Revering God’s Light (Philippians 2:1-30)

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The city of Philippi was home to a wonderful local church. Certainly, it was one of Paul’s favourite churches. The birth of the church forms an interesting story in the book of Acts. You read about the birth of this church in Acts 16, where Paul and company have set out to preach the gospel in Macedonia (of which Philippi was a major city). Paul’s usual modus operandi was to head first for the local Jewish synagogue and to preach the gospel there. It appears, however, that the minimum qualifications for the running of a Jewish synagogue (ten faithful Jewish men) were not met in Philippi. Instead, on the Sabbath day, Paul headed for the river, where he seemingly knew that some ladies would be gathering for prayer. He shared the gospel with these ladies and at least one of them—Lydia—was converted and baptised. She then invited Paul and his company to stay at her house, which they did.

The account continues with Paul and Silas being cast into prison, where the Philippian jailer was converted. The following day, the authorities commanded the jailer to release them, believing that they had learned their lesson about preaching the gospel in Philippi. Paul and Silas, however, revealed that they were both Roman citizens, whereupon the authorities realised in shock that their rash decision to cast the preachers into jail could land them up in deep trouble. (It was illegal to cast a Roman citizen into prison without a fair trial.) They tried to get the jailer to release them on the sly, but Paul and Silas refused to leave until the authorities came themselves to release them. When they are finally set free—to the great embarrassment of the authorities—they headed straight to Lydia’s house where they met with the believers before departing. Though they had not been in the city very long, they were able to lead some of the residents to the Lord and the Philippian church was birthed.

As you study Paul’s epistle to this church, his great love for the brothers and sisters in Philippi is evident. And not only did he love them dearly, but they obviously had the same love for him. He was able to write to them, “Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only” (4:15). When no other church was willing to help Paul financially, the Philippian believers stepped in to provide for his physical needs. It was no easier for them to do so than for any other church to which Paul ministered, but their love deep enough that they were willing to sacrifice for the apostle’s sake.

The Philippian epistle serves partly as a thank-you letter from the apostle to the Philippian believers, but it was also written to sort out certain contentions within the church. To the church in general, the apostle wrote,

Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfil my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

(Philippians 2:1-4)

In the final chapter of the book, Paul was more specific, singling out two individuals in the church—Euodia and Syntyche—to “be of the same mind in the Lord” (4:2). He continued to entreat a “true companion” to “help these women who laboured with [him] in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of [his] fellow workers” (4:3). There were certain problems within the church that hindered their light from shining in full strength and Paul wrote to deal with these problems. He exhorted them to happy relationships with holy rejoicing.

This was a good church, but like all good churches it needed the occasional reminder concerning the basics of the Christian faith. BBC’s World Outreach Celebration is a time in which we are reminded as a local church of some of the basics of the church at large. We are reminded of our purpose to be faithful to carrying out the Great Commission. We are reminded of God’s plan to redeem a people unto Himself. But most importantly, we are reminded of the person and the work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This study is part of a series on the light of the gospel. If you have been following these studies in the order that they have been presented, then you have been reminded of some vital truths concerning the Great Commission. You have been reminded, firstly, of the need to rekindle your light. Secondly, you have been reminded of the need to relish God’s light. Thirdly, you have been reminded of the need to reveal God’s light.

In this study, I want to remind you of the need to revere God’s light. This is precisely what the apostle Paul reminded the Philippians of in Philippians 2. Reminding them of this, he pointed them to three basic truths: first, the need to revere the Lord; second, the need to reflect the light; and third, the need to release their lives. The things that the Philippians needed to learn are the same things that we need to learn in the church today. Our effectiveness in the Great Commission hinges largely on us learning and living these lessons, and I want to thus challenge you with these three things as we study this passage together.

We Must Revere the Lord

Paul opens the chapter:

Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfil my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.

(Philippians 2:1-13)

First of all, we must understand our responsibility to revere the Lord. Paul commands us to “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling” (v. 12). To “work out” our salvation is not to work for our salvation, but to put the Christian life into practise. It is our responsibility to exhibit practical sanctification. In other words, we are to live out the Christian life. If we profess Christ, we are to live like Christ.

