Today’s text includes a command that we do all things without grumbling or disputing. I have a confession to make. I often fail to live up to the standards given in today’s passage. Just this morning I caught myself grumbling about something to my wife. Perhaps you too struggle with grumbling and disputing. If so, there is good news for both you and me. Not only is there forgiveness in Christ, but we have a higher calling, and in Christ we have been given everything we need to honor God with our lives.
Follow along with me as I read Philippians 2:14-18 from the English Standard Version:
“Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 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, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.”
This is the Holy Word of God. Let us pray…
We have received the light of Christ, and we are the light of Christ. Earlier in this book we saw that Jesus Christ humbled himself, became a servant, and lay down his life for us. He has offered us salvation, paying for it with his very blood. We have heard this good news and received it, the light of Christ. And now we who have been saved are called not only to bow the knee to Jesus, but also to shine the light of the gospel in the world around us, to show by our lives what it looks like to be the redeemed of God!
1. Since we have received the light of Christ, we must not grumble or dispute.
All who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ have been forgiven of their sins. We have been cleansed from all our guilt, and our shame has been removed! We have been declared righteous, clothed with the good works of Jesus Christ! Yet we have not reached heaven yet. We still live in a fallen world. Disappointment is common. While we have all the riches of heaven at our disposal, while we have received and been sealed with the Holy Spirit who lives in us, we still tend to grumble and dispute with God and with one another. How can this be?
The Israelites grumbled against God many times in the book of Exodus. They wanted a carefree life of luxury. But they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years because they did not have enough faith in God to take possession of the promised land when God first gave it to them. In the midst of the sufferings they faced for their lack of faith, they were given many opportunities to trust in the Lord and walk by faith, yet they failed with every test. When they had little to eat, they grumbled against Moses with such words as, why did you bring us out of Egypt to starve in the wilderness? Rather than thank God for delivering them from slavery in Egypt, rather than trust God to provide for their needs, they grumbled against Moses their leader, and though they probably feared God enough not to grumble against him directly, their complaints were really against the Lord. The Israelites grumbled when Moses was up on the mountain too long, and then they fell into idolatry and built a golden calf to worship. They grumbled when there was no water. After God miraculously provided them with manna from heaven, bread on the ground each morning, they grumbled that they did not have meat. After a while, they grumbled that they had too much meat! Moses couldn’t satisfy the people because they would not be satisfied in God. Yet God was always faithful to provide for all their needs.
I am so often just like the Israelites. I want a carefree life of luxury. I want job security, happy relationships with everyone, good health, a happy family, and many other things. And when these things are threatened, I have a tendency to grumble against whomever I can find to blame. But the real issue is that I am not fully satisfied in God. I have an idol in my heart, and that idol is me.
James tells us something about this in chapter 1 verses 13-15: “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”
You see, the children of Israel were not content to have God as their treasure, the one from whom all blessings flow. They wanted all the blessings of heaven without the God who gives them! And we often want the same thing. But when God is not our greatest treasure, we break the first commandment, and since our hearts were created to only be fully satisfied in God, we can find contentment no where else. Every idol proves insufficient.
James tells us that sin comes not from any trial God places in our path, but from our own desires. We are lured and enticed by our own desires, and when desire conceives, it gives birth to sin.
So when we grumble against God, it is because we are not satisfied with God. We are in effect saying that the love of Christ is not enough for us, that the sacrifice Christ made on the cross is insufficient to fill our hearts with love, peace and joy, that the riches of heaven, the inheritance of the saints, the promise of eternal life, the assurance of God’s faithful and enduring provision, the life-giving Word of God, these things are not enough!
What does the world complain about? Noisy neighbors, the direction of the toilet paper roll, the absence of a favorite hymn from church services this year, the seemingly unreasonable expectations placed on us at work, our spouse, our kids, our house, our job, the coach of our favorite sport team, being sick, being poor, managing our great wealth, anything which does not go our way.
But for those of us who are in Christ, there should be no complaints. Our beloved Betty Wienhoff who is now with the Lord had much about which to complain in this life. But in the short time I knew her, I never heard her complain. She offered to watch our kids for us so we could go on a date. She offered to help send cards to shut ins. She wanted to serve the Lord in any way she could. I think she found the one thing which truly satisfies, God. I believe many of us have also found God to be truly satisfying.
How can a woman who lost her husband only a couple of years after she got married, who had to spend many of the best years of her life in a nursing home, who was unable to care for her beloved daughter and out of sacrificial love for her gave her up to a relative to raise her, how can such a woman find contentment in God?
She discovered and placed her faith deeply in the Lord Jesus Christ who loves her and who gave his life for her. She did not merely know a few truths about Jesus, she did not merely cling to a few distant promised given in God’s Word, she had a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.
