Philippians 2:12-30.
 The Light of the World is... You!

Copyright © 2011, John.W. (Jack) Carter
All rights reserved.  Scripture quotes from KJV



Paul wrote this letter to the Philippians to encourage them and to provide them with very specific counsel on how to live a life that honors the LORD, a life that is brought under His Lordship, and draws closer and closer to the LORD in a personal relationship.  God has a very specific purpose for those who draw close to Him, and that is to serve Him in His plan to bring the opportunity for salvation to everyone.  Jesus taught this truth in the very familiar Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew 5:14-16.  Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. 15Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. 16Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

This is one of the most well-known portions of the sermon where Jesus taught the disciples that they would be as salt and light in this world: salt was used to preserve and purify, and light chases away darkness, illuminating everything that it touches.  It is axiomatic that people of faith who seek to be obedient to the LORD are inspired by this task.  However real life often seems to serve to challenge obedience to the task, presenting enough of a challenge that it is easy to become discouraged.  Many people of faith probably do not feel much like the “light of the world” as they may be side-tracked by the influences of this world, influences that may have served to draw one far from a life that characterizes obedience.

Yet, Jesus did not say,

Jesus said, you are the light of the world.  Bright or dim, every person of faith is that light through which the LORD illuminates the darkness of this world.  Like a city on a hill that cannot be hidden, the illuminating light of a Christian always shines, though possibly quite dimly at times. 

With self-help books outselling every genre of text other than the Bible, it is evident that people do strive to improve many areas of their lives.  People want to know “how to” make these chosen improvements.  Religions establish their doctrinal foundations by supplying their adherents with “how to” become good enough to be accepted by a Holy God.  Christians understand that there is no “how to,” no path of works to true righteousness.  Righteousness is given by God as a gift to all those who sincerely place their faith and trust in Him.  However, understanding one’s own inherent unrighteousness motivates every believer, under the power and influence of the Holy Spirit, to grow and mature in the faith.  As Paul writes to the church in Philippi, he provides some sound advice on “how to” do this.

 

A CALL TO OBEDIENCE

Philippians 2:12a.  Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence,

This true desire to obey God is exactly what the LORD is looking for in a person of faith.  Christian maturity is found by “pressing toward the mark” of the high calling of Christ.[1]  Though we will rarely hit the “bulls-eye” as we aim for obedience, it is this sincere desire to hit the target that pleases God.  Paul speaks to this desire as the basis for encouraging the Philippians.  Stating that their obedient behavior is consistent both in his presence and in his absence, he is speaking to the integrity of faith that is demonstrated by the church fellowship.

People who observe the church often think of its members as “hypocrites,” as churchgoers sometimes claim in words that which they fail to demonstrate in their lives.  Christians can have a “what-you-see-is-what-you-get” (WYSIWYG) character when they shed self-righteous pride, and by so doing, be exactly the same person when they are immersed in a faithless community as they have when they are surrounded by other Christians.  It is the tendency to act differently in these two communities that brings this defensible charge of hypocrisy. 

The true and necessary motivation for interacting with others is to be unconditional agape love.  One of Paul’s fundamental teachings is that the love that Christians share with all people is to be without hypocrisy.[2] Paul’s statement to the Philippians is a great compliment as he recognizes that their love is without hypocrisy.

Philippians 2:12b.  work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

This statement is a continuation of the previous, and may be one of the most misunderstood and misapplied verses of scripture.  The translation of the Greek into “work out” has become unfortunate in today’s vocabulary.  If taken out of context it can literally imply that salvation is based upon performing a sequence of necessary works.  To come to such a conclusion is contradictory to all of the teaching of Christ and of Paul who clearly teach that salvation is found by faith in God, and not by works.  Consequently, any similar interpretation can be summarily rejected.

Actually, this argument is not relevant, as the Greek word that is translated “work out” might also as accurately be translated “practice,” as used by a professional when they practice their chosen profession.  Paul’s statement is clear and extremely important:  as Christians practice their faith, a faith that is based upon unconditional love, they should never forget the significance of the gift of grace that God has given them to allow them the privilege of eternal salvation, given while they are still unrighteous. 

