Philippians 2:14-18: Grumbling and Complaining: Part I
A Measure of Your Functional Unbelief and Dislike and Distrust of God
Where are you on the grumbling and complaining scale? In Philippians 2:14 Paul gives a sweeping imperative: Do everything without complaining (murmuring) or arguing (complaining). Several points are worth noting:
- The verse follows on the heels of verses 12-13. In those two passages Paul directs the people to work out their salvation in general and the solution to their problems in particular. The command is simple and direct.
- Saved people are to think, desire, and act like saved people. Paul wanted the congregation to focus on the proper activity of saved people.
- The congregation as well as individual believers are to grow in Christlikeness. That is, they are to think, desire, and function as God-pleasers rather than self-pleasers.
- In verse 13 Paul gives the reason why the Philippian believers are to aggressively pursue Christlikeness: God through the Holy Spirit is at work within the person and within the Church. The Holy Spirit has changed the believer from the inside-out and indwells the person. The Holy Spirit works in and with the person but never for or against the person.
- Proof of God’s work within the Church and the believer is growth in Christlikeness. As a result, God is glorified, the individual believer is blessed, and the body of Christ grows as well. It is a win-win situation
In verse 14, Paul began to work out what Christlikeness will look like in the life of the Church and a believer. There is to be no grumbling and complaining. Paul paints the not picture by emphasizing the seriousness of grumbling and complaining. He gives no leeway. The command is an absolute. The command has a relational reference. Grumbling and complaining disrupts unity within the body of Christ and within the individual. It is anti-Intratrinitarian. The harmony and functionality within the Church and the husband and wife should be modeled after the Trinity (Eph. 5:32). Further, grumbling and complaining works against unity by facilitating disunity (see 1:27-2:3; James 4:1-3). It is an attack on God and His control. It is an expression of a person’s unbelief, distrust, and dissatisfaction with God and His control at that moment.
Grumbling and complaining is so common and has many forms. The Bible highlights the seriousness and sadness of grumbling and complaining in several passages. Grumbling and complaining flows from and enlarges a discontented, divided heart (see Numbers 11, 21 and 1 Cor.10). Something is amiss in the person’s world (actually in God’s world!) and the person is compelled (actually he compels himself!) to voice his displeasure. He may think he is grumbling and complaining only to himself or only to others around him. Bur the circle widened when he included others as his audience. Actually and ultimately the dual activity is directed to God and against God. Such is the ignorance and arrogance of mankind. Yet it is often pointed out that “we all do it.” The universality of arrogance seems to mitigate a proper view of the activity itself and of the grumbler and complainer. In fact, the grumbler and complainer is a dependent creature (not the Creator!) who has inverted his position in God’s world (not his world!). He is functioning as policeman and overseer and acts as if he has the right to voice his displeasure to anyone and perhaps to everyone.
In verse 15, Paul gives a powerful motivator against grumbling and complaining and a powerful motivator for contentment, gratitude, and joy. Grumblers and complainers are not Christ-like and they will not become God’s spotless and blameless children as was God’s original design in eternity past (Eph. 1:4). In fact, they more resemble Satan. Grumbling and complaining is the opposite of growth in Christlikeness. Rather grumbling and complaining stunts growth in Christ. The crux of the matter centers on the simple fact that grumbling and complaining demonstrates one’s view of what it means to be a child of God. The believer is God’s child and that fact should usher in an attitude of joyful contentment. Some may think that is heavy theology given their circumstances.
If one does not hold his membership in God’s kingdom and family in high regard, it is because he does not hold God’s Fatherhood and Christ’s Brotherhood in high regard. Grumbling and complaining then becomes a patterned way of life. It attacks God and His control. The grumbler and complainer voices his displeasure at the way God is running the world, lives the lie, and holds membership in God’s family and kingdom in low esteem. At the moment of grumbling and complaining, the beauty and privilege of being God’s child plays no role in his thoughts, desires, and actions. Membership in God’s kingdom and family is a supernaturally wonderful thing but the grumbler and complainer functionally denies that truth.
- Read Ephesians 1:3-14 and catch a glimpse of the beauty of your changed family and kingdom status. Describe its significance.
- Reflect on the bad news (what you were in self and Satan), the good news (what you are in Christ) and the cost to God for that transfer. How do those facts stimulate you to a proper view of God, others, circumstances, and yourself?
- Mediate on Ps 34:8 (come and taste and see that I am good) and 1 Thessalonians 5:18.
- The next time you are tempted to grumble and complain recite and apply Psalm 34:8, 1 Thessalonians 5:18, and Philippians 2:14-17 to yourself and your situation. Record the results.
