‘Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation in which you shine like stars in the universe….’ Philippians 2 v 14-15 NIV

Shining brightly is not an unusual concept for the Christian; but here in Philippians we get a greater sense of what shining brightly might involve?

On close inspection it seems like Paul is almost daring to say that the key to our shining brightly is not so much about what we do, but more importantly about what we don’t do when we do what we do, do!

‘Do everything withoutcomplaining or arguing.’  So in everything, in all that we do, which is fairly comprehensive, we are to do it, all of it, without the negative attitudes of grumbling and complaining that are unfitting for the child of God.  This is inescapably challenging, because its so painfully obvious what we’re not supposed to do, and yet we all do it so easily. 

I’m reminded of the old expression; ‘it’s not the bits of the Bible I don’t understand that trouble me, rather it’s the bits that I understand all too well, & yet fail miserably to apply.’  

Do everything without complaining or arguing is probably one of the clearest and most obvious verses to apply in the Bible, and yet this is probably one of the most common problems encountered in churches all across the country.  And it is sin.  Sin that we too often excuse and fail to address, because it comes so naturally to us.

We moan and grumble about someone or something and spread a negative report and create a negative atmosphere in the company of others (in the company of the congregation), often all very causally and subtly, and yet it’s destructive and damaging and causes division and prevents us shining like stars.  

And then we have the arguing, disputing and questioning, which is first and foremost an internal attitude that doubts and distrusts and debates the decisions and actions of others, but then expresses itself in defiant, arrogant, nit-picking and useless bickering and disputing.  The kind of people who just have to push back on everything, always want to challenge, always want to air their opinions, criticise and question the wisdom of others, sowing division and disharmony and distrust in the congregation.  

In reality most of the problems that afflict the church are not usually the consequence of external opposition, or serious threats from outside or attacks on the church from the surrounding culture, but rather they are the product of grumbling and questioning voices, that slowly but surely work their way into the very fabric of the community and tear it apart from the inside.  

Unfortunately this is not a new experience unique to the 21st Century church, historically these attitudes have tarnished the lives and relationships of Gods people;  

Think about the Israelites….  A simple walk through the history of the Israelites as they made their exodus from Egypt and wandered in the desert for 40 years is rife with examples of grumbling and questioning.

Israel’s response to their spectacular deliverance from Egypt, at the hand of their awesome God, who performed incredible miracles on their behalf, was not mainly praise, worship, thanksgiving and wholehearted trust, but rather Israel responds mainly with grumbling, complaining, murmuring, quarrelling and questioning (E.g. Exodus 15-17).  “There’s no water, Moses, where’s the steak and chips Moses, I have blisters on my feet Moses, Who made you the boss anyway Moses, We were better off dying in Egypt, why did you bring us here to die?  Where exactly are we going Moses, do you even know, how much longer Moses, you brought us here to destroy us.”  

Grumble, grumble, grumble, dispute, dispute, dispute, all the while forgetting God’s gracious and miraculous deliverance from Egypt, forgetting that God was with them and for them, forgetting that God could be trusted to do what others cannot do.  They’ve just walked across the Red Sea on dry ground, as God miraculously parted the waters, and then they witnessed the waves come crashing back down on their enemies, and yet they can’t gratefully and patiently wait for God to lead them along each next step of the journey.    

And before we point the finger, let us recognise that we can all be a bit like the Israelites; Rather than live with a heart of gratitude, thanksgiving and trust, knowing that God has graciously forgiven all our sins at the cross (so we can forgive others), that he has rescued us from bleak and eternal darkness, and given us everlasting joy in His presence, promised to never leave us nor forsake us, given us the sure and certain hope of a glorious future, we choose to focus on all that we don’t have and the people that we don’t like and the decisions that we wouldn’t have made and grumble against one another and our leaders and our brothers and sisters in Christ and ultimately grumble against God.  

Listen, if you’re a good grumbler, if you’re a persistent grumbler, then you are wearing the wrong outfit, it’s an outfit not fitting for the child of God, and you need to discard it;  stop it, shut your mouth, keep quiet, pray, trust God, because if you don’t then you’re going to contribute to the destruction of God’s church.  

