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This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

Christian journalists: You are to be Jupiters in the newsroom (Philippians 2:15)

Phil. 2:15. “you shine like stars in the world as you hold out the word of life.”

Exegesis and Application

Paul calls the Philippian Christians “stars.” First, the precise language Paul uses here is, itself, illuminating. The unique Greek word translated “stars” here is “phosteres” (Rev. 21:11) and can be translated also as “light-giver” or “luminary.” It is only used twice in the New Testament, once by Paul and once by John. It is the same word that is used in Genesis 1:14, 16 by Septuagint, “Let there be lights” indicating that the word is commonly used for celestial objects. The Hebrew word used in these Genesis verses is “ma’or” which is usually the “lesser lights” which depend on the “greater light.” There is another Greek word for “star” (“aster”) and is interestingly used only once to refer to humans as in false teachers in Jude 13. Overwhelmingly, “aster” is used for celestial objects, and metaphorically Christ (“the morning star”) and angels in Revelation. Also, “phoster” is not translated “light.” There is yet another Greek word for that English word and it is simply “phos,” clearly from the same root but not the same meaning.

The Greek word for “shine” can also be translated “to cause to appear” (phaino) in the passive indicative sense (Rev. 18:23. That is, the Philippian Christians appear to their neighbors as illuminating presences as part of their redeemed nature. They are not called to “shine,” they just do “shine” because that is who they are. Paul expects them to “shine” as stars in the cultural firmament. Thus, Paul is stating that not only will be Philippian believers “naturally” be light in the darkness of the culture but they will be used by the culture to guide and provide bearings in how to act. The task is enormously important for even as the “crooked and depraved” do not acknowledge the benefit of the “stars” amongst them, they do depend on them for moral and ethical touchstones.

The Greek word for “world” here is “kosmos” and can be translated “order,” “arrangement,” “earth,” “mankind,” etc. (e.g., John 3:19). The definition defends heavily on its context. Finally, the Greek word for “hold out” is “epecho” which is translated in Luke 4:42 as “to hold fast” and in Acts 19:22 as “stayed” and in the Septuagint as “setting the heart” or “hope” (Job 27:8) and “fixed my mind” or “hoped for” (Job 30:26).
So what does Philippians 2:5 say to the Christian in journalism? It seems to me there are at least two points to consider:

1) The particular calling of the Christian journalist is exposing that which is hidden and enlightening that which is dark. This is not a peculiar duty of journalistic specialty (i.e., Investigative Reporters and Editors-IRE). Rather, this is the general and universal duty of all Christian journalists. We are to act like “luminaries” exposing corruption, evil, injustice, malfeasance and, dare I say, sin. Christian journalists are to be fearless modern “muckrakers” (even if that term is a term of reproach for John Bunyan in his Pilgrim’s Progress).

2) The Christian journalist is to provide guidance and a moral compass for his neighbor. The use of the Greek word “phoster” in Genesis gives added emphasis to the Christian star as a clock to regulate the activities of the world. The stars shine for everybody so the Christian journalist should provide context, understanding and illumination for all who read his stuff, not just a particular group of readers. Everybody should learn something about the world from the reporting of a Christian journalist.

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