I want to shine like the stars in the heavens
Oh, Lord be my Light and be my salvation
Cause all I want is to be in the Light
All I want is to be in the Light – DC TALK
“That you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” Phil 2:15 ESV.
This is a favorite verse in scripture. But for a different reason than you might suspect. Have you noticed how easy it is to be overly concerned about the quality of others faith more than the purity of our own? It’s one of the most difficult forms of pride because it’s covert. We can pray for others, seemingly with good intent when actually we are simply trying to turn the circumstance to our advantage over some worldly objective! Most of the time I’ve heard this verse to illustrate how we are supposed to live. How we are supposed to live though is an assumption. Philippians 2: 15 is not an assumption, it’s a reality. It’s a rich affirmation of a deep relationship with Jesus that centers around the wonderful theme of Holy Spirit powered “light,” and how it comes about in our life.
Time to deep dive.
Most people are familiar with this issue of “light” being used as a metaphor for spiritual health. Even if we are not familiar with church culture. Who can forget the unforgettable saying of Jesus:
“You are the Light of the world, a city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do men light a lamp and put it under a basket but instead put it on a lampstand so it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine so that men see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven”
Some Bible translations might refer use the phrase in Philippians as “shining stars” in the world. I love that term. It comes from the same root word with connotations of “light, luminosity, brilliance, a lamp, or a star.” You get the idea.
It’s amazing when you read the writings of Paul how many inferences to the Sermon on the Mount are threaded through his writings This reference in Philippians is one example. Paul the apostle, either secondhand from the disciples who were there that day on the hillside listening to Jesus or by direct revelation from Jesus reflects on our “shining like light” and what it means in the world.
When Jesus sat down and began to teach his disciples in Matthew five through seven, it would have included the twelve and the circles of men and women who followed him and his teachings. It would also have included the crowd who heard the world’s most renowned sermon. Jesus addressing his disciples, begins with the Beatitudes… “Blessed are those who” are poor, mourn, are meek, thirst for righteousness, are merciful, are pure in heart, are peacemakers, and yes are even persecuted.” These are the identifying characteristics of those who profess to follow Jesus, those who are called disciples. It is after this “credentials test” that Jesus explains how the disciple’s life interrelates with the world….
When we choose to follow Jesus, we don’t shine because of good works. We shine because of the response to the call of Christ that ignites the love relationship with Jesus with us called discipleship, which produces good things. It’s a gravely serious yet unapologetically joyful call which unlocks who we really are. It restores us with Father; which restores the broken legacy of Adam and Eve our first parents. We don’t shine because of noble virtue. We shine because the life of a Christian, (at least a serious one), is the complete opposite of what the world holds dear. The spirit of a human being consumed by the reality of Jesus Christ who embraces Jesus offer of life with him, is “set on fire” brighter than any star in the heavens because it is fueled by the Spirit of God and the power that accompanies it. When you and I are confronted with the offer of life in Jesus it’s not an invitation to become religious. Jesus died for more than that! Jesus resurrection, offers us the opportunity to be permanently changed in an emotional, spiritual regeneration even the unravelling and reassembling of who we are. Or if you prefer the term “radical change” as is often used in Christian culture. What’s the result? Poverty of spirit for one; a mourning (empathy) for the lost of the world and an unrelentless resistance to accepting this world and its darkness as the state of affairs. A humbleness in the face of who we are before Christ; a thirst for a future that surpasses human understanding; mercy towards others as God was merciful towards us; purity of heart in an undefiled conscience because the human spirit has been freed from the chains of sin; and a passion for peace in preparation for the future Kingdom on which the cornerstone is Christ. If we are willing to embrace those credentials Jesus established, the result is “light to the world;” Not your pastors light, not your youth group, not your worship team, not your clever knowledge of religious things, even Christian ones, but you. Your life in Christ is light with power against the darkness around you in your family and community. You are powerful in Christ, provided you step into who you already are which is who Jesus says you are supposed to be.
The light Paul is talking about is no simple Christian sport coat we put on. It’s not the good person against the backdrop of the world that happens to go to church or serves as an elder or runs a small group or donates large sums of money to worthy causes. It’s a supernatural light because the supernatural Spirit of the Son of God lives in his disciple’s, men and women, and initiates the call to discipleship. Let’s return to the Sermon on the Mount. It’s important to understand a particular sequence in Jesus teachings. In fact, its critically important. If you don’t get this, you may remain observing the parade and not partake in the parade itself.