It may be easy and tempting to take this gift of grace for granted.  We should never forget what that grace cost, a price that Paul described in the previous verses when Yahweh came to earth and submitted Himself to man, even to death on the Cross of Calvary.  Christ took on the punishment for unrighteousness that we all deserve so that we might be given Christ’s righteousness that we do not deserve. 

Philippians 2:13.  For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.

Again, to come up with a works-based salvation from verse 12a requires one to ignore everything else that Paul (and Jesus) taught.  The work that was accomplished to attain the righteousness of the faithful was done by God, and by God alone since there is no work of this world that can make one perfect.  No matter how hard we work at righteousness, we will always fall short in some area of our life.[3]  There is simply no hope for mankind without God’s intervention.  Knowing our inability to overcome the power of sin, it was God’s “good pleasure,” or literally, “desire,” to exercise His will in our lives by doing the work necessary to bring us to Him.

When we clearly understand that we did not attain our own righteousness, we find that there is no worldly difference between the lost and the saved.  Those who place their faith in the LORD have been given eternal salvation, but they have done no work to attain it.  Consequently, people of faith can look upon the lost as brothers and sisters who simply have not yet found that faith.  There is no room for hypocrisy when we understand that we all fully deserve eternal separation from God.

Philippians 2:14.  Do all things without murmurings and disputings:

We might start our study of this verse with its first words:  all things.  A life that is without hypocrisy is one that is consistent.  It is a life that does not vacillate between obedience and disobedience.  It is a life that treats all people in love at all times.  It is a life that is others-centered rather than self-centered … all of the time and in all circumstances. 

With this idea in mind, we can move on to the imperative that Paul brings:  stop complaining and arguing.  The words that Paul uses both refer to the same form of behavior with the first one expressed in a private setting, and the second in a public setting.  The first refers to the act of complaining, judging, and criticizing others.  Such behavior is self-centered, prideful, and seeks only to distance oneself from others, a behavior that is completely opposed to the expression of grace.  Judging, criticizing, and complaining about others is a very visible sin that brings reproach upon the name of Christ.  Driven by the sin of pride, this critical and judgmental spirit is not a fruit of the Holy Spirit, but is rather a spirit of the adversary, satan.  This destructive pattern of behavior is a product of our own flesh that is to be brought under the control of the Holy Spirit.

The word that is translated “disputings” describes the interaction between people when they take this spirit and express it in a public setting.  We see it when Christians bicker with on another in an effort to get their own way.  Such behavior can enter church “business meetings,” reducing them to a desperately ugly and demeaning testimony, reducing the body of Christ to a secular, self-centered, club.  It is this behavior that has caused many to reject the organized church.  It is this behavior, both public and private, that builds walls between the church and the people who they are called to seek and to love. 

It is apparent from Paul’s imperative that this demonic spirit had permeated the fellowship in Philippi.  This same spirit has permeated many of today’s church fellowships and has served to greatly diminish their testimony, reducing them from a body of Christ to an elite social club with a Christian theme.

However, the power of satan is destroyed when his wiles are illuminated by the light of the Holy Spirit.  Paul sheds this light by exposing this spirit for all to see.  A fundamental purpose of the Holy Spirit is to illuminate this dark world with the light of truth and when one submits him/herself to the Holy Spirit, this sinful behavior, as well as many others, can be overcome.

Philippians 2:15.  That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;

It would appear that this one issue, a judging, criticizing, and complaining spirit, was the predominant problem in the Philippian church, since its removal would result in several important blessings.

Blameless.  At this point, people could place blame on the Philippians with merit.  The church members were characterized by this destructive spirit, and the community was aware of it.  Churches today who are so characterized have a tendency to chase off anyone who is different or does not fit their little clique by using their self-centered and hurtful statements of judgment and condemnation.  This can be anything from an overheard, “Do you see him over there?  He’s ____” (fill in the blank) to “We don’t need your kind around here.”  By shedding this spirit, the church could no longer face such blame.

Harmless.  Tremendous harm is brought to the gospel by people who express this spirit.  People are hurt by words, the reputation of the body is destroyed, and the ability of the church to reach the community is compromised.  By shedding this spirit, the church will no longer do harm to the gospel.