But this message isn’t about our beloved sister, it is about Jesus Christ. For we have already seen in this book the abundant love of Christ for us. Jesus is the one who humbled himself, who did not consider equality with God something to be grasped or clung to, but who became a mere man, and willingly humbled himself to the point of submitting to a cruel death on a shameful cross. The very thought of our Lord and Savior hanging on that cross brings tears to my eyes. No one should have to suffer like that! But he had to suffer on that cross to pay for our terrible sins. And he loved you and me enough to do it! When we are satisfied in Jesus Christ, our desires will not entice us to sin, we will not grumble against God for the trials in our lives, we will endure trials by faith, clinging to the one who loves us no matter what, looking forward to the day when all suffering will be over, and thanking God in the midst of trials for His faithfulness to us!
2. Since we are the light of Christ, we must not grumble or dispute.
Beloved, we are the light of the world. Jesus said as much in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:14. Out text calls us to “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.”
When we grumble against God or our leaders, or when we create or engage in disputes, we cease to shine the light of the gospel for the world to see. So we must not be a people who grumble or complain.
Paul does not write these words to motivate us with guilt or shame. Those of us who are in Christ have no guilt, we have been declared righteous, and we should carry no shame, for Chris took away our reproach. Rather, the motivation is reward based. Paul urged the Philippians to be blameless and innocent rather than grumblers and disputers for the same reason that Christ lay down his life for us. Jesus looked forward to the day when we would be with him in heaven, he endured the trials of the cross because he loved us and wanted us to be with him forever. Paul suffered persecution and tribulation because he loved the Philippians, because he wanted to spend eternity with you and with me, with all who would believe as a result of the apostle’s ministry. And the Philippians were to live lives of innocence and shine the light of Christ for the world to see that others might believe in Christ and that on the day of Christ’ return we might enjoy eternity with Christ together!
So why must we stop all grumbling and disputing? Because we want others to see the light of Jesus in us. We want the world to be attracted to Jesus. We can only sell what we already have, we can only give away what we have been given. If we aren’t satisfied in Christ, then no one outside the church will want Christ either.
We have discussed what it is to grumble. The Israelites grumbled, and so have many of us. But we haven’t talked about disputing. The church throughout history has had difficulty with this one. Israel was often divided. After the death of Solomon, the kingdom split. And as a result, the ten northern tribes of Israel ceased worshipping God in the temple and set up golden calves to worship. Perhaps Paul was reflecting on this when he wrote these very words. They weren’t satisfied in the One True God who led them out of Egypt. For political gain their king forbid them from entering Jerusalem and set up false gods for them to worship. Woe to all who use the church for political gain, they are endangering not only their own souls, but the souls of others as well!
Paul is not arguing against fighting heresy, he is not arguing against defending the faith. He is certainly not arguing against taking a stand against evil. Paul did all these things in his letters and ministry, and he suffered greatly for it. Paul is arguing against divisions in the church. Later in this very book Paul would urge the church to help two gospel workers to agree. For the church in Philippi was being torn apart by needless division in their ranks. And this division was hindering the gospel ministry. Paul did not want to think that his sacrifice for the Philippians was in vain, that his imprisonment for the gospel that the church in Philippi would be planted was in vain. Rather, Paul urged the Philippians to set aside needless and ungodly division, to return to their unity in Christ and in the gospel, and to shine the light of Christ to the world around them.
We face plenty of necessary conflict with the world when we engage in spiritual battle for souls, when we preach the gospel which got Christ killed. We do not need to fight against one another. Satan loves to cripple the church by planting his children among the saints. He loves to tempt the saints to use the church for political gain or to seek church offices to boost their own sense of self worth. For when we are motivated by anything other than the love of Christ, we will fall into damaging divisions. And when divisions define us, the church will lose her ability to shine the light of the gospel in the community.
Beloved, churches in love with Christ and the gospel may face persecution, but they shine the light of the gospel in the community, and they grow. But churches where there is no contentment in Christ spiral into endless grumbling and disputing and ultimately die.
The good news is, Christ is sufficient! Examine your life today, consider whether you are satisfied in Christ or are looking to other things to satisfy your heart longings. Repent and ask Christ to forgive you for turning to other loves, and ask God to teach you to be satisfied in him. This is what I have been doing myself this week. I want more of Christ. I want to be satisfied in Him. I want to see His kingdom come and his will be done! I do not want to be a grumbler or a divider in the church! I want to shine the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ for all to see that sinners may come to repentance and find new life in Christ! And I trust that you do as well. Christ will answer such a godly prayer. He is always sanctifying and building his church. And he delights to produce in us every good work, just as we saw last week. May God receive all the glory. Amen.