“Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.” (Philippians 2:14–16 ESV)
While most of us have not been infected with the COVID-19 virus, that does not mean we haven’t been affected by it. Stress is an enemy of all of us, and when life serves up days of darkness, our mental state can be especially challenged. But if you are like me, I have noticed that I can complain even on good days. It seems that our favored American lifestyle can spoil us so that we expect everything about our lives to go smoothly.
Our text is central to Paul’s message to the Philippians. As Paul wrote this letter, he had been imprisoned for four years, and yet he used the words “joy” and “rejoice” sixteen times in it various forms. Never once did Paul complain about “four wasted years in chains.” Instead, Paul rejoiced that his imprisonment had furthered the gospel. As the time approached for Nero to make a decision about his life, Paul rejoiced whether the answer was life or death. Both had their advantages because it would be to the glory of Christ. Paul urged the Philippians to have the same mind: “It has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (1:29). And again, “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me” (2:17-18).
The Greek word for “grumbling” is used only once in Paul’s letters, but it is the same word used in the Greek OT numerous times to describe the murmuring of Israel. This is where we get a bold picture of God’s feelings about complaining. We often forget it was Israel’s murmuring that caused God to say, “I swore in my wrath, they shall not enter my rest” (Psalm 95:7-11). Grumbling and disputing is a clear indication of a lack of trust in God and disappointment in his provisions. God truly hated it.
Here is the problem: grumbling is the opposite of joy. The two cannot be possessed in the same person. We cannot complain and live with joy. If you are a complainer, you lack joy. And if you live in joy, you are not a complainer. In Deuteronomy 8:2-5, God reminded Israel that he had purposely caused them to hunger, tested and disciplined them in order to know what was in their heart. As a man disciplines his son, the Lord had disciplined them so they would learn that “life” does not come from the physical but from the word of God. Do we allow ourselves and our children to complain about food and hardships? When we do, God is discovering the wickedness of our hearts and we are harming our children.
Paul exposed the primary issue of complaining: we are to be without blemish and shine as lights in the midst of a “crooked and twisted generation.” Complaining is following the tortured way of the world-culture around us, a world that lives as if there is no Father in heaven. We are to be better than that, since we know that God is the perfect Father. Everything he does is “beautiful in its time” (Eccl. 3:11). Grumbling and disputing ruins our character and destroys our opportunities to shine as lights and demonstrate our trust in the Father we love and upon whom we depend. “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.”