Without rebuke.  Though those with this critical spirit rarely receive any rebuke themselves, the whole body suffers rebuke by those who are the target of their disparaging remarks.  The church members are referred to as “hypocrites” who demonstrate a consistent “holier than thou” attitude.  When this sinful spirit is shed, the church fellowship will no longer be the target of such rebuke.

In the midst…  God has a plan and purpose for the church: to serve as His hands and his voice in this wicked and perverse world in which the church is immersed.  By shedding the sinful behaviors that Paul has revealed, the church can return to this mission and serve, like Paul, to illuminate and defeat satan’s work in this world with the light and power of the gospel.  People will not tend to listen to the joyful testimony of an individual with a sour and critical spirit.  However, they may listen to an individual whose faith is without hypocrisy, and whose Christian integrity is without compromise.  When this latter individual shares Christ’s love with the lost, that sharing is genuine.  This latter individual loves the lost and, though immersed in this “crooked and perverse nation,” is not defeated by it.  When the church fellowship is known for their integrity, there is no limit to the ways that God can use that fellowship to influence this world.

Shining lights.  The writers of scripture often use the metaphor of light to represent the presence of God and the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit.  Neither an individual Christian, nor a Christian fellowship, can serve to demonstrate the presence of God or the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit when they are known for a lack of true agape love.  By identifying and illuminating this one particular sin that so vexes the Philippian church, Paul gives them the opportunity to repent, and by so doing regain the power to serve as God’s presence in this wicked world.   

Philippians 2:16.  Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.

The testimony of the church is diminished when its members “hold on” to the wrong things.  For many, it is holding to the “status-quo,” with a tenacious grip.  Such churches resist any change and live in a fear of the unknown.  Some hold on to their security by maintaining large facilities and large bank accounts, holding on to these against the possibility of slimmer days ahead, an example of the parable of the rich fool, builder of a bigger barn.[4]  Churches hold on to social traditions, worship styles, religious rites and practices.  Paul identifies the one and only resource that the church must hold on to:  the Word of Life:  the truths of the gospel.

When Paul thinks of the church in Philippi, he considers the fellowship like his own spiritual children since he started that church[5] during his second missionary journey, the first church started on the continent of Europe.  Paul states that it is his joy to watch the Philippian church grow in Christ so that the work that he did in starting it would not have been in vain.  

Philippians 2:17-18.  Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all. 18For the same cause also do ye joy, and rejoice with me.

Knowing the integrity of the Philippian church, and the sacrifice that they have made for the gospel, he expresses a spiritual confidence that both their sacrifice and his own sacrifice has not been in vain.  Paul is facing the possibility of conviction by the Roman court, a conviction that could bring brutal results.  Paul is confident that even if his imprisonment should end this way, it is simply a sacrifice that he willingly and joyfully makes on the behalf of the church, and the churches, he planted. 

We can note that the church does not have to be perfect for it to serve as a shining light for the gospel.  Likewise, a Christian does not have to be perfect for that same light to shine.  God simply requires an obedient heart, and a loving spirit that is submitted to Him.  He can use that sincere love to bring His gospel purpose to a lost world.  When we let our light shine, when we witness the church letting its light shine, there is great reason for rejoicing when we also witness the resulting works of God take place in our lives and in the life of the church.

TWO EXAMPLES OF FAITHFULNESS: TIMOTHY AND EPAPHRODITUS

Philippians 2:19.  But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timotheus shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state.

Paul is not a stranger to sacrifice, and his promise to send Timothy to Philippi is certainly an example of such sacrifice on his part.  Paul is currently imprisoned in Rome and totally dependent upon his friends for his support.  Placed under ‘house arrest’ and chained to a Roman guard, he receives no resources from the Roman government.  Paul continually refers to those who are ministering to him while he is in chains, and one of the most prominent of these is Timothy.  In many ways, Paul is preparing Timothy to replace himself.  Timothy is young, energetic, sincerely loves the LORD, and like Paul has dedicated his life to the gospel.  By sending Timothy to Philippi, he is lending away the encouragement and resource that Timothy has been to him.  However, Paul considers it a greater priority that Timothy visit Philippi, encourage the church, bring his greetings, and return with news of the state of the fellowship. 

Philippians 2:20.  For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state. 21For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s. 

