Someone once penned the analogy that Christians are to be more like thermostats than thermometers. A thermometer reflects the temperature, a thermostat sets the temperature. Christians are to influence behavior rather than simply parrot the behavior of the environment they are in.
One of the ways we become thermostats is to realize that sometimes things we consider to be minor, really aren’t so minor. Let me give you a little quiz. Is putting oil in your car occasionally a minor thing, or a major thing? Is remembering to take your medicine a little thing or a big thing? Is remembering to pay your taxes a little thing or a big thing? Is forgetting your wife’s birthday a minor thing or a major thing?
This morning we look at a command that on the surface seems to be good advice but really a minor thing. But as we study this passage I think you will find that Paul is not talking about a minor thing; but a major thing.
Paul has just told us to “work out our salvation in fear and trembling.” He said we need to do this in a serious and consistent fashion. He has also encouraged us to rely on the help that God will give us. Keep this context in mind because it makes more significant what Paul says next,
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 as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me. (Phil. 2:14-18)
To be really honest, when I read these words my first thought was “O man . . . !” It seemed like the apostle had crossed the line between preaching and meddling.
The word translated complaining or grumbling is an onomatopoetic word. What that means is that the Greek word, gongusmos sounds like what it is describing. In other words, complaining and grumbling has the same kind of growling sound that the word itself has.
We see grumbling all around us. We grumble about employers, coaches, teachers, spouses, pastors, politicians. We grumble about the weather, we grumble about the price of everything, and at times, we even grumble about how God runs the universe.
Grumbling is when we are whispering in the corners. It’s when we complain and yes . . . when we whine. The grumbling person always sees the negative side of everything. They are the people who live by some of Murphy’s Laws
- Nothing is as easy as it looks; everything takes longer than you think; if anything can go wrong it will
- The other line always moves faster
- The chance of bread falling with the peanut butter-and-jelly side down is directly proportional to the cost of the carpet.
- Inside every large problem is a series of small problems struggling to get out.
- 90% of everything is crud
- Whatever hits the fan will not be evenly distributed
- No matter how long or hard you shop for an item, after you’ve bought it, it will be on sale somewhere cheaper.
- Any tool dropped while repairing a car will roll underneath to the exact center.
- The repairman will never have seen a model quite like yours before.
Grumbling people are unhappy people. A grumbler always feels like they are being cheated. They always highlight the negative traits of others. They are always ready to pick a fight. And these are people that for some reason seem to feel better about themselves when they can complain about others. They aren’t very happy and it comes out in the things they say.
Grumbling people are annoying people. These folks have the marvelous ability to suck the life out of any party. After you talk to a grumbling person for very long you feel exhausted. A complainer has the tendency to “infect” everyone around them. Nothing is ever good enough for a complainer. They always know better. They will never know the sweet satisfaction of contentment. A complainer is like a cancer. They spread their venom wherever they go. They like to play the part of martyr. They feel that no one likes them. And for the most part, they’re right.
A Grumbling person is at heart a person who resists what God has given. God wants us to receive all His gifts with trust and with joy. The complainer doesn’t do this.
In Numbers 14 the Israelites sent spies into the land God had promised to the Israelites. These twelve spies came back with their report. They talked about what a good and fertile land it was. And then they began to grumble. They said the people were too big and strong. They declared that it would be impossible for them to take the land.
God was fed up with the complaining. Since the people didn’t have the faith to trust Him and instead chose to complain, God decided that He would condemn these people to die in the wilderness. You probably didn’t know this, but the reason the Israelites wandered for 40 years in the desert was because they chose to grumble rather than believe.
In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul points to this same occasion and writes,
And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. 1 Corinthians 10:10-14
I find it interesting that Paul talks about learning a lesson from the grumbling of the Israelites and follows it up with the command, “flee from idolatry”. This is not coincidence. Paul realizes that grumbling is a sign that we are trusting our analysis of things rather than God’s analysis. We are using our tactics instead of His. We are insisting that we know what we need better than He does. We are playing God. And that is idolatry.
Paul also says we should not argue. The word for arguing is the word dialogismos. It’s the same word from which we get our word dialog. There are two parts of this command.
First, we are not to argue with each other. You and I both know that not much can be accomplished in an argument. Tempers flare, good judgment disappears, and no one listens. We know that many people have turned away from the gospel because they got tired of watching Christians fight.
