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Do all things without complaining and disputing,
that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation,
among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.
This week as we make our way through the book of Philippians, we find ourselves stepping into some of the more practical verses of Chapter Two thus far. One of the typical arrangements of New Testament letters is the giving of doctrine first as foundation, and secondly the giving of commands for implementation.
Unfortunately, many churches and individuals for that matter often try to skip the harder concepts for the easy and practical lists of things to do. This is always to their disadvantage, because a good understanding of biblical truth is highly instrumental to personal practice. In fact, we might say that the foundational principles within the doctrine tend to spill over into practice, though it is still clearly necessary to clarify these commands as it reinforces the directions to take and the standard for conduct. Additionally, it is a reminder that Scriptural commands are never merely suggestions; they are firm orders that remind us we are under God’s authority.
Today’s passage has some stark caveats that are to be honed in on. First of all, let’s begin with verse 14 as it says, “Do all things…” Does the phrase “all things” remind you of other passages of Scripture? Two references that immediately come to my mind are 1 Corinthians 10:31 and Philippians 4:13.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” The passage he is being quoted from here is referring to weaker brothers and stronger brothers over the issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols and the true principle at hand, the standard by which all of our actions are to be gauged. “All” is referring to scope, the area relative to which the command applies. Here, we see that it is an all-encompassing principle: there are no boundaries outside of which doing things for God’s glory does not apply.
Philippians 4:13, also written by Paul, states: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” The question we should ask in regards to this passage is, “What does he mean by ‘all things’?” Contextually, it’s governed by verses 11-12, which speak about abounding in all situations with contentment in God’s provisions. Whether or not he still does, the NBA basketball star Steph Curry had this reference printed on his shoes. While many people will use this verse almost like a talisman for overcoming any difficult circumstance in life, we must return to the context of Philippians to see that “doing all things through Christ” is not a license to forge any old path and find God’s support, but to follow God in whatever lot befalls us and to find the strength of His grace suitable in facing the challenges He has led us into. Consider that the strength Paul really may be referring to is the strength of God’s grace to be content, to be at rest in Him, even if things are not “okay.”
Having said all that, we return to Philippians 2:14 and must consider “all things” here in light of the context as well. Yes, the scope really is every area of life, not just in church or ministry contexts. Concealed complaining and mental battles with others will certainly still have a negative affect on us, though in this passage we are talking primarily about our public testimony. Given the nature of the passage at hand, this verse is speaking into the engagements we have with others and the reputations that are built off of our interactions.
“Do all things without complaining or disputing.” Both complaining and disputing are externally directed and publicly aired opinions. It seems that it’s often forgotten that complainers and disputers are showing us more of who they are in character by the choice to fight or complain than those that they attack, defame or disrespect. If we claim to be Christians, though, we don’t just drag our own names through the mud of our disputes, complaints or grievances; we also stand to tarnish God’s reputation among others as well. Imagine trying to be a Nike shoe salesman but constantly walking around in tattered old shoes; it casts doubt on the belief in the product when even the salesman doesn’t buy into his pitch.
Complainers and disputers by nature of reputation establish themselves negatively. What does it mean to be “blameless and harmless?” It would be a mistake to assume, as many do, that “blameless” means sinless. In context, we are not talking about sinless perfection; we are talking about being winsome and not causing distraction from the message and the mission.
Blameless and harmless are both reputation-oriented terms; blameless and harmless to whom? To those that are watching: perhaps looking to find fault, perhaps doubting, perhaps just curious to see if all this Gospel-talk is real. Even for believers, our obedience to God serves to encourage or discourage other believers in carrying on in their walks, too.
Other ways to translate blameless and harmless are faultless and innocent; remember, we are not faultless or innocent as sinners before God, but in Christ we are forgiven of our faults and blame and declared justified. The discrepancy is that while positionally we are treated today as if we’d never sinned, when we look in the real-time mirror at our hearts and actions, we know that we certainly still have many ways that sin is still raring its ugly head within us. Therefore, this passage really is speaking to human perception and reputation: no, we know no one’s perfect, but is their reputation within Christ tarnished to such a degree that it now hinders the effectiveness of the Gospel as relative to them? Have they dealt properly with the failures that have been made public? Those are just some of the concepts to consider in blamelessness.
