Do everything without grumbling and arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the universe. Philippians 2:14-15
When my daughters were very young I was part of a mom’s group that met weekly. One week we had a guest speaker, a mom of seven, and she presented each of us with the above scripture printed on a magnet. It stayed on our refrigerator for years while the girls were growing, and we would talk about it and remind them of it from time to time.
“Don’t you want to shine like stars in the universe? Stop arguing, please.”
Sometimes, whenever I was feeling frustrated and grumbly, this verse would serve as a reminder to me as well. Who wouldn’t want to become blameless and pure, to shine like a star in the universe, especially considering the rest of the world was crooked and perverse, right?
So what does this mean, exactly? Certainly it seems unreasonable for God to expect us never to complain or argue. I mean, Jesus lived with the disciples who most definitely had their share of arguing with one another and complaining with the Master Himself (see Mark 9:33, Luke 22:23-24, Matthew 16:21-23 for some examples), so He must recognize that we have a propensity to engage in these types of behaviors. So how are we to live out this verse then?
The Greek word for grumbling, “goggusmos” (pronounced ‘gon-goos-mos’) is defined as “derived from the sound made when murmuring or muttering in a low and indistinct voice with the idea of complaint.” The English dictionary defines grumbling as “…making low, dull rumbling sounds.” We can interpret these to mean that this type of murmuring is like a low undercurrent, simmering just below the surface, not yet having full vent. Is that so bad?
Well, yes, actually. There are instances in the Bible where murmuring and grumbling amongst the people of God had serious consequences. Consider the events in the books of Exodus and Numbers. Moses and Aaron were leading the Israelites, freshly freed from 430 years of bondage in Egypt. Almost immediately, the people began to grumble: there wasn’t any food (Exodus 16:2-3), there wasn’t any water (Exodus 17:1-3), the enemies in the land they were to conquer seemed too numerous and too strong. In one instance, Moses’s cousin, Korah, tried to lead a rebellion by stirring up grumblings against Moses out of jealousy. To say that God didn’t appreciate this is a huge understatement! God, Who had set these captives free through a series of inarguably miraculous events, Who had provided for them in every way (albeit not in ways they expected) heard these grumblings and rumblings and reacted with swift and severe judgment against the rebellious ones (See Numbers 14:11-23; Numbers 16:1-40; Numbers 16:41-49).
Based on scripture, we may conclude say that grumbling, grousing, murmuring, complaining ARE a big deal to God. Why? I think we’ll find there are at least two reasons.
First, grumbling demonstrates a lack of faith in God’s ability or desire to provide, protect, and care for us. God knows your need even better than you do (MT. 6:7-8; MT. 6:31-34). Rather than offering God praise in remembrance of what He has already done and praise in anticipation for what He will do, complaining, to borrow a phrase from a dear friend, spits in the face of God. When we grumble about our leaders, our bosses, our pastors, our neighbors, our coworkers, our in-laws, our spouses, our children, or our day-to-day circumstances, we are in effect saying that God’s will is flawed and undesirable. Where God tells us that He has plans for us to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us a hope and a future (Jer. 29:11), our complaints demonstrate that we instead believe that God gives no thought to our protection, provision, lives, or future. We doubt God is willing or able to be true to His very word!
Second, grumbling, murmuring, and complaining sow discord and disunity. How many groups, organizations, churches and families have split up because small, mumbling complaints behind the scenes grew into full-on conflicts that caused irreparable damage and irreconcilable separation? Tiny ripples of grumbling gain strength as we build factions of supporters for our cause. Subtly, sometimes without warning, or so it would seem, unity is destroyed, and the enemy has a field day, reveling in the carnage left behind. Instead, we should, as Paul instructed the Romans, “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18), and “let us pursue what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Rom. 14:19). You see, we are to build one another up and to pray for one another in our weaknesses, not form alliances and pounce on those with whom we disagree.
What stands out to me when I meditate on Philippians 2:14-15 is that although we are to refrain from arguing and complaining to others, we can bring our complaints to God. Notice I don’t recommend complaining about God; I’m talking about prayerfully submitting our worries and grief, and even gripes to God, like David often did in the Psalms. Look at David’s model in Psalm 6 as an example for stating our grievances before God:
O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger,
nor discipline me in your wrath.
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled.
My soul also is greatly troubled.
But you, O Lord—how long?
Turn, O Lord, deliver my life;
save me for the sake of your steadfast love.
For in death there is no remembrance of you;
in Sheol who will give you praise?
I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eye wastes away because of grief;
it grows weak because of all my foes.
Depart from me, all you workers of evil,
for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.
The Lord has heard my plea;
the Lord accepts my prayer.
All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled;
they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment.
In David’s Psalm, he begins by earnestly and honestly laying it all out before God— his complaints, his fears, the injustice he is suffering at the hands of his enemies, even how he feels forgotten by God— and he pleads with God to be merciful to him in his time of need. He reminds God (and himself too) of God’s goodness and love so clearly demonstrated in the past, and encourages himself through faith, believing that God has absolutely heard him and will again be gracious to him and save him. This is the model by which we also should live. Rather than complaining to others or griping without remembering God’s faithfulness, we can bring our petitions and prayers to God and know that He will intercede for us, providing us with just what we need at the right time. Rather than sounding like a droning gong, we turn our words into a sacrifice of praise. This serves two purposes: first, to live out the peace and joy we have through Christ before other people, and second, to vent our frustrations to God, Who is the only One that truly can help us anyway.
What are you most tempted to grumble or complain about? How could you turn those grievances into prayers of petition and thanksgiving?