The first half of Philippians chapter 2 deals with Jesus Christ, our example in love, humility, suffering, compassion, and obedience. Believers are exhorted to have the same attitude that was in Christ Jesus (2:5).
But Philippians 2:12–30, a text of focus in this write-up, shows how believers can shine like stars in the universe. The key question that this pericope raises is: How can we shine like stars in a dark world (see Phil. 2:15b; Matt. 5:14).
Paul reminded the Philippian believers that they lived in a “crooked and depraved generation”. A language drawn from Deut. 32:5, 20 describing the wilderness/tangatanga generation. A generation that did not shine for God but were characterized with ungodliness and rebellion. It was a generation that was ungrateful, always complaining, and unbelieving. Jesus also talked of a “perverse generation” (Matt. 17:17), and apostle Peter talked of a “corrupt generation” (Acts 2:40).
But in what sense are we today living in a “crooked and depraved generation”? People live as enemies of God, do not value or believe the truth… Most people have turned their backs on God.
So, we have a unique role to fulfil in a dark world- That is, not to leave but to live and shine the light of Christ.
Biblical Principles that can help us shine like Stars in a Dark world:
- Work out your salvation with fear and trembling (v.12-13)- Our God-given gracious gift of salvation requires some working out. It is like a baby that should be nursed to maturity, it is like a investment that needs to be multiplied, it is like a farm that need to be cultivated…. This is a daily activity.
Salvation is such a precious gift from God that we should hold it dearly and treasure it. It should be done “With fear and trembling”- knowing that by our own, with our weaknesses and unworthiness, we cannot make it (Jn. 15:5). But that God works in us… to accomplish his good purpose.
The external world may be full of darkness, but our hearts are continually lit by the light and hope of salvation. The Spirit of God works in us to bring to completion the good work that God has begun.
So, we have a responsibility to nurture our spiritual lives. Thankfully, God enables us in this process.
Spiritual growth does not happen by chance or by wish. It takes hard work. Beware of the real danger of being nominal and lukewarm. Maturity and Christian character is not achieved unless we take deliberate steps of denial and sacrifice.
- Do everything without complaining or arguing (v. 14-15)– Note that these verbs are in present tense highlighting the idea of continuity of the behavior. Paul might have been thinking about the wilderness generation who complained to Moses and to God (Ex. 16:7; Num 11:11; Cor. 10:10). Most likely Philippians were complaining (to God and each other) and arguing (with each other); which is a sin. God hates complaining. Complaining makes us unholy and impure. We cannot shine like stars in our generation when in our speech we are always full of complaining like everybody else around us. We need to develop a grateful spirit.
Through all trials and suffering Jesus underwent, he did not complain. Do (much of the complaining/discontentment deals with things we ‘do’- see the story of Jesus, Mary and Martha) everything without complaining. The root cause of complaining is rebellion and disobedience; Israelites for example complained because they did not want to do what the Lord wanted them to do.
Remember, Jesus, our example, went through trials and endured without complain.
- Hold fast/firmly the word of life (v. 16)-
The word is the gospel. It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes (Rom 1:16). It is a powerful word that is able to transform people’s lives. It is the word that brought things into being that were not (Gen. 1) and calmed a raging storm (Matt. 12:13). It is the word that can release divine power in our lives. The Thessalonians received this word and treated it specially, not as words of men (1 Thess. 2:13). It is powerful and authoritative word in matters of faith and practice. It reveals, nourishes, perfects.
The word of God is qualified by ‘life’ (cf. 1 Jn. 1:1). The word gives life (it is the spiritual food that sustains a Christian- Jn 6:63). It is the word of life because it proclaims the true life in Christ; it is a message of salvation and new life Acts 13:26; 5:20). It is what offers life in a lifeless world. It is what brings light in a dark world.
Philippians, just like us today, were reminded to “hold firmly”/believing this word till the return of Christ.
- Always Rejoice, be glad (v. 17-18)– Whatever outcome of the trial Paul rejoiced in Christ because the name of Christ will be eventually honored. God’s control over every circumstance should cause us to always rejoice.
Paul viewed his death as imminent; and saw himself being “poured out like a drink offering” (being an act of worship); a similar language used in 2 Timothy 4:6. But still Paul counted all possible eventualities joy!
- Honoring good examples in our midst (v. 19-30)- Paul singled out Timothy and Epaphroditus for their critical role in his missionary life and activity. These two were unique gifts from God to paul and his ministry. God gave Paul a vision but he also raised people to support him.
Timothy– He was a spiritual son of Paul, who had joined him during his second missionary journey. He was raised us by a Jewish mother and a Gentile father. Paul had something to mention about him.
Paul confessed “I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare”. In a generation where young men took care of their own interests first, in a world where preachers preached what people’s itching ears wanted to hear, Timothy stood out as one who dearly loved God and His people.
Paul had certainly observed this over time to have said this of Timothy. Paul must have noticed his genuine concern and passion for God’s people and for the growth of the churches planted. To Paul, Timothy was a rare example to be honored and emulated. He had God’s people in his mind and earth. Paul hoped to send him so that he can receive news about the Philippians.
To be able to administer to Paul in his difficult situation, Timothy must have had a servant heart. He is an example to all even today.
Epaphroditus– He was a Gentile believer who had been send by the Philippian church to attend to Paul’s needs and to deliver church’s “gift” (financial support) to Paul (Phil. 4:18). Paul highly commends this individual, he is a: brother, fellow worker, fellow soldier, and messenger.
He became ill, when with Paul, and almost died but God had mercy on him.
The church of Philippi and these two individuals were among the key churches and associates of Paul behind Paul’s successful ministry among the Gentiles. As God gives a vision, he also brings right people/groups to support the mission.
What were Philippians supposed to do with them? The Philippians were to honor and welcome such men- people who risk their lives (all) for the sake of the gospel and ministers of the gospel. A fake shepherd would not risk their lives for the sheep.
They were to emulate and honor them. The world may not accord honor, value, or recognize their efforts but the church and believers should. They were diligent and faithful servants of God. They may not lay them a red-carpet or scrubbing of streets; but should be received honorably and heartily.
Like Jesus, these two took the roles of a servant. How many of such people do we have today?
Sometimes we feel the darkness around us is overwhelming. But we are called to shine like stars in the universe. Don’t be bothered by darkness around us, stars shine brighter when it is darker. Darkness brings them out. May God raise godly and resourceful people along our paths to nurture the gift of God in us into fruition. Those who shine for God NOW, will in the coming kingdom shine like stars forever (Dan 12:3)