Note the people receiving this message are disciples of Jesus. Jesus will “brand them” or identify what a disciple is by the subsequent Beatitudes. Jesus is talking to those whom he loves. He already knows who will follow him so he wants them to make sure they understand what discipleship is and what it looks like. The last thing Jesus wanted to do was establish another religion. Let that sink in. Here is a spiritual truth principle. Without the Son and the life within us, a person has no idea what discipleship is. It’s impossible for them. “He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.” Now look hard at those beatitudes which are the credentials of disciples of Jesus. They are not “life metaphors” as taught by many foolish religious men who teach without the Spirit of God within them. They are the complete anti-thesis of the world because they have no inheritance with the world in its present form. They mourn because they understand the world’s brokenness. They are poor in spirit because they embrace none of the world’s priorities. They are meek because they have no worldly power, nothing to share except the unrelenting truth of Jesus. They hunger and thirst for righteousness because they are well aware by the revelation of the Spirit of God living in them their present state is as far from what God intended for humankind. This self-realization produced supernaturally by the Spirit then takes its form in a life that is clear in conscience which is unmistakable…
They are merciful…
They are pure in heart…
They are peacemakers…
They are not trying to be someone else, or someone they are not. Nor are they trying to run someone else’s race. They don’t diminish or use others to build themselves up. They can’t, because to be who they’re meant to be..To be in the light with Jesus, it would feel unnatural… unacceptable… to walk in darkness…They understand and have found the value of running the right race, at the right time, in the right lane.
And then to make sure that Jesus hearers understand exactly where this leads so that they won’t get caught up in some type of middle-class Christianity or mediocre faith he says twice…
They are persecuted. Yes, that’s an intrinsic part of being a disciple and not your boss reprimanding you for coming in late repeatedly at work and you thinking “It’s because I’m a Christian!” It’s for your faith because of the light that shines within you so you are marked by the world and hated by it. I wonder at the great lengths the church goes to today to become a friend of the world, the government, the school board, Jesus never said to do that. He told us to be light. He knew light exposed what was dark and gave those who saw it a chance to get out of hopelessness and step into life. He did however tell us to not be foolish and antagonistic. Disciples of Jesus will be at odds with the world because of the kingdom that governs it.
This is the character of a disciple of Christ a man or a woman who has agreed to let Jesus be the Lord of their heart and life, developing and obedient personality with him through the vehicle of faith. Now with the terms of this agreement between disciples and Jesus, Jesus lays out how powerful we really are. Because you are my disciples, “You are the salt of the earth…” “You are the light of the world and a city set on a hill cannot be hidden, nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bucket but instead place it on a lampstand so that it gives light to all that are in the house.” “In the same way let your light shine so men see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Don’t miss this. This is critical. The light Jesus just explained as the life of the disciple is the transformed life which loves others.
The works that Jesus is talking about are not acts or things that we might do. They can’t be. Many people in this life do good works, please let’s acknowledge that! There are sincere Buddhists, Hindus, Mormons, Muslims and many people from differing faith backgrounds, that do good things for others. Yet detached from Jesus none of these glorify God. They glorify man. The acts that glorify God are done by those whose reflect Jesus credentials. The meek, the powerless, the reserved, those whom the world does not know and does not recognize. The works Jesus is talking about are aspects of a human being’s character, retooled, and remade by the phenomenon of discipleship; lordship of a heart surrendered and reliant on the love and direction of the Spirit of Jesus living in it.
We are very good in the 2nd millennium church at “doing things” for Christ. Implementing the suggestions of a church message however, is not discipleship. We are called to run our race not someone else’s idea of what our race is. Over the course of my faith journey I’ve been inspired to act on something while at the same time I was far from the reality of discipleship. Don’t get me wrong, we need to do practical things, Jesus was very clear about this. But acts that are done preemptively to discipleship ruling in our heart are often knee-jerk reactions attempting to fill some spiritual deficiency in our lives out of confusion. How do we know this to be true? Because repeatedly in the Gospels Jesus confronts those who attempt righteousness without discipleship. He says they’re lost, implying they’re spiritually blind. Not only were they who made up the church of their day, who were already religious but also included those who appeared sincerely to seek righteousness and came to Jesus with some hard questions but left his presence apparently unchanged.
We become light or “shine like lights in the world” after our character reflects genuinely the marks of a disciple as Jesus taught. That transformation is the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit that Jesus referred to as “the promise from the Father.” Imagine how this test would be held up against Christian leadership or the Christian life in general in the church today? How would it be received? Probably not very well. The works Jesus implies are not the works of a “good Christian principled life.” There are plenty of folks already doing this with no association to Christianity at all. The works Jesus valued and as Paul understood, are a life reflected by Lordship of the heart where Jesus reigns as King. The life of a man or woman who’s surrendered to Jesus has been supernaturally transformed so their works are the works of Jesus.
How the world and even our immediate community would be a different place if the church would get on with the business of developing disciples as Jesus commissioned. You might wonder where might I start to get to a deeper level of what Jesus intended? Just ask Jesus. The faithfulness of God is never remiss, “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened.” “For anyone who asks receives he who seeks finds and to him who knocks the door will be opened.” (Matt 7:7-8).
Perhaps you’re at a point in life where the path has taken some awkward turns or the “bread of life” has grown somewhat stale. Jesus seeks the sheep. He never abandoned them but calls them by name and they hear his voice. Strive to spend time in the sheep pen learning to be disciples.J.P. Grier M.S. Counseling M.C.M. Pastoral Counseling
JP Grier is the founder and writer at SentinelforChrist.com – A network of Christians helping each other to press deeper in Christ.