We are to do this “with fear and trembling.” This speaks of a fear of offending God and a resultant reverent awe and respect that is His due. The word “fear” is a strong one, which speaks properly of “terror.” “Trembling” refers to “quivering from fear or astonishment.”

Paul was charging his readers to give God full weight in their lives. If we do this, He will control us. There are far too many professing Christians who lack this reverence for the Lord. When a person professes Christ, yet has no time for His church, that person has little right to claim Christ as His own. When we give God full weight in our lives, we are completely controlled by Him. We will submit to the church and to our spiritual leaders. In relation to the Great Commission, if we truly give God His due in our lives, then the Great Commission will be our ultimate passion. We will love the gospel and we will love to preach it. And if we truly revere the Lord, our finances will follow our fear. The man who properly reveres the Lord has little trouble in sacrificing for the cross of Christ. He has no problem giving of his material wealth to support the spread of the Great Commission through his local church.

Our responsibility is to fear the Lord Jesus Christ. The verses leading up to the charge to work out our salvation with fear and trembling deal with the person and the work of Jesus Christ. Paul was saying, “In light of who Jesus Christ is, and in light of what He has done, you have the responsibility to revere Him.” He gave us good reason to revere Christ:

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

(Philippians 2:5-11)

First, Paul we are to revere Jesus Christ because He is Lord. Why is there so much flippancy concerning Christ today? Why do so many superficial bumper stickers abound that relegate Him to the ranks of a mere man? Why is He treated as a buddy and nothing more? I would submit that it is because the world at large (and Christendom, for that matter) really does not understand that He is Lord.

I have often heard people counselling others, “Just tell the Lord that you are angry with Him!” I shudder when I hear such advice. What arrogance! Don’t ever “tell” the Lord that you are angry with Him! What possible right do we think we have to be angry with Him? He is the One with the right to be angry. He is King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16), and deserves to be treated as such. When Peter realised who Christ truly was, he fell down at His feet and cried, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (Luke 5:8). May we have an equal reverence for the Lord.

Second, we must revere the Lord because He is near. Paul says that “God . . . works in you” (v 13). In Colossians 1:27, the apostle speaks of “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Jesus Christ is separate from His creation, but He has not separated Himself from it. He works in the lives of men and, if you are a believer, He is in you. He is always at hand, for He will never leave or forsake those who belong to Him (Hebrews 15:5).

According to Paul, if we truly revere the Lord it will result in at least two things.

First, we will be committed. Paul spoke of the Philippian believers who had “obeyed” in his presence (v. 12). The word means literally “to answer a knock.” When someone knocks at our door, we “obey” by getting up, going to the door and answering the call. Paul was exhorting these believers to answer God’s call in their lives. When God knocks, we are to jump up and answer the door. If we believe that He is Lord, we will bow to Him as Lord. Jesus Christ said to the people of His day, “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). How can we call Him Lord if we do not obey His every command? How can a church claim to be strong on the Lordship of Jesus Christ, yet have absolutely no passion for missions? Missions is the heartbeat of God. The only reason that we were left on this earth after salvation was so that we could take the good news of salvation to those in darkness. It is impossible to be truly committed to Christ as Lord and to have no interest in world missions. “Oh, but we have a Christian school at our church,” you reply. There is nothing wrong with that, but Jesus Christ did not commission us to plant schools! He commanded us to take the gospel into the world and promised that He would plant churches as we are faithful with the gospel. The Great Commission is still the guiding light for Christianity today. The Great Commission alone must be our lighthouse—that which guides us safely into the port of God’s will. And if we truly believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, we will be committed to His Great Commission.

Second, if we truly believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, we will be consistent. Paul acknowledged that this church had “obeyed . . . in [his] presence,” but challenged them to obey “much more in [his] absence” (v. 12). Whether or not the apostle was in Philippi, God still expected obedience. It grieves me to be away on a Sunday and hear when I get of church members who were not at the service that day. Is such inconsistency evidence that such people are not truly committed to the Lordship of Christ? Perhaps.

