Do All Things Without Grumbling or Disputing
Philippians 2:14-18 – Philippians: Life Together
Second Sunday in Lent – February 25, 2018 (am)
One sheet of paper and a writing stick. That’s how Mr. Floyd, my 12th grade Civics teacher, used to introduce a pop quiz. That single statement made my blood run cold. His tests were tough enough, but you knew they were coming and you could get prepared. Pop quizzes were a whole different story.
Mr. Wise, my college Greek professor, used to open class every day by reading the roll. Then he would pray. Immediately after the prayer he would either begin his daily lecture or he’d say: Take out a sheet of paper. The former brought an audible exhale of relief from the class, and the latter a wide array of groans. Sometimes he’d pause for a cruelly long time surveying the notes on his lectern before he would say anything. It was nerve-racking, and he loved it!
Today, I want to issue a pop quiz in Philippians. But I’m not really quizzing you, Paul is quizzing all of us. Now, there are no questions in the text—Paul gives one main command: 14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing. Then he spells out some of the implications. And all of this is amplification of a command just given in vv.12-13: Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. So, how do we do that, begin to work out (our) salvation with fear and trembling? What does it look like to cooperate with God’s working in our lives? Vv.14-18 answer this question. But, rather than just explaining this passage, I want to turn it around and pose questions from what it’s teaching us. Much like a classroom teacher who surveys his lecture material to form quiz or test questions, we’ll be asking things that draw out Paul’s key themes and ideas. Let’s pose just three practical questions.
Do we grasp the purpose of principled self-denial? (14-16a)
That’s how D. A. Carson (63) expresses what Paul is calling for here. 14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, without complaining or arguing (Martin 121), without grudgingly murmuring (WSD NT) about the behavior of others or arguing (L-N) with them from opposite sides of the fence, doubting their intentions, or their perceptions (WSDNT). 14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing because it gets in the way of your witness. Do it so 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…. Do it so that the light of the gospel will shine in this world that needs it so badly, and lacks it so clearly. By the power of the gospel, for the sake of the gospel, set aside the natural responses of your personal insecurity and self-importance as an intentional expression we could label: principled self-denial. We need this everywhere in our lives!
We can (grumble) and (dispute) about almost anything! And we actually do (grumble) and (dispute) about almost everything! We can even do it in the privacy of our own minds! We don’t need anyone else in earshot to (grumble) to or (dispute) with; we’re just as capable of doing it when we’re alone as when we’re in a crowd. I can (grumble) and (dispute) at other drivers when they’re sealed up in their cars! They’re often near enough where they should be able to hear me! But they can’t. I can (grumble) and (dispute) from the moment I wake up in the morning until I fall asleep at night. Then I can take up grumbling and disputing in my dreams!
We (grumble) and (dispute) about what people wear, about how they talk, about when they arrive and when they leave. I once heard two (Christian) women grumbling about someone else’s fingernails. Men, we can (dispute) with a referee who’s hundreds of miles away inside a noisy stadium—talking to him like he’s right in front of us—about whether some guy’s foot touched on a line, or not. We can (grumble) and (dispute) about church, worship, preaching, music, evangelism, missions—about anything at all!
But Scripture says: 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, Paul’s meaning is pretty clear. But his word-choice is also quite interesting. A crooked and twisted generation specifically recalls the experience of Israel (Exo.17:3) when they grumbled against Moses and (disputed) with him in the wilderness. And v.15 recalls the song of Moses that references this same event. He identified Israel as a crooked and twisted generation, blemished, and no longer (God’s) children (Deu.32:5).
On the heels of the charge here in vv.12-13 to work out (our) salvation with fear and trembling, then, Paul begins by urging us not to follow in the footsteps of God’s old covenant people, but to succeed where they failed. Bottom line: something far bigger is going on here than we’re inclined to realize. Much more is at stake. We can believe that our grumbling and disputing is a contained, personal expression that doesn’t really hurt anyone else. But that just ignores what it actually is.
Why do we (grumble) and (dispute)? Why do we complain and argue? James (4:1) said it’s because (our) passions are at war within (us). We feel like something is absent that should be present, or something’s present that should be absent. Things just aren’t how they ought to be. But Who is the true Object of our grumbling and disputing when we give in to it? Who’s responsible for making things the way they ought to be? Who’s actually able—Who alone is able—to restore things to the way they ought to be? Is it not God? And isn’t, the way things ought to be, the short definitions of shalom, peace, the exclusive gift of God and the unique indication of His presence? So, Who is the true Object of our grumbling and disputing when we give in to it? God alone. Grumbling and disputing is us telling God that we don’t believe He’s capable of handling the situation before us. We repeat Israel’s sin, but don’t expect their consequences!
