On a dangerous sea coast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a crude little life-saving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea and with no thought for themselves went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost. Some of those who were saved, and various others in the surrounding area, wanted to become associated with the station and give of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought, and new crews trained. The little lifesaving station grew.
Some members of the lifesaving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. They replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building. Now the lifesaving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it beautifully and furnished it exquisitely, because they used it as sort of a club.
Fewer members were now interested in going to sea on lifesaving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work. The lifesaving motif still prevailed in this club’s decorations, and there was a miniature lifeboat in the room where the club initiations were held.
About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boatloads of cold, wet, and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick, and some of them had black skin and some had yellow skin. The beautiful new club was in chaos. So, the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwreck could be cleaned up before coming inside.
At the next meeting, there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s lifesaving activities, since they were unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted upon lifesaving as their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a lifesaving station. But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own lifesaving station down the coast. They did.
As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. It evolved into a club, and yet another lifesaving station was founded. History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that sea coast today you will find a number of exclusive clubs along the shore. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown.
From the beginning, the church has been called to bear witness of the Lord Jesus. It’s possible for us to lose track of this. The passage before speaks to how we can be effective in fulfilling our purpose.
Before we look to the details of our text, I want to draw something to your attention. When it comes to witnessing much attention is given to the sharing of the gospel. More attention is given to what we say. But this text lays things out in their appropriate order.
- There is the need for us to maintain a credible witness. The text speaks to us being “blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach. We can only do that as we are led and empowered by the Spirit.
- When we walk this way, we shine as lights in the darkness. Christ shines through us. The reality of His presence makes that happen.
- When we walk with Christ, as children of God above reproach shining as lights in the darkness, we then have the freedom to “hold forth the Word of life.”
- WALK UPRIGHTLY
Blameless = “means irreproachable, faultless, without defect or blemish and thus describes not being able to find fault in someone or something. The idea is that the person is such that he or she is without the possibility of rightful charge being brought against them.
The same term was used in Philippians 1:10. Paul prayed this way for the believers in Philippi.
The same term is used again in Philippians 3:6. Paul used the term in reference to himself. As a Pharisee he had been “found blameless” “as to the righteousness which is in the Law.” As a result of his conversion, Paul counted such things as “rubbish” (3:8), which is to say that a distinction needs to be made to the kind of “blamelessness” which is according to one’s religious efforts and the kind of “blamelessness” which is well-founded on one’s relationship with Christ. The Pharisees had a kind of “blamelessness” also, but they were merely whitewashed tombs full of dead men’s bones. To be made truly blameless in any way, be that either in position or in practice, that kind of “blameless” comes only through Christ.
Warren Wiersbe commented that “Like most ‘religious’ people today, Paul had enough morality to keep him out of trouble, but not enough righteousness to get him into heaven! It was not bad things that kept Paul away from Jesus—it was good things! He had to lose his ‘religion’ to find salvation.”
Innocent = “means that which is without mixture, unmixed and then figuratively pictures one who is innocent, guileless, sincere.”
Romans 16:19, “But I want you to be wise in what is good, and innocent in what is evil.”
Blameless and innocent. How is this possible for any of us? There is only one way. Jesus was blameless and innocent (1 Peter 1:17-19). He shed His precious blood on the cross so that we could be saved from our sins. Through His sacrifice, He is to us “of sin the double-cure, cleansing from its guilt and power.” The believers in Corinth had come out of all kinds of sinful backgrounds, but they were washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 6:11).
But there is a “blamelessness” and “innocence” that is ours positionally in Christ, and what is true of us positionally is to be true of us in practice. Salvation is a salvation from sin in every way—from its penalty, from its practice, and, ultimately, from its presence. This “blameless” and “innocent” conduct is not something we can attain by trying harder to be better. This is a mistake that is commonly made. But instead by being filled with the Spirit and walking by the Spirit, such that the Christ who lives in us is manifest in our presence.
These two terms together speak to what is to be the inside-out nature of our conduct. That’s why religion doesn’t work. It only has to do with the outside. But God’s purpose is to change us from the inside out. He wants us to be “blameless”—and that speaks to our outward behavior. He wants us to be “innocent”—that speaks to who we are on the inside. That kind of transformation can only happen in Christ.
Children of God above reproach. The term translated “reproach” was used of OT sacrifices that were “spotless” and “perfect” and thereby acceptable to be offered to God. The Christian
This term was used to describe the OT sacrifices that were Children of God above reproach. And it reminds us of what we’ve been called to: “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship (Romans 12:1-2).
