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 as you hold out the word of life … (verses 14-16)
Oh, how easy it is to fall into a pattern of “complaining” and “arguing,” murmuring and grumbling. We can do it in the church. We can do it in the world. We can do it in marriages and families and close communities of all kinds.
Have you been there? Have you done that? Don’t, Paul says.
The cautionary tale from the Old Testament that looms large in Paul’s mind is found in the wilderness wanderings of the people of Israel who complained incessantly against the leadership of Moses and the sovereign direction of the Lord God Almighty. They complained about food. They complained about water. They grumbled about leadership. Indeed, they grumbled against God. They preferred Egypt, wanting to go back, rather than venturing any further through desert wilds towards the Promised Land.
Viewing their complaints against the Lord, Moses pronounced judgement on the Israelites, saying, “They have acted corruptly toward him; to their shame they are no longer his children, but a warped and crooked generation” (Deuteronomy 32:5).
Taking this quote, Paul turns it on its head, urging the Philippians to put aside similar complaint and argument and corrupt behaviour, and instead to be blameless and pure, living truly as God’s children, even though they find themselves amid the “warped and crooked generation” of the surrounding world.
Indeed, he urges them instead to be lights in the darkness, to “shine like stars in the universe,” and as they do, to “hold out the word of life,” offering the hope and salvation of Jesus himself into a dark world that so desperately needs it.
Oh, how we need this instruction today. There is so much complaint and outrage and partisanship in the world around us that we, as followers of Jesus, can so easily get drawn right down the sink hole. We can forget the eternal stakes at play and set our sights instead on earthly things. The COVID pandemic, with lockdowns and vaccines and mask-mandates, has raised the hackles of so many, leading to complaint and argument, murmurings and grumblings, which seems so often to have muted the light meant to shine into darkness, rather than burnishing it bright.
Oh, there will certainly be times when we need to stand up against injustice. I think of the tireless service of a man like William Wilberforce, battling the scourge of slavery at the turn of the 19th century. His voice spoke loudly against the wickedness of a deeply rooted trade in slaves. But his loud complaint rang with the true tones of the gospel itself. If our politics, on the other hand, end up drowning out the “word of life,” an eternal disservice will have been done.
So, shine. Live truly as children of God. Put complaints securely into the hands of Almighty God himself. And all the while, hold tight to the gospel, holding it out for all to see, allowing its light to so permeate the recesses of our own lives, that we shine – brightly, brilliantly – as stars in a world desperately in need of a sighting of God’s glory.
O Lord God, so shine your light in me that I may be captivated afresh by the truth and glory of the gospel. Strengthen me in my inner being by your Spirit to live with the attitude of your own self-sacrificing life. Fill me with patient forbearance for those things that simply need to be endured. Give me wisdom to stand boldly, voicing complaint when your justice calls for it. And in it all, shine your light, true and strong, through your people to provide hope for a dark world.
Have you been clinging to a complaint (in the church, in the world, in a relationship) that you simply need to drop into the hands of the Lord?
Ask the Lord to shine through you, undiminished, as light in the darkness.
Photo by Marek Piwnicki on Unsplash