Holding Out the Word of Life

Philippians 2:12-18

Intro: A new homeowner’s riding lawn mower had broken down, and he had been working fruitlessly for two frustrating hours trying to get it back together. Suddenly, one of his new neighbors appeared at his garage with a toolbox and asked, “Can I give you some help?” In twenty minutes he had the mower functioning perfectly. “Thanks a million,” the man said, “You have some pretty nice tools there – what do you make with them?” “Mostly friends,” the neighbor smiled. “I’m available anytime.”

We asked this question last week: Do you know what your purpose is, what is your reason for living? I know, you get up in the morning, go to work, deliver your product or service, earn a paycheck, spend time with your family, come to church, keep up the laundry and the yard and the meals and then fall into bed to start over the next morning. But what is your purpose? Why are you alive? Is it to raise your family? Is it to earn a living? Is it to succeed in your career? Is it to keep your household running smoothly? Is it to break 80 in golf?

You may never have really thought about a purpose for your life – you’re just so busy keeping the plates spinning and the wheels from falling off, you don’t have time to think about purpose.

Understand, purpose isn’t something that wipes the slate clean and becomes the only thing you focus on – it integrates everything – it makes everything else make sense – it helps you prioritize what you say “yes” to and what you say “no” to.

Jesus, of course had a clear sense of purpose. Luke records Jesus’ words, “For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.” Jesus never lost sight of his main purpose. Whether he was teaching the multitudes, or healing the sick, or training his disciples or confronting the Pharisees, his purpose was to bring those who were lost back to a relationship with God.

The fact is, the Bible makes it clear that we have the same purpose as our Savior. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says we are salt and light – we are in the world to change and influence the people around us and draw them to God. In the Great Commission, Jesus tells us to go and make disciples, baptizing and teaching, as we bring people back to God. Paul calls us “Christ’s ambassadors,” “ministers of reconciliation” with a message of God’s love and redemption. In fact, Paul says we are God’s fellow workers. We share in a purpose and mission that focuses and clarifies our lives in a way that is life-defining. Some folks think God’s work takes place in a church building on Sunday morning. I’m here to tell you it takes place when you head out your front door Monday morning.

It is in a passage in Philippians 2 that I find Paul helps us define what our purpose looks like: “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.”

There are two things that Paul tells the Philippians that we need to hear also: vss. 12-13,  “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”

When Paul says to work out your salvation, he is in no way saying that our salvation is a matter of our effort or of our own design. In fact, when Paul speaks of salvation here, it is something that is already in

their possession. The question is, what does it mean to work out your salvation? And the answer is that our salvation is not a static, momentary event in our lives, but a defining element that becomes the constant thread that runs throughout and weaves our life together. If you had to define your life with a series of words or descriptions, would “saved” be a key element of who you are?

Part of that salvation is an ongoing living out of what that means in your life. Living in a saved way, letting salvation be reflected in what you say, how you act, the decisions you make, the priorities you live by. And the world watches on – you are a living definition of “salvation” for the world. So, “working out” your salvation means “living out” your salvation.

And then, even more powerful than that, is what he says next: “it is God who works in you.” Remember what we’ve been talking about over the last month. We have a story to tell, and it is a story about what God has been doing in my life. Like the demon-possessed man whom Jesus healed and sent back to his home to tell others what God had done for him. Or the Samaritan woman at the well, who runs back to town to tell them about a man who told her everything she ever did.

God is at work in you. He is at work, to will and to act for his good purpose (the Greek word eudokia translated “purpose,” also literally means “pleasure”). His work in you isn’t random, and it isn’t aimless. He is working out his plan for your life, and it will always be for his glory. And when he sees you living for him – it brings him pleasure.

And if his work in you is for his glory, he doesn’t intend for it to be a private affair. When you become a Christian, he doesn’t cloister you away in the safety and anonymity of a sanctuary, he sends you back into the world as a living object lesson.

That’s what he is talking about in vs. 15, when he says you should be “blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation in which you shine like stars in the universe.” Our lives stand out in stark contrast to the world around us. And as the world around us becomes more wicked and more hostile to righteousness and godliness, the more distinctive our lives become.

But we cannot merely live a good life and let that be the sum of our witness in the world. A godly life is absolutely indispensible, but it is not all. It is the open door, the receptive heart, the listening ear – the opportunity to speak a word for God. Without the godly life, anything you might say becomes meaningless – worse than that – it is hypocrisy and confirms the indictments that Christianity is just a sham.

