Living Without Grumbling or Complaining

12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. 14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 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, 16 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. 17 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. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. (Philippians 2:12-18)

“Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” Yes, that is where we are this morning. Can you believe that? “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” That is our primary passage this morning. Is there anyone who is listening to these words and thinking, “Well, I wish I hadn’t come this morning because I can’t really see how this message has any relevance for me”? It may be more likely that you are thinking, “Man, I wish my spouse could have been here. Or my child, or my neighbor, or my boss. I wish I had brought my co-worker with me!” We probably all know someone whom we would like to be sitting with us this morning, right? Oh, but how about us?

Here is the thing: my understanding is that we, you and me, we are living in the most prosperous culture in the history of the world. Each of us have everything that we need, don’t we? In fact, except for the very poorest in our country, for the most part we have most of what we want. And what is even more interesting is that when you think about the prosperity of our culture, I understand that we are also among the most discontented people in the world. We have much and yet we seem to lack much. We are a discontented, dissatisfied society in general.

But it is not enough and probably not even productive for us to talk about society in general. It is easy to do that. It is easy to point a finger at “those people” in society and talk about discontentment. But what about us? What about the church: you, me, and those sitting around us this morning? Where do we stand on this matter of contentment?

I am convinced that contentment, or the successful putting off of discontentment, is grounded in how we view God. Where is God in our surroundings? That’s what we have to ask ourselves. Where is God in our lives? Where exactly is God in our current circumstances? What is God’s influence in what we have, or in what we don’t have? What is God’s role in our lives? What do we believe about God in our lives? Is He involved or isn’t He? Has He put me where I am today, or hasn’t He? Does He involve me with certain people that I come in contact with, or does He not? Does He bring people across my path, or not? Where is God in my life? In all of these questions that sometimes may swirl in our minds, the answer to these questions will determine whether or not we choose to grumble and dispute. Whether or not we will be discontent with God.

Here is another thing that we need to know: the fact that the Bible has to include this command to the church, not to grumble and dispute, clues us in that each one of us is prone to do just that. I can’t speak for you, but for me this has been a lifelong battle, and the battle still rages within me.

We don’t just see this isolated in Philippians 2.

Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. (James 5:9)

Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. (1 Peter 4:9)

What is grumbling? Simply put, it’s complaining. It is a negative response to something that is unpleasant, inconvenient, or disappointing in life. All of that from a self-centered idea that whatever is happening in my life that’s hard or that’s inconvenient is undeserved. It’s believing that we deserve better than what God has given us, than what we’re currently getting.

Grumbling didn’t start with the Philippian church. Who was the first complainer? That would be Adam. It didn’t take long for grumbling to come on the human scene. Adam was the first complainer, or grumbler. With the first man came complaining, complaining about God, and what God had given him. Just after Adam disobeyed God, he blamed Eve for his sin, complaining to God, saying, “the woman whom You gave me, she gave me from the tree and I ate.” “The woman that You gave me.” Accusatory words spoken not to another person, but to God. The implication being, “if you had not given her to me, I would not have sinned.” Instead of blaming himself, he blamed her and God.

Cain complained to God over his punishment after he murdered his brother. Where did he have room to complain about God’s punishment? Yet he did, saying it was too severe. Moses complained to God because he did not deliver the Israelites from Egypt quickly enough. Three days after the miraculous parting of the Red Sea and the deliverance of Israel through the dry ground in the bed of the Red Sea, they complained to God about water. He gave them sweet water to drink, and then what did they do? They complained about food. This would become their mode of operation during their forty-year journey. Miraculous acts by God of deliverance and miraculous provision followed quickly by more complaining and grumbling.

Paul refers back to the children of Israel…

9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. (1 Corinthians 10:9-10)

John MacArthur makes a strong statement regarding grumbling or complaining. You have to see what you think about this; I had to take some time to think about it myself. Here is what he says, “In reality, every complaint a believer makes is against the Lord and is one of the ugliest of sins. And complaining against other believers is especially serious, an affront to God, because those believers are His children.” MacArthur makes that statement, then cites the following passages…

Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.” (James 5:9)

9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: (1 Peter 4:9-10)

He argues that complaining or grumbling is a failure to willingly submit to God’s providential care.

