"SHINING AS LIGHTS IN THE WORLD" In The Midst Of A Crooked And Perverse Generation (Ph 2:12-16 ) INTRODUCTION 1. A grave concern to any thoughtful Christian is how quickly our society is changing, and clearly for the worse 2. As some theologians would describe it, we now live in a "post-Christian culture" a. This simply means that the old norms once held true are no longer accepted by the majority b. For example, people as a majority once believed in God, that the Bible was the Word of God, and that Jesus was the Son of God; but such is no longer the case c. The majority no longer accepts certain basic principles of morality taught in both the Old and New Testament, even ridiculing those people who do as "old-fashioned" and "un-enlightened" 3. That we live in a "post-Christian culture" is true both socially and religiously a. Socially, in that divorce, remarriage, living together without marriage, and homosexuality are now commonly accepted as "alternative lifestyles" b. Religiously, in that women in the role of church leadership, homosexual ministers, and various forms of "new age" religions are now accepted by many 4. How are Christians to react to this change in our society? a. What can we do to change the direction in which our society is heading? 1) Should we form "political action committees" and try to change it using the organizational powers of the church? 2) Should we resort to boycotts, picketing, or other forms of "economic blackmail"? 3) Should we resort to violence, both verbal and physical, if necessary? b. What can we do to protect ourselves, and our children? 1) Should we simply change our views to conform to those of society? 2) Should we isolate ourselves, or form communes? 5. I believe that the Scriptures provide the correct answer, in a letter written by Paul to a church which, like many others in New Testament times, lived in a "PRE-Christian culture" a. The letter is the Epistle to the Philippians b. Written to Christians living in city heavily influenced by the Roman culture, with its paganism, intellectualism, and immorality c. What Paul wrote to them, is very likely the sort of things he would write today d. Especially the things mentioned in Ph 2:12-16 6. This lesson is the first in a series designed to notice carefully what Paul wrote in this passage a. Which I believe contains guidance for Christians living "in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation", whether then or now b. Providing directions, hope, and warnings which will help us to "shine as lights in the world" [With this lesson, we shall simply touch upon those things we can glean from this passage. In succeeding lessons, we shall develop each point more thoroughly. For example, if we are going to shine as lights "in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation", we must do so...] I. BY WORKING OUT OUR OWN SALVATION FIRST! (12a) A. AS JESUS PUT IT, "FIRST REMOVE THE PLANK FROM YOUR OWN EYE" - Mt 7:1-6 1. This passage, often misused to prevent any proper judging, is emphasizing the importance of "getting your own act together first" 2. Notice, that once you have "removed the plank", you can then (and should) be used to "remove the speck" in another's eye B. IF WE ARE NOT CAREFUL, WE MAY LOSE OUR SALVATION IN THE WAY WE REACT TO OTHERS! 1. Many people go about trying to change society for the better, using methods that will keep themselves out of the kingdom of God! - cf. Ga 5:19-21 2. Paul saw the need to be very careful when trying to save others - cf. 1 Co 9:27 [How tragic it would be, if when we go around preaching to others, do it such a way as to "disqualify" ourselves! We can be more careful, and "shine as lights in the world", if we do so...] II. WITH "FEAR AND TREMBLING" (12b) A. THE WORD "FEAR" IN CONNECTION WITH GOD IS NOT POPULAR TODAY... 1. Perhaps a reaction to the "hell, fire and brimstone" preaching of another generation 2. But could it be that we have gone to the other extreme? a. Have we diluted the concept of the "fear of the Lord" by our definitions? b. To the point there is no place for "trembling" in our definition of fear? 3. Jesus certainly taught the "fear of the Lord" - Mt 10:28 B. THE NEED TO HAVE PROPER "FEAR AND TREMBLING"... 