Shining Like Stars

Philippians 2:12-18

May 22, 2005 | Brian Bill

An older woman walked into a department store one day and was surprised when a band began to play and an executive pinned an orchid on her dress and handed her a crisp $100 bill.  She didn’t know it but she was the store’s one millionth customer.  Television cameras zoomed in and a reporter started interviewing her.  The first question she was asked was this: “Tell me, just what did you come here for today?”  The lady hesitated for a moment and then answered sheepishly, “I was on my way to the Complaint Department.”

Likewise, many Christians spend a lot of time in the Complaint Department.  George Will wrote an article earlier this month in the Washington Post that stated in part:

“Some Christians should practice the magnanimity of the strong rather than cultivate the grievances of the weak.  But many Christians are joining today’s scramble for the status of victims.  There is much lamentation about various ‘assaults’ on ‘people of faith.’  Christians are indeed experiencing some petty insults and indignities…But their persecution complex is unbecoming because it is unrealistic” (, 5/5/05).

Do others refer to you as a sour saint or do they smile when they hear your name?

Do you agree with him?  Do we have a persecution complex?  Are we known more for being victors or victims?  Do non-Christians see us as worshipers or whiners?  Are we perceived as kind or are we considered cantankerous?  Why are evangelicals often depicted as angry?  Are we known more for what we’re against instead of what we’re for?  Do people understand your political views but don’t have a clue about your personal faith?   Do others refer to you as a sour saint or do they smile when they hear your name?  These are good questions to ask.

Our passage in Philippians has some helpful truths to frame our responsibilities in both the church and culture today.  Please turn in your Bibles to Philippians 2:12-18.  I want to begin by reading just the first word in verse 12: “Therefore…”  Paul is linking what he has written in the first eleven verses of Philippians 2 with what comes next.  Specifically, he’s saying this: Based upon the sacrificial service and death of Christ, we must follow his example by serving and putting others before ourselves.  His plea in verses 1-4 is for unity.  Our pattern is Jesus himself, as found in verses 5-11.  And now, in verses 12-18, we are given the process we are to go through.  We move then from exhortation to example to expectation.

I want you to notice the next phrase: “…my dear friends…”  I love how Paul treats the Philippians.  They have problems with pride, they’re dealing with disunity, and two women are in a big fight, but Paul says they are “dear” to him.  He picks up on this theme again in 4:1: “…my brothers, you whom I love and long for…dear friends!”  After highlighting their reciprocal relationship, he next affirms the fact that they are committed to obedience: “…as you have always obeyed.”  This is an example of “catching someone doing something right.”  He affirms them for what they’ve been doing, while encouraging them to go to the next level.

With that as an introduction, Paul establishes six ways that we are called to work in tandem with God.  1 Corinthians 3:9 says that “we are God’s fellow workers.”  

1. Work out your salvation (v. 12). 

At first glance, this doesn’t sound quite right, does it?  Let’s look at what Paul is saying a little more closely: “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” We don’t work “for” our salvation, or “toward” it, or even “at” it, but we are to work “out” our salvation.  Remember, Paul is writing to the Christian community, and he uses the plural pronoun for “you,” meaning he is addressing the entire church.  This means that we are to live out what we know to be true.  Since we are saved, we must behave as believers.  The word “work” means to “work fully to the point of finishing the job.”  It was used by the Romans for “working a mine” completely, getting out every piece of valuable stone.  Likewise, we are to mine the depths of our rich redemption.  At salvation God deposited a wealth of blessings into our lives; now we must go down deep to experience and enjoy what we’ve been given.

The phrase “fear and trembling” helps us see that we must never take our faith lightly or tritely.  “Fear” describes fright or terror and reverential awe.  We must have such a reverence and respect for God that we will be afraid to sin, coupled with a strong desire to please Him.  That’s what Exodus 20:20 states: “…The fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”  If you find yourself sinning all the time and not really being bothered by it, it could be because you have lost your fear of God.  

