CAN YOU EXPLAIN PHILIPPIANS 2:14-16?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Can you explain Philippians 2:14-16? “ Do all things without murmurings and disputings:  That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;  Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain” (Philippians 2:14-16).
In a word, “Shine as lights, brethren, shine as lights!”
One charge frequently leveled against us Christians is, “There are so many hypocrites in the church that I do not care to go.” While sinlessness in this life is utterly impossible, it is no secret that the professing Church could have done (and do) better in maintaining a solid testimony for the truths of Father God. What went wrong? They overwhelmingly substituted religious tradition and men’s opinions for the pure and simple truths of the Word of God rightly divided. Rather than “Thus saith the LORD,” it was (and still is) preferred, “Thus saith Mother Church,” “Thus saith Doctor So-and-So,” “Thus saith I,” et cetera.
A brother in Christ, now enjoying Heaven, wrote the following wise words many decades ago: “All believers are saints, and the moment they are [saved] they should begin to live as saints. It is not natural for a king to live like a pauper nor for a prince to live as a peasant. Those of us who are positionally saints should live as saints, and not bring disgrace and reproach upon Him who died on the cross in order that we might BE saints.” Thinking on these words, Philippians 2:14-16 immediately came to mind. (We will expound those verses later.)
That brother made a point, one that the professing Church would do well in remembering this present hour. Does it make sense for a king to live like a pauper—a very poor person? Is it not silly to see a prince living as a peasant—a lowly, rural person? Consider a parallel contradiction. Why are saints living like sinners, Christians living as non-Christians? The Holy Spirit wrote Philippians 2:14-16 to prevent that very incongruity. We would do well to heed those admonitions, that we “shine as lights!”
Philippians 2:14 opens with: “Do all things without murmurings and disputings.” To “murmur” means “express one’s discontent about (someone or something) in a subdued manner.” Grumbling in a low tone, something not easily heard, murmuring is due to ignorance, evil/bad thinking, and unbelief. “Murmuring” was a notable characteristic of the faithless, unthankful Israelites under Moses’ command (Exodus 15:24; Exodus 16:2-12, Exodus 17:3; Numbers 14:27-36, Numbers 16:11,41; Numbers 17:5-10; et cetera).
The Jews of old were not being renewed in the spirit of their mind. They were not mindful of JEHOVAH God’s provisions for them. They thought and behaved like He taught them nothing and did nothing for them. Deuteronomy 1:27 says: “And ye murmured in your tents, and said, Because the LORD hated us, he hath brought us forth out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us.” Imagine such pitiful ignorance—“the LORD hated [Israel]” so He delivered them from Egypt! Psalm 106:25 highlights the unbelief and disobedience associated with Israel’s “murmuring:” “But murmured in their tents, and hearkened not unto the voice of the LORD.”
When Jesus received and associated with “publicans and sinners,” the Pharisees and scribes “murmured” (Luke 5:30; Luke 15:2, Luke 19:7). These religious leaders were unbelieving and ignorant of the fact these “evil” people were very ones the Lord had come to save from sin (Matthew 9:10-13)! John 6:41 says: “The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, I am the bread which came down from heaven.” Again, this was all because of doubt and spiritual ignorance. God does not want us to be ignorant or unbelieving; the Bible is here to educate us in His will and ways, and we are to believe it. As we experience and enjoy the Christian walk, we do so with knowledge, faith, and gratitude.
Returning to Philippians 2:14: “Do all things without murmurings and disputings.” Here, “disputings” are “reasonings, imaginations, debate, doubtful things.” Whereas “murmurings” are complaints engendered by spiritual ignorance and ungratefulness to God, “disputings” are intellectual arguments or criticisms used to question or challenge God’s Word and will.
Jesus Christ spoke of “evil thoughts” proceeding from man’s sinful heart (Matthew 15:19; Mark 7:21). The Pharisees and scribes used “thoughts” and “reason” to critique Jesus’ healing of the paralytic man (Luke 5:22) and the man with the withered hand (Luke 6:8). Jesus’ disciples engaged in a petty, selfish “reasoning” and “thought” about who would be the greatest (Luke 9:46-47). Before God gave the unbelieving nations over to their preferences in Genesis chapter 11, Romans 1:21 says they were “vain [empty] in their imaginations.” We see “doubtful disputations” in Romans 14:1, discussions that cause weaker Christians to stumble. First Timothy 2:8 speaks of men in the local assembly needing to be “without… doubting.” James 2:4 talks about “evil thoughts.” All of these are examples of the “disputings” discouraged in Philippians 2:14.
