Week of December 11

Is Your Church Fellowship “Lit”?

Read: Philippians 1-4
“Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 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, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain”
Philippians 2:14–16, ESV


C. S. Lewis once said that “hell begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining.” Paul, in contrast, enjoins us to work out our salvation in a heavenly manner, that is with fear and trembling. He charges the entire church (he uses plurals) to work diligently on our common life together as a community (2:12; 1:28; 2:4). We certainly do not receive much clear direction about this topic in our churches, do we? Let’s consider ways that healthy church fellowship contributes to our lives and witness.

Understanding the Bible Context

Unwrapping the heart of Paul’s message to us
Our focal passage today fleshes out more clearly Paul’s injunction in a rather complex sentence in the Greek language. He states essentially “don’t be whiners” because the health and spiritual well-being of the church is at stake. We all will do well to listen to Paul since, sadly, many of our churches are characterized by complaining.
Hindrances to healthy church fellowship
Eliminate moaning and griping. The apostle specifically forbids “complaining and arguing,” and perhaps he is thinking of Moses’ experience with Israel (2:14; Exodus 15:24; 16:2; Numbers 14:1; 1 Corinthians 10:10; Handbook). This grumpiness was not directed toward the Lord, but to mutual disagreements and disputes among the church members.
Root out gossip. Evidently, some of the Philippians were “whispering” negatively in private to one another about some circumstance. They were arguing amongst themselves (meaning “evil reasoning”), which is a particularly descriptive word. Some of the people were brewing up a conflict and Paul was reminding them that such attitudes and actions were “joy-busters” (cf. 2:2; 4:2).
Healthy patterns for church community
Begin by cleaning the moral church house. Paul has introduced his challenge to be rid of such behavior in “all things” (lit. “everything”), which clears up any doubts about where this type of negative behavior might fit in—nowhere! We all have a responsibility not to engage in grumbling and disputing and to spread joy throughout the fellowship of believers. There is more.
Consider all others, especially new believers. One would not think that hidden conflict inside the church fellowship would adversely affect the outer witness, but Paul says that this is the case. He wanted them to work carefully on their in-reach, as we would say, so that their outreach would be effective. He knew the ruinous danger of introducing a new convert, fresh from a pagan and conflicted society, into a fractious and divided church fellowship.
Protect your witness to the world. In contrast, we are to continue to grow in respect to our collective salvation so that we are recognized by the lost world as “children of God without fault.” Blameless lives and pure hearts make quite a light in a very dark world. Nothing will darken such a witness. “Amid this moral blackness, the children of God should stand out as stars at midnight” (EBC).
A personal characteristic that builds community. “Humility is nothing but the disappearance of self in the vision that God is all,” according to Andrew Murray (The Journey Toward Holiness). How may this happen? Once the light of God’s glory in Christ penetrates the darkness of our human pride, then we are able to reflect the radiance of Christ through our humility (cf. Philippians 2:15). Unity in the church results from humbling ourselves like Christ. My goodness! Who would have thought that the riches of the Christian life would stem from the simple virtue of humility?

Applying the Bible Passage to Our Lives

Spreading the light of Christ at Christmas is one of the many meaningful childhood church traditions I recall at this time of year. One of my childhood pastors, Presnall Wood, gathered the church together annually in this season, and we would light candles one-by-one across the vast church sanctuary. I am certain that you also participate in Christmas candlelight services. They are deeply meaningful.

I remember singing a Christmas song as we then followed his lead out of the sanctuary into the night. We would gather outdoors at the foot of the towering church steeple that stood out front of the main sanctuary and continue to sing about taking our light to the world, even as traffic sped by on the busy road adjacent to the church. He was helping us symbolically to see the need to take Christ’s light to our city and world.
Here is a thought to ponder. First, churches are not filled with perfect people, but our annual Christmas candlelight services may be mighty unifying if we will consider the gospel meaning.
Secondly, take time to visualize Christ’s mutual call to spread the light of Christ into your own dark city (Matthew 5:14-16). I often arrive at the Baptist Center for Global Concerns offices before the sun comes up. There is a wonderful lighted cross that faces a main thoroughfare, and I often think that it guides me into the building. This lighted cross brings to my mind another thought.
People often ask where we have our facility, and when we tell them, they say, “Oh! You are the people with the cross on the building.” We answer, “Yes!” We invite them to come see us for a reason. We have named this hilltop, “The Sanctuary,” because it is such a peaceful setting, outside and inside, and we want people to come to the “light of the cross” in our lives and activities.

Aim to impress upon your own church fellowship the collective light-bearing mission that we all enjoy. After all, it is the reason behind this season (Luke 1:79; 2: 9).

Reflecting Upon and Discussing the Passage

1. Church dissension remains one of the oft-overlooked witness dampers. Take every occasion not to become a party to whispering and doubting and encourage others to follow your lead. Therefore, become intentional with fellowship building in your church. That is the light that people long to find.
2. For Families: Does your yard and porch have mounds of leaves this week? Ours does! Ask your children to help you to rake the leaves into a huge pile, and then ask them what would happen if you now used an air hose to blow the pile? The leaves would fly everywhere and need to be raked up again!

The dead leaves are like the gossip, complaining, griping, and arguing in our churches and homes. These kinds of attitudes have no place in our lives, says Paul in this passage. Instead, he urges us to clean up our ugliness and shine like lights in a dark place instead.

So, grab a large trash sack and bag up those leaves! Now hang some Christmas lights on your clean porch and yard and when the sun goes down, let this be the first night to go out as a family and sing a Christmas carol to your neighborhood!

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock