That you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life…” Philippians 2:15–16

When it comes to the task of defining what Paul meant with the phrase “word of life” it is easier to explain the meaning of “life” than it is to explain the meaning of “word.” Life is defined as that which distinguishes living things from inanimate objects. Living things take in food, get energy, grow, adapt to surroundings and reproduce. The word also is used to describe that which is essential to continued existence of something else (life-giving food). Life is also a source of vigor or liveliness, animation and vivacity (the life of the party). Life, in the biblical context, refers to the quality of life that God purposes to bestow upon those who obey His Gospel and reflects on the eternal nature of that life.

It is easy to identify the sense of life gained through the “Word.” It is the full-bodied life our Lord promises in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” All three of our definitions of life describe life eternal. Evidence of the animated property of spiritual life will be yours through faith in Christ, as well as the granting to you of all that sustains your life and gives you meaning—for both today and for eternity!

The complexity of the idea of “word” is self-evident. In its most basic meaning it is giving utterance to thought. It is as simple as the product of a breath and yet it is the communication of a mind. It may be defined as a word or phrase embodying a principle or precept, especially a slogan or cry of a group or party, a motto. A word may be known to only a few, used for identification, as a challenge by a sentry, a password. It may also be a pledged word and solemn promise.

Make a list of all the phrases we use containing “word.” Almost all of the phrases shed light on the meaning of “word of life” (Acts 5:20). “Word of honor” is a promise bigger than you. A “byword” is a familiar saying, a proverb. “Give your word,” “As good as your word,” or “a man of his word,” all have to do with reputation. “Pass the word” has to do with a command or order. “Take at his word” has to do with trust. A “word to live by” has to do with dependability and assurance. A “word of advice,” a “word of wisdom,” a “word of warning,” a “word of encouragement,” and a “word of caution” has the air of authority and fatherly love. To “receive word” is to receive news, information and tidings. Such is the richness of the meaning of a word—especially any word from God!

When you consider the fact that the Word of life is God-breathed and you remember the fact that God breathed into the nostrils of the first man physically giving life to mankind, it is no wonder the phrase word of life is so full of meaning for today and for eternity. The word of life is crucial!

When our Lord was tempted by Satan in Matthew 4:4 He rebuffs temptation with, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” He is quoting the words of Moses explaining to Israel that God had tested them in the wilderness by humbling them, making them dependent upon Him for everything that sustained them, in order to see if they would follow the commandments of God. His commandments were, and are, life.

John tells us that our Lord is the embodiment of the Word of God. 1 John 1:1ff reads, “That…which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life…that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6) and certainly the way to the Father, the way of life! John is telling us that the Bible is the Word of life for us as it reveals the eternal truth which must be believed and obeyed, just as our text in Philippians is teaching.

James 1:18 explains the mechanism of life-giving grace of God, “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” This must be some powerful word! It is the power of conversion (Colossians 1:4ff), of ministry (2 Corinthians 6:7), of effectiveness (1 Thessalonians 2:13), and convincing (Titus 1:9). It is, after all, incorruptible and eternal. 1 Peter 1:22ff states, “Having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever…the word of the Lord abides forever.”

Do you desire to be “blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation” shining as a light in darkness? Then firmly hold on to, and hold out for others, the Word of life! Trust and obey.