Philippians 2:14–16 – Do Not Grumble

The first command Paul gives in order to “work out your salvation,” is not do things without grumbling. This seems odd, since for most modern Evangelicals there are far worse sins than grumbling! Paul is, however, making an allusion to the wilderness Tradition and the grumbling of Israel.

Every Sunday School kid knows Israel grumbled in the wilderness (or, if you are old enough, “they murmured,” cf. 1 Cor 10:10). The noun (γογγυσμός) refers to under-the-breath complaining, “an utterance made in a low tone of voice,” whispers and secret talk (BDAG), always with a negative connotation. Imagine trying to get a bunch of Junior High students (who are all about looking cool) to play a particularly dumb looking game. When they are in Junior High, you can actually hear the rolling of the eyes. The muttering and whispering complaints start right away.

“Disputing” can refer to a rational exchange of ideas, offering of various opinions in order to discuss an issue. This sounds nice, but in the New Testament the word is usually synonymous with quarreling. In the context of the wilderness generation, the command they are disputing is God’s commands as revealed through Moses at Sinai!  In the wilderness God told the people to go and take the land, but they complained and disputed that command (let’s go back to Egypt, let’s camp here, etc.)  Again, think of that pack of Junior High kids, all offering reasons why they are not going to do what you told them to, offering excuses and alternatives. Chaos will ensue!

Because of their grumbling and complaining, the wilderness generation is usually called a “crooked and twisted generation.” The first noun (σκολιός) refers to being twisted, usually morally. Peter used the word in Acts 2:40 to refer to Israel in their rejection of the Messiah, Jesus called that generation “wicked and adulterous.”  The second noun (διαστρέφω) is another vivid metaphor for the present world, it refers to something that is deformed or distorted, perhaps misleading. Paul used the word in Acts 13:10 to describe Israel’s on-going resistance to the Holy Spirit.

By setting aside the distorted attitude of the Wilderness generation, the believer will be acceptable on the day of Christ.

  • Blameless (ἄμεμπτος) is used in Gen 17:1 to describe Abraham, 12 times describing Job. In both cases, the men can be described as having moral character, but they are not perfect or sinless. There is nothing in their character or behavior that might be considered “worthy of judgment” before the Lord.
  • Innocent (ἀκέραιος), a word used to describe something that is not mixed with some other substance, “pure.” Gold, silver, and platinum are often extracted from the same ore, but they are more valuable if they are separated. If the right process is used, the extracted gold is more pure and therefore more valuable.
  • Without blemish (ἄμωμος) is a close synonym for blameless (translated as such in Eph 1:4, “holy and blameless”). The word is used for a lamb brought to be sacrificed (Num 6:14, for example).

The one who is blameless on the Day of Christ is a child of God! Paul does not say here “if you achieve a 75% rating on your holiness score, you get to go to heaven.” He says you will please your Father on the Day of Christ because you are his loved child! Therefore there is no place in the Christian life for grumbling and complaining.

If this is the case, why do most Christians complain so much?


3 thoughts on “Philippians 2:14–16 – Do Not Grumble

  1. The first reason I believe Christians complain so much is that we are humans who expect more. Meaning, we misunderstand our relationship with God because we mistake it as being sunshine and rainbows all the time when in reality God has said that is not how a relationship with Him will work. Don’t get me wrong, God has good plans for our lives (Jeremiah 29:11), however, He also says we will face persecution when we stand with Him (Matthew 5:10, 2 Corinthians 12:10). 2 Timothy 3:12 states “In fact, everyone who wants to live a Godly life in Jesus Christ will be persecuted.” Therefore, we end up complaining because we have a mindset that says “since we are with God our lives will be perfect and everything will go right” when the reality is life as a Christian is meant to be hard at times, facing situations we would not have to endure as non-believers.
    The second reason I believe Christians complain so much is that we are already a world that complains. Watching the news, listening to friends/family, and so forth can all affect the way we see/view the world and when everyone around us is complaining it is hard to not get wrapped up it in as well. This is where Christians have to remember 2 Corinthians 6:14. While we still want to be a light to the world (John 9:5), we also should not let ourselves become unequally yoked.
    As Christians, this is an important passage to look at in Philippians because it was Paul’s way of explaining to the church, and us, that this is an on-going issue. He makes this clear when he uses the words crooked and twisted because it represented the wilderness generation that fell due to complaining (ESV, pg. 2284). Therefore, it doesn’t make us less dealing with this sin because so many others did as well. However, that does not mean we can not overcome it. Instead, Paul explains that it can be overcome when one works out his salvation because he will resist grumbling and complaining and instead become fearful and trembling (Longenecker, pg. 205).

  2. Christians grumble for a number of reasons but one of the reasons is due to change. Most people don’t like change, and the Bible encourages change in almost all aspects of our lives. Both in our relationship with others and our relationship with Jesus the Bible motivate us to approach these areas with a Christ like mentality. Throughout Paul’s ministry, he informs his followers to live away from the world and instead live like citizens of heaven (Longenecker, 202). As we further examine Paul’s letters, one could see the results of Paul’s initiative to institute change has some drawbacks. If we look at the church in Corinth, the Corinthians were struggling to live like respectful Christians. The Corinthians were trying to fluctuate their pagan ways into their new Christian life, but some of their norms were not righteous in the eyes of God. However, all through out Paul’s ministry, we see people grumble at him because he was preaching something contrary to what people were use to living. That is the case with most Christians today when they hear someone preach another translation that does not match with their translations they begin to grumble. There are several other ways I’ve noticed Christians to grumble, but most recently this has been brought to my attention.

  3. Paul tells the Philippians to continue working out their salvation without fear and trembling. Paul tells them to do everything without grumbling and arguing. I grew up reading this verse, so it is a very known verse to me, but reading it as I am older it is one of the most challenging verses to me. I grew up learning that the Israelites grumbled in the wilderness—they murmured, so they complained under their breath, which is something my mother hates. Complaining is such an easy thing to do, especially in today’s culture. I find myself standing in the long line at Starbucks, making small talk with the person in line behind me, but it seems to be complaining about how long the line is. Why do we turn to complaining rather than something kind, or even better, talking about Jesus?
    In Philippians 2:15 Paul mentions that we are to become pure and blameless, so that we will shine among the crooked generation like stars in the sky. God is working in us; we just have to accept him. I have put a lot of thought into why complaining is the go-to response for just about anything for pretty much everyone. I believe that people who tend to be more pessimistically minded, tend to lean toward complaining more frequently because they see the world more negatively and have a hard time seeing the positive side of situations; however, people who are more optimistic still tend to struggle with complaining. I believe this is because we are so privileged and are given things in life so we forget to be appreciative of the things that have been given to us.

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