“There is simply nobody like Timothy,” are the words of Paul as he introduces him to the Philippian church.  Paul often uses himself as an example to those he teaches.  This time he turns to Timothy as an example of an individual with a faithful and dedicated spirit.  Likewise, we can look to Timothy as an example to follow.  Literally, Paul states that Timothy is “like-souled,” or like no other person, Timothy shares Paul’s heart.  Their love for the church is similar, and they share a willingness to sacrifice for it.  Timothy also shares other important similarities to Paul:                                                                       

First, Paul refers to a basic characteristic of Timothy’s personality:  it is natural for Timothy to care for the church in Philippi.  Timothy has a caring and loving spirit for others, and Paul knows without question that Timothy will care for them like nobody else he can call upon. 

It is quite evident that Timothy’s spirit is not universally shared with all members of the faith.  Many Christians in the first-century church, as well as many Christians today are far more self-centered than other-centered.  It is a seeming rarity to find a Christian who is totally sold-out to the service of others, though this should be true for all. 

We have the opportunity to look at our own lives and ask ourselves, “are we other-centered like Timothy, or are we more self-centered like the people of this world?”  The sincere answer to that question might help to point us in the right direction as we repent of our self-centeredness and begin to experience the joy of serving others rather than ourselves.  This is a message that Paul desires the church in Philippi to hear, and is appropriate for us today.

Philippians 2:22.  But ye know the proof of him, that, as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel.

Paul continues to commend Timothy for his servant nature.  Timothy has shared in much of Paul’s ministry, and much of his sacrifice.  Timothy has stood by Paul without compromise, and will continue to do so even upon Paul’s impending death.[6]  Timothy has proved his faithfulness over the years by his servant nature.  Jesus stated that he who is greatest shall be the one who is a servant of all,[7] and Timothy is an example of this type of servanthood.  This is a characteristic that all Christians can seek to emulate as we turn from our self-service to the service of others.

Philippians 2:23-24.  Him therefore I hope to send presently, so soon as I shall see how it will go with me. 24But I trust in the Lord that I also myself shall come shortly.

Paul expresses his need for Timothy, hoping to send him after he learns of his future.  Paul believes that, since he has broken no Roman laws, he will be set free.  Consequently, he hopes to come to Philippi himself as soon as he receives that opportunity.  In the meantime, however, he will give Timothy to the church at Philippi, sending him on a very specific mission of grace. 

We see in this commendation one more example of Timothy’s willingness to be engaged in the enterprise of missions:  leaving the comfort zone of his current experience to travel to other peoples and other lands with the purpose of ministering to the people there.  Timothy has already demonstrated the confidence in the LORD that engagement in the missionary enterprise necessitates.  Likewise, Christians should be confident in the LORD, confident enough to leave their comfort zone with the purpose of demonstrating God’s love to people outside of it.

Philippians 2:25.  Yet I supposed it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labour, and fellowsoldier, but your messenger, and he that ministered to my wants.

Paul likewise intends upon sending Epaphroditus back to Philippi, and offers a few words of recommendation for him, mentioning several characteristics of his personality that demonstrate his faithfulness to the gospel.  Sending both of these illustrates the even greater sacrifice that Paul is making on the behalf of the church in Philippi.  It would seem appropriate that Paul would send the two of these as a team, the young and faithful Timothy, and the older and more experienced Epaphroditus.  The two would complement each other as well as to serve to encourage one another in this missionary effort.

We might use this as an example of the value of teamwork in ministry, an example that would cost Paul the support of both of these as they would make the long trip to Philippi in Macedonia (Greece).  Their ability to work together is an example to all of us as they form a unified team with the purpose of sharing the love of God with others. 

Brother.  Where Paul often thought of Timothy as his son in the ministry, he thinks of Epaphroditus as a brother.  Paul expresses a closeness and great appreciation for Epaphroditus.  This testimony is important when we consider the relationship that Epaphroditus has with the church in Philippi.

Companion in Labor.  Paul also describes Epaphroditus as a companion, one who has shared his life with Paul, and shared in Paul’s experiences.  Furthermore, Epaphroditus did not share those experiences as a spectator, but worked alongside Paul through all of the labors of his ministry.