The word “trembling” means “to quake with fear.”  Isaiah 66:2 tells us that God wants us to have this kind of attitude when we approach Him: “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.”   Psalm 2:11 brings both fear and trembling together: “Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling.”  We can revere God and rejoice in Him, which are two values in our corporate singing time.  We want our music to be both reverent and full of rejoicing.  John MacArthur writes: “Believers should have a serious dread of sin and a yearning for what is right before God.”

When we contemplate our lostness, our deep depravity, and our inability to save ourselves, we can’t help but tremble at the thought of getting what we deserve.  And then we should live our lives accordingly and worship Him fully as stated in Hebrews 12:28-29: “…Let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire.’”  We must get serious about our salvation and as God’s redeemed, we must live responsibly.

2. Let God work in your sanctification (v. 13). 

Verse 13 really needs to be read with verse 12.  The reason we can work “out” our salvation is because God has worked salvation “in” us: “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good pleasure.” The word “work” here means active and efficient effort; we get the word “energy” from it.  God’s work involves two aspects:

  • God works in our will.  God first moves our desires to become aligned with His.
  • God works to make us act.  After changing our motives, He gives us the might to do what is right.

Let me give you a suggestion.  Instead of saying to God after you sin, “I really wanted to obey you,” some of us need to be more honest and cry out, “God, I disobeyed you and did what I wanted to do and not what you wanted me to do.  Would you please create within me a desire to do your will, and then give me the devotion to do it?”

God empowers our desires and also gives us the energy to do our duties.  He alone makes us willing and able.  We must first decide and then we can do, and God energizes both our deciding and our doing.  And He does all this for “His good pleasure.”  God sanctifies us for our good, but ultimately He does it for His glory.  He wants us to think and do what pleases Him.  On the one hand, as verse 12 teaches, our reverence for God should keep us from sinning.  On the other hand, knowing that God rejoices at our obedience should motivate us to do what is right.  The phrase “good pleasure” expresses the idea of “great enjoyment” and “satisfaction.”  That reminds me of what John Piper likes to say, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”  Your growth in sanctification brings God great satisfaction.

These two verses, when taken together, teach the biblical truth that we are responsible to do what we can do, and at the same time, God is sovereign and in control of everything.  We can only do because of what God has done in our lives.  We can work out because God has worked in.  David recognized this when he gave God all the credit for His work of grace that led to the people’s generosity in 1 Chronicles 29:14: “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this?  Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.”  Hebrews 13:21 says essentially the same thing: May God “…equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him.”  God equips us to do His will, and He works in us so that we can do it.  He empowers us to do what He is asking us to do.  As Lehman Strauss says, “God has assumed the responsibility for the inworking, we are responsible for the outworking.”  We are to work out what God has worked in

3. Work on your speech (v. 14). 

One way we are to live out our responsibility is to work at sanctifying our speech.  We see this in verse 14: “Do everything without complaining or arguing.”  The word “do” is another word that emphasizes work.  It’s an imperative and the tense of the verb indicates that it’s a job that’s not yet been completed; therefore we need to work at our words.  Notice that this is a command that covers “everything.” In the original, it’s emphatic and actually reads this way: “All things do without…” Paul doesn’t say, “Try to work on your speech once-in-awhile, when you feel like it, or just when you’re in church.” The “everything” here covers every situation, every place, every inconvenience, and every irritation.

“Complaining” is the low-toned muttering we do against God and others that often takes place at an emotional level.  The word literally means, “A secret displeasure in the heart, and a sullen discontent that leads to criticism.”  I don’t often quote Greek words because it’s difficult enough for me to speak English, but in this case, I want to teach this one to you because it’s a word that actually sounds like grumbling or complaining.  It’s an onomatopoeic word, which simply means it sounds like what it means, kind of like “hiss” or “hum” or “murmur.”  Let see if we can say it together: “Gongusmon…Gong-goose-moan.”

