Vision

In Paul's second letter to Timothy he writes, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man [and woman] of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Tim 3:16-17) My prayer for this ministry is that by rightly dividing the Scriptures, I might be able to facilitate all those aspects of the Scriptures to the benefit of all those who visit this website.

Mission

The mission of this ministry is to be consistent with Jesus' original command to his disciples: "Then Jesus came to them and said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'" Matthew 28:18-20

Personal Disclosure

I am a fellow traveler who doesn't have all the answers and still makes many mistakes. However, I am desperately in love with Jesus Christ, the one and only King of kings, and I am so amazed that he knows exactly who I am and yet still died on the cross for me, then rose from the dead and called me to be His follower!

God's Message To You

"Dear Child,

I wanted you to know just how much I loved you so I sent my only Son, Jesus, to tell you and show you. If you make the decision to believe in Him, then you and I will be able to spend eternity together! I Love You!" (John 3:16 paraphrase)

Method

“Here there is no unanchored liberalism—freedom to think without commitment.

Here there is no encrusted dogmatism—commitment without freedom to think.

Here is vibrant evangelicalism—freedom to think within the bounds laid down by Scripture.”

Dr. Vernon Grounds

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Let Your Life Shine Like Stars


(Audio version; Music: "Where You Are" by: Mandi Mapes and "When A Heart Breaks" by: Ben Rector)










Introduction

            You know I’m guessing that the people of God in every generation believed their generation was the most depraved of all time. You can look back at the ancient civilizations of the Old Testament and find them described as faithless people, depraved, adulterous, immoral, sons of disobedience, and children of wrath to name but a few. One of the most profoundly depraved cultures from the Old Testament has given us a euphemistic benchmark for depravity—Sodom and Gomorrah. Nevertheless, every generation since then has witnessed its own unimaginable evil and depravity. In the first century, Nero invented new forms of brutality against Christians in order to wipe out their moral influence he feared would transform the depravity of his generation and culture. He used Christians as human torches to light Rome’s streets and his personal gardens at night just so he could maintain and perpetuate his power and control over a depraved culture and protect his own sinful desires. Let me just offer you a few examples of what sin and depravity has looked liked during a few other generations.

The 7th century gave birth to the evil of Islam. Columnist Mike Konrad, in an article written for American Thinker chronicles the historic brutality of Islam where he writes, “The enormity of the slaughters of the ‘religion of peace’ are so far beyond comprehension that even honest historians overlook the scale. When one looks beyond our myopic focus, Islam is the greatest killing machine in the history of mankind, bar none.” In his article, Konrad follows the bloody trail and dead bodies of Islam through the ages and concludes that Islam is responsible for the deaths of at least 250 million people![1]

            The 19th century witnessed the rise of Communism. Author, Robin Shepherd, in an article published by TheCommentator provides a rough estimate of those who have died at the hand of Communism. Shepherd concedes that it is difficult to ascertain the true number of deaths because, “Communist regimes went to great lengths to conceal their crimes, and one of the most oppressive of all, North Korea, still exists to this day.” Nevertheless, it is conservatively estimated that Communism is responsible for nearly 100 million deaths![2]

            And the 20th century gave us an example of evil and depravity nearest to our own generation—Nazism. Freya Petersen, in an article for the Global Post reveals that researchers for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum have catalogued more than 42,500 ghettos and labor camps operated by Hitler’s regime. I can attest to this because my mother and her family, who were Catholic Christians, were interned in one of those camps as she fled from her birthplace of Romania ahead of the Communist invasion advancing from the North. Many non-Jews, some of whom were Christians, died from disease and hunger in these lesser-known camps including some of my mother’s younger siblings. Some of these camps were known as killing centers where pregnant mothers were forced to have abortions and new-born babies were killed. Although the six million Jews who were exterminated is not in any way in dispute, researchers are finding that Nazism is responsible for as many as 20 million deaths from Russia to France![3]

            These are just a few examples of sin and depravity that originated from previous generations. Our own generation has watched these evils grow and converge to wage war against Christianity (and Judaism). However, I am convinced that there is a far greater danger that Christians are faced with in our day and age. And it is the same danger Christians have faced from the very beginning—becoming just like the sinful and depraved culture that surrounds us. This is a danger far more sinister and destructive than any weapon created by humanity that can kill the body because it’s a danger that strikes at the very heart of a Christian’s relationship with God. So how does a Christian fight the battle against a depraved culture that can be like a growing darkness that threatens to swallow every good thing in its path? Let Your Life Shine Like Stars!

