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Joy in Chaos

Philippians - Joy for the Journey  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  32:38
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NOTE:
This is a manuscript, and not a transcript of this message. The actual presentation of the message differed from the manuscript through the leading of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it is possible, and even likely that there is material in this manuscript that was not included in the live presentation and that there was additional material in the live presentation that is not included in this manuscript.
Engagement
A woman was driving her car when she pulled up behind another car that had stopped for a red light. When the light turned green, the man in that car was looking down at his phone and didn’t realize the light had changed. So the lady in the car let him know by honking her horn. But he didn’t budge so she honked her horn again.
She was getting really mad now, so she rolled down her window and began to yell, but apparently the man had his windows rolled up and his radio playing loudly and he didn’t hear her. But just as the light turned yellow, he looked up and took off just in time to zoom through the intersection, leaving the angry lady behind him to sit through another complete cycle. She was really fuming now, and she put her arm out and gave a certain gesture and yelled some choice words.
Apparently she hadn’t noticed the police officer right behind her and so she was quite surprised when he pulled his gun and commanded her to get out of the car with her hands up. The officer then cuffed her and put her in the back of his squad car while he checked her out on his computer. Finally after about 15 minutes, he opened up the door and let her go.
“Ma’am, I am very sorry for the misunderstanding. About the time I was watching you rant and rave I also noticed the “honk if you love Jesus” bumper sticker, the “In God We Trust” license plate and the chrome fish on the back of your vehicle and I naturally assumed you had stolen the car.
Tension
While that is obviously an extreme example, my guess is that it is much closer to the truth than many of us would like to admit. The fact is that the world is watching us and they want to know if the message coming from inside the car is the same as the message on the back of the car.
There is no doubt that we live in a chaotic world. Between the COVID virus, all the anarchy going on in cities all around the country, and a contentious election season that is sure to get even more vitriolic and divisive, it’s easy to think that things have never been worse. And in that kind of atmosphere it’s also easy to get frustrated and lash out at others and grumble and complain, even for those of us who are disciples of Christ. But the problem is that kind of response not only robs us of our own joy, but it is also a horrible witness for the gospel.
As we’ll see this morning, Paul lived in a culture that was very similar to ours. And yet in the midst of that chaos, he is able to respond to that culture in a way that cultivates joy in his life. So let’s see what we can learn from Paul about how to do that in our lives as well.
Truth
We’re now in the fifth week of our current sermon series - Joy for the Journey. During this series we are studying Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, a letter that he wrote while imprisoned in Rome awaiting trial before Caesar. And we are learning from Paul how it is possible to have joy in any circumstances - in loneliness, in suffering, in death, and in humility. Today, we will focus on how to have joy in the midst of a chaotic world.
Philippians 2:12–18 ESV
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. 14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 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, 16 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. 17 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. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.
Here is the main idea that we’re going to develop from this passage today:

I find joy in a chaotic world by turning on the light rather than cursing the darkness

Let’s start by taking a look at the conditions that Paul and his fellow disciples faced. Paul describes them in the middle of verse 15:
…a crooked and twisted generation...
This idea has both Old Testament and New Testament roots. Moses uses the same phrase in the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32 to describe the people of Israel who had rebelled against God:
Deuteronomy 32:5 ESV
5 They have dealt corruptly with him; they are no longer his children because they are blemished; they are a crooked and twisted generation.
And Jesus used a similar phrase to describe the culture of the Roman Empire in His day:
Matthew 17:17 ESV
17 And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.”
The word “crooked” here in Philippians comes from the Greek word from which we get our English word “scoliosis” - a curvature of the spine. It describes something that is not straight. The word “twisted” is a much stronger word that is translated “perverse” in many other English translations. It describes someone who is crooked by choice. So the idea that Paul is getting across here is that our world is in chaos because people are messed up - some because they don’t know any better and some because they live that way by choice.
So we see right off the bat that Paul lived in a culture that was not all that different than our own. The problems and issues may have been different then than they are today, but they were no less serious than what we face. So that means that the principles that Paul gives us here are just as relevant for us today than when he wrote them nearly 2,000 years ago.
Before we develop those principles further, I want you to think about this question for a moment. It is one that really gets to the heart of our main idea:
What is the best way to show someone they are a “crooked stick”?
Is it to accuse them or argue with them or protest them? In other words to curse them?
Or would it be more effective to lay a straight stick next to them and let them see that there is a different, better way? Or to phrase it so it’s consistent with our main idea, is it better to turn on the light?
Paul makes the answer pretty clear here, doesn’t he? We are to...
...shine as lights in the world.
I can’t help but think that Paul had the words of Jesus in mind when he wrote that.
After healing a man who had been blind from birth, Jesus said this:
John 9:5 ESV
5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
While He was on this earth, Jesus primarily showed people they were crooked sticks by shining His light. Other than some of His interactions with the Jewish religious leaders who had already made the decision to reject Him, Jesus didn’t go around accusing people or arguing with them. He didn’t shy away from pointing out people’s sins, but when He did that it was almost always done as part of a conversation in which He addressed that sin in a gracious manner.
And now that He is no longer physically present on the earth, He has given that responsibility to us:
Matthew 5:14 ESV
14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.
Application
In this passage, Paul provides us with three important principles that will help us turn on our lights rather than curse the darkness.

