Shining Like Stars in a Dark World

By Denise George   •   July 2, 2010

We each face times in our lives when we understand anew how deceitfully the world can treat us. Earlier this year, my mother, an 84-year-old widow, hired a contractor to insulate her home’s crawl space to provide warmth during a frigid winter. She paid him $800 after he assured her his men had finished the requested work. But a later inspection proved the workmen had not done the job. They had purposely deceived her, and consequently she suffered during those cold wintry months.

How can we, as Christ followers, maintain our Christian testimony in a “crooked and depraved generation” (Philippians 2:15), as the Apostle Paul exhorted us?

In dealing with everyday problems, Paul urged his Philippian converts to do so without “complaining or arguing,” and to “shine like stars in the universe” (Philippians 2:15) so that whatever happens, they may conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:27).

Does this mean we should simply allow others to deceive us and cheat those we love? Not at all. But when we confront another person and demand justice, we must do so in a Christlike manner. We represent Christ in all of our everyday dealings.

Paul wrote his letter to the congregation in Philippi as he suffered in prison. A victim of a cruel Roman society that persecuted Christians, Paul sat in a dark hole surrounded by decaying human bodies and rats gnawing on rotting flesh.

I recently visited one of the prisons where historians believe Paul was incarcerated. Mamertine, a 12-foot hole at the foot of Capitoline Hill in Rome, held criminals between the seventh century B.C. and the late fourth century A.D. The ancient historian Sallust described Mamertine as a place where “neglect, darkness and stench make it hideous and fearsome to behold.” Standing in that hole, some 2,000 years later, sent shivers down my spine.

Surely no circumstance we face could be as bleak as Paul’s when he penned this letter to his beloved congregation. Trapped deep within the earth—hungry, filthy and anticipating death—Paul wasn’t overwhelmed with fear and despair. The prison became his pulpit—a place to proclaim the Gospel of Christ! From his cell, Paul wrote to strengthen Philippian Christians when they, too, faced difficult situations. Paul gave them hope.

Paul’s words to remain “blameless and pure” (Philippians 2:15) encouraged my own walk with Christ as I attempted to confront my mother’s deceitful contractor. Through Scripture, the Lord urged me to keep my mind on heavenly things, even when dealing with earthly problems, and reminded me to behave in a Christlike manner. Carefully choosing my words, while cautiously controlling my temper, was surely the harder route!

This instructive passage also admonished me to put my dilemma into eternal perspective. Earth life is temporary. As believers, our citizenship is in Heaven. Developing an eternal perspective kept me from feeling overwhelmed in the midst of deception.

After much prayer, I approached the installation company’s manager as I believed Paul, himself, might have done. I talked with him by phone in a firm but calm voice. I explained the problem. He lost his temper, raised his voice and called me a few unkind names. I took a deep breath and, with the same calm voice, told him I expected him to return my mother’s money. He slammed the phone down in my ear. I telephoned him again, but he refused to answer.

I decided to seek the counsel of an honest and wise contractor—the man who had originally recommended this insulation company to us. He stepped in and made a phone call to the company on our behalf. I don’t know what was said, but the manager finally returned the $800. My sister offered to pick up the check. She was met with more name calling. The contractor threw the check at her, turned his back and walked away. She smiled, thanked him and left his office.

Paul’s letter also convinced me to not allow a painful situation like this to drain my Christian joy. Surrounded by darkness, putrid air and piles of human waste, Paul had little reason to rejoice. Yet his Christ-inspired joy rose high above his suffocating circumstances. He could still write of courage and unity, of love and self-giving, of obedience and rejoicing.

Paul had learned the difference between Christian joy and Earth’s happiness. His joy came from God, and even imprisonment could not dampen it. Paul kept his eyes clearly on Christ, not on the situation surrounding him.

Suffering became a tool for Paul to encourage fellow believers. He urged them to “go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society.” He told them to “carry the light-giving Message” to people everywhere … with “rejoicing” (Philippians 2:14-16, The Message).

Even in prison, Paul endured and, in his suffering, he encouraged fellow believers to do likewise. Paul kept his mind on the Lord Jesus Christ who awaited him in Heaven, his future eternal home (Philippians 3:19-20). Paul believed God’s promise and, in his darkest days, held tightly to that promise. Surely Paul knew that the stars in the universe always shine brightest on the darkest night (Philippians 2:15).

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In dealing with the present “crooked and depraved generation,” Paul’s letter has given me hope. As a Christian, I can confront deceitfulness in a Christlike manner and achieve justice. I don’t have to rant and rave, complain, argue and use ungodly behavior to deal with unethical treatment. I am not responsible for another person’s provocative reaction or immature behavior. But, as a follower of Jesus Christ, I am responsible for my own.

Denise George has written 24 books, including “What Women Wish Pastors Knew” and “What Pastors Wish Church Members Knew.” She teaches a writing-to-publish course at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala., where her husband, Timothy George, is founding dean. To learn more, visit

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  1. Sandy says:

    Pray for me. As much as I want to consider my feelings as, “Righteous indignation”…I'm concerned it may just be vengeful anger. God bless you and thank you.

  2. Monica says:

    This is a very encouraging message,to remember to walk in the Spirit, even when you know that what is being done to you, is very wrong and you are not supported even when you are right.

  3. phyllis says:

    This is very encouraging………living in a world that is filled with sin and deceit….I can still stand tall because of the grace of God…..and of course be joyful……..for joy is the fruit I got from the Holy Spirit and no one can take it away from me………Thank you for such an encouraging message.

  4. Kizito says:

    This is a very powerful word that you have spoken to my life, God bless you.

  5. Nile says:

    This is a very wonderful message. I am asking the Lord to give me strength to live his word. Keep it up, you are touching many soul out there. Stay blessed

  6. Susan says:

    Thank you for this article. It is a good reminder to us to remember why God has brought us here. I will try to remember this when I am in very difficult situations at work and unable to relate my environment to God's teachings.

  7. Jincy says:

    Thank you Denise for sharing this wonderful article. I pray to Jesus to help me to keep my mind on the heavenly things, even when dealing with earthly things. God bless you and your family.

  8. Laura says:

    I, too find this encouraging as I watch fellow workers fight for themselves and step on others to get what they want! It is discouraging and feels hopeless.

  9. Kim says:

    What a wonderful and timely article. Thank you for taking a personal event and showing us a biblically applied solution. May God bless you and your family.

  10. ms kevin says:

    Thanks for this timely encouraging message. My spirit has been deeply troubled when I consider all manner of sin, deceit and depravity being perpetuated by Christians who have some kind of Godliness but abuse it and deny the power of God.