Don’t (grumble) against God or His people, perhaps His leaders. Live before Him in innocent purity, without blemish, blameless, by receiving the salvation Jesus provided, and following the example He set in providing it. He humbled himself (8) before God and this world. He laid down His life as a sacrifice to reconcile rebels to God, and to one another. This’s what Paul is saying, just as we heard back in vv.3-4. In fact, the hymn celebrating the humiliation and exaltation of Jesus (6-11), along with the call to work out (our) salvation in cooperation with God who works in (us) (12-13), is surrounded by charges toward humility in our relationships with one another, imitating Jesus. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. … Now, 14 do all things without grumbling or disputing. This is what results when we press hard to 5 have this mind among (ourselves), which is (ours) in Christ Jesus (5), to let (our) manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ (1:27), to work out (our) own salvation with fear and trembling (12). We’re enabled by God (working) in (us) (13) actually to 14 do all things without grumbling or disputing.
We’re enabled to live as 15 … blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation. And so we stand apart by God’s grace from all the corruption and misdeeds of this world. In fact, we shine as lights in the world, just like we’re told will happen in the last days (Dan.12): 3 … Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. There our (shining) will turn many to righteousness. Here it enables us to (hold) fast to the word of life, to (hold) it (forth) (YLT, NAS alt.). So, when we put away grumbling and disputing in cooperation with God who is (working) in (us) (13) to bring that about, we’re (showing forth) a (shining) witness to the life-giving power of the gospel in this world. We’re standing apart from this world like (shining) stars against the night sky. We become like neon signs in the darkness, affirming and authenticating the gospel.
Do we grasp the purpose of this principled self-denial, the significance of it, what’s at stake? Do we embrace the beauty of it as a unique manifestation of the mind of Christ being among us? Do we see that this is not just about controlling our tongue, or even our thoughts, so that life will go a bit easier for us, but it’s about manifesting, living out, the unique presence and power of the gospel, the priorities of the Place of our true citizenship (cf. 3:20)?
This is question #1 on our pop quiz this morning.
Are we blessed to please mature Christian leaders? (16b)
Now this seems like an odd question, doesn’t it? Aren’t we supposed to try not to be man-pleasers? Now we’re suggesting that one of the tests of whether we’re living in a manner worthy of the gospel is whether we are pleasing men? Our answer is, yes, but it’s not just any men. The ones we’re striving to please mature Christian leaders (Carson 63). Paul wrote that the Philippians should be 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ—Judgment Day—(he) may be proud that (he) did not run in vain or labor in vain. So, is Paul turning selfish all of a sudden after just having urged the Philippians (3) to do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit? Is he only concerned about them so that he will look good on Judgment Day? No, of course not!
First, it’s not himself that he’s seeking to be proud of on Judgment Day; it’s them! He’s laboring to help them understand and excel in areas that only God can do within them. And the pride that will be in his heart on test day is like the pride in a teacher’s heart when his students excel on a standardized test—not the unit test that he himself makes up, but a standardized test that’s been crafted by others to assess the comparative knowledge of all students in some given areas. You might see the teacher reviewing the results of such a test and saying: Yes! They got it! They understood! And a Christian teacher might even finish that celebration with: Praise the Lord! That’s what Paul is talking about. These people whom I love—I hold (them) in my heart (1:7)—are actually ready to meet Jesus!
In this sense, then, it’s in the Philippians best interest to seek to please Paul—one who’s eager to see true Christian growth among them, and who answers to God for his work with them. But, I know that this question might still seem odd. So, let me put it one other way. Mentoring is a popular approach to growth and development in many areas these days. But it’s long been the biblical model for spiritual growth. We call it discipleship. It’s best illustrated by Paul’s work with Timothy (2Ti.2:1-2), or maybe Barnabas’ with John Mark (Act.15:39), or Priscilla and Aquila’s with Apollos (Act.18:26). It’s captured most eloquently and efficiently in 2Ti.2 where Paul wrote to Timothy: 1 You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Pass it on.
This is an established pattern. Many of you probably have mentors, and many others likely desire one. But can you even imagine having a mentor—an older person whose walk with you Lord you truly respect—and not seeking to please him/her in your walk? Worse, can you imagine being unconcerned with their disapproval? What, after all, is a mentor? I’ve had five men in my life since I was in my teens whose walk with the Lord I’ve sought to imitate in some way. You’ve heard me describe it before: when I fix my eyes on Jesus, these guys were right in my line of vision. They were on the trail with me toward Christlikeness, but were farther along. When I looked at Him, I saw them as well. That’s essential to being a good mentor. And the approval of such people means much to us in our walk with Christ, and our learning what pleases Him.
