– Philippians 2:14
A History of Grumbling
The Apostle Paul gives us the command to “Do all things without grumbling or disputing” (Phil 2:14), in order “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” (Phil 2:15). Paul had poured out his life as a drink offering (Phil 2:17), but there is no record anywhere in Scripture where Paul ever grumbled or complained about it. Even near the end of his life he wrote, “I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2nd Tim 3:6-7). On the other hand, “the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness” (Ex 16:2), and said to Moses and Aaron, “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Ex 16:3). They certainly have long-term memory lapses, because at one time, they were crying out in anguish under the harsh hand of the Egyptian taskmasters, and not that long ago. How quickly they forget. I suppose it was a matter of short term gratification, rather than long-term sanctification, which caused them to grumble. We are at risk of doing the same thing if we don’t think ahead to the coming “Promised Land” (Rev 21:1-4; 22) but rather grumble in the present. This was no minor infraction to God, because when they grumbled against Moses and Aaron, who were God’s appointed leaders, so they had actually grumbled against God (Ex 16:8). That did not end well for thousands (1st Cor 10:10). They even said something so outrageous, that if the Bible hadn’t recorded it, I wouldn’t have believed it. Israel “grumbled against Moses and against Aaron, saying, “You have killed the people of the Lord” (Num 16:41). That’s truly spoken from a hardened heart, isn’t it?
Our hearts are so deceitful (Jer 17:9), that they can easily deceive us, just as sin so easily entangles us. I know. I have experience…but probably, so do you. Really, there is no easy way to be content in difficult circumstances, so there is no quick fix. We might cite Job as the supreme example of unjust suffering, but even Job would begin to question the goodness of God, at one point having wished he’d never been born (John 10:18), so how was Paul able to live with such contentment while suffering through so much? He had been beaten, stoned, whipped, laughed at, persecuted, imprisoned, but he was still content. Paul tells us how he did it, and it’s the only way we can be contented too. Paul wrote “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Phil 4:11). He didn’t receive it as a gift, he didn’t try real hard and do it, but rather, he learned it. When I was young, I learned how to ride a bike. I fell off over and over again, but each time, I was able to go a bit further, so in a similar fashion, when we are bumped, battered, and bruised, and yet are content (at least for a time), then we are learning to be contented by practicing it. We learn from experience, but we also choose to be content, just like love is much more than a feeling or words; love is a choice. It’s what you do, so choose contentedness. Who knows more about suffering than Paul (next to Christ)? Paul wrote, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Phil 4:12). That secret is in the very next verse, and it’s no longer a secret, is it? “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). That allows him to be content; Paul has learned to rely on Christ’s strength and not on his own! Can you see it?
When we suffer for righteousness sake, God sees that as precious (1st Pet 3:8-18) , but if you are content with what you have, having little or much, then you’ve learned to trust in Christ and are content in Him. You finally understand that “if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1st Tim 6:8). When a person lives with such humility, God extends His grace (James 4:6), and His grace enables you to endure, because it was sufficient for Paul, it will be sufficient for us (2nd Cor 12:9). It won’t be “Self-effort + Christ = Contentment,” but rather, “Christ + His strength = contentment.” That isn’t saying we can just be pew potatoes in church and wait until Jesus returns. No, we must all strive to enter the narrow gate (Luke 13:24). No one coasts to the finish line. Paul had to learn contentment, and so our learning infers our participation. That’s why we must be action oriented, like remember to “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1st Pet 4:9). Paul’s conclusion is, “godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1st Tim 6:6-8).
It’s hard to be sad when someone tickles you, isn’t it? I mean, how can you be crying when someone makes you laugh? I remember when my children were small and they’d get a bump or scrap and they started crying, so I said to them, “Now don’t you laugh! Keep crying” while I tickled them. Of course, they couldn’t help but laugh. They needed dad’s help to smile through the pain. We need our divine Dad’s help too. When you think about it, it’s hard to grumble when you’re giving thanks. I didn’t say, “Wait till you’ve finished grumbling about something,” or “wait until you feel like it.” Choose to thank God for everything you have already in life. When you feel like grumbling (really, grumbling against God), then start thanking Him. You can write out a list of things that God has blessed you with already, like a spouse, children, other family, home, job, car, food, heat (in winter) and cold (in summer), and a dozen other things you could probably think of. If you want to learn to be content, you need to practice it. Doesn’t that make sense? Then try loving everyone around you and when you love others around you, you won’t have time to grumble before others. To be honest, what on this earth could compare with the glorious redemption that we’ve been granted in Christ? Nothing compares with that my friends…nothing (Rom 8:18)!
There is no one-size-fits-all plan on how to avoid grumbling. Really, we should be too busy giving thanks to God anyway, even when we don’t feel like it, and remember our grumbling isn’t against life, but against God. Let’s both try to practice contentment so we can learn how to be content in all things. If you’re like me, you need to lots of practice, and a great starting point is to praise Him in the storm, even while you boat’s taking in water.