Philippians chapter 2. Verse 5 of Philippians 2 says, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
“So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
“Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain. But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.”
You will notice in verse 15 that we live in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. That is not only an apt description of our time in history, it suits all of history. Every generation is to some degree or another a manifestation of the crookedness and the perversity of the human heart. We are seeing it in our time very boldly. What this text says to us is that we have the responsibility in this crooked and perverse generation to act as the children of God and to shine as luminaries, or lights, in the world. That’s why we’re here. God understands that it’s a crooked and perverse generation.
Sometimes, as in our case, now more openly manifest than perhaps at other times when it’s covered up a little bit, I think many of you are feeling rather deep disappointment at the events of the recent election. You feel like though you prayed for mercy in the midst of judgment you’re not seeing that mercy. You’re watching the power structure of this country being taken over by people who are godless and contrary to Scripture. It’s easy to become very disappointed, especially if you care about righteousness and truth. We cherish personal righteousness, but our culture is deep into personal sin and wickedness, and not in a hidden way, but flaunted; and now we have advocates of that iniquity and wickedness being given political power over us. We cherish marriage, we cherish family, but our culture, by means of media and law, destroys both. And we see leaders who advocate fornication, homosexuality, trans-sexualism, pornography, divorce, et cetera; and now the people who advocate those things have more power than they’ve had in the past. Marriage and family is not likely to survive, and all that destroys marriage and family may become law.
We support law. We support law and order because it’s biblical as ordained by God, but now we have leaders who want to defund the police, unleash assaults against them and us: 8,700 protests occurred in the last few months, 574 of those were riots with mass looting and destruction, 2,000 policemen were injured. These were coordinated and orchestrated events. One incident alone did $70 million in damage, and the police were told to stand and watch. We fear for the future of our safety and the safety of our children in a world where people who want that are in control. But we know that persecution will be ramped up against the truth, and our whole generation is sinking deeper into iniquity and hardness against the Scripture. We’re going to become more of an unwanted agitator. So certainly there is some overwhelming disappointment.
Now we also know that we’re experiencing divine judgment. God has turned us over to a sexual revolution, a homosexual revolution, and a reprobate mind, Romans 1. So we know the nation is under judgment and under wrath, and part of that wrath is now going to be unleashed by the very people who rule us. So how do we respond? What’s to be our reaction to all of this? It does give us a sense of fear about the bleakness of what the future looks like for our children and our grandchildren as we see the sins of this generation being visited on the following generations into the future.
I want to pose a question that Francis Schaeffer asked long ago when he said, “How then shall we live? How then shall we live?” What do we do now? And I believe that we have the instruction we need in this portion of Scripture right in front of us, Philippians 2, and I want to take a look at it in a broad sense. Sometimes we get down into details; we’ve certainly done that with this passage. But I want us to look at three very simple features of this text, basic realities to navigate the times that we live in. Number one, where we are; number two, who we are; and number three, how we are to live. It’s all here for us.
Let’s start with “where we are.” Look at verse 15. We are in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. Now that would certainly be true of the Philippians who received this letter living in the city of Philippi, a city in northeast Macedonia, or Modern Greece. It was a busy city. It was a thoroughfare to the – Ignatian highway came through there, which was a Roman road, and so it was a place where much trade went on. There was a river there, the Strymon River, so it had full water supply. It was discovered there as well that there were many goldmines, and the goldmines were so rich that they attracted Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great. And he found a small town named Crenedes, which means “little fountain.” It had springs, and so set up some headquarters there and renamed it after himself: Philip of Macedon. That’s how it got its name Philippi.
A little bit of history about that seemingly obscure little fountain town was that 42 years before Christ, 42 BC, one of the greatest battles in Roman history was fought there; and when I say a great battle, I mean 200,000 men engaged in war: 110,000 on one side and 90,000 on the other side, and 40,000 casualties. It was called the Battle of Philippi. It really reflected the Roman Revolution. It was Antonian Caesar with 110,000 against Brutus and Cassius with 90,000.
