Complaining Never Wins the Culture
What if the biggest danger ahead for Christians today is something we don’t expect, but should?
Of course, there are some dangers of which we’re all very aware and conscious. In a pluralistic world, we know the pressure on Christians to abandon the truth that Jesus is the only way to God, so we proclaim loudly the exclusive salvation that we find in Christ. In the midst of a moral revolution, we see the temptation for Christians to deny or downplay the truth about sexuality and marriage, so we rightly seek to defend the Bible’s teaching on these issues.
Naturally, we think that to be faithful in this time means shoring up our commitments in these spheres where cultural pressure is intense. But what if there’s a bigger danger on the horizon? Something that goes beyond the truths we uphold to the hearts that uphold them?
An Unexpected Exhortation
After reciting one of the most glorious hymns in the New Testament, showcasing the beauty of Jesus’s incarnation, crucifixion, and exaltation (Philippians 2:6–11), Paul commands the church to adopt the same mind of our risen Lord.
“The Christian who grumbles will neither stand out in this generation, nor hold firm to the gospel.”
And his first command — the first way he expects us to “work out your own salvation” (Philippians 2:12) — is, “Don’t grumble.”
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. (Philippians 2:14–15)
Why start with grumbling? We might expect an exhortation to spiritual disciplines, or strategies for thriving as pure and faultless people in a sinful world. And yes, Paul does speak about blamelessness and purity and holding firm to the word of life (Philippians 2:16). But this purity in action is somehow connected to the first command to do everything without grumbling. Somehow, grumbling will keep us from faithfulness.
Grumbling over Gratitude
Why start here? Because Paul knows the story of Israel.
Remember the children of Israel? The passover lamb was sacrificed on their behalf; they were set free from bondage to Egypt; they went out through the waters of the Red Sea into the wilderness toward the Promised Land. Having been graciously redeemed through an act of deliverance none of their generation could have imagined . . . they began to grumble.
This was the big sin of Israel. They chose grumbling over gratitude. Grumbling stalled their journey and led to actions that were anything but “blameless and innocent.”
Gratitude in the Wilderness
Fast-forward to first-century Philippi. The church — like Israel — had been brought out of slavery to sin and death. Through the Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ, they had received atonement for their sins. They’d passed through the waters of baptism and were headed toward the Promised Land. In the dark wilderness of the first century, lying “in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19), Paul knew that grumbling and arguing would keep them from shining like stars in a dark world.
Two thousand years later, much of our world feels like a wilderness. We, too, live in a “crooked and twisted generation,” where crooks are elevated and perversion celebrated.
“It’s hard to joyfully and consistently proclaim the gospel when all you do is complain about your mission field.”
Jesus still speaks to his church: Do everything without grumbling. You want to be blameless and pure — faultless in this generation? Then you better start right here. Why? Because the Christian who grumbles will neither stand out in this generation, nor hold firm to the gospel.
Grumbling about this cultural moment usually leaves us wistful for another. But we will never be faithful in the present as long as we are yearning for the past. The only era we should long for is a future one, when the kingdom comes fully on earth as it is in heaven.
No Ministry in Murmuring
Furthermore, grumblers are neither persuasive nor appealing when they share their faith. In fact, they rarely share their faith at all. It’s hard to joyfully and consistently proclaim the gospel when all you do is complain about your mission field. Murmuring does not further God’s mission.
The root issue, of course, is a lack of faith (Psalm 78:19–20). Whenever we look at the state of the world and wag our fingers, shake our heads, or wish that we had been born in another time or place, we question God’s sovereignty and resent the task he has given us. Grumbling over the good that we think God has withheld is, in reality, nothing short of rebellion (Psalm 78:17).
Faithfulness starts with gratitude. We trust in the God who knows where we are and when we are. This is our time. Holding firm to the word of life is a thrilling adventure. We’re not digging in, like cranks who resent societal shifts or cultural changes. No, we’re standing, with the smile of faith that knows God is good and sovereign and that his everlasting joy will spread to all peoples.
Only Joy Gives Life
Paul himself employs a military metaphor in reference to Epaphroditus, his “fellow soldier” (Philippians 2:25). Armed with the divine weapon of the gospel message of Christ, the church is equipped to plunder Satan’s house, destroy strongholds, and proclaim Jesus’s freedom to those captive to sin (Mark 3:27; Luke 4:18; 2 Corinthians 10:4–5). In this spiritual campaign, a grumbling soldier is a dangerous liability, fighting on the edge of treason.
“We trust in the God who knows where we are and when we are. This is our time.”
Christians are joyful because we follow a King who endured the cross “for the joy that was set before him” (Hebrews 12:2). Whether we are given suffering, chains, imprisonment, or worse (Hebrews 11:36–38), or whether we conquer kingdoms, stop the mouths of lions, escape the sword, and put armies to flight (Hebrews 11:33–34), we must know that only joy in and gratitude to Jesus will win the war for our culture. Christians who run the race experience the glorious combination of exhaustion and exhilaration that comes from knowing the Spirit empowers us to spend our every last bit of energy for the sake of Jesus’s glory.
Yes, we may face obstacles, setbacks, and tough days ahead. But in it all, and under it all, we are also joyful. And this cheerful courage comes not from ignoring darkness or looking only for the bright side, but from believing that the Light will overcome the dark.
Do you want to shine like stars? Then do everything without grumbling.