One thing you won’t know about your new vicar is that I am a very amateur astronomer. I am fascinated by the night sky. The size, scale and beauty of the heavens above never cease to amaze me. Did you know for example:
- that our own star, the Sun, burns at a staggering 15 million degrees centigrade?
- do you know that a star like our Sun can burn brightly for as long as 10 billion years?
- and do you realise that even the light from our closest star, Proxima Centuri, takes over 4 years to reach us, such is the huge distance involved!
As a Christian, I marvel at the power and creativity of the God who made our cosmos. Psalm 19 in the Bible rightly says that “the heavens declare the glory of God”. The celestial ‘dance’ of the planets, stars and galaxies is truly awe-inspiring and honours its Creator.
In our services this month we are working our way through the apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians. A letter Paul wrote to Christians in the prosperous Greek city of Philippi. A letter written with love and affection to a Christian Church that Paul himself had founded. This morning we are looking at the second half of Philippians chapter 2. A passage that includes the astonishing statement that Christians should “shine like stars in the universe” (v.15). In some way, Paul wants us to be like those beautiful objects that light up our night sky. So in our time together this morning, I want to explain what Paul means by this command. I want to explore how we Christians can indeed ‘shine like stars’ in our daily lives.
We shine with our lives and our lips!
Firstly then, how can we as Christians shine like stars? Obviously Paul doesn’t mean that we should literally carry around torches or candles, like people always ready for a power cut! What Paul is saying, I believe, is that Christians should live distinctive lives. Just as a shining star stands out from the blackness that surrounds it, we Christians should live lives that are distinctive different from the rest of society. By our words and our deeds, by our lives and our lips, we should be as unique and attractive as stars are against the night sky.
If you are familiar with Jesus’ famous ‘Sermon on the Mount’, recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, you may know that Jesus himself told his disciples to be like salt and light. Just as salt has a distinctive flavour, disciples of Jesus should be distinctive in our society. Just as light stands out in the darkness, Christians are called to be beacons in our community.
Paul puts this in his own words in verse 15 today. He wants the Christians in Philippi to “become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation”. He wants the Philippians to live lives according to very different standards and values to the rest of society.
Listen to some of the ethical injunctions that Paul gives in this letter:
- In chapter 1, Paul told the Philippian Christians to be loving, to abound in knowledge and wisdom, to be united with one another, to stand firm in the face of persecution. To live lives “worthy of the Gospel” (1:27).
- In the opening verses of chapter 2, which we looked at last week, Paul urges the Philippians to love one another, to be humble, and to look to the interests of others before our own.
- And in verse 14 today, Paul particularly wants the Philippians to avoid “complaining or arguing”. We Christians are not to be people who mumble against our leaders or grumble amongst themselves.
Did you notice one other component of Christian living that Paul praises in our passage today? Did you see the one extra dimension of shining like a star? If you can, look with me at verse 16. Paul says he expects the Philippians to be “holding out the word of life.” In other words, he expects Christians to be sharing their faith with others. He expects the Christians in Philippi to be telling their colleagues, friends and neighbours the good news of the Gospel. The good news that through faith in Jesus anyone can become God’s forgiven friend forever.
Verse 16 isn’t the only place Paul makes this point. Back in verse 14 of chapter 1 Paul commended Christians who “spoke the word of God courageously and fearlessly”. Paul delighted in the fact that Christians were “preaching Christ”. And in verse 27 of that chapter he urges the Philippians to contend “for the faith of the Gospel.”
You see, as Christians we are all called to shine like stars with our words and well as our actions. We are to be distinctive with our lips as well as with our lives. Its great if people look at us and are impressed by our lifestyle. Its even better if people hear us speak of Jesus and are attracted to our Saviour.
If Christians live and speak for Jesus we will be distinctive and different to our surrounding society. In a society that is invariably selfish we will be sacrificial. In a society that prizes personal ambition and achievement, we will be humble. In a society that increasingly concerns itself with looking after Number 1, we will be looking after others. And in a society that increasingly regards the Christian faith as either a myth or morally wrong, we will be explaining and defending its truth.