Subject Text

Philippians 2:12-18

            12Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. 14Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15so 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 16as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. 17But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.

Context

            Paul and his companions established the church in Philippi during his second missionary journey through the region. The primary purpose of this letter was to thank them for the gift he received from them while he was in a Roman prison. Paul, always the caring pastor, wanted to encourage the Philippian believers to continue being faithful exactly the way they had been to that point. Philippi is famous for one particular event. In 42 BCE Mark Antony and Octavian defeated Brutus and Cassius, the assassins of Julius Caesar, in a battle at Philippi. Later in 31 BCE when Octavian defeated Antony and Cleopatra at Actium, Octavian assumed the name Augustus (that would be the same Caesar Augustus referred to in Luke’s narrative of the birth of Jesus) and rebuilt the city of Philippi. He placed retired soldiers there to ensure loyalty to Rome and established it as a military outpost. The religious life of those in Philippi was marked by very syncretistic practices including the worship of Caesar, the Egyptian gods Isis and Serapis, as well as many other deities. Philippi like all the other cities in the Roman Empire was marked by sin, depravity and darkness. Paul was encouraging the Philippian church to resist the darkness of the culture around them with the message to Let Your Life Shine Like Stars.

Text Analysis

            12Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,

            Don’t miss a very important principle that Paul is conveying implicitly in v. 12a. It is one thing to be obedient when you have someone in authority looking over your shoulder. It’s quite another to be obedient when you’re on your own. Your character is not revealed when people are watching. Your true character is revealed when no one is watching. You can pretend in public but all pretensions become unnecessarily burdensome in private so the real you is revealed. Paul wanted the Philippians to understand that their witness as followers of Christ became all the more powerful to a sinful and watching culture when they weren’t under his watchful eye. Paul is encouraging them to stay the long and difficult course of obedience at all times, whether he is there with them or not. “It is this ‘long obedience in the same direction’ which the mood of the world does so much to discourage.’ When the path of obedience to Christ becomes steep and dangerous, pleasure seekers look for an easier way. Religious tourists hunting for sensational entertainment, instantaneous enlightenment, and emotional excitement will jump on the newest rides and take quick shortcuts, but they will not be found with pilgrims on the long, hard road following the footsteps of Christ, who was obedient to death—even death on a cross. Paul’s call to unflagging, Christ-like obedience will not be popular in a world that so highly values going fast and having fun and so quickly rejects enduring pain and submitting to authority. But the essential characteristics of the wise who build their community on Christ is their consistent obedience to him.”[4] Christian character is forged in the crucible of long and often painful obedience to Christ and is most clearly seen in the lives of Christians when no one is watching.

            We have to be very careful how we read and understand v. 12b. Note that Paul didn’t say, “Work for your salvation with fear and trembling,” he said “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” It may seem like a minor detail but countless Christians slog through life wearing the shackles of the former without ever experiencing the freedom and joy of the latter. Remember that it is Paul who taught us that we are saved by grace and not by works (Eph 2:8-9). Instead, what Paul is saying here is that while Christians are saved when they put their faith in Christ, there is a component of their salvation that works itself out over the course of their lives. In other words, our salvation is a one-time event but also an on-going process of being obedient to Christ in all areas of our lives. “The phrase at first glance appears to contradict other Scripture which explains that salvation is a work of God by grace through faith. The word translated work (katergazomai) means to ‘bring about, produce, or create.’ A more contemporary meaning is one of bringing to completion or ‘to carry out the goal or carry to its ultimate conclusion.’ Paul was telling the Philippians to put into practice in their daily living what God had worked in them by the Spirit. They were not told to work for their salvation but to work out the salvation God had already given them. These believers were to work it out to the finish as they grew and developed their spiritual lives…The outworking of the new life in Christ requires obedience and faith from the believer. The purpose God desires for us to achieve is Christlikeness, ‘to be formed in the image of his Son’ (Rom 8:29).”[5]

