How many times have we all seen families destroyed because they argued over who got the television set, or who got grandma’s china, or who got that favorite end table when mom or dad passed away?
It’s bad enough when this happens with small estates.
I’ll never forget one very large family I knew of years ago. There should have been 50 of them gathered together for Thanksgiving one year, but only three people showed up. The rest were so caught up in mutual lawsuits flying around over the estate that they couldn’t even bring themselves to have a meal together.Now, it’s a terrible thing to be cheated. No one likes being victimized by someone else’s selfishness, but loving your parents and your brothers and sisters and remaining in fellowship with them is far more important than a fancy TV or a piece of land.
Don’t give up your family. It’ll be the deepest regret of your life if you are needlessly alienated from your family.
Israel, The First to Complain
When Paul told his friends in Philippi to “do all things without grumbling or disputing,” he was using key words from the Old Testament.
These words typically refer to Israel’s grumbling and complaining in the wilderness during their long journey to the Promised Land. The Israelites complained because the Lord God gave them manna and quail to eat instead of the leeks, onion, spices, and meat they’d eaten in slavery in Egypt. They challenged the way the Lord led them, and they challenged the way Moses did things.
Paul went on to repeatedly emphasize unity throughout the book of Philippians. You might paraphrase his point this way: “you are the people of God; don’t be like Israel in the wilderness. You sound like pagans when you do that. Don’t grumble and dispute.”
Paul knew that nothing can destroy a family more quickly than jealousy. It begins with small habits, like selfishness in small things and complaining about insignificant things. Selfishness can be a small thing, but the character of selfishness can extrapolate from a little thing to a very big thing.
Don’t Complain—Be Unified Instead
Paul wanted the Philippians to live in unity, with integrity. He wanted them to avoid the kind of grumbling and complaining that the Israelites indulged in on their journey to the Promised Land.
Paul also wanted the Philippians to carry out the mission he gave them:
… prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world. (Philippians 2:15)
In other words, show yourselves to be the people of God. Be distinctive “in this present evil age.” (Galatians 1:4) You will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God as opposed to children of paganism.
How to Stand Out in a Fallen World
Live lives that are above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. This is a fallen world, and it’s not impolite to call it this “present evil age.” Our world is dominated by hatred, violence, and war. Our society is overwhelmed. Our authorities are, at times, overwhelmed with pettiness, selfishness, and power grabs.
It’s an evil world, and our love for one another will cause us to be people who are different.
If you follow Paul’s instructions, you will “appear as lights in the world”:
Do all things without grumbling or disuputing, so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world. (Philippians 2:14-15)
“Among whom you appear as lights in the world.” This phrase is based on the famous passage in Daniel, chapter 12, in which there is a clear resurrection of individuals. We’re told that Michael the Archangel will appear, and there will be a time of unrest upon the earth. At the end of everything, God will act in judgment. The unrighteous will be raised to a condemnation, but the righteous will be raised to act as wise rulers:
Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. They will shine as the stars in the heavens. (Daniel 12:3)
This is a reference to what God’s people do in the world. They lead others. They teach others. Those who are sons and daughters of Abraham by faith in Jesus Christ are the Israel of God, Jew and Gentile alike. The church now lives out the mission of Israel to be lights in the world.
This is, of course, what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “you are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:13-14) Salt and light are both agents of change. Jesus went on to explain that salt is useless unless it makes things salty, and light is meant to illuminate. Then he echoed the passage from Daniel:
Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)
Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It
The way we live teaches others about the ways of the one, true, and living God revealed through Jesus Christ.
We’ve been called to be resurrection people even before the final resurrection. Already we’ve received the gift of the Spirit. Already we’ve believed in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Already we are God’s agents in the world, stars shining in the night.
We live with integrity when we love one another, when we do all things without disputing or grumbling, and when we advance the cause of Christ.
May God make us a people who do his work in the world as his people. May God make us children of light, children of God in the midst of a wicked and perverse generation.
The previous was adapted by Rachel Motte from a sermon featured on Dr. Sloan’s radio program, A Higher Education, on July 29, 2014.