Without Grumbling or Disputing
The apostle Paul wrote, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life…” (Phil 2:14-16).
Other words for “grumbling or disputing” may be used. Paul is saying that Christians ought not to be constantly complaining, arguing, muttering, and fussing. These instructions come on the heels of some other significant points Paul is making. He has already told the hearers that they are to be of the same mind and intent, doing nothing from selfish ambition or empty conceit, but with humility of mind esteeming others as more important than self (vv. 2-4). He points to Jesus as the supreme example of this mentality, the One who, though God in the flesh, completely denies Himself and went to the cross for others (vv. 5-8).
Contrast, then, the mindset of Jesus in going to the cross with the one is complaining and disputing about things. The complainer, the disputer, sees things in terms of self. The mind of Christ sees things in terms of others and is willing to suffer for their sakes. The complaining mind, then, is against Christ’s mind.
Notice further that Paul gives an immediate reason for Christians not to complain and grumble. Proving ourselves as blameless and innocent is directly connected to doing all things without complaining. This, in turn, is vital for being “above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.” The demeanor we show to the world will impact those around us. Our concern here is given: we appear as lights in the world. If what people see is that we are constantly angry, fighting, fussing, complaining, or disputing, they will not be seeing light. Recall what Jesus said about this:
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:14-16).
People are watching and listening. They can see lights shining in the darkness or they can see us making hypocritical claims about following Christ as we fight, complain, and murmur about what’s going on around us. If we are given to complaining, grumbling, and disputing, then it will not matter how committed we are otherwise. It won’t matter how doctrinally sound we might be. It won’t matter how “faithful” we are in assembling with saints. If we are given to complaining, then we are manifestly out of line with God’s revealed will and we will answer for this. What we need to understand is that this is not just a matter of indifference with God and that this has a direct impact on whether or not we are being lights in the world.
Paul further connects being lights with “holding fast the word of life.” This indicates that we not only are holding firmly to the word, but also holding it forth and offering it to others. As we hold it out for others, we will not be letting go of it ourselves. This idea fits well with being lights in the world.
Paul is showing, then, that Christians are lights in the world (example) who hold firmly to God’s word and offer it to others who are drowning in a world that is crooked and perverse. What does all of this have to do with not complaining and grumbling?
Once again, people are watching and listening. When we show that we are complainers, the world will see people who are not thankful and grateful for the grace that God has given. They will be impressed with people who are not content, people focused on themselves and their own comfort, people who are not willing to arm themselves with the same purpose of Christ (see 1 Peter 4:1-2). This will send a conflicting message to the world. We preach Christ and Him crucified, but we are unwilling to bear the cross ourselves. We preach joy in the Lord, but we are far from joyful. We preach contentment in Christ, but we are discontented and will make sure others know about it. We, like the world around us, are angry, dissatisfied, and ready to dispute. Yet we cannot be this way and at the same be blameless and innocent, lights in the world, and consistently holding forth God’s message.
Let us be committed to being a people who are grateful, free from the grumbling and complaining that caused Israel to be lost in the wilderness. Instead, we must be dedicated to being lights in the world who hold firmly to God’s word as we offer it out for others. As Peter also said, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Pet 2:12).