There ought to be a difference in the life of the believer. We’ve said it before, “If you were accused of being a Christian would there be any evidence by which you could be convicted.” The Apostle John spoke in dramatic fashion of this: “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10).
Now these are all very convicting matters. And if we are honest with ourselves we are aware of our shortcomings. We might even say as the Psalmist said, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me and lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:23-24).
But if we are to have a credible and effective witness for Christ, this needs to be the nature and character of our walk with Christ.
Charles Spurgeon, “Men will blame you, but you must seek as Christians to lead lives that give no occasion for blame. Like Daniel, compel them to say of you, “We will not find any pretext against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God” (Daniel 6:5). Erasmus writes of his great adversary Luther, “Even Luther’s enemies cannot deny but that he is a good man.”…We cannot be blameless if we murmur and dispute, for such things naturally lead to sin. Our lights cannot shine if instead of trimming them we occupy ourselves with blowing out the lamps of others.”
2. SHINE BRIGHTLY
Like a lighthouse.
Appear = means to give light, illuminate, or shine forth as a luminous body.
Lights = a luminary, light,” or “light-giver.”
This same term was used in the Greek version of the OT of the sun and the moon.
Writing to the saints at Ephesus Paul reminded them that…
Ephesians 5:8, “You were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light.”
Now notice something here. You are “light in the Lord.” 1 John 2:5, “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.”
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
Light is who God is. He is that inherently. He is the source of all “light.” Likewise, Jesus is light inherently. It is who He is.
We are only “light” “in the Lord.” We are that because of our relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God who indwells us.
The sun lights the day. At night the moon shines. But the moon has no light of its own. It reflects to us the light of the sun. Just like that we shine with a light that is derived from the Lord. The moon doesn’t always shine at its full. A full moon happens once per month when it is rightly situated between the sun and the earth. So, Christ’s presence is you shines at full strength when you are walking closely with Him. When you are “walking by the Spirit,” such that the Spirit—whose purpose is to mediate the presence of Jesus to us, in us, and through us—has the freedom to do that.
Note something else here. The word “lights” is plural. And the NASB has a side note describing the term, “Or, luminaries, stars.”
He does not say you appear as a light in the world. He speaks in the plural because that is to be true of every believer in Christ. Sometimes people suppose witnessing to be the job of the pastor or the missionary or those who have been specially trained. But that’s not how God has designed things to work. We are all to be as lights in the world. We are all born again to bear witness of Jesus. We are witnesses. The only question is whether we are good ones or bad ones.
If you are outside on a dark night and you look up in the sky you see the beauty of the universe and how that infinite number of stars are scattered across the sky. There is no place in the heavens where there are not stars. And that’s how we see things as we gaze up into the heavens. But if we could see things from a heavenly and spiritual perspective we would see God’s light-bearers scattered abroad in this present darkness. He has them in their families, neighborhoods, workplaces, and classrooms. You, believer in Christ, are one of them. And during “the time of your stay upon earth” (as Peter puts it), as a citizen of heaven and an ambassador of Christ, have been called to shine for Jesus.
Note something else about the sun and the moon and the stars. They shine brighter the darker it gets. A couple of weeks ago Laura and I stayed in a remote cabin in eastern Oregon. There was no ambient light, so it was very dark there at night. And if you looked up at the stars it seemed as if they were brighter. They weren’t any brighter, of course, it was the contrast that made them appear to be that way. Just like that, this present darkness presents an advantage to us as believers inasmuch as the contrast provides for us a greater opportunity to shine.
As someone has said, “Even the smallest light can make a difference in the darkest night.”
It is our walk with Jesus that is key to our witness. And there are things that can hinder that.
Grumbling and complaining works to hinder our light-bearing ability.
Unconfessed sin works to hinder our light-bearing ability.
A spirit of timidity works to hinder our light-bearing ability.
Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under the peck measure, but on the lampstand; and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).
3. HOLD FORTHRIGHTLY
Years ago, Christian publisher Fleming H. Revell (Dwight Moody’s brother-in-law) was about to launch a new Sunday School paper. He wanted a song that would capture the overall focus of the publication, which was to emphasize the vital importance of studying the Word of God.