This would not mean that we always agree with somebody or approve of what they say or what they do. What it says is that we don’t just sit around and grumble about it. Instead we might lovingly confront someone or help them to see a different way. We need not just grumble. Where is the help in that? Who does that help? Nor do we just sit around and grumble about circumstances.

Now, I want to back up a minute and I want us to notice that before Paul speaks of grumbling and disputing he first says, “Do all things without.” Technically, this “do all things” would be referring back to verse 12 and 13 that we looked at two weeks ago. In those verses Paul is urging them to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. We talked about that. This working out their salvation is like saying, “live out your salvation.” So this living out our salvation, working out our salvation is to be done in a particular way: “without grumbling and disputing.” As you live out your Christian live, live it out without grumbling and complaining. He is telling them how to live the Christian life in a very practical way. No grumbling, and no disputing.

Now, we’ve talked some about grumbling. Hopefully we all understand what grumbling is. Most of us are experts in this area. You didn’t need me to define it for you. Hopefully this morning we are beginning to recall some ways that we have recently grumbled or complained.

What about disputing? What does he mean by that? There are two versions of the ESV, one says “disputing” and one says “questioning.” “Disputing” is from a Greek word that meant to doubt or dispute the truth of a matter. In 1 Timothy 2:8 the same word is translated as “quarreling.” Grumbling is an attitude, an emotional response to something, whereas disputing is like arguing or debating; it is more intellectual. So one is an emotional response and the other is more of an intellectual response. A progression may be that we are quick to grumble or complain, and that quick response turns into disputing and arguing, an intellectual exercise.

Look at what Paul is saying, writing to Christians. “Yes, we are citizens of heaven – we worship a sovereign God – and yet we are prone to these sinful attitudes and actions that indicate a lack of trust in God and in His provisions for us. We can be just like the Israelites who grumbled and disputed with God.”

Now, there are two things that I want us to see about these commands that I think are really important. Two things that I think will be helpful for us, and both of them have to do with the context of these commands. One thing that we don’t want to do is to lift this very short verse, verse 14, off of the pages of Scripture and treat it as if it stands alone. This verse was given to us as a small part of something bigger. I want us to see the bigger context.

The first thing I want us to be sure we see regarding context is what follows verse 14. This should be both fascinating to us and very sobering. We won’t go into great detail about what follows until next week, Lord willing. But I do want us to at least read them and let verses 15 and 16 help us better understand verse 14.

15 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, 16 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 2:15-16)

As I understand these words, it really in a major way increases the importance and emphasis of not grumbling and disputing. What is so important? The Philippians were placed by God where? In Philippi. That’s where they lived. But how is their culture described? They are in Philippi, yes, but they are also in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation. God put them there. What might be happening in a crooked and twisted generation? A whole lot of grumbling and disputing people, ultimately grumbling and disputing against God. It is a natural thing to do in the flesh. People go very naturally and easily in the way of grumbling and disputing. And if that is so, and the Christians at Philippi are right in the middle of this “crooked and twisted” people, how might the Christians in Philippi stand out as lights in their world? By being those who trust in God by putting off grumbling and disputing. God wants them to be lights in their world. Being a light in their world would mean putting off grumbling and disputing, because everybody else is doing that. God had called them and He calls us to something different, something that looks way different in the culture in which we live.

Rick Holland, in his book “Uneclipsing the Son,” tells of a friend of his named Greg. Greg and Rick had grown up together and they were best friends in junior high and high school. They played sports together and knew each other very well. Rick had always thought that Greg was truly converted, that he was a believer. In Rick’s second year of seminary he flew home and had lunch with Greg. Rick describes the meal that they had together as a meal he would never forget. When they were together in the restaurant, Greg told Rick, “I’ve been saved!” He said it with great volume. He said, “Listen to me, I’ve really been saved by Jesus!” Greg’s passion couldn’t be contained. He was so excited. He was getting so loud that people were turning to look at the commotion and his great enthusiasm. Rick was like, “Yeah Greg, I know that. We grew up together.” But Greg just got louder saying, “No Rick, I have really been saved.” Rick Holland came to realize that though they had grown up in the church together and he thought that he knew Greg really well, he realized that Greg had never really trusted in Christ as his savior. And now he had.