HOW TO TURN ON MY LIGHT IN A DARK WORLD

Work out what God has worked in (vs. 12-13)
In verse 12, we find the first of three commands in this passage:
…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling...
We’ll need to spend a bit of time fleshing out this command because it could easily be misunderstood or misused.
In order to understand what Paul is commanding here, we must learn to hold in tension two seemingly contradictory truths: 1) Salvation from start to finish is completely God’s work, and 2) at the same time I have a responsibility to diligently develop that salvation. We’ll develop both of these truths further in a moment.
…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling...
The first thing we notice is that this command is introduced by the connecting word, “therefore”, which means that whatever is meant by this command is somehow related to Paul’s description of the humility of Jesus in the Christ hymn that precedes it. So working out our salvation must be a process that involves developing that same kind of humility in our own lives.
It’s important to note what Paul is not saying here. He does not command us to work for our salvation. Remember, Paul is writing here to people who are already disciples of Jesus, those in whom God had already begun the good work of salvation. The Bible is clear that there is nothing we can do to earn or merit salvation. It is a free gift. Even the faith we exercise to receive our salvation is a gift from God.
The verb “work out” is a single verb in Greek. It describes the process of bringing something to completion. In the first century it was used to describe working in a silver mine. The miners would enter the mine and “work it out” by bringing out the silver that was already there. So essentially what Paul is saying here is, “Don’t stop half way. Keep on working until the gift of salvation that God has given you is brought to completion.
Let me illustrate. Each week when we gather to worship, our worship team leads us in singing songs. In almost every case, those songs were written by people that are not part of the worship team and therefore those songs belong to the songwriters who choose to make those songs available to our worship team and our congregation. But if the worship team just took the sheet music one Sunday and decided to get up on the stage and sing one of those songs, the results wouldn’t be very pretty. Instead, they have to “work out” that music by learning and practicing the music and developing arrangements that work for our team and our church. And that is going to look a bit different than the way another church would do it, even though they both started with the same song.
The same is true for our salvation. We all receive the same gift, but the way we “work it out” in our individual lives is going to be different for each of us. But if we are going to be able to turn on our lights in the midst of a crooked and twisted world, it does require work on our part.
The next thing we notice is that Paul commands his readers to work out “your own” salvation. There is some difference of opinion about whether this passage is directed toward individuals or to the church as a whole. No doubt there is a corporate dimension of salvation, but the words “your own” seem to suggest that Paul is primarily focused on our individual responsibility. What that means is that no one else can do the work for you. Others can certainly assist you - that’s why Jesus placed you in His body, the church. But you have to do the work yourself.
That seems like a pretty daunting task doesn’t. And it should be, because that is a process that none of us are equipped to carry out on our own. But in verse 13, we find that the good news is that we don’t have to do that on our own:
…for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
The verb “works” here is a present tense verse. That means that God is still working in me right now to help me with the process of working out my salvation. He doesn’t just save me and then leave me to do that on my own. He is working in my life in two ways. I’ve always thought the NLT does a great job of capturing the meaning of this verse:
For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.
First God gives me the desire to live my life in way where I am becoming more like Jesus and developing the same kind of humility that He demonstrated on the cross.
Second, God also gives me the power to actually carry that out.
In other words, God give us everything we need in every situation to carry out His will.
Finally, before we leave this first command, it must be noted that the purpose of working out what God has already worked in is not to make us happy, but rather for God’s good pleasure. As we love other people by humbly putting their needs ahead of our own, then that shines a light into a dark world and God takes pleasure in that.
Quit complaining (vs. 14-15)
To be real honest, I’d prefer to just skip right over the second command in this passage that we find in verse 14:
Do all things without grumbling or disputing...
First of all I really don’t like the fact that Paul writes “all things”. I mean after all, it seem like I ought to be entitled to complain about at least some things, right?
This was a very convicting verse for me this week. It made me realize that this is a sin that I have become far too comfortable with in my life and so I had to confess that to God and repent.
Paul uses two different words here to describe the kind of complaining that we are to refrain from. The word translated “grumbling” conveys the idea of muttering under my breath. So even the complaints I might not verbalize are included here. The word translated “disputing” is the Greek word from which we get our English word “dialogue” and it describes verbal complaining. One of the commentaries I read this week described it like this:
Arguing [disputing] takes place when our complaining moves from our heart to our heads and then vomits out of our mouths.
In today’s culture, I’d just add to that: “or vomits out of our keyboards”
At its core, complaining dims our lights for two reasons:
In essence it is an attack on God’s sovereignty. Every time I complain about my circumstances or about the circumstances around me, I’m basically saying, “If I was God I wouldn’t do it like that”.
Second, it does not reflect the humility of Jesus. Most complaining arises because we demand our own way, our own pleasure, and our own rights rather than putting the needs of others ahead of our own.
Hold on to Jesus so I can hold Him out (v. 16)
The verb translated “holding fast” in verse 16, is interesting because it can be translated either “holding on” or “holding out” in the sense of holding something out as an offer. It wouldn’t surprise me if Paul intentionally used this particular word because of the ambiguity. I’ll come back to that in a moment.
But first, we must determine what Paul means by “the word of life”. Certainly Paul could be referring to the Bible here and we obviously should hold on to God’s Word as well as hold it out to others. But that particular phrase is found only one other time in the Bible, and although it was written by John, rather than Paul, I think it is relevant here.
1 John 1:1–2 ESV
1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—
Here, John is obviously referring to Jesus. And given the context, I think Paul is doing the same thing here in Philippians. His entire argument here is about living our lives in a manner that is consistent with the life of Jesus. And the only way that we can hold out Jesus and His gospel to others is to first hold on to Him tightly ourselves.
So we’ve seen this morning that...

