Why Christians Ought to be "Different"


November 30, 1997 ~ Pickering Standard Church


Philippians 2:1-15 - If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed— not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence— continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.


How many have read the book or seen one of the many movies based upon Victor Hugo's classic work: "Les Miserables?" Part of what makes this a memorable novel is the characterization which Hugo has given to the central figure of the book, Jean Valjean. Arrested at 19 for stealing a loaf of bread in order to stay alive, and to keep his family alive, he is sent to prison for a period of punishment which, due to his various attempts to escape, eventually takes up the greater portion of his life. Ultimately successful in his escape to freedom he encounters a series of circumstances in which he shows consistently the gold of which his heart is made. He is constantly on the run from a solitary yet determined police officer whose life's ambition is the sanctity of the Law. Yet, when calamity befalls Valjean he is stoic, uncomplaining, accepting what has been given him in this life, and seeking only to ensure that those who have fallen under his care are provided for.


This is the concept which Paul is conveying in verse 14 of our scripture reading this morning. In the words of Madalene Harris:


When I complain, I am in essence saying, "I really don't believe God has arranged these circumstances or that He could change them if He desired." If I did believe it, I wouldn't need to complain. I'd know my only safety is in the center of His will no matter what happens. The same God who told me not to complain also said, "In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." How is it possible to give thanks and complain at the same time?


Madalene Harris, as quoted in Time With God, pp. 47


We are not rejoice because of the circumstances in which we live, especially if they are brought about through evil, but we are to rejoice that even in these circumstances we may be assured that:


Romans 8:28 - And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.


Paul is saying in the words of our text that if we complain about the things that happen to us we are no different from the unsaved in the world around us. We are not showing the true joy of being the new creation, a child of God, an heir of the Kingdom of Heaven. Recall what happened to Paul and his companions throughout their evangelistic journeys, and specifically in the city of Philippi itself:


Acts 16:22-25 - The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.


There are several interesting points to be found in this account, not the least of which is that Paul and Silas, after being flogged and placed them in stocks for healing a demon possessed girl of her affliction, were praying and singing hymns. Why? Perhaps a similar situation encountered earlier by other apostles will answer the question:


Acts 5:40-41 - They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.


They were happy because the trials they were enduring were also proof of their faith, as Jesus said earlier:


Matthew 5:10-12 - Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.


Or as John Gill has said:


Show[ing] they had much of the presence of God, and large measures of grace communicated to them, by which they were supported; and thus cheerfully bore all indignity and reproach, for the name of Christ, which was exceeding dear and precious to them.


John Gill, John Gill's Expositor


In other words, rather than complain about the injustice of it all when they were persecuted for their faith in Jesus, the early Christians rejoiced that their faith was withstanding the proofs being placed against it.


An other remarkable point found with Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail is that we are told that the other prisoners heard the hymns and prayers that these men were praising God with. What an incredible witness these other prisoners must have had to see these men unjustly jailed sitting in their stocks and praising the God for Whose name they were suffering. What a difference when compared to the actions of the thief next to Jesus at His crucifixion who was justly being put to death and who still railed against Jesus who had done him no injustice.


It is customary in our society to complain, most major department stores have dedicated complaints staff, as do many facilities of other kinds. When we have a headache or our taxes are higher than we think that they ought to be we very often ensure that others know about it. I know that many of you have heard complaints from me time and time again and yet in the passage we read together this morning Paul is telling the Philippian Christians, and therefore us as well, to do all things without murmurings and disputing. The reason for this may be found in the next phrase:


Philippians 2:15-16 - So that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.


In other words, we are to live in such a manner so that we will stand out from the crowd and hold out for them the gospel of salvation. Paul holds before us the example of Jesus Christ who, in the words of Isaiah:


Isaiah 53:7 - He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.


He acted in this manner that we ourselves may be saved through His doing the will of His Father, our God.


Isaiah 53:6 - We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.


We are children of Almighty God, Heaven is our home, what business do we have to complain when our God is leading our lives? As was said earlier, to complain is to say that God doesn't know what He is doing