Dark Places Need Bright Lights
A young girl once consulted with her pastor. “I cannot stick it out any longer. I am the only Christian in the place where I work. I get nothing but taunts and sneers. It is more than I can stand. I am going to resign.” “Will you tell me,” asked the pastor, “where lights are placed?” “What has that to do with it?” the young Christian asked him rather bluntly. “Never mind,” the pastor replied. “Where are lights placed?” “I suppose in dark places,” she replied. And the pastor responded, “Yes! God’s put you in that place where there’s so much spiritual darkness and no other Christian to shine for him.”
For the first time, the young Christian realized the opportunity that was hers and why she could not fail God by allowing her light to go out. And she went back to her work with renewed determination to let her light shine in that dark corner. Eventually, she was the means of leading nine other girls to the light of Jesus Christ. All of this happened because she realized she was placed in that dark place in order to shine brightly.
Similarly, like that girl, we all must realize we are called to be a bright light in the dark world around us. Philippians 2:14-16 describes Christians as lights that shine brightly. As the sun, moon, and stars lighten a dark universe, believers ought to bring light into the dark hearts of the people around them.
When Jesus described his followers as being the light of the world [Matt 5:14], he meant we are light-reflectors—not light generators. Jesus is the source from where we get the light. Jesus himself said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” [John 8:12]. As followers of Jesus, we are to reflect his light to a dark world. We are like the moon shining on a dark night. Though the moon gives light, it has no light of its own—it only reflects the light of the sun. We, too, are like that—light reflectors.
Yet, as Christians, we often fail to remember these fundamental truths. We fail to realize that a sovereign God keeps us at a specific place at a particular time for the primary purpose of shining for him. We must faithfully fulfill our God-given role and not disappoint him. Philippians 2:14-16 helps us accomplish that glorious purpose.
1. The Command .
“Do everything without grumbling or arguing.” Just as a window lets the light of the sun come through to light the house, we must let the light of Christ shine through us. However, when a window becomes dull due to dust, it can prevent light from effectively shining through it. Similarly, Christians, by allowing sin to rule in their lives, can prevent the light of Christ from shining brightly through them. And there is one particular sin that hinders the believer from shining brightly for Christ—the sin of grumbling and arguing. That is why the command is to “Do everything without grumbling or arguing.” In the original language, “everything” appears at the beginning of the sentence and the word “do” is in the present tense. In a literal sense, this is how it reads: “Everything keep on doing without grumbling or arguing.”
The word “grumbling” refers to an attitude of complaining, muttering, or having secret displeasure. Expressing displeasure about a situation that dishonors God is not grumbling. Instead, grumbling is an attitude of resentment against circumstances, people, and ultimately against God. And the word “arguing” comes from a Greek word from which we get the English word “dialogue.” It refers to inward reasoning over our circumstances. A constant murmuring against God’s will not only prevent us from doing God’s will from an obedient heart [Phil 2:12-13] but will eventually lead us to argue and rebel against God himself!
When Paul says, “Don’t grumble,” he probably had in mind the habitual grumbling attitude of the Israelites during their wilderness journey [Ex 14:10-12; 15:23-24, 16:2-3, 17:3; Num 14:2]. Moses told them that in the final analysis, their grumbling was not against him or the other leaders, but directly against God himself, “You are not grumbling against us, but against the LORD” [Ex 16:8]. And what was God’s response to their grumbling attitude? Anger and Judgment! Numbers 11:1 says, “when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.”
So, grumbling is not just a casual thing in God’s eyes. It angers God and brings forth his judgment. And that’s why Paul warns Christians about the dangers of having a grumbling attitude. He says, “And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel” [1 Cor 10:10].
Grumbling is a sin because it strikes directly against God’s sovereignty. Jesus himself illustrated through a parable [Matt 20:1-16] that grumbling is a sin against a good and gracious God. Grumbling says that God should not be allowing me to go through what I’m going through at present. That is why we need to cultivate a submissive heart—a heart that recognizes God as being in firm control and is working everything according to his will, and we ought not to resist him.
2. The Reason for the Command [15-16].
Paul goes on to give the reason for believers to do everything without grumbling and arguing in the following two verses, “15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life.” When Christians do all things without grumbling and arguing, they prove their good character as children of God—who shine amidst a crooked and depraved generation.
God’s ideal for his people is that in character and conduct, there should be nothing negative on the outside [“blameless”] and nothing negative on the inside [“pure”]. There should be no hidden agendas, hidden motives, saying one thing while meaning another, etc. It must be a well-rounded life that draws the unbelieving world around them to Christ. The believer is to glorify God by letting his light shine in and through them as they hold on to his word and offer it to others as well!
