March 11, 2013
Do you have star quality?
While surfing the Internet, I discovered that there are numerous online quizzes to help answer that question. The quiz I took asked things like “What sort of music do you listen to?” and “Can you take constructive criticism?” and “What do you like to do late at night?” I think I blew the last question because I like to go to bed at some point.
Real stars stay up and party, or something like that.
I clearly don’t qualify for the world’s version of star quality (not that I was worried about it). I was amused when my quiz returned the following result: “Not a star. You are an average person. Average can be a good thing. Your friends will like you for you and you’re more of a people person. Just remember to keep your dreams alive.” I thought that was a lot to conclude on the basis of 10 questions that took maybe 20 seconds to answer.
But I never thought I was a star, at least not in the way the world defines the term, e.g. “Any famous person in the world of entertainment or sports.” A recent survey revealed the nineteen most popular stars on Twitter. The list started with Chris Brown at number nineteen and ended with Lady Gaga at number one. In between were luminaries such as Eminem, Brazilian soccer superstar KaKa, President Obama, Oprah, Katy Perry and Justin Bieber.
That does clarify the matter somewhat. Few of us move in that rarefied atmosphere. I do not envy them nor do I begrudge them their moment in the spotlight. But it did make me stop and think:
Who are the stars from God’s point of view?
Who are the heavenly celebrities who shine like stars? For Christians this is a familiar image. Jesus himself said, “You are the light of the world . . . Let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14, 16). Paul said the same thing in Philippians 2:15, “You shine like stars in the world.” The word “star” was also used in the first century for a navigational beacon that would shine in the dark to lead the ships safely into the harbor. Christians are bright stars in a dark world. We are put here to shine the light and so guide others safely home to God.
Paul told the Philippians that they were “stars in the world.” How do you spot star-quality Christians? Philippians 2:12-18 clearly answers that question. Star-quality Christians have made 5 important commitments. (I am borrowing this outline in part from David Jeremiah, Turning Toward Joy.)
I will do my part
“So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (v. 12).
Notice Paul’s first exhortation: “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Many people have been confused by this statement because they read it as if it said, “work for your salvation.” That of course is impossible since Paul himself clearly says in Ephesians 2:8-9 that we are saved by grace through faith and “not by works.” You cannot work your way into salvation, it is the “gift of God.”
What then does this verse mean? I think the answer is found in the next verse where Paul reminds us that “it is God who is working in you.” Salvation always starts with God. He first “works” in us to save us and then we are to “work out” what God “works in.” In the first century the verb “work out” was used for mining silver. Workers would enter the mine and bring out the silver that was already there. In the same way we are to “work out” the implications of our salvation in every area of life.
Salvation always starts with God
Salvation starts when you accept Jesus but it never ends there. True salvation affects every part of your life. If salvation makes no difference in the way you live, what’s the point of being saved? If it doesn’t change the way you talk and think and make big decisions, if it doesn’t change your worldview and the way you evaluate your own career, what’s the point of being saved at all? A salvation that doesn’t change you is hardly worth having.
What does it mean to “work out” your salvation? For one thing, it radically changes the way you view God’s will. Here is the great question of life for every believer: Am I willing to do God’s will with no strings attached? Many of us put conditions on our obedience to God. We’re willing to obey if God will promise to keep us safe and healthy, if he will guarantee us a good job, a happy family, no problems with our children, a long life and a good retirement. Let me say plainly that the God of the Bible makes no such deals with his children. The call of Christ is always the same: “Come, follow me.” We are called to follow Christ and to leave all the other details in his hands.
Many of us put conditions on our obedience to God
So let me ask you this question: Are you willing to do God’s will with no strings attached?
I will depend on God
“For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out his good purpose” (v. 13).
We’ve already noted the phrase “for it is God who is working in you” in verse 13. This gives the perfect balance. We do our part because God always does his part first. God always makes the first move. Salvation is God’s work from first to last. It’s perfectly fine to say “I found the Lord” so long as you remember that the Lord found you first.
This verse also tell us that God gives both the will and the ability to do what he commands. First, he changes our “want-to” and then he provides the power to obey.
God’s intends to give us all that we need in every situation so that we can do his will
One final observation. God’s intends to give us all that we need in every situation so that we can do his will. He will “enable us” by his Spirit so that we will both desire his will and then we will do it. I find this thought very encouraging. Often we look at what we lack and conclude that our problems are greater than our potential. But those constraints (of time or energy or money or people or material resources) are given to us by God. Again and again he puts us in positions where we are unable to do anything without his help.
Then he helps us!
What God demands, he supplies. This truth comes to the heart of the gospel itself. When God demands full payment for sin, he supplies his Son whose death fully pays the debt we owe. But that truth doesn’t apply only to our past experience of forgiveness. It describes how God deals with his children day by day. What we need, he supplies. He gives us the inner strength to do his will, and then he makes a way so that we can do it.