1. Without it, it is unlikely we will seriously make the effort to "work out our own salvation" 2. Could this be a reason there is so much apathy and fruitlessness in the church today? [There may be another reason for such fruitlessness; and that is, if we don't "shine as lights in the world"...] III. BY LETTING GOD WORK IN US (13) A. TO SUCCEED AS "LIGHTS IN THE WORLD"... 1. It will be essential to let God do His work, something He is able to do beyond our ability to comprehend - Ep 3:20-21 2. He is there "working in you"! - cf. Ph 1:6 3. How? Both... a. To "will" - helping us in our motivation b. To "do" - helping us in our ability B. BUT IF WE ARE NOT CAREFUL, WE CAN EASILY... 1. Quench God's efforts to work in us 2. Prevent God from using us altogether (at least for doing things for our own good)! [Later, in another lesson, we shall examine how God is at work in us, and what we can do to promote such activity on His part. Another important element in our "shining as lights" is that we go about our task...] IV. WITHOUT MURMURING AND DISPUTING (14) A. BY MAINTAINING A POSITIVE ATTITUDE... 1. Living in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation can easily get us down, where we can become constant complainers 2. But allowing that to happen will render us less effective 3. And as with Israel, "murmuring" can lead to our own downfall - 1 Co 10:10-12 B. BY GETTING ALONG WITH YOUR BRETHREN... 1. Unity among brethren is extremely important as we try to convince the world concerning Jesus - Jn 17:20-23 2. Disputing with one another simply reveals we have some growing up to do! - 1 Co 3:1-4 [If the "body of Christ" is going to influence the world the way it should, it cannot be devouring itself through such destructive forces like "murmuring" and "disputing" among themselves. But also important is our relation to those in the world, and that they truly see us...] V. AS CHILDREN OF GOD WITHOUT FAULT (15) A. WHICH REQUIRES US TO BECOME "BLAMELESS"... 1. Not that we are perfect, but like elders are to be blameless, we are to be "above reproach" a. We may be sinners, but we quickly confess our sins and make amends when it is called for b. We should live in such a way that we have no "outstanding faults" that are clearly evident to others 2. Nothing hinders our ability to "shine as lights" like inconsistency and hypocrisy, especially that which is evident to all! B. IT ALSO REQUIRES US TO BE "HARMLESS"... 1. Though we may firmly oppose sin in all forms, sinners should never fear bodily harm from us! - again cf. 2 Ti 2:24-26 2. Sadly, many so-called "Christians" appear to be using "Old Covenant" methods in their efforts to change others, and come across as likely to produce great bodily harm! 3. But as Jesus said, we are to be "wise as serpents and harmless as doves" - Mt 10:16 [Finally, if we are to really "shine as lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation", we must be...] VI. HOLDING FAST THE WORD OF LIFE (16) A. REMEMBER, THE WORD OF GOD IS THE "SWORD OF THE SPIRIT"! 1. It is the ONLY "offensive weapon" we have in the armor of God - Ep 6:10-17 2. It is the instrument by which the Spirit convicts the world of sin, produces repentance and brings about the new birth - cf. Ja 1:18 ; 1 Pe 1:23 ; Ro 1:16 3. Thus it is truly the "word of life"! B. WE MUST BOTH "HOLD FAST" AND "HOLD FORTH" THIS POWERFUL WORD! 1. Some translations say "hold fast", others "hold forth" 2. Both are called for, as we should: a. "Hold fast" the word in our own study and application b. "Hold forth" the word as we proclaim it to those we are trying to change 3. In this, we would do well to follow the example of Ezra, and the order in which he applied himself - cf. Ezra 7:10 a. To first "seek the Law of the Lord" b. Then "to do it" c. Finally, "to teach" others CONCLUSION 1. In these verses, then, I believe we find the way Christians are to "shine as lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation" 2. It involves... a. Working out our own salvation b. With fear and trembling c. By letting God work in us d. Doing things without murmuring and disputing e. As children of God without fault f. Holding fast the word of life 3. If our ultimate objective is not just changing legislation, but the hearts of men to the ways of God, then this is how we can do it! 4. And this is how we will "rejoice in the day of Christ" -- and know that our own labor will not be in vain! - cf. Ph 2:16 We will expand upon these thoughts in succeeding lessons; but for now, have you given serious thoughts as to how YOU shine in the world...?