Philippians 2:14-18: Grumbling and Complaining: Part II
Paul has made clear that there is to be no grumbling and complaining by the Christian and within the Christian community. These are stout words. They seem impossible to understand let alone apply given people and circumstances. Some background regarding the letter to the Philippians is in order. Paul is the author of letter which he wrote from a Roman prison during his first imprisonment. The greatest missionary was “tied up” seemingly out of commission. But he considered himself a prisoner of and for Christ (1:7, 13, 17). Circumstances did not dictate truth. The God of circumstances did. In verses 12-18 of chapter 1 he explained his thought processes.
The letter is a letter of joy and thanksgiving for their partnership with him in the gospel ministry. At the same time, he had a concern for unity (1:27-2:5). Paul encouraged the people to preserve biblical truth and to persevere in the application of that truth (1:9-11). In that way they would participate in the living Christ and imitate Him (Heb. 12:1-3). Love, knowledge, and discernment were to be properly linked. When they are, the people would not jettison themselves from the living Christ and their union in and with Him. The congregation would rejoice in their oneness in Christ and with each other. Paul had a concern and desire for the Philippians to live as faithful children of God individually and corporately. To that end, he addressed the issues of unity and disunity.
Paul described the proper approach to life in Philippians 2:14-16 which was to do everything – all things – without grumbling and complaining. The term and concept everything is all-encompassing. It covers every aspect of life especially body life. Paul is not simply calling for a type of obedience. He is speaking of a mindset that gives rise to faithful service in the Kingdom. The service is summarized in one word – love (John 13:34-35). The command to love is not new and it begins with the household of God (1 John 3:23; 4:7-12, 19-21). This mindset is the mindset of Christ (Matt. 27:12-14, 34-44; 1 Peter 2:22-23; 4:19).
You could summarize Paul’s exhortation as: put on the mindset of Christ. This is exactly what he wrote in Philippians 2:3-5. The continuing and end result of no grumbling and complaining is growth in Christlikeness and the fulfillment of God’s eternal plan as expressed in Ephesians 1:4 for the believer and in Ephesians 5:27 for the Church. Paul is speaking of progressive sanctification of people who were tempted to be pro-self and anti-God. Most would say this description is of the world. The world is less a place and more of an anti-God, pro-self mindset (1 John 2:15-17). The Church and believers throughout the ages are faced with a crooked, perverse, evil, adulterous culture. There is nothing new under the sun (Eccl. 1:9). Sadly, the Church can look so much like the world. God’s people have retained and display the image of Satan rather than the image and mindset of Christ. Paul called for the people to whoa themselves.
What is the put on or replacement for grumbling and complaining? It is not simply a new behavior. Behaviors and actions root from somewhere. They have a source – the heart (Prov. 4:23). At its root grumbling and complaining is dissatisfaction with God and His circumstances – His control. Dissatisfaction flows from a wrong view of God, His providence, and self. Unless the person changes his view of God and self he will continue to be a patterned grumbler and complainer even if it is only within himself. Paul preceded this call to cease and desist as grumblers with the call to work out solutions to their problems (2:12-13). Other people were not the problem. Paul pointed to each one – YOU are the problem. Paul would not have written verses 12-13 if they did not have everything needed for life and godliness. They had the provisions to think, to desire, and to act according to biblical truth.
Armed with the simple but supernatural truths is and should be a strong motivator to trust, hope, and obey. Sandwiched between verses 14-16 which call the people to stop grumbling and complaining is another pillar of truth: the believer is a shining light in the darkness and deadness of the world of anti-God, pro-self people (v.17-18).
You might say that Paul is speaking metaphorically of a whoa sandwich. The whoa is the middle portion and is given in verses 14-16. The ends of the sandwich are given in verses 12-13 and in verses 17-18. Paul reminded the people of life after salvation which included working to bring unity to themselves and the congregation. In that way the Church and believers would not only imitate Christ but also Intratrinitarian activity. On the other end, the Church is a shining light. But the true Light entered into the world and came to His own He was rejected. Therefore, the Church can expect the same response when it is imitating Christ. The Church is light and must function as such (Eph. 5:8-14). The Philippians needed to remember their position in God’s economy and God’s provision for them. So, too, is the Church.
Although Paul does not spell it out in these terms, a person is not a grumbler and complainer when he rejoices and is thankful for Who God is and what He has done. That is the thought content continued in Matthew 22:37-38 expressed in a different form. Matthew 22:39-40 summarized the believer’s relationship to others – he is to love the brethren in tangible ways. Both of these activities are predicated on a changed view of self, God, and others. When that happens contentment comes from simply pleasing God. That was God’s original design for man at creation.
- What is the anti-grumbling/complaining sandwich?
- What biblical truths underlie putting off grumbling and complaining?
- What are the put ons for grumbling and complaining and how would each look in the life of a believer? Remember to discuss changed thoughts and desires, as well as actions.