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?