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?


7 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.

  4. Not grumbling and complaining might not appear to be a great task at first thought, however it is actually quite difficult for people to not do. From the start of our lives we are complainers, we complain when we are hungry, when we want something, or when something does not go our way. It is in our human nature to grumble and complain when things are not going our way, or when something seems to be unfair. It is hard to always be happy and satisfied with how life is going for us in every circumstance. It is also a way that people are able to shift blame, or not take responsibility. If someone does something wrong, they can make an excuse, and blame it on something else, declaring that it wasn’t fair. People want to do what is convenient for them, or benefits them the most, because it is in our nature to be selfish. People don’t always want to wake up early and go to Church, or give their money to the church as an offering. They complain they did not get enough sleep, or do not have the extra money that other people have because of their situation. This is the type of grumbling and complaining that is very bad for a person spirituality, and goes against what the Bible commands of us, but it is really easy for us as humans to make these complaints/excuses without thinking too much into it. We can justify it in our own minds, and just say that it is okay.

  5. I know I am at fault for that as well. I think that Christians grumble about things because they expect more. I think that there is a false perception of what it is like to live in salvation. I was very young when I got saved, but I had this knowledge that everything was supposed to be better or fine, but it wasn’t. I think that that is how several Christians live today. Everyone knows that the Lord will provide, he loves us, protects us, and has died to set us free but they think that because he does that we are free to live in whatever way we want. Jeremiah 29:11 states, “For I know the plans I have for you…” Many people misinterpret that statement and that it is a gift, rather than a promise which would mean that we don’t have to do anything for it, but what many people fail to do is reading around it. God knows the plans he has for us, but he asks us to do something for him. That is when Christians grumble. As a society we have learned to conform to everything, find excuses, and be selfish. We want everything handed to us, that is why we can never be satisfied because we always want more. Grace also has a role to play in this state of the world. This is not the same situation for everyone, many people know how it feels to have nothing or to be in a tough situation and have no one, but God. The difference between the relationship of underprivileged people and privileged people with the Lord is that underprivileged people seek God always for praises and prayers, privileged people seek god only when times are rough or when reminded to praise.

  6. Though this is corny to put it i would say that the reason Christians complain so much is because there isn’t much authenticity in the believers in today’s society. In the day of Paul Christainity was a new found religion that allowed you to follow Christ and speak to God directly so the peak of interest was high. The individuals in the time of Scripture had a want to serve, be a part of, and learn more about Christ by doing so there the excitement of this newness outweighed the complaining. As time went on more materials became easier to get your hands on (ex. Bible), Godly lifestyles are more accepted; overtime being a Christian has become a lot easier in mainstream culture. As the lifestyle has become easier we have developed this cookie cutter view for living as a Christian. When a minor or major inconvenience arises in our lives we start to complain and sometimes complain about God. This is where the problem starts though it’s not wrong to complain to God, it’s wrong to complain about God. In some situations our groaning and complaining can be geared towards the Lord, we can see just that from Mariam in Numbers 12 where she spoke against God’s servants and God Himself. So it’s not a sin to complain in general, it’s still not encouraged and if we must complain it needs to be to Him about our own sinfulness.
    1 John 1:19
    1 Peter 4:9

  7. Philippians 2:14-16 states, “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.” I believe Christians complain because they are not satisfied with what God gave them, and we are also selfish and want more from Him when He does give us a lot. Believers take and take from God without ever realizing or even noticing how much God has given to them. I also think it is due to the fact that we are not thankful. As believers in Christ, we should be thankful that God cares for us, that He died on the cross for us. God has done a lot for us, He died on the cross for our sin and protected us from it. We should be serving God with better attitudes and without entitlement towards God. Even though we are saved from sin we are not entitle to God. I have to fix my heart and realize I do not deserve the goodness of God and I have to remind myself what He has done in my life when I want something that He has not been giving to me. Just because I want it, does not mean I should have it. Christians should be thankful with what we do have instead of always wanting something else. It is important learn to be content with what we do have, so that we can learn how to handle the smaller things first then grow to handle the bigger things in life.

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