Yes, we must do our part, but we could never do our part unless God did his part first. And “his part” involves giving us both the desire and whatever else we need to fulfill his purpose for us. Let us then set forth every day, with all the energy we have, to do God’s will, knowing that we already have whatever we need to do his will that day. And if we need anything else along the way, he will give it to us.
I will not complain
“Do everything without grumbling and arguing” (v. 14).
Star-quality Christians make a third commitment. In the Greek the word “arguing” might be better translated as “murmuring.” It’s a word whose sound conveys the meaning, like the English words hiss or hum. It has the idea of muttering under your breath.
We could never do our part unless God did his part first
Do we understand that complaining is an attack on God’s sovereignty? Every time you complain about your circumstances, you are really saying, “If I were God, I would do things differently.” The complainer has forgotten the first rule of the spiritual life: He’s God and we’re not.
Over the years I have traveled to many parts of the world, including some very difficult places in Africa and Asia. After many visits in many places, I can tell you that rarely have I heard any complaints, even from those facing persistent opposition to the preaching of the gospel. I recall hearing about a man who saw great success in preaching the gospel in southern Nigeria. Thousands of tribal people came to Christ. Later he was transferred to the largely-Muslim region of northern Nigeria where after many years of hard labor, he had only gathered a few converts. Same man, same gospel message. Yet different results. But no complaints against the Lord. “I was told early in my ministry,” he said, “to focus on Christ, not on the hardness of the Muslim religion.”
What we look at determines what we see
It’s all a matter of focus, isn’t it? What we look at determines what we see. If we focus on our problems, they will fill our minds until we see nothing else. No wonder we complain and mutter and murmur under our breath. But when we focus on the Lord and his goodness, we see our problems in the light of eternity. God doesn’t work on our timetable. Once we grasp that, we will not complain against the Lord.
I will be different to make a difference
“So that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world. Hold firmly the message of life” (vv. 15-16a)
With this commitment we come to the heart of our text. Paul uses three key words to describe how we should live:
1) Blameless–above reproach. No serious accusation can stick.
2) Pure—high-quality, unmixed alloy. What you see is what you get.
3) Faultless–fit to be offered to God-like a lamb without spot or blemish.
We will make an impact on the world by lives that are visibly, observably, measurably, noticeably and obviously different from the people around us. We are to be different to make a difference. Our values set us apart from the surrounding culture.
We are to be different to make a difference
Why is it so important that we be “straight arrows” in our lifestyle? Because we live in a “crooked and perverted generation.” The word “crooked” comes from the Greek word skolios, from which we get the English word scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. The word “perverted” is much stronger and in essence means crooked by choice. Some people are messed up because they don’t know any better, while others live that way by choice.
Recently I’ve been reading a great deal about the same-sex marriage debate. It seems that our nation has decided to embark on a great social experiment in which we will overturn tradition, history and basic morality to legally recognize homosexual marriage. I mention that in order to make this comment. The best apologetic against same-sex marriage will be truly biblical marriage between a man and a woman lived out in the power of the Holy Spirit. Whenever I do a wedding ceremony, I make some comments about how a biblical marriage pictures the relationship between Christ and the church. Properly understood, a healthy marriage is a powerful evangelistic witness in a corrupt and dying generation. I tell the couple standing in front of me that I’m praying that their marriage will be “a window in time through which others catch a glimpse of eternity.”
A truly Christian marriage is a powerful witness
To be clear about it, I think every Christian must be heard from in this great cultural crisis. Recent events have made it clear that neutrality is impossible. There is no place to hide on this issue. Sooner or later, we all have to make a stand, even when it may cost us greatly. Having said that, I agree with the larger point that if we ever hope to convince others, let us first show to the world what a marriage designed by God looks like. It will not be perfect because marriage always involves the union of two imperfect people, but by God’s grace Christian marriage can be blameless and pure. Such a marriage will be a thing of beauty, a light shining amid the prevailing cultural ruins.
How do you show someone that they are using a crooked stick?
By laying a straight stick next to it.
We can argue until the cows come home and it won’t make any difference.
“Your stick is crooked.”
“No, it isn’t.”
“Yes, it is.”
“I’m telling you it’s not crooked.”
“I’m telling you it is crooked.”
We don’t get very far that way. But let us simply and quietly resolve to live out our faith in the most beautiful way possible, by showing forth the glories of Christ in a truly Christian home, where the husband and wife love each other, where they lay down their lives for each other, where the children are raised to know and love the Lord, where the home is marked by joy, freedom, commitment, holiness and hospitality.
The change we seek must start with us
Such a marriage will change a neighborhood.
Change a neighborhood and you change a city.