When the battle was over it was the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the massive Roman Empire. As a result of that many soldiers settled in Philippi; it was a very tough town, pagan to the bone. And if you were a citizen of Philippi you were given status as a Roman citizen. It reflected all the paganism of Rome, all the idolatry; it was a crooked and perverse place. And the Lord led the apostle Paul to establish the first church in Europe in Philippi on his second missionary journey. You remember the story, right? Acts 16, they put him in jail; and he was singing with Barnabas in the jail, and they were released from jail, and that first church was founded.
The believers there were desperately poor; all you have to do is look at 2 Corinthians chapter 8 and you will read there about the poor saints of Macedonia. That would be the Philippians. They were desperately poor. Paul says they were generous, but they gave out of their deep poverty. They were literally swimming in a sea of paganism, and a coarse and gross culture largely influenced by ex-soldiers. When the church was planted by the apostle Paul, it was assaulted and attacked.
Back in chapter 1, verse 28, Paul says, “Don’t be alarmed by your opponents. Don’t be alarmed by your opponents – which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God. For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.” Don’t be alarmed by persecution. You’ve been granted for Christ’s sake to suffer.
So this is a church isolated in the Roman world, the only church in Europe, in a sea of paganism. To make matters worse, the church was attacked by false teachers. Look at chapter 3, verse 2: “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision.” Jewish legalists had come and attacked. Down in verse 18, “Many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you weeping, they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.” Their glory is in their shame. They boast about their wickedness.
This is a poor church. This is a persecuted church. This is a church that is being assaulted by false teachers. This is also a church struggling mightily with discord and disunity; and we’re certainly familiar with that.
Back in chapter 2, “If there’s any encouragement in Christ, any consolation of love, any fellowship of the Spirit, any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves. Do not merely look out for your own personal interest, but also for the interests of others.”
In chapter 4 we find that Euodia and Syntyche, verse 2, needed to be instructed publicly to live in harmony, and somebody needed to come along and help those women get their lives together. This is tough. The only church in Europe in the midst of paganism – poor, persecuted, attacked by false teachers, and internal discord and disunity. In fact, Paul wrote this letter to them in his fourth year of Roman imprisonment waiting for Nero to render a verdict on his life. In spite of all of that, this epistle is called the epistle of joy. Remarkable, isn’t it? This is the epistle of joy. Paul expects joy in a church in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.
That phrase “crooked and perverse generation” was used by our Lord. It’s recorded in Matthew chapter 17, and then again in Luke 9, that our Lord said to the Jews of His day, “You are an unbelieving and perverted generation.” This is a general description, certainly for the world. “Crooked,” you notice in verse 15, is the Greek word skolios from which you get scoliosis of the spine, a twisting and curvature. It means to be bent. It means to be twisted. It means to be deviated from the standard. This is a generation of people who are twisted in terms of truth and virtue.
Listen to Proverbs 2:11, “Discretion will guard you, understanding will watch over you, to deliver you from the way of evil, from the man who speaks perverse things; from those who leave the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness; who delight in doing evil and rejoice in the perversity of evil; whose paths are crooked, and who are devious in their ways.” Way back in the book of Proverbs we find that that is the way the world was then, as it was in Paul’s day and our Lord’s day, and as it is now. Proverbs 21:8 says, “The way of the guilty is crooked, crooked.”
Isaiah also spoke of this, and Isaiah says essentially what everybody else that I’ve quoted says. Listen to the words of Isaiah in chapter 59, verses 7 and 8: “Their feet run to evil, they hasten to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity, devastation and destruction are in their highways. They do not know the way of peace, there’s no justice in their tracks; they have made their paths crooked, whoever treads on them does not know peace.” Twisted, crooked, nothing new.
In Acts chapter 2, verse 40, apostolic preaching. Listen to this, chapter 2, verse 40: “Be saved” – says Peter – “from this crooked generation.” So we’re not surprised. This is perversity. This is what life without God is.
He adds a second word, “crooked and perverse.” They’re, in a sense, synonyms. “Perverse” is diastrephō. It means to distort. It’s two ways of saying the same thing. First word means to twist; the next one, to distort. So that’s where we are. So why would we expect anything other than what we’re seeing?