Each year, at the end of our World Outreach Celebration, we take up our Faith Promise pledge. The Faith Promise is the giving that goes toward the missions emphasis of our church. The people of our church are encouraged to make a monthly commitment to missions, and are reminded that the commitment that they make is primarily before God. (We do not ask for names or any other personal information on the pledge cards that are collected.) Over the past twelve months, 77 per cent of the promised funds were given to the church. The money that came in allowed us to do many things as a church and we can hardly complain that we are about to go broke. We have sufficient finances to support our missionaries and to be actively involved in various missions ministries. But it nevertheless saddens me that 23 per cent of the promised funds never came in throughout the year. What is the problem? Once again, I can only assume that some in the church who promised to give to the Lord obviously do not seriously understand His Lordship.

I could give illustration after illustration, but I believe that the point has been made. Are we consistent? If we truly believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, we certainly will be consistent in our commitment. We will be consistent in our ministry involvement. We will be consistent in our obedience to the call of God upon our lives to take the gospel to those in need. Whatever the case may be, a true commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ will result in consistent obedience. Is this true of you?

Before we move on, it is important that we understand that we have the resource for this reverence. Paul writes, “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (v. 13). John put it this way: “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). What exactly are the biblical authors speaking of? They are referring to the one whom Jesus Christ called “the Spirit of truth” (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13). The Holy Spirit who indwells us teaches us to revere the Lord Jesus Christ. His purpose is to magnify Christ in the lives of His people. In the words of Christ, “He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you” (John 16:14). As believers, we have the Holy Spirit, who is the only necessary resource for properly revering the Lord. We cannot claim inability to revere Christ because the Spirit of God shows us exactly how to do this. Let us properly focus upon the Lord Jesus Christ and revere Him for who He is and what He has done.

We Must Reflect the Light

Secondly, Paul shows us our responsibility to reflect the light. He writes,

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 laboured in vain. Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. For the same reason you also be glad and rejoice with me.

(Philippians 2:14-18)

Just as the sun, moon and stars illumine the darkness, so should our Christlike character shine in a twisted and perverse world.

We must remember why we are here: to “shine as lights in the world.” Jesus Christ put it this way:

You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

(Matthew 5:14-16)

And Peter reminded us that we are “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that [we] may proclaim the praises of Him who called [us] out of darkness into His marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

We are to be a shining part of God fulfilling His purpose. As we saw previously, God’s backyard is the world and this ought to be our backyard as well. We are to be going and sending the light throughout God’s backyard in order that the lost may receive the good news of salvation. We are not here to make money, build a career, enjoy leisure, or even change the world. We often hear people claiming that we can change the world. This is untrue: Only God—through the gospel—has the power to change lives and hence the world. We are called to faithfully present the gospel to the lost and trust God to change lives. We are sons of God, created and recreated to reflect God’s Son in God’s backyard.

If we remain focused on who we are—sons of God—and why we are here—to shine God’s light in the darkness—then we will forsake anything that gets in the way. We will then truly be able to “do all things without complaining and disputing,” for self will be removed and we will be focused solely on the Lord Jesus Christ.

The church today is far too prone to get sidetracked from the Great Commission, because she is far too self-absorbed. We complain and criticise and our light burns dim. We get sidetracked from the Great Commission because of petty squabblings and we lose our lustre and our opportunities to shine. When I do premarital counselling, one of my goals is to show the prospective newlyweds that their union, in God’s eyes, is effectively a greater opportunity for them to shine as a couple. Their marriage is not primarily about themselves. Rather, they are together to seek every opportunity they can to work together in the Great Commission. Understanding this from the start will enable them to better fulfil God’s plan for their lives and their marriage.

Far too much time is wasted in the church because of silly, sinful selfishness. We complain because the sermons are too long; we groan that someone took our chair or our parking place; we accuse people of not being friendly enough; and moan that too much is expected of us. And because of this, we fail to brightly reflect God’s light in a darkened world. Believer, forget your petty preferences! Look at the big picture and begin to properly reflect God’s light in His backyard! Everything that happens in your life is due to the providence of God, and God’s providences are always intended to brighten His light. Don’t waste time; don’t waste opportunities; reflect His light whilst you can!