The name of the paper was to be Words of Life. So, Mr. Revell asked Philip Bliss if he could come up with a song to fit, suggesting the key text, John 6:67-68. In the passage, many who had followed Christ were drifting away (vs. 66). The Lord turned to His disciples and asked, “Do you also want to go away?” And Peter made this reply on behalf of the other men: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
So, Philip Bliss wrote these words:
Sing them over again to me, Wonderful words of life; Let me more of their beauty see, Wonderful words of life. Words of life and beauty teach me faith and duty.
Christ, the blessed One, gives to all, Wonderful words of life; Sinner, list to the loving call, Wonderful words of life. All so freely given, wooing us to heaven.
Sweetly echo the gospel call, Wonderful words of life; Offer pardon and peace to all, Wonderful words of life. Jesus, only Savior, Sanctify forever.
Beautiful words, wonderful words, Wonderful words of life. Beautiful words, wonderful words, Wonderful words of life.
Indeed, the message of the gospel, these words of life are beautiful and wonderful. There are over a million words in the English language. And they are variously assembled to say a great many things—good things, bad things, and ugly things. But of all the assembly of words put together none can match the beauty and power of the message of the gospel.
Paul called the gospel, the “glorious gospel of the blessed God” (1 Timothy 1:11). It the glorious good news (majestic, beautiful, excellent) of our praise-worthy God.
It is the matter of first importance (1 Corinthians 15:3). The preeminent message that is above all in the church’s priority list of concerns. It is the message of Christ’s death for sins and resurrection from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). It is the message of how Christ died on the cross for sins and rose from the dead to provide a means of salvation by grace through faith.
These wonderful words of life, the message of the gospel, are “the power of God unto salvation for all who believe” (Romans 1:16). By receiving this truth in putting one’s faith exclusively on Christ and the merits of His sacrifice for sin, a person is saved. They go from death to life. That’s what Jesus promised when He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24).
We should note here, that the world is literally filled with “dead men walking.” You say, “What do you mean by that?” The Scriptures make it clear that we are all sinners by birth (Romans 3:23). And the Scriptures also explain that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Paul told the believers in Ephesus that they had been, before they were saved “dead in their trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). He elsewhere spoke of those who are “dead while they live” (1 Timothy 5:6). Every believer here today was once a dead man walking. If you are here today as one who has not trusted in Jesus, you are a dead man walking.
Now how are the dead to be made alive? God brought Ezekiel to a middle of a valley filled with dry bones. And God said to Ezekiel, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And then God said to Ezekiel, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord” (Ezekiel 37:4). So, Ezekiel prophesied over the bones and sinew was put on the bones and flesh grew and skin covered it. And then Ezekiel prophesied to the breath. And breath came into those bones and they came to life.
Now how is life brought to those dead men walking? They look alive, but they are not truly alive. They are spiritually dead, alienated from God, destined to die both physically and then eternally. How are they to be made alive? To be reconciled to God? How are they to possess the eternal life and abundant life that is founded in the knowledge and fellowship with God? There is only one way and it is through hearing and responding to the gospel.
Peter spoke of the experience of every believer when he said, “You have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is through the living and abiding word of God. For, all flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the word of God abides forever. And this is the word which was preached to you.” (1 Peter 1:23-25).
This was the word that was preached to you. And do you know what happened. You were dead in your trespasses and sins, but then you heard the word of life, the message of the gospel, and you believed. And you were made alive together with Christ. The word of life brought life to your dead bones.
Now the Philippians knew something about this. Paul wrote this epistle about a decade after he had first come to that city. And on that first visit do you know what happened? The city was full of pagan idol worshippers who were without God and without hope in the world. They dutifully worshipped and served gods that did not even exist. And God brought Paul and his companions to Philippi. They were called by God to preach the gospel, the word of life to those folks. And they found Lydia down by the river. And God opened her heart to the word of life. And she responded. And she passed from death to life. And then they came upon the fortunetelling slave-girl. And the shared the word of life with her. And she passed from death to life. And then they were put in prison. And God caused an earthquake and the prisoners were set free. And the jailer was fearful and was about to take his life. And they preached the word of life to him. And he passed from death to life.
And here’s Paul writing to this same church, nearly a decade later. He’s in prison. In prison as a direct result of his gospel preaching ministry. And what is his chief concern as he sits in that prison cell? The gospel! In fact, the word “gospel” is used five times in chapter one of this epistle. It is alluded to several more times. And as Paul is his imprisoned there, God works through his circumstances to bring the gospel, the word life, to a group of people—the whole praetorian guard—who believe and pass from death to life.
