Interview with

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Audio Transcript

You said something happened to you recently you wanted to share here on “Ask Pastor John.” Explain.

Well, it was on the Lord’s Day. I am sitting on the front porch and just trying to enjoy Philippians 2, which is one of the richest chapters there is. It begins with “Have the same mind among yourselves,” and “Don’t do anything from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves,” and “Don’t look just to your own interests, but to the interests of others,” and “Have the mind of Christ, and you know what that means: He didn’t hold onto his outward manifestations of deity, but emptied himself and became a slave and a servant who died for us and rose, so work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (see Philippians 2:5–13).

Grumbling and Disputing

And then I got to Philippians 2:14, and the Lord really convicted me. I was at the point of tears, really. I suppose if I had let myself go, I would have cried all the way, but I was on the brink of tears because it says, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” And I have read it a hundred times — more than a hundred, I am sure — without it having this effect on me. Grumbling is another word for complaining or murmuring.

That word disputing is the word dialogismos — it means reasonings or thoughts. And so what I think it means is complaining is usually accompanied by all kinds of rationalizations. As soon as I get frustrated or angry or disappointed or irritated at something, and I start feeling like, Oh, maybe this is not good, my brain kicks in with unbelievable rationalizing. So when he says, “Do all things without grumbling or reasonings,” he doesn’t mean reason is bad. He means this kind of reasoning that the heart, which is unbelieving and self-defensive, is producing. That is what is evil.

Complaining Extinguishes Your Light

And here is what sank the arrow deep into my heart: the next verse says, “that you may be blameless.” In other words, Do everything without grumbling, Piper. Stop being a complainer so 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).

“The longer my complaining goes on, the more I put out the light of God’s strength and the light of his wisdom and the light of his love.”

And I thought, My light is my doing things without complaining. So if I am a complainer, I am putting my light out. And I live in a crooked and twisted and dark generation. What, do they need complainers? That is what they are. Well, what good is a complainer? My light goes out. Then I stepped back and I said, Why is that? Why? What is the light that goes out when you complain? And the light that goes out is the light of his power.

By complaining, I am saying, “God wasn’t strong enough to stop this thing I am complaining about.” Or the light of his wisdom goes out: “He wasn’t smart enough to keep this out of my life.” Or the light of his goodness goes out: “He doesn’t have my best interest at heart, so he lets this thing that I am frustrated about come into my life.” The longer my complaining goes on, the more I put out the light of his strength and the light of his wisdom and the light of his love.

Pray Against Complaining

And that just landed on me, Tony, with tremendous conviction, and I had to go just pleading to the Lord: “Have mercy upon me, O God. I just seem to be wired to complain. I see faults everywhere I look, and I don’t want to be this way. I want to be a joyful person, an affirming person, a hope-filled person. And so, as we must do every day, I embraced the gospel afresh, I asked for forgiveness and took heart that in his mercy, this chapter is written precisely not just to leave me there in my sadness and my misery, but to say, “He really is bright. He really is light. He really is strong and wise and good, and he can help you not murmur.”

So I think the way I would close this little confession is to just ask people to pray. I mean if they are saying, “Yeah, me too,” well, fine, I do pray for you, because I don’t know who you are. But you know who I am. And if you are a Christian, you have some little teeny responsibility to join John Piper in praying that he wouldn’t put his light out by complaining so much.