“Lights In The World” (Philippians 2:14-16 sermon)

It’s almost hard to remember last February’s winter storm now, in the heat of the summer — but I may need to remind SOME of you that you DID say you would never gripe about the Texas heat again, after that big winter freeze! Just holding you accountable!

But one of the things Cheryl remembers about that February storm is when the electricity went out, and there was NO light in the house. She got up for just a minute, and tried to feel her way around without any light, and she said it was SO dark, it was disorienting; she said you couldn’t see a thing. It was creepy. It was absolute, total darkness. Thankfully we had some emergency lights, and when we turned those lights on, what a difference it made! 

And what a picture of our world today. Our world is dark with sin. But God sent us His light in the Person of Jesus Christ. Jesus said “I am the light of the world.” But then He turned to His disciples in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 and said, “YOU are the light of the world.” With HIS light, shining in and through us, we are to be lights in the world, making a difference in our dark world.  That’s what we see in our passage for today, where Paul wrote about “this crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life.”  He said you (Christian person, Christian church) are like “lights.” This world is dark and crooked and perverse, but you are to be different. You are to be “Lights In The World.”

We saw last week that with God’s “hand inside our glove,” we can do anything He wants us to do. And that ONE of those things is to “do all things without grumbling or disputing.” But now this week we take it a step further: WHY should we “do all things without grumbling and disputing”? He gives us the reason in :15, “SO THAT” — there is the purpose clause again — the REASON for what He just said. (You might start underlining the “so that’s” in your Bible!) “SO THAT you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world …”.  God says I need you: My people, My church, to be different from this world. He needs us to be “Lights in the World.” 

I. The Darkness of our world. 

The Bible says here that the world we live in is “crooked” and “perverse.” 

A. The word “crooked” here is the Bible word “skolias.” Our word “scoliosis” comes from this: to have scoliosis is to have a spine that is “crooked” and not straight. In the same way, the Bible says this world in which we live is “crooked.”

We see that “crookedness” in all kinds of ways in our world: in politics, in business. When P.T. Barnum was a boy, his father passed away, and he went to work at a new store in nearby Grassy Plain, CT. He later said the business world there was ‘dog eat dog.’ He said everyone “expected to be cheated, if it was possible,” He also became practiced in the art of cheating. He said, “Our ground coffee was as good as burned peas, beans and corn could make.’” (Robert Wilson, Barnum: An American Life, p. 180

Barnum said that’s just how the stores there did business. It was “crooked.’ And sadly, the world hasn’t just straightened up all that much since then, either. We live in a “crooked” world, marred by sin. 

B. Not only that, the Bible says this world is “perverse.” 

— This Bible word (diestrammenes) literally means, “through, to turn” — to twist, to distort, to pervert. It means to have taken something that was straight, and twist it into something it was never meant to be. 

And what a description of the world we are living in today: the devil hates God, and so he has tried to take everything God has created, which He said was “good,” and twist and distort it into something perverse. Someone said the devil doesn’t “create” anything; he just takes the good things God has made and distorts and perverts them; twisting them into something God never intended it to be. 

One of the most pertinent examples of that we see today is God’s plan for marriage and sexuality. 

—The Bible says in Genesis that God made mankind male and female, and He said it was “good.” 

— Psalm 139 says “You knit me together in my mother’s womb”. God made us who He wanted us to be, male and female. He said this was good. He made you “good,” just as He created you.

— And in Genesis 2 God gives us His straightforward plan for marriage and sexuality. After making these “good” males and females, He said: “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a simple plan: One man. One woman. Joined together before God for a lifetime. This was God’s plan, and it was good! 

So what has the devil done? He has taken God’s plan, and “twisted” it; distorted it; perverted it, into all the ungodly sexuality and gender confusion we see today. 

The Bible says God made us male and female. But Satan tempts people today like he tempted Eve: “you know better than God; YOU choose what gender you want to be.” This is one of the most damaging, and most perverse things we are seeing in our society today. It is leading to utter confusion.

Cheryl & I know a young couple in another state, a beautiful couple who were going together. But the guy suddenly says now he is a woman. But he still loves this girl, and she loves him, so she says, if he’s a girl, then “I must be a lesbian!” This is absolutely absurd, and it is utter confusion. 

Even the President of our country today, said last year that he believes that an elementary school child the age of EIGHT should have the right to change their birth gender, through chemical treatments and surgery. An EIGHT year old? Are you kidding me? When our son Michael was eight years old, he would only eat fish sticks. Nothing else. Fish sticks and fries alone was his whole diet. Then all of the sudden one day, he shocked the known world by saying he didn’t like fish sticks any more, and now he would only eat chicken strips, which he did for some time. Today, as a mature adult of 22, he is cooking his own shrimp fried rice and Chicken Fettuccini Alfredo. All that to say, we change desires and preferences as we mature. To give a child the age of 8 the power to make a life-altering, reproductive-system destroying, permanent decision like that is MADNESS. This is exactly what the Bible is describing here: it is crooked, it is perverted.  And this is not the only instance of it:

— Men marrying men is a twisting of God’s plan.