We need to adopt the philosophy of Jesus. He chose to remain silent when accused rather than give his opponents cause for action. We would be very wise to adopt the posture of silence as well rather than strike out. It is better to be mistreated than to turn people away from the gospel of truth.
Second, and more importantly we are not to argue with God. We question His ways, we resist His commands, we want to “discuss things” with the Almighty. Any time we do this we take a step away from trust and a step toward rebellion. I think it is certainly acceptable for us to express our confusion and our frustration with the things of life. But when we begin to attack God’s wisdom, we cross a line. As God said to Job, “Who are you to question the Almighty”.
So we are to keep from complaining and from arguing. Maybe it’s better to try to state this in terms of positives. In that case we would say that we are called to be encouraging, positive, affirming, loving and trusting.
The difficult condition
These commands are tough enough but Paul doesn’t just say that we should try not to complain when life gets difficult. He says that we are to do everything without complaining or arguing. Let that sink in for a minute. There are lots of things we can do without complaining and arguing . . . but everything? That is like saying that you have to give up all sweets. You may have no trouble giving up many of the sweets but ALL of them?
I was wondering how taking this command seriously would impact our lives.
- What would it mean for doing our chores?
- How would it change the way we watched an extracurricular activity at the school?
- How would it impact how we respond to interruptions?
- How would it change the community discussions about school consolidation?
- What difference would it make to the way we get out of bed in the morning?
- How would it change our conversation about other churches?
- How would it change the way we handle differences of opinion?
- How would it change our discussions of politics or the church?
- What would happen to gossip?
- What would the guys say when they come into Bible Study on Wednesday morning?
Paul doesn’t give us any loopholes here. He says we are to put grumbling and arguing away. Instead we are to be positive, calm, and trusting people. But what is really surprising is the reason he gives us for this.
In the text Paul follows his commands with the words “so that”. It means that Paul is now listing for us the consequences of living a positive, trusting life instead of a grumbling, contentious life. Paul is giving us the pay off for working at our conversation. Listen to the text,
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—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.
I see three reasons for eliminating complaining and contention from our lives. The first reason is that this kind of attitude is essential to spiritual growth. Do you hear that? You cannot become blameless, pure or without fault as long as you are a complainer! Ouch!
These words all encourage us to so live so that others will have no reason to blame us or accuse us. We are to be pure which means we are to be blameless not only externally but also in our heart. We are to be people who harbor no ill-will, provoke no conflict, engage in no backbiting or slander. We are to live like Jesus whose opponents could find nothing against Him.
This is impossible to do if we are constantly grumbling about others, our circumstances, and our “raw deal” in life. If we are going to live blameless, pure and without fault, we will have to develop a different attitude and learn to speak differently. James understood this. He wrote, “If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.” Jas. 3:2
So you tell me, “Is this a little thing or a big thing?” Our attitude and demeanor has a big impact on our spiritual maturity.
Second when we don’t grumble or argue we become a beacon in a dark and dreary world. We are told that the world is crooked and depraved. It is a place where truth is distorted. Let’s face it, all you have to do is look around and flip through the channels on television to know that this analysis of the world is certainly true. But our interest is not to whine about the world (remember, we aren’t to grumble!). What we need to see is that Paul says that when we act with a cheerful and trusting attitude we will bring light to the darkness. We stand in stark contrast to those around us.
The image here is not improbably taken from light-houses on a seacoast. The image then is, that as those light-houses are placed on a dangerous coast to apprise vessels of their peril, and to save them from shipwreck, so the light of Christian piety shines on a dark world, and in the dangers of the voyage which we are making (Albert Barnes )
Our light shines when we “hold fast” the Word of Truth. We must stand solidly on the Bible and the message it proclaims. And if we do we will shine like lights in the world. We will, like a lighthouse, help to turn many away from destruction.
We talked about how people have left churches because of conflict. It is also true that many are drawn to Christ because of the loving people they meet. In the early church the people on the outside may not have understood the gospel, but what they did understand was that the Christians loved each other. People were drawn to these people because their light shone brightly.
It shouldn’t be as unique as it is, but those who are positive, encouraging, loving, patient, willing to suffer rather than strike out, stick out in the world. People notice those folks and want to know what make them “tick”.