1 Corinthians 10 teaches that there are few sins as ugly as complaining.  Listen to verses 9-11: “We should not test the Lord, as some of them did-and were killed by snakes.  And do not grumble, as some of them did-and were killed by the destroying angel.  These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us.”  Verse 12 reminds us that if we think we’re not in the camp of the complainers, we should be careful, because it’s just a short step down the slippery slope of complaining.  Then, in verse 13, which is a verse that many of us have memorized, we learn that God will give us a way of escape from a complaining spirit: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”  This verse is in the context of avoiding a complaining spirit.  God will give you a way out of grumbling if you’ll look for it.

Israel’s stumbling led to grumbling, which resulted in God’s judgment.  When we come to the Book of Numbers, God is no longer gracious with the grumblers, like He was in Exodus.  Why is that?  Because now they have the Law and they should know better.  Ultimately, all grumbling, whether directed at people or problems, is really against God.  In Numbers 16, Korah and his cantankerous cohorts complain about their leaders, but Moses knows that they are really going after God in verse 11: “It is against the Lord that you and all your followers have banded together.  Who is Aaron that you should grumble against him?” As a result of their mumbling and grumbling, over 14,000 people paid for their protest with their lives.  James 5:9: “Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged.  The Judge is standing at the door!”  As Romans 9:20 asks, “But who are you, O man, to talk back to God?”

Arguing takes place when our complaining moves from our heart to our heads and then vomits out of our mouths

“Arguing” is when our complaining spills over into conversations, when our misery seeks to manipulate others to comply with our complaints.  Arguing takes place when our complaining moves from our heart to our heads and then vomits out of our mouths.  Arguing often stirs up doubts and suspicions.  Someone has said that this happens as we pass around our poison to others, when our silent grumbling turns to open arguing.  Proverbs 29:8: “Mockers stir up a city, but wise men turn away anger.”  Isn’t that the order in which this usually happens?  We get upset and it affects our emotions, and then we look for some intellectual reasons to justify why we’re so angry.

Max Lucado tells of the man who came home one day and immediately his wife started complaining which led to an intense argument.  Arriving at 6:30 in the evening, he spent an hour trying to make things right.  Nothing worked.  Finally he said, “Let’s start over and pretend I’m just getting home.”  He stepped outside and when he opened the door, she said, “Its 7:30 at night and you’re just now getting home?” (“Just Like Jesus,” Page 107).

By the way, if you want to know if you are a complainer or an arguer, listen to what kinds of pronouns you use.  If you employ “they” or “him” or “her,” more than “us” or “we” you may be a grumbler.  It might sound like this: “Why do they do this?  Why did they say that?  What was he thinking?  Where did she come up with that?”   Friends, there is no “they,” because the “they” is “us.”

Actually, as we remember the context of this passage, and consider others as more important than ourselves, we will stop grousing and griping.  Proverbs 13:10 states: “Pride only breeds quarrels…”  A negative example of this is found in Mark 9:33-34 when we read that the disciples “argued” among themselves because they were trying to figure out who was the greatest.  Galatians 5:26 states that if you do a lot of complaining and arguing, it could be because you have a proud heart: “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”  Galatians 5:15 is even more graphic: “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”

Before we move on, let me quickly mention three reasons why we need to work at our speech. 

  • Complaining denies God’s sovereignty
  • Complaining disrupts unity
  • Complaining discredits our testimony

That leads to the fourth way to work…

4. Work at shining (v. 15). 

Verse 15 begins with a purpose clause: “so that.”  When we work at watching our words by allowing God to sanctify our speech, it will result in us becoming “blameless and pure, children of God, without fault…”  When we worship more than we whine, when we proclaim instead of complain, we will stand out.  Notice how Paul describes the world he lived in, which is not that different from the one we live in today: “in a crooked and depraved generation…”  The word “crooked” is the root of scoliosis and means bent or warped.  Our world is sure warped, isn’t it?  “Depraved” refers to that which is twisted or perverted.  We don’t need anyone to convince us about the warped and twisted condition of our culture today.  Decay and death are everywhere.  Our job is to be straight and true at all times, not necessarily to straighten everyone else out.

