The theme of these studies is based upon a striking phrase in Philippians 2:16 which speaks about holding out the word of life, and in this first study we shall consider the surrounding verses (14-18). First, it is important to notice that Christians are spoken of as “children of God” (verse 15); we must emphasise the fact that while all people everywhere are the children of God in a creative sense, only real Christians are His children in a redemptive sense – look up and compare Malachi 2:10 and Acts 17:28-29 with John 1:12-14 and Galatians 3:26. The Apostle Paul tells us that as “sons of God” we are to “shine like stars” in a dark world. Just as the stars shine in the heavens so we, a heavenly people, are to shine for the Lord – compare Numbers 6:24-26 with Proverbs 4:18. We are to shine as Moses did (Exodus 34:29); as the Lord Jesus did (Matthew 17:2); as John the Baptist did (John 5:35); as Stephen did (Acts 6:15) – now please look up Matthew 5:16. To shine for the Lord is the very essence of Christian service, and all can do it! – and a comparison of John 8:12 and Matthew 5:14 makes it clear just how we may shine.
1. WHERE ARE WE TO SHINE?
“In the universe” (verse 15). This refers to the inhabited world in which we live, but also to the world system – all that is opposed to Christ and that excludes Him and which we are forbidden to love (1 John 2:15-17). As Christians we are in the world, but we are not to be of it, as John 17:11 and 15 make clear.
“In a crooked and depraved generation” – compare Proverbs 2:13-15 and Isaiah 53:6.
What a dreadful spiritual and moral darkness engulfs this generation! On every hand there is an appalling ignorance of God and of spiritual things, and God’s indictment against the human race, as recorded in Romans 1:21-32, is still up-to-date. Gross moral darkness covers the earth and sin abounds everywhere, as is indicated by the increase in divorce, drink and drug addiction, gambling, crime, sexual offences and corruption generally. Genesis 6:5 is true of this generation and should be read in conjunction with Matthew 24:37. It is in this crooked and depraved generation that we are to shine for the Lord – in public (Matthew 5:14) and in private (Matthew 5:15) – socially and domestically.
2. HOW ARE WE TO SHINE?
There’s the illustration of the light in a lamp which is ineffective because the wick needs attention, or it is obscured because the glass is smoky. In verse 14 we read of two things that smoke up the glass, and in verses 15 and 16 of five characteristics of the life that is shining for the Lord. How should we shine?
By not complaining, or muttering (verse 14). See Numbers 20:2 and 21:5, and compare Acts 6:1 and 1 Corinthians 10:10. How easy it is to murmur!
By not arguing (verse 14). The thought here is of creating disaffection by unwise gossip.
By being “blameless” (verse 15) – completely trustworthy (Daniel 6:4).
By being pure (verse 15) – completely wholesome and sincere (John 1:47; 1 Peter 2:1). The special reference is to our motives.
By being “without fault” (verse 15) – living in such a way that we do not have to be corrected or chastened by the Lord because of carelessness and because of failure to judge ourselves (1 Corinthians 11:30-32).
By “holding out the word of life” (verse 16). This refers to our active witness in preaching the gospel and making known God’s salvation through faith in Christ. We do this by preaching, personal witness, informal meetings, letter-writing, and by many other ways. Above all, such “holding forth” must be accompanied by a consistent life as indicated in points 1 to 5 above.
By living in the light of “the day of Christ” (verse 16). The apostle refers to the Judgment Seat of Christ and reminds us that we are to live and labour day by day in the light of this solemn time of reward or loss – look up Romans 14:12; 1 Corinthians 3:13-15 and 2 Corinthians 5:9-10.
3. WHY ARE WE TO SHINE?
That God the Father may be glorified. Notice the last six words in Matthew 5:16. There is only one life that will glorify Him, and that is the Christ-filled, Spirit-controlled life that shines before men and commends Him to them.
That the Lord Jesus may be magnified. To magnify a thing is to make it appear bigger, and Christians by their shining witness are to make the Lord Jesus appear “big” before the world. Just as lamps magnify the light, so we are to magnify Him (Philippians 1:20).
That we may be lost sight of. A lamp does not attract to itself; it is the light that attracts – look up John 3:30 and see how John the Baptist is described in John 5:35. There can be no shining without burning, and burning means sacrifice. It is when we are willing to let self go that Christ becomes all and in all – look up Matthew 16:24-25.
That sinners may be saved. We are to shine before men with the red light of warning (Ezekiel 33:8-9); and we are constantly to show the green light, or the “all clear”, of a consistent and brightly burning life. By doing this we shall point sinners to the Saviour and will hear His “Well done!”, and we shall be rewarded “on the day of Christ” – see verse 16, and compare Matthew 25:21 and 2 Corinthians 5:10.