As Lights in the World
Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.
~ Phil. 2:14-16
A study focused on how unchurched Americans viewed Christianity. Of those surveyed, 71% believe that Jesus makes a positive difference in a person's life, and 78% said they would be willing to listen to someone share what they believed about Christianity. But 72% said they believed the church is “full of hypocrites.”
So...Jesus is viewed positively in American culture. Christians, not so much.
Those of us in the church have all had negative experiences with people who claim to be Christians but don't act like it. Some of us have been those people, at points in our lives. As negatively as we can be judged for our failures, we are all aware how difficult it is to live consistently for Christ. It is easy to get drawn into behaviors and attitudes which are not what Jesus is all about. When we do, we run the risk of discrediting the faith we hold to.
Paul writes to the church in Philippi to do everything without grumbling or arguing. He could have picked a moral issue to challenge them, but he leads with something more basic. How we approach our relationships and responsibilities in settings like work and school says a lot to the world around us. It's not any different than what Jesus says about proving ourselves to be his disciples by loving one another. If we are viewed negatively, with respect to the here-and-now, we have little opportunity to draw people's eyes to the eternal. People who live for that future moment should not complain and quarrel over temporary challenges and frustrations.
It's easier said than done, though. The things that frustrate us can control us. Situations and personalities can draw any of us into behavior that is nothing like what Jesus modeled. Frustrations can take our focus entirely off of Christ. The world surrounds us and conforms us, and at least some of that is the tendency to get overwhelmed by circumstances and negativity. If we can resist it, we can shine like lights, Paul says. We can be a light in the darkness, simply by our attitude. The difference between us and everything and everyone else will be dramatic—in a good way.
People out there are looking for a reason not to believe. There is a lot of cynicism regarding religious beliefs, and it's not unwarranted. There are many versions of Christianity, and some of them seem to be (and some truly are) in conflict with one another. From an outsider's viewpoint, it is hard to know what to believe, and if any of this is real. They can only know it is real if it is real in our lives. It's the only way we can know it ourselves. I am not the person I was; I have been changed. I still have a long ways to go, but the transformation in my life gives me the strength to press ahead and keep my eyes on the goal, for whatever time I have remaining.
Paul tells the Philippians to do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that they might become “blameless and innocent” (v. 14). Our attitude is part of the process of following Christ and becoming more like him. Being holy and above blame is our goal. Not only for this day, but for that coming day. We are not only here to attract people to Christ; we are here to become like him. It was the goal of Paul's labor among them, that they would hold firmly to the word of life. The beginning point for that journey is to approach circumstances and the people God puts in our lives with patience and love.
Lord, help me to manage frustrating situations and people in a way which reflects your presence in my life. Let me life be a light in the darkness. Continue to mold me and transform me each day, as I draw near to you and submit to the work of your Holy Spirit in my life. Amen.
~ Michael Cranford has a heart for equipping others to follow Christ in today's world. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from the University of California at Irvine, a Master of Divinity from Talbot School of Theology, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Religion and Social Ethics from the University of Southern California. Visit his website at OneSteadfast.com and follow him on Twitter at @OneSteadfast and Facebook.