That’s question #2 on our pop quiz: are we striving to please mature Christian leaders on our way to Judgment Day?
Do we rejoice at the thought of being a living sacrifice? (17-18)
If we wondered in v.16 whether Paul was drawing undue attention to himself, v.17 gives a clear answer. Continuing on with OT imagery, he likens the Philippians principled self-denial—their walk of faith, including undying effort to work out (their) salvation with fear and trembling (12), to let their manner of life be worthy of the gospel (1:27) because God is (at work) in (them)—to a sacrificial offering on the altar. As they are living this life of humble worship and service to God, even if Paul ends up a martyr in Rome, He’ll be glad and rejoice (17), and (they) should also be glad and rejoice with (him) (18).
Amazing, isn’t it? D. A. Carson (63-64) summarizes this well: In this metaphor, the actions of the Philippians constitute the primary “sacrifice.” They give themselves to Christ and commit themselves to pleasing him, whatever the cost. Then, if Paul gives up his life, his sacrifice is merely a kind of (drink offering) poured out on top of their sacrifice. Such a (drink offering) is meaningless unless it is poured out on a more substantial sacrifice. But their Christian living is that sacrifice; Paul’s martyrdom—should it occur—or the pains, suffer-ing, and persecutions he faces as an apostle are the complementary drink offering poured over theirs. Paul says, in effect, “If I suffer, or even lose my life, in a sacrifice poured out on top of your principled self-denial, I am delighted. What I don’t want is to die a martyr’s death without any corresponding fruit in your life. As it is, whatever small sacrifice I am called upon to make is but a complimentary 64 capstone to the sacrifice that all Christians are called to make. In this I will rejoice.” “So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.”
The Philippians calling, then—our calling—is to present (our) bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is (our) spiritual worship (Rom.12:1). Do we rejoice at that thought? Are we good with the idea that (we) have been crucified with Christ and (we) no longer live, but Christ lives in us such that the life (we) now in (our bodies we) live by faith in the Son of God, who loved (us) and gave himself for (us)? Is that a happy thought?
Do we see that our grumbling and disputing is not just an isolated issue, a personal perspective, or problem? Do we see it as an egregious offense against God that doubts His goodness, His presence, that repeats the sin of Israel which resulted in His calling them a crooked and twisted generation? Do we see it as a disease that infects the church with a virus deadens our eyes and ears and heart and mind to the calling that unites us, to our mission in this world?
A few more questions: do we recognize what we lose when we tolerate grumbling and disputing, when we indulge it? Can we really even know what’s lost, what we might’ve had but don’t, what might’ve happened but didn’t? Yet, with a condition like this that runs so deep in our hearts that we can often be doing it and not even realize it, what hope do we have of laying it down, of actually (doing) all things without grumbling or disputing?
This is where we return to the gospel and revel in the fact that not only are our sins forgiven and our relationship with God and one another repaired, but by faith in Christ that rocket that Nick mentioned last Sunday has indeed been strapped to the chassis of our 1995 Chevy Corsica. When we are in Christ, never forget that God, Who spoke the universe into existence, (is working) in (us), both to will and to work for his good pleasure (13). So, every effort of ours to hear His Word and obey it—every effort to work out (our) own salvation, even if with fear and trembling (12)—is not only guided and directed, but initiated and enabled by the God of the universe Who gave us this charge in the first place!
And this one is special. It’s special because a stated part of the outcome of our (working) to put away grumbling and disputing is an enhanced readiness to go out into the world and pursue our primary mission, and to do it in a way that eternally pleases God! So, it will also certainly straighten out our perspective on the things around us that can draw out our grumbling and disputing. But can you imagine being free of those? What a blessing! And can you imagine what sort of witness this would actually offer in this world, to see a people free of grumbling and disputing?
The old Sunday School Times told a fascinating story (Tan 7385) about a missionary physician in China who cured a man of cataracts by means of an operation. Several weeks later he arrived back at the clinic holding onto a rope, and behind him, led along by that rope, were forty-eight blind men who had walked to that clinic, some from as far away as 250 miles. This man had gained his sight. And when a blind man has been enabled to see you can be sure that everyone he meets will hear the story, and that many more blind men will come.
I wonder, then, what we might expect when dead people have been made alive, when sinners are made clean and are freed from every expression of grumbling and disputing?