But living and speaking for Jesus will be hard work. It will involve resisting temptation, it will involve a fight against our sinful instincts, and it will require courage to resist peer pressure. In fact, in verse 12 today Paul goes so far as to say that the Christian life involves “working out your salvation with fear and trembling”.
Paul is saying that the Christian life will be hard work. We will need to work hard to shine brightly for Christ. Please note, however, that Paul is not saying we work “for” our salvation. Our salvation is a gift of God, which we receive when we first put our faith in Jesus. But we work “out” our salvation as we live for Jesus in the years that follow. We work “out” our salvation, we don’t work “for” it.
Yesterday afternoon I officiated at my first wedding service here at St. Michael’s. I married Claire Hopkins to David McCarthy, and it was a wonderful occasion. The couple made vows, exchanged rings and then signed the marriage register. They are now man and wife, fully married in the eyes of God and of the law. But in my wedding address I still told them to work “at” their marriage in the years ahead. They are already married, but I still asked them to explore all the implications and commitments of marriage in the months and years ahead.
In a similar way, Paul wants us as Christians to work at and work out the full implications of being a disciple of Jesus. If we have come to Christ we already belong to him, we are already saved. But in our daily life we need to live out the full implications of following him. We don’t work “for” our salvation, but we do need to work it “out”.
We shine as God works in us!
But why should we bother? Why should we make any effort to work out our salvation? Why should we try to shine like stars in the universe?
I think Paul gives us four brief reasons in our passage this morning. Four good reasons why it is our responsibility and privilege to live and speak for Christ. Four sound reasons why it is worth us attempting to shine in our society.
- Firstly, we should shine in obedience to God. In verse 12 today Paul reminds the Philippians and ourselves that we have an obligation to always obey God and live his way. Just like the stars in the sky, we have been created by God and we belong to him. Just like the stars above, we were given life to glorify God. When we obey him we are doing what is right, and fulfilling our God-given potential.
- Secondly, we will want to shine in imitation of Christ. Our passage today comes right after a passage that reminds us of all that Jesus did to save us, including his death on the cross. If we are truly grateful to Christ for our salvation, we will want to imitate him. We will want to be as humble and servant-hearted as Jesus was for us. We will want to live like him and tell others about him.
- Thirdly, we will be able to shine in the power of the Spirit. Verse 13 should be an enormous encouragement to us as we seek to serve Jesus with our lives and our lips. It reminds us that we are not on our own. It reminds us that God’s Spirit is at work in us “to will and to act according to his good purpose”. It assures us that if God’s has brought us to faith in Jesus, then his Spirit will keep working over time to make our attitudes and our actions more and more like Christ’s. The Holy Spirit will be the fuel who helps us keep shining like stars. We are never on our own. The awesome God who created the cosmos is at work in us. If he can make the Sun shine for 10 billion years, he can certainly make us shine for Christ during our short time here on earth.
- Fourthly and finally, we should shine to encourage other Christians. In verse 17 and 18 of our passage today, Paul tells the Philippians that he rejoices at the “sacrifice and service coming from their faith”. And as we live for Christ today, we will encourage and inspire our Christian brothers and sisters. As I look at stars in the night sky I am often inspired to praise God. As I look at committed Christian brothers and sisters in this congregation I am also moved to thank God too.
So as I finish today, I hope Paul’s words in Philippians have encouraged us to shine for Christ. I hope they have helped us understand what it means to shine for him. And I hope they have reminded us why it is so worthwhile. So in the days and weeks ahead let’s all try to shine for Jesus in our daily lives. Let’s all try to live for him and speak of him:
- In our homes and families that might involve being a little more patient and kind to one another. It might involve attempting to tell our spouse or siblings why Jesus matters so much to us.
- At work, we can seek to shine for Jesus by deing diligent at our duties, working hard even when our boss or manager isn’t watching. And by taking opportunities to share our faith with our friends and colleagues.
- And here in Church we can all shine more brightly for Jesus by working even harder to welcome new faces amongst us. By inviting people we know to join us on Sundays. And certainly by doing all we can to be an attractive Christian community that others will want to be a part of.
The stars above declare the glory of God with their brightness. May we all at St. Michael’s proclaim the glory of God with our lips and our lives.