Sunday, December 25, 2016

Shining Like Stars

Philippians chapter 2 is one of the most practical and profound passages in the New Testament. In verse 5 of the chapter Paul begins an eloquent description of the birth of Jesus. Incarnation is the technical term for the event of God becoming a man. Incarnation, simply, means "in flesh", and Jesus is indeed God in human flesh. In this passage we learn a bit about the process of God, becoming a servant, a human being and ultimately becoming a criminal crucified unjustly. The incarnation, as Paul describes it includes all of those moments. The cross is as much a part of God becoming a man as the manger. This is a great passage to teach from during Christmas season. The point of all the theology, though, is Paul wants to encourage his dear friends (verse 12) to adopt that same attitude as Jesus - the mind of Christ. The attitude of humility that Jesus demonstrated by becoming one of us. 

After explaining the theology of the incarnation Paul begins to describe how this truth plays out in the lives of Christians. In verse 12, "continue to work out your salvation....". We may not realize it but no matter what is happening in your life God is at work. Life may be uncomfortable at times, and in those times we humans are tempted to think something is wrong. When things challenge our sense of well being we are all apt to say something. This "talk" is a compliant. Instead of seeing God is at work and being thankful, trusting, we voice our displeasure and unwittingly contradict what God is trying to accomplish. That is why Paul says, " do everything without grumbling or arguing." Our grumbling here, is in the context of trials, dealings of God, God working renovating our life. Sometimes it creates upheaval. Philippians 2:12-15 is all one thought. Endure without complaining the dealings of God aimed at your maturity so that you can "become blameless and pure children of God..." 

It is really interesting that the achievement of blamelessness and purity is not the result of check lists of do's or don'ts. The energy at work producing this in us is God himself, we merely must cooperate. In this context, "complaining" - privately to God and "Arguing" - what we say to other people hinders the process. 

But see the rest of verse 14, it is not being blamless or pure in isolation. Rather, it is actually, being pure and blameless "... in a warped and crooked generation..."  so the culture around us has no bearing on God's work in us. In fact, if we want to achieve righteous living in our lives the back drop of a fallen world is necessary. Contrary to the popular Christian agenda to "change the world' what we see in this passage is an acceptance of the world as it is. 

Of course, the story does not end there. Ultimately, we will "shine AMONG them like stars in the sky" . The gospel message is not a message of separatism. We do not establish God's kingdom by shining in church. We have to be "among them". We have to live in this world as it is, realizing God is at work in us to make us shine in the darkness. 

Who goes outside at night to look at the dark? Not to many people do that, but a lot of people enjoy going out to look into a starry night sky. Light is the exception, yes. The darkness is pervasive, yes. But the stars are what we look for. This is a lesson in contrasts. As Christians we should be able to outshine the world. It is also interesting how many people have the idea that the first century church was living in a kind of golden age. If we just lived back then things would be better. But here we see Paul's assessment of his own time, they were crooked, depraved, corrupt and dark. All the better for the christian message. We don't want to change the world we want to shine into it so that others can find the way. 

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