As believers, we confidently say to the lost world around us, “Jesus is the answer for every problem. He is with me at all times.” We even say, “The God of the Bible is Jehovah-Jireh—the One who provides all things.” However, if we truly believe these truths wholeheartedly, then why do we constantly keep grumbling, “Why am I in this position? Why am I in this place? Why am I in this job? Why am I not getting rich? Why am I in this family? Why am I still single? Why am I married? Why am I in this Church? Why? Why? Why?”
It seems as though we have embraced the world’s thinking and have just “accepted” complaining as a part of our “normal” living. “I need to vent. If I do not vent, I will explode,” says the worldly person. We, as Christians, however, tend to “Christianize” our complaining by saying, “Since God is my Father, I can say whatever I want to say. I can express myself freely.” If that is our attitude, we need to go back and read Numbers 11:1 and 1 Corinthians 10:10 again!
While some may not outwardly complain because it is not the “Christian” thing to do, they inwardly keep resenting their life circumstances. That is equally bad—because, with God, it is not just what we say that matters—but also what we think!
A little boy was told repeatedly by his father to sit down. Finally, the father warned of physical punishment if the boy failed to obey. The boy sat down. However, he said, “I am outwardly sitting, but inwardly standing up.”
We mustn’t be like that little boy when it comes to submitting to God’s will. Our obedience to God’s will at every stage of our daily life must be willing and whole-hearted. And that can flow only out of a heart that’s wholly submitted to him.
Believers must also remember that when we complain, how different are we from unbelievers who are marked by a grumbling spirit? How can we shine if we constantly keep grumbling? Remember, grumbling and shining cannot go together! The grumbling has to go if the shining has to start. One cannot keep grumbling and at the same time glorify Christ and attract others to him.
So, let’s learn to cultivate a heart that displays obedience to this command: “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” [1 Thess 5:18]. When we combine Philippians 2:14 [“Do everything without grumbling and arguing”] and 1 Thessalonians 5:18, we see God his children to have this attitude: In all circumstances, don’t complain, but be thankful!
Perhaps, our light is not shining brightly because a complaining attitude characterizes our life. You cannot imagine a lighthouse complaining because it is set alone on a lonely shore. If it could speak, it would comfort itself and say, “I am here to provide light so that ships battling darkness, hurricane, and storms can safely reach the harbor.” Likewise, you and I must not argue or complain about our life circumstances, but as his children, gladly submit to his will at all times. We are called to be gospel lights so that troubled souls can find peace and rest through the Lord Jesus. We must not disappoint his trust in us. You and I are lights—small or big. Some of us are like matches, and others are torches. However, remember, matches light torches. We may not all be torches, but we can all certainly be matches. Our God is in the business of using even the weakest of his children to accomplish his will.
There is a story of an Atlantic passenger lying in his bunk in a storm, deathly sick-seasick. A cry of “Man overboard!” was heard. One of the difficulties was that they could not see the man. The sick passenger, unable to help, prayed, “God, help the poor fellow. There is nothing I can do.” Then he thought at least he could put his lantern by the porthole window, not sure if it would even make a difference.
Later, the sinking man was rescued. And the next day, as he told the people of his experience, he said, “I was going down in the darkness for the last time when someone put a light in a porthole. It shone on my hand, and a sailor in a lifeboat grabbed my hand and pulled me in.”
Dear fellow Christian, little is much if God is in it. Weakness is no excuse for our not putting forth all the little strength we have. Who can tell how God will use it? If we are willing to shine, he will use us to help souls escape the dangers of sin. Yes, it is not always easy to shine for Christ in a dark world; nevertheless, God has entrusted us with the best possible news in the whole world—news that every human being desperately needs: The good news about forgiveness of sins through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ!
What a privilege it is to shine for Jesus! What a joy to be used by him! Remember, though, shining is always a result of burning. The wax of the candle disappears as it gives light. The life of a light bulb reduces as it continues to provide light. In other words, there is a sacrificial aspect to the Christian life. If we desire to be used by God, we must be willing to give up our sin, personal agendas, finances, time, etc. Many Christians are not shining because they have not understood this basic and non-negotiable principle about Christian life—No burning, No Shining!
However, as believers, should we hesitate to give up—if needed, even our life for Jesus, who did not hesitate to give his life on the cross for our sins? No! Such a thought is not even up for discussion! We must always say, “Lord Jesus, you are worth everything. Would you please take me and use me where I am at this present time? Please lead and guide me every step. I want to live for you and let your light shine through me—here and now!”