Our country, our nation, and our world has gotten back to sort of square one in its crookedness and perversity by systematically eliminating morality and religion. The apostle Paul is drawing that indictment. That phrase, “crooked and perverse generation,” comes right out of Deuteronomy chapter 32 – and we’ll see that in a bit; and it was essentially the reference that our Lord was speaking of in Matthew 17 and Luke 9. So from the history of Israel and from the words of Jesus indicting the Israelites of His day, Paul takes a phrase and uses it to define the godless world of the early church: “They’re twisted and perverted.”
The term “generation” has the idea not so much of a nation or a race as of those who are alive at a given time: all the people of a given kind and a given period, all the wicked God-haters. So that’s where we live, that’s where we are. And this is exactly where the Lord wants us to be.
You know, when our Lord was praying His great prayer in John 17, verse 15, this is what He says to the Father concerning us: “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.” Did you get that. “I do not ask You, Father, to take them out of the world, but keep them from the evil one. Yes, they’re not of the world, as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” So He’s saying, “I don’t want You to take them out of the world, I want You to protect them from the god of this world, Satan. I want You to protect them by the truth.”
In 1 Corinthians chapter 5, the apostle Paul says this, verse 9: “I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I didn’t at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. No. When I wrote about, ‘Don’t associate with immoral people,’ I didn’t mean isolate yourself. I didn’t mean go live in a monastery. You can’t leave the world because God placed you there for His redemptive purpose.” So in case you were wondering, we’re exactly where we should be, right? Right where we should be. And the world is exactly what it is; it’s just more open now than we’re used to seeing it, and its power is so pervasive, the power of evil has become so pervasive that it has risen to the heights of leadership.
So this is where we are, we’re exactly where the Lord wants us to be. And He prayed not to have us removed from the world, but to be protected in the world while we reach the world, right? We’re exactly where we’re supposed to be, and the world is exactly what it’s always been.
Now the second issue that I just want to mention to you from this text is now that we know where we are, let’s answer the question who we are. Who are we in this crooked and perverse generation? Well, that also is in verse 15. We are children of God above reproach, and we are lights in the world. That’s who we are, we have two identifications there.
We are children of God. That is to say we are not the children of the devil like the rest of the world. We understand that the devil’s kingdom and the devil’s children behave like their father, John 8, right? That passage in John 8 is so definitive, it’s amazing how many times in preaching we find ourselves having to go back to John chapter 8, verse 42.
“Jesus says to the Jews, ‘You are doing the deeds of your father.’ They said to Him, ‘We were not born of fornication; we have one Father: God.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand what I’m saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and doesn’t stand in the truth because there’s no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he’s a liar and the father of lies. But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me.’”
Do you get that? If one thing is characteristic of the world is that they are killers and liars. They’re killers and liars because their father the devil is the arch-murderer and the arch-liar. Are you surprised when you hear lies from people? Don’t be. Their father is the force in them that justifies lying.
We’re children of God, on the other hand, very clear separation. And because we’re children of God, we hear God’s word, and we follow His word, and we obey His word. We have become children of God by birth, and we have become children of God by adoption. We’re covered both ways.
I read earlier John 1:12, “As many as received Him,” – that is Christ – “to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” This is repeated often in the New Testament. We are children of God, and we are in the middle of the children of the devil.
First John 3:10, “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who doesn’t practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who doesn’t love his brother.” So where you see a lack of love and you see sin, you have a child of the devil. Children of the devil have been in charge of things in this culture since the beginning. First John 3:1, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it didn’t know Him.”
We’re the children of God, and they don’t know that, because the glorious manifestation of the children of God hasn’t happened yet. Romans 8:17, “If children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” Romans 8:16, “The Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are the children of God.” So here we are, who we are (the children of God), exactly where we are supposed to be (in a crooked and perverted generation).
And, secondly, we are lights in the world; phōstēr is the Greek word. It’s used of the sun and the moon and the stars. We are the luminaries. As the sun, moon and stars are the luminaries that light the darkness in creation, we shine as the luminaries in the darkness of Satan’s kingdom.