But when you live a godly life, it legitimates and gives authority to your words. And that’s what Paul says next: “as you hold out the word of life.” That’s the story – as we hold out the message – the good news of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world. And it isn’t an impersonal message, a cut and dried recitation of a religious speech, but a personal, living reminder that God is in the business of giving life.

That’s your purpose – in case you’re wondering – to live your life and tell your story in such a way that God is glorified and the lost are drawn to him through you.

In her book, Of Whom the World was not Worthy, Marie Chapian tells the story of two Yugoslavian men named Jakov and Cimmerman. Jakov attempted to share his faith with the skeptical atheist, Cimmerman. Cimmerman would remind him that church leaders in his town had plundered, exploited and killed innocent people, including his own nephew.

Jakov responded, “Suppose I were to steal your coat, put it on and break into a bank.” He imagined eluding the police, but the police recognized the coat and went to arrest Cimmerman. Cimmerman would, of course, deny having robbed the bank. The fact that someone else wore his coat would not make him guilty of the crime. As Jakov saw it the wicked church leaders were fraudulently wearing the Christian coat.

Cimmerman was angered at the suggestion and he asked Jakov to leave. But Jakov kept visiting, encouraging and sharing the love of Christ daily. One day Cimmerman asked, “How does one become a Christian?” Jakov wanted to know what changed his mind. Cimmerman said, “You wear his coat very well.”

Jakov’s example melted the skeptical heart of Cimmerman. Your example has great power to convince others. How well do you wear his coat?

We sang a song this morning – “Send the Light.” Let’s sing the chorus again with a little twist, that adds a powerful implication… “Be the Light”.

We sang a song this morning – “Send the Light.” Let’s sing the chorus again with a little twist, that adds a powerful implication… “Be the Light”.

You are the light of the world. It is an awesome thought – that our lives are on display – that God is using us to spread light into a world lost in darkness. We could just wash our hands of it all, and say, “I’m just one person – I can’t possibly change anything.” In a world of 7 billion people, you’d probably be right. In a nation of 365 million people, you’d probably be right. In a state of 5.5 million, you’d probably be right. In a city of 9,000 (now Dale probably knows that many people), but even then, you as an individual probably won’t have a significant impact on 9,000 people. But think of the neighborhood you live in, your circle of friends and relatives, the people you work with, the customers you interact with, the parents your kids go to school with, the businesses you shop at. These are people you know on a first name basis – they see you throughout the week, some every day. They know what kind of person you are. They see how you handle yourself when you’re stressed and dealing with difficult situations. They hear you talk and what kind of language you use. They know if you treat people right or if you’re mean and dishonest. They know if you’re the real deal. And they have a pretty good idea whether God is in your life or not. People have a nose for hypocrisy.

Let me tell you about the light. Some people will be repelled by it. There were people who hated Jesus because he exposed them for who they were – not because he was harsh and critical, but because when light comes into the world, it just is what it is – you can see everything more clearly. But if you are the light, there will be people who are attracted to that. Light brings comfort and safety and truth is revealed. If you are the light, realize it’s not you people are attracted to but the source of the light. Isn’t that what Jesus said – “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” It isn’t about you.

But if you keep your mouth shut and let people think you’re just a good old boy (or gal), whose momma raised them right and is a great human being, you’re stealing God’s thunder. Give credit where credit is due. God is the light that is shining through you – you are merely holding out the word of life. Make a difference, but make a difference for God in this world. When you tell your story – and you need to tell your story – make sure the hero is Jesus. Let people know that he is the one who makes the difference – in your life – just like he can in theirs.

The great composer Giacomo Puccini, who wrote many of the greatest operas of all time, was working on his masterpiece, Turandot, when he was stricken with cancer. Puccini’s students urged him to rest and save his strength, but he persisted saying, “If I do not finish my music, my students will.” Puccini did die in 1924 before finishing his work, and his students did finish Turandot. In 1926, the premiere was held at the magnificent La Scala Opera House under the direction of Puccini’s favorite student, Arturo Toscanini. All went brilliantly until they came to the point in the score where the teacher had set down his pen. Toscanini, overcome with emotion, turned to the audience and said, “Thus far the master wrote, but he died.” Toscanini then picked up this baton and cried out to the audience, “But his disciples finished his work!”

Isn’t that Jesus’ commission to us? To complete his work by taking the good news to every person we meet.