Date: 6/6/04
Text: Philippians 2:12-18
Title: Shining Stars
Theme: As God's children, we are to live in harmony and unity for God's and others' sake.

Very often people are attracted to a particular church by its size, programs or sermons. However, once you are in the church, the determining factor of whether or not you stay, is the relationship with others. We have seen situations where no matter how good the programs are, but because of sour relationships, individuals chose to leave the church.
The church at Philippi was experiencing tension, conflicts and disharmony. Paul knew that harmony and unity were the hallmarks of the Christian community. So he wrote this very personal letter to help them regain the unity and harmony they once had.
In chapter 2, Paul gave very specific instructions on how to restore harmony among them. You see, behind the conflicts and especially unresolved ones, is our arch enemy, the devil, Satan, who does his best so God's children will not live as they should. The biggest winner in unresolved conflicts, disharmony and disunity is the devil. Now let us see what we can learn from this passage so we don't fall into the trap of disharmony in this Christian community. This community can be your small group, fellowship group or your family.
I. We are children of God in a muddled world.
2:15b, "…..children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation…..在這彎曲乖謬的世代中,作 神沒有瑕疵的兒女" I want to make two observations in this verse. First, Paul was quoting Deut 32:5, "….they (the Israelites) are no longer his children because they are blemished; they are a crooked and twisted generation.這世代向他行事敗壞,就不是他的兒女,滿有弊病,這實在是個乖僻彎曲的世代." Crooked and twisted described a people that had gone astray from God. Without the absolute truth as the reference point, the Israelites went their own way.
This is true not only in the OT days, in the first century, but in any age and time when God's truth is being rejected. The 21st century is also a crooked and twisted generation. Look at how human beings are treating one another. The abhorring beheading and inhumane incidents in Iraq. Last week two individuals were arrested for killing 3 children under the age of 10 and one of them was decapitated. Individual judges can make moral decisions of marriage of the same gender and the stop the ban on partial birth abortion. When we reject God and his absolute truth, then human reasoning becomes the Norm.
The second observation is that the believers, the children of God, live in crooked and twisted generation. We are in the midst of a broken and fallen world. As children of God, what are some of our characteristics?
First, we are without blemish沒有瑕疵.When we come to faith in Jesus Christ, God puts Christ's righteousness, the unblemished character of Christ on us. It is a character not even God can find reason to criticize. This not because of our merit, it belongs to Christ. This is justification by faith. On the few occasions when I let my son use my credit card, it was accepted not because he had any credit. It was accepted because of my credit. Through faith in Jesus Christ, we are considered as righteous, without blemish.
The second characteristic of children of God is "…you shine as lights in the crooked and twisted generation.在這世代中發光,好像天上的光體一樣" Its like policemen directing traffic at night at the scene of accident. Because of their fluorescent vests, one can't miss them. Children of God are lights shining in the dark and twisted world. You probably notice that the moment you become a Christian, others start to pay attention to how you talk and live. Why, because you are a light and people can't miss you.
The third characteristic of the children of God is "holding fast to the word of life….把生命的道顯揚出來," Without the word of God, the world lives in darkness, with no direction. It is through this word, that we receive the real light, the big and bright light, Jesus Christ. The word gives us this light so we can shine. In this muddled world, we, the children of God are like little lights, pointing others to the big light, Jesus Christ.
In this muddled world, we, the children of God, are without blemish, holding on to the word, shining lights. We are the light and the salt. This is who we are.
II. As children of God, we are obedient to Christ.
There is this famous line in the movie 'Brave Heart", " you will be the king of England, therefore act like one." I am a father, therefore I am to act like one. I am a pastor, therefore I am to act like one. The same is true with children of God. Nothing can change our status as God's children; we are shining stars without blemish, therefore we are to act like one. In this passage, we see several imperatives: work, do and become. These are words of responsibilities and obligations, to be fulfilled by God's children. In 1:27, "Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,…不過,你們行事為人應當和基督的福音相配。這樣,無論我來見你們或是不在你們中間,都可以聽到你們的情況,就是你們有同一的心志,站立得穩,為了福音的信仰齊心努力,.." Paul says that unity and harmony reflects our status as God's children. How do we obtain this unity and harmony? In 2:1-11, Paul urges us to learn from Christ, to be humble and be considerate of others. In 2:12, we are to obey Christ. As God's children, we are to be obedient to Christ, resulting in harmony and unity in the community of believers. There are two aspects of this obedience.
1. Genuine obedience.
In 1:27, Paul urges them to live a life worthy of the gospel whether he was there or absent. In 2:12, he repeats the same idea. To be obedient whether he was there or not. This is genuine obedience.
We parents understand this well. When the children are with us, we don't worry too much. The real test is how they behave when we are not around. What will they be like when they are away to college? Genuine obedience means at all times we are obedient to Christ. If believers are obedient only when the leaders are around, this is a cult and not a church. As children of God, we are to be obedient to Christ, to be humble and gentle like him at all times.
