Do all things without complaining and disputing.Ah, the minor themes that keep appearing in the book of Philippians. Last time it was the theme of our Christian walk. Today, it is the theme of our unity. It was a problem in the church at Philippi. It’s a problem at our church in Orrington. For that matter, it is a problem in every church in every city because it’s a universal problem with people. People just can’t seem to get along. We all want our own way, and we’ll fight to get it. If we can’t, we’ll grumble and complain to everyone we see. We’ll spread our ill-humor everywhere we go. We’ll make every meeting a battle.
Not even Christians can seem to get along. Yes, even us. We are way too much like the world around us. We’re all too filled with self-centeredness and selfishness, caring only about our feelings and our desires. We want what we want when we want it - no matter what. And that’s just plain wrong. Unfortunately, it is also human nature, meaning our inbred, sin nature - a nature we need to learn to overcome.
Paul first touched on the topic in Philippians 1:15 where he reported that, “Some indeed even preach Christ from envy and strife.” Really? They even preach Christ from wrong motives? Apparently! Then, he laid out their motives in verse16, “The former preach Christ from selfish ambition.” They were selfishly trying to push themselves to the front of the line, to the top billing, to the most prestigious venues and time slots where they could receive the adulation from the masses they crave.
But Paul challenged that attitude. He urged them in Philippians 1:27,
“Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.”Conduct worthy of the Gospel is conduct that maintains unity working together to proclaim the Gospel.
But then in chapter 2, he tells us how to have that unity.
“Fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”Unity is critical to the life of a church, and it’s easy if we all have the mind of Christ - if we look out for each other, not just ourselves.
But, what destroys unity? “Complaining and disputing” do, grumbling and divisiveness do. So what does Paul tell us? “Quit it! Quit the complaining and disputing! Stop your grumbling and arguing!”
That’s what he says in Philippians 2:14, “Do all things without complaining and disputing.”
“Complaining,” or grumbling, as it’s put in the NAS, is discontented muttering. It’s that under your breath stuff that kids try to pull as they walk away from you after you’ve reprimanded them. “Grumble, grumble, mutiny, mutiny.” They mutter their complaints just loud enough that you know they’re saying something, but not loud enough for you to hear what is said. But you know they are angry and complaining. Or it’s the whining they do that is so irritating and gets on your nerves. Just the pitch is enough to set your nerves on edge. It’s just using a different tactic to express their displeasure.
Isn’t it amazing that adults do that too? Yes, even “Christian” adults within a church. But Paul tells us, “Don’t do that!” And where does this grumbling take place most? Anywhere that an ear will listen, but usually behind the back of the one it’s directed at.
Let me give you a couple of examples. Back before we were in the ministry, we attended a church in an eastern city. A middle aged lady had always put on the mother-daughter banquet, but she said she was too tired that year. The pastor asked us, my wife and I, to host the banquet, and we agreed. Then the grumbling started. “How could we hurt dear _____ so? She’s always done the Mother-daughter banquet. She’s heartbroken that she isn’t doing it.” So, even though this lady had said she didn’t want to do it in the first place, that’s not the story she told everyone else. So we backed off and let her take over as head of the banquet committee even though she never lifted a finger to help. But she got all the accolades for a great banquet. Her grumbling worked.
Another time, at a church in Michigan, at another banquet, one of the ladies was setting the table and putting the plain white napkins on. She was told that special napkins had been purchased, and could she please use those. She did, without saying a word. But about a week later, someone told us she was really angry. How did our informant know? Because she’d heard it from Sally, who heard it from Sandy, who heard it from . . . back about six different links in the gossip chain. That’s grumbling and complaining in all the wrong places. It’s so common. That’s why Paul says don’t do it. It destroys the unity of the church.
“Disputing” is out loud, ill-natured, direct arguing. It is directly challenging an authority’s decision, and doing so in a way that stirs up the suspicion, distrust, and doubt of others. It is designed to not only challenge the decision, but challenge the authority of the one who made the decision. “What right do they have?” they ask. “They can’t get away with a decision like that. They didn’t consult me.” They don’t realize that God has established Biblical authority within a church, and we all can’t get our own way.
In truth, none of us should get our own way. We should all be lining up behind God’s way, behind God’s will. Rather than “complaining and disputing,” here’s what we should do:
1st Thessalonians 5:12-13 tell us:
12 And we urge you, brethren, to recognize (or appreciate in the NAS) those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves.We should appreciate those who are over us, not grumble and complain against them. Again, this destroys the unity of a church.