With Nehemiah, understand that you are “doing a great work” and that you “cannot come down” (Nehemiah 6:3). There was a time recently when I was so burdened about BBC shining as a light in the world that I literally lost my appetite. For several days, I had no desire for food because I was completely absorbed with the need for our church to increase her commitment to the Great Commission. I am not suggesting that if you don’t lose your appetite you are not properly focused, but I would challenge you from the Word of God to focus on that which truly matters. You are here for one reason: to fulfil the Great Commission. Understand that, and live as a shining light to the nations.

Not only must we remember why we are here, but we must also remember what we have. Paul encouraged the Philippians in their task of “holding fast the word of life.” The KJV translates this phrase as “holding forth the word of life,” thereby presenting the picture of a man standing with stretched out arms, holding God’s Word out to people in need. This is not the primary idea behind the phrase. The term means “to hold upon,” “to retain,” or “to attend to.” In Acts 3:5, it is translated as “gave . . . attention.” First Timothy 4:16 translates it as “take heed.” Rather than holding God’s Word out to others, the primary idea behind is that of clinging to God’s Word.

Essentially, Paul was reminding the Philippians that the only way to “do all things without complaining and disputing” is to cling to God’s Word. This is what the Philadelphian church was commended for: “You have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.” (Revelation 3:8).

The truth is, if we fail to stay in the Word of God, our commitment to the Great Commission will wane, flicker and eventually die. Why is it that a church makes a financial commitment to missions but then performs only 77 per cent of the promise? Essentially, it is because, somewhere along the line, some of the church members failed to cling to God’s Word, and thus when the emotional enthusiasm waned, the commitment perished with it.

We must cling to God’s Word because God’s Word shows us Jesus Christ. I have seen before how prideful “reformed” men are quick to criticise “ignorant fundamentalism” that does not agree exactly with them. Too often, theologians become convinced of the doctrines of grace but fail to exercise the grace of the doctrines. They are so consumed with proving their stand on soteriology that they fail to see the loving person of Jesus Christ. They proudly criticise others for not understanding the doctrines of God’s sovereign grace but fail to exercise the grace of the sovereign God in their relationships with others upon whom God has bestowed His grace. They see the doctrines of Jesus Christ but they fail to see and conform to the character of Jesus Christ. Yet as we truly cling to God’s Word, the love of God will shine through us as we see Jesus Christ high and lifted up.

We must also remember where we are headed. Paul was driven by this. Notice his words: “so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or laboured in vain.” He desired to hold fast the Word of life in order that he might prove that his race and labour were not in vain. He understood that he would one day give an account of how well he reflected God’s light, and thus he endeavoured to cling faithfully to God’s Word.

Do you understand that you will one day be judged on how well you reflected God’s light to others? If so, you should be motivated to hold faithfully to God’s Word so that you may one day hear His glorious words: “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matthew 25:21).

We must remember also what we can have. Paul writes, “Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. For the same reason you also be glad and rejoice with me” (vv. 17-18). What can we have? Rejoicing! The first church (in Jerusalem) was forever “praising God” (Acts 2:47). They “ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart” (Acts 2:46). Imprisoned in Philippi, “at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God” (Acts 16:25).

As we revere God and reflect His light, we will find cause for true rejoicing. Our lives will be filled with holy celebration. I always rejoice when I hear the testimonies from our missionaries of their work on the field. Missionary testimonies form an integral part of our World Outreach Celebration. As our church tastes of the ministry of those we support and sees what God is doing in communities around our land and around the world, there is indeed cause for great celebration!

We Must Release Our Lives

Finally, Paul spoke to the Philippians of the need to release their lives.

But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, that I also may be encouraged when I know your state. For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus. But you know his proven character, that as a son with his father he served with me in the gospel. Therefore I hope to send him at once, as soon as I see how it goes with me. But I trust in the Lord that I myself shall also come shortly.

Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need; since he was longing for you all, and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. For indeed he was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I sent him the more eagerly, that when you see him again you may rejoice, and I may be less sorrowful. Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem; because for the work of Christ he came close to death, not regarding his life, to supply what was lacking in your service toward me.

(Philippians 2:19-30)

Having exhorted the Philippian believers to revere the Lord and to reflect the light Paul, now encouraged them by telling them that he was sending two individuals to their church in order to help them in their reverence and their reflection. These spiritual leaders, by their practise and by their preaching, would aid the Philippians in revering the Lord and reflecting His light.