I find joy in a chaotic world by turning on the light rather than cursing the darkness

Right now, some of you may be thinking, “I get the turning on the light, but where do you see joy in this passage?” It’s actually found in the final command in this passage which is in verse 18:
Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.
For Paul, whatever advanced the gospel gave him joy, even if that came at the expense of his own comfort and reputation. So Paul found joy in shining the light of Jesus into a dark world because it advanced the gospel. And we are to do the same.
Action
If we want to have joy in a world full of “crooked sticks”, we must quit cursing those crooked sticks and instead shine the light of Jesus as we work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.
Instead of accusing those who choose to live a lifestyle of sexual sin, what we need to do is to make sure that we develop homes where husbands and wives love each other with the same kind of sacrificial love that Jesus demonstrated for us at the cross and let that light shine in the darkness.
Instead of complaining about our jobs, we need to be the kind of employees who work as if working for Jesus Himself, who put the needs of their bosses and their fellow employees ahead of their own and let that light shine in the darkness.
Instead of protesting at an abortion clinic or posting memes on our social media, we need to volunteer at a place like Hands of Hope, where we can treat those pregnant women with dignity and love regardless of what decision they ultimately make and let that light shine in the darkness.
Instead of demonizing those we disagree with, we need to listen to them and respect them and love them. We can disagree without being disagreeable and let that light shine in the darkness.
Instead of complaining about wearing a mask or physical distancing, we need to do something positive to help those who are truly in need right now because they can’t go out to shop or they have lost their jobs and let that light shine in the darkness.
Inspiration
In 2004, Glenn Parkinson wrote a book titled Like the Stars in which he wrote these relevant words in the Epilogue:
In a free and pluralistic culture, the chief social contribution of Christians is the inspiration of righteousness. Responding to the moral decline of America with resentment and hostility does not inspire righteousness; it only alienates our neighbors further from us and from the gospel.
I think he is absolutely correct.
Mary and I live in a pretty dark part of town, so when we go out on a cloudless, moonless night, we can see quite a few stars. But last month when we went to Greer and were in a much darker place, we could see many times the number of stars we can see here. That is a great reminder that stars shine their brightest when everything is at its darkest. That’s why as this world gets darker and darker, the path to joy is to shine our lights, not curse the darkness.
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