If you have been watching the news, and you have an interest in science…particularly astronomy…then you are likely aware that astronomers believe that they have found a star and planet similar to our sun and earth. The planet is called Kepler 452b (after famous astronomer Johannes Kepler). Both star and planet are slightly larger than our version of “home”, but this is interesting news for those who would like to escape this world. The universe is a really big place…so large, that we can’t really begin to comprehend it. As one person shared…one way to try to grasp it is that the earth is like a grain of sand, and the universe of other stars, planets and galaxies would be all of the sand on all of the beaches of the world. And even this wouldn’t even begin to be enough. That is difficult to wrap the mind around if you are a typical human being. Some scientists try to tell us that everything that we know came into existence via some cataclysmic event called “the Big Bang.” I experienced a big bang one time when I walked near a significantly large firework blast that went off by me when I was a kid. :-) What I do know, and understand by faith, is that God created the universe. And, if He chose to do so through the process of some sort of big bang then that is His business. What I also know is that God created “light.” And He has been sending His light into the world ever since. He did so via the sun. Then, at the appointed time, He did so through His Son. Now, God sends us out as His instruments to be light to the world. We do not have to light up the entire universe…but, you and I have the ability and responsibility to light our world. As such, Paul tells the believers in Philippi that, as Jesus was the Light, they also must shine like lights in the darkness of the world. We do indeed have the same responsibility!
Paul wants us to know that we need to continually strive to be like Christ. This requires obedience and effort, or as he tells the Philippians…”work out your own salvation” (Philippians 2:12-18). This is not to be confused with any mistaken concept of “working for or to salvation.” I knew a lady one time that when I explained this principle, it was like a light went on. She had never considered that she couldn’t do enough or be good enough to be a Christian. This was sad in one sense, but good in another. She began to understand that it is all about what Jesus has done, and our connection to it. There is no way that we can work for, do enough, be good enough in order to gain salvation. It is the free gift of grace from God through His Son, Jesus Christ. This is precisely Jesus’ point with the rich, young ruler (Matthew 19).
Paul is dealing with people who are Christians already, but some seem to be struggling and have quit growing to be like Jesus. He continues to help them, and all of us, to continue to meet the challenge of growing in Christ by contrasting the life of believers with those of unbelievers. God’s purpose for us, His people, is to achieve Christ-likeness. Church and Christian living is never to be about you or me or anyone else…it is all about Jesus. He is to be our all in all! Paul says that those who belong to the world make it a course of their lives to grumble and find fault, but not those in Christ. We are to rejoice and give thanks at all times. How can this be so? We understand that we are not working to grab hold of some sort of victory, but that we are living our lives in Christ striving from victory. We have every opportunity to be able to enjoy our salvation with fellow believers…those we meet with on Sundays…and those who we meet with at other times. We have the greatest principle in common -- grace and thanksgiving as the result of what Jesus has done for each and every one of us in setting us free from sin, death and the world! We have a unity in this which no one can take away.
And what is even more interesting is that grace, thanksgiving and joy all have the same root in the original language – char. This is where our English words charity, charisma, and character find their meaning. In this, we continue to work out God’s purposes for our lives, spiritually, charitably living as His witnesses…shining in the world around us. As we are confronted with the needs and the difficulties of real life, we continue to grow and become more Christ-like. The struggles we face make us better, stronger for Him. We can offer thanksgiving to the Lord for the opportunity to continue to grow and become more like His Son.
Another principle that Paul wants us to understand is that it is God who is at work in us, and He must be doing this before He can work through us. Some people obey God because of pressures from the outside (people, circumstances), and not from the power that comes from within us (the Holy Spirit). And this is to be the power working in us, the Holy Spirit…God’s personal presence. The power is at our disposal -- truly “greater is He (Spirit) who is within us that He who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). God uses “tools” such as the Word, prayer, suffering and fellowship in order to bear fruit in the lives of His people. We discover that as we continue to grow that all of these virtues on earth are transforming our spirits in order for us to be ready for the glory in heaven being prepared for us. We receive eternal life and joy because of our submission. Just as Jesus submitted Himself to the will of the Father and was exalted, so will we be one day.
The beauty of the spiritual struggle is that we are not left to simply muster more of our strength, but we are invited to tap into His! It is only through surrender to His will, and allowing His Spirit to work in us that we are able to grow and understand spiritual matters. This all means that the victories and accomplishments that we have in the spiritual realm should be acknowledged as coming from the Lord…and we should give Him the glory. We cannot do good enough or be good enough to achieve this victory. But, we need to be surrendered enough, committed enough to be able to live out our Christian lives abundantly from victory. When we have spiritual character, charisma, we understand that grace, thanksgiving, unity isn’t something that we do…it is who we are! It all simply means that we can live the Christian life, free from negative attitudes such as fear, bitterness, self-sufficiency, because our dependence is on Him. And this is precisely why we can be grace-filled, Spirit-filled, thankful, united people…because it is not about us -- it is all about what Jesus has done on our behalf!