The point of this passage is that conduct is a conduit by which we either live lives supporting the Gospel message or we live lives that disrupt and diminish the message we preach. The Gospel either flows through us with a growing efficiency or it gets really clogged, like water backing up as it goes down a dirty drain. Think of the goal, in part, as to be as little of a hindrance to the message of life for the sake of other people’s focus on God. The point was never legalistic lifestyles, but lives that did not cause unnecessary stumbling to the paths of other believers or the paths of unbelievers and them finding a relationship with Christ.
Now, the next part says, “children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.” Notice that this portion of the verse is referring to a stark contrast between these two (people) groups, the primary governor of each being who they submit to, who their master is. “Crooked and perverse” can only be understood in relationship to God; they have bent away from His straight paths and have defied His moral designs. In submission to God, there is a call to realign with these parameters in direction, morality and spirituality.
Unaltered minds and lifestyles will never serve to reinforce the message God is calling us to promote in a lost and dying world, “among whom you shine as lights.” Lights serve to bring awareness to what is. It is the sin nature within that sees the exposure that lights bring and pridefully desires to put out those lights, as if darkness altered the truth. In darkness, a person may entertain any number of realities surrounding them if their only guide is their imagination; therefore, when the light of truth begins shining, the rays tend to burn upon guilty consciences, and thus there is a movement to either get away from the light or to do away with it. The hope and prayer of evangelism is that people will come to the light and find peace through faith in Jesus Christ.
In summary so far, we see that the calling is primarily two-part: to be as little of a hindrance as possible to the message and mission Christ has for us, and to be used to bring exposure to what is good and beautiful and true, as well as what stands in opposition to God.
Finally, let’s look at the remainder of this selected passage: “holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.” Many times over, the words “that” or “so that” are used in English translations, and this should never be overlooked. What it is often referring to is what is called in the Greek a “hina clause”. This means that one phrase is relative to the other, usually by means of purpose, result, or sometimes both. By deduction alone, it’s clear that Paul would not have meant that they should hold fast to the word with the purpose of His rejoicing and ease of mind over lasting fruit in ministry. Rather, for them to hold fast to the word of life would lead to (one of the) results being his joy and rejoicing and consolation over the Gospel continuing on in perpetuity in these people’s lives.
Why do we hold fast to the word of life? Well, going back to verse 13, it’s because God works in us both to will it and to do it. The purpose is for the furtherance of the Gospel, the glory of God and the growth of the believer. The partial result is encouragement of other believers, and in this case of Paul and the Philippians, it is the ministry of the church to the church leader in helping to confirm the human value of his earthly spiritual investment of time, knowledge, experience and talents into them. Still today, it’s such a cyclical process that God does when He leads people to serve Him to the benefit of others who then turn around and serve others as well.
In conclusion, we are looking at the high calling of all of us as it pertains to following God and how that impacts the world around us as well as each other. No one is more or less important in effecting change, though the design of each of us may be very different as to our gifting and entrustments. We can support the mission by our actions, but we also have the potential to cause hindrance if that’s the direction we choose to take.
A few questions to ponder today as we close are these:
1) How can I be less of a hindrance to the Gospel for the sake of others?
2) How can I be a greater promoter of the Gospel in the way God has made me towards the people He has put in my path?
3) Am I holding fast to the Gospel, and have I thought about the effect that has on others both saved and unsaved?
Prayer from Pastor Sam:
Lord, we thank you for the truths of Your word, but also ask you for the grace to follow the clear commands with obedience. Help us to remember that we’re here on a mission and not just a tour. Give us hearts for others and help us to consider how we might be a blessing to them. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.
May God be with you as you ponder His word today. Thank you for your time.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.