The purpose or goal of a Christian obeying Philippians 2:14—neither murmuring nor disputing—is found in verse 15. “That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke….” “Blameless” is not “sinless” but rather “not guilty of wrongdoing; faultless.” “Harmless” means “innocent, unmixed, or untainted”—something not watered down. The word is translated “simple” in Romans 16:19. Positionally, we are God’s children by faith in Jesus Christ, His finished crosswork, the Gospel of the Grace of God (Galatians 3:26). Are we His sons practically, though? Sometimes. Our behavior does not constantly reflect our identity (new nature) in Christ. That is, there are “murmurings” and “disputings” in our lives as Christians. Let us see how we correct this.
We ought to be “blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke.” Instead of behaving like mature sons of God, there is often childishness in our lives—this should not be. “Without rebuke” means “not worthy of being faulted or discredited.” That is, no one has grounds for calling us hypocrites. As the famous dictum goes, “We practice what we preach.” We claim to be God’s children—we act like God’s children. We say we are saints—we behave like saints.
“In the midst of a crooked and perverse nation….” The life of Jesus Christ is to be lived in and through us the saints as we function in “this present evil world” (Galatians 1:4). We should “do all things without murmurings and disputings,” we are to be “blameless and harmless,” we should be “the sons of God” practically, and we are to be “without rebuke,” while living in a world abounding with those very spiritual evils. What a distinction!
The word “crooked” here in Greek is skolios, from which we get “scoliosis” (curvature, warping, winding of the spine). It is rendered “untoward” (turned away from God) in Acts 2:40. “Perverse” is stronger—it means “corrupt, distorted.” “And Jesus answering said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you, and suffer you? Bring thy son hither” (Luke 9:41; cf. Matthew 17:17). Speaking of perversion within the “Christian” community, Acts 20:30 warns: “Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” And, 1 Timothy 6:5: “Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.” (These last two references contradict the behavior encouraged in Philippians 2:14.)
No matter our country, it is a “crooked and perverse nation.” Governed by Satan, “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4), it is thus turned away from God and wholly corrupt. (That evil world system will remain until the Lord Jesus Christ’s Second Coming.) God has left us on this planet as “outposts of the third heaven.” Since we are from another world (“the kingdom of [God’s] dear Son”), we are to behave differently from this world controlled by “the power of darkness” (Colossians 1:13).
“…Among whom ye shine as lights in the world.” In the midst of the unbelieving masses, we Christians live—nay, rather, we shine. As luminous celestial bodies contrast the deep, dark recesses of outer space, so we “stick out” in this lost and dying world. We are lighthouses, guiding souls away from danger and destruction. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, describing Israel’s believing remnant, excerpted: “ Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.  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.  Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).
Ephesians chapter 5 adds: “ Be not ye therefore partakers with them [children of disobedience, verse 6].  For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light:  (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth; )  Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord.  And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” We return to Philippians.
“Holding forth the word of life….” As we reprove the works of darkness by preaching and living the truth (Ephesians 5:1–6:9), so we “hold forth the word of life” by preaching and living it. “Holding forth” means “identifying it, paying attention to it, seizing it, and extending it to others.” Notice related usages. Jesus “marked” how some guests chose prominent positions at the feast (Luke 14:7). The lame man “gave heed” to Peter and John, expecting to receive something (Acts 3:5). Paul decided to “stay” for a while in Asia while he sent Timothy and Erastus into Macedonia (Acts 19:22).
“The word of life,” of course, is the Holy Bible, especially rightly divided (2 Timothy 2:15). Jesus said: “It is the spirit that quickeneth [gives life to and makes active]; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). Peter replied: “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life” (verse 68). “Life” here is God’s life—how God lives—how Jesus Christ lives—how we Christians (should) live. God created physical life from nothing by using His spoken Word; He provides spiritual life similarly.
When we “hold forth the word of life,” we urge others to receive it (after all, eternal life through Christ is a gift offered—Romans 6:23). Again, we are not merely preaching the Gospel of Grace; we are living it. Titus 2:11-14 says: “ For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,  Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;  Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;  Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” Let us see the result.
