14 Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure,
“children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”
Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life.
And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.
17 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.
18So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.~ Philippians 2:14-18
C o m p l a i n i n g.
The word the Apostle Paul uses here (in vs. 14) is gongymos (γογγυσμός) which means to murmur, grumble, etc…. It’s something we all do and because of its prevalence in each of our lives, we seldom realize just how detrimental it is. Our complaining, even internalized complaining, can quickly lead to a jaded and divisive heart (“arguing”). Complaining and arguing go hand in hand and they inevitably effect our relationship with God (as we become disgruntled with his provisions) and our relationship with others (as we become annoyed and take them for granted).
In this passage, Paul is challenging the Christians of Philippi going through current persecutions (1:29-30) to replace their “complaining and arguing” (vs. 14) with rejoicing (vs. 17b-18). But he does not do this through coercion by informing them of some type of moral obligation to be joyful. No, Paul draws their attention to the big picture of God’s redemptive plan and reminds them that they are a part of it! In essence, Paul reminds them who they are, who they truly are, in the promises of Christ! And how he does it is sheer apostolic genius!
He first brings their attention to the failures of the Hebrew people in the wilderness after the exodus. “Complaining and arguing” (vs. 14) is a direct quote from Exodus 16 and in Numbers 14-17 describing the actions of the disgruntled Hebrews ungrateful for God’s provisions and Moses’ leadership. Paul immediately reminds the Christians of Philippi that they are God’s covenant people called to be “blameless and pure” (vs. 15), quoting from Genesis 17:1 when God renamed Abraham and promised (covenanted) to bring everlasting blessing to his descendants. Once more, he draws the church of Philippi’s attention to the failures of the Hebrews in the wilderness be quoting Deuteronomy 32:5 and calling them to live like they are God’s children (i.e., the children of the eternal promise) and for them not live like the disgruntled and argumentative Hebrews in the wilderness (“a warped and crooked generation” vs. 15a).
Paul then brings their attention to the fact that they are those who the prophet Daniel saw “shining like the heavens and leading many to righteousness” (Daniel 12:3) and that their lives should shine forth God’s blessings and bring “life” to others (vs. 15b-16a).
Basically, Paul was telling them: Complaining doesn’t fit who you truly are for you are children of the promise! In light of that, what do you and I really have to complain about? Rather than complaining about our persecution, we should be rejoicing.
You and I also need to remember who we truly are in the promises of Christ. Remembering that we are the children of promise – promised the inclusion into the renewed heavens and earth (Is. 65:17-25; Phil 2:16) and promised new resurrected (sinless and deathless) bodies (Phil. 3:20-21). This is Paul's remedy to our tendency to complain and murmur.
What’s interesting (and sad) about the nature of our complaining is that most of our complaints stem from our blessings. We’re blessed with relationships but complain and murmur about how this person or that person bothers us. We’re blessed with our home but complain about taking care of it. We’re blessed with a computer but complain about how slow it is. We’re blessed with a car but murmur about how old it’s getting.
There’s an old rabbinical story about an interaction between two Hebrew men during the exodus. As they were walking through the parted waters of the Red Sea one began to complain to the other about all the mud gathering between his toes and in his sandals. And the story states that because their heads were down, they couldn’t see the walls of water to the right and to the left left. They were surrounded by blessing but didn’t see it. Our tendency to act just like these two men is so strong. In the midst of so many blessings we often focus on the mud between our toes instead of the waters of blessing to our right and left.
And what Paul is saying in this passage is when we replace our tendency to complain with rejoicing by remembering who we truly are in the promises of Christ, we will “shine” like stars “holding out the word of life” (vs. 15b-16a) to those who so desperately need it around us.
May we shine like the stars!