I love this statement. He says, “among whom” – at the end of verse 15 – “you appear as lights in the world, among whom you appear.” Literally you are appearing. You are the luminaries. You are the shining light in the darkness of the world. This is where we need to be; this is where we are, as the children of God, and the only source of light in the darkness.
Isaiah records in Isaiah 49:6, speaking of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, the servant of the Lord who would come, “I will also make You a light to the nations so that My salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” Jesus came into the world. He was the light to the nations, the light of life, the light of truth, and He took of residence in us so that we now shine as lights in the world. The Jews, they thought they were the world’s luminaries.
Back in Romans 2 Paul indicts them, verse 17, “But if you bear the name ‘Jew’ and rely on the Law and boast in God, and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law, and are confident that you are yourself a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, and a corrector of the foolish, teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth, you therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal? You who say one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law; do you dishonor God? Truth is, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.’ You say you’re the light, but your deeds don’t demonstrate it. You’re just a different form of the darkness.”
The Jews were not that light, but our Lord in His opening sermon in Matthew 5 said this to His followers, to us: “You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who’s in heaven.” We’re the luminaries. We are exactly where we need to be: we are in the darkness, we are in the crooked and perverse world. This is where He wants us to be. He doesn’t want us away from this, doesn’t want us taken out. He wants us protected from the evil one. He wants us sanctified by the truth. But we are exactly where we are to be. It was said of John the Baptist in John 5:35 that He was the lamp that was burning and was shining. And that should be true of us. “You are shining,” – He says, I love that, in verse 15 – “you are shining, you are appearing as the luminaries.”
Proverbs 4:18 says, “By the path of the righteous is the light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full day.” We’re the only hope this perverse and wicked generation has, right? We know where we are, and we know who we are, and we’re exactly where the Lord put us, to be His children as over against the children of the devil, and to be luminaries shining with the light of the presence of God and the glory of the gospel in the midst of the darkness.
Now that brings us to the third and practical response: “What are we to do? How do we live? How do we live?” I want to establish something so I want you to go back to John 18 for a moment because I want to reinforce something to you, “How do we live?” because this is challenging for us since we live essentially in a parallel universe. We live in a parallel universe, literally a universe that the unbelieving world doesn’t understand, doesn’t connect with, doesn’t relate to, because they’re dead in trespasses and sin. And we’re alive to God; we live in a completely different realm.
Listen to the words of Jesus in chapter 18 of John, verse 37. The question came up back in verse 33 about whether Jesus was a king, and it was sarcastic on Pilate’s part. “So Pilate said to Him, ‘So You are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.’ Pilate said to Him, ‘What is truth? What is truth?’” “You are a king.”
But go back to verse 36. “Yes, My kingdom is not of this world.” At the end of that verse, “My kingdom is not of this realm. My kingdom,” His kingdom, kingdom that belongs to Him. They tried to make Him a King, John 6:15, He didn’t allow it. And here’s what He is saying, listen very carefully: “His kingdom has no connection to the kingdoms of this world.” Did you get that? It has no connection. The whole world lies in the lap of the evil one. We have been delivered from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son, Colossians 1. Let me see if I can spell it out.
The kingdom that belongs to Christ transcends the world. It does not derive its power from the world. It does not derive its success from the world. It does not derive its reality, its origin, its nature, its extent, its duration from any created thing. Christ’s royal title, royal authority, and sovereign power are not derived or dependent on any created person, institution, force, energy, work, effort, or right. His dominion is eternal and derived solely from His own glorious nature as the eternal Son. His rule is neither given nor taken away by anyone. His power and authority cannot, by any effort, by any assault, be diminished, limited, altered, removed, replaced. His rule is complete, comprehensive, everlasting, over time and eternity and every soul; and none of that power comes from any created source. One day He will rule over all creation with a rod of iron in truth and righteousness, Psalm 2 and Revelation 20.
