17 when God told Abraham to walk before him faithfully and to be blameless. The third goes back to the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32 when he calls Israel a warped and crooked generation.

As Paul pulls these references from the Hebrew Bible, the only Bible anyone at the time knew, there was not yet a New Testament, he encourages the followers of Jesus in Philippi not to grumble and murmur as Israel did in the wilderness. He encourages them to be blameless and pure as God encouraged Abraham to be blameless and pure. And then, he gives the third reference a twist. Moses said that Israel was a warped and crooked generation; Paul labels the culture in which the followers of Jesus in Philippi live, a warped and crooked generation.

In these references, Paul pulls the Gentile followers of Jesus living in Philippi into the larger family of God. Paul is telling them that the story of Israel is their family story. Gentiles were not part of the family of God, but now they have been brought into the family of God.

Paul wrote in his Ephesians letter: (Ephesians 2:11–13)
Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth … were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

What was true for the church in Philippi is also true for us. We were excluded from the family of God but have been brought near by the blood of Christ. The invitation that was given to Abraham and his physical descendants was extended after the resurrection of Jesus to all who submit and receive the gift of salvation Jesus offers.

Jesus never stepped foot in North or South America. He never walked in Southeast Asia. He never preached in Africa. He never touched someone born blind in Europe and healed them.

What was impossible for us has been made possible and we too, not just the physical descendants of Abraham, are welcomed into the family of God. We, the spiritual descendants of Abraham, are God’s beloved and chosen people. The story of Israel is our family story as well.

A second emphasis, not to be missed, is that we are to have a heart for evangelism.
Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life.

Let me take us back, once again, to the Triune God: Father, Son, and Spirit who existed in perfect union for an eternity before the creation of the universe. There was nothing missing in the relationships of Father, Son, and Spirit. There was no need that was not perfectly met. But because the focus of the Triune God is always outward (Father reaching out to Son and Spirit, Son reaching out to Father and Spirit, Spirit reaching out to Father and Son), the fellowship and love experienced by the Triune God led to our creation. We were created to be in fellowship with Father, Son, and Spirit – and with each other, in that same perfect unity.

Because this is the nature of God and because this is why we were created, we are not meant to sit together in church, worshiping and having a great time with each other, without consideration for anyone who is not in church with us. As God reached out to include us in the love experienced by Father, Son, and Spirit, so are we to reach out and include those out in the world around us in our fellowship. Evangelism is not a program of the church used to get more members; evangelism is the heart of God that reaches out to draw those outside of an experience of his love into his family.

In an evangelistic outreach, God made himself known to Abraham and then Isaac and then Jacob. The most magnificent evangelistic tract in the history of the church was the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Jesus lived among us, died, and rose from the dead and he has never stopped reaching out to bring the good news of the gospel to us.

God’s heart needs to be our heart as well. We need an experience of the love of God in our lives that motivates us to reach out to those outside of a relationship with Jesus. His passion needs to become our passion.

How do we do that? Evangelism techniques may be helpful, and some may not be helpful at all. Evangelism is not as simple as teaching you to ask three questions and have answers to give to the three questions you ask. Evangelism comes out of a life lived with Christ and while you, all by yourself, can be a witness for Jesus to the people in your life, the most powerful tool in our evangelism belt is the community we belong to.

When I was a university student and seminarian, I attended Park Street Church in Boston and was part of a university student ministry called Seekers. There were about 600 of us and it was a vibrant ministry that helped me understand what it was like in the early church described in the book of Acts. (Acts 2:42–47)
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

We met for Sunday School before church, went to the morning service, had lunch, came back for a fellowship meeting in the late afternoon, and then attended the evening church service. We met during the week for Bible studies. We shared what we had with each other. I paid for my seminary education, in part, with anonymous gifts from people in the group. And every week there were new people who had become followers of Jesus.

We went out on the streets of Boston and shared our faith. We were very intentional about sharing our faith with others. We invited people to a midweek evening where we played volleyball and then sang, watched skits, and heard someone share their story of how they came to become a follower of Jesus. Evangelism was a big part of what we did. But the most effective evangelistic tool we had was our fellowship.

