[Don’t miss the “Extra Bits” at the end of the article!]
It seems our society is in a state of constant complaint. We’ve never had so much and yet been so angry. The air of discontent leads to an environment of constant dispute. Our culture has developed the hard edge of confrontation. Constant bickering is heard in news programs, social media, sporting events, offices, and living rooms.
We often excuse our arguing and complaining as just bad habits. We make jokes and say, “That’s just the way we are.” But, then we run up against this jarring, all-encompassing command, ‘do all things without complaining and arguing’” (Phil. 2:14).
“All things?” we question! Certainly, this doesn’t apply to my job, my husband, my church, or my country. Yet, “all” is a big word. Complaining has no place in a believer’s heart.
Now, certainly it is not complaining to identify sin, point out doctrinal error, or to inform people of a problem.
Complaining is an emotional response of displeasure about our circumstances or responsibilities. It happens so mindlessly. Before we know it, our day is engulfed by a cloud of complaining. Soon our complaints become fights. We make sure other people know how upset we are!
Then that pesky command comes back to mind, “Do all things without complaining and arguing” (Phil. 2:14). This is one area in which we are to be counter-culture. We are to shine as lights in a world which is darkened by the smog of constant complaining and quarreling.
Paul does not use these two words randomly! They are the two words that describe Israel’s attitude in the wilderness. They constantly complained about their circumstances and fought with one another, and they died in the wilderness as a result.1
The church is to be different! In the verses surrounding this command Paul gives several reasons why believers are to be finished with all arguing and complaining.2
When we argue and complain we deny God’s goodness. All complaining is ultimately against God. We may think we’re just gripping about the food, weather, leaders, and our plight in life, but we are really saying, “God is not good enough to us.” That is a lie. God has been nothing but gracious to us but arguing and complaining pulls down the shades so that we cannot see brightness of God’s goodness.
It is Jesus who secured our salvation (Phil. 2:5-11). It is God who continues to work in us to accomplish His good pleasure (2:12-13). It is the height of ingratitude to fuss and fight in the face of such grace (2:14).
When we argue and complain we disturb our relationship with others. Just listen to the pronouns we use when we argue and complain. We talk about “Them, those, and they!” It’s the language of discord.
The tragedy is it only takes a few grumblers and a few arguments to create an atmosphere of conflict. It took only 10 negative thinking spies in the wilderness to cause “all the congregation to complain” (Num. 14:36). Complaining is more contagious than the flu making everyone it touches sick.
In contrast, Philippians 2 is about believers living in harmony with others by being “like minded, having the same love, being of one accord, and one mind” (2:2; 1:27). Such a joyful state of unity can only exist where griping and quarrelling are absent!
Remember that a loving encouragement of God’s people can be equally infectious and create much better results.
When we argue and complain we discredit our testimony among unbelievers. We talk about how much we love God, but we often live like atheists who complain when faced with the smallest distress. The world is left asking, “Where is their God?”
The reason Paul gives for a complaint free life is, “the world is watching you!” So, stop the fussing and fighting “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” (Phil. 2:15; Deut. 32:5). A peaceful and grateful spirit makes a powerful impression on the lost (Acts 16:25-34).
When we argue and complain we discourage God’s workers. Negative bickering drains the enthusiasm from those who are trying to serve God. For example, Paul was glad to pour himself out in sacrificial service to the saints, but if their arguing and complaining caused them to fall short of heaven he feared his work would be in vain (Phil. 2:16-17; Num. 11:15). What a disheartening thought—God’s work ruined for the sake of a complaint!
When you do something in the service of the kingdom don’t soil it by complaining. It will steal your joy and dishearten others. Why not say, “I am glad I get to do this!” (2:17)? Gladness and rejoicing are the opposite of complaining and arguing. They cannot live in the same heart (2:14,18).
I taught the message of Philippians 2:14 to our local church. After worship we passed out wrist bands which read, “No complaining or arguing (Phil. 2:14).”
Two years later a visitor came to our worship. She was going through a difficult time, but she remembered a woman at work. This woman turned out to be one of our members, Karma. She said, Karma came to work one Monday and announced to the office, “I want you to know I’m finished with complaining and arguing,” and she quoted Philippians 2:14 for her coworkers.
Karma’s statement and example had a powerful impact on her office. “The environment changed. I changed,” said the visitor. Then she held up her wrist and said, “Karma gave me her wrist band. I’ve never taken it off. I know I need God in my life.”
Nothing shines more brightly in our disgruntled world than believers who are filled with grateful hope. After all, the bounty of grace we found at the cross is enough to keep us from complaining for the rest of our lives.