— Women cohabiting with women is a perversion of God’s good plan.

— Murdering babies in the womb is the exact opposite of God’s plan for a woman: women were especially designed by God to bring forth LIFE, not to bring about death!

— Living together or sleeping together outside of marriage is a violation of God’s plan. 

— Leaving your marriage partner just because you are “tired of them” and want someone new and exciting is breaking God’s plan. 

ALL of these things are what the Bible is talking about here: this world has twisted and distorted God’s original plan.  

Now let me make something clear: Are any of these things I just mentioned, unforgivable sins?  Absolutely not!  I Corinthians 6:9-11 says: 

“Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

So there is forgiveness in the Lord Jesus Christ for any sin — even “perverse” sins like some of these. I John 1:9 says, “If confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness.” What a great promise: “ALL unrighteousness” — there is forgiveness for immorality; there is forgiveness for adultery; there is forgiveness for homosexuality; there is forgiveness for abortion; there is forgiveness for ALL perversion. Paul said, Some of y’all did these things, but you were WASHED — thank God for the blood of Jesus that can wash us from ALL sin!! 

But here’s the thing: the first part of I John 1:9 says “IF we confess our sins.” That is HUGE. In order for there to be forgiveness, you must first admit that what you have done IS a sin; that is is wrong, and ask for forgiveness. The problem with many in our generation today is that they don’t think there is anything wrong with what they are doing. They believe these distortions from Satan are good and right. They want you to agree with what they are doing, and celebrate what they are doing, and if you do not, they claim that you “hate” them and that you are a bigot. And that is absolutely false (It’s yet ANOTHER distortion!) We are not bigoted; we do not hate anyone. It’s just that as people of God, we believe God’s word, which has been the bedrock of morality in our world for the past 2000+ years, and we are not going to lightly cast it aside to celebrate perversions of God’s plan that are a mark of the darkness of the world we live in today.

I will not be surprised if things continue as they are, if there will not come a time when they won’t allow the video of a message like this to be shown on Facebook; there will come a time when they won’t allow the words of a message like this to be printed on an internet blog, because they will be considered “hate crimes.” But this is not a “hate crime.” What I am sharing today is nothing more than the clear, simple teaching of the word of God which has not changed from the beginning of the world! It has been twisted and distorted by a devil who hates everything God has made, and who wants to ruin and pervert and destroy every single human life he can. If he can’t destroy life IN the womb, he’ll try to pervert and ruin that life outside of it. 

But that’s the generation the Bible says we live in today: a world of darkness. Because of Satan’ lies, a crooked and perverse generation. 

II. Our Light in the World

As God’s people, we are to be different, God says. We are NOT to be “crooked;” we are NOT to be “perverse.” We are to be different. And He uses several terms to describe just HOW we are to be different:

— “blameless”

— “innocent”

— “Children of God”

— “above reproach”   

Basically these are all saying the same thing. Be holy. Obey God’s word. Be DIFFERENT than the world around you. The term here “above reproach” is the same term used of the qualifications of both the pastor and the deacon in I Timothy 3. “Above reproach” literally means there is “nothing to ‘grab on to’ regarding the man’s character and activities; nothing that someone could point to or “grab on” to, to accuse him. 

According to historian Robert Caro in his biographies of Lyndon Johnson, it was very common in the 1930’s and 40’s for some large Texas companies to give “perks” to Texas legislators, to earn favor with them when it came time to vote on issues that affected them. They’d treat them to free meals; free alcohol; complimentary train tickets on their railroad, and so on. “Everyone” did it. Everyone, that is, except Texas Representative Sam Rayburn. Rayburn was known for many years as a hard-driving Congressman in Washington, and when he became Speaker of the House, he was a force to be reckoned with. But one thing about Sam Rayburn: he had determined that he was NOT going to compromise himself with those “perks” from the railroads or the political lobbyists. He’d ride a 3rd class train home, rather than take free 1st class tickets from the guys from the railroad lobby. Throughout his entire career, no one could say that Sam Rayburn had taken anything from the corporations. I don’t know whether he knew this Biblical concept or not, but what Sam Rayburn was doing, was being “above reproach.” That is what this Bible term means.  

Now, we’re used to thinking that pastors and deacons need to be “above reproach”, but here in Philippians God says, really, ALL of my children are to be this way. Yes, YOU, Christian person,“regular” church member; God says YOU are to do your best to be “above reproach. In other words, if there something you’d say: “I don’t think a pastor should be doing that” — then you don’t need to be doing it yourself — because it’s not just the pastor, but YOU TOO, God says, who are to be “above reproach”! 