We should “do all things without murmurings and disputings,” that we be “blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom [we] shine as lights in the world”—us “holding forth the word of life”—that the Apostle Paul may “rejoice in the day of Christ.” “The day of Christ” is “the Judgment Seat of Christ” (Romans 14:10-12; 2 Corinthians 5:9-10)—when Christians are rewarded for their service to their Saviour while they lived in this present evil world.
Read Philippians chapter 1: “ Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:….  And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;  That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ.  Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.”
Notice verse 6 above points to Philippians 2:13, a verse that heads the passage we are currently discussing: God is working in us “both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” Until “the day of Jesus Christ,” the Holy Spirit has sealed us: He is working in us, so we should not “grieve”/sadden Him (Ephesians 4:30) or “quench”/hinder Him (1 Thessalonians 5:19). God’s grace teaches us how to live (Titus 2:11-14). We are new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). We are dead to sin; we are alive unto God (Romans chapter 6). We who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts; if we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:24-25). We return to Philippians.
While Paul ministered for 35 years throughout the Roman Empire, he risked his life daily. As he preached the Gospel of the Grace of God, an “illegal religion,” he suffered greatly at the hands of unbelieving, sinful men—imprisonments, beatings, lashings, muggings, deaths!, and so on (2 Corinthians 11:23-28). Sometimes, he lacked food, clothing, and shelter (Philippians 4:11-13). How many modern “feel-good” preachers would endure this for Christ’s sake?
Philippians 2:16 concludes: “…that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.” Despite all the Apostle’s suffering, something thrilled his heart beyond words. A mighty of harvest of souls had resulted! His time and energy were not wasted! One day, he would see those former idol-worshipping pagans stand in Heaven, there only because of Christ’s finished crosswork! But, there was more. They had not only believed that Gospel of Grace for justification unto eternal life—they had believed it to enjoy eternal life daily. Now, the Lord Jesus Christ would accept their work, their Christian service, at the Judgment Seat of Christ. They had shined as lights in the world; they had held forth the word of life!
These dear souls, once Hell-bound, now in Heaven, will be Paul’s reason for praising God! First Thessalonians 2:19-20: “ For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?  For ye are our glory and joy.” Philippians 4:1: “Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.” Paul did not “run in vain” when he initially preached the Gospel to them. Neither had he “laboured in vain” when he spent time teaching them daily grace living.
Christian living in the Dispensation of Grace is summarized so beautifully in 2 Corinthians 5:14-21. We should constantly remind ourselves of this our “Great Commission:”
“ For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead:  And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.  Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more.  Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.  And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;  To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.  Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.  For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”
Brethren, Christianity is not about us striving to demonstrate our love for God. Nay! It is Christ’s immense, unfailing love for us that drives us, both to preach and live the Gospel of Grace. We live and preach, that others may believe, live, and preach; also becoming “lights” to shine in this dying, dark world. In the ages to come, there will be a grand “lighting” like this universe has never seen.
When Paul’s converts—whether the Philippians of old, or us today—follow by faith those principles of grace the ascended Lord Jesus Christ entrusted to him, they are preparing for the Judgment Seat of Christ. We want to have this “gold, silver, precious stones” (sound Bible doctrine) stored up in our inner man: we want to have as little as possible of “wood, hay, stubble” (worthless teaching) (1 Corinthians 3:8-15).
All members of the Church the Body of Christ are the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s 2,000-year-long ministry through the Apostle Paul. Brethren, if we walk now by faith in the Dispensation of Grace, Romans through Philemon, there will be so much rejoicing on Paul’s part at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Moreover, all Christians will see the results of their ministries fully exposed, also rejoicing in how God used them to benefit other Christians. (I look forward to seeing you there, dear brethren!)
Immediately after the Judgment Seat of Christ, Father God will gather all His “lights” (members of the Body of Christ), and literally light up the heavens with them! Romans 8:18-19 says: “ For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.  For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.” What a day that “manifestation” of “glory” will be!
We began with a quote by a brother who has since moved to Heaven. Accordingly, to conclude, we use another quote from him: “We are the only Bible this careless world will read. We are God’s signboards in a sinful world. Men watch us, and they judge Jesus by the way we live, work, act, and talk.” Think as lights—“shine as lights!”
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