“Let all that you do be done in love.” (1 Cor. 16:14)
[See the “Extra Bits” below the footnotes!]
1 Israel complains and fights soon after they leave Egypt (Ex. 15:22-27; 16:1-36; 17:1-7). God patiently endured their distrust and graciously fulfilled their desires. Then something happened! They arrived at Mount Sinai and God makes a covenant with the people. He gives them his word. They are his people. From that point onward, every time Israel argued or complained, people died! (Num. 11:1-3, 4-34, 14:1-4; 16:1-50; 2-:1-5; 21:4-9). We are to learn that God takes complaining seriously and personally. God expects his covenant people to be finished with a cranky attitude and fighting behavior. They will keep you from God’s promises (1 Cor. 10:10-11)
2 “The admonition [“do everything without grumblings and disputes”] commences a lengthy and complex sentence (vv. 14-16) that is grammatically independent of the preceding (since there are no conjunctions that link the exhortation with v. 13), but that clearly bears a relationship to what has gone before…as the Philippians work out their salvation with fear and trembling they are to avoid dissension within the community.” (Peter T. Obrien. The Epistle to the Philippians. p. 289. The New International Greek Testament Commentary. Eerdmans. 1991)
Practical Ways to Remove Complaining
John Gordon, in his book, “The No Complaining Rule” offers several practical tips for removing arguing and complaining from your life. Give these a try.
- Change the Negative to a Positive. When you catch yourself complaining stop and say, “But,” and then add a positive thought. For example, “I don’t like driving an hour to work, but I am thankful I can drive, and I have a job.”
- Focus on “Get To” Instead of “Have To.” We say things like, “I have to go to work.” “I have to mow the yard.” “I have to pick up the kids.” Instead shift your perspective and realize you get to do things. Focus on feeling blessed instead of stressed.
- Announce an Arguing & Complaining Fast. Tell the people at work, your family, yourself, “Today I’m going to take a fast from arguing and complaining.” Zero. No tolerance. You just might see how much you do it!
- Turn Complaints into Solutions. When truths do need to be expressed and behavior corrected take your concerns to the person who is responsible for it. Don’t spread it around to everyone else. Then offer a few positive solutions to the concern. Don’t just throw rocks. Be a builder.
I would add two more thoughts.
- Thank God More. Arguing and complaining denies God’s goodness, but thanksgiving prizes it. The more aware we of God’s goodness the less we will see to complain about. See the good in every circumstance, and tell God “thank you.”
- Memorize Philippians 2:14. “Do all things without complaining and arguing.” Post this verse on the hall of your home and the wall of your heart. When your argumentative, complaining spirit begins to rise up, tap that verse and say to yourself, “Not me. I’m going to shine like a light in the world!”
Leadership & Complaining
Leaders must learn to deal with complaints wisely. If they don’t they can discourage themselves and damage others. Here are a few things to remember.
- Don’t Label Everything A Complaint—Listen. Some leaders will dismiss legitimate concerns by saying, “Stop complaining!” They often do this to dodge responsibility, or to maintain their own agenda regardless of how others feel. A wise leader will listen to the counsel of people who care (Prov. 19:20).
- Crave Honest, Loving Communication. Leaders who do not welcome honest, loving communication drive complaints outward until the whole group is infected. People need to feel you are approachable, and that you truly care about them. They need to trust you will not lose your temper, hold a grudge, or take out your frustrations on them. Decrease the risk involved in people sharing legitimate concerns.
- Go to God In Prayer. Many concerns are beyond a leader’s wisdom or ability to solve; these demand “help me” prayers. Other concerns are simply complaints; these demand “help them” prayers.
- Fill Yourself with The Good. Leaders who focus only on the complaints develop a bitter view of the world. For every complaint you face fill yourself with at least five things that are praiseworthy.
Israel & Complaining
A million graves littered the wilderness between Egypt and Canaan as a gruesome testimony of the deadly nature of complaining. It caused, Israel to fall short of the Promised Land. Eleven times the moans of their mouths expressed the unbelief of their hearts. Their moans carry a message.
- Griping Ignores God’s Blessings. You would think the more you are blessed, the less you’ll complain. No. Israel shows us you can be blessed with freedom, the riches of Egypt, a beautiful piece of land, and a front row seat to the miracles of God, and still be consumed with complaints. Contentment is not found in things and experiences, it is found in trusting God.
- God Will Not Ignore Griping. Before Israel arrived at Mount Sinai they complained about food, water and leadership. This grieved God, but He patiently satisfied their desires. After Sinai things were different. Every complaint was met with punishment. Israel became God’s covenant people, and they were not to be characterized by complaining.
“Do not complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor. 10:10-11).