Change a city and you change a state.
Change a state and you change a nation.
Change a nation and you change the world.
Not all at once, not by ourselves, not without the movement of God’s Spirit, not without spiritual warfare, not without a great turning to God.
But it can happen.
And this is the only way it will happen.
The change we seek must start with us.
The world can ignore our arguments, but it cannot ignore a godly example.
There is no answer for a life, a marriage and a family transformed by God’s Spirit.
What happens when we live like that? The world notices the difference!
1) We will shine like stars
2) We will hold forth the word of life.
People will see the way we live, they will notice the difference, the light of Christ will be seen in us, and when they ask us the reason for the way we live, we can share the word of life with them
I will live for others
“Then I can boast in the day of Christ that I didn’t run in vain or labor for nothing. But even if I am poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. In the same way you also should rejoice and share your joy with me” (vv. 16b-18).
Here is the final commitment we must make: to live for others and not for self. Paul explains it in two key phrases. First, he says he looks forward to boasting about the Philippians when Christ returns (v. 16b). Paul envisions a day when he will stand before the Lord Jesus Christ and give an account of his ministry. In that day he plans to boast about what the Philippians had done for their own generation. That leads me to another question. What will you boast about when you stand before the Lord? Your job . . . a big bank account . . . a new house . . . all the important people you know? Do you think that will impress the Lord Jesus Christ? I don’t think so. In that day the only thing that will matter is the impact you had on others for the cause of Christ. Everything else will fade away.
What will matter when we stand before Christ?
Second, Paul mentions being “poured out as a drink offering” on their behalf (v. 17). This refers to the Old Testament practice of pouring wine on top of an animal sacrifice so that the heat of the fire immediately vaporizes the wine, turning it into a beautiful aroma. He is saying, “Even if I end up losing my life for you, it won’t matter to me as long as you live for Christ.” With that statement we come to the bottom line of Christian service. I wonder how many of us can truly say that it doesn’t matter whether we live or die so long as the people we know follow the Lord?
A Visit to Miango
Years ago Marlene and I traveled to Jos, Nigeria to visit some missionaries who served there. On the final weekend of our trip, we traveled a few miles west of Jos to the Miango Rest Home. The term “rest home” conveys a particular image in America. In Nigeria it means something like a church camp or a conference center. It’s an idyllic spot in a rural area, a perfect place for missionaries to rest from their labors. As I walked across the grounds, I came to a lovely church built from field stone called Kirk Chapel. It is a quiet place, an oasis, a place to meet God. Behind it I came upon the missionary graveyard. It contains about 60 graves of men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of the gospel. Half or more of the graves are children, most of them dying in the first few days or weeks of life. I was told that in the early part of the 20th century the life expectancy of a missionary to Africa was only eight years.
God’s grace is free but it is never cheap
I saw a grave with a man’s name and then the dates 1919-1953. The marker read, “Placed in loving memory by his wife and children.” Underneath were two words: “Abundantly Satisfied.” The inscription for one young girl reads, “She is with her best friend and Lord, Jesus.”
The missionary graveyard at Miango sends this message: God’s grace is free but it is never cheap. The missionaries and their children buried there bear testimony to the high cost of the Great Commission. Reaching the world has never been easy and Jesus knew that it wouldn’t be. That’s why he said, “You will have suffering in this world” (John 16:33). It has always been true from the very first day. First, they killed the prophets, then they killed the apostles one by one, except for John who died in exile on Patmos.
Many centuries ago Tertullian declared that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Wherever the church has gone, the cost of a new field has always been paid in blood. I saw a marker at Miango for a little child who died many years ago. The inscription read something like this: “We plant this seed in the hope that it will someday bear a harvest of souls for the Kingdom.”
The world has its stars and God has his
What can we say about those who are buried at Miango? My mind ran to Hebrews 11:35-38 and its list of believers who suffered for their faith. “Others were tortured and refused to be released . . . Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated.” And then this wonderful phrase: “The world was not worthy of them.”
Does it seem like too much? Does it seem as if the price was too high to pay? Before you answer, remember what God did when he sent his Son to the world. Think of what it cost him to provide salvation for a human race that had turned against him. God also buried his Son on the mission field. (See “Small Sacrifices” by Charles Edward White, Christianity Today, June 22, 1992)
“You are the light of the world” . . . “You shine like stars in the world.”
The world has its stars and God has his.
God help us to shine like stars so that others will see Jesus in us.
Lord Jesus, it is so easy to make excuses for the way we live. Forgive us for trying to make deals with you. Bring us to the place where we will say, “I am ready to do your will with no strings attached.” Thank you for grace that is free but is never cheap. And thank you for the shining example of those who have laid all on the altar of sacrifice. Grant that we might do the same for the sake of the gospel. Amen.