Philippians 2:14–15, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.”
Up to this point, Paul uses his letter to the Philippian church to highlight how the gospel has been advanced through his imprisonment (Philippians 1:12–18), how he will rejoice in his suffering because it will “turn out for [his] deliverance” (Philippians 1:19), how he will continue on living—that is, suffering—in order to help the Philippian church find greater love and unity, and how all Christians should take on a spirit of humility that would cause one to view other people as more important than oneself.
As we move into the verses I’m focusing on today, I want you to see how they serve as a snapshot of the trajectory of the Christian life. For in these verses, we see that for the Christian there is a starting point, a goal, a setting, and a vehicle.
“Do all things without grumbling or disputing”
In Philippians 2:14, we see that Paul’s letter is not only urging Christians to let others have their way but also to refrain from grumbling or disputing. Looking “to the interest of others” (2:4) is not enough—for the sake of your soul you must do so without contempt.
Through the words of Paul, God’s directive to us is incisive. He knows that we are prone to care about ourselves and that, when we finally let someone else have their way, we feel the need to criticize it. God does not waste his imperatives—when the Scripture says Do all things without you know that whatever comes next is some indwelling sin that we struggle against.
So, the starting point for every Christian is an awareness of indwelling sin and a commitment to ripping it out. This particular starting point in Philippians 2:14 is that we are selfish people, prone to bicker, criticize, and argue things not for the glory of God but for our own glory. In other words, our normal behavior leads to disunity, and we need the Word to train our behavior so that it leads to unity.
You have to admit that before you can move forward.
“that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish”
I want to stress that this is the goal. That means we are striving for it, and we are traveling toward it. We are on our way, but we are not there yet in all aspects of our lives.
To spell out the goal found here in Philippians in other words would be to say that God wishes for the church to be “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (1:27). This kind of unity can only happen when people who are in community together take on the humble and gracious attitude described by Paul in 2:4 and 2:14.
Let me put it this way, if you are involved in community, and you grumble, dispute, and otherwise try to exert your will over everyone else, you own some of the blame for the disunity of your community. If there is a problem going on, you will not be innocent from it. You are implicated; you are an accomplice to sin.
And what a tragedy for a community to dwell in disunity! Especially the church, which is described in this verse as “children of God.” Children are reflections of their parents. They way they act, for better or for worse, has implications for the reputation of the parents.
What does the world see when they see the “children of God”? The goal is for them to see us “without blemish” because that would bring the most glory to God.
“in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you . . .”
As I referenced in the last section, there is a setting to take note of, and a particular audience who takes note of us. I want to highlight something that I think is really important from this verse, something that teaches us about our witness to the world, and I will reveal it by focusing on prepositions.
Prepositions are the words we use to describe the relationship between things. For example, I’ve italicized some of the prepositions here: “children of God without blemish in the midst of a . . . twisted generation, among whom . . .” So notice here God’s Word describes our relationship to the world: we are in the midst of it, we are among it.
Why is this so important? First of all, you need to know this so you don’t go running off to some mountainside to read the Scripture by yourself your whole life. Others need you! Believers need your encouragement and unbelievers need your light.
Secondly, we are to be in the midst of the world precisely because it is crooked and twisted. Here are two things I know for sure about a crooked and twisted generation: One, they need Jesus Christ, and two, they will not seek him. That’s why Christians need to be in the midst of the world.
Now you may think that we need to get as far away as possible from crookedness and twistedness, and surely there is wisdom in fleeing from evil. But I thank the Lord that Jesus sought us out while we were still sinners.
Reflecting the work of Christ, we are to be found among the world. How else can we testify to it? As David Mathis wrote in a 2012 Desiring God article, “Christians are not of this world, but sent into it.”
“. . . shine as lights in the world.”
By vehicle I mean “a means of transportation or change.” We know our starting point—tendency toward disunity, we know our goal—unity without blemish, and we know our setting—a crooked and twisted generation. How can we move from our starting point to our goal in a way that best helps our setting?
Paul explains the means by which we can do this: looking to the example of Jesus Christ, who “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (2:8). And what God’s Word is saying here is more than just “be inspired by Christ’s work.” Paul also tells Christians that this humility is already ours “in Jesus Christ” (2:5).
Jesus Christ is the vehicle for change in the Christian life. It is his example, his power, and his life that propels our sanctification. And to grow by Christ’s power is not only the best way but also the only way to grow as a Christian.
And, of course, that best and only kind of growth will help our setting the most. Paul says that among the crooked generation, Christians “shine as lights in the world.” This light does not stem from the language we speak, the clothes we wear, the bumper stickers we put on our car, the schools we attend, the music we listen to, or the politicians we vote for. No, this light that shines from us stems from the true light, Jesus Christ (John 1:9).
Just as Moses’s face shone “because he had been talking with God” (Exodus 34:29), so we shine too due to Christ’s presence in our life.
And the Scriptures tell us “Moses did not know his face shone” (Exodus 34:29). And I encourage you, Christian, to have the same innocence in regard to this light.
Davis Wetherell (MA in English, Marquette University) is a writer and editor. He currently works at Crossway as a Bible proofreader. He previously taught college classes on literature, rhetoric, and composition. Davis has a heart for writers and loves to serve them. You can read more from Davis at daviswetherell.blog.