Monday, May 19, 2014

Sermon: Philippians 2: 12-30 Shining for Jesus

I wonder if you’ve taken some time to think about the stars recently. Now, before your mind turns to film stars or pop stars, I’m talking about the stars in the night sky. As you probably know, we have two wee dogs and every night as part of our bedtime routine, I venture outside with them, in rain, hail or snow.

After the security lights have come on and then gone off again, I’m to be found staring up, amazed at the little lights shining across the sky. Seemingly you can get an app for your phone which works out where you are, what direction you’re facing, and will tell you what the different stars and constellations are. Amazing!

The stars are always there. They don’t just arrive at night. But it’s at night that we get to see them, we notice them, because they’re bright against the darkness of the night sky. The light is bright, it stands out when surrounded by darkness.

Or think of a room in pitch darkness. You light one little candle, and it’s the light your eyes are drawn to. The rest of the room might be black, but your eyes are focused on the light of that candle; which stands out; such a contrast.

Or think of the roads. One of my pet hates is the driver who drives along in mist or fog; or in heavy rain, and they don’t turn any lights on. They think that they can see ok, but they also have to be seen! We need them to have lights on so that we can see when they’re coming and not drive out in front of them.

We’re all familiar with lights shining out in the dark; standing out from the darkness all around. That’s the image that Paul gives us as he writes the next section of his letter to the church in Philippi. You remember that Jesus said that his disciples are the light of the world (Matt 5:14). Here, Paul says that Christians are to shine like lights (stars) in the world, among a crooked and twisted generation.

Tonight we’ll see what it means to shine for Jesus in a dark world. And it all comes in the context of being saved by Jesus. Did you notice the ‘therefore’ at the start of verse 12? Hopefully you’re asking what it’s there for. Last time we were here, we saw the humiliation and exaltation of the Lord Jesus - giving up all he had in order to love and serve others, even going as far as the death of the cross. Because Jesus took the lowest place, God has given him the highest place. But Paul had pointed to this as an illustration of his appeal for Christians to live together in love: not looking to your own interests but those of others.

Because of the example of Jesus, therefore Paul says: ‘as you have always obeyed... work out your own salvation with fear and trembling...’ Notice what he doesn’t say: ‘work for your own salvation...’ or ‘work up your own salvation...’ We can’t work for our salvation. It’s entirely a gift, because of what Jesus has done. But when we become a Christian, we need to work out our salvation. What does it look like to live as a Christian? How do I make decisions in my life? What does God want me to do?

Work out your own salvation - but thankfully we are not alone, not left on our own to try it ourselves. Verse 13 quickly follows verse 12: ‘for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.’ We’re working it out as God works in us. God shows us what to will and to do, so that we stand out like stars.

Look at what Paul focuses on in verse 14. ‘Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent children of God without blemish...’ Perhaps one of the things that marks our society is the need to grumble and complain. Stephen Nolan on Radio Ulster (and BBC NI) seems to have made a career from exploiting that characteristic. Moaning seems to be the order of the day.

To not complain or question or answer back is the mark of difference Paul highlights. In a dark world, in a crooked and twisted generation, someone who is different will stand out. If you were with us this morning, we were thinking of how we are the only Bible some people will ever read. Our reaction to those around us; as well as our reaction to our church should make us stand out.

If we’re grumbling and complaining, you can imagine your neighbour thinking to herself - they’re always at their church, but they never stop complaining about it. I wouldn’t want to go there. It only seems to make them more miserable!

Instead, as we hold fast (and, as some translations add, holding out) the word of life, we will be seen as different and shine for all to see.

Paul then shows us two shining examples. He highlights two people known to the Philippians, so that they can see what shining for Jesus looks like in real life. The first one is Timothy, who will be coming to visit Philippi. He stands out in verse 20. Paul says: ‘For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.’

That doesn’t say much for Paul’s companions, does it? Everyone else with Paul isn’t really worried about the Philippians. They aren’t even all that bothered about what Jesus might be interested in. But not Timothy. He is interested in them, and also for Jesus.

Have you ever talked to someone who asks how you’re keeping, but you know they don’t really care about the answer? Not Timothy. He cares for the churches, because he cares for Jesus. He was there with Paul when the first Philippians became Christians. And since that moment, Timothy has been interested in them.

Are you shining like Timothy - concerned for others and not just yourself? Putting Jesus and his concerns ahead of your own? Could others look at you and say that there is no one like you, who cares for other people?

We’re also shown another ‘star’ in Epaphroditus. Eppy was one of the Philippians, sent to Paul with a gift of money. This letter is, in part, a thank you note from Paul, which Eppy is bringing back to Philippi. You see, there was no Royal Mail back then. These letters in the New Testament were hand delivered.

But when Eppy had made it to Paul in Rome, he had taken very seriously ill. So serious, in fact, that he almost died. But God showed mercy, healed him, and now Paul is almost glad to send him home. But look at the language Paul uses. In verse 25, Eppy is ‘my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier.’ He is to be received with joy and honoured ‘for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.’ (30).

I wonder are we willing to take some risks for the work of Christ? Or do we shy away from anything too serious, too committed, too much like standing out and shining for Jesus? As we work out what it means to be a Christian; as God works in our lives, we might just find the power to stand out and shine, each of us in our corner. Consider Timothy, and consider again your priorities. Consider Epaphroditus, and take a risk. Shine for Jesus.

This sermon was preached in the Brooke Memorial Hall, Brookeborough on Sunday 18th May 2014.

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