If you live in the city, it can be difficult to see stars at night compared to living out in a more remote area. The reason for this condition is the city’s light pollution. Light pollution is a side effect of industrial civilization. Its sources include building exterior and interior lighting, advertising, commercial properties, offices, factories, streetlights, and illuminated sporting venues. Because urban landscapes produce such a tremendous amount of light, it affects our ability to see the light of stars in the sky. Having moved out of downtown Richmond, Virginia, to just a few miles further out from the city center, I noticed the change. I see more stars.
In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, he writes, “Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world.” (Philippians 2: 14-15) Paul encourages the early Christians to “shine like stars in the world.” Paul knew that if Christians were not careful, that they could lose their light. The world which Paul described as “crooked and perverse” could suffocate their light as followers of Jesus. In this particular setting, Paul was addressing the temptation to follow a pattern of murmuring and arguing.
We live in a society that has become accustomed to murmuring and arguing. Our conversations about a host of subjects have turned negative, mean-spirited, and polluted with a vocabulary of anger, hate, and ugliness. The problem is that we allow ourselves to be dragged into this polluted stream of conversations for many of us as Christians. This has become even more evident during these days of the pandemic. Negativity has risen to the surface like a cesspool of waste, and polluted the landscape of our relationships in families, communities, workplaces, and the church. I have been amazed at the choice of words and tone of our conversations. Rather than living as children of God, blameless and innocent, we are as guilty as anyone else of the pollution. We have forgotten the scriptures which teach us, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4: 29) We seem much more content to tear one another down rather than in building one another up.
This is not to say that there will not be disagreements among individuals in any social setting. It would be naive to think we would always agree on everything. However, as followers of Jesus, I believe our Lord expects more than we have been doing. Each one of us needs to step back and examine our choice of vocabulary and our speech patterns. Are we shining like stars in the world, or have we lost our glow? Words matter. The tone of our words matters. What we say and how we say it can have a huge impact on those who are recipients of the words we speak.
We were all taught early on by someone to think before we speak. The word THINK has also become a popular acronym for this very thing. Before speaking or commenting on anything, we should consider:
T: Is it true?
H: Is it helpful?
I: Is it inspiring?
N: Is it necessary?
K: Is it kind?
If it doesn’t meet this standard, then it might not be worth saying anything at all. As the psalmist would state, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” (Psalm 141:3) As followers of Jesus, God has given us the Holy Spirit to keep watch. We might all want to do better and let the Spirit do its job. If we do, we might discover there is a lot more light in the sky than we ever realized.