“You Shine as Lights in the World” (Philippians 2:1-18)
In our Epistle for today, from Philippians 2, St. Paul appeals to us Christians to live as who we are, namely, “children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life.” Did you hear that? “You Shine as Lights in the World.” Yes, you do! And today we’ll find out why and how.
But before you can shine, first you have to be children of God. How did that happen? God had to make you his children. And that did not happen by your birth according to the flesh. No, you needed to be born again. Flesh gives birth to flesh, and the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You had to be born again, born from above, born of water and the Spirit. In other words, Baptism. You needed a new nature. Your old self was born in sin, the original, inherited sin that came down to us from Adam. We all are born with it, that old, Adamic sinful nature, and we all grow up in it and go along with it. Rebellion against God. Wanting to be our own god. Not loving God. Not loving our neighbor. Turned in on ourselves. That’s who we are by birth. And that birth will get you nowhere–nowhere except to the grave and hell.
But God in his grace gave you the new birth in Holy Baptism, what the Bible calls “the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit worked faith in your heart, through the Word of God, so that now you trust in Jesus Christ your Savior. Christ has washed away your sins by his blood shed on the cross, making you blameless and innocent and without blemish in God’s sight. In Baptism, God put his name on you and claimed you for his own. You have a new nature now. You are the children of God.
Now we’re talking. Now we can hear the words of our text and apply them to ourselves. We are the children of God spoken of in our text. The Apostle Paul is speaking to us today, as well as to the Philippians of old. You, dear friends–yes you–are “children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life.”
You are children of God, but you live in a world that is decidedly not a friendly or compatible environment for the children of God. St. Paul here says that we live “in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation.” It was so back then, and it is so today. Want any proof of that? Just turn on the television or read the newspaper. You can see the crookedness and the twistedness of this generation on full display. Half-clad pop tarts twerking away. Islamic terrorists chopping people’s heads off. The President of the United States applauding and encouraging sodomite “marriages,” so called. Real marriage being disdained in favor of hooking up and shacking up. Materialism and greed and the love of pleasure being the top pursuits. The world has gone completely mad. Evil is called good, and good is called evil. That’s the world we live in. Truly a crooked and twisted generation. Hardly a haven for Christian faith or life.
We are in the world, but we are not of the world. We have a different set of values. We have a different God, the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And this God gives us our meaning, our identity, our purpose, and our security in this world gone mad. We march to the beat of a different drummer.
And God has a purpose for us in this sin-darkened world. We’re here for a reason. I suppose God could have just beamed us up and whisked us away as soon as we were baptized. But instead God left us here for a reason. There is a purpose for us being the church in the world.
And here it is. Paul says it: “You shine as lights in the world.” This is a world that needs the light that we have, and God will use us to shine forth with this light. The world is lost in darkness, groping around, not knowing God, and not even knowing that they’re lost and heading to hell. But instead of us bemoaning the fact that we have to live here, God has a positive purpose for us as church in the midst of the darkness. We shine as lights.
And today let me suggest two ways in which we do that. We shine as lights in the world because we have the mind of Christ. And second, we shine as lights in the world because we have the message of Christ.
First, we shine as lights in the world because we have the mind of Christ. This is our new nature again that I’m talking about. The Spirit forms in us the mind of Christ, so that we begin to think and act as our Savior did. This mind of Christ–this is a mind set on service, enlivened with love, and clothed with humility.
And God has prepared and equipped us so that we can respond in this way. Paul writes at the start of Philippians 2: “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” And later Paul adds, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
This is to think and to act in a Christ-like way. But you say, “I can’t do that!” No, according to your old nature you cannot. And even as a Christian, your old Adam will still be tugging at you, pulling you back to the ways of the world, the ways of the sinful flesh. But remember, you are baptized. You have a new nature, created in Christ Jesus, formed and led by the Spirit. So these are words for you.
Listen to what Paul says: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” This mind is yours in Christ. You have it. It is God’s gift to you. And this mind of Christ is a humble, loving, servant mind, bent on doing the will of God and loving and serving others. That’s the mind you have now, in Christ. And this makes a difference in how we live.
So this is the first way in which we shine as lights in the world: We live differently. We love and serve one another. We love and serve our neighbor. This stands out. This shines out. People notice the way we live as Christians, as church. It was said of the early church, that the world would look at them and say, “See how they love one another!” The light of Christ shines through in the way we live and it brings honor and glory to God.
Jesus said this very thing, didn’t he? He told his disciples: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
The church is called to be an oasis of love in a dry and thirsty land. Our congregation is called to be a family of brothers and sisters, serving one another in love. Yes, we have the mind of Christ being formed in us, and it shapes the way we live. And this, in turn, will draw people to our message.
And so that now is the second way in which we shine as lights in the world: We have the message of Christ. Paul gives a great summary of this message smack dab in the middle of our text today. Philippians 2:5-11, one of the great passages in all of the New Testament: “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
What a wonderful confession of the person and the work of Christ! He, the Second Person of the Trinity, the eternal Son of God, willingly took on human flesh and became our brother. He came down from heaven “for us men and for our salvation.” He took the form of a servant, just as Jesus said about himself: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Yes, Jesus is our Redeemer, who sets us free from our bondage to sin and death. He did this by humbly doing the will of the Father to the point of death, so great his love for God and for us. And not just any death, but even death on a cross, the most brutal and shameful death there could be. He, the innocent one, bore the sin of the guilty, namely, you and me–indeed, the sins of the whole world. With his saving mission accomplished on the cross–“It is finished!”–God the Father then raised up his Son, exalting him to the highest place, so that now the name of Jesus is the one name under heaven by which men are saved. It is the name we Christians praise and glorify. It is the name, this name of Jesus, the Savior of the world–this is the name we spread abroad, as we shine as lights in the world.
“You shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life.” We are holding fast to the word of life, for we know that this is the word of life for us. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and it is not an oncoming train. No, it is our soon-coming King, Jesus Christ, who will come and take us home to be with him forever. Having this sure hope, we hold fast the word of life.
And at the same time we hold forth the word of life, for this is a word not only for us but for the life of the world. How do we do that? By having the mind of Christ and the message of Christ. We shine as lights in the world because we have the mind of Christ, loving and serving one another, and the world will notice that. And we shine as lights in the world because we have the message of Christ, preaching and teaching, sharing and spreading the only saving gospel in our community and around the world.
Beloved, know this today; take it to heart and take it home: Jesus Christ is the Light of the world. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”