The Lord gave Pilate a kingdom manifesto. His kingdom will triumph over the whole creation of kingdoms. It’s spelled out magnificently, I know you’ll remember, in the eleventh chapter of the book of Revelation – so glorious. Twenty-four elders on their thrones fall on their faces and say, “We give You thank, O Lord God the Almighty, who was” – or were – “because You have taken Your great power and had begun to reign. And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came. And the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward your bond-servants, the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and destroy those who destroy the earth. And the temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple. There were flashes of lightning and sounds of peals of thunder and an earthquake and a great hailstorm.”
What’s that signaling? Go back to verse 15: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” That’s coming. He will halt the existence of all other kings and all other kingdoms, will rule as King of kings and Lord of lords. After that, He will create the new heaven and the new earth, as we read in Isaiah 65 and 66 and Revelation 21, and rule sovereignly forever.
For now the kingdom of God not yet in its millennial form, not yet in its eternal form – a new heaven and a new earth – is a spiritual kingdom. It’s a spiritual reality separate from above and beyond all earthly power and all earthly authority. I’m saying to you: nothing – any person, persons, powers on earth – do/has any effect on His kingdom. Doesn’t matter who’s in Congress, who’s in the Senate, who’s in the Presidency; it has no connection to His eternal glorious kingdom, which He rules alone as a triune God.
For now the kingdom of God, the kingdom of Christ is a spiritual reality separate from all other kingdoms. The realities of His kingdom cannot be propagated or protected or altered by any earthly governmental power. The realities of His kingdom cannot be harmed. They cannot be hindered. They cannot be limited by any power. No laws can be made that will make His kingdom more successful, more compulsory, more effective. Nothing any government or any ruler or any person or persons can do by their temporal forces does anything to advance His kingdom or diminish it.
For now His kingdom is in the hearts of those who believe in Him, right? He’s our King. And the church is where His kingdom becomes visible, and it’s built, as He said, on truth.
So we start with that foundation. So where we are (exactly where God wants us to be), who we are (exactly who He’s redeemed us to be). How do we live in this parallel universe? Well, There are several things you could look at. If you go back to pick up some imperatives, go back to verse 5. Here are imperatives, or commands. This would answer the question, “How do we live?” “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who humbled Himself.”
So how are we to live? We’re to live in humility. We’re to have the same attitude that our Lord had when He emptied Himself and took on the form of a slave. And then because He humbled Himself, God highly exalted Him. So the first imperative in the section we read is, “Have this attitude,” this attitude of utter and total humility.
You say life is getting hard in this situation. It’s likely we’ll all be humbled. But that’s a good thing, because whoever is humbled the Lord exalts. We know all of that. Second Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, how that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might be made rich.” He humbled Himself, and by that humbling was highly exalted, and accomplished God’s glorious salvation purpose.
In verses 3 and 4 of Philippians 2, which we are very familiar with and mentioned a few moments ago, “We are called to sacrifice for one another.” First Peter chapter 2 we’re told that Christ died as a sacrifice not only to atone for us, but as an example, as an example of willing suffering for divine purposes. James 4:10, “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” Take the suffering. Peter says, “Cast your care on the Lord, commit yourself to Him.”
So the first imperative is have this attitude: humility. The second imperative is back in verse 12: work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Work out your salvation – present middle verb, reflexive: “Work out your own salvation. Bring to completion the saving work.” How do you do that? Well, this is talking about holiness and sanctification. Pursue sanctification. Borrow – if you will – those wonderful words from Paul in chapter 3 of Philippians where he says, verse 12, “Not that I have already obtained it or already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. I press on to the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ.” This is Paul saying, “I pursue holiness. I pursue Christlikeness.”
But the verse tells you that, because verse 15 says that you are to prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent. So as you work out your salvation, verse 12, he says this: “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, work out your salvation.” And how do you work your salvation out? By obedience. By obedience. By pursuing a blameless, innocent, virtuous life.
There’s an element of worship here: “with fear and trembling,” verse 12. So that’s an imperative, it fits us all. Pursue the completion, katergazomai. It means basically to bring it to completion. Pursue your holiness. Pursue your holiness. Is that realistic? How do we do that? It is realistic, because at the subsequent verse 13 it says, “It’s God who is at work in your both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” His good pleasure means His enjoyment.
