Shining as Lights in the World
© C. O. Bishop 12/16/2017; Cornell Estates 12/17/2017
We have been studying through the epistle to the Church at Philippi, and we have seen that the people to whom Paul was writing were already believers, already saved. Paul had stated, in Philippians 1:6, that “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Over in 1st John 5:11-13, God makes it clear that He wants us to know that we have eternal life. This is supposed to be a secure, completed matter, with no further doubts, so that we are free to enter into God’s service, and not having to constantly “check to see if we are saved.” Then he goes on, in the following verses, to say that the normal behavior of believers is that we are to “shine as lights in the World.” How do we do that? He goes on to give examples:
Shining in Life
14 Do all things without murmurings and disputings:
Complaining and bickering are not supposed to be part of the “normal Christian life”. The prohibition against such things actually extends to all people, not just believers. As believers, though, we are supposed to be characterized by love, peace, unity, honesty, stability, etc. So, if that is what we are supposed to “look like”, what would be the result of that reality in our lives?
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;
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.
He says the result will be that others can find no cause for blame in us, unless it is specifically regarding the person of Christ (Remember the prophet Daniel!). People around us will have to admit to themselves that we do no harm to those around us (again, unless they have a specific problem with Christ and the message of the Cross.) We are to live out the reality of the fact that we are called the Sons of God (Jesus said “Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called the Sons of God”), and that we are the Sons (the heirs) of God. If we are his children, then our lives should reflect that truth in all areas, and every day, not just a mish-mash of sacred and secular; sometimes holy, and sometimes contaminated by sin.
There will be no cause for rebuke in our lives, either from other believers or from unbelievers, though we are forced to live in a fallen world. Paul goes so far as to call the World around us “a crooked and perverse nation.” (That seems to fit awfully well, even today, doesn’t it?) But, far from offering the believers a “way out,” he pointed out the purpose of their being there: they were to “shine as lights in the World.” We are to be lights for God; lampstands from which the light of the Gospel can shine, unhindered by sin, disunity, anger, jealousy, etc.
We are to proffer the written Word, as well as the Living Word. Both are part of how we “shine as lights”. Remember what was said about Jesus, the Living Word, in John 1:4 “In Him was Life, and the life was the light of men.”
One thing to keep in mind is that a dirty lamp does not shine brightly. Frequently, over the years, after a winter storm, I have suddenly realized that the headlamps on my automobile had excessive road-grime on them. After I stopped and cleaned them, I was surprised at the dramatic change in brightness. The light was always present in the lamps, you see, but the road-grime had built up slowly enough that I did not realize how much their light was being dimmed by the dirt, until it was very difficult for me to see the road ahead. I think that our personal habits, words, attitudes and behavior can also gradually take on the “patina” of the World around us, until the Light of Christ is quite dim in our lives. So, as the Living Word (Jesus) is present and preeminent in our lives, the Light of God will shine through us. The final result will be that God’s Work in us is not wasted, but is a good investment. That’s how Paul felt, too! His labor had not been wasted!
One other thing it might be well to remember is that the response of others to the light of God is largely dependent upon their personal character, not just the relative brightness or dimness of the light. So long as it is really the light of God, and not just our human piety or cleverness, or “logic”, or something similar, their response is ultimately based on how they respond to light.
J. Vernon McGee once related how, when he was a young boy, he was required to go out at night, and tend to the cattle in his father’s dark barn. He took a lantern with him, and when he opened the barn door, two things happened simultaneously: the rats which had been scavenging on the barn floor all ran for cover, and the birds which were roosting in the rafters mistook the lantern-light for daylight and began to sing. Why the difference? The light was exactly the same! But the lifestyle and character of a rat is very different than that of a bird. Their characters, whether bird or rat, were revealed by their response to the light. It is the same principle, in humans. Our character is revealed by our response to God’s light.
Shining in Suffering
17 Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all.
18 For the same cause also do ye joy, and rejoice with me.
The Greek word for “offered”, here is “sperdomai”…“poured out” –it refers to the drink-offerings which were part of a worship offering; not to be consumed by the priests, but to be poured out upon the offerings being burned as worship offerings. Paul felt that, if his service culminated in death, while their lives were being offered daily as living sacrifices, then he was a worship offering along with their offerings, so they could rejoice together. (What a blessing!)
Later, we will see that Epaphroditus had been terribly sick, as well, and his main concern was for the grief of those who loved him and were anxious for his health. He mourned for their mourning, as he had no way to assure them that he was at peace, and walking with The Lord. (There were no telephones, nor any other means to communicate at a distance: not even a postal service. We will wait, and discuss that portion of scripture when we get there, though.)
Paul was now sending a letter by Epaphroditus, telling them how he himself felt about the prospect of death, and his own past sufferings, as well as how Epaphroditus had responded to the challenge. He doesn’t spend much time on either instance, but we can learn by their examples, so that we, too, can “shine in suffering.”
Shining in Service
Paul then gives Timothy as an example of someone who was “shining in service:”
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.
20 For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state.
21 For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.
22 But ye know the proof of him, that, as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel.
23 Him therefore I hope to send presently, so soon as I shall see how it will go with me.
24 But I trust in the Lord that I also myself shall come shortly.
Timothy was one of Paul’s protégés, and fellow-workers, along with Silas and Titus. Many commentators, for some reason, assign to each of them the office of having been “the pastor” of one of the New Testament churches, but there is absolutely no scriptural evidence to support that notion, and there is much evidence to contradict it.