13for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

            You know, there’s a reason that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to reside in the hearts and minds of believers. Based on v. 13, it’s how God works in us to will and act according to His good purposes. I’m not sure how many Christians could even tell you what the Holy Spirit does in their lives even while He’s doing it. If you’re new to being a Christian or maybe haven’t thought about it much, the Holy Spirit is the Creator of the universe living in you and through you all without overwhelming you as a person uniquely created in His image. What that means is the Holy Spirit is constantly at work in you, if you allow Him, to transform you to look more and more like Christ every day. The key to that transformation is that you must ask Him and allow Him to do so. You see, it is no longer a loving relationship if God transforms you against your will. However, it is a beautiful relationship if you allow the Holy Spirit to transform you, even if it is ever so slowly, to will and act according to His good purpose. It can be a dramatic transformation as it was for the Christians in the Book of Acts who upon receiving the Holy Spirit began speaking in tongues other than their own. However, for most of us, the transformation is imperceptible in the moment. Nevertheless, we can look back over the years and see how a spirit of hatred and anger has been transformed into a spirit of love and gentleness; a spirit of bitterness and resentment has been transformed into a spirit of forgiveness; a spirit of harsh judgmentalism has been transformed into a spirit of mercy and grace; a spirit of greed has been transformed into a spirit of generosity. We don’t usually notice it, but it’s happening every day as we allow the Holy Spirit of God to work in and through us.

            “Not only does God empower their ‘doing,’ but also the ‘willing’ that lies behind the doing. This is fully in keeping with Paul’s understanding of Christian ethics, which has not to do with obedience to a set of rules that regulate conduct, but first of all with a ‘mind that is transformed’ by the Spirit. Such a mind is ‘conformed’ not to this age, but to the character of God, so that behavior is a reflection of God’s will, what is good and pleasing and perfect to him (Rom 12:1-2). The ‘doing of salvation’ for Paul therefore lies in the ‘willing,’ which means the radical transformation of life by the Spirit. The believer is not one who has been begrudgingly ‘caught by God,’ as it were, so that obedience is basically out of fear and trembling over what might happen if one were to do otherwise; rather, being Christ’s means to be ‘converted’ in the true sense of that word, to have one’s life invaded by God’s Holy Spirit, so that not simply new behavior is now effected, but a new desire toward God that prompts such behavior in the first place.”[6]

14Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15so 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 16as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.

            You know this person don’t you—the person that complains about absolutely everything; the person who seems to live for the opportunity to pick a fight with you or anyone else for that matter over anything and everything? I can almost see you smiling as the image of that person comes to your mind—a co-worker; a classmate; a neighbor; a family member; a friend. Let me ask you something, how much do you enjoy that person’s company? All joking aside, I want to ask you a really hard question, are you that person? I’m not casting stones but I want you to think about what a watching world thinks about your complaining or arguing. What does that tell them about what you say you believe? If you are being transformed into the likeness of Christ, what does it say about Christ? We live in a dark and cynical world filled with complaining and arguing and when we complain and argue we allow that darkness to envelop us so that no one can distinguish us for the sinful world around us. According to vv. 14-16, Paul wants the Philippians, and by extension all of us as well, to be different from the sinful culture around them. Paul says when we resist the urge to complain and argue, we set ourselves apart from the world and become blameless and pure. We become children of God surrounded by a depraved culture that stumbles through life in the darkness of their sins.

            When my girls were young, they weren’t always allowed to do the same things as their friends. They couldn’t dress the same, they couldn’t watch the same movies or listen to the same music. My wife and I did our best to keep them, and ourselves, from being polluted by a sinful culture. We were called weird, freaks, kooks, etc. However, while the world around us swirled in darkness, we knew exactly who we were and where we were going. And do you want to know something? Some people followed us out of the darkness. Do you know what’s different from darkness? Light! Paul says that when we don’t conform to behaving the way the world around us behaves; a world shrouded in darkness, we become like stars that shine in the universe. Think about that—when you are obedient to Christ, when you resist the desire to complain or the perceived need to argue, or refuse to conform to the trappings of the dark world around you, you Let Your Life Shine Like Stars.