When people came to our Sunday evening meeting, 5:31 we called it, we sang, prayed, and shared what we had learned from a Bible passage we had all studied during the week. That fellowship meeting was a powerful evangelistic tool. It was not our intention to evangelize at 5:31, this was a meeting for us to share with each other. But when people saw the relationships we had, when they heard the stories of how God was providing for individuals through others in the fellowship, that spoke loudly to visitors who came to see what we did at our meetings, and that led many people to surrender to a relationship with Jesus.

This should not surprise us. Do you remember what Jesus prayed in John 17? (John 17:20–23)
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Jesus prays for the unity of the church so that the world will know Jesus was sent by the Father and that we are loved by God. It is the unity of the church, the life of the church community, that is a witness of what is true.

After Jesus told his disciples he was “the way, the truth, and the life,” Philip said, (John 14:8–9)
“Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.

Jesus revealed who the Father is and we, in our communities of faith, reveal to the world who God is.

Paul’s exhortation is to become blameless and pure so we can be children of God, the beloved daughters and beloved sons of God without fault. We are to encourage and build each other up so that we stand out in stark contrast to the relationships that exist in this “warped and crooked generation.” When this happens, we “shine among them like stars in the sky.”
It is in our relationships with each other, the ways in which we treat each other, the ways we support and encourage each other, that the world sees what God is like.

The world may be impressed with our singing and praise, but what speaks most loudly is how we forgive someone who offended us. The world may be impressed with our teaching or preaching, but what speaks most loudly is how we handle a financial crisis or a health crisis. When we sacrifice for each other and help each other, the world sees the love of Christ in us.

The English teacher my daughters had who forgave the man who was driving drunk when he killed her son, was a star that shone brightly. Corrie ten Boom who forgave the German prisoner guard who had cruelly mistreated her sister, was a star that shone brightly. When we forgive, when we love and care for each other, we are stars that shine brightly.

What this means is that when you break apart a relationship in the church because you feel hurt or irritated, there is far more at stake than your hurt feelings. It is not all about you. It is not simply about how you feel. It is not about your pride, your dignity. It is about our witness for Jesus. For this reason we work to reconcile. For this reason we are quick to forgive and slow to take offense.

We are not perfect, we are not pure, but as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling, we need to put our best effort into our relationships in the church.

The third emphasis, not to be missed, is that there is joy in suffering.
17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.

In Numbers 28 God told Moses to make daily offerings of food, lamb, bread, oil, and wine. The wine which was poured out as part of the sacrifice was a drink offering. This is, of course, the image that was picked up in the New Testament for the blood of Jesus which was poured out for us. We celebrate this each time we observe communion.

This is the image Paul is using in which he faces the very real possibility that his life is coming to an end, his service, his work for Jesus is coming to an end. Paul’s hope is that he will be released from prison and continue to take the gospel into places that have not yet heard the good news of Jesus. But, Paul tells the church in Philippi, even if his life is coming to an end, “I am glad and rejoice with all of you.”

At the end of this letter to the church in Philippi Paul writes: (Philippians 4:4)
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

Syntyche and Euodia are fighting with each other, how are they supposed to rejoice in the Lord? The followers of Jesus are being persecuted because they will not make offerings to Emperor Nero. How are they supposed to rejoice? Paul is in prison, facing the possibility of execution. How is he supposed to rejoice?

We rejoice when we pass our exams. We rejoice when our football team wins. We rejoice when unexpected money comes our way. We rejoice when we get a job or receive a promotion. We rejoice when a baby is born, when a friend gets married, or when a couple celebrates their 25th wedding anniversary. We rejoice when good things come our way.

Paul tells the church in Philippi that even if he dies, he rejoices with the people of the church he loves.