Fellowsoldier.  Likewise,  Paul describes Epaphroditus’ service with Paul as an equal, using a military term that implies a similar rank.  Paul did not think of Epaphroditus as beneath himself, but rather as an equal in the ministry.

This familial, vocational, and military[8] description of Epaphroditus’ character demonstrates the value that Epaphroditus’ service has become to Paul. 

Your Messenger.  Epaphroditus was sent to Paul by the church in Philippi to minister to his needs and to bring a gift to him.[9]  Consequently, this praise for Epaphroditus would serve to encourage the church in Philippi since he is one of their own.  Paul makes it very clear that not only did Epaphroditus accomplish the mission that the church sent him on, but in addition he has become an invaluable help to Paul in the ministry. 

We see in Epaphroditus an example of faithful service as he joyfully and completely embraced the mission that was given to him by the church in Philippi, realizing a relationship with Paul as well as with Timothy, and serving the LORD alongside Paul.  We have no record of Epaphroditus’ ministry in Rome, but considering that Paul was housebound, it is easy to ascertain that Epaphroditus assisted Paul in ministry to that region.

Philippians 2:26-30.  For he longed after you all, and was full of heaviness, because that ye had heard that he had been sick. 27For indeed he was sick nigh unto death: but God had mercy on him; and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28I sent him therefore the more carefully, that, when ye see him again, ye may rejoice, and that I may be the less sorrowful. 29Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness; and hold such in reputation: 30Because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me.

Paul furthermore notes that Epaphroditus’ ministry to Paul came at a very great sacrifice.  Apparently, Epaphroditus became ill on his journey from Philippi to Rome.  Paul makes it very clear that Epaphroditus was very ill.  When threatened with an illness that threatens death, many people will find their priorities changed, and turn inward, seeking to meet their own needs before the needs of other.  Such a response to a devastating illness is understandable.  Nobody would have thought less of Epaphroditus if he had left the gift with Paul and returned to Philippi.

Paul makes it very clear that Epaphroditus’ ministry to Paul was not compromised by his illness.  This speaks volumes of Epaphroditus’ character.  Epaphroditus can now return home, having accomplished the mission that the church in Philippi assigned to him, having done so with honor, valor, and integrity.

Both Timothy and Epaphroditus are examples of individuals who, despite many defensible reasons to do otherwise, let the light of the Holy Spirit shine through them.  By so doing, they ministered to Paul as well as ministered to the people in the region around Rome.  They were able to be used of the LORD because of their faithfulness. 

As Christians seek to be obedient to the LORD, they can certainly consider the examples of Timothy and Epaphroditus, as Paul commended them to the church in Philippi.  Like the “city on a hill” neither Timothy or Epaphroditus could hide their love for the LORD, nor their love for people.  Jesus said, “let your light so shine among men, that they would see your good works and glorify God who is in heaven.” 

It may be time for us to take a good look at ourselves, and determine if we are like those in the Philippian church who are more self-centered than others-centered, preferring to affirm their own desires as they take part in behaviors that are destructive to the gospel.  Or are we more like Timothy and Epaphroditus who have demonstrated that they are more others-centered than they are self-centered.  It is certainly true that we should strive to be more like these two faithful servants of the LORD.  We can let our light shine by replacing our self-centered attitudes and actions with more and more others-centered attitudes and actions.  By so doing we will find an increasingly joyful experience as we are used of the LORD to bring His love to this lost world.  By becoming an others-centered person we will witness the LORD working through us, and find a tremendous blessing as others lives are changed for the better because of our joyful sacrifice.

Certainly, this is a worthy teaching on “how to” let our light shine.  Let us embrace this high calling of Christ in our lives and put away the petty self-centeredness that only this pagan and secular world inspires, and watch what Christ can do through us as we minister to others on His behalf.

If you are a person of faith, and have placed your trust in the LORD, the light of the world is you.  Let your light shine.


[1] Philippians 3:13-14.

[2] Romans 12:9, ff.

[3] Romans 3:23.

[4] Luke 12:13-21.

[5] Acts 15:36, ff.

[6] 2 Timothy 4:9-11.

[7] Mark 9:35; 10:44.

[8] Melick (1991), p. 21.

[9] Philippians 4:18.