How to Live in a Crooked World – Philippians 2:14-18

Written by Dave Urbanski

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We just went through the theology of complaining in our study last Sunday, which covered just one verse from the second chapter of Philippians (verse 14): “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.”

And as Pastor Scott pointed out — both during his sermon and after our midweek meeting about his message — this all-important verse doesn’t mean Christians aren’t allowed to discuss negative things. We have to! If there’s a problem, it needs to be solved — and that means talking about negative things. Even more than that, there will be conflict in friendships and marriages and in groups, and they need to be solved and resolved, too. It’s all about being real in a world that’s really messed up.

This past Sunday, we dug into a bit of verse 14 again but focused mostly on the remaining verses in the passage through verse 18. They read like so: “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, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.”

The word “blameless” in verse 15 is important to break down. There’s a difference between being “blameless” and “sinless.” As Pastor Scott noted, we’re not sinless! Instead being blameless is the result of how Christians live out their lives amid a crumbling culture; when we shine Christ’s light and strive to do the right thing, we take on the characteristics of being blameless. Consider when we’re around others who sometimes apologize to us when they use foul language or tell dirty jokes — because they know we’re not like that or are about those things. That’s a sign of our blamelessness. 

Another eye-opening moment occurred when Pastor Scott told us about the ancient Greek word related to the phrase “crooked and twisted”— it’s called “scolios,” which of course points to the familiar English word “scoliosis,” a painful condition when the spine is twisted. So when we’re talking about a “crooked and twisted generation,” we can safely say that generation’s condition involves some degree of pain! The way nonbelievers live is not “fun” or “cool” — when push comes to shove, it hurts. And not necessarily physically (although that can be part of it) but also spiritually and emotionally. And when pressure comes, they can’t handle it and get crushed.

That illustration ought to inform us about the plight of others with whom we share this planet — because as the rest of verse 15 states, we “shine” in their midst “as lights in the world.” Again, they see we’re different, they see we’ve changed, and they notice something about us that deep down they desire.

But it’s also important to keep in mind that such a positive response isn’t alway how things go. In the drama of temporal meeting eternal, mortal flesh doesn’t always turn the right way. In fact, some folks when exposed to the light of life, which originates with Christ, don’t want any part of it. They don’t want their sin laid bare. They don’t want their bankrupt deeds revealed. And yes, some want no part of God when given the chance to turn to him.

But also, as Pastor Scott suggested, let’s also ask ourselves in what manner we’re shining our light: Are we doing it annoyingly, right into others’ eyes … or are we helpfully guiding others’ paths, making sure they don’t trip? Let it always be the latter.

Another important point comes from verse 16 where Paul hopes we’re “holding fast to the word of life.” Pastor Scott pointed out that we have two cultures existing in front of us each day: that of the world and that of the Kingdom of God. And when we fall into the habit of spending more time digesting the culture of the world — such as cable news — then that gets in the way of the culture that will ultimately endure: the one belonging to the Lord’s kingdom.

In the latter part of the passage, we got a picture of Paul getting personal with his brothers and sisters in the Philippian church — and with us! This part, as Pastor Scott noted, is the WHY of what Paul has been communicating: He wants to make sure his efforts haven’t been in vain or a waste of time. He’s interested in the state of these peoples’ souls. As we should be! The race we all run as believers in Jesus of course means we want to impact as many people as possible; but there’s another side to it. Our love for other isn’t all about numbers; it’s about the heart, too! How is our heart in relation to the Lord? How are the hearts of others’ we love and have spent time with doing? That’s a factor only Jesus can measure.

Pastor Scott also shared another crucial historical reference from verse 17, breaking down what Paul means by being “poured out as a drink offering.” In Jewish sacrificial law was the act of pouring out wine — and it hits the ground or a burned lamb or bull, and it’s gone for good! Never again drinkable. In short, it’s a way of expressing that we are “all in” for the Lord, and other things, even possessions we value here and now, must fall by the wayside. 

Finally in verse 18, Paul urges us to “be glad and rejoice with me.” Remember, Paul is in prison and facing death on a daily basis — but it is indeed well with his soul, as the hymn writer once said. As Paul rejoices despite his suffering and the world’s hatred, so should we rejoice.

In that light, Pastor Scott emphasized that we are all in this together, struggling and triumphing as one people of God. As we began this all-important passage with the command to stop our grumbling and disputing, we close it literally with worship. And if you’re truly worshiping, it’s impossible to be grumbling and disputing and complaining. So let us worship and rejoice and move forward in our lives accordingly.

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