You can pursue holiness because God is at work in you. He’s at work producing that holiness. It’s possible, and it’s commanded. So how do we live in the world? We live humbly and we live holy.
There are couple of others that are mentioned at the end of the text. Go down to verse 16. The NAS says, “Holding fast the word of life.” I would prefer, “Holding out the word of life, holding up the word of life, holding forth the word of life,” because it’s talking about basically proclaiming the gospel. The word of life could be Christ. The word of life could be the Holy Spirit who’s the Spirit of life. The word of life could be the Scripture. The word of life is actually the sum of all the Trinity. God, Christ, the Holy Spirit give life; that life comes through the gospel.
So what are we called to do then? To be humble, to be holy, and to be faithful in proclaiming the word that gives life. We know that, that’s the Great Commission. It’s why we’re here, to proclaim into this dark, perverted, crooked world the life message of the gospel of Christ.
There is a fourth duty and that shows up down in verse 18: “rejoice in the same way.” What do you mean, “the same way”? “I’m rejoicing in my sacrifice.” Back to verse 17: “I’m rejoicing in my sacrifice.” He uses all sacrificial language there. He’s like a drink offering poured out. It would be an animal burning on an altar, and they would bring wine and they would dump it on top of the burning animal and it would send up smoke. Paul says literally, “I’m offering my life as a sacrifice and a sweet aroma to God.”
“In my sacrifice I find joy. I rejoice,” he says. “I rejoice in the sacrifice I’m making for you. And I urge you, rejoice in the same way.” You’re going to make sacrifices, they’re going to be required. Rejoice. Rejoice.
So how do we live in this crooked and perverse generation? We live humbly, holy, proclaiming the gospel, and joyful. All those are essential, but those are really not the point. I’m going to give you the point now.
Go back to verse 14. Here is the imperative that’s connected to verse 15: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” Now there’s something very practical. Stop complaining. This is how you prove yourselves to be blameless, innocent children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world. Stop complaining. Yes, be humble. Yes, be holy. Yes, be faithful to testify to the gospel. Yes, be joyful. But the priority here is, “Stop complaining.” Both are in the plural: grumblings and complainings, or disputings.
In fact, grumblings is an onomatopoetic in the Greek. It’s, “Rah-rah-rah-rah-rah-rah.” It’s one of those expressions of discontent and dissatisfaction with low guttural sounds. “What are you talking about, complaining against the government?” No. Stop complaining to God about the situation. You are who you are, you are where you are, and you are not to complain, because this is where God has you. Don’t argue with God over His will. Don’t argue with God over His purposes.
Paul borrowed this phrase; and now you can do what I mentioned we would do earlier. Go to Deuteronomy 32, Deuteronomy 32. Moses at the end of his life, he’s going to die, and he’s giving a message of warning. We’ll just look at the first few verses: “Give ear, O heavens, and let me speak; and let the earth hear the words of my mouth. Let my teaching drop as the rain, my speech distill as the dew, as the droplets on the fresh grass and as the showers on the herb. For I proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock! His work is perfect, all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He.” Wow. That’s our God. Did you get that?
The greatness of our God: the Rock, the immovable one. His work is perfect, His ways are just. He’s a God of faithfulness, without injustice, righteous and upright is He.” On the other hand, “The people have acted corruptly toward Him, they are not His children, because of their defect; but are a perverse and crooked generation.” That’s where that comes from. And Moses is indicting Israel: “You have become a crooked and perverted nation.”
What was the evidence of that? Well, there were a lot of things; certainly plenty of idolatry. But in that same chapter, verse 51, “You broke faith with Me. You broke faith with Me.” What does He mean? “You stopped trusting Me. You stopped trusting Me.” That’s familiar stuff. This is at the end of the forty years.
Go to the beginning. Go back to Exodus 5. Who’s the first complainer? Exodus 5:22 and 23: Moses, Moses who gives this speech started out as a complainer. Exodus 14 and subsequently – I don’t have time to go through them all – the Israelites complained about everything: “Why did you lead us out here? Why are we in the wilderness? We don’t like the food. We don’t have any water.” Endless complaining at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end. Even the people closest to Moses, Miriam and Aaron, Numbers chapter 12, were complaining so that God struck Miriam with leprosy.