Interestingly, Paul is sort of quoting Deuteronomy 32:5 here: “They have acted corruptly toward him; to their shame they are no longer his children, but a warped and crooked generation.”   When Moses wrote these words he was lamenting the fact that the children of Israel had become warped and crooked and were no longer acting like children of God.  Paul says that born again believers are “children of God” and the world around us is filled with those who are warped and crooked.

There are at least four ways to respond when it comes to the world:

  1. We can isolate and just spend time in holy huddles.
  2. We can indulge and become just like those around us.
  3. We can incinerate lost people with our attitudes and actions.
  4. We can illuminate the darkness by shining and sharing the Word of God.

The first three responses lead to the loss of our witness.  It’s illumination that leads to communication.  Lights are valuable only when they are used to dispel the darkness and point the way.  Look with me at the last part of verse 15: “…in which you shine like stars in the universe.”  Believers are to be bold and bright, shining examples of God’s grace.  As someone has said, we are not called to be searchlights or spotlights but rather like lights in the fog.  In fact, some commentators believe that Paul had the metaphor of a lighthouse in mind when he wrote this.

Do you know when stars shine their brightest?  It’s when everything is at its darkest.  It’s not easy to see stars in the sky when the city lights are on but when you go out in the country, you can see a zillion stars lighting up the sky.  I have never seen anything brighter than when I laid on my back in Zimbabwe, looking up at the stars and the moon.

This past week, the Northern Lights gave off a wonderful display of dazzling color.  Do you know how the Northern Lights get their beauty and stunning quality?  As the sun gives off highly charged particles of energy, traveling at unbelievable speeds, these particles form a cloud or plasma.  This stream of plasma is known as the solar wind.  As the solar wind interacts with the edge of the earth’s magnetic field, some particles collide with the gases in the ionosphere and start to glow, producing this amazing spectacle of dancing columns of light.  According to the Encarta Encyclopedia, “These particles then collide with gas molecules in the atmosphere, thereby exciting the molecules and causing them to emit electromagnetic radiation in the visible portion of the spectrum” (Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia, 2004).

This only happens when there is a collision of particles from above the earth with the earth’s atmosphere.  Now stay with me on this.  As Paul declares in Philippians 3:20, we are citizens of heaven.  When we collide with the citizens of earth, we should explode in an array of attractive light, and excite others to get fired up as well.  As Joe Aldrich likes to say, “Evangelism is what spills over when you bump into someone.”

Jesus said it this way in Matthew 5:14-15: “You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”  This auditorium is now filled with new lights that are illuminating everything in the room.  Likewise, we have been created to reflect God’s glory.  When people see Christians complaining and arguing in the church, or when they observe our anger towards the atmosphere in our culture, they’re frankly not very interested in having anything that we have.  But, when we shine the light of Jesus, they will be attracted to the Son.

One of the best contemporary examples of someone who is living out her faith with her lights on is Patricia Heaton, the co-star of “Everybody Loves Raymond.”  In a recent interview on the O’Reilly Factor, she clearly and boldly stated that she is pro-life.  Bill O’Reilly commented that this must be a difficult position to hold because Hollywood is almost 100 percent pro-choice.  He then pressed her, pointing out that some people probably don’t want to talk to her and have turned their backs on her.  She gave a great answer when she said, “People know me first as an actress and a friend.”  Isn’t that great?  She’s known as a friend first.  She’s shining for Jesus, as she speaks truth and offers grace.  One Blogger perceptively asks a question that all of us need to answer: “Do you have any actual friends who are majorly messed up?”  (As quoted in my blog 5/18/05:   Don’t forget that what you are gives you a platform for what you say because how you live affects the world in which you live.