To begin with, every single example we are given in scripture states that there were multiple elders in every church. The few passages where both the Greek word translated “pastor” (“poimen,“ which simply means “shepherd”) and either of the words translated “elder” or “bishop”, are used, all reveal that the pastors, elders and bishops were identical—the same men, in the same office; not some sort of “hierarchy” of ecclesiastical authority. All the various divisions and layering of authority (abbots, archbishops, cardinals, etc.) came later, as error crept into the church, all of which furthered the idea of a separation between clergy and laity…for which there is also no scriptural basis. (“Pastor, elder and bishop” are not the same words: they describe the various functions of the office. But they are the same individuals in every case, in scripture.)
Finally: Titus, Timothy and Silas were all given itinerant ministries; helping the churches, training and appointing leaders, and correcting error, but then…moving on. There are various opinions as to their job-titles, and I am not going to address that now, but it simply cannot be the “pastor” of a local church! Paul specifically told the “pastors, elders, overseers” of the local church at Ephesus (Acts 20:28) to stay put, and tend that flock! Titus, Silas and Timothy were told to do what they had been sent to do and get back to Paulm as soon as possible, for another assignment. You can’t both shepherd a flock and also run all over the Mediterranean coast, tending to all the flocks. Whatever they were, it was not an elder, pastor or bishop (all words for the same office.)
Paul sent Epaphroditus with this letter in hand, but he promised to send Timothy as well. He knew that Timothy would care for and teach the flock as well as he himself might have done, and that he would bring back the news as to how they were thriving (not “take root” there, and be their “pastor.”) Interestingly, some commentators declare that Epaphroditus was the “pastor” of the church at Philippi, others claim that he was definitely not the pastor, but was an “ordinary layman”. Both opinions are utterly lacking in scriptural support, and both, in fact, are in contradiction to definite scriptural teaching. There is no such thing as a singular “pastor” of a local assembly in scripture, but neither is there such a thing as a “layman”. Both ideas are the remnants of a serious, divisive, destructive error that began to creep into the church in the first century, and which, by the fourth century, was established as a general rule, as we see it today. The scriptures teach that every believer is a priest in the body of Christ…and the only two church “offices” named are elders and deacons. No one is a “layman”, and church leadership is always plural.
Without regard to the relative titles of either Epaphroditus or Timothy, Paul reminded the believers at Philippi that they already knew Timothy’s testimony, and his reputation: He was faithful, and had a genuine heart for the welfare of the flock. Paul said that he was the only one currently available to him, in that category. He was not stating that he was the only one in existence…just that he, Paul, had no one else to send. Besides, Timothy had served with Paul, as a son would serve with his father in a secular job, effectively serving as an apprentice. Paul was only waiting to find out what his own sentence might be (as a result of his upcoming trial) before sending Timothy to them. He still was hoping that he himself would be permitted to go and see his friends once more, as well. We don’t know for certain whether he did or not, but my opinion is that he probably did. He stated with some certainty that he expected to come and visit them. It is just that we have no scriptural proof that he actually made the journey there again.
Shining in Sickness
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.
The church at Philippi had sent a gift to Paul by the hand of Epaphroditus. Epaphroditus had then stayed and cared for Paul, but had contracted some sort of disease while he was there, and had been very sick: he had nearly died. Evidently he had been there for some time, too, as news had already gotten back to Philippi that he was sick, and likely to die, so they were deeply grieved for him:
26 For he longed after you all, and was full of heaviness, because that ye had heard that he had been sick.
27 For 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.
28 I sent him therefore the more carefully, that, when ye see him again, ye may rejoice, and that I may be the less sorrowful.
29 Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness; and hold such in reputation:
30 Because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me.
Epaphroditus knew that they had been sorrowing for him, and, as he convalesced, he was anxious to go home and let them know that he was well. Paul, then, is sending him, along with this letter, and confirming that he had been very close to death, but that God had mercifully chosen to extend his life. Paul was especially grateful for that, as his own troubles were deep enough without adding to them the grief of losing Epaphroditus.
Paul was grieved for their sorrow, too, and, by sending Epaphroditus, he hoped to completely alleviate their sorrow, and also to diminish his own. He asked, then, that they receive him as a man of God, gladly accounting Epaphroditus as one who had served; risking his life to honor God. Paul knew that the church at Philippi had very limited resources, and that the gift they had earlier sent by the hand of Epaphroditus was dipping very deeply into their meager income, and they had given beyond what they really could afford.
Epaphroditus had stayed and served in ways they could not serve from such a distance. It was not a lack of care, but a lack of opportunity and ability that forced them to send a representative. They served through Epaphroditus, just as we hope to serve through the missionaries we support, though very few of us are privileged to travel to foreign fields to serve. Paul said that such people are to be respected for their service, and the risks involved with that service.
But each of us have circles of relationships in our individual lives, within which (perhaps) we are the only source of light…or within which we and a few friends or relatives, collectively, are the only sources of light. None of us are completely secluded: there are always individuals whose lives we can touch; those whose lives we can bless; those whom we can serve, and for whom we can “hold forth the Word of Life.” The only question, really, is: How will you respond to the opportunity, when it comes?
Lord Jesus, alert our hearts and minds to the people around us who need your Grace, and who, for whatever cause, have never trusted you as their personal Savior. Give us the passion to reach the lost, and to love the unloved, so that we may be genuine lights in the World around us. Open our eyes and let us see the need. Open our hearts and let us serve you.