Paul had come to Philippi with a message. And when he came on that first occasion, he came purposed to share the gospel with folks that they might be saved from their sins. And now here he is, writing to them some 10 years later—and what is his chief concern? It is the same concern, the same purpose, the same matter of first importance, the same glorious gospel of the blessed God, the same power of God unto salvation. He refused to be diverted from preaching it, because he had a calling from God to preach it, and because he knew what the message was able to do in the lives of those who would believe.
So, Paul writes to these believers. He wants for them to be holding fast to the message. He wants for them to be holding forth the message. He yearns for that, “so that in the day of Christ, I may have cause to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain” (Philippians 2:16). Which is to say if they were not to hold fast to the word of life, he would not have cause to glory in the day of Christ, and his efforts with regard to the Philippians would have been in vain.
Note the phrase “holding fast.” KJV has it “holding forth.” NASB has “holding fast,” but has a note which says, “Or, holding forth.” The phrase translates a Greek term which means to “have or hold” which is combined with another term, meaning “forth.” As I mentioned, it is variously translated “holding fast” or “holding forth,” but the reality is that you cannot “hold forth” if you do not “hold fast.” And we are, in fact elsewhere in Scripture exhorted to do both.
Now this is an especially pertinent matter for us. In this age of apostasy, we need to be reminded of these things. I’ve shared this illustration before…
The story of told of a small English village that had a tiny chapel whose stone walls were covered by traditional ivy. Over an arch was originally inscribed the words: WE PREACH CHRIST CRUCIFIED. There had been a generation of godly men who did precisely that: they preached Christ crucified. But times changed. The ivy grew and pretty soon covered the last word. The inscription now read: WE PREACH CHRIST. Other men came, and they did preach Christ: Christ the example, Christ the humanitarian, Christ the ideal teacher. As the years passed, the ivy continued to grow until finally the inscription read: WE PREACH. The generation that came along then did just that: they preached economics, social gospel, book reviews, just about anything. We live in the later times. The ivy has covered and obscured the message so that it is hardly discernable any more. But regardless of what anyone else says or thinks, the word that God has given to us to believe and proclaim is Christ crucified. There is power in that message, and that message alone, unto the salvation of souls.
Now, as I’ve shared before, this is more than an illustration. In one of my trips to Uganda I met a missionary who was from England. He was an older man and had grown up there, so I wanted to ask him about what I had read about—that the large churches were mostly empty, and the smaller churches were no more. And he told me about his neighborhood when he was growing up. And how there were a number of churches that were active not far from his home. And now, how those churches are all gone. And how those church buildings have been converted into a home, or a restaurant, or a bar.
And the church in England did not hold fast to the word of life. And America is headed down that same path.
There is a need to “hold fast” to the word of life. That’s akin to what Paul was saying when he said, “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27).
As he told Timothy, “You however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them; and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15).
Then there is a need to be “holding forth” that to which we are “holding fast.”
At the entrance of NY Harbor, the Statue of Liberty stands, and she holds fast and forth that shining torch of liberty.
These words appear on the Statue’s pedestal.
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Her message is one of freedom in the earthly realm, but what you are to hold forth is something far better and more important. You, Ambassador for Christ, possess this treasure—the knowledge of Christ—in your earthen vessel. The treasure was never meant to be kept to yourself, it was meant to be shared.
At one of D.L. Moody’s meetings in America he related the story of a shipwreck on a dark and tempestuous night, when not even a star was visible. A ship was approaching the harbor of Cleveland, with a pilot on board. The captain, noticing only one light as they drew near — that from the lighthouse —asked the pilot if he was quite sure that it was Cleveland harbor, as other lights should have been burning at the harbor mouth. The pilot replied that he was quite sure, whereupon the captain enquired:
“Where are the lower lights?” “Gone out, sir,” replied the pilot.
“Can you make the harbor, then?” asked the captain, to which the pilot answered:
“We must, sir, or perish.”
Bravely the old man steered the vessel upon her course toward safety. But alas! In the darkness of the harbor mouth he missed the channel, the ship struck upon many rocks, and in the stormy waters many lives were lost.
Then Moody made his appeal to his audience: “Brothers, the Master will take care of the great lighthouse! Let us keep the lower lights burning!”
Among Moody’s hearers that evening was Mr. Philip P. Bliss, the well-known hymn writer, and the striking story at once suggested to him one of his most popular hymns:
Brightly beams our Father’s mercy
From His lighthouse evermore,
But to us He gives the keeping
Of the lights along the shore.