It’s easy for some of us to get so fired up about moral issues that we forget to be friends with those who are living in a crooked and depraved generation.  When I was a student at Moody Bible Institute, about twenty of us would go to an Abortion Clinic on Saturday mornings to pray and look for opportunities to share the gospel.  One particular Saturday as we walked to the clinic, we saw about 50 protesters marching with signs in front of the building.  The atmosphere was tense.  There was a lot of yelling.  I’ll never forget what happened next.  A young woman got out of a taxi cab and tried to make her way to the clinic.  Several of the protestors tried to block her way.  One man became very loud and forcibly tried to keep her from entering the clinic.  The security guard warned him to stay off the property.  At this point, the protestor turned to this man, who was just doing his job and said, “You can just go to .”  I couldn’t believe it.  Here this man was trying to save lives but had no problem relegating someone to the fires of Hell.

In his book called, “Like the Stars,” Glenn Parkinson argues that “responding to the moral decline of America with resentment and hostility does not inspire righteousness; it only alienates our neighbors further from us and from the gospel… We need to start working to make [the term] ‘evangelical Christian’ a synonym for ‘good people who do good things to make our suffering world a better place to live’” (As quoted in WORLD, 4/9/05, Page 36).  This is stated succinctly in 1 Peter 2:12: “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us.”

5. Work from Scripture (v. 16). 

When our lives are light, people are more apt to listen to our words.  Verse 16 tells us that we are to shine but we’re also to share.  We must live it and then we must give it: “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.”  The phrase “hold forth” means to “present, or to offer something.”  The picture is of one who is holding fast to the truth and holding out the Gospel of life to those who are in desperate straights.  Paul “works” at this, as he uses the word “labor” implying once again that we are not to just be passive and let our lives alone do the talking.  We must also give out the gospel.  This is in the present tense, meaning we are to do it continually, all the time.  Paul makes it clear that he does not want to “labor” for nothing.  If all the church at Philippi does is gripe and groan and grumble, then all of his efforts will have been wasted.

6. Work as a sacrifice (v. 17-18). 

As Paul contemplates the character and condition of the Christians he is writing to, he concludes: “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.  So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.”  The word “pour” sounds like the word “spent.”  Paul has poured himself out for people, spending everything he has to further their faith.  Notice how he links sacrifice and service.  God wants us to be sacrifices first and secondly to serve.  He doesn’t want occasional acts of service; but instead demands our very lives.  The word “pour” means to pour out an offering as an act of worship.  This was a potent image to the first century believers.  In the Old Testament book of Numbers, worshippers were told to offer an animal, then a grain offering, and finally a drink offering.  Paul is saying that his life is like the final sacrifice, as he has given Himself to God and to God’s people.  This phrase is also used in 2 Corinthians 12:15: “So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well.” 

Once again, true to form, Paul interjects rejoicing and gladness into his writing.  The best antidote to grumbling is to be glad in the Lord.  And this joy only comes as we sacrifice all to the Savior and live lives of servanthood.  As we close this morning, I’d like you to rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 in each of these six areas.  10 means that you’re working hard and 1 means you have a ways to go.

  1. Work out your salvation

1 5 10

  1. Let God work in your sanctification

1 5 10

  1. Work on your speech

1 5 10

  1. Work at shining

1 5 10

  1. Work from Scripture

1 5 10

  1. Work as a sacrifice

1 5 10

A young girl turned to her mom during a church service when the pastor was preaching on this passage and asked her a question: “Mom, how can you work it out if it’s never gotten in?”  Has it got in today?  One commentator has a theory that those who make the most noise complaining are doing so to compensate for the lack of light in their life.  I wonder if a secret video camera had zoomed in on you this past week, how much complaining would have been captured on film?  Are you a victim or a victor?  Do you whine a lot, or do you shine for Jesus?  Are you humble or do you grumble?  Perhaps you came in through the doors today looking to air some arguments and file some complaints.  Let God meet you at the door as you leave, and let Him pin His Word on you: “Do everything without complaining or arguing, 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.”

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?