Is not this the type of leadership that we desire? It should be! We should desire to follow only those who are committed to revering the Lord and reflecting the light, and who are committed to helping us to do the same. This is exactly the reason that Paul was sending these men to Philippi. Timothy and Epaphroditus were able to help the Philippian believers because they were men who lived these truths out in their own lives. The proof that they lived these truths was that they had released their lives for the cross of Christ.

Only those who release their lives truly revere the Lord and reflect His light. We ought to strive to be such people! We should strive to be as the Macedonian believers of whom Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 8:

Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia: that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God.

(2 Corinthians 8:1-5)

Just as the Macedonian disciples “first gave themselves to the Lord,” so we should surrender ourselves to the Lord and allow our actions to follow suit. And if we truly release our lives to the Lord, it will be evidenced in at least three ways.

First, we will be willing to be sent for the Lord. Paul knew that he would soon be able to send Timothy to the Philippians. Until then, he deemed it necessary to send Epaphroditus, whom he indeed sent (Philippians 2:28). The word “send” means “to send under authority.”

Timothy and Epaphroditus were two men close to Paul’s heart. He referred to Timothy as his beloved son (1 Corinthians 4:17) and his own son in the faith (1 Timothy 1:2). Paul often sent Timothy to encourage churches (1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Thessalonians 3:1-2; 1 Timothy 1:3).

Paul seems to have used Epaphroditus for such ministries as well (Philippians 2:25; 4:18). Clearly, Paul trusted Epaphroditus as a faithful messenger (Philippians 2:25).

The point is simple: Those who recognise Christ’s authority will go where they are sent. They will release their lives to Him and, when He thus calls them somewhere, they will not hesitate to obey the call. Moreover, just as Timothy and Epaphroditus went under and with Paul’s authority, when we go for Christ we go under and with the authority of Christ and of the church that has sent us. BBC is preparing to send out a missionary couple early in the new year. When they go, they are going with authority from Jesus Christ and with authority from BBC. Because they have recognised Christ’s authority, they are willing to go where He sends them.

Second, when we truly release our lives we will be willing servants of the Lord. Timothy “served with [Paulo] in the gospel.” The word “served” means “to serve as a bond slave.” A bond slave has no rights, schedule, ownership, or hidden agenda. He lives merely to serve his master. This is the service to which we are called. We are called to forget our rights, to ignore our schedule, to revoke our ownership, and to come to Christ with one agenda: to lovingly and willingly serve Him. When we give, we give out of a heart that desires to serve the Master. When we go, we go with a passion to serve the Master. We must die to selfish interest and live only to serve Christ.

Third, when we truly release our lives, we will be willing to be sacrificed for the Lord.  Epaphroditus nearly worked himself to death to assist Paul (v. 30). He exposed his life to danger for the work of Christ. He released his life into the sovereign hand of God. He sought to supply to Paul what the Philippians could not (however willing they may have been). Why did he do this? Why was he willing to risk his own life to minister to Paul? Because he revered the Lord more than he revered his own life.

Alexander McKay left his homeland with seven other young missionaries to travel with the gospel to Uganda and Tanzania. Before leaving, he delivered this stirring speech to the missions committee that was sending them:

I want to remind the committee that within six months they will probably hear that one of us is dead. Yes, is it at all likely that eight Englishmen should start to Central Africa and all be alive six months after? One of us at least—it may be I—will surely fall before that. When the news comes, do not be cast down, but send someone else immediately to take the vacant place.

That is the kind of commitment that God expects of us: a willingness to go with the gospel despite threat to our very lives. Within a year of leaving England, Alexander McKay alone was left alive. He had a fruitful ministry and then, at the age of forty, died. Was his life a waste? Most certainly not! For the cross of Christ, eight men were willing to give their lives at an early age. Why should it be any different for us? Let us release our lives in humble recognition of His Lordship.

Paul’s words were penned two millennia ago. Yet the challenge still beckons us down the passage of history: Do not waste time! Revere the Lord, and reflect His light as you release your life for the cross of Christ.