Not long after that lunch Greg became engaged to a godly young lady. Six days before the wedding she was killed in a head-on auto accident. A year later he married her best friend. Not long after they got married, Greg developed a headache that would not go away. Tests revealed brain cancer. Rick went to visit Greg after his brain surgery, after they attempted to remove the tumor from his head. Rick Holland said the conversation in the hospital room is one of his greatest memories. With Greg’s head bandaged and his eyes swollen from the operation, he asked Rick if he thought God was in control of everything, including the cancer cells in his body. What do you say in that moment? Rick swallowed hard and said “Yes.”

Tears began to roll down Greg’s cheeks and he began to smile. And Greg said, “If God is sovereign over my cancer, I can go through this.” Then he immediately began to speak of how excited and curious and ready he was to see Jesus. For Greg, dying was gain, and faith was about to become sight. No grumbling, no disputing with God. Only settled trust in His loving hand, even to the point of issues of life and death. That’s different from the world.

That’s a powerful story, isn’t it? A story that stands in contrast to a crooked and twisted generation that has ignored or denied the existence of God. It is a powerful story because it says, “My God is in control, and my God reigns over me, and I’m going to trust in Him.” That is being a light in a very dark world.

When Paul chose to highlight a particular area of sin for the Philippians to put off that would show great contrast to a dark, crooked, and twisted generation, he chose to highlight grumbling and disputing. If today all of us were to put this off too, grumbling and disputing, if that were banished from our lives from today on, how might we be shining lights to those around us? Shining lights that point others to the greatness of our God.

The second thing I want to point out regarding context is what precedes verse 14. Remember that Paul had been leading us through the life of Christ. We’ve talked about the life of Christ a great deal in this book, from His incarnation, as a suffering servant, suffering and dying, obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross for us. He died so that we will never have to face the fierce, unbearable wrath of an almighty God. The wrath that we deserve from God because of our terrible sins, we have been delivered from that. Christ died in our place, He took God’s wrath for us. We are in a relationship of eternal love with the Father and the Son. We have peace with them. Heaven is ours, our citizenship is in heaven. These are the things that precede verse 14, the command that we are not to grumble or dispute. What Paul lays out for us is this new state of peace with God. He then leads us to worship as we consider the day when all people will bow a knee before Christ, “every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”

I think Paul is helping us to understand these things so that we will be more like Greg. Greg could not contain his excitement over being saved by Christ. The point is we must be awed by the Father and the Son and our redemption, our salvation, our future, stand in awe of who we are in Christ. Stand as worshipers, not of things and stuff and people, but worshipers of God, consumed with God, saturated with Him in us and His word and His promises. We must be in Him in this way, full of the Spirit, before we can ever begin by the strength of His might to put off grumbling and disputing. We have to be worshippers of Him.

In other words, none of us can just wake up one day and say, “From now on I am done with grumbling and disputing.” You can try that, but something else has to happen first. We must first be awed by God and His work, and live in a state in which we are continually worshipping Him and Him alone. If we are focused on Christ, focused on His work, and our position, if that is our focus and we are worshiping Him, then we can begin to put off such things as grumbling and complaining. It would be difficult to be in a state of worshipping God, and accuse Him of wrong at the same time. That’s what grumbling is.

Our trials are appointments, given to us by God. Our troubles are not without purpose. Our hardships are under His sovereign hand. His love envelopes each one of us for our good and His glory, so we can trust Him in all things.

The context is important. Leading up to verse 14, worshippers of who Christ is. And then in verse 14, living for the glory of Christ as lights in the world in a crooked and twisted generation. All of these things are expressions of our love for God, our God who has loved us.

12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. 14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 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, 16 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. 17 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. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. (Philippians 2:12-18)