Listen to what Paul says to the Galatians: 

‘You my brothers and sisters, were called to be free, but do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature, rather serve one another in love.  The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’  If you keep on biting and devouring each other[which is what grumbling and complaining is], watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.’ Gal 5:13-15

Paul is also quite clear elsewhere that we should only allow to come out of our mouths that which is useful for building others up, according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen and hear what we say (Ephesians 4:29).  

We each need to take personal responsibility for rooting out all grumbling and disputing, and recognise how crucial this is to our ability to shine for Jesus.   And by the way, this includes our facial expressions and body language. A roll of the eyes can sow as much division and disunity as a negative outburst, in fact in some ways it’s worse, because it’s more difficult to deal with because it’s so subtle.   

Remember the goal is that we shine like stars in the universe, and we may be tempted to think that to shine like a star means we’ve got to accomplish some great heroic exploits for the kingdom of God!! And all that may be good, but here in Philippians it would appear that you can be a star if you just stop grumbling and arguing with people (if you just change your negative attitude).  

So how do we get there?  How do we do all things without grumbling and disputing? Here are 4 things to think about:

1. Think before you speak. 

This is especially important when we feel strongly about something or are wound up or frustrated by someone or something. Sometimes we think that just because we feel a certain way or know something about someone or something we’ve got to get it off our chest, or we’ve got to say what we think (we’re just being real and honest).  But such honesty is not necessarily biblical.  What we say should build up, and help, and add value, not discourage, hinder & tear down.  So T.H.I.N.K before you offload; is it True, is it Helpful, is it Inspiring (uplifting), is it Necessary, is it Kind.  

2.Stop being so quick to judge others & focus more on your own responsibility before Christ. 

We grumble and question usually when we are disappointed, frustrated or upset by the actions or attitudes of others, so our focus is on what others have or haven’t done.  But our first objective should be to turn the finger back the other way, and work harder on our own character and conduct than we do on evaluating the character and conduct of others.  How do I honour Christ, irrespective of what others are or aren’t doing.  And that might mean speaking the truth in love for the sake of helping someone else grow, helping build someone else up, but you won’t ever achieve that by grumbling and moaning about them behind their backs to others.

3. Make a habit of remembering all that God has done for you.  

The Israelites had too short a memory and that led them into a spiral of negative murmuring.  What you choose to feed on, will determine the aroma you give off.  Feed on Christ, and you’ll give off the aroma of Christ.  And you might protest; “it’s all very well saying focus on Christ but you don’t understand what is happening to me, and what this person did to me, and the fact that no one came to help me, and the church is not doing this right, and I’m the only one who cares, and the chairs are too dirty, and the coffee’s too strong, and the kids are too noisy and the leaders are too busy etc etc etc, you just don’t understand what I have to put up with!?”  And the truth is we can choose to focus on all that stuff, all the offences against us, all the problems with others, but then don’t be surprised at the aroma you give off? You’ll end up stinking!  

Rather, choose to focus on Christ, and all he has done for you; Wow! He loves me, he saved me, he has adopted me into his family, he protects me, he’s given me a hope and a future, I’m secure, he’s forgiven me, he keeps on loving me, despite how sinful and selfish I am, wow! Thank you Jesus. Focus on Christ and then see what aroma you give off? Jesus what a beautiful name, what a sweet fragrance.  And yet you want to feed on the rubbish?? Why ever would you choose to do that? Remember what’s yours in Christ.  Remember how much you are loved by Christ. Remember what He went through for you.

4. Be thankful, be very thankful.  

The antidote to a grumbling spirit is a thankful spirit. So feed the thankful spirit.  Deliberately, intentionally, consistently, learn the art of giving thanks in all circumstances, and learn to be thankful for every small and precious blessing that fills your life, and declare it, speak it out, share it, sing it, say it, rejoice in it.  It will change your life.  Whenever you are tempted to grumble or complain, find a reason to be thankful and fix your thoughts on that, and confess it.  

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that…. so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.

Let’s continue to work out our salvation, ensuring that it affects our speech and actions, our conversations and conduct, so that Christ can be exalted and encountered in all His beauty in our world.

Post by: Martin Coleman