            “Complaining and arguing are completely opposite to Christ’s attitude, which believers are to emulate. They also give people a bad impression of the church and no one should be able to speak a word of blame against believers. If all that people know about a church is that its members constantly argue, complain, and gossip, they get a bad impression of Christ and the gospel. Unbelievers then feel justified in criticizing the Christians. Probably more churches have split from causes related to arguing and complaining than from heresy.

            Instead, believers’ lives ought to be clean, meaning beyond reproach, incurring no justifiable criticism. This does not mean sinless perfection; instead, the church was to be beyond the criticism of the unbelieving world. Their lives also ought to be innocent. There ought to be nothing within the church that would weaken its strength or contaminate the truth. The church’s members then could be children of God in a dark world full of crooked and perverse people…the church of Philippi needed to fulfill its mission in the world, and it could best do so by being clean and innocent children of God right in the middle of the depraved culture. The contrast with their culture would be so stark that the believers would shine brightly. They bring the light of truth into the darkness of depravity, as stars light up the darkness of the night.”[7]

17But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.

            It seems like vv. 17-18 veer off in a completely different direction but you have to remember that Paul is writing this letter from prison in Rome. Here’s what Paul is saying: ‘If I am put to death for preaching the gospel and your life of faith is the result of the gospel that preached to you, then it was worth it and I’m happy with that outcome. That was my purpose in preaching the gospel to you in the first place. I did what God sent me to do so you should be happy with me as well.’

“Paul’s focus of attention is upon the sacrificial service of the Philippians. Theirs is the main sacrifice offered to God. The apostle is willing that, if one thing remains to make that offering perfectly acceptable, his own life be sacrificed and credited to their account. But he describes that pouring out of his life in death by means of the modest drink offering. The converts themselves are the sacrifice, to which the missionary’s life may be added as a libation. The emphasis falls upon the [service and sacrifice] of the Philippians’ faith, not on the [sacrifice] of the apostle, however gladly he is prepared to offer it…

            There is thus every reason for mutual joy…The apostle considers it a privilege to ‘run’ and ‘labour’ for the gospel. Even if he is now called upon by God to make the supreme sacrifice, that is, to be pour out as a libation, he rejoices, for it will not only be evident that God has been willing to use him for the sake of the Philippians in the fulfillment of his apostolic struggle for the gospel, but also and specifically his sacrifice will complete their offering, making it perfectly acceptable to him. At the same time he rejoices with all of them…[Paul] is not only glad at the possibility of being poured out as a drink offering. He is also able to rejoice with all of them in their sacrificial service since it is an offering acceptable to God… As he is glad to be a libation poured out to God, so they should rejoice in this and thus share with him in his joy. They are already glad about their own sacrificial service. Let them now rejoice in his willingness to be that additional offering which completes their sacrifice.”[8]

Application

            Have you ever heard of Ashley Madison? Well maybe you know who that is now but I sure hope you didn’t know who that was a week ago. I certainly didn’t. Nevertheless, you probably know who it is after this week. Ashley Madison is a website for married people to connect discreetly with other married people in order to have an extra-marital affair! Are you kidding me! I am nearly 54 years-old and I’ve watched homosexuals try and cram their abhorrent sexuality down our throats and then demand that we recognize it as normal. I’ve watch Planned Parenthood help mothers murder their children and then profit of the sale of dead baby parts all in the name of women’s health and a woman’s right to choose. And now, I find out there is a website where, for a fee, married people who want to have an affair are matched up with other married people who also want to have an affair. So what is the rationale behind this depraved business model? “Sometimes divorce is not the best option.” Seriously? When divorce isn’t the best option, adultery is? Before you laugh it off as just some ridiculous business plan, we found out this week that they had at least 32 million members. How do we know that? Because someone hacked into their computer system and stole the personal information of at least 32 million members and released the names to the public. There were thousands of government employees on the list but our nation has come to expect that kind of behavior from politicians and government workers. However, there was one other name on the list that was disclosed and it was the name of a well-known and prominent evangelical Christian. Well as you can imagine, that was like red meat to the wolves in our media that salivate at every opportunity to publicize the failings of Christians.

