COMMENTARY ON PHILIPPIANS
T E X T
“Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.”
(Phil 2:14-16, NKJV)
Fellowship with Christ, or walking in the light, is a requirement–but it is much more than that. It is a Divinely appointed means of effecting the“eternal purpose” of God. A generation is impacted by godly people, like a dark night is invaded by the dawning of the day. That light is produced by what we do NOT do as well as what we DO. Everything about the life of faith is used by God, bringing Divine influences to bear upon an alienated world.
WITHOUT COMPLAINING AND DISPUTING
“Do all things without complaining and disputing” (NKJV). Why is such an exhortation found in this Epistle? From “the very first” this church had participated in the work of the Gospel. Yet there were seeds of corruption surfacing even in this congregation. Later Paul will plead with two women to be “of the same mind in the Lord” (4:2). Looking behind the scenes, our adversary, the devil, was working to penetrate and defile this group of believers, using one of his chief ploys–agitating the waters.
The Lord now introduces a frame of spirit that is applicable to every facet of life. It is to be maintained when doing “all things.” That also means Satan makes every attempt to influence us in “all things.” Also notice that the Apostle assumes activity, not inactivity–they are in the process of doing.
“Complaining and disputing” is disruptive to both individuals and congregations. Alternative expressions used in other translations include,“murmuring and disputing” (KJV), “grumbling or disputing” (NASB),“complaining or arguing” (NIV), “grumbling or questioning” (RSV), and“protests and arguments” (BBE). These are the traits of people who, driven by self interests, are troublesome and disturbing. Their presence and manner are disruptive to spiritual life. These are characteristics that conflict with humility, which is encouraged in this section. They are the result of seeking self interests without regard for other members of the body.
MURMURING, or grumbling and complaining, is most serious. The Corinthians were reminded of God’s response to the murmuring and complaining of Israel. “Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer” (1 Cor 10:10). The Psalmist says of the ancient people, “But complained in their tents, And did not heed the voice of the LORD” (Psa 106:25). A complaining spirit closes the ears so the voice of the Lord is neither heard nor sought.
DISPUTING and argumentation are forms of contention. They are disruptive because they pit person against person, forgetting that our foes are not flesh and blood (Eph 6:12). Specifically, disputing speaks of the promotion of flesh and the exaltation of opinion. It involves wrangling about things of no profit, contending for unworthy things, and being at variance with other believers. It is driven by the flesh, which produces “contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies” (Gal 5:20). When believers “strive about words,” it brings “ruin” to the hearers (2 Tim 2:14). As much as possible, argumentation is to be avoided.
Why should we exercise ourselves to “do all things” without these uncomely things? Because “the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:18). The Spirit of the Lord does not work in an agitated environment. It is ever true, “the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20)–and both complaining and arguing are evidence of fleshly resentment. There will be times when we will not be able to avoid disputation and contention (Acts 9:29; 17:5 Mk 8:11). However, such disputing is not the motive for what we do. If it does not rise because of the truth, it is not right. Nothing must be done to promote self.
BLAMELESS AND HARMLESS CHILDREN
“ . . . that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world . . . ” (NKJV). The language of this verse is most arresting: “blameless–harmless–without fault–shine as lights.”If anyone doubts the essentiality of “the mind of Christ,” let them ponder the weight of this verse. Here is the reason we are to zealously shun complaining and disputing. They will inevitably bring blame and harm, and will extinguish our light. What an unimaginable price to pay for self-interest!
BLAMELESS. This is unreproveable–a condition where God Himself finds no fault with us. This differs from the blameless state into which justification inducts us (Col 1:22). This has to do with sanctification, or our personal involvement in working out our own salvation. Elsewhere, it is referred to as “blameless in holiness” (1 Thess 3:13), and keeping the commandment of the Lord “without spot” (1 Tim 6:14). It is also a view men have of us, and is reflected in Psalm 35:19: “Let them not rejoice over me who are wrongfully my enemies; Nor let them wink with the eye who hate me without a cause.” Blameless people are “falsely accused” by their enemies (1 Pet 3:16). It is for Jesus “sake” that they are opposed (Matt 5:11).