Every time you and I get sucked into one of those conversations where we sit around and criticize everyone, we say to the world, that we are no different than they are. Our witness is diminished and our light dims.
Paul gives one final reason for living this way,
in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.
Paul says when you act in this way you not only stand as light in the world, you make others proud. Paul was a Pastor. I can really understand his heart here. When I see growth in you it makes me feel like my labor has been directed well. When you excel in matters of faith I share in your success. I understand what Paul is saying.
But you also understand, especially if you are a parent. If you have ever watched your child excel you know that there is a sense of pride that you feel also. When you see your children mature into responsible adults your feel like you must have done something right as a parent. I think this is what Paul is saying. When our words are joyful, enthusiastic and with restrained we show that our teachers did well.
When we live consistent, God-honoring lives others are encouraged. Other believers draw strength from our example and they are spurred on in their faith. When a believer stands confidently in the time of trial others are encouraged to stand. When a believer holds their tongue others are encouraged to do likewise.
I love Eugene Peterson’s rendering of this passage,
Do everything readily and cheerfully—no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night so I’ll have good cause to be proud of you on the day that Christ returns. You’ll be living proof that I didn’t go to all this work for nothing.
O.K., so now it is time for the rubber to hit the road. If you look at this backwards here’s what we have: if you want to bring joy to the Father, if you want to bring joy to those who have taught you, if you want to shine like a lighthouse on a storm-tossed sea, and if you want to be a sensible voice in a confused world, the way to begin is to stop grumbling and arguing!
Our attitude toward our daily life and our attitude toward each other apparently has a great impact on the world in which we live. Our willingness to trust God rather than debate with God apparently is more important than we realized.
So, what do we do? How do we begin the process of change? Probably we should start by recognizing that we will need to make some changes. I speak as a fellow struggler who has on occasion enjoyed a “pity party” or two. Here are some suggestions for you and for me.
- When you get up in the morning try saying, “Good morning, Lord!” rather than “Oh No”
- When you start to argue with God learn to say, “Lord, I don’t understand . . .help me to trust you.”
- Ask someone to make a grumbling sound every time they hear you complaining or arguing.
- Look for productive ways to deal with problems rather than standing around and criticizing
- Avoid gossip
- Keep a flashlight, lighter or picture of a starry night in a prominent place and use it to remind you that you are to shine like the stars in a crooked and depraved world.
- Remind yourself that your attitude is a choice. Someone has written,
I woke up early today, excited over all I get to do before the clock strikes midnight. I have responsibilities to fulfill today. I am important. My job is to choose what kind of day I am going to have.
Today I can complain because the weather is rainy or I can be thankful that the grass is getting watered for free. Today I can feel sad that I don’t have more money or I can be glad that my finances encourage me to plan my purchases wisely and guide me away from waste. Today I can grumble about my health or I can rejoice that I am alive. Today I can lament over all that my parents didn’t give me when I was growing up or I can feel grateful that they allowed me to be born. Today I can cry because roses have thorns or I can celebrate that thorns have roses. Today I can mourn my lack of friends or I can excitedly embark upon a quest to discover new relationships. Today I can whine because I have to go to work or I can shout for joy because I have a job to do. Today I can complain because I have to go to school or eagerly open my mind and fill it with rich new tidbits of knowledge. Today I can murmur dejectedly because I have to do housework or I can feel honored because I’ve been provided shelter for my mind and body. Today stretches ahead of me, waiting to be shaped. And here I am, the sculptor who gets to do the shaping. What today will be like is up to me. I get to choose what kind of day I will have!
It all sounds so simple doesn’t it? And yet you and I know it is not as easy as it sounds. Every time we resolve to change our attitude, Satan will be determined to point us to the negative. For every advance we make, Satan will remind us of every failure. I wish we could just snap our fingers and change our attitude, but we can’t. But God can help us change. He can help us see people instead of opponents; opportunities rather than burdens; joy instead of drudgery; grace rather than bondage; hope rather than despair. He can help us trust rather than fret; wait rather than panic; and believe rather than fight.
And while God is doing all these things inside of us, He will help the world see light instead of darkness and truth instead of error. And He’ll do that through you. The question that remains is this: do you want to be a thermostat or a thermometer?