            Considering the sheer magnitude of the number of members of Ashley Madison, I’m guessing that there’s more than one married Christian who is a member. Does that really surprise you? I may have been na├»ve about not knowing that there is a website that arranges for extra-marital affairs that include Christians, but I’m fully aware that people who profess to be Christians engage in essentially the same behavior as unbelievers. The divorce rate for Christians is at least the same if not slightly higher than the divorce rate for unbelievers. A few prominent Christian denominations have adopted homosexuality as an appropriate alternative lifestyle in contradiction to very clear biblical teaching. People claiming to be Christians are just as likely to be sexually active outside of marriage, addicted to pornography, to be greedy, to be hateful, and to be unforgiving as any unbeliever. A number of years ago, we attended a church with a charismatic pastor who was married and had four young children. After a number of years of attending, the pastor was suddenly asked to step down for personal reason. He was, thereafter, fired because he was having an affair with a church staff member. I learned shortly after he was removed that he started another church in the city and a number of people from the church we attended followed him there. Within a short time after starting that church, he was removed by the elders for once again having an affair with a staff member. In a very short period of time he was hired by another church as their lead pastor. His story became legend in the church community. A sad legend but a legend nonetheless. Unfortunately, his story was publicized in the local paper. The paper interviewed some of the people from the church he pastored at that time and they said that they loved and accepted him as their pastor because he was just like they were. He has since been removed as the pastor at that church for once again having an affair with someone from either the staff or the congregation. So let me ask you something: Do we really want our pastors and the Christians around us to be openly sinful so that they can be just like us? How does that make us better? How does that help an unbelieving world understand the message of the gospel? How do Christians help a depraved world groping around in the dark if they shroud themselves in the same darkness for fear of sticking out or having their own sins revealed? Unbelievers and some Christians risk eternal judgment because faithful Christians neglect their duty to always be obedient especially when no one is looking. Paul says that we are called to be blameless and pure, children of God who are to be without fault within a culture that is crooked, perverted, and depraved. You are wasting your time lamenting the fact that the culture is crooked, perverted, and depraved even if it is true. That proclamation, although necessary, doesn’t change the darkness the covers our generation nor does it help those who are lost in the darkness. The only thing that will vanquish that darkness is light. And that light is your life that is blameless and pure. A life as a child of God without fault. If you want to change the darkness of our generation and culture, Let Your Life Shine Like Stars.







[1] Mike Konrad, “The Greatest Murder Machine In History,” American Thinker, May 31, 2014, available from http://www.americanthinker.com/2014/05/the_greatest_murder_machine_in_history.html; Internet; Accessed August 10, 2014.
[2] Robin Shepherd, “The historical reality of communist oppression is being ignored. But the truth must not be buried,” TheCommentator, October 15, 2013, available from http://www.thecommentator.com/article/4230/so_how_many_did_communism_kill.html; Internet; accessed August 10, 2014.
[3] Freya Petersen, “Nazis may have killed up to 20 million people more in concentration camps than previously thought: study,” Global Post, March 4, 2013; available from http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/war/130303/nazis-concentration-camps-holocaust-death-toll-Hitlerpreviously.html; Internet; accessed August 10, 2014.
[4] G. Walter Hansen, The Letter to the Philippians—The Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eermans Publishing Co., 2009), pp. 171-172.
[5] Max Anders, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians & Colossians—Holman New Testament Commentary, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 1999), p. 235.
[6] Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians—The New International Commentary of the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), p. 238.
[7] Bruce Barton, Philip Comfort, Grant Osborne, Linda K. Taylor, and Dave Veerman, Life Application New Testament Commentary, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001), p. 852.
[8] Peter T. O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians—The New International Greek Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991), pp. 311-312.