First Corinthians 10 Paul says, “This happened as examples unto us.” Don’t complain against God. Don’t complain against God.
You read the book of Exodus and you’ll see it, a lot of it. You read the book of Numbers and you’ll see more of it. But let me read you some summations just in kind of wrapping up from the Psalms.
In Psalm 106, maybe verse 19: “They made a calf in Horeb, they worshiped a molten image. Thus they exchanged their glory for the image of an ox that eats grass. They forgot God their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt, wonders in the land of Ham, awesome things by the Red Sea. Therefore He said that He would destroy them, had not Moses His chosen seed stood in the breach before Him, to turn away His wrath from destroying them. They despised the pleasant land,” – the land of promise – “they didn’t believe in His word, they grumbled in their tents, they grumbled in their tents.” That’s familiar stuff. Some of you I’m afraid have been grumbling in your tent because you don’t like the way things have gone.
Psalm 78, verse 17, “Yet they still continued to sin against Him, to rebel against the Most High in the desert. In their heart they put God to the test by asking food according to their desire. Then they spoke against God; they said, ‘Can God prepare a table in the wilderness? Behold, He struck the rock so that waters gushed out, the streams were overflowing; can He give bread also? Will He provide meat for His people?’ Therefore the Lord heard and was full of wrath; and a fire was kindled against Jacob and anger mounted against Israel because they didn’t believe in God, they didn’t trust in His salvation.”
Down in verse 33: “He brought their days to an end in futility and their years in sudden terror.” Verse 40: “How often they rebelled against Him in the wilderness and grieved Him in the desert! Again and again they tempted God, and pained the Holy One of Israel. They did not remember His power, the day when He redeemed them from the adversary.”
Do you actually think that anybody in this world could do anything to harm the church of Jesus Christ? God is our protector. Stop grumbling. Stop complaining. Stop questioning the will of God. Stop questioning the work of God. His work is for us, it is in us, and it is from us. And what the world needs to see is humble, holy testimony and joy from the children of God who shine as lights in the world. And then we will be the blameless, innocent children of God above reproach, shining as lights in the world.
I want to close with two, two sources of divine revelation that’s going to encourage us. The first one is from David, Psalm 37: “Do not fret because of evildoers, be not envious toward wrongdoers. For they will wither quickly like the grass and fade like the green herb. Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He will do it. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light and your judgment as the noonday.
“Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him; do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, because of the man who carries out wicked schemes. Cease from anger and forsake wrath; do not fret; it leads only to evildoing. For evildoers will be cut off,” – I love this – “but those who wait for the Lord, they will” – what? “inherit the land. Yet a little while and the wicked man will be no more; and you will look carefully for his place and he will not be there. But the humble will inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.”
And then that from David; this from Peter, 2 Peter 3: “Don’t let this one fact escape your notice,” – verse 8 – “beloved: with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but all to come to repentance.” The Lord can’t come and make things right until He’s gathered everybody in who’s been chosen.
“The day of the Lord will come. It’ll come like a thief in the night, and the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be?” This whole thing is headed for destruction. “What kind of person should you be? “Holy in conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we’re looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless.” Don’t complain against God; everything is on schedule. Humility, holiness, proclamation, joy, and trust.
Our Father, we thank You that You have called us together in this wonderful hour of worship. We thank You for the beginning of the celebration of the arrival of our Savior. We thank You that He came into the world to seek and to save sinners. We thank You that He has called us now to be in the world as instruments who, by virtue of our humility and our holiness and our faithfulness to proclaim the gospel, and our joy and our trust. No matter how tough it gets, no matter how much sacrifice we have to make, we trust you. May we live with complete faith in Your will and Your work, which You will do for Your own enjoyment. May we enjoy that reality, and may it take away fear and questions, so that we can proclaim Your glory as blameless and innocent children above reproach, shining as luminaries in the dark world. Thank You for such a calling, in our Savior’s name. Amen.
This article is also available and sold as a booklet.