The joy Paul is talking about is not a superficial joy, dependent on the circumstances. Suffering for Paul is wrapped up in his relationship with Jesus and the call he received from Jesus on the road to Damascus to go out with the good news of Jesus and rescue the Gentile world. This was everything for Paul. Paul was completely dedicated to Jesus and what Jesus called him to do. The deep joy that came from his relationship with Jesus and his work with Jesus, was more powerful than any suffering he experienced.

Once again we look to Jesus who is our best example of how to live. (Hebrews 12:1–3)
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Jesus went willingly to the cross because of “the joy set before him.”

Paul started his adult life being proud of his studies with Gamaliel, proud of being a Pharisee. But all that changed when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul never forgot his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus and he followed the example of Jesus throughout his life. He wrote earlier in Philippians: (Philippians 1:21–24)
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.

What made it possible for Paul to rejoice in the midst of his suffering? His joy was not an artificial, superficial, pretend joy. His joy was not a determination to do the right thing, to be brave and courageous in the midst of suffering. His joy came from knowing Jesus, being loved by Jesus, and being convinced that he was working with Jesus to bring people into an eternal family.

There was nothing more important to Paul than Jesus, and it was his great privilege to be called by Jesus to work with him to rescue Gentiles who did not know they were loved by Jesus and welcomed into his eternal family.

As followers of Jesus, we too are citizens of heaven. We have an earthly passport that will be left behind, our heavenly passport will take us into eternity.

Represent your heavenly citizenship well. Live lives worthy of the gospel of Christ.

How do you know if you are doing that? Take time to reflect and consider what you are passionate about. What do you spend most of your time thinking about?

Jesus has brought us into his kingdom so we can be loved. But being loved by Jesus calls us to love others in the way we have been loved. Loving like Jesus means we want to bring others into the relationship with Jesus we have. We don’t hold on to a treasure and keep it to ourselves; we share our treasure with all who will receive it.

I am not asking you to go out this week and evangelize. A friend told me of a youth group who were given a certain number of gospel tracts and told to give them away to people in the coming week. Tracts were put everywhere, under windshield wipers, under doors, in mailboxes. The group did more littering than evangelizing. They were obedient, but were they passionate about sharing their faith?

How do you become passionate about someone or something? There are couples in our church who are engaged or in the process of getting engaged and heading toward marriage. They are passionate in their love for each other. How did this happen? Did they sit down one day and decide to become passionate toward each other? No. Passion comes from the heart. Passion is the natural consequence of falling in love.

So I am not asking you to become passionate about evangelizing. I am asking you to fall deeper in love with Jesus. I am asking you to pray to have the heart of Jesus for the world. I am asking you to pray that you will be passionate about what Jesus is passionate about. I am asking you to pray that you will see other people with the eyes of Jesus.

Sharing our faith comes easily when we have the heart of Christ for the lost in the world.
The biggest problem for many of us is not that we don’t know what to say, our biggest problem is that we are so preoccupied with our own world, our own needs, our own responsibilities that we don’t have time to consider what Jesus is doing in the world. We see people as problems, obstacles, opportunities; Jesus sees these people as people who need to be loved and people he wants to come into his kingdom.

The people we see walking on the streets of Rabat are people Jesus loves. The people we work with, study with, are people Jesus loves. The people we see on the news from every corner of the world, are people Jesus loves. When we see the news, we focus on what is happening to them, what they have done to get themselves on the news. Jesus sees them and wants them to come to him and receive his love.

When we have the heart of Jesus for people, we will naturally pray for them, long for them to open themselves to the love of Jesus. And then, when it is appropriate, we will be able to share with them about our own experience of being loved by Jesus.

This week, pray each morning before you get out of bed that God will help you to have the heart of Jesus for the people you will meet that day. Pray that you will become passionate about your life with Jesus, that you will fall more deeply in love with Jesus.

This brings me back to a quote of Pedro Arrupe that I read a couple weeks ago.

Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.

How can you fall in love with God and be passionate about what he is passionate about? Pray and ask God to help you fall in love with him. This is a prayer he will answer.

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Colossians 3:15–17
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.