2. God works in us in being obedient.
Our experience has told us how difficult it is to be obedient to Christ, to learn his humility and gentleness. So Paul continues in verse 12 and 13. "…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.這樣看來,我所親愛的,你們素來是順服的,(不但我在你們那裡的時候是這樣,現今我不在,你們更要順服,)就應當恐懼戰兢地作成自己的救恩。 13 神為了成全自己的美意,就在你們裡面動工,使你們可以立志和行事。" Please note that Paul is not saying work for your salvation. Salvation is free. It is given to us when we put our faith in Jesus Christ. Paul is telling us to work out, to manifest this salvation. It is not easy; don't be too confident that it’s a cinch. Do this with fear and trembling.
John Stott said that this is like a marriage. It only takes you about 30 or so minutes to get married. But after the wedding, we spend an entire life time to work at, to adjust, to reflect and to express this relationship. D-day occurred one day 60 years ago today. It took another year before total victory was achieved. The moment we put our faith in Jesus Christ, we are God's children. From that moment on, we begin to work out this relationship, expressing this. Not only this, the scripture also assures us that it is God who has first started to work in us, and continue to work with us. Meaning, God is the one who will help us in working out our salvation; he is the one that will enable us to be obedient, humble and gentle. Yes, we have the responsibility of working out and expressing our salvation by being obedient to God. But God is also there helping us. We are not alone. The issue is not how to be more obedient, but God enables us to be obedient.
III. As children of God, we are to be above reproach.
As children of God, we are to be obedient to Christ. Now Paul gets very specific in what areas we are to be obedient to Christ in order to live in harmony and unity with one another. He wants us to be above reproach.
Vs.14 must come as a surprise to the Philippian Christians, "Do all things without complaining or arguing.無論作甚麼,都不要發怨言、起爭論," All things. You must be kidding. If I understand you and myself correctly, if there is no complaining and arguing in everything, our meeting time will be cut by half, and we'll run out of conversation topics in no time.
In the NT, complain means selfish, unbalanced criticism of some matters. Being impatient towards what is not understood. It is used to describe how the Israelites complain to God in the wilderness. We often criticize others for how they do things, especially how they differ from us. When we grumble and complain, then there can be no harmony.
The word arguing or question is an inward attitude and activity of mind. When we put complain and argue together, it is about outwardly expressed and inward criticism of others. When we complain and argue with one another, there can hardly be any harmony and unity. Paul is saying, do everything without those self-centered criticism of any kind, either spoken or silent. This is a tall order to fill, isn't it?
This does not mean that we are to cover up any disagreement we may have with each other. We are to bring them out, to talk about it, have meaningful discussion and try to resolve those differences. There are times we also have to learn to disagree with each other and still live in harmony and unity. I like to share these words by St. Augustine: In essentials, unity, In non essentials, liberty, and in all things, charity.
Besides doing all things without complaining and arguing, we are also urged to become "blameless and pure無可指摘、純真無邪"(2:15). Blameless refers to how others see us, that there is no room for just criticism by others. This does not mean that we do not make mistakes. When we make mistakes, we acknowledge them. When we have sinned against God and men, we confess our sins. The word pure refers to who I am inside. What are my thoughts towards things or you when I am at home alone? That is the true and real me.
So, Paul is saying that we are not to entertain those unbalanced criticisms of others, and also to remove all cause of just criticism against ourselves. We are to be above reproach.
As children of God, we are to behave like one. That is, to be obedient to Christ. We're to be humble and gentle, do all things without complaining and arguing, and give others no room to criticize us. In other words, for the sake of God, live in harmony and unity with one another.
IV. As children of God, we are to be thoughtful of others.
Vs.16b-18, "so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.把生命的道顯揚出來,使我在基督的日子可以誇耀我沒有空跑,也沒有徒勞。 即使把我澆奠在你們信心的祭物和供奉上,我也喜樂,並且和你們大家一同喜樂。 照樣,你們也要喜樂,並且要和我一同喜樂." Paul is saying, when you are obedient to Christ, living in harmony and unity, it will give me great joy. This will bring me great joy, even as I am in prison. This will bring me great joy, even if I am to die in prison. It will bring me great joy for I know my labor was not in vain. Earlier Paul says that because you are children of God, or for God's sake, be harmonious with one another. Now, he is saying, for my sake, be harmonious and united with one another. Yes, as children of God, we not only are to be considerate to God, but also to one another. We don't just look into our own interests, but also the interests of others.
Cynthia and I went to the retreat at my formal church. My concern is, are they living in harmony and unity with each other? When I hear incidents of disputes and disunity, I feel sad. My heart rejoices when I hear stories of harmony. There are many others who care about you, me and this church. They care whether or not we live in harmony and unity. As children of God, we must be considerate of others. So for others' sake, let us be obedient to Christ by living in harmony and unity.
No one likes to live in a community or family that is filled with disharmony. It drains our energy and we want out.
You see, when God first created the world, it was in perfect harmony and unity just as He is. However, when sin entered the world, what was perfect became imperfect. The creation was filled with disharmony. God's redemption was to restore this harmony between men and himself and with each other. For this reason, Jesus placed a high value that his disciples live in harmony and unity.
I still remember a family that used to live in Almaty several years ago. Non Christians were attracted to them because they felt calm and harmony in this family. Believer' unity and harmony are the most powerful affirmation that we belong to Christ.
For this reason, Paul reminds us that as God's children, for God's sake, live in harmony and unity. As God's children, for Others' sake, live in harmony and unity. This is how our lights shine in a crooked and twisted world, pointing others to the great light, Jesus Christ.