HARMLESS. This was a trait of our blessed Lord. He was “harmless”(Heb 7:26). By this, the Spirit means those drawn to Christ were never hurt or disappointed by Him. Those who walk with Him are ministered to, strengthened, and enriched. They find His yoke “easy,” and His burden“light” (Matt 11:30). Because we are in a wicked world, our Lord admonishes us, “Therefore be wise as serpents and HARMLESS as doves” (Matt 10:16). Those drawn to us must not be hurt by us. As Jesus “went about doing good,” so are we do “do good unto all men” (Gal 6:10).
WITHOUT FAULT. This means “without blemish” (RSV), or “above reproach” (NASB). It refers to both our reputation and our character, and is how God views us: i.e., “without fault before the throne of God” (Rev 14:5). It is having no rottenness of soul or conduct. God has provided us with an“Advocate” and continual cleansing to ensure this state it not beyond our reach (1 John 1:7; 2:1). Let nothing take these benefits from you!
SHINING AS LIGHTS. We live in a dark and perverse, or corrupt, world. This spiritual darkness obscures God to men, and draws them into sin. Without light, there is no hope for them. Our lives CAN be lived in such a manner as to penetrate this darkness. Believers are portable lamps that introduce hope, and confirm there is a way out of darkness. But their light must not be extinguished by complaining and quarreling! The bushel of self interests must not be allowed to smother our flickering flame. God has lit our candle (Psa 18:28), and it is our business to “let” that light “so shine” (Matt 5:16). Like “stars in the universe” (NIV), our lives can stand out against the black sky of a “crooked and perverse generation.” Much of their light is determined by our persistence in avoiding “murmuring and disputing.” Those uncomely expressions will darken the sky, hide our light, and make men think there is no hope, or nothing higher than the flesh.
HOLDING FAST THE WORD OF LIFE
“ . . . holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain” (NKJV). Unless our hearts and minds have been in heavenly places, this verse will surprise us. He does NOT admonish the Philippians so that THEY may rejoice in the day of Christ. His exhortation is NOT in order that THEY may not have run or labored in vain. While those things will surely occur for them, Paul wrote soHE might rejoice in the day of Christ. He made the effort to contact the Philippians from his jail cell so HE would not have run or labored in vain.
The idea of “holding fast the Word of life” is keeping it before the world. The KJV emphasizes this by saying, “holding FORTH the Word of life.” The idea is that murmuring and disputing loosens our grip upon the Word–the Source of life. Thus, it can no longer be seen by those living in darkness. Our lives are the carriers of the light. We can, by our conduct, cause the light to shine more brightly, or obscure its glory. Jesus put it this way, “Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house” (Matt 5:15). Holding forth the Word of life is keeping it from under the bushel! It is NOT depriving those about us of the appointed means to spiritual life. If men “live by every Word of God” (Lk 4:4), that Word must NOT be obscured by us!
If the faithfulness of the Philippians would enhance Paul’s joy in the “day of Christ,” their unfaithfulness would take from it. If their spiritual demeanor contributed to him NOT running or laboring in vain, then flawed living among them would reflect upon his running and laboring. Unfaithfulness not only affects those in whom it is found, it also impacts those who have labored with them–those who brought the Word of the Lord to them.
Here is an aspect of the truth that is scarcely known in our day. Professional religion has so structured its approach to the work of the Lord, as to hide this indispensable consideration. You may recall Paul was “afraid”of the Galatians, that he may have labored among them “in vain” (Gal 4:11). He also feared the same circumstance among the Thessalonians (1 Thess 3:5).
The Spirit provides extended teaching on this in First Corinthians 3:12-17. After stating the Corinthians were his “work in the Lord” (9:1), the Apostle elaborates on the relationship of those taught to the one who taught them–of the converts to the one used to convert them. ☛ Converts, or“works,” are classified as good and bad: i.e., wood, hay, stubble and gold, silver, precious stones (3:12). ☛ These are materials being placed on the foundation of Jesus (3:10). ☛ The worth of all of these will be tested in the fire of Divine judgment, or “the day of Christ” (3:13). ☛ Converts who survive the judgment will cause a reward to be given to the laborer (3:14). ☛Those who do not pass the test of Divine judgment will cause the laborer to“suffer loss” (3:15).
☛ The laborer himself must also pass through the test of the day of judgment, being “the work” of even another minister (3:15b).
Our labors are directly related to our reward. We do well to do our best to spend our time in productive areas. We also are to maintain a lively interest in the progress of those impacted by our ministries.