WHY? In our case, it is NOT just so our “political enemies” don’t have anything to “get” us with; but because of our witness for the Kingdom of God. So that people we encounter will see that we are different from the “crooked and perverse” world around us, and will believe the message of Jesus they hear from us. So that they will say, now THIS is a different kind of person. THIS is a “child of God”, just like the scripture says here. 

As God’s children; we are to be different from the world. The world is “crooked and perverse;” but we are to be “blameless, innocent, children of God, above reproach.” We are to be different than the world, in our beliefs and practices:

— The world says the whole universe appeared out of nothing, and we are here by chance. As God’s people we hold His truth, that “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

— The world says you get to choose whatever gender you want to be; and have as many relationships with whomever you please. God’s people affirm that He has a plan, from the beginning, that a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and those two shall become one flesh. 

— The world says “buyer beware”: get whatever you can cheat out of other people in business. God’s people know the Lord is watching everything we do, so we deal fairly with everyone we do business with. 

— The world says it’s one race against another. As God’s people we say NO! There is ONE race; God’s human race, and we are ALL His children, equally loved, and should be brothers & sisters in the same church!

— The world says abort children, they are a nuisance to your life; God’s people LOVE children, and minister to them, and even adopt them! Because every child is loved by God.

— The world says pick any way you want to go to heaven; all the paths are the same. God’s people say NO: God made ONE way to heaven, through Jesus Christ and His death on the cross; that He is “the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father but through Him.” And that one way is open to whoever will call on the name of the Lord, to be saved.

— The world says do whatever you want, eat, drink &: be merry, for tomorrow you’ll die. God’s people say with His word, “It is appointed unto man once to die, and then the judgment,” and we shall stand before God, so we will live holy lives in the fear of the Lord. 

God’s people are to be different. We are to be “lights” in this dark world. 

Last week I mentioned Mark Twain’s trip to the in Holy Land. After they got off the steamship in Syria they took horses from there to the Holy Land. Twain wrote of that experience: ”At Nazareth we camped in an olive grove near the Virgin Mary’s fountain, and that wonderful Arab ‘guard’ came to collect some backsheesh (a bribe or a tip) for his ‘services’ in following us from Tiberias and warding off invisible dangers …”.  He said, “if you hire a man to sneeze for you, here, and another man chooses to help him, you have got to pay both. They do nothing whatever without pay. How it must have surprised these people to hear the way of salvation offered to them ‘without money and without price.’ (Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad, p. 486)

Twain had it exactly right: the world charges for everything; the world’s idea of religion is to buy enough, give enough, do enough, to earn salvation. But that way is hopeless and dark; there’ no salvation in it. But Christians are different: we have the light: that the gospel is “good news” because it is FREE in Jesus for whoever will repent of their sins and trust Jesus as their Savior. That is the light we have to share in this world.

See, what Christians have is DIFFERENT than the world. The world is dark; we have the light. We are different. This is why the evangelism strategy of “let’s be like the world to win the world” won’t ultimately work.  We’ll never win the world by being like the world. We’ll win people by showing them that we are DIFFERENT; that we have God’s LIGHT in this dark world.


One of my very favorite BBC shows is the mini-series “Cranford,” based on Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1800’s English novels. In it, new Doctor Harrison has come to small-town Cranford, and immediately he has a crucial emergency: a handyman by the name of Jem has broken his arm and needs surgery immediately, or he will lose his arm — and his means of making a living. But it’s night time, and Dr. Harrison needs candles for the surgery to be able to see. But he doesn’t have enough candles; and the only store in town is sold out. Candles were a luxury in those days; people would use only 1 or 2 in their home at night. So Dr. Harrison sits on the street corner in despair because without candles, he cannot save Jem.  But word gets around town, and all the ladies of Cranford bring all their precious candles to the doctor. The surgery can go on!  But Dr. Harrison is shocked by the generosity of the ladies. He says, “No one ever would ever do this in London.” And one of the ladies tells him: “You’re not in London, Dr. Harrison. You’re in Cranford.”

She was telling him, Cranford wasn’t London; Cranford was different. And it was different in a good way.  And folks, THAT is exactly the way that we should be today. Those who come across us should say, “This person is different. They don’t do things the way people in the world do!”  And the reason is because they are not dealing with ‘the children of this world.’ They’re dealing with the children of GOD, who have been saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

THAT is what God’s telling us in these verses. It’s just like Rom. 12:1-2 says: DO NOT be conformed to this twisted, perverted world around us; YOU be transformed; YOU be a child of God. YOU be above reproach in your dealings, no matter what everyone else is doing. YOU be a light in this world. I guarantee you, there is somebody around YOU in this dark world this week, who needs to see that you are different. Who needs to see your light this week?  Let your light shine, as a light in the darkness! 

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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