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, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
14 Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe 16 as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. 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. – Philippians 2:12-18
I think that the passage we are looking at today is talking about how to be the Church, how to live out the Kingdom of God in the face of a prevailing selfish empire. For those of you who were here last week I want you to think back to the Definition of Humility that Susan read.
“Humility: A freedom from arrogance that grows out of a recognition that all we have and are, comes from God…” (nelson’s illustrated bible dictionary pg 497)
Our passage today is an extension of last week’s passage on Humility, and using Jesus as our example. The first thing I see in this passage is that the act of following Jesus is a process, it’s a journey. It is something that needs to be “worked out.” It is us growing into the kingdom by being empowered by “God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”
Paul knows this is process because he identifies some very common things that get in the way of growth. Paul tells the church to “Do everything without complaining or arguing.”
Can you think of a person who is a persistent complainer? Someone who everything they say has the very distinct “tone” of a complaint. I was thinking about “Humility being a freedom from arrogance” and realized complaining goes totally against this definition of Humility.In contrast, here is Dictionary.com’s definition of complaining:
verb (used without object)
- to express dissatisfaction, pain, uneasiness, censure, resentment, or grief; to find fault
- to tell of one’s pains, ailments, etc.
- to make a formal accusation
Complaining doesn’t serve any purpose in the kingdom, it is completely tied into arrogance. By complaining we try to elevate our position by showing how we don’t deserve the injustice that is put upon us, we complain to seek sympathy, and to elevate our own position above those around us. This goes against Jesus’ teaching on being a servant to others, and against the example of Christ’s humility.
Complaining, taints anything good that a person does. Think about a child (I may or may not be thinking about one of my own children here). If you ask a child to go up stairs and go to bed, and they do exactly that but the whole time they climb that long stair case they complain. They slowly stomp up the stairs saying things like “I don’t want to go to bed, I never get to stay up, you never let me do what I want to do, all the other kids stay up later than this.” They then slam their bedroom door and go promptly to sleep.
- Would you say the child did what they were asked?
- How does the complaining change things?
- How do you think we can fight against the urge to complain?
Paul also warns us against Arguing.
- What do you think the danger is of people in community Arguing?
- What is the difference between Discussing and Arguing?
- Where do we draw the line?
I think some of the verses we have read from Philippians over the last 3 weeks speak to this. In Philipians 1:27 we hear talk of “one spirit.” Or in Philipians 2:2 we hear “…make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” After Paul warns against complaining and arguing chapter 2 he says it is “so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe…”
When we complain and argue as a community it is harder to see the light of God’s Kingdom, our bickering cancels out the light. I like the image of shining like stars. I thought we should think a little bit more about what a star is, I think it’s a powerful metaphor. Here is a clip about stars from the Discovery Channel:
- We can sometimes see echos of the kingdom in nature. Did anyone have any thoughts about what Paul is talking about when watching this video? Any thoughts about stars in general?
One of the things that jumps out to me, is that even though the stars are so huge in comparison to this little rock (called earth) that we live on, the dark vacuum of space around each star is even bigger. But despite that vast darkness, the star’s light penetrates through that gigantic void and eventually reaches even us. The nearest star (other than our sun) is 4.5 light years away. That neighbouring star is so far away that it takes 4.5 years for it’s light to reach us. The space is big and dark but the light of the star is so powerful it’s light eventually is seen all this distance away.
I think it is also important to say that Stars have a beginning and an end. There seems to be a notion that to be a light there is an element of being spent. Paul talks about “…being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice…” and after that he talks about “rejoicing.” This is hard for me to hear – I’m not someone who enjoys any kind of discomfort.
This morning Matt took Peter, Jen and I on a morning bike ride. Matt is a cycling enthusiast and about a month ago he started trying to get a bunch of us together for what he called “an epic bike run.” He was purposing something like a 22 Km ride. I told him that I would like to go on a bike ride but that I think that was a bit much to start with. Matt was sure it was doable until I told him that just the 20 minute ride to his house left me a bit winded. Matt scaled back the epic ride to a scenic ride and we went on a 7 Km water front ride to Westdale, which was a much better first step to being epic.
Just like my bike ride, I think this “shining” and being “poured out” is something that doesn’t come all at once. It is worked on and built up to. It’s the same process an athlete would go through. It is also the same as someone trying to overcome an addiction. It often takes 4 genuine attempts at quitting an addiction (going around and around the stages of change pictured below) for a change to be permanently successful.
I think this process is the same for any follower of Jesus and for us as a church community. We are in a stage of change, we are trying to be more like Jesus. We are trying to look more like the Kingdom. Little things like complaining or arguing, they are hard habits to kick. We are going to fail many times but that doesn’t mean we give up on the process, that we abandon any hope of being “Star Light.” We go around the circle again, we go around the circle again, and we chip away at the stuff that is holding us back.
This is my prayer for us at The Commons:
God, we acknowledge that is hard to look like you,
It is hard to be citizens of your kingdom.
Lord empower us to live sacrificially.
Help us to give up our arguments and our complaints,
And most of all help us not to give up on the process,
That we wouldn’t give up on working out what salvation looks like.
In Jesus’ Name,